Ollman, Abstraction and Dialectics

Ralph Dumain rdumain at igc.apc.org
Thu Mar 30 21:35:05 MST 1995

>Dumain recently recommended Bertell's Ollman's book,
>*Dialectical Investigations*, especially chapter two.

Yes, I recommended it without any qualifications other than the
above.  I wish I had the book and my notes on it at hand, but
regrettably both are buried in storage along with my memory.

>Ollman early in his book argues that dialectics is a way of
>thinking about an ever changing world....

I'll bet this is in chapter one, and I vaguely recall being not
entirely happy with it, which is why I singled out chapter two.

I certainly don't disagree with any of your criticisms of this
book, and I welcome your detailed critique.

>Marxian dialectics seem to have very little to say about ethics,
>in fact *dialectic* is synonymous with *science* for Marx.

Doesn't Ollman in one of his books say that ethics is internally
related to everything else, hence it would be as dualistic to
banish such impulses from the Marxist world-picture as it would be
to set up ethics in a separate metaphysical realm.

>The second half of the book are examples of how Ollman has, and
>other can use the modes of abstraction, assumingly in concrete
>with dialectical logic, to analysis and investigate issues such
>as "class consciousness;" "history;" "freedom and repression;"
>"the Eastern Block crisis;" "the U.S. constitution;" and the

I think livelier examples might have been chosen and examined in
greater detail.  Think how the feathers would fly if we were to
discuss, say, identity politics.

>The problem is it is impossible from Ollman's presentation to
>differentiate dialectics from the method of say Max Weber, or
>Rousseau, among many other thinkers

No differentia specifica?  Well, this is a problem.  At least we
can say that Marx, insofar as he embodies the principles
discussed, can take his place as a respectable social scientist
and philosopher of science.

>Moreover, how then is one to distinguish between Marxian,
>Hegelian, Engelsian, and Lukcasian dialectics

Good question also.

>It seems that one major problem in trying to understand
>dialectics is dealing with all the different definitions and
>characterizations of dialectics.

This is true.  We need a scorecard.  I once started to make a list
of those few that I knew (I knew nothing of Lukacs, Adorno, etc.),
and that list was not short.  We need a dictionary of definitions
of dialectics.

I never intended to recommend Ollman as gospel.  But the process
of abstraction is vitally important, and it is here where we ought
to look at the problem of contradiction first (as Lenin did, in
fact).  A lot of the facile comparisons of dialectical and formal
logic really founder on an improper understanding of what logic
is, and if take the nature of abstraction into account, we can
better understand the problem of the dialectical whole and the
place of contradiction in it and/or in our cognitive appropriation
of it.  Note my review of the Norman-Sayers debate.

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