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  ― 103a ―

Lecture 20: Dialectic (6)

I suggest that dialectic is distinguished from logic as being based on the conception of Purpose. And it is only in terms of this conception that we find another conception to be ‘inadequate’. Apart from this we might find it hard to draw such a distinction—the question of destroying hypotheses can be taken in a quite logical way. note

It is not merely the question of reading one's purpose into the world, but the very conception of ‘the world’ illustrates this type of thinking, the sort of unification which can only be an object of demand and not a matter of direct observation or discovery.

Feuerbach at the beginning of the second part of The Essence of Christianity has some observations relevant to this—although they are stated with reference to religion. Feuerbach says:

The essential standpoint of religion is the practical or subjective. The end of religion is the welfare, the salvation, the ultimate felicity of man. The relation of man to God is nothing else than his relation to his own spiritual good. God is the realised salvation of the soul, of the unlimited power of effecting the salvation, the bliss, of man.

Clearly, then, it is this sort of thing that Eastman (who made a considerable study of Feuerbach in connection with Marxist criticism) has in mind when he speaks of ‘reading one's purpose’ or one's subjectivity into the world—a thing that Marx does in the first Thesis. In those terms we could say that dialectic, while professing extreme objectivity, is actually exhibiting extreme subjectivity. And it is especially interesting here to see that Feuerbach identifies the practical and the subjective, that is, treats subjectivism as the expectation of having one's demands automatically, or at least necessarily, satisfied. He treats it as equivalent to optimism.


  ― 104 ―

In this way we get not only a philosophy of Identity but a philosophy of Totality. (The two might be, in a sense, the same.) That is a philosophy inimical to distinctions, to the notion of independence—as we saw particularly in connection with the Theses. We have a single movement in which all things run together. And we get a denial of relations or a denial of the distinctions which relations in the ordinary sense involve. And thus they are reduced to qualities, and the ordinary usage is treated as abstraction.

This is illustrated at the end of Engels' letter to Schmidt:

“What all these fellows lack is dialectic. They see cause here, effect there. They do not at all see that this method of viewing things results in bare abstractions, that in the real world such metaphysical polar opposites exist only in crucial situations, that the whole great process develops itself in the form of reciprocal action—to be sure, of very unequal forces in which the economic movement is far and away the strongest, most primary and decisive. They do not see that here nothing is absolute and everything relative. For them, Hegel has never existed.”

What Engels does not see is that unless we have independence and absolute distinction there could be no reciprocal action. But at least the passage illustrates the point that dialectic involves the removal of all distinctions, or of any distinction as absolute—though it is still allowed to exist in a ghostly relative way. And the position is (as with Hegel) that as contrasted with the postulated Absolute everything we call actual is relative, a matter of degree or a matter of “point of view”—a position which, with reference to truth in


  ― 105 ―
particular, is substantially in accordance with the doctrine of class truth, or of truth from the proletarian standpoint (though the proletarian standpoint is still taken to be more in harmony with the movement of things than is, for example, the bourgeois standpoint).

The Marxist position here is reminiscent of Bradley. Bradley believes in degrees of truth. Bradley criticises ordinary thought as ‘relational’ and as incapable of arriving at Absolute truth, just because it is relational. And Bradley's dialectic or criticism of categories amounts to a rejection of any other category for not being the Whole and for not, therefore, being adequate to the Whole. Here again it is in terms of a postulated Whole that inadequacy is recognised, that we have on the one hand contradictions, fluctuations of judgment because of its relative or comparative nature; and, on the other hand, we have the demand for the resolution of contradictions, for ultimate unity or unification, for the overcoming of difference. Because, wherever there is difference there is indifference, obstruction to purpose, there is the fact that demands are not automatically met.

Alexander's evolutionism is of a similar character. It involves a reading of unity and purpose into things, a recognition of a world or kosmos where, in fact, the doctrine of Space and Time would, without such forcing, lead to the recognition of unrelieved plurality or difference. In fact any


  ― 106 ―
doctrine of the world, any doctrine of dialectic, really amounts to a humanising of categories, as against the strictly logical or spatio-temporal view.

If one took the position literally or consistently, to adhere to the doctrine that everything is unreal as compared with the Whole or Absolute, then one could not talk about the relative or non-Absolute at all. There is one place where contradictions come in or are given plausibility: the contradiction, that is, between the postulated Whole and the actual particulars still recognised. Nevertheless the position provides a particularly elusive way of dealing with particulars, making all questions concerning them questions of degree or reference, dealing with questions, for example, by saying: “who is passing this judgment?” and thus being, as Feuerbach says, subjective (though it is yet the case that no doctrine is quite consistently so, that one must at some point recognise objective and independent realities.

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