[OPE] Dialectics for the New Century

From: Jurriaan Bendien (adsl675281@tiscali.nl)
Date: Sun Apr 13 2008 - 08:44:45 EDT

"Logic proper" is indeed always about the conditions for  valid inference, but I think not necessarily about deduction only. For example, in abduction one chooses the hypothesis or premise that would, if true, best explain the relevant evidence, and induction often depends on probabilistic reasoning. 

In philosophy of science, logic, psychology and linguistics, what we learn is that there are many more forms of reasoning than deduction, and that "the conditions for making sense" are not limited to deductive proof only. That is to say, in the actual reasoning that people do, inferential processes occur which go beyond deductive formalism. If you acknowledge this, then you can understand human behaviour as a whole lot more rational, than if you restricted yourself only to deduction, and indeed in reconstructing scientific behaviour as rational behaviour, we are forced to acknowledge many different kinds of reasoning. 

Karl Popper mooted the idea of a "logic" of scientific discovery, but what else is this "logic" than the discovery of a puzzling phenomenon (for example a paradox) and its logically acceptable solution? In other words, the discovery process itself involves recognising conditions which, although they contradict each other, are nevertheless mutually presupposed or related, a situation for which you can give a scientific demonstration. It permits us to say that creative, imaginative (or heuristic) thought is reasonable, rather than arbitrary.

Dialectical reasoning is imprecise, if it is only "abstract" dialectical reasoning (dialectical thought devoid of any empirical/experiential content), because in that case the meaning of the terms used is solely determined by the language used, which permits of ambiguity, and because it does not necessarily lead to only one conclusion. There is simply nothing else in such reasoning that disciplines the reasoning, than the meanings we choose to adopt. All we are doing in that case is redefining concepts through techniques of abstraction and specification, which explore what they could mean relative to other concepts.

Thus Marx criticizes Hegel's dialectics as speculative, and it is speculative because it has no empirical content beyond the content of the mind, and thus depends essentially on word meanings (linguistic apposition). But dialectical reasoning is not imprecise if e.g. we study a particular observable phenomenon which contains elements which reciprocally determine each other, even although this appears to be a contradiction of terms. Because in that case, we can specify, verify and formalize very exactly how this reciprocation works.

An example might be the current financial crisis, which gives rise to a lot of puzzling phenomena which seem to contradict what we know, and which contradict each other. However, through a careful study of these phenomena, we can learn to understand them in their intrinsic necessity, and show how these contradictions are mediated and resolved. Thus, what appear to be highly arbitrary, irrational or indeterminate phenomena which theory says cannot happen, are shown to be necessary, determinate and rationally explicable phenomena. 

Or, for another example, Barack Obama will say that "the workingclass is bitter" and Hilary Clinton will say "this is elitist" although she is herself a member of the rich elite. It all seems highly contradictory and arbitrary, but further investigation shows that it is an attempt to mediate another contradiction, namely that politicians seek to pursue policies contrary to the interests of their constituency, although they depend on popular support from their constituency, and therefore that they seek means to mediate this contradiction. The underlying problem is that the politicians have little grip on the electorate, because their politics do not originate from the electorate's wishes, or else because the electorate's wishes are contradictory, in which case the politics revolves around intelligent guesses about what might most appeal to the electorate. Necessarily, the politics then seems other than it really is.

The root problem of dialectical talk is not really that it is all nonsensical, but rather that our notions of causality and determinism are often rather primitive, so that we are unable to understand how different phenomena are really connected with each other, and therefore we resort to metaphysical theorizing to indicate their connections. But even although this metaphysical theorizing may be pre-scientific or speculative, this might still be useful, insofar as it indicates what would be required to understand the real connections. 

In fact, we never completely escape from metaphysics, insofar as we necessarily have to assume certain categorical distinctions to get the reasoning off the ground, without having any prior proof for the applicability of those distinctions. So, somehow, we always need some kind procedure through which, if those distinctions are adopted, those distinctions will validate themselves. And that is exactly what we do in a structured learning process where we go from something which is unknown to something which is now known. We say, "grant me the assumption that..." aiming to prove the validity of the assumption further down the track, and indeed no communicative dialogue could even occur, if some assumptions were not so granted.

I think myself that dialectics is therefore very ordinary, normal reasoning which occurs all the time in practical reasoning. Why? Because practical reasoning must constantly bridge or leap from one logical level to another. A "logical level" may be thought of as a semantic context at which a proposition is logically sound - something which it would not be at another logical level. This "bridging" (or mediation) occurs either through language, or through meaningful action (or observable behaviour) of some sort. 

Prima facie this language or action may not seem logical or rational, but from a dialectical vantage point it is. Yet we may reach that vantage point only after an event occurs, because we may not be able to define another context according to which it is rational beforehand, i.e. a context which relates the different logical levels rationally. In so doing, we are forced to acknowledge the time-bound nature of rationality. In ordinary language, we say "now it makes sense" - not because it did not make sense before in principle, but because now it makes sense to us. "Artistic creativity" means being attuned to many different semantic contexts and being able to relate them in a meaningful way, and thus by "imagining" on the basis of previous experience of many different contexts, we can often relate different logical levels in advance of a truly rational explanation. 

Hegel then boldly moots the idea that "what is real is rational, and what is rational is real", implying that if phenomena arrive into existence, that is because they become rational, and they pass out of existence because they have become irrational. That is a metaphysical idea or article of faith (it cannot itself be proved), but all it really says is that all phenomena can in principle be rationally understood in terms of their intrinsic necessity, because at least "at some level" they are not indeterminate, and not random; therefore, we can reconstruct them in rational terms. Doesn't all science presuppose something similar?

Hegel's intellectual pretension however is not only that he can formulate "all" the categories which we use to bridge different logical levels, but also that he can arrange these categories in such a way that one category necessarily proceeds from another, such that all the categories imply and mutually support each other, culminating in the absolute. It is just that this enterprise is not really credible, since the categories can be deduced from each other in all sorts of ways, analogous to the way that many different computer programmes could be written to perform the same task. Similarly, Marx did not need to start off his story in Das Kapital with "the commodity" - he could for example have started off discussing the characteristics of human labour, or the concept of price, or the concept of a social relation, and inferred or introduced all the other categories on this basis, with equal plausibility or logically compelling force.  

That is why the proposition of some Marxist scholars that the "dialectic of capital" must exactly map on to Hegel's Science of Logic is rather absurd - there is no compelling reason why the explication of the motions of capital should exactly correspond to the logical categories of a metaphysical book completed in 1831, when Marx was 13 years old. That is just the interpretation - arguably an interpretation of a rather imitative rather than very original mind, insofar as it is focused on rationalizing a situation, rather than discovering its dialectics. The supposed "proof" of the superiority of this abstractive procedure recommended by the Marxist scholars is that it integrates all the elements of a totality to show its intrinsic necessity, but this totality itself turns out to be an abstraction, of which we cannot prove that it does accurately reflect the essence of any real totality. It is true only in virtue of the meanings of the terms used; all we have done is to map one set of abstractions to another. But that analog is not scientific, because in science we try precisely to prove that one interpretation is more adequate to the reality of the subject being studied than another, through the confrontation of rival theories with a shared body of relevant evidence which requires that we go beyond our own thought. That in turn requires a dialogue, rather than an internal monologue, and therefore, it can indeed be argued that science is in its innermost essence a very dialectical endeavour. 


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