Re: (OPE-L) New Dialectics and Critical Realism

From: Andrew Brown (Andrew@LUBS.LEEDS.AC.UK)
Date: Mon Mar 22 2004 - 11:19:00 EST

Hi Jerry,

  What objections have been
> made by critical realists to the claims in your paper?

The paper has a Spinozist orientation that is shared neither by critical realism nor
systematic dialectics; this is unfortunate given that the paper claims to be comparing
the two!

Turning to the more general issue, there is no clear position regarding the
relationship between critical realism and systematic dialectics shared by people
working within or across these postions. [this is reflected in repsonses to my paper]

It is possible to see each as highlighting weaknesses in the other: systematic
dialectics does not in general stress the non-identity of thought and being that is
crucial to critical realism. Furthermore it regards much of the detailed historical work
in 'Capital' (e.g. on length of the working day), and the dicsussion of primitive
accumultion as not essential to 'Capital'. This may seem indicative of idealism from
a critical realist perspective [recall, also, Ollman's criticisms]. Critical realism, on the
other hand, is comparatively silent on the method of presentation and, moreover,
can be portrayed as having a Kantian orientation in its' notion of 'transcendental
deduction' -- these might be points of criticism from a (Hegel-inspired) systematic
dialectic perspective.

I could be seen as arguing that Ilyenkov's materialist dialectics concurs with [but
deepens significantly] both the criticisms of critical realism and of Hegel-inspired
systematic dialectics. At the same time materialist dialectics takes the best of both
positions. The upshot is that, for example, it becomes plain just what Marx's
argument in the first few pages of 'Capital' is: the commodity-form is the 'cell-form'
of capital [Hegel-inspired systematic dialectics helps with the notion of 'cell-form'].
The commodity-form is a form of value where the substance of value is abstract
labour [critical realism is perhaps helpful regarding a relevant notion of 'substance'].
Neither the systematic dialectic notion of 'cell-form' nor the critical realist notion of
'substance' is however quite right. Materialist dialectics gets both right.

 Have Hans and
> Howard, for instance, given you feedback?  More generally (turning the
> question on its head), have there been any critiques of "materialist
> dialectics" (as distinct from "dialectical materialism") from a
> critical realist perspective?

Well, my own work is in its infancy. The disappointing thing is that Ilyenkov is very
little known -- Bhaskar forever makes grand claims about the entire Marxist tradition
yet is entirely ignorant of Ilyenkov, it seems. But it is difficult to generalise. Ilyenkov
indirectly is very influential on modern value theory via the influence of Ilyenkov on
Geoff Pilling. Some critical realists are deeply impressed by Ilyenkov, and have
been for years -- Steve Fleetwood, for example. Ilyenkov gets entirely different
interpretations from serious scholars. Chris A. has a brief go at Ilyenkov in a
footnote of his recent book, yet his interpretation is somewhat at odds with my own!

Many thanks,


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