[OPE] Recent serious theoretical discussions: reply to Dogan

From: Jurriaan Bendien (adsl675281@tiscali.nl)
Date: Sat Apr 05 2008 - 07:59:15 EDT

Jerry has articulated my intention very well. I realize that Karl Popper, although deeply concerned with human freedom, had a very poor understanding of Hegelian dialectics and the history of science. But I was not meaning to refer to Popper. The concept of "totalitarianism" did not originate with Popper, contrary to what Dogan implies. It originated in critical-Marxist circles, and in fascist circles. The liberals took over the concept of totalitarianism, and reshaped its meaning. They did not invent it. Stalin hired an an academic to teach him Hegelian dialectics in the 1920s and the academic disappeared without trace afterwards. Stalin hated "Hegelian Marxists", he saw them as a threat to his modernization project, and many of them were ruthlessly persecuted, exiled, and/or killed.

I do not deny the utility of dialectics at all - without dialectics, I would for example never be able to communicate successfully with any person at all. Because, that communication involves moving between different logical levels (contexts) in a non-arbitrary way which, however, cannot be fully stated in formal deductive inferences which are computable. If we try to do this, we get logical paradoxes.

Mario Bunge in his useful book "Causality and Modern Science" acknowledges the importance of understanding dialectical relationships and properties in dynamic systems, where causes may turn into effects and effects into causes which reciprocally influence each other, or depend on each other. The Canadian philosopher Charles Taylor in many writings explicates the meaning of Hegel's dialectical method very well.

The real question is always where the totality comes from, or how you arrive at the totality, and then, what function/role that totality actually plays. For example, is the totality only a metaphysical contrivance by an academic who thinks he is being very profound or sexy, or is it a general conclusion from comprehensive research? Does the totality disclose the essence of reality, or does it merely force acceptance of a set of distinctions on other people?

To illustrate the point, I vividly recall how, as a sophomore student in 1979, I woke up one summer day thinking that now I understood - if not everything - "the totality of things". Everything had slipped into place, and suddenly I felt I understood life "as a whole". When I think of it now, I have to smile about my own naive optimism. I understand now much better all the work and experience it takes to reach the point where you really have a grand overview of a particular subject (in my case, world history, the theory of organisation, the theory of political economy, the theory of human development, and the theory of the human spirit). 

In a preface to the French edition of Capital, Marx writes similarly:

"the method of analysis which I have employed, and which had not previously been applied to economic subjects, makes the reading of the first chapters rather arduous, and it is to be feared that the French public, always impatient to come to a conclusion, eager to know the connexion between general principles and the immediate questions that have aroused their passions, may be disheartened because they will be unable to move on at once. That is a disadvantage I am powerless to overcome, unless it be by forewarning and forearming those readers who zealously seek the truth. There is no royal road to science, and only those who do not dread the fatiguing climb of its steep paths have a chance of gaining its luminous summits." http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1867-c1/p2.htm


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