Re: [xmca] Response to DK about Volition

From: Steve Gabosch <sgabosch who-is-at>
Date: Sun Sep 09 2007 - 16:35:19 PDT

Andy asks:
"Tell me: what do you understand by "Nature is NOT dialectical"??"

I appreciate these challenges, they sharpen me up. Giving this
question of whether nature is dialectical a little more thought, I
expand a little on aspects already mentioned, and add a few more.

To address Andy's question specifically, if a person more or less
agrees with the ontological aspects I have listed below, and will be
kind enough to look past the inadequacies of my rough formulations,
they are at least de facto on their way holding the view the nature
is dialectical. If they disagree with one or more of these
ontological aspects, they would probably argue that nature is not

There are also epistemological aspects to the claim that nature is
dialectical. These could also be grounds for rejecting the
claim. See what you think.

Some ontological aspects of the claim "nature is dialectical":

1) Nature is always changing. The "nature is dialectical" position
chooses a dynamic model over static.

2) Nature is driven by internal contradiction. The "nature is
dialectical" viewpoint chooses an internal opposition model over an
external interaction model. This is an application of the principle
of the unity and conflict of *internal* opposites. It sees
contradictions as internal unities and conflicts within larger
developing systems, which must always be taken into account. I make
a special point of the "internal" aspect of motion and contradiction
in dialectical thinking to distinguish dialectics from its more
simple cousin, interactionism, which tends to only account for the
external features of motion and has difficulty accounting for contradiction.

3) Nature develops in a zigzag fashion. The "nature is dialectical"
viewpoint chooses a punctuated equilibrium model over a gradualist
model, which dominated science until the 19th and even the 20th
century in many fields. This is an application of the principle of
quantity transforming into quality. Complexity science has made
important strides in understanding this principle.

4) Nature is ever-unique. The "nature is dialectical" viewpoint
chooses a "zigzag" model over a cyclical one. This is an application
of the principle of the negation of the negation. Nature is
constantly negating, transforming and overcoming itself so the
overall outcome is ever-new. This view, developed especially by
Hegel in relationship to human history, stands in strong contrast to
the cyclical models of nature and society that previously dominated
human thought.

5) Causation exists in nature - but not linear, mechanical causation
- rather, complex dialectical contradiction exists in all forms of
motion and development

Some epistemological aspects of the claim "nature is dialectical":

1) Nature is lawful and knowable. Accurate generalizations about
nature are possible. The "nature is dialectical" viewpoint chooses
the view that nature as comprehensible over the view that nature is

2) Nature is lawful, but has different laws of motion in different
domains (for example, chemical, biological, and
social). Inappropriate application of laws across qualitatively
different domains is possibly the most common methodological error in science.

3) Materialist dialectics offers a superior method of modeling and
explaining the motions of nature, society, and the individual. It is
better at integrating generalizations, and distinguishing domains,
than other existing philosophical models (for example, spiritualist,
mechanist, dualist).

Some of my terminology is of course steeped in the dialectical
materialist tradition, and sounds foreign to many in the scientific
community today, especially in the US and UK, where dialectical
terminology is especially out of favor. Significantly, all or at
least many of these so-called dialectical ideas about nature can now
be separately found in other terminology traditions in the natural
and social sciences, such as in what is coming to be known as
complexity science (emergentism, hierarchy theory, self-organization,
etc.). There seems to be an overall merging of "dialectical" ideas
about nature taking place, with new kinds of understandings and
explanations along these lines being developed in all
fields. Whereas many would probably categorically deny that "nature
is dialectical" - some would argue that only ways of thinking can be
"dialectical" (is this your position, Andy?) - that is, if they even
accept the notion of "dialectics" at all - they might agree, in
different terms, with many or perhaps even all of the ontological
aspects I've listed. Despite Engels' terminology being out of favor
in many circles, and his priority being unacknowledged or unknown,
his arguments that nature is dialectical seem to continue to gain
ground, item by item. This is a long-term discussion, and we shall
see where it goes in coming years.

- Steve

At 05:10 PM 9/9/2007 +1000, you wrote:

>>Returning to you, Andy, I take it that you disagree with Vygotsky,
>>and Engels, and hold the view that nature is not dialectical, and
>>that the laws of dialectical motion do not or can not be applied to
>>nature. Do I have that right? Perhaps not. I am actually not
>>sure what your position is. I am perfectly okay with whatever view
>>you hold. Perhaps you would like to explain your opinion on this
>>in a few lines, or whatever you need.
>>- Steve
>Your 3-point justification was perfect, Steve. Reams of quotations
>add nothing. The claim is either trivial or a category error.
>Different people say different things in different situations for
>different reasons. If you are having an argument with a Platonist
>theologian or an analytical philosopher there might be a point. But
>in a milieu like this I don't understand the point.
>There are 101 definitions of dialectics. If all we are claiming is
>that things change, that's trivial. If you want to go further, then
>I think you will have to specify the meaning of "dialectics" with
>some statement about concepts, intelligibility, truth, knowledge,
>science or whatever. The claim that "we think like this because
>nature is like this" has a certain obvious validity - thought must
>follow the contours of its object - but beyond that, it is a
>terribly wrong maxim: "Men are cruel because Nature is cruel"
>??? "We drive on the left because nature drives on the left." ??
>Tell me: what do you understand by "Nature is NOT dialectical"??
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Received on Sun Sep 9 16:37 PDT 2007

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