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Thursday, May 5, 2016

Dialectical Materialism : Is It Obsolete In The 21st Century?

A Soviet philosophical encyclopedia of the 1960s speaks of the evolution of complexity in nature as follows: "This whole series of forms (mechanical, physical, chemical, biological and social) is distributed according to complexity from lower to higher. This seriation expresses their mutual bonds in terms of structure and in terms of history. The general laws of the lower forms of the motion of matter keep their validity for all the higher forms but they are subject to the higher laws and do not have a prominent role. They change their activity because of changed circumstances. Laws can be general or specific, depending on their range of applicability. The specific laws fall under the special sciences and the general laws are the province of diamat."Each level of matter exists as a type of organization, in which the elements that make up a whole, or system, are marked by a specific type of interconnection.
Going by Britannica Encyclopedia's introduction to what is dialectical materialism,here is a small excerpt : 
"Dialectical materialism, a philosophical approach to reality derived from the teachings of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels. For Marx and Engels, materialism meant that the material world, perceptible to the senses, has objective reality independent of mind or spirit. They did not deny the reality of mental or spiritual processes but affirmed that ideas could arise, therefore, only as products and reflections of material conditions. Marx and Engels understood materialism as the opposite of idealism, by which they meant any theory that treats matter as dependent on mind or spirit, or mind or spirit as capable of existing independently of matter. For them, the materialist and idealist views were irreconcilably opposed throughout the historical development of philosophy. They adopted a thoroughgoing materialist approach, holding that any attempt to combine or reconcile materialism with idealism must result in confusion and inconsistency."
According to Hegel,if negation is the inner life-force of the dialectic, then triadic structure is its organic, fractal form.


A thought is affirmed which on reflection proves itself unsatisfactory, incomplete of contradictory ...


which propels the affirmation of its negation, the antithesis, which also on reflection proves inadequate ...


and so is again negated ...

Hegel's dialectic triad also serves another logical purpose. Kant had distinguished two kinds of logic:

  • The analytic logic of understanding which focuses the data of sense-experience to yield knowledge of the natural phenomenal world.
  • The dialectical logic of understanding which operates independently of sense-experience and erroneously professes to give knowledge of the transcendent noumena ("things in themselves" or also the "infinite" or the "whole")

Hegel's view is completely different.

  • Analytic understanding is only adequate for natural science and practical everyday life, not for philosophy.
  • Dialectic reason is not concerned with Kant's "transcendent", nor with the abstract "mutilated" parts of reality, but with reality as a totality, and therefore gives true knowledge.
Though the second proposition is understandable,the first one is hard to assimilate.When we are bringing philosophy to a practical totality,we are not supposed to pull demarcation lines but absolutism takes its turn here and doesn't make things look very sound.Kant is supposed to have an upper hand about this and the first of Kant's notions here does indeed fit well with Marxian logic and content! 

Georgi Plekhanov (the father of Russian Marxism) had indeed written a fantastic paper in favour of dialectical materialism.To begin with,there are three traditional laws of thought,and mind you - all of these are axiomatic in nature and kind.
Going by the notion that we do have to accept hypothetical assumptions at times in order to understand reality better,let us consider these three laws for once :-

  • The Law of Identity
  • The Law of Non-Contradictions
  • The Law of excluded middle
Now any person who has had the slightest introduction to studying a little bit of Logic,Game Theory and Set Theory will find all of these easy to understand (not to assimilate,necessarily).
Dialectics then,becomes a fatal contradiction to these laws.According to these laws,"Yes is Yes and No is No."
According to dialectics,"Yes is No and No is Yes."
Plekhanov has shown us something very interesting here,
"The movement of matter underlies all the phenomena of nature. But what is movement? It is an obvious contradiction. Should any one ask you whether a body in motion is at a particular spot at a particular time, you will be unable, with the best will in the world, to answer In accordance with Ueberweg’s rule, that is to say in accordance with the formula, “Yes is yes, and no is no.” A body in motion is at a given point, and at the same time it is not there. We can only consider it in accordance with the formula “Yes is no, and no is yes.” This moving body thus presents itself as an irrefutable argument in favor of the “logic of contradiction”; and one who is unwilling to accept this logic will be forced to proclaim, with Zeno, that motion is merely an illusion of the senses."

Talking with a dear friend of mine today,he pulled a beautiful conclusion to my question about if reality was the intersection of philosophy and science.I was still floating amidst the limited concept of a Venn diagram (they're a huge favourite of mine!) but my friend readily asserted that the lines must be smudging somewhere.'Smudge' and 'Somewhere' are both infinite concepts.There is no proper definition you can give to them because they will always cling to their relative nature - say,infinite number of rough surfaces give birth to a smooth one,or appears to do so,can you define how many of these rough surfaces constitute the smooth surface? No,we can't do that.Very similarly,you can't determine the number of infinite points located between that smudge,because smudge then also consists of an infinite number of lines,which themselves are collections of infinite number of points.
And even going by what is known as "The Double Negation Law" proposed by George Boole,this holds true,that is - not so absolutely,absolutely true.

According to Richard J Bernstein,

“Metaphysics” is a term which has had a bad press in some circles. It suggests the
possibility of a “transcendent metaphysics” – the study of what is ultimately real. And, of course, there is a great popularity of the expression “post-metaphysical.” Clearly all the classical pragmatic thinkers opposed “transcendent metaphysics” and what Dewey called the “quest for certainty.”

Demarcation is a very classic concept,it is when children learn (or are taught rather) that milk is good and wine is bad.Well,they are still relative,right? You can't say wine is despicable.Or milk is sacred (unless you have been brainwashed by some religious fundamentalist group belonging to South Asia).So,apart from defying motion,you also defy the point that men are supposed to have choices if you accept the "fundamental" and extremely axiomatic laws of thought.Trying to reduce Philosophy to mathematical equations is perfectly comparable to "Understanding electric chairs by electricity." (Kapitza)

Lewontin, Gould and Eldredge were interested in dialectical materialism as a heuristic, than a dogmatic form of 'truth' or a statement of their politics. Though they found a readiness for critics to "seize upon" key statements and portray punctuated equilibrium, and exercises associated with it, such as public exhibitions, as a "Marxist plot";
apart from the commonly cited example of water turning to steam with increased temperature, Gould and Eldredge noted another analogy in information theory, "with its jargon of equilibrium, steady state, and homeostasis maintained by negative feedback," and "extremely rapid transitions that occur with positive feedback."

In Page 410 of the book 'Quantum Mechanics and Dialectical Materialism' written by noted historian in Science Loren Graham,the following excerpt is worth a mention.

"All scientists in the course of their investigations must occasionally proceed
beyond physical facts and mathematical methods. Choices between alternative
courses which are equally justifiable on the basis of the mathematical
formalism and the physical facts must be made. The choice will often be
based on philosophic considerations and will often have philosophic implications.
Thus, Fock in his interpretation of quantum mechanics defined "complementarity"
as a "complementarity between classical descriptions of microparticles
and causality." 96 In his subsequent choice between retaining either
a classical description or causality, he chose causality, and thereby lost the
possibility of a classical description. He could have gone the other way. This
decision inevitably involved philosophy, but if a person believes that a philosophy
other than dialectical materialism would have led to a necessarily
different decision, he is attributing to dialectical materialism a uniqueness
which it does not approach."

Summing it up,Dialectical Materialism is not at least a silly scripture that has scribbled on it norms of baseless tradition and unscientific methodology.A major part of materialism itself leans towards scientific philosophy and as such,is not in a position way far from the class struggle,to cite an example.Even if we do not consider the chronology,there is science in imperialism,since both psychology and biology are sub-branches of life sciences.What determines or demoralises our spirit,what forms spirit at all - unfurling of all these stages and constant conflicts of one with the other (among forms) ; all of which are not straight cut negations of each other indicates the fact of a science being quite scientific,after all,though radicalism is also a science and that is why science proves itself by defying itself.Let us end today's discussion by going back to how Bernstein explained what he termed the “errors” of Marx and Engels. "They were due", he said," to the disastrous influence of dialectic..."


  • G. Plekhanov. Marxist Library Volume I. Fundamental Problems of Marxism. Dialectics and Logic;
    • Hegel for Beginners, by Llyod Spencer and Andrzej Krauze, Published by Icon Books
    • 'Quantum Mechanics and Dialectical Materialism' by
       Loren R. Graham
    Source: Slavic Review, Vol. 25, No. 3 (Sep., 1966), pp. 381-410
    Published by: The American Association for the Advancement of Slavic Studies
    Stable URL: .
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