Friday, May 6, 2016

How should we think?---Part 4

Alexander Spirkin

This is our fourth post on thinking. I will understand if readers skip this one, but I hope that they won’t.

I’m attempting here to capture the underpinnings of how radical thought works or should work. What follows is a list of assumptions that I have about how to best understand the world. Not everyone will agree and not everyone studies these questions. This list builds directly on three previous posts.

Much of what follows is an outline of Alexander Spirkin’s Dialectical Materialism with some study notes and other influences added. Spirkin goes into much greater detail on these points than we will here and I highly recommend his short and very readable book. Quotation marks bracket direct quotes taken from Spirkin.

The value of this list and the one that will follow is that we are making an effort to be more systematic in our thinking, that this concisely states certain controversial ideas and that everything here can be used in the peoples’ and workers’ movements when we think about strategy and tactics and outcomes. In one form or another we have made many of these points in other contexts. The downside is that this will seem abstract and boring to many people, to our co-workers and fellow workers and comrades and prospective comrades who may be enriched by grasping dialectical materialism. No one should take this as a barrier to taking part in the left, and if you are in our region and want to explore this work further we hope that you will be in touch.
  1. Our fundamental interests are in matter and consciousness.
  2. Matter is what exists objectively outside of our consciousness.
  3. Matter is reflected in our consciousness. It exists independently of our consciousness.
  4. “Matter is the cause and basis of all the world’s diversity.” It is indestructible. Finite objects and processes exist within infinite processes driven by change.
  5. Objects and processes arise from other objects and processes. They cannot disappear without something new being created. Everything that is individual is transient.
  6. Objects and processes exist in relation to one another. The world regulates itself.
  7. The world is in constant motion. Matter lives within motion. Motion occurs in relation to other motion. Matter and motion have intrinsic unities.
  8. When we speak of things being in relation to one another we are saying that there are unities and inherent contradictions present.
  9. Matter takes its forms in space and time. Motion, space, time and matter have unities. Space and time exist as absolutes. Nothing exists by itself.
  10. Connection, interaction and development are the processes which provide or create the material unity of the world. Each has its own specific features and each occurs in time.
  11. The relationship between cause and effect shows that there are no one-sided actions. Objective causes exist independently of will and consciousness. Subjective causes exist in human experience.
  12. Everything that exists and occurs owes its existence to a diversity of conditions. Diversity is one aspect of existence.
  13. Structure and function exist in tension with one another. Each works to determine the other.
  14. A necessary tension exists between content and form. They are united to one another while also being relatively independent of one another. Essence is tied to content. Phenomena is the external manifestation of essence.
  15. When we study a thing we look at its appearance and what is general about it first in order to later understand its content, form and essence.
  16. Chance and spontaneity are subordinated to the “laws” governing reality. Chance and necessity exist in relation to one another.
  17. The present does not, by itself, predetermine the future. Development depends on the passing of what is possible into reality. Reality is constructed out of the possible, the probable and the creation of what is new---formations, properties and relations. These are expressed in evolving science, philosophy and culture. Possibility and reality have a relationship of tension. Reality can also be expressed as realized possibility. “Reality is existence justified by the maximum fullness and vividness of the manifestation of its rich essence.”
  18. Possibility has meaning only to the extent that necessity has created the conditions for its development.
  19. Quality describes the unity of an object’s elements and structures; it is the unity of an object’s properties. Since we live in a world of relative relationships in which everything changes, the properties of a thing are in flux and so qualities shift in real time.
  20. “Quality expresses the external, formal relation of objects, their parts, their properties, their connections, number, set, element (unit), individual, class, degree of manifestation of this or that property.”
  21. We look first at the quality of a thing and then at its quantitative aspects. When we study the quantitative aspects of a thing we look first at its general aspects and then we attempt to grasp its relations to other things and then we move to studying its essence.
  22. We reject the idea that there are contradictions between quality and quantity. Quantitative changes can lead to qualitative changes, the degrees of qualitative changes can differ and leaps can occur---radical changes in qualities which lead to the passing of the old and the introduction of the new. Quantitative and qualitative changes interact. Spontaneous change brings the emergence of a new quality and changes the previous patterns of quantitative changes. Spontaneity occurs within the context of a self-regulating world and in relation to other changes which are not spontaneous.

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