[OPE] Reply to Rosa Lichtenstein

From: Jurriaan Bendien <adsl675281@telfort.nl>
Date: Sat Oct 03 2009 - 05:11:39 EDT

It's not clear to me that Lichtenstein's rotten-leftist rants and filthy
slanders merit all the fuss, but if you are interested, I mailed one more
bit on 25 September 2009:

Rosa Lichtenstein,

Whoever you are, it's fine if you want to vent bile about dialectics behind
the safety of a pseudonym (your "post office box socialism" is rather
cowardly though, to say the least, particularly when you boast about your
Phd thesis without anybody being able to refer to it), but I never gave you
permission to publish my text on your website, and I think you should at
least do me the courtesy of asking me for approval. If you are going to
publish my stuff, then at least do me the courtesy of publishing the
complete text of what I wrote, or alternatively, provide a link to where the
complete text is available and was originally published.

I regret to say I cannot help you with your quest to define the meaning of
dialectics out of existence, since, I think, as long as people find utility
in the notion, they will continue to use it anyway. You'd be better off
studying philosophers such as Charles Taylor, Kozo Uno, William Stace or
Mario Bunge who explored the notion of dialectics in some depth, with a more
profound knowledge of this intellectual tradition. I'm not saying BTW I
necessarily agree with any or all of what these authors argue, but at least
they grappled with dialectical ideas in a more serious manner than most
Marxist-Leninist bureaucrats did.

If you are wondering about the meaning of "tautology", I use it in the basic
sense of a proposition which is true by definition, in virtue of the
meanings of terms. Stating a tautology means stating something which must be
true by definition (under all conditions and valuations). I am of course
aware that more technical definitions are mooted in propositional logic by
various philosophers, and that the tautological nature of certain kinds of
logical propositions is contested, but anyway the universe of tautologies is
potentially infinite. The real point of me mentioning this is in what I
wrote, that if something is true by the definition of terms used, then
everything depends on whether discussants accept the terms used. If
discussants don't accept the terms, then asserting a tautology in a
discussion is merely a petitio principii, a question-begging statement which
already assumes which has to be proved or demonstrated.

Wittgenstein, in the tradition of analytical philosophy, seems to have
believed that he could devise logical demarcation criteria which could rule
in or rule out statements as meaningful or meaningless. But this idea
assumes that something can be meaningful only if it satisfies certain
preferred logical criteria. In reality, however, meaningfulness does not
even absolutely require logicality, however defined, since something can be
meaningful simply in virtue of a non-logical association, which could in
fact be very vague (as is evident from the use of language and linguistic

The basic, most elementary associative processes used by sentient organisms
for creating meaningful significance are those of identifying,
distinguishing and generalising stimuli in some way. These are abilities
which exist in a variety of living organisms to some or other degree, and
what (mainly) humans add to this, almost from birth or perhaps even before
it, is the capacity to reflect consciously on these meanings, create new
meanings and objectify (objectively express) those meanings to a far greater
extent than any animal can, and consequently with a much greater behavioural
flexibility. Indeed, Viktor Frankl, the inventor of logotherapy, regarded
the ability of humans to create their own meanings as being essential to
human nature, and to human freedom and dignity. But this does not require
by necessity that those meanings are logical, merely the detection of a
"pattern" of some kind.

One may for example attach a meaning to a certain work of art, or a
location, or a person, without the association being "logical" in any sense,
merely associative. Indeed the utility of logical thought is partly to help
clarify the meaning of something which is part of a semantic universe
containing both logical and non-logical meanings, as well as meaningless
utterances. Part of dialectical thought is the idea that something can be
positively defined only by showing both what it is and what it is not (the
synthesized meaning of something then contains both its affirmation and its
negation). By exploring this, we deepen our understanding of what something
identifies and means. That is why I think your assumption that dialectics is
meaningless nonsense cannot be proved conclusively, since it would require a
proof both of what it means and what it doesn't mean.

But - leaving aside that your focus is entirely on what it cannot mean -
such an absolute proof cannot be provided, because a naive concept of
meaning is being used according to which meaningfulness can be definitively
demarcated from meaninglessness once and for all, in virtue of certain
logical rules - analogous to a computer which converts observations into
binary code. Since however meaning is context-dependent, often reflexive and
need not display logicality, the most you can achieve is a proof that some
statements are meaningful or meaningless in a limited number of contexts.
You are just left with Popperian skepticism to the effect that there are
always more illusions that you can ever hope to demolish. Unfortunately
skepticism provides little positive orientation for behaviour, and is
therefore ultimately debilitating and demeaning for a human being. One ought
to be able to have one's doubts about matters, sure, but not to the extent
that the meaning of everything at issue is put in question, since this only
adds creates confusion rather than clear it up. You do not, in other words,
clear up confusions about dialectics simply by ostentating endlessly that
dialectics is meaningless. From a dialectician's point of view, the very
fact that there are confusions and controversies about dialectics is itself
significant, and can be viewed as a determinate symptom if viewed in a
broader context.

There is a sense in which Wittgenstein is just as tyrannical and
totalitarian as a Stalinist bureaucrat, insofar as he seeks to impose
criteria for meaningfulness, ruling out vast swathes of meaning and ruling
in others, according to the logical rules, he, Wittgenstein, has devised for
it. In contrast, the root meaning of dialectics is dialogue (Greek:
dialogos). If you enter into dialogue about the meaning of dialectics, you
have already conceded that dialectics is meaningful in some way, and
therefore can be meaningfully questioned, and in that sense you have lost
your argument about the claim that it is meaningless already at the start.
But if you simultaneously deny dialectics can be meaningful under any
conditions, i.e. you accept this proposition explicitly or implicitly as a
tautology, you simultaneously rule out any genuine dialogue about it. That
is an eminently "dialectical" contradiction of your own thinking: your
attempt at "dialogue" consists of denying the validity and meaningfulness of
what your partner in dialogue about dialectics has to say, generating mere

A dialogue with Rosa Lichtenstein about dialectics is thus a fruitless
pseudo-dialogue, because there isn't any shared premiss in the dialogue
about dialectics, and there is evidently nothing that would shift Rosa's
opinion in any way. At best one could say, "well I find dialectics a
meaningful concept, although Rosa doesn't" but since we already knew this,
the dialogue adds nothing new, and is a complete waste of time. I do not
hope to persuade you in saying this, that it is a waste of time, but merely
that I find it a waste of time, and therefore do not intend to pursue it, it
would just be a useless distraction from constructive activities in which,
as I mentioned, creative dialectical insights are a normal everyday

Jurriaan Bendien

ope mailing list
Received on Sat Oct 3 05:14:28 2009

This archive was generated by hypermail 2.1.8 : Sat Oct 31 2009 - 00:00:02 EDT