DIALECTICS, DESPAIN, TONY SMITH, BHASKAR

Ralph Dumain rdumain at igc.apc.org
Fri Mar 10 12:19:16 MST 1995


>I am simply trying to understand myself what must be the
>ontological grounds that Marx might have been committed, to
>justify the use of dialectic as a systematic ordering of
>categories?

Sorry for my faulty memory of your previous expositions, but is
this another way of saying, was Marx an ontological materialist?
Many critics of diamat have claimed that Marx's 'materialism' was
far more restricted in scope, and he should not be considered an
ontological materialist.  But I don't believe that ultimately you
can be a materialist in any sense without being committed to
ontological materialism at least in a loose way.  Hence the
successors of Marx, however else they may have distorted him, were
perfectly in order in my opinion in elaborating a materialist
orientation.  (The question of dialectics of nature is a distinct
question in itself, but I don't think it is so all-fired important
to be either for or against it when one does not need to venture
into the physical sciences.)  As I said long ago, the most
important aspect of ontological materialism is epistemological, or
the fitting of abstract concepts to empirical data, which idealism
distorts.

Or, by 'ontological grounds', do you mean ontological grounds of a
view of historical development, which seems to be what you are
noodling with here?

>I am also not sure that Hegel's *external teleology* need be
>given a historical interpretaion?

Please define external teleology once again and how it applies to
Marx.  Your exposition here is not completely clear to me.  You
seem to be talking about the overcoming of alienation.

>Therefore, my issue with Smith's book is not that he has
>committed Marx to any historical dialectics or dialectics of
>nature but that in fact he has not done so, this in my opinion
>leads to many questions on these issues.  There are many
>philosophical problems and issues that remain unresolved.  I
>don't know that Marx meant to resolve such issues, but it does
>seem to me that Bhaskar intends to attempt this task.

Well, I would like to know what Bhaskar finally accomplishes in
resolving these issues.  For me, it is even confusing keeping
score of all the different aspects and interpretations of
dialectic -- I get such a headache.

Poor Tony Smith is burned out after spending 15 years on the
Hegel-Marx nexus.  I sure don't want to spend the next 15 years of
my life on it.  I've just been perusing the matter for the past
couple of weeks while I've been down with the flu.  I'm not going
to have much more time for this.  It would be nice to see some
near-definitive consolidation of all this scholarship.  Tony
Smith, do you have anything to say to enlighten us?  What other
treatments do you recommend beside your own and Patrick Murray's?

Mr. Despain, several times you distinguish between two types of
dialectic, one being the "relational" conception of the
Frankfurters?  Could you please define what you mean by relational
dialectic and how you feel about it?

For my own part, when I was interested in this subject years ago,
I think I was exclusively interested in what you would call here
the systematic dialectic (not historical), or dialectic as a way
of analyzing concrete totalities of a given phenomenon.  I was
always interested in dialectics abstractly and not in terms
particularly of the Hegel-Marx relation, or the ontology of labor,
etc.  Recently, I have become interested in those things, but I am
somewhat disoriented in how to conceive them.  I tend to think of
dialectic as a conceptual tool distinct from the phenomena it is
used to analyze, whereas many treatments within Hegelian Marxism
merge the dialectic into the phenomena being analyzed, whether the
structure of capital, the logic of historical development, the
ontology of labor, the subject-object of history, etc.  I am
sympathetic to Hegelian Marxism now in a way I was not 15 years
ago, but I am still perturbed by the logical status of these
conceptions of dialectic.  I am willing to accept many of these
interpretations as applications, analogies, homologies or
isomorphisms, but I still cannot help of thinking of dialectic as
something to be abstracted even from these applications.  Even if
I accepted dialectic as the ontology of labor, I still could not
keep from abstracting dialectical logic as a formal schema from
this particular embodiment.  There are those who would deny that
one can separate the tool of analysis from the phenomenon analyzed
(C.L.R. James denies such a separation in NOTES ON DIALECTICS),
but I vociferously dissent -- if you look at mathematics alone, it
is evident that abstract thought cannot progress without fully
developing into an autonomous system distinct from its
applications.  That is, dialectic is the method or logic of 'the
systematic ordering of categories' in general even as it is the
logical or material structure of a specific system (capital) under
analysis.

I can only imagine how Marx dealt with this matter, or even with
the paradoxes of motion I discussed before, but we need to deal
with it ourselves, so that we can consolidate, condense, and
instruct people in a coherent fashion.  If Bhaskar can help us,
that is all to the good, but he needs an English translator.


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