[Marxism] Dialectics & Science (reply to Calvin)

Rob Lucas roblucas at lucasandblench.com
Thu May 27 20:08:00 MDT 2004

Hi Calvin,

A surprising reply, as this is actually pretty close to what I would've said
if the question had been pointed at me! Indeed, Hegel's endeavours with the
dialectic are, from the very beginning, performed in the name of "science",
and although many throw the baby out with the bathwater, assuming Hegel to
be worth nothing more than Marx's criticism of him, his work is an attempt
to move out of an artificially abstract speculative philosophy and towards
actual knowledge (thus he speaks of the possibility of philosophy being more
than "love of wisdom" and becoming knowledge itself). I would agree that
there is a sense in which the metaphysical and the physical, or philosophy
and science, do start to converge from Hegel onwards, and particularly in
The thing is not to be misled by the term "science", however. When I use the
word "science" I use it (perhaps wrongly) in a sense that is probably a
little more restricted than Hegel's usage, and in fact I mean something like
"contemporary professional scientific practice". Also, whilst dialectic
should definitely not be taken in the narrow sense that dull-witted
interpreters of Marx & Hegel tend to take it, I think dialectics does imply
something more than simply scientific practice as it goes about
understanding the changing world. Of course, if we take it back
etymologically it has a lot to do with dialogue, but this shouldn't in turn
trick us into taking a post-structuralist or hermeneutical view of
dialectics which might proceed from a sense of philological authority alone.

I think we have to distinguish between the dialectic understood simply as
the actual unfolding of history itself (which the dialectic should not be
anyway) and the dialectic as a performative/ analytic process performed by
the theorist (which it should equally not be understood as on it's own). Of
course, we have to take these two sides dialectically, and ultimately cannot
separate them (as one cannot separate truth & falsity in Hegel); but,
equally, it would be clumsy to simply collapse their relation into equality.
I think we have to uphold the fact that Marx's dialectical procedure does
mark him off from many others who also go under the name of "science"; I
refer again to his slight reserve towards some of the feats of empirical
science done in his day- because they may have been valid, but were not
dialectical in the same sense that his work was.
I think it is fair to say that there exists a wide spectrum of different
things that go under the name of "science", and these of course have
different degrees of validity. We might say that all of these are
unselfconsciously involved in some sort of dialectical unfolding of
knowledge (and ultimately of material history). We might say that some
scientists, but by no means all, are more or less "dialectical" in their
approach. But, I would still maintain that a dialectical approach remains
distinct from science as it is typically practiced (in contemporary
professional science)- surely it would take a significant distortion to see
it as otherwise.
In fact, what we do seem to have- in contemporary intellectual practices- is
an odd separation, whereby the negative (of negation, that is), the sense of
inevitable historical transcendence of fixed identities, and the
performative element of dialectics, has been taken in separation from the
(positive) scientific element of dialectical thought by those in cultural
studies related fields (i.e. those most heavily affected by post-
structuralist, Frankfurt School & phenomenological tradition thought), and
whereby the positive scientific element is practiced largely on it's own
without the former: it is as if dialectical thought simply split into 2.
Whilst there may be some efforts to bridge this gap, they are relatively
insignificant.. Rather odd that the old metaphysical dualisms should be
replaced by one of simple specialisation in the academic market; arts &
sciences, and that these should each inherit a broken half of the dialectic.



> In reply to the questio below: Why Not? No one sensible would claim that
> dialectics is a crude schema (thesis-antithesis-synthesis?) that we apply to
> reality to see how things develop. Only science can show how things develop.
> What is thought if it is not scientific? Idelaist conjecture that can
> neither be confirmed not denied, and certainly does not get us any closer to
> the real being of a thing. Dialectic thought and science are not the same?
> Hegel writes:
> In order that this science [i.e. Hegel’s dialectical system] may come into
> existence, we must have the progression from the individual and particular
> to the universal- an activity which is a reaction on the given material of
> empiricism in order to bring about its reconstruction. The demand of a
> priori knowledge, which seems to imply that the idea should construct from
> itself, is thus a reconstruction only
 In consciousness it then adopts the
> attitude of having cut away the bridge from behind it; it appears to be free
> to launch forth in its ether only, and to develop without resistance to this
> medium; but it is another matter to attain to this ether and development of
> it. (Hegel History of Philsophy 3: 176-77)
> So, for Hegel, philosophy (your dialectic) does not come into its own
> outside the growth of the so-called empirical sciences.

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