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

From: Jurriaan Bendien <adsl675281@telfort.nl>
Date: Fri Sep 11 2009 - 14:19:48 EDT


For a scholarly argument in public space, a pseudonym is not acceptable,
especially if the controversy is a purely theoretical or scientific one. I
regard many of the claims by "Rose Lichtenstein" as fraudulent. If in
addition "Rosa" boasts about his/her Phd Thesis on Wittgenstein, then we
want to be able to refer to it. I can tell it isn't any good, because of the
very elementary mistakes "Rosa" makes in his/her argumentation. Anybody who
has a profound understanding of Wittgenstein would never make such schoolboy
errors. The aim of "Rosa" seems to be to "debunk" every claim mooted about
dialectics regardless of merit, presumably to show how fantastically
intelligent he/she is. But that will not wash here. It is not possible to be
a "Wittgensteinian Trotskyist" because in reality Wittgenstein's philosophy
and Trotsky's philosophy are not compatible, even if Wittgenstein expressed
sympathy for the RCP in Britain at some point. The only reason for replying
to this nonsense is to demonstrate it is misguided.

Hegel wrote in his encyclopedia:

The principles of the metaphysical philosophy gave rise to the belief that,
when cognition lapsed into contradictions, it was a mere accidental
aberration, due to some subjective mistake in argument and inference.
According to Kant, however, thought has a natural tendency to issue in
contradictions or antinomies, whenever it seeks to apprehend the infinite.
We have in the latter part of the above paragraph referred to the
philosophical importance of the antinomies of reason, and shown how the
recognition of their existence helped largely to get rid of the rigid
dogmatism of the metaphysic of understanding, and to direct attention to the
Dialectical movement of thought. But here too Kant, as we must add, never
got beyond the negative result that the thing-in-itself is unknowable, and
never penetrated to the discovery of what the antinomies really and
positively mean. That true and positive meaning of the antinomies is this:
that every actual thing involves a coexistence of opposed elements.
Consequently to know, or, in other words, to comprehend an object is
equivalent to being conscious of it as a concrete unity of opposed
determinations. The old metaphysic, as we have already seen, when it studied
the objects of which it sought a metaphysical knowledge, went to work by
applying categories abstractly and to the exclusion of their opposites.

This idea, i.e. that contradictions are not an "abberation" but are a result
of different conflicting forces which give rise to it, is carried through by
Marx's critical thought, according to which the "abberation" is itself not
accidental or indeterminate, but a result of the very terms in which the
solution to a problem is posed, and that these terms in turn result from a
real conflict between co-existing conditions which give rise to the
conflicting terms in the first place. The analysis of the contradictions
themselves therefore forms the starting point for understanding the
intrinsic problems of the subjectmatter. This is an eminently
critical-rational principle, which is of methological interest. But when
Hegel further argues that "that every actual thing involves a coexistence of
opposed elements" this is a universal metaphysical statement which cannot be
scientifically proved. Yet Marx nowhere claims this to be the case anyway,
at most he argues that it is useful to understanding a thing in terms of its
contradictions if you want to understand its dynamics.

Wittgenstein's idea is that a contradiction like "p &-p" is equivalent to a
tautology like "-(p & -p)" not because it is nonsensical, but meaningless -
because it says nothing, which is precisely what Hegel, Marx and Trotsky
contest: contradictions are meaningful, if considered in the broader context
within which they occur, a context which enables us to understand how the
contradiction arises, and thus enables us to ascend to an understanding of
the totality being expressed in contradictory ways. The Aristotelian "law of
non-contradiction" is not interpreted by Wittgenstein as the expression
'?(p.?p)' itself, but rather as a rule which PROHIBITS any such expression,
and that is also "Rosa's" idea. But in fact "Rosa" falls from one
contradiction into another.

Wittgenstein, committed to deductive logic, is not disturbed by
contradictions per se; viewed as logical inconsistencies they play an
important role, e.g. in reductio ad absurdum arguments which specify
consequences of an argument which would be untenable to the person who makes
the argument. Wittgenstein aims to show, that certain reasonings are to be
ruled out of meaningful discourse precisely BECAUSE they are contradictory.
The problem, in his view, is with recurrent transgressions of the law of
non-contradiction, such as the failure to abandon any idea which implies a
contradiction immediately. There is no such thing for Wittgenstein as a
"contradictory rule", because it could not tell one what to do, and provides
no orientation (anything can follow from it), and "a contradictory
proposition is no more a move in the language-game than placing and
withdrawing a piece from a square is a move in chess" (Hans-Johan Glock, A
Wittgenstein Dictionary, Blackwell 1996). But if that was the case, in real
life we e.g. might as well abandon the very idea of legal justice, since the
application of legal rules in practice invariably leads to contradictions,
which, precisely, a court aims to resolve.

The root meaning of dialectics is dialogos, dialogue, and the aim of the
dialogue is to discover the truth by taking the opposites involved
seriously, rather than deny them as meaningless. But obviously no genuine
dialogue is possible, if there is no shared ground at all, because the
parties to the dialogue deny the validity of the opposite position
completely, and rule it out from meaningful discourse. Analytical philosophy
had the grandiose pretension that it was possible for the "philosopher
kings" to devise logical "demarcation criteria" which would sort out
meaningful from meaningless statements, but this idea rests on a naive
understanding of meaning. The dialectician's argument is precisely that any
such demarcation criteria can only be established precisely through the
encounter of opposites within a particular context, but there is no
demarcation rule possible for the existence of meaning independent of that


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Received on Fri Sep 11 14:22:39 2009

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