dialectics: 'new', 'systematic' and 'materialist'

From: Andrew Brown (Andrew@LUBS.LEEDS.AC.UK)
Date: Mon Mar 15 2004 - 06:48:57 EST

Michael, Chris, Jerry and all,

Many thanks for the interesting discussion and questions. Jerry asked about my 'new
dialectics' (1999, unpublished) paper. Answering Jerry's question is a good place to
begin a contribution to this thread:

My 1999 piece compares 'new dialectics' with 'critical realism'. The term 'new
dialectics' was, of course, coined by Chris Arthur in 1993. It is discussed [as 'the new
dialectic'] in Chris's recent book: 'The New Dialectic and Marx's "Capital"' (2002,
Leiden: Brill).

While it can have a very broad connotation, in the 1999 paper I used the term 'new
dialectics' because it embraces the work of T.Smith, Geert Reuten/M.Williams and
Chris. My basic point in the paper is that new dialectics corrrectly stresses the need
to develop, or dialectically derive, concepts from abstract and simple to concrete
and complex. Critical realism  fails to stress the notion of dialectical derivation
hence is misleading on the question of abstraction, especially as applied to
capitalism and hence the interpretation of Marx's 'Capital'.

My narrow focus, on the dialectical derivation of categories that grasp the capitalist
system, meant that I was effectively focusing on *systematic* dialectics. I was using
the term 'new dialectics' and 'systematic dialectics' as synonyms. Since that paper I
have made explicit the narrowness of my focus. Thus in a 2002 CJE paper, joint
with D.Spencer and G.Slater, I compare 'systematic dialectics' with the critical realist
notion of abstraction. I argue that systematic dialectics contains a notion of
abstraction absent from critical realism. This new notion of abstraction is 'systematic
abstraction'; when we say that categories must be developed from abstract to
concrete we are referring to 'systematic abstraction'.

Also in that CJE paper we discuss Ollman (1993) 'Dialectical Investigations' [as
appropriated by Tony Lawson]. Ollman (1993) refers to 3 dimensions of abstraction.
But he does *not* refer to systematic dialectics and systematic abstraction. This is a
major deficiency, in our view. Hence we call 'systematic abstraction' the '4th
dimension' of abstraction and criticise critical realism for omitting this 4th dimension.
The chapter by Ollman, referred to by Jerry, indicates *why* Ollman omits the '4th
dimension': he is critical of it.

Thus far it might seem that I am fully in favour of 'systematic dialectics', as
articulated by, for example, Chris A., Tony S. and Geert R. However, another
development of my work has offerred constructive criticism of certain aspects of the
arguments of such contemporary systematic dialecticians. Essentially, I argue that
this work is 'idealist'. The term 'idealist' has many different possible meanings. Chris
and Tony successfully -- though in different ways -- refute the charge of 'idealism' on
most prominent meanings of that term. However, I draw heavily from the work of
E.V. Ilyenkov, which is either rather neglected or badly misinterpreted by systematic
dialecticians. Ilyenkov refers to his work as advocating 'materialist dialectics'. In this
light, I now distinguish between 'Hegel-inspired systematic dialectics' and 'materialist
dialectics'. The former is the work of the aforementioned contemporary systematic
dialecticians. The latter is compatible with Ilyenkov's work.

I would see the tradition in part developed and inspired by Ben Fine as compatible
with materialist dialectics. A recent example that seemed to me to display such
compatibility was Cryus Bina's recent contributions to this list. Alfredo's work is
another good example. Alfredo first introduced me to both new dialectics and
materialist dialectics (though we seem to disagree about many things philosophical).
Michael P.'s 'qualitative' value theory -- i.e. the marvellous article in CJE 1999 --
certainly seems fully compatible with the notion of materialist dialectics that I
advocate. Of course these are my own views not necessarily those of the author's
that I mention.

Many thanks,


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