Re: [OPE] Is 'dialectic' a scientific, pre-scientific or pseudo-scientific concept?

From: Dave Zachariah (
Date: Wed Apr 02 2008 - 15:59:31 EDT

My goal was not to resolve differences but rather to bring out what I 
see as problems. I was also interested to hear some good arguments for 
not ditching the reference to 'dialectic'.

Paul C and Paul B, I think gave good answers in the context of 
understanding social processes: For some thinkers for the "language of 
dialectics provided the metaphors necessary to think through complex 
problems". Marx's study of Hegel may have been essential for his study 
of capitalism. If there are no more precise concepts available then it 
seems to me that 'dialectics' is legitimate for theorizing 
"contradictory material relations".

But consider predators and prey. What deeper understanding can 
dialectics give us here other than concluding that they are engaged in a 
contradictory material relationship with each other? This may be an 
essential step for some thinkers for further investigation. But compare 
this with viewing predators and preys as a dynamical system modeled by 
first order, non-linear, differential equations whose properties can be 
studied and predicted. In this case, and I think in natural science in 
particular a 'dialectical approach' cannot improve any theory cast in 
the existing conceptual apparatus. Therefore it is either older language 
as Paul C points out, or simply redundant.

I would revise my statement and say that a 'dialectical approach' was 
important to open up fields of inquiry in social sciences. But I can't 
see it's utility beyond that especially if you compare it with concepts 
borrowed from say computation and statistical mechanics. C.f. Ian, Paul 
C and Allin Cottrell's work, Farjoun and Machover's book.

//Dave Z

on 2008-04-02 17:47 wrote:
> Dave Z suggests to replace the concept of dialectic as such. This is 
> what I was opposing. What you seem to suggest to replace is just a 
> formal one, namely the title. But I do not see the reason or necessity 
> for this change. The term dialectics a overall term describing a 
> general concept of the world. The concept of contradiction is a core 
> concept as Hegel, Marx, Engels and Lenin pointed out. But dialectics 
> is not just about contradiction. It contains also the concept of 
> identity and many others. So prefer to stick to our overall term 
> Dialectics to refer to a particular approach in natural and social 
> scieces, and epistemology, in short, in the disciplines of *Sein* and 
> *Bewusstsein*.
> But I do not understand what you mean by the last sentence of your 
> post: "The idea of 'dynamic' or 'change' don't point to this 'motor'." 
> May I ask you to expound on that a bit please.
> Dogan
> -----Ursprüngliche Mitteilung-----
> Von:
> An: Outline on Political Economy mailing list <>
> Verschickt: Mi., 2. Apr. 2008, 12:37
> Thema: Re: [OPE] Is 'dialectic' a scientific, pre-scientific or 
> pseudo-scientific concept?
> I am a bit surprised at this exchange. Firstly given the period in 
> which Hegel Marx and Engles wrote, the notion that  change was 
> continuouis certainly conflicted with the method that all sciences 
> tended to rely on, AND we shoud bear in mknd that 'social science' was 
> barely in its infancy... ( where do we start there? earlier vthan 
> Comte?). Static or relative static / mechanical assessments were the 
> norm. So the reassertion of the 'dialectic' ( almost whatever sense of 
> dynamism one gives it) with hegel was 'revolutionary'.
> Secondly no one has really tried to define dilectical reasoning 
> here... Lenin was sincere enough to study Hegel in order to clarify 
> his mind about the process Marx had gone through, even though Marx's 
> method is absolutely different from Hegel...(and from the 'material' 
> side different from eg Holbach)  So why don't we try to see if  'ready 
> to hand' words that suggest motion and change really are sufficient to 
> replace the 'word' dialectic.. as has been suggested in this exchange 
> by DZ... OR whether it presents a *specific method* with *definite 
> philosophical grounds* and which provides therefore a particular 
> approach to investigation?  Certainly DZ's comments  seem to 
> exclude the basic dialectical premise that each social formation 
> contains within it the contradictions which will result in its 
> supercession by another. This isn't an idea that can be expressed by 
> the word 'change' or 'dynamic'. The essential concept is  that of 
> *'contradiction'*... and it the identification of the actual , 
> material, *contradictory social relations*, that is fundamental  in 
> the investigation. The idea of 'dynamic' or 'change' don't point to 
> this 'motor'.
> P Bullock
>     ----- Original Message -----
>     *From:* <>
>     *To:* <>
>     *Sent:* Tuesday, April 01, 2008 5:38 PM
>     *Subject:* Re: [OPE] Is 'dialectic' a scientific,pre-scientific or
>     pseudo-scientific concept?
>     Dave, we are from entirely different "planets". I do not see any
>     easy way of solving our differences in the short term. It is
>     perhaps not a bad idea to leave to time to solve - if at all.
>     Below my replies.
>     Dogan
>     ========
>     "Dialectics is the only scientific concept today". 
>     Dave Z:
>     ======
>     Certainly this is a mistake. By extension all other concepts are
>     non-scientific.
>     Thus physics, biology etc., which have no need to use 'dialectic',
>     would be non-scientific.
>     Reply
>     ======
>     This is a mistake. Dialectics is a universal concept and applies
>     to all sciences and humanities - of course in different forms.
>     Please take the terms: coldness versus and warmness; hardness
>     versus softness; universal and particular; illness and healthiness.
>     Without thinking these and many other contradictory terms we
>     cannot explain anything.  Dialectics says we have to think these
>     contradictory terms as unities and that they are represented in
>     one another. The motion from one to other is a process of
>     quantitative and qualitative processes. Let's take for example
>     illness. Can we define what illness is if do not think of
>     healthiness at the same time. And we fight against illness because
>     we usually know that healthiness is immanent in illness. Similarly
>     with all other terms.
>     Dogan
>     ======
>     Can you please give some reasons to justify your claim that
>     dialectics is pre or even pseudo-scientific? 
>     Dave Z
>     =======
>     There doesn't seem to be a precise meaning of 'dialectic', it
>     means whatever the author wants. But most often it is used as a
>     description of processes that are driven by the form "thesis,
>     anti-thesis and synthesis". At other times the emphasis is shifted
>     to describe processes that change quantitatively up to a point and
>     then make a qualitative "leap".
>     Reply
>     ======
>     It is not as arbitrary as you seem to think how one defines
>     dialectics as a concept of the world. It is an ontological concept
>     and must be discovered in things rather than in schematic
>     definitions. The reasons you give prove that even natural sciences
>     cannot do without dialectics. The concepts you refer to below are
>     all dialectical concepts though they may be used unconsciously:
>     "Dynamical systems" (was first developed against mechnic mode of
>     thought and approach by dialecticians); 'discontinuities' (implies
>     the concept of continuity); 'feedback signals' (implies the
>     dialectic of action reaction); 'phase transitions' (highly
>     dialectical concept because it implies changes from one
>     characteristic to another) onanther have more precise meaning and
>     predictive power in scientific theories. Since these concepts
>     proves the vice versa your claims "Dialectic is at best a
>     redundant concept",  "dialectic' is used as pseudo-scientific
>     nonsense" and so on stand.
>     Regards,
>     Dogan
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