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Dialectics as a method of social research, part I and II

Dialectics as a method of social research

Seminar given at the IIRE, Amsterdam, on 15 January 2008

Guglielmo Carchedi

  Part I. A general introduction.

 

As well known, Marx did not explicitly write a work on dialectics. Nevertheless, he thought it would be possible to make intelligible to people with ordinary intelligence in a few pages what is rational in the method “which Hegel discovered and at the same time mystified”. In spite of Marx’s warning that Hegel mystified dialectics, traditionally, commentators have tried to force Marx into conformity with Hegel. I will depart from this tradition and will submit a notion of dialectics as a method of social research, a method focused exclusively on social reality. This method is extracted from Marx’s own work rather than from Hegel’s work. I argue that it is internally consistent with Marx’s theory and therefore capable of further developing that theory in order to account for capitalism’s new features.

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Slide 1

Dialectics as a method of social research

Seminar given at the IIRE, Amsterdam, on 15 January 2008

Part I. A general introduction.

 

As well known, Marx did not explicitly write a work on dialectics. Nevertheless, he thought it would be possible to make intelligible to people with ordinary intelligence in a few pages what is rational in the method “which Hegel discovered and at the same time mystified”. In spite of Marx’s warning that Hegel mystified dialectics, traditionally, commentators have tried to force Marx into conformity with Hegel. I will depart from this tradition and will submit a notion of dialectics as a method of social research, a method focused exclusively on social reality. This method is extracted from Marx’s own work rather than from Hegel’s work. I argue that it is internally consistent with Marx’s theory and therefore capable of further developing that theory in order to account for capitalism’s new features.

 

This method starts the inquiry into social life with a class determined analysis of phenomena as the unity in contradiction of relations and process. Relations are interactions between people. Every time a relation arises, or changes into a different type, or ends, there is a change in the social fabric (whether it is perceptible or not). For example, if two people engage in a relation of friendship, the rise of such a relation changes (even though minimally) social reality. The same holds in case an enterprise is started (or goes bankrupt), a family is formed (or breaks up), a political party is founded (or is dissolved), etc. Processes are transformations people carry out in the context of those relations. The reason why the unity is contradictory will be explained shortly. Society is a kaleidoscope of continuously changing phenomena, i.e. of people engaging in relations and processes. The analogy with Marx’s method in Capital I is clear. Marx starts the inquiry into economic life with a class determined analysis of commodities conceived as the unity in contradiction of use value and exchange value. The present approach starts the inquiry into social life with a class determined analysis of phenomena as the unity in contradiction of relations and process.

 

This method is based upon three principles 

 

Slide 2.

First principle: phenomena are always both realized and potential.

 

(α) A = {Ar, Ap} and B = {Br, Bp}

 

First principle: phenomena are always both realized and potential. This starting point for this principle is empirical observation. Observation tells us that everything is what it is and at the same time can be something different. This applies to ourselves since we have a perception of what we actually are (have become) and of what we potentially are, of what we can potentially (be)come; or to an institution, like the state that is both the actualized state and a potentially different state since it can evolve in many different directions and take many different shapes; of knowledge, which is subjected to a constant process of change (realization of its potentiality), etc. Thus, reality has a double dimension, it is both actual existence and potential existence. Marx, makes extensive use of the difference within the same entity between its actualized and its potential existence. Suffice it to mention the distinction, fundamental for his value theory, between realized and potential value. More generally, as Marx puts it, the “properties of a thing do not arise from its relation to other things, they are, on the contrary, merely activated by such relations”. Now, what is activated can only be what is already potentially present. In short, each realized phenomenon (a person, the state, a form of knowledge, etc.) contains within itself a realm of potentialities. In symbols, given two phenomena A and B, this principle can be symbolized as in relation (α) where the curly brackets indicate the unity of the realized nature and of the potential nature of phenomena (r indicates realized and p indicates potential). Potentials are (a) real possibilities because they are contained in realized phenomena but (b) formless possibilities because they take a definite form only at the moment of their realization.

 

Slide 3

A = {Ar, Ap} indicates

the unity of the potentials and the realized and thus

the unity of identity and difference

the unity of opposites

the unity of essence and appearance

 

Three points follow. First, since a realized phenomenon is different from what it can potentially be, from its possibilities, the unity of {Ar, Ap} indicates the unity of identity and difference. Ar is identical to itself but is also different from itself, as Ap. The unity of {Ar, Ap} is the synthetic rendition of the “affirmative recognition of the existing state of things [and] at the same time, also the recognition of the negation of that state” (Capital I). It is only by considering the realm of potentialities that the otherwise mysterious unity of identity and difference makes sense.

 

Second, the unity of {Ar, Ap} indicates also the unity of opposites, inasmuch as the potential features of a phenomenon (Ap) are opposite (contradictory) to its realized aspects. Disregard of the potential leads to absurd conclusions. For example, Lefebvre asserts that life and death are “identical” because the process of aging starts when a living organism is born. But life and death are opposites and not identical. Life is a realized phenomenon and death is an inevitable potential within life itself. Contrary to Lefebvre  the unity of contradictions is not the unity of identities.

 

Third, the  unity of {Ar, Ap} indicates the unity of essence and appearance (appearance is form of manifestation of the essence): Ap is the essence of A, that which can manifest itself in a number of different realizations, while Ar is its (temporary and contingent) appearance, the form taken by one of the many possibilities inherent in A’s potential nature. Both essence and appearance are not immutable but subject to constant change.

 

The notion of potential reality is absolutely fundamental in Marx’s work. We will see later on that it allows us to explain phenomena’s movement and change, the difference between formal and dialectical logic, and the temporal and non-equilibrium nature of the capitalist economy.

 

Slide 4.

Second principle: phenomena are always both determinant and determined.

 

Second principle: phenomena are always both determinant and determined. Here too the starting point is empirical observation. We can observe that all elements of social reality are interconnected (people can live and reproduce themselves only through reciprocal interaction) into a whole (society), that this whole changes continuously (even though some changes might be minimal), that this change can be continuous or discontinuous, and that the whole’s interconnected parts can be contradictory (e.g. people can have contradictory interests). This chaotic movement is given a conceptual structure by the notion of dialectical determination.

 

Consider two phenomena, A and B.

 

Slide 5

A => B indicates that A determines B because A calls into realized existence B from within its potentialities as a condition of reproduction or supersession of A.

 

A phenomenon, A, is said to be determinant if it calls into realized existence the determined one, B, from the realm of its potentialities as a condition of its own reproduction or supersession. The determined phenomenon, B, was already contained in the determinant phenomenon, A, as one of its potentialities (Ap) and thus into Ar. A is condition of existence of B and B is the realized condition of reproduction or supersession of A. This is indicated by the direction of the arrow going from A to B. This is how A determines B.

 

Slide 6

A <= B indicates that B is the actual conditions of reproduction or supersession of A

 

B has been actualized as the condition of reproduction or supersession of A but up to now has not yet begun to change A. After having been called into realized life, B reacts upon A and either reproduces it (in a changed form) or supersedes it. This is indicated by the reversed direction of the arrow, from B to A. This is how B determines A.

 

Slide 7

If we combine A => B and A <= B we obtain A <=> B

If we combine slide 5 and slide 6, A and B are connected by an arrow going in both directions. This indicates mutual determination, or dialectical relation: the determinant phenomenon calls into realized existence the determined one from within its own potentialities as a condition of its own reproduction or supersession; the determined phenomenon, in its turn, reacts upon the determinant phenomenon thus reproducing it or superseding it. The typical example is the capitalist class that calls into existence the labouring class (Labour is potentially present within Capital). Labour is the condition of reproduction of Capital. But it can also become the condition of supersession of Capital.

 

Slide 8

(β) At1 <=> Bt2

 

Between the determination of B by A and of A by B there is a temporal difference. For example, right now I am a realized person, and at the same time a potentially different person. I will become an actually different person only in a future moment, even if it is a fraction of a second. If we take time into account, mutual determination becomes as in slide 8 where the superscripts t1 and t2 indicate two points in time. At t1, A determines B. At t2, B determines A. Thus dialectical determination takes place within a temporal setting.

 

Slide 9

If we substitute

(α) A = {Ar, Ap} and B = {Br, Bp}

into

(β) At1 <=> Bt2

we obtain the relation of mutual determination or dialectical relation

(γ) {Ar, Ap}t1 <=> {Br, Bp}t2

 

If we substitute (α) into (β) we get relation (γ) which the relation of mutual or dialectical determination. To sum up, both A and B are both potential and realized (the former are contained in the latter). If the superscript r indicates realized and p indicates potential, Ap is contained in Ar. However, initially Bp is not contained in Br. It is one of the many possible Ap and thus one of the possible developments of Ar. Bp is one of the many formless potentials Ap that is selected for realization. It becomes then realized as Br. Br in its turn contains a new Bp so that the new Br and the new Bp form a new unity. It is this new unity, {Br, Bp}, that it is a condition of reproduction or supersession of {Ar, Ap}.  Notice that both in case of A’s reproduction and of A’s supersession, A has changed so that at the end of mutual determination  it is a new {Ar, Ap} that emerges  Thus, after the mutual determination has taken place, {Ar, Ap}t3 <= {Br, Bp}t2. The time dimension is essential for two reasons. First relation (γ) theorizes reality as a temporal process of determination in which some phenomena, the determinant ones, become actualized prior to other phenomena, the determined ones. Second, it follows that only previously existing phenomena can determine the actualization of other phenomena because the latter are initially only potentially present in the former.

 

The above would seem to contain a logical contradiction. If Bp is selected for realization, it must acquire a definite form. Yet, Bp is a potential, and thus formless. The contradiction is only apparent. The selection of Bp is first of all the conceptualization of Br before Br can be actualized. It is thus a realized element of knowledge and as such knowledge with a specific form. But it is also at the same time a potential Br because up to this point B has not been realized yet. This point will be further developed later on.

 

Let me provide an example of mutual determination. Take a realized production system. It contains potentially within itself a distribution system. This is a formless potential. Production is thus the condition of existence of distribution (in other words, distribution is potentially contained in production). Planners get together to think about the possible specific features of a distribution system by taking into account both the realized and the potential features of the production system. The result is a blueprint of a distribution system, a realized element of knowledge. The potential distribution system is present as a shapeless element of knowledge in the heads of the agents of production. It emerges at first as a realized element of knowledge (the blueprint). As a realized element of knowledge it is a potential actual, real, physical distribution system. It can thus become an actually realized distribution system. On the basis of that blueprint, an actually realized distribution system emerges. This realized distribution system is now the actual condition of reproduction or supersession of the production system. It contains its own potentialities. It can thus begin to react upon and change the production system thus reproducing it or superseding it (in this latter case distribution supersedes production if for example the firm goes bankrupt because of inefficient distribution). It is thus people as carriers of relations and agents of processes who engage in mutual determination so that both the reproduction and the supersession of phenomena must first go through a process of cognition and conception.

 

We can now see why phenomena are the unity in determination of relations and processes.

 

Slide 10

- Four types of relations and processes

- Relations determine processes, R => P

 

In slide 10, R indicates relations and P indicates processes. We can distinguish among four types of relations: (a) relational transformations, the transformation of the relation itself; (b) material transformations, the transformations of material reality; (c) personal transformations, the transformations of the persons engaging in that relation; and (d) mental transformations, the transformations (production) of knowledge. Each of these relations determines its own type of processes. As just mentioned, the criterion for attributing the status of determinant to the relation is that only what has realized itself can be the condition of existence of a potential reality. If relations are temporally prior to processes, they are determinant and processes must be determined. In fact, (a) the transformation of a relation presupposes that relation (i.e. a relation must pre-exist its transformation); (b) personal transformation (process) presupposes a relation, people cannot first undergo a transformation and then engage in a relation (the contrary thesis would imply that people can exist outside society); (c) the relation between people carrying out both material and mental transformations pre-exists those transformations. For example, under capitalism, the owners of the means of production must hire (engage in a relation with) the laborer before the production process can begin. Four points follow.

 

Slide 11

A process is also the specific, empirically observable form taken by a relation.

 

First, relations are the non-observable aspect of phenomena. Given that we can observe a relation only by observing what people do when they carry out a process, a process is also the specific, empirically observable form taken by that relation.

 

 

Slide 12

- Processes determine relations, R <= P

- Thus, Ph = {R <=> P}, a unity in determination of R and P

- If in the relation of mutual determination we have R and P instead of A and B, we get

{Rr,Rp}t1 <=> {Pr,Pp}t2

which symbolizes a phenomenon as the unity in determination of R and P

- Relations determine their own movement by determining their own processes

 

Second, given that relations determine processes and given that processes are transformations, i.e. movement, processes are the conditions of reproduction or supersession of relations, i.e. relations determine their own movement by determining their own processes. Thus, the relation of dialectical determination developed above applies not only to different phenomena but also within phenomena, between relations and processes. As we shall see shortly, this implies that relations and processes have a contradictory social content. In slide 12 Ph stands for phenomena, R for relations and P for processes. This is why a phenomenon is a unity in determination of relations and processes.

 

Slide 13

Formal versus radical transformations

 

Third, a process, being determined, might change either only the form or also the social content of its determining relation. In the former case that relation undergoes a formal transformation, in the latter case a radical transformation (e.g. it changes from being a condition of reproduction to being a condition of supersession or vice versa).

 

Slide 14

Suspended interaction

 

Fourth, individuals engaging in a relation do not necessarily, and usually do not, continuously interact with each other. Friends alternate periods of contact with periods of separation, laborers work only part of the day, etc. In a relation the actual interaction can be suspended without breaking that relation. The interacting persons agree, either formally (e.g. legally) or informally, either freely or under coercion, either explicitly or implicitly, either by personal or by common consent, to resume their interaction. Their specific processes are suspended too.

 

Slide 15

Why and how can B become a condition of supersession of A?

1) Humans have potentialities

2) Society penetrates them and adapts them to itself (e.g. human cloning)

3) Humans try to develop their own potentialities within these socially given boundaries

 

The question now is: why and how can B become a condition of supersession of A? The answer requires some intermediate steps.

 

According to Marx our species has potentialities that set it apart from other living creatures, as for example the capacity to create our own means of production. Other authors point out other specifically human features as for example the capacity of creating languages and communicating through them (Geras). These potentialities and features are not unchangeable. Society moulds them; it not only gives them an historically specific form but penetrates them and adapts them to itself.

 

A dramatic example of society changing those potentialities is the possibility created by biotechnology to shape human life in ways functional for profit making. It is within these socially given boundaries that humans try to develop those potentialities to the utmost. 

 

Slide 16

4) Under capitalism

- the development of the capitalists’ potentialities is informed by their need to deal with the laborers as the source of the maximum feasible quantity of unpaid labor.

- The development of the laborer’s potentialities is informed by their need to resist and abolish their alienation not only from their own products (which they must alienate to the owners of the means of production) but also from themselves (because they are not free to fully develop their potentialities).

 

Under capitalism, the development of the capitalists’ potentialities is informed by their need to deal with the laborers as the source of the maximum feasible quantity of unpaid labor. On the other hand, the development of the laborer’s potentialities is informed by their need to resist and abolish their alienation not only from their own products (which they must alienate to the owners of the means of production) but also from themselves (because they are not free to fully develop their potentialities). Capital has the objective need to exploit Labour and Labour has the objective need to resist and abolish that exploitation, One class needs to hold back human development, to shape it in accordance with its own needs, the other class needs to expand it to the maximum and to break the constraint imposed by the former class.

 

Slide 17

5) The former class needs an egoistic and exploitative behaviour, the latter an altruistic and solidaristic behaviour.

There is thus not only one rationality under capitalism (Capital’s rationality) but there is a double and contradictory rationality (Capital’s and Labour’s rationality) emanating from the capitalist ownership relation. This double and contradictory rationality is the social content of the ownership relation.

 

The former class needs an egoistic and exploitative behaviour, the latter an altruistic and solidaristic behaviour. For the former, one’s well-being must be based upon the others’ misery, for the latter one’s well being must be both the condition for, and the result of, the others’ well being.  The satisfaction of the former need is functional for the reproduction of the capitalist system; the satisfaction of the latter need is functional for the supersession of that system.

 

There is thus not only one rationality under capitalism (Capital’s rationality, for example profit maximization, etc.) but there is a double and contradictory rationality emanating from the capitalist ownership relation: Capital’s rationality and Labour’s rationality. This double rationality is the ownership relation’s social content.

 

Slide 18

Why do we choose the production relation as the ultimately determinant phenomenon?

Given a certain time period, production is prior to distribution and consumption (only what has been produced can be consumed) and thus to the rest of society.

Since the ownership relation contains within itself all other phenomena, it transfers this double  rationality to all other relations and processes. It is in this sense that this relation is ultimately determinant.

 

The choice of the ownership relation as the ultimately determinant phenomenon should be justified.

Given a certain time period, production is prior to distribution and consumption (only what has been produced can be consumed). The former contains potentially the latter within itself. Therefore, only the former can be determinant of the latter. Distribution and consumption can precede temporally production but this is the production of the following period.

 

This holds for all societies. But each society has its own specificity. There is thus a specific sense in which production predominates under capitalism. What is specific to this system is that the producers have been expropriated of the means of production and must sell their labor power to the owners of the means of production. If this is capitalism’s specific element, it is also that which informs the rest of society (phenomena), the determining element in the last instance.

 

Since the ownership relation contains within itself all other phenomena, it transfers this double  rationality to all other relations and processes. It is in this sense that this relation is ultimately determinant

Of course, there are more than the two fundamental classes, there are also the old and the new middle class (Carchedi, 1977) but the focus on these two classes is sufficient for the present purposes.

 

Thus, the specificity of capitalism is not power relations, nor the political, ideological or economic oppression of social groups. This takes place also in other class divided societies. The specificity of capitalism is the capitalist ownership relation, something that cannot be found in any other type of society. It is the contradictory rationality of the capitalist ownership relation that spreads itself to other phenomena.

 

Notice that the present approach concerns capitalism. It is not meant to be a trans-epochal theory of society. However, similarly to Marx’s economic analysis of capitalism that highlights occasionally elements capitalism shares with other types of society such a the production of use values, in this approach as well there are elements common to all societies, such as the ultimately determining role of production.

 

Slide 19

Phenomena realize their potentialities and modify their realized forms in the process of mutual, dialectical, determination as in

 

(γ) {Ar, Ap}t1 <=> {Br, Bp}t2

 

This relation indicates that phenomena are determined in the last instance by the ownership relation (if A is the ownership relation so that B is any other phenomenon) and by each other (if A and B are both determined by the ownership relation). In this case relation (γ) indicates the specific manifestation of the determination in the last instance of A and B as both being determined in the last instance by the ownership relation.

 

Having seen why and how the ownership relation is ultimately determinant, the next question is: does a phenomenon receives its social content by the ownership relation directly? Is it a simple reflection of that relation? The answer is that the other phenomena are not simple copies, reflections, of the ownership relation. Given that each phenomenon is an element of society and is thus connected directly or indirectly to all other phenomena, each phenomenon is the condition of existence and/or reproduction and/or supersession of all other phenomena. Society is thus causa sui, i.e. it both determines itself and is determined by itself. Phenomena realize their potentialities and create the conditions of their own reproduction or supersession in the process of mutual, dialectical,  determination as in relation (γ). If by A we indicate the ownership relation and B any other phenomenon, this relation indicates the determination in the last instance of B (in this case, all other phenomena) by the ownership relation. If both A and B are considered to be determined by the ownership relation, relation (γ) indicates the specific manifestation of the determination in the last instance of A and B through their mutual determination. There is thus both a direct and an indirect determination of all phenomena by the ownership relation.

 

Slide 20

Levels of abstraction. 

 

Theoretically, relation (γ) can be made to represent the determination of A by all other phenomena (including the ownership relation). This is full determination, a practical impossibility. In practice, given the complexity of social reality and the impossibility to comprehend all of it, we must focus on the relation between a certain determinant and a limited number of determined phenomena, abstraction being made from the rest of society. In this case we focus on a partial determination and we select a certain level of abstraction. This limited determination, then, is only an approximation to full determination. While at the level of society at large a phenomenon can be determinant at a certain level of analysis but determined at a different level of analysis (according to which segment of reality, or level of abstraction, we consider), once a certain segment of reality is chosen for inquiry, a phenomenon can only be either determinant or determined.

 

 

Slide 21

Due to their mutual determination as in relation (γ), phenomena become the condition of existence and/or reproduction and/or supersession of all other phenomena and ultimately of society. This is the contradictory social content of phenomena.

 

Each phenomenon’ social content is specific to it because it is the result both of its determination in the last instance by the ownership relation and of its relation of mutual determination with all other phenomena. This specific social content must manifest itself as a realized form. Thus, no reflection theory.

 

It is in this sense that each phenomenon is relatively autonomous from, because indirectly determined by, the ownership relation.

 

Due to their mutual determination, phenomena become the condition of existence and/or reproduction and/or supersession of all other phenomena and ultimately of society. This is the contradictory social content of phenomena. As seen above, each one of them gets this social content both by the ownership relation and by all other phenomena as in relation (γ). It is because of this that each phenomenon’ social content is specific to it.

 

It is in this sense that each phenomenon is relatively autonomous from, because indirectly determined by, the ownership relation.

 

We can now answer the question posed above: why and how can the determined phenomenon become the condition of reproduction or of supersession of the determinant one? We know that phenomena have a contradictory social content. We also know that the determinant phenomenon calls into existence the determined one from within the realm of its own potentialities. It follows that if the determinant phenomenon calls into existence the determined one from among the realm of its internal possibilities, it transfers to it its own contradictory social content, that content that it has received from all other phenomena as in relation (γ). Upon its realization, and due to this contradictory nature, the social content of the determined phenomenon reacts upon and modifies the social content of the determinant phenomenon and in this way it reproduces or supersedes the determinant phenomenon. We can now see that relation (γ) concerns the transfer of A’s social content to B and the (formal or radical) modification of A’s social content by B’s social content. In the last analysis, movement is powered by phenomena’s contradictory social content.

 

To sum up, the double contradictory rationality of the ownership relation is its social content. This social content is transferred to all other phenomena but in an indirect way. Through the mutual determination of all phenomena, including the ownership relation, the social content of the ownership relation emerges as the specific social content of each phenomenon determined by that relation, i.e. as the specific way a phenomenon’s social content is condition of existence or of reproduction or of supersession of other phenomena’s social content and thus of society (i.e. of the capitalist ownership relation).

 

Slide 22

Third principle: phenomena are subject to constant movement and change.

Movement is the change undergone by phenomena from being realized to being potential and vice versa; and from being a condition of existence to being a condition of reproduction and/or of supersession and vice versa due to their contradictory social content.

 

Third principle: phenomena are subject to constant movement and change. This principle follows from the first two. A realized phenomenon can change only because this is potentially possible, because of its potential nature. Without this potential reality, realized phenomena are static, they are what they are and not what they could be. Their potential nature makes possible not only their change but also delimits the quantitative and qualitative boundaries of that change. Phenomena are always both what they are (as realized phenomena) and potentially something different and contradictory to what they have become. But as we have see phenomena do not change in isolation, they do not change only because of their own potential nature. They change through the relation of mutual determination. Thus, movement is the change undergone by phenomena from being realized to being potential and vice versa; and from being a condition of existence to being a condition of reproduction and/or of supersession and vice versa.

 

Slide 23

Movement is

(1) cyclical

(2) this cyclical movement is tendential in the sense that one of the two forces, either the reproductive or the superseding, is the tendency and the other the countertendency.

 

Movement has several specific features. Here I will mention only two of them. First, movement is cyclical. A determinant phenomenon can call into existence more than one phenomenon. Phenomenon A can determine B, C etc. Given the contradictory nature of the determinant phenomenon, some determined phenomena are contradictory conditions or reproduction and other are contradictory condition of supersession. If the conditions of reproduction are dominant, the determinant phenomenon reproduces itself in spite of the conditions of supersession. In the opposite case, it supersedes itself in spite of the conditions of reproduction. However, the contradictory reproduction is only temporary because the superseding force gains eventually the upper hand. The same for the contradictory supersession. Thus, the contradictory movement of the determinant phenomenon towards reproduction or supersession is cyclical. Second, this cyclical movement is tendential in the sense that one of the two forces, either the reproductive or the superseding, is the tendency and the other the countertendency. This is especially important in the study of the laws of movement of capitalism.

 

Slide 24

Formal logic

1 Law of identity A = A

2 Law of the excluded middle either A=A or A ≠A, there is no third possibility

3 Law of non-contradiction, a proposition, A=A, and its denial, A≠A, cannot both be true.

This cannot explain change.

 

I will now contrast dialectical logic as developed here with formal logic. Mainstream social sciences make use of traditional formal logic. The question, then, is whether formal and dialectical logic exclude each other or whether they can coexist. I will deal only with traditional formal logic because of two reasons. First, this is the logic used in the social sciences. Second, the conclusion will be reached that, while dialectical logic can accommodate contradictions in a constructive and fruitful way, this is impossible in formal logic. This applies both to traditional and to modern formal logic.

 

Formal logic rests on three basic laws. The law of identity states that something is equal to itself, i.e. A = A. It is well known that this is nothing more than a truism. As such it cannot generate any knowledge about A. The law of the excluded middle states that the statement A=A is either true or not true, i.e. either A=A or A ≠A. There is no third possibility. The law of non-contradiction, states that two contradictory propositions cannot both be true. A proposition, A=A, and its denial, A≠A, cannot both be true.

 

Notice that if A=A, there is no possible change, no possibility for A to become different from itself.

 

Slide 25

For dialectical logic A is equal to itself and at the same time different from itself because Ar=Ar and at the same time Ar≠Ap This explains change.

 

As I just pointed out, A = A is a truism. To be a meaningful statement, it must also be possible for A to be different from A. In this case, we can inquire into the conditions for A=A and for A≠A, i.e. into why and how A=A and why and how A≠A. This is what dialectical logic does. For dialectal logic, A is equal to itself and at the same time different from itself because of both its realized and of its potential nature.  Given that both Ar and Ap are two aspects of the same phenomenon, Ar=Ar and at the same time Ar≠Ap. Formal logic is blind to the realm of potentialities so that it can only see that Ar is always and only equal to Ar. Change is banned from this view. But a society without change is a society in equilibrium and in equilibrium time ceases to be relevant. And these are indeed the features of bourgeois economics. This allows us to distinguish dialectical contradictions from logical mistakes.

 

Slide 26

Three types of contradiction

1. Formal logic contradictions

2. Meaningless contradictions.

3. Dialectical contradictions

 

Case 1. Formal logic contradictions. If we consider only realized reality, what has become can only be what has become: Ar can only be Ar and the statement that Ar is different from Ar is a logical mistake. An 8 hour working day is an 8 hour working day and to assert that an 8 hour working day is also not an 8 hour working day is a logical contradiction, a mistake.

 

Case 2. Meaningless contradictions. If we consider both realizations and potentials, to hold that a realized phenomenon is different from its potentialities [Ar =Ar and Ar ≠Ap] is a meaningless contradiction if the potentialities are not contained in that realized phenomenon. The contradiction between a realized sheep and a potential horse, a horse potentially present in a sheep, is a meaningless contradiction because a horse in not a potential development of a sheep. It is meaningless to assert that a realized phenomenon is different from what it cannot potentially be.

 

Case 3. Dialectical contradictions. If we consider both the realized and the potential, the statement that a realized phenomenon is equal to itself but different from what it can potentially be is not a logical contradiction if those potentialities are indeed contained in that phenomenon. In this case we a have a real, or dialectical, contradiction. That a realized 8 hour working day is different from a potential 10 hour working day is a dialectical contradiction because a 10 hour working day is a real possibility, because the same forces that fix the length of the working day at 8 hours can also change it to 10 hours, thus explaining (the possibility of) its change. A dialectical contradiction is a contradiction between what has become and what can be(come) if the two aspects of that phenomenon are contradictory. Far from being a logical mistake, a dialectical contradiction is eminently suited to explain change. On the other hand, for formal logic all contradictions are mistakes.

 

This is different from saying that something can both be and not be. This is not dialectical logic but absurd nonsense deriving from disregarding the potential dimension of reality.

 

There is no division of labor between dialectical logic and formal logic. They are incompatible. Formal logic reduces movement to a succession of static moments

 

Slide 27

Formal logic is an ideology

 

It follows that formal logic, seen from the standpoint of its class content, is an ideology because it rules out dialectical contradictions and thus movement and change.

 

What is an ideology? An ideology is a form of knowledge that defends, implicitly or openly, the interests of a class as if they were the interests of all classes, usually by denying the existence of classes. Marxism is not an ideology because it openly defends the interests of labour. Neo-classical economics is an ideology because it defends the interests of Capital as if they were the interests of everybody. Thus an ideology is a form of knowledge that hides rather than revealing class interests. This is the case for formal logic as well. It was born in a slave society and was functional for the reproduction of that society. It was a static view of reality, a rationality in which radical change was absent. It was the status quo that was rational. Formal logic continued to be accepted in subsequent societies, including capitalism, because it can perform the same reactionary function in societies which, in spite of their differences, share the common feature of being class divided societies and in which it is in the interest of the ruling classes to use and foster this implicit rationalization of the status quo. This accounts for the resilience of traditional formal logic which has remained basically the same for over 2,000 years. Formal logic is an ideology not so much because of what it says but because of what it does not say. Those Marxists who accept formal logic as the method of social analysis cannot ground theoretically contradictory social change. Given that Marx’s theory is informed by dialectics, the banning of dialectics cannot but result in a static and thus conservative view. Formal logic and dialectical logic do not complement each other; they exclude each other because of their opposite class content.

 

Slide 28

Nevertheless the principles of formal logic can and must be applied within dialectical logic if the potentials are disregarded as just a partial step in the analysis.

 

Nevertheless, if the class content of formal logic is the opposite of, and excludes, that of dialectical logic, the principles of formal logic can and should be applied within dialectical logic as an supplementary method. In fact, whereas dialectical logic considers reality both for what it is and for what it can become, it is possible and sometimes necessary to choose a level of abstraction in which only the realm of the realized is considered as a partial and incomplete step in the analysis. In this case, the rules of formal logic apply. But this is acceptable only a within a broader view of reality stressing both the realized and the potential. The rules of formal logic, if immersed in a dialectical interpretative scheme, do not deny dialectical contradictions, movement and change but complement their understanding. To ban dialectical contradictions, movement and change from analysis (as in formal logic) means to hold on to a specific class content of the analysis. But to temporarily disregard the potentials, to analyze separately the potentials and the realized as a technique within a dialectical framework, is methodologically possible and necessary. The rules of formal logic, if immersed in dialectical logic, lose their class content.

 

From date
17-01-2008
To date
17-01-2008
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