More on Dialectics

Charles Brown CharlesB at
Fri Sep 3 10:28:40 MDT 1999

>>> Chris Matthew Sciabarra <cms10 at> 09/03/99 10:11AM >>>
Brief responses to various points below:

Charles: In _Materialism and Empirio-Criticism_ Lenin refers to this as the
dialectic of relative and absolute truth. Our knowledge approaches absolute
truth like an mathematical asymptotic curve.

Chris:  ... yes, and the more we learn, the more we realize how much we
don't know.


Charles: Is knowing that you don't know more than you knew  you didn't know before
knowing more or knowing less ?

Charles: We can never grasp the whole of the universe, true. Dialectics
means we must use the concept of relative wholes. We cannot grasp THE
whole, but we can grasp A whole. Like the whole earth or the whole solar
system, even though we can't know every last atom of these.

Chris:  Yes, true, and I'm not disagreeing.  The problem is that Marxists
think they can run an economy as if they knew every last detail, and as if
they can transcend all the "unintended consequences" of human action.


Charles: Which Marxists think this ? Marx , Engels, Lenin, Castro, Luxembourg, Proyect
?  I think you have a straw Marxist here.


will never happen... "unintended consequences" are quite simply an
extension of our sociality.  Central planning in the Marxist utopia
requires near omniscience and almost total predictability, and it is an
illusion.  The tragedy is that some regimes thought they COULD approach the


Charles: Contra your version of "Marxists" , in _The German Ideology_ , Marx and
Engels say the process of history is a constant creation of new needs and wants from
the process of meeting needs and wants. Your version of the Marxist understanding of
this is false. Marxist only say we can do better on comprehending the whole than
capitalism even tries to do, not that we can absolutely comprehend the whole and its
every future consequence and development.

Charles: Marxist understanding of the relations of production as a whole at
a concrete moment with purposes of substantial planning to provide for all
basic needs and even most fancy wants for everybody does not fall into
Plantonic idealism. The number of economic transactions is finite, unlike
the universe. It is feasible to effectively and substantially comprehend
its totality for planning that surpasses the anarchy of production under
capitalism. By focussing on the social whole and its parts and their
interrelation, rather than only the private part, the concept of the whole
is a powerful relative truth.

Chris:  Not so in my book.  The economy is not static; it is constantly
growing and expanding and it is global.  Central planning cannot take into
account all of the vastly different contexts -- social, cultural, and
epistemic -- across the globe because it destroys the very process -- the
market price system -- that generates information of relative scarcities.


Charles: It always changes ,but not necessarily continually, You make the errror of
the old Greek philosopher, forget his name, who was ultra"dialectical", nothing was
ever it self.Hegel doesn't totally throw out some definiteness and fixity.

The changes of economy are not instantly continuous. I'll get the Greek's name. This
is a well known error you are making.


Charles: There is nothing in Marxism that implies that its understanding of
the whole of relations and forces of production is not of a structured
totality. Are you saying that Marx, Engels and Lenin did not consider the
economic whole a structured totality ? See _Capital_

Chris:  Yes, surely Marx and others saw capitalism as a structured
totality.  The problem emerges however, when Marxists say things like:  The
producers will have "a perfect understanding" of social forces, which are
"transformed from master demons into willing servants."  Or -- that the
proletarian will act in a way in which "the results" are fully "intended"
by him or her.  We never achieve that kind of control over anything.  It is
illusory.  People do not act with the predictability of a jar falling off a
table.  Every action, including the actions of a central planning board,
create "unintended consequences" which cannot be taken into account at the
time of the action.  And when such a board eliminates the mechanism by
which information on relative scarcities is generated, it is left with
little more than its whims to decide what is needed and what isn't.

More later,



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