[Marxism] dialectical contradiction
bhandari at berkeley.edu
Fri Oct 2 20:27:44 MDT 2009
I had been confused by your footnote against the set theoretic concept
of contradiction in Biology Under the Influence; what you say here makes
the point well and compellingly. I am wondering whether you have read
Andreas Wagner's Paradoxical Life; it seems that ideas that you stated
in Dialectical Biologist are being rediscovered.
There is another sense of contradiction, recently articulated by Andrew
Collier in his short and stimulating book on Marx: "two demands, both
necessary for the successful working of the same system, but mutually
I think here of Marx's analysis of the development of contradictions of
the falling profit rate, especially the famous paragraph that begins
with capital being identified as the true barrier to itself.
What does Marx mean?
Here's a quick take, but I'd be happy to hear other interpretations.
The system requires the valorization of the extant capital and
encourages ceaseless productivity growth which proves necessary to
relieve the relentless upward pressure on the value composition of
capital that growth of the technical composition of capital engenders
(especially on the assumption that unit values remain constant).
In other words, the system requires (and encourages or 'incentivizes')
the cheapening of capital and wage goods but the system also requires
that the extant capital be allowed to valorize itself. These are both
structural tendencies, yet they may prove to be incompatible. And the
system may collapse under the weight of the contradiction. The value
destroyed by the new cheaper capital and wage goods may be so great as
to undermine the profitable accumulation that those new commodities
should make possible.
I am interested in how Marx understands contradiction in his theoretical
work. This chapter is an important one to study as is Marx's analysis of
the polar opposition between and mutual assumption of commodities and
The following considerations might be helpful:
1. "contradiction", in its etymology "speaking against" was a process
unfolding in time, negating a proposition in order to get beyond it.
2. Formal logic removes the temporal dynamic aspect to make it a formal,
3. The formal logical statement "implies" is a static, set-theoretic
relation but is a detemporalized equivalent to "leads to" (in time).
4. In real systems, variables change(except at equilibrium, a set of
measure 0!). That is, A leads to not-A. If there is an eventual
equilibrium, this is equivalent to proof by contradiction. In living
systems, social systems, eco-systems etc there is permanent change ( A
always leads to (implies!) not-A.These may be periodic or chaotic . The
terror of early computer programmers was to get into an endless (and
expensive) loop, which was equivalent to contradiction in the program.
In formal logic, you may not (but can) hold to contradictory
propositions at the same time . In dialectical logic, two propositions
may be separately false but jointly true; health is socially determined,
and you are responsible for your health. Either one alone can result in
passivity but jointly can result in self-care and collective action...
5. You can create formally disjunct mathematical sets, but with real
things no division of a whole world into mutually exclusive categories
really holds. Environmental/genetic, physical/psychological,
biological/social, etc interpenetrate, and furthermore it is when we
recognize their interpenetration that we get the exciting new insights.
All of these and other aspects of contradiction make it an important
tool in science.
More information about the Marxism