[OPE] A thought about Rosa Lichtenstein's problem (reply)

From: Jurriaan Bendien <adsl675281@telfort.nl>
Date: Thu Sep 10 2009 - 11:54:53 EDT

"Rosa" replied to me as follows:

Thanks for your reply Jurriaan, but you seem to think I do not know this:

"a dialectical contradiction differs from a logical contradiction"

For the last 25 years or more, I have been reading and studying the material
dialecticians have been churning out (over the last two centuries), and have
yet to see a clear explanation of the latter of these two uses of the word
"contradiction". Let's see how you get on:

"From a logically contradictory type of statement anything can follow. A
dialectical contradiction describes a situation in which a condition
co-exists meaningfully with another condition, in such a way that although
the one is the opposite of the other, it also presupposes the other. The
dialectical contradiction is 'held in place' by the fact that it is mediated
by something, or contained by something else."

Well, Marx added that the two interconnected 'halves' of a 'dialectical
contradiction' "mutually exclude one another". If that is so, then they
cannot exist together, which means that cannot 'contradict' one another in
the way you require. On the other hand, if they do 'contradict' one another,
and both exist at the same time (perhaps as opposing forces, or
determinations (depending on how you give them physical being)), then they
cannot "mutually exclude" one another.


"a dialectical contradiction differs from a logical contradiction in that a
logical contradiction is basically a formal inconsistency of meaning,
evaluated according to certain inferential rules of propositional logic.. In
formal logic we call this either a paradoxical statement, or a nonsensical

Alas, dialecticians are always making this mistake. An inconsistency, in its
simplest form, involves two propositions which cannot both be true, but they
can both be false, whereas a contradiction involves two propositions that
cannot both be true and cannot both be false. So, in logic no contradiction
(sans phrase) is an inconsistency, nor vice versa.

And this is incorrect, too:

"In formal logic we call this either a paradoxical statement, or a
nonsensical statement."

Well a paradox might lead to a contradiction, but the two are quite
distinct, and no contradiction can be nonsensical, otherwise we'd not be
able to understand it to see if it is contradictory or not.


"But in fact in practical life we encounter such dialectical contradictions
all the time, and there is nothing particularly mysterious about it."

I'd like to see an example!

But you helpfully gave us one:

"To illustrate: I work as a public servant for a local government
bureaucracy obliged by oath to follow the rules, yet if I tried to conduct
myself only and exclusively according to consistent rules, analogous to a
computer programme or a machine, I would find this practically impossible to
operate, and my activity would be quickly paralysed. I find myself
constantly confronted with dialectical contradictions I have to negotiate,
sometimes a bit like a "catch-22? situation.

"Now the interesting thing in this example is that even although I cannot
practically act, only and exclusively, according to consistent rules and
survive, nevertheless most people do not regard my behavior as essentially
arbitrary, irrational and random. Some of it might be, but most of it is
not. They recognise it has a non-arbitrary pattern. And not only that; they
can also make correct and valid inferences from my behaviour, even although
my behavior is not following any given rule. One could even say that much of
my behaviour is predictable, even although does not involve executing a

And yet you failed to tell us what the 'dialectical contradiction' is here!


"From this kind of insight you can learn that there are forms of reasoning
(inferential processes) which, although they do not conform to deductive
logic, and do not lead to only one conclusion, are nevertheless
non-arbitrary, and very meaningful. The reason why they are non-arbitrary is
because they 'rule in' some possibilities, and 'rule out' others; some
things cannot follow and are ruled out, the number of things that can follow
are limited, and some things are more likely to be the case than others -
and all this, even although there is not just one logically compelling
conclusion from the reasoning, but several. Again this is a rather obvious
insight, but the question now is 'why this is so', how that works, how we
could model or describe that. There are many different trends of thought
about this (pragmatism, para-consistency, fuzzy logic etc.) and dialectics
is one of those trends. One sort of answer is that ordinary language itself,
although reasonable, does not conform to formal logic, and therefore that an
association can be meaningful and non-arbitrary, without being logical."

Yes, I know about "fuzzy logic" and "informal logic", but I fail to see how
this helps anyone understand the obscure phrase "dialectical contradiction".


"We can also approach the problem from another angle. Deductive logic has
severe limits, since P follows 'if' Q is the case, and that can be a very
big 'if. A deductive argument cannot compel us to induce all the premises it
contains, it can tell us only that if we induce certain premises then the
conclusion follows. Thus deductive logic only specifies the conditions for
making consistent sense; the inductions into the deduction process may be
reasonable, but not logically compelling. Therefore, in practice we are
always forced to apply two criteria of truth, namely correspondence and
coherence, but in applying these criteria we additionally assume a context
which exists beyond those criteria. If you pursue this line of thought, you
find that actually it is possible to make a very large number of true
statements about one object, using various criteria, without necessarily
being able to say that one statement is more true than another, or without
there being clear criteria for choosing between them, or how they would fit

Once more, whatever the limitations of formal logic are (and from the above
I am far from convinced you have a firm grasp of logic), this in no way
helps us understand the phrase "dialectical contradiction".


"The question then is whether there are some meta-criteria of meaning and
reason, captured by basic categorizations, which would allow us to order the
whole of the truths we have discovered about an object in a non-arbitrary
synthesis, such that through a series of conceptualizations, the truth about
the object 'explains itself', becomes 'self-explanatory'. The dialectician
would say 'yes', this is possible, we can discover those criteria, but it is
not possible to do so by means of deductive inference only, not only because
we somehow have to induce premises non-arbitrarily, but also because we need
to refer to a meaningful context not provided by the deductions and
inductions themselves. We need to start both with what the object is, and
what it is not (its negation), and constantly elaborate further what it is
and is not, and this involves explicating the dialectical contradictions
involved with the object, how these are mediated and resolved, how they give
rise to new contradictions. At the conclusion it is proved that, provided a
certain starting assumption is made about what the object is and is not,
this assumption will validate itself, by showing that it provides
non-arbitrary means to integrate all truths about the object consistently,
in such a way that the truth about the object 'explains itself', that its
full meaning is understood.

"This is merely to say that the dialectical procedure aims to understand the
full meaning of the object of study and relativise it appropriately, using
meta-criteria to order truth-coherences and truth-correspondences in an
rigorous interpretation, which goes beyond formal logical procedures
although it utilizes them. The question then remains, whether dialectical
properties are just a characteristic of the meaningful universe that human
beings generate themselves (a human way of understanding), or whether
dialectical characteristics indeed exist mind-independently as objective
social realities or objective physical realities. A realist dialectician
argues that indeed dialectical features exist objectively in nature and
society, since human dialectical meanings have originally evolved out of,
and in relationship to, those objectively existing dialectical features ('mind'
has evolved out of 'matter'). If we say for example that 'mind and body are
a unit' or a 'whole', we cannot really say that the mind features
dialectical characteristics, while the body doesn't."

Well, there is much here I could take issue with, but I won't since it is
not directly connected with the challenge I raised to Andrew - what the hell
is a (Marxist) 'dialectical contradiction'? - but I notice you keep helping
yourself to the phrase "dialectical contradiction" when it is still far from
clear what one of these is. [Much of the above is in fact an idealist
analysis, anyway --, unless, of course, you can give it a materialist twist
somehow. And, good luck there! No one has succeeded on that score in the
last 150 years.]


"However it is not possible to write a dialectical 'rule book' like Marxists
try (see above), the question is only whether you can discover the
dialectical characteristics of a subject matter by means of a comprehensive
analysis of all it contains. The dialectician claims, that if you are
prepared to delve sufficiently deeply and systematically into the subject
matter, you will sooner or later confront the dialectical relationships
beneath the apparent logical paradoxes and puzzling relationships in the
subject matter. However, even if you can prove that a dialectical
contradiction objectively exists, dialectical thinking does not of itself
offer any logical or empirical proofs. It merely claims that 'if' a certain
assumption is adopted, or 'if' you see the subject matter this way, then it
becomes self-explanatory, and makes integral scientific sense."

Thanks for that, but I am no clearer - and since I am interested in a
Marxist analysis of this obscure phrase, I'm not sue you are the person to
help me.

And the Einstein quote you added seems to confirm that you are indeed an
Idealist, just like he was.


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Received on Thu Sep 10 11:57:01 2009

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