[Marxism] Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea: Quine and Hegel

shaun may mnwps at hotmail.com
Sun Jan 12 22:23:03 MST 2014


I hope that you and I are not engaged in a intellectual joust here, to win the heart of the silent and elusive lady of the list so to speak, because Iam not absolutely confident that I would win. Iam a knackered and bombed out ex-schoolteacher and find charging around on horses a bit beyond me these days. So, I am not armed with Rocinante and a jousting lance and helmet. 

However, to be as brief as possible, this formal logic business. My previous post states very clearly that formal logic is a limiting case of dialectical logic in that the former is logically subsumed under the latter. So that even when we operate with formal categories we are not precluded from thinking dialectically. 
For example, in an area I know, Chemistry, the description of the dynamics and energetics of precipitation reactions involves the use of formal categories to describe an immanently dialectical process. It is adequate for that purpose. A Formal logical approach therefore stands as a less precise, less concrete and more abstract approach to Nature but that, in itself, does not invalidate it as a means of the mathematical underpinning of the design of computers or describing chemical reactions. 
But chemical reactions and computers are both inherently dialectical in their determinateness.They are not fixed, unchanging forms, etc. For pragmatic technological purposes, at the present stage, we can use formal logic to design the present generation of computers but will that apply to the nth generation, etc?

Formal logic can be safely left behind as a method to organise our work as communists simply because it remains a limiting case of a higher form of logic which has incorporated it. The dynamics of social change and revolution actually demand dialectics. Formal logic would cripple us. Hence, there is no denial of its scientific legitimacy and validity under certain conditions and parameters, but only under specific conditions which involve the formalised approximation of the objects of investigation. 
In my opinion, if we win through to socialism, and with later developments, dialectics will eventually be incorporated into scientific method and eclipse the current forms of positivism and empiricism which rule it. Even now, Nature is calling out - in various areas of the natural sciences - for a dialectical conception and appreciation of her relations and properties, etc. I dare say that you will know some of these areas better than I do. There are still Physicists who argue about whether light is a wave or particulate. And they answer that whether or not it is either is a function of the experimental conditions which we impose. 
We have TV celebrity Physicists here in the UK (e.g., Jim Al Khalili, who has relatively recently published a book titled "Paradox") who think paradox is a fault in reasoning, a foible in scientific method trying to understand a formal world without contradiction and that the contradictions being encountered in advanced Maths and Physics do not actually indicate that contradiction is indwelling and gives the physical world its movement and energy.  

Formal logic is a the method of reasoning which operates with fixed categories which, in the process of cognition, are demarcated off and isolated from each other in their abstract identity and ‘externality’ (ausserlich) to each other. Hegel analyses formal logical thinking as a necessary but limited form of thinking for specific purposes whilst revealing these limitations as constituting a form of thinking which makes ‘abstract identity its principle’ (Logic, Part 1, Encyclopaedia, p 58). 
Implicit in its approach is the conception of a fixed and static cosmos which denies its immanent and eternal contradictoriness. Opposed categories are conceptualised as being isolated and walled off from each other so that in their difference from each other (distinction) their relation, identity and unity is denied. 
Contradiction is conceptualised as an aberrant foible or defect of thinking rather than being immanent itself in all forms of being and thinking. We all know how Hegel shows how formal logic considers all things through its law of ‘abstract understanding’ so that the ever-changing cosmos becomes conceptually fossilised into fixed abstract notions which deny the vitality and movement of this cosmos as a living, developing manifestation of contradiction within it. 
For formal logic, ‘A’ must always be absolutely identical with itself (A=A). ‘A’ cannot simultaneously be equal to itself and not equal to itself at the same time, for this would undeniably imply movement and contradiction. Thus, formal logic mechanistically denies contradiction in the external world of nature and society. It fails to grasp opposites and distinctions in their integral relation and unity with each other; to recognise the necessary and inseparable connection between the parts of the whole; to see the transitional character of all forms; to understand the dialectical nature of all determinations through their inseparable relation to their negative; and to understand the movement of the world as a totality and its diverse and ever-changing forms as being animated by inner opposition, contradiction and the organic relationship and conflicts of opposing forces, tendencies, etc. 

Can we, as revolutionaries, use formal logic over the dialectical to organise our political work and activity? In this respect, Aristotelian logic and its descendants remain a less adequate tool for revolution. I am not conversant in computer science and technology so I will accept your assertion that formal mathematical logic is used in the design and development of computing technology. But wouldn't a dialectical logic be more fruitful, given certain conditions, even in this area? What is "Fuzzy Logic", for example? Here is a prediction from an IT philistine like me : it will not be that long before computer scientists designing the future generations of computers will come up against theoretical and technical limits which compel them to go beyond formal logic and enter the sphere of dialectics in order to design more advanced computers. The more the technology evolves, the more it will demand dialectical solutions to the problems which are will undoubtedly emerge.

Perhaps I should have qualified my rather dismissive "bones and stones" remark about formal logic (I didn't mean to hurt anyone's feelings), but the fundamental question has been addressed. If we acknowledge that the world of Nature and Man and their interrelation is dialectical, then we have no other route to follow, eventually and ultimately, but a heuristic one which incorporates dialectical thinkng into the work of the natural sciences and it would be a more fruitful approach. I think Badiou would agree with all this. He was a student of Hegel and Marx. 
Of course, if we deny dialectics in Nature, then this completely upsets the old apple cart and we may proceed as formalistically as we so wish. Thank you for your reply. It has helped me to think through these questions. And that is dialectics, of course, between and within. 

The final word is yours. If you wish to take it, comrade

best wishes


PS I do subscribe to your conception about 'relevance' and 'novel thought', etc, but how do we actually develop that in the unfolding of a revolutionary critique i.e. in revolutionary practice? How do we meet the class where it is today, with all the historically imposed limits of its organisation and consciousness and struggle to move that forward as the structural crisis of capital deepens, the rot gets worse, etc. After all, we are all part of this class and its movement, are we not? We are all equally responsible in pushing this struggle forward. 
'Sir, if you were my husband, I would put poison in your coffee.'  Nancy Astor. 
'Madam, if you were my wife, I would drink it.' Winston Churchill.
Blenheim Palace, 1912



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