Sunday, May 8, 2016

How should we think?---Part 5

We are drawing to the end of this series of posts, but we're not quite there yet. This post takes directly from Alexander Spirkin's Dialectical Materialism, previously given much play here, but also takes from the May issue of Monthly Review and from the work of Richard Levins and from Vassily Krapvin's What is Dialectical Materialism?.

Since we have been talking about negation and contradiction so much in these posts let's state again that negation is the old being replaced by the new, one stage of development giving way to another. This is universal and necessary to any kind of development, but it is only one aspect in the struggle and unity of opposites, Something of the old continues to exist in the new, but relations change; there is no pure form that is only new and perfect, and there is no straight line of development, but there is continuity. We can continue to debate if two contradictory forces become or join one thing or if each thing creates two contradictory and opposing processes, and we can continue to debate if there is a circular movement with a repetition of the old or not, but the ideas that development is not straightforward, that negation is universal and that negation ties continuities together seems beyond reasonable debate. The understanding of these final three points takes us far beyond anarchism while the first two points to study and argue over help determine where we are situated on the left.

The final point made below takes us almost back to where we started in our first post on thinking where we talked about critical thinking. Our use of quotation marks again signifies direct quotes taken from Spirkin.

1. "The chain of negation of the old and emergence of the new has no beginning and no end. The developing object simultaneously becomes something different and in a certain sense remains the same. For example, youth negates child hood and itself in its turn is negated by maturity, and the latter is negated by old age. But these are all different stages in the development of one and the same person."

2. "Dialectical negation is primarily a creative and conserving negation. The old is not simply thrown aside but is "subsumed", preserved in the new. The development of phenomena moves in cycles. Every cycle consists of three stages: the initial moment of development; the transformation of phenomena into their opposites, that is to say, negation; the transformation of the new opposite into its opposite, that is to say, the negation of negation. The chain of negations in the process of development has neither beginning nor end." We do not take this to mean that the anarchists are at all correct when they state that the urge to destroy or negate is a creative urge. We emphasize that something of the old is indeed preserved in what is new.

3. "The new, which negates and replaces the old as a result of self-development, constantly preserves the connection with the old, absorbs from it everything viable and necessary, and discards everything obsolete, everything that holds up progress. The emergent new cannot affirm itself without negation; nor can it do so without continuity. For example, a biological species survives and asserts itself only through the destruction of individuals, which in the process of procreation exhaust their purpose and, since they have nothing higher, go on to their death."

4. "The development of matter follows not one direction but a countless number of directions. Nature's progress cannot be represented as a straight line. In its development nature seems to dart from side to side in all directions and never march straight ahead...Development is not a straight line and not motion in a circle, but a spiral with an infinite series of turns. Forward motion is thus intricately combined with circular motion. If all processes in the world developed only successively, without repeating themselves, such things as life, animal and human behaviour, and the life of society could never have arisen; mental activity, consciousness, material and spiritual culture could never have come into being. The process of development also involves a kind of return to previous stages, when certain features of obsolete and replaced forms are repeated in new forms. The process of cognition on a new basis often repeats cycles that have already taken place."

5. "Engels compared the progressive development of social life to '...a free hand-drawn spiral, the turns of which are not too precisely executed. History begins its course slowly from an invisible point, languidly making its turns around it, but its circles become ever larger, the flight becomes ever swifter and more lively, until at last history shoots like a flaming comet from star to star, often skimming its old paths, often intersecting them, and with every turn it approaches closer to infinity.'"

6. "Consequently, we arrive at a general principle: the pace of development grows as the forms of organisation of matter move from the lower to the higher. It follows that the pace of development of this or that material organisation in general, and of social forms of life in particular, indicates how far they have gone towards perfection. This law expresses the contradictoriness of the general direction of development: progress is related to regress, irreversibility to circular movement, discontinuity to continuity, negation to succession, return to the old in a new form bearing only a formal resemblance to one of the previous stages, cycle and spiral."

"Thus progress takes place not along a straight line of ascent. It puts out side branches, and certain elements of the whole even take a reverse course. The progressive line of development, being realisation of one of many possibilities, at the same time sets a limit on motion in other directions. Every progress is in a sense restriction; it reinforces one-way development and excludes the possibility of development in other directions."

"The methodological and practical significance of this principle is important for an understanding of the general tendency of development and the connection between past and present that takes shape in the course of it. If the new arises out of the old and absorbs everything positive therein, it means that in both science and practice we must give due credit to the achievements of the past and critically accept its most valuable results."

7. Many people who have some acquaintance with dialectical materialism talk about "things becoming their opposites," "thesis and antithesis," and so on. Spirkin provides a good explanation of this when he says the following:

The opposite sides, elements and tendencies of a whole whose interaction forms a contradiction are not given in some eternally ready-made form. At the initial stage, while existing only as a possibility, contradiction appears as a unity containing an inessential difference. The next stage is an essential difference within this unity. Though possessing a common basis, certain essential properties or tendencies in the object do not correspond to each other. The essential difference produces opposites, which in negating each other grow into a contradiction. The extreme case of contradiction is an acute conflict. Opposites do not stand around in dismal inactivity; they are not something static, like two wrestlers in a photograph. They interact and are more like a live wrestling match. Every development produces contradictions, resolves them and at the same time gives birth to new ones. Life is an eternal overcoming of obstacles. Everything is interwoven in a network of contradictions....

...It is harmony that reveals the secret of the intrinsic agreement of opposites. This unity in the heterogeneous, this agreement in difference, which is to be found in musical harmony, is revealed throughout the universe. By harmony we mean a balanced and viable stable combination of elements and their connections, their internal and external interactions, all their motions. Harmony should be thought of as a process. The life of the universe consists in the constant interruption and restoration of harmony, of equilibrium: everything flows and balances out, everything balances out and flows. We could indicate a number of forms of equilibrium connected with internal motion: the preservation of the state of motion, for example, the preservation of the state of luminous radiation, the process of life, the process of material and spiritual (intellectual) production, and so on. An equilibrium is achieved and results in a stable, harmonious state of the interaction of opposites, which make up the given process taken as a whole (for example, the balanced state of the internal processes of the living organism), the maintenance of interactions between one phenomenon and another (for example, the interaction of an organism and its environment), the stability of a certain form or law (for example, the stability of laws governing physical, organic, social and psychological processes), the equilibrium, the preservation of the basis that generates a given form of motion (for example, the stability of fields of elementary particles as the condition for the origin of atoms, atomic stability, the formation of inorganic and organic compounds, etc)...

...The motion of a contradiction consists in its simultaneously being realised and resolved. Contradictions are constantly subsumed and created, revived in a new form. The resolving of a contradictory system is also a means of moving towards a new system that is historically destined to replace it.

Contradictions are resolved, overcome in struggle. They and their resolution stimulate motion. The interaction of opposites, as a contradiction and its resolution, is what awakens every seed to growth and every bud to unfold as a leaf, a flower, or a juicy fruit. Contradiction and its resolution lend motion to things great and small and are revealed in the regular "reasonable" order of the universe. They account for the unity of life and death, the beating of the pulse, the motion of forces released in crystals, in plants, animals, human beings, society, and in the whole universe. Unless resolved, contradictions do not "spur on" development, they are a necessary but not sufficient condition for development.

There are many ways of resolving contradictions and they depend on various conditions, including the character of the contesting parties in the case of contradictions in the life of human beings and society. In some cases one side of the contradiction perishes and the other triumphs, in others both sides perish, exhausting themselves in the struggle. There may also be a more or less prolonged compromise between the contestants. The resolution of a contradiction may be complete or partial, instantaneous or by stages....

... It would be a mistake to imagine that every contradiction leads to development. For instance, conflict between the members of a family can hardly be regarded as a source of development. Various processes evidently have an optimal contradictoriness, which encourages development to the greatest degree.

The character of contradiction depends on the specific nature of the opposed sides and also on the conditions in which their interaction takes place. Internal contradictions are interaction of opposite sides within a given system, for example, within a certain animal species (intraspecific struggle), within a given organism or society. External contradictions are the interaction of opposites related to different systems, for example, between society and nature, the organism and the environment, and so on. In the final analysis, the decisive contradictions in development are the internal ones.

Antagonistic contradictions are interactions between implacably hostile classes, social groups and forces. As a rule, they build up to the point of conflict and are resolved in social and political revolutions. Non-antagonistic contradictions are interactions between classes whose basic interests and aims coincide.

Here we come to a disagreement with Spirkin. Spirkin goes on to say that socialism resolved antagonistic social contradictions which we do not think were resolved. We can disagree with Spirkin on this point and still not take the path of saying that if these contradictions were not resolved then socialism did not exist; that is an illogical formulation common to the left. Moreover, we can take from Richard Levins something of his more nuanced views on dialectics, science and socialism and see that Spirkin overstated matters and still appreciate Spirkin's optimism.

8. "Contradictions may be found in nature, society and human thinking literally at every step. The whole history of human culture, of scientific knowledge involves a struggle between new knowledge and hypotheses and obsolete propositions, the clash of different and sometimes completely opposed opinions. The struggle of ideas is one of the vital guarantees against the mummification of thought. Great discoveries always evoke animated discussion and argument and this is where the truth is born. Life is an unceasing struggle—a process of development, in which the winner usually achieves progress in the development of knowledge if for no other reason than the necessity to fight, made ever more urgent by the efforts of the opposing side. This stimulates the thought and intellectual abilities of both sides, thus encouraging general intellectual progress."

9. "Dialectical contradiction in thought is not self-contradiction, not a muddling of concepts, but the interaction of opposed positions, points of view, opinions, concepts. Unlike muddled thinking, dialectical contradictions represent consciously perceived contradictions. Unconscious contradictions in thought are a sign of stupidity or of incorrect reasoning, which are corrected either by the thinker himself or by others. Nor can a theory which is internally contradictory be of any scientific importance. It has to be perfected and become internally uncontradictory. Otherwise dialectics would become a justification for total lack of principle and teach an ability to say one thing today and the opposite tomorrow. When caught in a confusion of opposed conclusions, reason feels extremely uncomfortable. Far from hindering us, the recommendations of formal logic, including the rules that protect us against elementary contradictions, against irresponsible jumping from one assertion to another without any objective grounds, help us to discover and express, consciously point out the actual contradictions and variability of things. By dialectics we mean not a person's contradicting himself, although even this may happen unconsciously in the course of research, when mental associations run riot around some idea; what we mean is the contradiction in an object and the reflection of this contradiction in thought, where it is consciously registered and resolved...The philosophical and methodological importance of being able to identify and resolve contradictions is constantly growing in connection with the increasing diversity of people's social relationships, the progress of science and the increasing complexity of the system of concepts in thought. The educative value of an understanding of the principle of contradiction is that it becomes the core of a person's attitude to the world as a world full of contradictions demanding to be known and resolved. Intellectual thought in science, art or politics must start by assuming that the world is contradictory. Otherwise they can only stagnate."     

No comments:

Post a Comment