Re: [xmca] Response to DK about Volition

From: Andy Blunden <ablunden who-is-at>
Date: Sun Sep 09 2007 - 17:11:49 PDT

Thanks Steve.
My reaction is still the same: your claims about Nature are all somewhere
in between being trivial or category errors. In so far as Nature is seen as
always changing, under its own internal tensions and not from outside,
inconsistently and unrepeatably, and we don't look too deeply into these
claims, they are trivial. But if we look at the claims more critically
(What does it mean to "change"?), then you get into just that space that
Hegel was in when he gave "dialectics" the exposition which was so
influential for Marx and Engels.
In the section on Reflection in the Shorter Logic, for example, Hegel deals
with 1), 2) and 4) as logical categories which when, subject to criticism,
turn out to lead to their own negation. Just take "Nature is ever-unique"
for example.
Hegel subjects this claim to critique and shows that it contains the claim
that things must also be the same in some way in order for them to be
compared about found to differ and from there he derived the notion of
"specific difference".
In other words, unless you are making a trivial claim (Nature is always
changing) you are making a claim about human activity, practice ("All
mysteries which lead theory to mysticism find their rational solution in
human practice and in the comprehension of this practice.") This is true
less obviously about your ontological claims, because they impute a mode of
subject-activity to the object itself, but it is self-evidently true of
your epistemological claims.
In the old days people used to argue about the nature of God. Thanks to
Spinoza, we now call God by the name "Nature" and argue whether Nature is
like this or like that. "Theses on Feuerbach" deals with this kind of
naturalistic religion. It is also the theoretical foundation of
Cultural-Historical Activity Theory, isn't it?
At 04:35 PM 9/09/2007 -0700, you wrote:
>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 dialectical.
>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 incomprehensible.
>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,
>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"??
>>xmca mailing list
>xmca mailing list

  Andy Blunden : tel (H) +61 3 9380 9435, AIM
identity: AndyMarxists mobile 0409 358 651

xmca mailing list
Received on Sun Sep 9 17:13 PDT 2007

This archive was generated by hypermail 2.1.8 : Mon Oct 08 2007 - 06:02:26 PDT