Re: [OPE-L] ad hominem

From: Howard Engelskirchen (howarde@TWCNY.RR.COM)
Date: Mon Jul 10 2006 - 16:59:39 EDT

Hi Jerry and all,

This is interesting and relates, I think, in an important way back to
Antonio's reference to this passage in his Christmas Day post from last
winter.  More on that below.

I don't think it helps much here to try to work Marx's meaning out from the
way we normally use the term 'ad hominum' in philosophical argument.  He has
that meaning in mind for sure, but only very ironically.

First, Marx is having some fun with polemic and particularly with
philosophers' Latin -- he says a few pages earlier of the historical school
of law that it is a school "to which history shows nothing but its a
posteriori," and he means backside.  He uses 'ad hominum', I think, in about
the same way.

Second, Marx is addressing the dismal situation of contemporary Germany vis
a vis modern nations.  Germany is modern only in philosophy.  The whole
point of the argument is that philosophy is not good enough -- you have to
turn it into practice.  Criticism of contemporary conditions has to mean the
actual overthrow of those conditions:  "The criticism which deals with these
facts is involved in a hand-to-hand fight, and in such fights it does not
matter what the opponent's rank is, or whether he is noble or interesting:
what matters is to hit him."

Therefore, "the criticism of the speculative philosophy of law finds its
progression not within itself but in tasks which can be solved in one way --
through practice."  Etc.  The theme is developed from the beginning to the
end of the introduction.

So in the passage itself, I take the meaning to be that theory is capable of
gripping the masses when it becomes a causal force in actual people -- it
demonstrates ad hominum when it is an actual hominum doing the hitting in a
hand to hand fight, and with his fist.

And as perhaps a further irony, we reject ad hominum argument insofar as you
attack a person's character, etc.  But it's also the case that a person
might argue correctly even though you think he's a fool.  Whatever you think
of we who have been nothing, the fact of the matter is (and in grasping this
we will show it to be true!) we shall be all.

Antonio referred to this passage in the course of explaining that we could
not treat social structures as objective in the way natural structures are
because they are not mind independent.

Marx's point here resolves that dilemma.  Mind is part of the causal
structure we are, so of course social structures are not independent of how
we interpret, what we think, plan, etc.  Marx's related point here is that
thinking alone doesn't make anything a causal force.  In order to function
causally, we have to be engaged as causal beings, not just as thinking ones.
More, we have to act on what it is we intend to transform, natural or
social, with causal mechanisms adequate to the task.  An individual doesn't
change capitalism by smashing a machine.

But insofar as we function causally, our doing is objective the way other
causal structures of nature and society are objective.


----- Original Message -----
From: <glevy@PRATT.EDU>
Sent: Monday, July 10, 2006 1:39 PM
Subject: Re: [OPE-L] ad hominem

> Some time ago Mike L asked for interpretations of the following
> quote from Marx. On another list, Chris Wright (in also addressing a
> book by Mike Davis) offers his answer. I am forwarding it to OPE-L
> with his permission.
> In solidarity, Jerry
> ====================================================================
> Chris Wright <cwright666@...> wrote:
> "It is clear that the arm of criticism cannot replace the criticism
> of arms. Material force can only be overthrown by material force; but
> theory also becomes a material force as soon as it has gripped the
> masses. Theory is capable of gripping the masses as soon as it
> demonstrates ad hominem, and it demonstrates ad hominem as soon as it
> becomes radical. To be radical is to grasp the root of the matter.
> But, for man, the root is man himself."
>   Contribution to the Critique
>   of Hegel's /Philosophy of Right/
> There is an interesting discussion of ad hominem argument at
> s/ad.hominem.html, though presented via formal logic.
> To me, Marx's point is that insofar as ad hominem is an attack on a
> person or their circumstances, if one shows the faulty logic of an
> argument, it is not enough.  One must also show the human basis for
> the argument, hence the ad hominem.  That Marx critiques ideas as not
> merely false, but he goes to the foundation of the ideas, to their root in
> human social relations.  It seems to me that Marx must, of necessity,
> reject merely logical critique which stands abstracted from the class
> interests it represents.  This is not about seeking an emotive
> response, but about naming names and setting sights on a target.
> Hence the reason Marx talks about this alongside his "Criticism of
> weapons, weapon of criticism" line which people are so familiar with.
> So one could argue that Mike is not going far enough in his critique
> of Davis if he does not display not merely what the political
> implications of his argument are, but what class interests it serves and
> why Mike Davis might be given to such a direction.  Ad hominem in Marx's
> sense is quite polemical and demands that people not merely bear
> responsibility for their ideas, but that they not be allowed to act as if
> those ideas were merely personal rather than expressing a certain social
> reality and class view.
> While people might feel uncomfortable with that re: Mike Davis, who
> would reject such a point re: a Rush Limbaugh or Ann Coulter?  So
> then why with Mike Davis?
> IMO, Marx makes use of this in very clear ways in his political
> writing, such as the 18th Brumaire, where his assessments of actions
> and ideas and the people holding them are often very ad hominem.
> Cheers,
> Chris

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