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Idealism vs. Materialism

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Defected to the U.S.S.R.: 20 Jul 2011, 15:17
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Post 04 May 2012, 18:05
Please define, in your own words, 'idealism' and 'materialism.' Do you think there is a true split between the two? Are you an 'idealist' or a 'materialist'?
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Defected to the U.S.S.R.: 14 Jul 2008, 20:01
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Post 04 May 2012, 18:44
I am, and will remain, a dialectical materialist. This remnant of my ML past will probably never disappear. Soviet philosophers have basically reached the apex of human knowledge. Their work is mindblowingly good. Especially since I've started studying philosophy, I've begun to notice that diamat is the definitive answer to all philosophical problems, and that all non-diamat philosophers are idle babblers compared to Marx, Engels, Lenin and the CPSU comrades who turned their work into hundreds of awesome books.

I would certainly say that there is a split between idealism and materialism. Only materialism allows us to fully appreciate man as a subject of his own history, and the primacy of praxis over theory. Hegelianism and dialectical materialism may look very similar superficially (especially since Hegelianism is awesome enough to completely destroy metaphysical materialism), but if you read Marx's critique of the Hegelian philosophy of right, you'll notice that Hegelianism is incapable of changing the world, simply because it is detached from "real things" aka matter.

As materialism, I would define the "looking at the world as it presents itself, without any mystification" (freely quoting Engels). To be a materialist is to recognize the primacy of matter over mind, of praxis over theory, of material change over "theoretical insights". If you understand that all thoughts and theory can only ever be a reflection of the real circumstances that produce them, you are a materialist.

Idealism is the opposite. And there is no compromise between the two.
"Don't know why i'm still surprised with this shit anyway." - Loz
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Defected to the U.S.S.R.: 20 Jul 2011, 15:17
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Post 04 May 2012, 19:53
I just don't understand how there isn't an interplay between the two, such as Bourdieu's concept of the habitus. Theories are essentially derived from looking at some phenomenon over a period of time and ascertaining a pattern in order to predict future outcomes. Theories and ideas have the potential to CHANGE material conditions and affect praxis, so I don't understand why one is held over the other.

These are probably very stupid questions, but:
-Does materialism posit that there is an objective world that exists outside everyone's perception of it?
-If so, how are we able to access this world? Are our perceptions accurate?
-Is there room for individual agency within materialism?
-How does materialism account for change?
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Defected to the U.S.S.R.: 28 Feb 2012, 16:12
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Post 04 May 2012, 22:07
khlib wrote:
These are probably very stupid questions, but:
-Does materialism posit that there is an objective world that exists outside everyone's perception of it?
-If so, how are we able to access this world? Are our perceptions accurate?
-Is there room for individual agency within materialism?
-How does materialism account for change?


They're not stupid, they're basic:

-> Yes, materialism posits that there is an objective world existing outside people's perception of it. It's generally known as the physical world.

-> Generally, we access this world through sensory input.
There's no way to experience other people's perceptions directly, so it's hard to know. They're probably at least somewhat accurate, since they allow us to perform physical tasks, the results of which are observable by others.
-> Yes. Materialism doesn't strive to deny reality: It's generally known that people do stuff. Often they act "on their own volition": That is, according to voluntary and personal plans, goals or preferences. However, individual people's choices, ideas and ability to change stuff in the material world are strongly conditioned/influenced by the material conditions.
-> Reality's just not static. It's mutable by the action of natural or physical forces. As people are made of muscle and bone, they've got a certain ability to physically cause changes.
Which groups of people have enough force to shape social life is determined by social, economic and cultural factors and their developments.
Cm'on baby, eat the rich!!! - Motörhead
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Defected to the U.S.S.R.: 14 Jul 2008, 20:01
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Post 04 May 2012, 22:39
Quote:
I just don't understand how there isn't an interplay between the two, such as Bourdieu's concept of the habitus.


The habitus is a highly materialist concept if properly interpreted. It's obvious that a class habitus is the result of the material circumstances the class finds itself in, no?

Quote:
Theories are essentially derived from looking at some phenomenon over a period of time and ascertaining a pattern in order to predict future outcomes.


I wasn't talking about scientific theories so much - in saying "theory", I was referring to "mind content" in general. All mind content is a result of material events. This includes all your emotions, all your thoughts, all your opinions, your knowledge and your intentions. All of them are the result of material events that happened outside of your head. This is true for scientific theories, but also for everything else that happens in people's minds.

Quote:
Theories and ideas have the potential to CHANGE material conditions and affect praxis, so I don't understand why one is held over the other.


To say that "theories and ideas have the potential to change material conditions" is not quite the same as to say that they can "affect praxis". There is a vital difference between these two assertions. Marx says that "theory becomes a material force when it grips the masses." In very concrete terms, this means that your intentions aren't going to change anything at all. Your praxis changes things, and your praxis is determined before you even become consciously aware of it. When you think about what you do, your mind merely reflects things that have already been determined by neurological processes.

The consequence of this is that the results of our praxis can differ widely from what we originally intended. This is because your ideas and intentions have no influence on the world at all. Only your material praxis does, and this is why it's "held over" theory.

Quote:
Does materialism posit that there is an objective world that exists outside everyone's perception of it?


Yes.

Quote:
If so, how are we able to access this world?


By changing it. The proof of the pudding is in the eating. As Engels says:

In addition, there is yet a set of different philosophers — those who question the possibility of any cognition, or at least of an exhaustive cognition, of the world. To them, among the more modern ones, belong Hume and Kant, and they played a very important role in philosophical development. What is decisive in the refutation of this view has already been said by Hegel, in so far as this was possible from an idealist standpoint. The materialistic additions made by Feuerbach are more ingenious than profound. The most telling refutation of this as of all other philosophical crotchets is practice — namely, experiment and industry. If we are able to prove the correctness of our conception of a natural process by making it ourselves, bringing it into being out of its conditions and making it serve our own purposes into the bargain, then there is an end to the Kantian ungraspable “thing-in-itself”. The chemical substances produced in the bodies of plants and animals remained just such “things-in-themselves” until organic chemistry began to produce them one after another, whereupon the “thing-in-itself” became a thing for us — as, for instance, alizarin, the coloring matter of the madder, which we no longer trouble to grow in the madder roots in the field, but produce much more cheaply and simply from coal tar. For 300 years, the Copernican solar system was a hypothesis with 100, 1,000, 10,000 to 1 chances in its favor, but still always a hypothesis. But then Leverrier, by means of the data provided by this system, not only deduced the necessity of the existence of an unknown planet, but also calculated the position in the heavens which this planet must necessarily occupy, and when [Johann] Galle really found this planet [Neptune, discovered 1846, at Berlin Observatory], the Copernican system was proved. If, nevertheless, the neo-Kantians are attempting to resurrect the Kantian conception in Germany, and the agnostics that of Hume in England (where in fact it never became extinct), this is, in view of their theoretical and practical refutation accomplished long ago, scientifically a regression and practically merely a shamefaced way of surreptitiously accepting materialism, while denying it before the world.

http://marxists.org/archive/marx/works/ ... h/ch02.htm

Quote:
Are our perceptions accurate?


Of course not, but why is this a problem? We have infrared cameras, microscopes, ultrasound microphones and space telescopes. We have technology to complement our senses.

Quote:
Is there room for individual agency within materialism?


Dialectical materialism recognizes people as subjects. Other than that I don't know what you mean.

Quote:
How does materialism account for change?


Dialectics? Duh. Be more precise.
"Don't know why i'm still surprised with this shit anyway." - Loz
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Defected to the U.S.S.R.: 09 May 2008, 14:59
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Post 05 May 2012, 01:26
khlib wrote:
-Does materialism posit that there is an objective world that exists outside everyone's perception of it?


Not necessarily. If you believe in an objective reality, you're a realist, but that doesn't necessarily make you a materialist. A materialist simply believes that nothing exists outside of material interactions.

khlib wrote:
-If so, how are we able to access this world? Are our perceptions accurate?


Sensually. You perceive of the material world to interact with it. As for the accuracy, that depends on what other philosophical position you hold (you might be a solipsist, for example.)

khlib wrote:
-Is there room for individual agency within materialism?


Many materialists are also determinists, meaning that they don't believe that agency or free will are possible. But the two aren't mutually inclusive.

khlib wrote:
-How does materialism account for change?


Material interactions, the nature of which will vary depending on what type of materialism you believe in.
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Defected to the U.S.S.R.: 14 Sep 2011, 11:23
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Post 05 May 2012, 14:33
khlib wrote:
Please define, in your own words, 'idealism' and 'materialism.' Do you think there is a true split between the two? Are you an 'idealist' or a 'materialist'?

Quote:
Ludwig: Marxism denies that the individual plays an outstanding role in history. Do you not see a contradiction between the materialist conception of history and the fact that, after all, you admit the outstanding role played by historical personages?

Stalin: No, there is no contradiction here. Marxism does not at all deny the role played by outstanding individuals or that history is made by people. In Marx's The Poverty of Philosophy and in other works of his you will find it stated that it is people who make history. But, of course, people do not make history according to the promptings of their imagination pr as some fancy strikes them. Every new generation encounters definite conditions already existing, ready-made when that generation was born. And great people are worth anything at all only to the extent that they are able correctly to understand these conditions, to understand how to change them. If they fail to understand these conditions and want to alter them according to the promptings of their imagination, they will land themselves in the situation of Don Quixote. Thus it is precisely Marx's view that people must not be counterposed to conditions. It is people who make history, but they do so only to the extent that they correctly understand the conditions that they have found ready-made, and only to the extent that they understand how to change those conditions. That, at least, is how we Russian Bolsheviks understand Marx. And we have been studying Marx for a good many years.

Ludwig: Some thirty years ago, when I was at the university, many German professors who considered themselves adherents of the materialist conception of history taught us that Marxism denies the role of heroes, the role of heroic personalities in history.

Stalin: They were vulgarizers of Marxism. Marxism has never denied the role of heroes. On the contrary, it admits that they play a considerable role, hut with the reservations I have just made.
http://www.marxists.org/reference/archi ... dec/13.htm


I always liked this quote, I find it essentially dialectic when stalin says: "And great people are worth anything at all only to the extent that they are able correctly to understand these conditions, to understand how to change them" because it reminds that the issue is to change the world, and people are responsible for this action. They are not passive receivers of reality but reality includes people as well. From this point of view there is also a dialectic connection between objective conditions and human consciousness + will.
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Defected to the U.S.S.R.: 07 May 2012, 03:30
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Post 07 May 2012, 04:38
khlib wrote:
Please define, in your own words, 'idealism' and 'materialism.'


Materialism - Being has primacy in the relationship between being and thought; there were events before there were any subjects to perceive them. Also, as Ludwig Feurbach says "The philosopher must accept what in man does not philosophize..." In other words, all theory (in the broad sense, as Mabool said) must be understood.

1. As a form of concrete practice

and

2. As a socially embedded practice

[b]Idealism[/i] - The inversion of this. Thought causes reality. A typical manifestation of this approach is the idea that the world, like our thought, is neatly divided into metaphysical "states of affairs," or facts, which we then "reflect" with propositions. This means that even most bourgeois "materialism" and naturalism is idealist.

Quote:
Do you think there is a true split between the two?


Yes and no, the answer isn't simple. There isn't some linear, quantitative scale of "more or less materialist" with being all the way at the materialist end being the goal. As I said above, idealism is usually materialism "inverted," and is not strictly alien to it. Idealism's problem, as Lenin discusses in Materialism and Empirio-criticism and his Philosophical Notebooks (Collected Works Vol. 38), is that it is one-sided.

As Mabool again wonderfully pointed out, a dialectical form of objective idealism, mainly Hegelianism, can completely destroy bourgeois mechanical materialism, naturalism, positivism, etc. What Marx did was complete the project of the Young Hegelian movement; a materialist inversion of Hegelianism.

Quote:
Are you an 'idealist' or a 'materialist'?


I have and always shall be a dialectical materialist. As Mabool said, it really does basically finish off philosophy-as-such. All remaining problems are specifics intensional to dialectical materialism, rather than challenges to dialectical materialism per-se. I too am an enthusiast/student of philosophy, with a background in bourgeois philosophy; both the "analytic" tradition (Frege, Russell, Wittgenstein, Carnap, Quine, Putnam, Williamson, Kripke, Searle, etc.) and the "continental" (Hegel, Nietzsche, Freud, Lacan, Husserl, Heidegger, Merleau-Ponty, etc.) and I can honestly say that dialectical materialism is stunning. No wonder it is hard to find at bourgeois universities, such as mine.
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Defected to the U.S.S.R.: 08 Nov 2010, 22:13
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Post 11 May 2012, 20:15
Mabool:

Quote:
I am, and will remain, a dialectical materialist. This remnant of my ML past will probably never disappear. Soviet philosophers have basically reached the apex of human knowledge. Their work is mindblowingly good. Especially since I've started studying philosophy, I've begun to notice that diamat is the definitive answer to all philosophical problems, and that all non-diamat philosophers are idle babblers compared to Marx, Engels, Lenin and the CPSU comrades who turned their work into hundreds of awesome books.


Unfortunately for you and the comrades you mention, I have been able to show that all their philosophical work is non-sensical:

viewtopic.php?f=107&t=52252

Moreover, I have also been able to show that if the theory you praise so highly (Dialectical Materialism) were true, then change would be impossible:

viewtopic.php?f=107&t=49251

So, not so much a 'definitive answer', as 'no answer at all'.
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Post 13 May 2012, 02:17
Aw, rosa, I wanted to see some comments on soviet philosophers and their diamat.
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Defected to the U.S.S.R.: 08 Nov 2010, 22:13
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Post 13 May 2012, 05:39
There's piles of this material at the Marxist Internet Archive, and more here (much of which does not appear at the archive):

http://marxistphilosophy.org/index.html

But, as I have shown, it's all non-sensical.
"The emancipation of the working class will be an act of the workers themselves."
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Post 13 May 2012, 11:34
All you've shown is that you don't get it. You don't get it on a level that is so fundamental that I have to wonder if you were born without the ability to abstract.

By the way you've inspired me to do a course on Wittgenstein this semester. I understand you much better now. My opinion has not improved.
"Don't know why i'm still surprised with this shit anyway." - Loz
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Post 13 May 2012, 11:53
So, apart from a personal attack, you have no way of replying to me.

Looks like you need to take that course again, except pay attention this time.

[And, since the 'process of abstraction' makes no sense at all, not even you, my confused friend, are able to 'abstract'. (Proof provided on request...)]
"The emancipation of the working class will be an act of the workers themselves."
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Post 13 May 2012, 11:58
Quote:
(Proof provided on request...)

* raises hand
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Post 13 May 2012, 12:07
Yay, prove to us that abstraction doesn't work. That will be fun. Abstraction is (usually...
) an innate human capability.
"Don't know why i'm still surprised with this shit anyway." - Loz
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Post 13 May 2012, 14:29
First of all, I said this mythical process made no sense, not that it 'didn't work'.

Second, here is what Marx though of it (in the Holy Family):

Quote:
"Now that Critical Criticism as the tranquillity of knowledge has 'made' all the mass-type 'antitheses its concern', has mastered all reality in the form of categories and dissolved all human activity into speculative dialectics, we shall see it produce the world again out of speculative dialectics. It goes without saying that if the miracles of the Critically speculative creation of the world are not to be 'desecrated', they can be presented to the profane mass only in the form of mysteries. Critical Criticism therefore appears in the incarnation of Vishnu-Szeliga ["Szeliga" was the pseudonym of a young Hegelian, Franz Zychlinski -- RL] as a mystery-monger....

"The mystery of the Critical presentation of the Mystéres de Paris is the mystery of speculative, of Hegelian construction. Once Herr Szeliga has proclaimed that 'degeneracy within civilisation' and rightlessness in the state are 'mysteries', i.e., has dissolved them in the category 'mystery', he lets 'mystery' begin its speculative career. A few words will suffice to characterise speculative construction in general. Herr Szeliga's treatment of the Mystéres de Paris will give the application in detail.

"If from real apples, pears, strawberries and almonds I form the general idea 'Fruit', if I go further and imagine that my abstract idea 'Fruit', derived from real fruit, is an entity existing outside me, is indeed the true essence of the pear, the apple, etc., then -- in the language of speculative philosophy –- I am declaring that 'Fruit' is the 'Substance' of the pear, the apple, the almond, etc. I am saying, therefore, that to be an apple is not essential to the apple; that what is essential to these things is not their real existence, perceptible to the senses, but the essence that I have abstracted from them and then foisted on them, the essence of my idea -– 'Fruit'. I therefore declare apples, pears, almonds, etc., to be mere forms of existence, modi, of 'Fruit' My finite understanding supported by my senses does of course distinguish an apple from a pear and a pear from an almond, but my speculative reason declares these sensuous differences inessential and irrelevant. It sees in the apple the same as in the pear, and in the pear the same as in the almond, namely 'Fruit'. Particular real fruits are no more than semblances whose true essence is 'the substance' -- 'Fruit'.

"By this method one attains no particular wealth of definition. The mineralogist whose whole science was limited to the statement that all minerals are really 'the Mineral' would be a mineralogist only in his imagination. For every mineral the speculative mineralogist says 'the Mineral', and his science is reduced to repeating this word as many times as there are real minerals.

"Having reduced the different real fruits to the one 'fruit' of abstraction -– 'the Fruit', speculation must, in order to attain some semblance of real content, try somehow to find its way back from 'the Fruit', from the Substance to the diverse, ordinary real fruits, the pear, the apple, the almond etc. It is as hard to produce real fruits from the abstract idea 'the Fruit' as it is easy to produce this abstract idea from real fruits. Indeed, it is impossible to arrive at the opposite of an abstraction without relinquishing the abstraction.

"The speculative philosopher therefore relinquishes the abstraction 'the Fruit', but in a speculative, mystical fashion -- with the appearance of not relinquishing it. Thus it is really only in appearance that he rises above his abstraction. He argues somewhat as follows:

"If apples, pears, almonds and strawberries are really nothing but 'the Substance', 'the Fruit', the question arises: Why does 'the Fruit' manifest itself to me sometimes as an apple, sometimes as a pear, sometimes as an almond? Why this semblance of diversity which so obviously contradicts my speculative conception of Unity, 'the Substance', 'the Fruit'?

"This, answers the speculative philosopher, is because 'the Fruit' is not dead, undifferentiated, motionless, but a living, self-differentiating, moving essence. The diversity of the ordinary fruits is significant not only for my sensuous understanding, but also for 'the Fruit' itself and for speculative reason. The different ordinary fruits are different manifestations of the life of the 'one Fruit'; they are crystallisations of 'the Fruit' itself. Thus in the apple 'the Fruit' gives itself an apple-like existence, in the pear a pear-like existence. We must therefore no longer say, as one might from the standpoint of the Substance: a pear is 'the Fruit', an apple is 'the Fruit', an almond is 'the Fruit', but rather 'the Fruit' presents itself as a pear, 'the Fruit' presents itself as an apple, 'the Fruit' presents itself as an almond; and the differences which distinguish apples, pears and almonds from one another are the self-differentiations of 'the Fruit' and make the particular fruits different members of the life-process of 'the Fruit'. Thus 'the Fruit' is no longer an empty undifferentiated unity; it is oneness as allness, as 'totality' of fruits, which constitute an 'organically linked series of members'. In every member of that series 'the Fruit' gives itself a more developed, more explicit existence, until finally, as the 'summary' of all fruits, it is at the same time the living unity which contains all those fruits dissolved in itself just as it produces them from within itself, just as, for instance, all the limbs of the body are constantly dissolved in and constantly produced out of the blood.

"We see that if the Christian religion knows only one Incarnation of God, speculative philosophy has as many incarnations as there are things, just as it has here in every fruit an incarnation of the Substance, of the Absolute Fruit. The main interest for the speculative philosopher is therefore to produce the existence of the real ordinary fruits and to say in some mysterious way that there are apples, pears, almonds and raisins. But the apples, pears, almonds and raisins that we rediscover in the speculative world are nothing but semblances of apples, semblances of pears, semblances of almonds and semblances of raisins, for they are moments in the life of 'the Fruit', this abstract creation of the mind, and therefore themselves abstract creations of the mind. Hence what is delightful in this speculation is to rediscover all the real fruits there, but as fruits which have a higher mystical significance, which have grown out of the ether of your brain and not out of the material earth, which are incarnations of 'the Fruit', of the Absolute Subject. When you return from the abstraction, the supernatural creation of the mind, 'the Fruit', to real natural fruits, you give on the contrary the natural fruits a supernatural significance and transform them into sheer abstractions. Your main interest is then to point out the unity of 'the Fruit' in all the manifestations of its life…that is, to show the mystical interconnection between these fruits, how in each of them 'the Fruit' realizes itself by degrees and necessarily progresses, for instance, from its existence as a raisin to its existence as an almond. Hence the value of the ordinary fruits no longer consists in their natural qualities, but in their speculative quality, which gives each of them a definite place in the life-process of 'the Absolute Fruit'.

"The ordinary man does not think he is saying anything extraordinary when he states that there are apples and pears. But when the philosopher expresses their existence in the speculative way he says something extraordinary. He performs a miracle by producing the real natural objects, the apple, the pear, etc., out of the unreal creation of the mind 'the Fruit'. And in regard to every object the existence of which he expresses, he accomplishes an act of creation.

"It goes without saying that the speculative philosopher accomplishes this continuous creation only by presenting universally known qualities of the apple, the pear, etc., which exist in reality, as determining features invented by him, by giving the names of the real things to what abstract reason alone can create, to abstract formulas of reason, finally, by declaring his own activity, by which he passes from the idea of an apple to the idea of a pear, to be the self-activity of the Absolute Subject, 'the Fruit.'

"In the speculative way of speaking, this operation is called comprehending Substance as Subject, as an inner process, as an Absolute Person, and this comprehension constitutes the essential character of Hegel's method."


http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/wo ... y/ch05.htm

Third, we can go further, as I have expressed this elsewhere (this has in fact been cobbled-together from two of my Essays):

Quote:
While we are at it, what exactly are the common features that can be abstracted from (or even attributed to) all shades of the colour blue, for example? Or the many notes that can be played on the bagpipes? Or the taste of several different wines? Or the feel of silk, wool and nylon? Or even the smell of roses?

[Of course, in several of these examples, the use of other general terms might come into play -- but they too will attract the same sort of query. For instance, an appeal might be made to certain tastes or aromas that can be detected in different wines -- for example, "a fruity bouquet". But what are the common features of "fruity bouquets"? One answer to that might involve a reference to the taste or smell of Lychees, for instance. But what are the common features of the taste/smell of Lychees? And so on...]

One of the more bizarre aspects of the mysterious process of abstraction (at least the Empiricist version (which is in fact also little different from that of certain dialecticians), and one that is rarely noticed) involves the drawing of an unintended analogy between the properties an object is supposed to have, and clothing. Hence, in the abstractive process, as each outwardly unique distinguishing feature of a particular is 'peeled off' (or "disregarded") by the intellect, the true form of the 'object' underneath gradually comes into view -- but, of course, only in the 'mind's eye'. This is, naturally, a disrobing ceremony only accessible to those capable of 'metaphysically undressing' things like tables, chairs, cats, dogs, electrons and galaxies. Such 'conceptual strippers' must be capable of deciding what must be true not only of all the many examples of 'the same sort' that have not been ideally fleeced like this (by anyone, and not just themselves), but also of the many more that no human will ever experience -- based solely on a brief 'internal' inspection of a highly limited sample of such ghostly spectres.

However, and this should hardly need pointing out, the properties of objects do not resemble apparel in any meaningful sense. If this had ever been an apt analogy then these metaphysical garments (i.e., an object's properties) would be just as shareable as items of clothing are. On that basis, dogs should be expected to be able to sing like larks, kettles recite the Gettysburg Address, and dialecticians accept criticism.

Nevertheless, the analogy with clothing is not at all apt, and never was. For one thing, it is surely abnormal to imagine clothing as causally related to -- or physically connected with -- the body of the wearer. Yet, the properties of an object are normally regarded as linked in some way to its constitution. For another, while clothing may perhaps serve to hinder the appreciation of underlying form, an object's properties advertise it, they do not mask it. They are 'metaphysically transparent', so to speak.

Furthermore, and more absurdly, properties can't be peeled away from objects in such an internal 'disrobing ceremony'. Or, if they can, one would expect that the nature of each underlying 'object' should become clearer in all its naked glory as the proceedings unfold. In fact, we find the opposite is the case as each 'metaphysical burlesque show' advances.

If, for instance, a cat were to lose too many of its properties (as it is 'mentally skinned'), it would cease to be a cat. Clearly, this philosophically-flayed 'ex-cat' (now 'non-cat') would serve rather badly in any generalisation based upon it. Indeed, strip the average moggie of enough of its properties and it would be impossible to decide whether or not the rest of the abstractive process had been carried out on the same mammal, the same animal, or, for that matter, on the same physical object -- let alone the same idea of one and all.

Moreover, in the absence of any rules governing the process of abstraction (such as where to begin, which feature to abstract first, which second -- which never) one person's abstractions would surely differ from those of the rest of the abstractive community.

For instance, while Abstractor A could begin by ignoring/attributing Tiddles's engaging purr, B might start with her four legs, whereas C might commence with her shape. But, do we/should they ignore a cat's colour first, or its fur, fleas, whiskers, tail, intestines, age, number...?

And, in the abstractive process, which number relevant to each cat is to be put to one side (or attributed to it): the one cat, the two ears, the four legs, the dozen or so whiskers, or the several trillion atoms of which it is composed...?

And where do we stop? Are we to whittle-away (or attribute) its position on the mat, the last dozen or so things it did, its present relation to the Crab Nebula…?

As we shall see, the nature of this mysterious process is difficult to describe, even if you believe in it. Here are just a few of the serious problems it faces:

(1) How is it possible for each lone abstractor, in the privacy of their own head, to know if they have arrived at the correct abstract concept of anything at all, or anything in particular? With what, or with whom, can any of the supposed results be checked? No one has access to a single 'abstraction' produced by anyone else, nor has anyone ever been trained to perform this feat correctly. Does a single human being posses so much as a diploma in this mythical skill?

An appeal to the existence of a public language would be to no avail here, for even on that basis no one would be able to tell whether Abstractor A meant the same as Abstractor B by his or her use of words (or 'concepts' like "Substance", "Being", and "Nothing"). And definitions can't help here, since they also contain 'abstractions' which are subject to the same problems. For how can Abstractor A know what Abstractor B means by any of the abstract terms he/she uses without access to her/his mind? Abstractor B can't point to anything which is the meaning of a single abstraction he or she might be trying to define, so he/she can't use an ostensive definition [i.e., a definition by pointing at something] to help Abstractor A understand what he/she means. Other sorts of definition must, it seems, use general words, too, since no particular, or no singular term, can give the meaning of any abstraction or abstract term under scrutiny. If so, the same 'difficulties' will confront these general terms, and so on.

And, it's even less use appealing to the 'logic of concepts', which drives 'thought' along, as, say, a follower of Hegel might attempt to do. Not only is it unclear what Hegel's jargon actually means, but even if all he said were crystal clear, since he was the first to dream this process up, 'thought' cannot inevitably be driven along these lines (otherwise we would not need Hegel to deliver the good news). Finally, of course, 'thought' can only take this route if we are prepared to accept without question the logical and classical/Hegelian blunders outlined elsewhere at this site -- in which case 'thought' deserves all the confusion it attracts to itself as a result.

Moreover, even if abstractions were arrived at in a more law-like way, as the 'mind' tries to grapple with scientific knowledge, a là Hegel, it's still unclear how any one mind could possibly check the results of those of any other in order to ascertain if either or both had arrived at the same Ideal result. [This particular argument is pushed much further in Part Two of the Essay.] Indeed, how could one or both decide if they mean the same by "same".

(2) To continue elaborating the above objection, if abstractions are produced by some sort of 'subtractive' process (as more and more particular features are disregarded) to derive increasingly general terms, who decides which parts should be subtracted first, second or third? For example, as noted above, do we start by abstracting a cat's whiskers, its curiosity or its purr? Do we ignore its position or its number? And, if this is done 'in the mind', who is to say that everyone does exactly the same things to exactly the same subtracted parts in the same order and in the same manner as anyone else?

Naturally, if 'abstractions' are cobbled-together by a process of generalisation, or law-like development, then the same questions still apply, but in this case perhaps in reverse order.

(3) The actual process of mental subtraction is somewhat difficult to conceive, too. When we ignore the various parts of the objects we are supposedly performing this trick upon, is it like some sort of mental striptease? But, if we take away too much, how might we know whether the rest of this ceremony has been performed on the same 'mental' object with which we began? While we might all start with a chaffinch, say, after its feathers, beak, claws, colour, song, wings, size and number have been stripped away, how might we distinguish the amorphous mass left behind from a similarly processed Axolotl? Or, someone else's grandmother? Or, indeed, from the Crab Nebula?

Of course, abstractionists are never quite this crude (at least, not in public); they restrict themselves to rather more well-behaved "concepts", "categories" and refined "ideas", those they trust to 'reason', or better still, to 'dialectical/speculative' thought. But, these shadowy beings are even more obscure. Does, therefore, the 'concept' of Kermit the Frog have legs, a head and a stomach full of worms? If not, then we might wonder if this concept genuinely applies to him. If it does, we might wonder (even more) what the difference between him and his 'concept' is. If there is none, then he must be Ideal. On the other hand, if there is a difference, how do we know this 'concept' belongs to him?

[Of course, the fact that Kermit is a puppet does not affect the point; any genuine frog will do.]

Worse still, any conclusions drawn about the 'concept' of Kermit the Frog, or indeed amphibians in general, would apply to that 'concept', and not to its supposed slimy external correlate. This would seem to be so unless we are now to suppose that, just like a Black Magic doll, whatever we do to the 'concept', we do to the real object or objects it is said to mirror/represent. Now, Idealists might be unable to distinguish reality from illusion, but materialists would be unwise to follow them into this same dense fog -- or, indeed, adopt a philosophical technique that cannot tell fact from fancy, or frog from fog.

And how exactly does one dissect a concept? Do they all have an 'objective' anatomy, which any rank amateur can poke or prod? Are there manuals we can consult, instruction books we can read, experts to whom we can e-mail or meet on Facebook?

It could be objected none of this really matters, the results will be the same anyhow. But how do we know? Where is the rule book to guide us? Is there a sort of abstractionists' script we all unconsciously follow, programmed into us perhaps as a set of tried-and-trusted instructions? Are we all instinctive abstractors, or do we need training? And if there are metaphysical disrobing protocols determining the order in which Tiddles's qualities are to be paired away (or attributed to it), so that this is to be done correctly, when and where did we all learn them? On the other hand, if there aren't, how might an intrepid abstractor know if he or she had abstracted Tiddles the same way each time?

Do we all keep a secret abstractor's diary?

And even if there were clear and plausible answers to these questions, the fact that (in principle) no one could check on any one else's abstractions to see if they tallied -- or if they had got them right (in fact the word "right" can gain no grip in such circumstances) -- means that this process can't form the basis of an allegedly 'objective' science. Plainly, that's because (1) no one has access to the results of anyone else's 'mental processes', and (2) there appear to be no rules governing them.

On the contrary, in the real world, agreement is reached by the use of publicly learnt and widely accessible general terms already in common use long before each of us was a twinkle in a lone abstractor's eye.

[That is, of course, just a roundabout way of saying that "abstraction" is a highly misleading euphemism for subjective, idiosyncratic classification.]

One obvious reply to all this might be that we abstract by concentrating only on those factors that are "relevant" to the enquiry in hand. But what are these, and who decides? And how might they be specified before an enquiry has begun?

Again, in response to this it could be argued that past experience guides us. But, how does it do this? Can any of us recall being made to study the heroic deeds of intrepid abstractors in days of yore? Does past experience transform itself into a sort of inner personal Microsoft Office Assistant, if we hit the right internal 'Help' key? But, what kind of explanation would that be of the allegedly intelligent power of abstraction if it requires such a guiding hand? And where on earth did this 'inner PA' receive its training?

Once more, it could be objected that in the investigation of, say, the biology of cats, it's important for scientists to find out what these animals have in common with other members of the same species, family, order, class or phylum, so that relevant generalisations might be made. In order to do this, zoologists disregard (or attribute) certain features common to cats and concentrate on those they share with other mammals, vertebrates, living things, and so on --, be they morphological, ecological, genetic or biochemical (etc.). Clearly, in each case, greater abstraction is required.

Or so the argument might go.

Nevertheless, if this is what "abstraction" means, it's surely synonymous with a publicly accessible and checkable set of performances, similar in all but name to description, analysis and classification (etc.). It has nothing to do with a private, internal 'skill' we are all supposed to possess of being able to polish rough and ready particulars into smooth general concepts. If abstraction were an occult (i.e., hidden), inner process then, as noted above, no two people would ever agree over the general idea of, say, a mammal, let alone that of a cat. All would have their own idiosyncratic inner, but intrinsically un-shareable, and un-checkable exemplars.

Again, one response to this could be that while we might use language to facilitate the transition from a private to the public arena, this does not impugn our abstractive skills.

This objection introduces topics discussed in more detail in Essay Thirteen Part Three. Nevertheless, a few comments are worth making:

Human beings have generally managed to agree on what animals they consider belong, say, to the class of Mammals -- i.e., those individuals who possess the relevant education/linguistic skills. However, this doesn't include those individuals who are supposed to possess unspecified abstractive powers. Trainee zoologists do not gain their scientific qualifications by demonstrating to their teachers their expertise over the 'inner dissection' of mental images, ideas, or concepts. The same is true of practising zoologists. On the contrary, these scientists have to show a mastery of highly specialised techniques, vocabulary and theory, which skills they must demonstrate publicly, showing they are capable of applying them in appropriate circumstances, etc., etc.

The widespread illusion that we are all experts in the 'internal dismemberment' of ideas is encouraged by another confusion that also originated in traditional Philosophy: the belief that the intelligent use of general words depends on some form of internal, mental naming, representing or processing ceremony. In effect, this amounts once more to the belief that despite appearances to the contrary, all words are names, and that meaning something involves an inner act of "meaning/naming" or "representation", matching words to images, sensations, processes, or 'representations' in the brain/'mind'.

At work here is another inappropriate set of metaphors, which trade on the idea that the mind functions like an inner theatre, TV or computer screen -- now refined with an analogy drawn against Microsoft Windows perhaps, wherein 'the mind' is described as "modular" (and operated, no doubt, by the internal analogue of a computer geek, skilled at 'clicking' on the right inner 'icons' at the right moment, filing things in the right folders and setting-up efficient 'networks', etc.). Given this family of metaphors, understanding is modelled on the way we now look at pictures (or "inner representations", again), using the equivalent of an inner eye to appraise whatever fortune sends its way.

This family of metaphors is but a faint modern echo of Plato's theory of knowledge by acquaintance, and his allegory of the Cave. [It must be added that the former and the latter were intended to make different points for Plato himself.] More modern versions of this family see knowledge as the passive processing of "representations" by socially-isolated, lone abstractors -- even if this approach was later beefed-up (by dialecticians) with a gesture toward the input of practice. Nevertheless, this view of knowledge turned it into a form of acquaintance. Believe it or not, the reasoning is little more complex than this: we all know our friends by personal acquaintance or sight, so we all know the contents of our minds by (internal) acquaintance or (inner) sight. This again reminds us why traditional theory argued that knowledge was a relation between the Knower and the Known. [More on this in Essays Three Part Four and Thirteen Part Three and Six.]

Naturally, if this occult abstractive skill had ever been important in the history of science then we would find evidence to that effect in the work of great scientists. Alas there is none.

Even the attempt to investigate the truth of that particular assertion would automatically throw into doubt the role abstraction is supposed to play in science. That is because such an inquiry would have to examine the documents and writings (etc.) of scientists -- not their brains. Indeed, any recognition of the relevance of the publicly available, linguistic production of such scientists, their equipment and techniques (etc.), their social surroundings -- as opposed to the contents of their heads -- would confirm that in their practical activity no historian actually believes that abstract ideas (understood in the traditional sense, as the products of inner acts of intellection) underpin scientific knowledge -- whatever theoretical and/or philosophical views he or she might otherwise rehearse in public.

Here, as elsewhere, actions speak louder than abstractions.

Admittedly, this way of putting things might differ from the way that scientists themselves theorise about what they do. But, and once more: their practical activity belies whatever post hoc rationalisations they might advance concerning the nature of their work.

Except in certain areas of obsolete (introspective) psychology, in seeking to advance scientific knowledge scientists report neither on the results of their processing of mental entities, nor on the contents of their heads. And they certainly do not require the same with respect to the heads of others in their field, nor anywhere else for that matter. On the contrary, as far as their work is concerned, researchers develop new theories at the very least by extending the use and application of publicly accessible scientific language, theories and techniques. And they do this by employing analogy, metaphor and the novel use of familiar general terms already in the public domain. This is allied to the construction of specific models and "thought experiments", alongside the employment of other assorted rhetorical devices.

[Naturally, this doesn't mean that these features are unrelated to advances in technique motivated by the development of the forces of production, etc. However, as noted above, these issues will be discussed in more detail in Essay Thirteen Part Two.]

Despite this, it could be objected that the above comments thoroughly misrepresent the way that knowledge advances. In fact (but edited down) the objection could run as follows: scientists attempt to discover the underlying nature of objects and processes in the world in order to reveal the laws and regularities (etc.) that govern the universe. To take just one example: an animal's essential nature -- arrived at by increased use of abstract terms -- turns out to be its DNA (or whatever). Another, but more general example could be the way that Physicists extend knowledge by developing increasingly abstract theories expressed in complex mathematical formulae and/or causal laws.

But, this can't be correct; scientists manifestly did not discover DNA by the use of greater or more refined abstractions. They used the theoretical and practical advances achieved by earlier and current researchers (which advances themselves were not arrived at by abstraction), and augmented them with their own ideas (often those developed by teams of scientists, working in a certain research tradition) and the results of other innovative experiments. All of these are based on cooperative work and observation -- frequently assisted by the use of models, yet more 'thought experiments', all expressed in a public language, subsequently published in an open arena.

None of these (save, perhaps, those 'thought experiments') even remotely looks like a mental process, still less an example of abstraction carried out in an isolated, inner arena. And, as far as 'thought experiments' are concerned, these too are typically rehearsed in the public domain, and in a public language. Any alleged 'mental processes' that accompany them are likewise connected with the innovative use of language -- but, with the volume turned down.

['Thought experiments' will be discussed in more detail in Essay Thirteen Part Two; some of the relevant literature devoted to them is listed in Essay Four.]

Of course, it could be argued that no one supposes that abstraction is "done in the head", or that scientists do not use a publicly accessible language in their work. It might therefore be maintained that scientists still endeavour to form abstract ideas based on their use of resources such as these, and in this way.

Again, as noted above, this is not what scientists actually do. This is a myth put about by professional philosophers and amateur metaphysicians.

Is it even true that "everybody abstracts"? Well, as the above has shown, not only is there no evidence that they do, no one seems to be able to tell us what they are supposed to be able to do while they are allegedly doing it! Nor can anyone work out how the heroic "mental activities" of Abstractor A could possibly agree with those of Abstractor B, or, indeed, how it's possible for anyone to check the results.

Moreover, how would it be possible for Abstractor A to ensure that he/she has abstracted anything in the same way as Abstractor B? On this theory, all they have to go on are their own subjective attempts to this end, but, short of doing a brain scan, they have no way of comparing their results. As noted above, this would undermine language, and that includes the word "abstract" itself -- no two 'abstractors' could even agree what they meant by this word!

Nevertheless, this traditional tale is deeply engrained in our culture (it is indeed, one of the "ruling ideas") -- you will even find psychologists who say that all of us can form "abstractions", even if they go rather quiet when asked to fill in the details -- so much so that experience has taught me not try to deny (in polite company) that such 'phantoms' exist, or risk being treated as one who has just confessed to murder. [This comment is especially true of Marxist dialecticians, zealous defenders of traditional jargon.]

Nevertheless, this particular Emperor has no clothes, abstract or concrete; indeed there isn't even so much as a single drop of blue blood in 'his' veins -- as both halves of this Essay seek to demonstrate. Worse still: there isn't even an Emperor, clothed or naked.

This "ruling idea" has been sat on its epistemological throne for long enough; time to wheel out a very material guillotine.


More details here:

http://anti-dialectics.co.uk/page%2003_01.htm

http://anti-dialectics.co.uk/page%2003_02.htm

---------------------------

Added on edit: the second of the above essays subjects Bertell Ollman's attempt to make this mythical process comprehensible to sutained criticism:

http://anti-dialectics.co.uk/page%2003_ ... itionalism
"The emancipation of the working class will be an act of the workers themselves."
Soviet cogitations: 10001
Defected to the U.S.S.R.: 14 Jul 2008, 20:01
Ideology: Trotskyism
Philosophized
Post 14 May 2012, 12:09
Okay, Rosa. Don't answer with walls of text. Some people think walls of text are intimidating, I think they're annoying. Do you expect me to dissect every single paragraph of your essay now? Not gonna happen.

Quote:
First of all, I said this mythical process made no sense, not that it 'didn't work'.


You said that I couldn't do it, which means that it doesn't work for me. A little abstraction would have helped.

Anyway. I'm going to answer to some of the points in there.

Quote:
While we are at it, what exactly are the common features that can be abstracted from (or even attributed to) all shades of the colour blue, for example? Or the many notes that can be played on the bagpipes? Or the taste of several different wines? Or the feel of silk, wool and nylon? Or even the smell of roses?


You probably think these questions are clever. They're not. All shades of the color blue are within the same wavelength interval, the notes that can be played on bagpipes share the same timbre, several different wines will work on more or less the same receptors in the taste buds, the same goes for the smell of roses (in order to understand what "the same" means here, you'll have to abstract the process out of the mouth, put it into the nose, and replace taste buds with olfactory sensory neurons. Can you do that? Or is that too "mythical" for you?), and the common feature of the "feel of silk, wool and nylon" is that it's a tactile response to textiles. Duh.

Quote:
But what are the common features of "fruity bouquets"?


Wikipedia wrote:
It is generally accepted that there are five taste sensations:

Sweet, bitter, and savory (now sometimes called umami), which work with a signal through a G protein-coupled receptor.
Salty and sour, which work with ion channels.


If you had actually bothered to find out the answer to your wannabe rhetorical questions you'd have noticed that they're really not as clever as you think.

Now a fruity bouquet taste is obviously much more concrete than an abstract quality like "sweet, bitter, and savory", even though I guess that a fruity bouquet taste probably contains some of all three. So it will probably cause all sorts of signals on this G protein-coupled receptor, a signal pattern as it were, that is shared by all fruity bouquet tastes. It's not rocket science. It's glaringly obvious.

Quote:
Hence, in the abstractive process, as each outwardly unique distinguishing feature of a particular is 'peeled off' (or "disregarded") by the intellect, the true form of the 'object' underneath gradually comes into view -- but, of course, only in the 'mind's eye'. This is, naturally, a disrobing ceremony only accessible to those capable of 'metaphysically undressing' things like tables, chairs, cats, dogs, electrons and galaxies.


lol no. You could abstract an apple's form away from it as a first step, that would give you the "true form" of it in one step, not gradually. Don't think this works? Imagine the schematic outline of an apple. If you can do that, I've just been proven right.

Okay so some people believe that abstraction is like a pyramid, where you can get to a certain goal, to a "substance" at the top (or bottom or whatever), if you just strip off enough of the details. But that's bullshit. Abstraction is the separation of a thing from one of its properties, without any kind of hierarchy. You could abstract a filter from a cigarette in real life by tearing it off - and this is, by the way, the way Marx uses the term "abstract" when he talkes about abstract labor. The abstraction of labor doesn't happen in anybody's mind. Abstract labor is REALLY abstracted, i.e. separated, i.e. alienated.

The Soviet philosopher Ilyenkov writes (I'm re-translating this from German, so it may sound weird)

The abstract is defined as that which is disregarded, extracted, specialized, that which is "pulled out" of the concrete - in general. It doesn't matter whence, how, and it what form it is taken - whether it is a word, a figure, or even a single thing outside of our heads, outside of consciousness. This means that the most complicated drawing can be the most abstract repesentation of some complicated system of things and appearances, of a certain concrete. The abstract is one of the clearly definable moments of the concrete - a special, one-sided, incomplete (and therefore always deformed) appearance of the concrete, a relatively autonomous, seemingly independent moment of the concrete.

Quote:
Moreover, in the absence of any rules governing the process of abstraction (such as where to begin, which feature to abstract first, which second -- which never) one person's abstractions would surely differ from those of the rest of the abstractive community. [...] (1) How is it possible for each lone abstractor, in the privacy of their own head, to know if they have arrived at the correct abstract concept of anything at all, or anything in particular? With what, or with whom, can any of the supposed results be checked? No one has access to a single 'abstraction' produced by anyone else, nor has anyone ever been trained to perform this feat correctly. Does a single human being posses so much as a diploma in this mythical skill?


It's funny that you'd criticize the absence of rules for the innate human capability of separating things from their properties in our minds. The sky is blue - there you have an abstraction (in which the copula is border between thing and property). If we needed rules for what forms the basis of every analytical thought, we'd be pretty insecure in our thought, don't you think?

And yes, of course abstractions differ. Since every thing is infinitely complex, you can abstract an infinite number of moments out of it. You can do infinitely many things with abstraction. That's how awesome it is.

Quote:
An appeal to the existence of a public language would be to no avail here, for even on that basis no one would be able to tell whether Abstractor A meant the same as Abstractor B by his or her use of words (or 'concepts' like "Substance", "Being", and "Nothing"). And definitions can't help here, since they also contain 'abstractions' which are subject to the same problems. For how can Abstractor A know what Abstractor B means by any of the abstract terms he/she uses without access to her/his mind? Abstractor B can't point to anything which is the meaning of a single abstraction he or she might be trying to define, so he/she can't use an ostensive definition [i.e., a definition by pointing at something] to help Abstractor A understand what he/she means. Other sorts of definition must, it seems, use general words, too, since no particular, or no singular term, can give the meaning of any abstraction or abstract term under scrutiny. If so, the same 'difficulties' will confront these general terms, and so on.


People can talk to each other and understand each other, and all nouns, verbs and adjectives are abstractions. Your argument has therefore no basis in reality, at all.

Quote:
It could be objected none of this really matters, the results will be the same anyhow. But how do we know? Where is the rule book to guide us?


Why are you so insecure? You know that people will understand you when you talk to them, right?
"Don't know why i'm still surprised with this shit anyway." - Loz
Soviet cogitations: 231
Defected to the U.S.S.R.: 08 Nov 2010, 22:13
Ideology: Trotskyism
Pioneer
Post 14 May 2012, 17:42
Mabool:

Quote:
Okay, Rosa. Don't answer with walls of text. Some people think walls of text are intimidating, I think they're annoying. Do you expect me to dissect every single paragraph of your essay now? Not gonna happen.


You asked for a proof, and got one. Stop moaning.

Quote:
You said that I couldn't do it, which means that it doesn't work for me. A little abstraction would have helped.


In fact, I said this:

Quote:
And, since the 'process of abstraction' makes no sense at all, not even you, my confused friend, are able to 'abstract'. (Proof provided on request...)


My prediction was based on an allegation that this process made no sense, in which case it's not possible to make sense of anyone being able to do it. So, I wasn't denying you could do it, I was merely saying I could make no sense of the possibility that anyone could.

Quote:
A little abstraction would have helped.


Eh?

As we are about to see, you do not seem to be able to make your mind up whether 'abstraction' is a common/general noun, a process in the Central Nervous System [CNS], a drawing (!) or a 'mental process':

Quote:
You probably think these questions are clever. They're not. All shades of the colour blue are within the same wavelength interval, the notes that can be played on bagpipes share the same timbre, several different wines will work on more or less the same receptors in the taste buds, the same goes for the smell of roses (in order to understand what "the same" means here, you'll have to abstract the process out of the mouth, put it into the nose, and replace taste buds with olfactory sensory neurons. Can you do that? Or is that too "mythical" for you?), and the common feature of the "feel of silk, wool and nylon" is that it's a tactile response to textiles. Duh....

If you had actually bothered to find out the answer to your wannabe rhetorical questions you'd have noticed that they're really not as clever as you think.

Now a fruity bouquet taste is obviously much more concrete than an abstract quality like "sweet, bitter, and savoury", even though I guess that a fruity bouquet taste probably contains some of all three. So it will probably cause all sorts of signals on this G protein-coupled receptor, a signal pattern as it were, that is shared by all fruity bouquet tastes. It's not rocket science. It's glaringly obvious....

lol no. You could abstract an apple's form away from it as a first step, that would give you the "true form" of it in one step, not gradually. Don't think this works? Imagine the schematic outline of an apple. If you can do that, I've just been proven right.

Okay so some people believe that abstraction is like a pyramid, where you can get to a certain goal, to a "substance" at the top (or bottom or whatever), if you just strip off enough of the details. But that's bullshit. Abstraction is the separation of a thing from one of its properties, without any kind of hierarchy. You could abstract a filter from a cigarette in real life by tearing it off - and this is, by the way, the way Marx uses the term "abstract" when he talks about abstract labour. The abstraction of labour doesn't happen in anybody's mind. Abstract labour is REALLY abstracted, i.e. separated, i.e. alienated.


In this tangled mess of confusion you first of all tell us that an abstraction is a common or general noun, then it's a process in the CNS, then a drawing (!), and then you finally hit on the traditional account of 'abstraction', that it's some sort of 'mental process'.

I'm not too sure you have a firm grasp on 'abstraction'. Your ideas are all over the place. [Given what we are about to see below, this is no surprise.]

A few points worth making:

1) A wavelength can't be an 'abstraction' (nor can they be based on one), or none of us would be able to agree what one was. [I'll respond to your 'answer' to this objection later.] Same comment over 'tactile response', and the other things you piled in there.

2) A process in the CNS can't be an 'abstraction' either. If it were, scientists would fail to agree over what the words 'process', 'central', 'nervous' and 'system' meant. [You acknowledge that abstractions change all the time, so no agreement is possible.] Now a process in the CNS might cause an abstract idea (but you have yet to provide the proof of this), but that process itself can't be an abstraction since it's not a 'mental process', which is the definition you finally alighted upon.

3) The other things you say are susceptible to the criticism I levelled in my last post (more on this below in reply to your attempt to respond to one of the points I raised), and to this criticism Marx added to the Poverty of Philosophy (which I didn't quote):

Quote:
Is it surprising that everything, in the final abstraction – for we have here an abstraction, and not an analysis – presents itself as a logical category? Is it surprising that, if you let drop little by little all that constitutes the individuality of a house, leaving out first of all the materials of which it is composed, then the form that distinguishes it, you end up with nothing but a body; that, if you leave out of account the limits of this body; you soon have nothing but a space – that if, finally, you leave out of the account the dimensions of this space, there is absolutely nothing left but pure quantity, the logical category? If we abstract thus from every subject all the alleged accidents, animate or inanimate, men or things, we are right in saying that in the final abstraction, the only substance left is the logical category. Thus the metaphysicians who, in making these abstractions, think they are making analyses, and who, the more they detach themselves from things, imagine themselves to be getting all the nearer to the point of penetrating to their core – these metaphysicians in turn are right in saying that things here below are embroideries of which the logical categories constitute the canvas. This is what distinguishes the philosopher from the Christian. The Christian, in spite of logic, has only one incarnation of the Logos; the philosopher has never finished with incarnations. If all that exists, all that lives on land, and under water, can be reduced by abstraction to a logical category – if the whole real world can be drowned thus in a world of abstractions, in the world of logical categories – who need be astonished at it?

All that exists, all that lives on land and under water, exists and lives only by some kind of movement. Thus, the movement of history produces social relations; industrial movement gives us industrial products, etc.

Just as by means of abstraction we have transformed everything into a logical category, so one has only to make an abstraction of every characteristic distinctive of different movements to attain movement in its abstract condition – purely formal movement, the purely logical formula of movement. If one finds in logical categories the substance of all things, one imagines one has found in the logical formula of movement the absolute method, which not only explains all things, but also implies the movement of things.
It is of this absolute method that Hegel speaks in these terms:

'Method is the absolute, unique, supreme, infinite force, which no object can resist; it is the tendency of reason to find itself again, to recognize itself in every object.' Logic, Vol. III [p. 29])

All things being reduced to a logical category, and every movement, every act of production, to method, it follows naturally that every aggregate of products and production, of objects and of movement, can be reduced to a form of applied metaphysics. What Hegel has done for religion, law, etc., M. Proudhon seeks to do for political economy.

So what is this absolute method? The abstraction of movement. What is the abstraction of movement? Movement in abstract condition. What is movement in abstract condition? The purely logical formula of movement or the movement of pure reason. Wherein does the movement of pure reason consist? In posing itself, opposing itself, composing itself; in formulating itself as thesis, antithesis, synthesis; or, yet, in affirming itself, negating itself, and negating its negation.


http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/wo ... h02.htm#s2

Bold added.

And I'd go further than Marx. On the basis of the 'process of abstraction' no two 'abstractors' would be able to agree over the results, or indeed agree what they meant by the phrase 'logical category', or even 'abstraction'.

But you have an 'answer' to this:

Quote:
People can talk to each other and understand each other, and all nouns, verbs and adjectives are abstractions. Your argument has therefore no basis in reality, at all.


Well, I covered this in my original post; here it is again:

Quote:
(1) How is it possible for each lone abstractor, in the privacy of their own head, to know if they have arrived at the correct abstract concept of anything at all, or anything in particular? With what, or with whom, can any of the supposed results be checked? No one has access to a single 'abstraction' produced by anyone else, nor has anyone ever been trained to perform this feat correctly. Does a single human being posses so much as a diploma in this mythical skill?

An appeal to the existence of a public language would be to no avail here, for even on that basis no one would be able to tell whether Abstractor A meant the same as Abstractor B by his or her use of words (or 'concepts' like "Substance", "Being", and "Nothing"). And definitions can't help here, since they also contain 'abstractions' which are subject to the same problems. For how can Abstractor A know what Abstractor B means by any of the abstract terms he/she uses without access to her/his mind? Abstractor B can't point to anything which is the meaning of a single abstraction he or she might be trying to define, so he/she can't use an ostensive definition [i.e., a definition by pointing at something] to help Abstractor A understand what he/she means. Other sorts of definition must, it seems, use general words, too, since no particular, or no singular term, can give the meaning of any abstraction or abstract term under scrutiny. If so, the same 'difficulties' will confront these general terms, and so on....

Moreover, even if abstractions were arrived at in a more law-like way, as the 'mind' tries to grapple with scientific knowledge, a là Hegel, it's still unclear how any one mind could possibly check the results of those of any other in order to ascertain if either or both had arrived at the same Ideal result.... Indeed, how could one or both decide if they mean the same by "same".


Bold added.

So, if this 'theory' of yours were correct, you'd be trapped in a solipsistic world, where all around you there weren't people to talk to but abstractions in your head.

But worse; not even you would know from moment to moment if you meant the same by any of the 'abstractions'/words you alighted upon. Even you admit this:

Quote:
And yes, of course abstractions differ. Since every thing is infinitely complex, you can abstract an infinite number of moments out of it. You can do infinitely many things with abstraction. That's how awesome it is.


So, if you are right, you have no idea today what you meant by any of this yesterday, or will mean tomorrow. You don't know if you mean the same by your use of 'word', or even 'mean'!

An appeal to memory here is no use either, since, if you are right, memory is based on 'abstraction', and we already know you believe this:

Quote:
And yes, of course abstractions differ. Since every thing is infinitely complex, you can abstract an infinite number of moments out of it. You can do infinitely many things with abstraction. That's how awesome it is.


So, as I said, you are lost in a solipsistic world, where nothing means the same from second to second.

And, in any reply to this, if you are right, you will mean something different by 'abstraction', too! And something different by 'different'!

You can see why I said this 'process' made no sense. No sense can be made of a theory whose main implication is that all words lose meaning (even the word 'word'!).

Quote:
The Soviet philosopher Ilyenkov writes (I'm re-translating this from German, so it may sound weird)

The abstract is defined as that which is disregarded, extracted, specialized, that which is "pulled out" of the concrete - in general. It doesn't matter whence, how, and it what form it is taken - whether it is a word, a figure, or even a single thing outside of our heads, outside of consciousness. This means that the most complicated drawing can be the most abstract representation of some complicated system of things and appearances, of a certain concrete. The abstract is one of the clearly definable moments of the concrete - a special, one-sided, incomplete (and therefore always deformed) appearance of the concrete, a relatively autonomous, seemingly independent moment of the concrete.


Thanks for that, but I have been reading Ilyenkov's confused musing now for longer than most comrades here have been alive.

Alas, Ilyenkov's comments are susceptible to Marx's criticisms above, and to mine, too.

Quote:
It's funny that you'd criticize the absence of rules for the innate human capability of separating things from their properties in our minds. The sky is blue - there you have an abstraction (in which the copula is border between thing and property). If we needed rules for what forms the basis of every analytical thought, we'd be pretty insecure in our thought, don't you think?


What's even funnier is that you neglected the proof that this mythical process is innate.

[Of course, we already know you mean by 'innate' something different from moment to moment -- so good luck with that proof! That is, if you can tell what I (or even you) mean by 'proof' -- which if you are right, you can't...]

Even funnier still: any response you care to make to this will be difficult for me to reply to since I won't be able to tell if you mean by 'abstraction' what you meant when you posted these comments of yours -- and neither will you!

Er..., who was it who rashly admitted the following?

Quote:
And yes, of course abstractions differ. Since every thing is infinitely complex, you can abstract an infinite number of moments out of it. You can do infinitely many things with abstraction. That's how awesome it is.


And, of course, you won't be replying to me, but to an abstract idea you have in your head, and which idea is liable to change with the wind -- even on your own admission! [See above -- if, that is, you know from moment to moment what 'above' means...]

It's no use replying that your abstract idea refers to me, since, on your own admission, you mean something different from moment to moment by 'refer' -- and 'abstract idea'!

Quote:
Why are you so insecure?


Your abstract idea of me might be insecure, but then that is probably a result of what psychologists call 'projection'. Here, you're a fan of Wikipedia -- look it up:

Quote:
Psychological projection or projection bias is a psychological defense mechanism where a person subconsciously denies his or her own attributes, thoughts, and emotions, which are then ascribed to the outside world, usually to other people.


http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Psychological_projection

Quote:
You know that people will understand you when you talk to them, right?


And that's because I'm not trapped in Solipsistsville, like you.
"The emancipation of the working class will be an act of the workers themselves."
Soviet cogitations: 10001
Defected to the U.S.S.R.: 14 Jul 2008, 20:01
Ideology: Trotskyism
Philosophized
Post 15 May 2012, 02:24
Oh dear.

Quote:
My prediction was based on an allegation that this process made no sense, in which case it's not possible to make sense of anyone being able to do it. So, I wasn't denying you could do it, I was merely saying I could make no sense of the possibility that anyone could.


So all you were saying was that you don't understand abstraction. Well I am trying to help you with that.

Quote:
As we are about to see, you do not seem to be able to make your mind up whether 'abstraction' is a common/general noun, a process in the Central Nervous System [CNS], a drawing (!) or a 'mental process':


The word "abstraction" commonly denotes both a process (the process of separating something from its properties) and the result of that same process. That's a linguistic shortcoming, I'm more than ready to concede this. "Blue" is an abstraction - the result of the process of abstracting from several shades of blue. Since this ambiguity doesn't exist in German, my native language, I'm not used to it and that may have caused some difficulties. From now on, I'm going to try to express myself more clearly and distinguish more carefully between "the process of abstraction" and "an abstract" (as the result of it) for maximum clarity. "To abstract" means "to perform the process of abstraction".

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I'm not too sure you have a firm grasp on 'abstraction'. Your ideas are all over the place. [Given what we are about to see below, this is no surprise.]


I don't think they are. Let's see:

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In this tangled mess of confusion you first of all tell us that an abstraction is a common or general noun


The word "abstraction" is a noun, but I can't remember having said that.

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then it's a process in the CNS


Yeah, when the process of abstraction happens in our minds, this obviously also happens in the CNS, because this is what generates our minds. Tasting wine is a part of the process in that case.

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then a drawing (!)


A drawing is an abstract as defined above.

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and then you finally hit on the traditional account of 'abstraction', that it's some sort of 'mental process'.


No, it's not necessarily mental. I already said that in the last paragraph you quoted, I'm afraid you didn't fully understand it:

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You could abstract a filter from a cigarette in real life by tearing it off - and this is, by the way, the way Marx uses the term "abstract" when he talks about abstract labour. The abstraction of labour doesn't happen in anybody's mind. Abstract labour is REALLY abstracted, i.e. separated, i.e. alienated.


Quote:
1) A wavelength can't be an 'abstraction' (nor can they be based on one), or none of us would be able to agree what one was. [I'll respond to your 'answer' to this objection later.] Same comment over 'tactile response', and the other things you piled in there.


Sure it is. Let's consult Wikipedia once again:

Quote:
Blue is a colour, the perception of which is evoked by light having a spectrum dominated by energy with a wavelength of roughly 450–490 nm.


Now, remember that I didn't say that a certain wavelength was an "abstraction" (or rather, an abstract). I said this:

Quote:
All shades of the color blue are within the same wavelength interval


The interval 450 nm < x < 490 nm is the abstract. It's not "based on" one, it is one. And miraculously, most people (who follow the European color classification - colors are classified differently in different cultures) agree that they see blue when they are confronted with "light having a spectrum dominated by energy with a wavelength of roughly 450–490 nm."

Quote:
A process in the CNS can't be an 'abstraction' either. If it were, scientists would fail to agree over what the words 'process', 'central', 'nervous' and 'system' meant. [You acknowledge that abstractions change all the time, so no agreement is possible.]


Everything changes all the time, and yet agreement is still possible. The world changes all the time, but still we manage to have relatively stable, intersubjectively valid concepts which work well enough to structure our thought, even though they're contradictory (of course). These concepts are abstracts. Even though an object changes all the time, we can still designate it is at that same object that it was 10 minutes before, by abstracting away from the changes it has undergone... until we can't recognize it anymore.

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Is it surprising that, if you let drop little by little all that constitutes the individuality of a house, leaving out first of all the materials of which it is composed, then the form that distinguishes it, you end up with nothing but a body; that, if you leave out of account the limits of this body; you soon have nothing but a space – that if, finally, you leave out of the account the dimensions of this space, there is absolutely nothing left but pure quantity, the logical category? If we abstract thus from every subject all the alleged accidents, animate or inanimate, men or things, we are right in saying that in the final abstraction, the only substance left is the logical category. Thus the metaphysicians who, in making these abstractions, think they are making analyses, and who, the more they detach themselves from things, imagine themselves to be getting all the nearer to the point of penetrating to their core – these metaphysicians in turn are right in saying that things here below are embroideries of which the logical categories constitute the canvas. This is what distinguishes the philosopher from the Christian. The Christian, in spite of logic, has only one incarnation of the Logos; the philosopher has never finished with incarnations. If all that exists, all that lives on land, and under water, can be reduced by abstraction to a logical category – if the whole real world can be drowned thus in a world of abstractions, in the world of logical categories – who need be astonished at it?


You're taking Marx out of context. He's criticizing Proudhon for attributing the categories of bourgeois economics "to the movement of pure reason", for ceasing "to pursue the historical movement of production relations, of which the categories are but the theoretical expression". He's criticizing Proudhon for thinking that ideas can develop on their own, without a corresponding material development. He's defending materialism against idealist mysticism. He is criticizing Proudhon's dialectical method which is very different from the Marxian one. Proudhon begins with the concrete to arrive at the abstract - and gets lost, or "drowned" in a world of abstracts, as Marx says. Marx begins with the abstract to arrive at the concrete - the difference is in the "direction" of the process of abstraction. Marx compares the two methods in the Introduction to a Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy.

Quote:
It would seem to be the proper thing to start with the real and concrete elements, with the actual preconditions, e.g., to start in the sphere of economy with population, which forms the basis and the subject of the whole social process of production. Closer consideration shows, however, that this is wrong. Population is an abstraction if, for instance, one disregards the classes of which it is composed. These classes in turn remain empty terms if one does not know the factors on which they depend, e.g., wage-labour, capital, and so on. These presuppose exchange, division of labour, prices, etc. For example, capital is nothing without wage-labour, without value, money, price, etc. If one were to take population as the point of departure, it would be a very vague notion of a complex whole and through closer definition one would arrive analytically at increasingly simple concepts; from imaginary concrete terms one would move to more and more tenuous abstractions until one reached the most simple definitions. From there it would be necessary to make the journey again in the opposite direction until one arrived once more at the concept of population, which is this time not a vague notion of a whole, but a totality comprising many determinations and relations. The first course is the historical one taken by political economy at its inception. The seventeenth-century economists, for example, always took as their starting point the living organism, the population, the nation, the State, several States, etc., but analysis led them always in the end to the discovery of a few decisive abstract, general relations, such as division of labour, money, and value. When these separate factors were more or less clearly deduced and established, economic systems were evolved which from simple concepts, such as labour, division of labour, demand, exchange-value, advanced to categories like State, international exchange and world market. The latter is obviously the correct scientific method. The concrete concept is concrete because it is a synthesis of many definitions, thus representing the unity of diverse aspects. It appears therefore in reasoning as a summing-up, a result, and not as the starting point, although it is the real point of origin, and thus also the point of origin of perception and imagination. The first procedure attenuates meaningful images to abstract definitions, the second leads from abstract definitions by way of reasoning to the reproduction of the concrete situation. Hegel accordingly conceived the illusory idea that the real world is the result of thinking which causes its own synthesis, its own deepening and its own movement; whereas the method of advancing from the abstract to the concrete is simply the way in which thinking assimilates the concrete and reproduces it as a concrete mental category. This is, however, by no means the process of evolution of the concrete world itself. For example, the simplest economic category, e.g., exchange-value, presupposes population, a population moreover which produces under definite conditions, as well as a distinct kind of family, or community, or State, etc. Exchange-value cannot exist except as an abstract, unilateral relation of an already existing concrete organic whole. But exchange-value as a category leads an antediluvian existence. Thus to consciousness-and this comprises philosophical consciousness – which regards the comprehending mind as the real man, and hence the comprehended world as such as the only real world; to consciousness, therefore, the evolution of categories appears as the actual process of production – which unfortunately is given an impulse from outside – whose result is the world; and this (which is however again a tautological expression) is true in so far as the concrete totality regarded as a conceptual totality, as a mental fact, is indeed a product of thinking, of comprehension; but it is by no means a product of the idea which evolves spontaneously and whose thinking proceeds outside and above perception and imagination, but is the result of the assimilation and transformation of perceptions and images into concepts. The totality as a conceptual entity seen by the intellect is a product of the thinking intellect which assimilates the world in the only way open to it, a way which differs from the artistic, religious and practically intelligent assimilation of this world. The concrete subject remains outside the intellect and independent of it – that is so long as the intellect adopts a purely speculative, purely theoretical attitude. The subject, society, must always be envisaged therefore as the pre-condition of comprehension even when the theoretical method is employed.

http://marxists.org/archive/marx/works/ ... /appx1.htm


By the way, this is connected to another problem of yours:

Quote:
An appeal to the existence of a public language would be to no avail here, for even on that basis no one would be able to tell whether Abstractor A meant the same as Abstractor B by his or her use of words (or 'concepts' like "Substance", "Being", and "Nothing"). And definitions can't help here, since they also contain 'abstractions' which are subject to the same problems. For how can Abstractor A know what Abstractor B means by any of the abstract terms he/she uses without access to her/his mind? Abstractor B can't point to anything which is the meaning of a single abstraction he or she might be trying to define, so he/she can't use an ostensive definition [i.e., a definition by pointing at something] to help Abstractor A understand what he/she means. Other sorts of definition must, it seems, use general words, too, since no particular, or no singular term, can give the meaning of any abstraction or abstract term under scrutiny. If so, the same 'difficulties' will confront these general terms, and so on....


This is a very nice description of the "drowning in categories" that happens to idealists, because they do it wrong.

Quote:
Now a process in the CNS might cause an abstract idea (but you have yet to provide the proof of this), but that process itself can't be an abstraction since it's not a 'mental process', which is the definition you finally alighted upon.


No. I did not. The process of abstraction is the process of separating a thing from its properties. It does not necessarily take place in the mind. Let's have a look at Marx again:

Quote:
These objective dependency relations also appear, in antithesis to those of personal dependence (the objective dependency relation is nothing more than social relations which have become independent and now enter into opposition to the seemingly independent individuals; i.e. the reciprocal relations of production separated from and autonomous of individuals) in such a way that individuals are now ruled by abstractions, whereas earlier they depended on one another.

http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/wo ... e/ch03.htm


Under capitalism, individuals are ruled by very real "abstractions" (processes of abstraction): abstract labor, the state and its violence, unemployment and many more.

Quote:
So, if this 'theory' of yours were correct, you'd be trapped in a solipsistic world, where all around you there weren't people to talk to but abstractions in your head.


The abstracts in my head are representations of real people, so it's not really a problem that I talk to them.

Quote:
But worse; not even you would know from moment to moment if you meant the same by any of the 'abstractions'/words you alighted upon. Even you admit this...


No, I don't. I said this:

Quote:
And yes, of course abstractions differ. Since every thing is infinitely complex, you can abstract an infinite number of moments out of it. You can do infinitely many things with abstraction. That's how awesome it is.


Probably I didn't express myself clearly. I said that there is an infinite number of abstracts. But precisely because the process of abstraction happens, we can designate certain abstracts and assign words to them. Praxis decides which ones we choose. For instance it wouldn't make much sense to categorize apples based on the number of seeds in them, we commonly categorize them by color, which is both easier and more useful.

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So, as I said, you are lost in a solipsistic world, where nothing means the same from second to second.


But I'm not.

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And, in any reply to this, if you are right, you will mean something different by 'abstraction', too!


Yes, I've provided more concise definitions at the beginning of my post. Wow, that was a good guess.

Quote:
And something different by 'different'!


No.

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You can see why I said this 'process' made no sense. No sense can be made of a theory whose main implication is that all words lose meaning (even the word 'word'!).


That is not the implication, though. The fact that all definitions are based on other definitions - the fact that "defining" is an infinite circle - doesn't mean that words don't have meaning. It's just that using words to explain words is a bad idea to begin with. This is reminiscent of Goedel's incompleteness theorem.

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Thanks for that, but I have been reading Ilyenkov's confused musing now for longer than most comrades here have been alive.


Weird. I mean I agree that it takes some time to understand him, but I guess I succeeded after a few months.

Quote:
What's even funnier is that you neglected the proof that this mythical process is innate.


I don't have to prove this. I defined the process of abstraction as the process of separating something from its properties. I gave an example for the process: The sky (object) | is (separation) | blue (property). We therefore abstract every time we use the copula, by definition.

This is also an example for proceeding from the abstract to the concrete. As Marx said above, the concrete "is a synthesis of many definitions, thus representing the unity of diverse aspects (i.e. abstracts)," and what the copula does is to unite these abstracts into a concrete: The sky is blue, a little cloudy, and filled with birds who are travelling south. The longer the sentence gets, the closer we get to the concrete.

Quote:
Even funnier still: any response you care to make to this will be difficult for me to reply to since I won't be able to tell if you mean by 'abstraction' what you meant when you posted these comments of yours -- and neither will you!


No, I made it quite clear.

Quote:
It's no use replying that your abstract idea refers to me, since, on your own admission, you mean something different from moment to moment by 'refer' -- and 'abstract idea'!


lol no I don't. Your endless repetitions of the same mistake are annoying.

Quote:
Your abstract idea of me might be insecure, but then that is probably a result of what psychologists call 'projection'. Here, you're a fan of Wikipedia -- look it up...


Nah, the more you insist, and insist and exclaim!!! that nothing of what I say makes any sense at all, the more insecure you appear. Like religious people who have to convince themselves of their god by reaffirming their belief all the time.

By the way I find it hilarious that you'd use a Freudian concept.
"Don't know why i'm still surprised with this shit anyway." - Loz
Soviet cogitations: 231
Defected to the U.S.S.R.: 08 Nov 2010, 22:13
Ideology: Trotskyism
Pioneer
Post 15 May 2012, 05:43
Mabool:

Quote:
So all you were saying was that you don't understand abstraction. Well I am trying to help you with that.


Well, it's plain from your answers that you too can make no sense of this mythical 'process'.

Quote:
The word "abstraction" commonly denotes both a process (the process of separating something from its properties) and the result of that same process. That's a linguistic shortcoming, I'm more than ready to concede this. "Blue" is an abstraction - the result of the process of abstracting from several shades of blue. Since this ambiguity doesn't exist in German, my native language, I'm not used to it and that may have caused some difficulties. From now on, I'm going to try to express myself more clearly and distinguish more carefully between "the process of abstraction" and "an abstract" (as the result of it) for maximum clarity. "To abstract" means "to perform the process of abstraction".


At least you have abandoned your earlier claims that common or general nouns (indeed, all words), processes in the CNS and drawings were abstractions, and have now settled on the traditional view that it is some sort of 'mental process'.

[Except, the other things you say suggest that you are still confusing these things with one another. So, your ideas still appear to be all over the place.]

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The word "abstraction" is a noun, but I can't remember having said that.


Well, you did say this:

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all nouns, verbs and adjectives are abstractions.


I alleged several things of your last but one post. One was that your ideas are all over the place. In view of the fact that you now tell us that you can't remember what you said earlier, it looks like I was right.

I also alleged that because of this statement of yours:

Quote:
And yes, of course abstractions differ. Since every thing is infinitely complex, you can abstract an infinite number of moments out of it. You can do infinitely many things with abstraction. That's how awesome it is.


it's not possible for you to recall what you once meant by 'word', 'different', 'same' or even 'abstraction'.

In view of the fact that you now admit to a faltering memory, that comment of mine, too, appears to be correct.

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Yeah, when the process of abstraction happens in our minds, this obviously also happens in the CNS, because this is what generates our minds. Tasting wine is a part of the process in that case.


Well, we have yet to see the proof of all this a priori neuroscience, but even if it were correct, that wouldn't tell us that a process in the CNS was an abstraction, only that it causes this process. [A process , by the way, that is still hopelessly unclear. On that see below.]

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A drawing is an abstract as defined above.


But, your 'definition' is defective (on that see below).

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No, it's not necessarily mental. I already said that in the last paragraph you quoted, I'm afraid you didn't fully understand it:

You could abstract a filter from a cigarette in real life by tearing it off - and this is, by the way, the way Marx uses the term "abstract" when he talks about abstract labour. The abstraction of labour doesn't happen in anybody's mind. Abstract labour is REALLY abstracted, i.e. separated, i.e. alienated.


Well, you are running together several different things here. On this view, any separation would be an 'abstraction'. So, if a husband and wife separate, they are really 'abstracting', are they? And if two individuals go to a meeting in separate cars, they are 'abstracting', are they? And if a river divides and goes in separate directions, it is abstracting, too? Hardly!

And, of course, Marx allegedly arrived at this view of labour after a 'process of abstraction' in 'his mind', as himself tells us:

Quote:
It seems correct to begin with the real and the concrete…with e.g. the population…. However, on closer examination this proves false. The population is an abstraction if I leave out, for example, the classes of which it is composed. These classes in turn are an empty phrase if I am not familiar with the elements on which they rest…. Thus, if I were to begin with the population, this would be a chaotic conception of the whole, and I would then, by further determination, move toward ever more simple concepts, from the imagined concrete towards ever thinner abstractions until I had arrived at the simplest determinations. From there the journey would have to be retraced until I had finally arrived at the population again, but this time not as the chaotic conception of a whole, but as a rich totality of many determinations and relations…. The latter is obviously scientifically the correct method. The concrete is concrete because it is the concentration of many determinations, hence the unity of the diverse. [Marx Grundrisse.]


Bold added.

So, 'abstract labour' was (allegedly) arrived at by a 'mental process'. The highlighted comments confirm that Marx, at least, thought this.

It is this sense of 'abstraction', not your revised version of it, that I am questioning.

You can have the other sense of 'abstraction' -- cutting things up. You are welcome to it.

That sense of 'abstraction' (even if I were to concede it were an example of 'abstraction') is philosophically uninteresting and I know of no philosopher who has pursued this line of thought. Certainly Marx didn't; neither did Hegel or Aristotle. They certainly intended this as 'mental process'.

Quote:
Sure it is. Let's consult Wikipedia once again:


Thanks for the Wiki quote, but that does not show that a wavelength is an abstraction. It's a physical process or state.

But you then say this:

Quote:
Now, remember that I didn't say that a certain wavelength was an "abstraction" (or rather, an abstract). I said this:

All shades of the colour blue are within the same wavelength interval.


But in what way is this an 'abstract'?

Anyway, your reply above was in response to this comment of mine about the 'process of abstraction':

Quote:
While we are at it, what exactly are the common features that can be abstracted from (or even attributed to) all shades of the colour blue, for example? Or the many notes that can be played on the bagpipes? Or the taste of several different wines? Or the feel of silk, wool and nylon? Or even the smell of roses?


Your reply certainly implied you thought wavelengths were 'abstractions'. You perhaps need at least try to make yourself clear.

Quote:
The interval 450 nm < x < 490 nm is the abstract. It's not "based on" one, it is one. And miraculously, most people (who follow the European colour classification - colours are classified differently in different cultures) agree that they see blue when they are confronted with "light having a spectrum dominated by energy with a wavelength of roughly 450–490 nm."


So, colour isn't an 'abstraction', after all?

Or, can't you make your mind up? [What was that about 'all over the place'?]

Quote:
Everything changes all the time, and yet agreement is still possible. The world changes all the time, but still we manage to have relatively stable, intersubjectively valid concepts which work well enough to structure our thought, even though they're contradictory (of course). These concepts are abstracts. Even though an object changes all the time, we can still designate it is at that same object that it was 10 minutes before, by abstracting away from the changes it has undergone... until we can't recognize it anymore.


But, if your theory is true, you have no way of knowing that agreement happens. Given that you believe that all words (or at least nouns, verbs, and adjectives) are abstractions, you have no way of knowing from moment to moment what you yourself mean by 'agreement', or even 'change'. After all, you also said this:

Quote:
And yes, of course abstractions differ. Since every thing is infinitely complex, you can abstract an infinite number of moments out of it. You can do infinitely many things with abstraction. That's how awesome it is.


Once you admit this, you are lost once again in solipsism.

Quote:
You're taking Marx out of context. He's criticizing Proudhon for attributing the categories of bourgeois economics "to the movement of pure reason", for ceasing "to pursue the historical movement of production relations, of which the categories are but the theoretical expression". He's criticizing Proudhon for thinking that ideas can develop on their own, without a corresponding material development. He's defending materialism against idealist mysticism. He is criticizing Proudhon's dialectical method which is very different from the Marxian one. Proudhon begins with the concrete to arrive at the abstract - and gets lost, or "drowned" in a world of abstracts, as Marx says. Marx begins with the abstract to arrive at the concrete - the difference is in the "direction" of the process of abstraction. Marx compares the two methods in the Introduction to a Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy.


Not so. I know he was criticising Proudhon, but he was also delivering a swipe at Hegel and the traditional approach to 'abstraction':

Quote:
For those who do not know the Hegelian formula: affirmation, negation and negation of the negation. That is what language means. It is certainly not Hebrew (with due apologies M. Proudhon); but it is the language of this pure reason, separate from the individual. Instead of the ordinary individual with his ordinary manner of speaking and thinking we have nothing but this ordinary manner in itself – without the individual.

Is it surprising that everything, in the final abstraction – for we have here an abstraction, and not an analysis – presents itself as a logical category? Is it surprising that, if you let drop little by little all that constitutes the individuality of a house, leaving out first of all the materials of which it is composed, then the form that distinguishes it, you end up with nothing but a body; that, if you leave out of account the limits of this body; you soon have nothing but a space – that if, finally, you leave out of the account the dimensions of this space, there is absolutely nothing left but pure quantity, the logical category? If we abstract thus from every subject all the alleged accidents, animate or inanimate, men or things, we are right in saying that in the final abstraction, the only substance left is the logical category. Thus the metaphysicians who, in making these abstractions, think they are making analyses, and who, the more they detach themselves from things, imagine themselves to be getting all the nearer to the point of penetrating to their core – these metaphysicians in turn are right in saying that things here below are embroideries of which the logical categories constitute the canvas. This is what distinguishes the philosopher from the Christian. The Christian, in spite of logic, has only one incarnation of the Logos; the philosopher has never finished with incarnations. If all that exists, all that lives on land, and under water, can be reduced by abstraction to a logical category – if the whole real world can be drowned thus in a world of abstractions, in the world of logical categories – who need be astonished at it?

All that exists, all that lives on land and under water, exists and lives only by some kind of movement. Thus, the movement of history produces social relations; industrial movement gives us industrial products, etc.

Just as by means of abstraction we have transformed everything into a logical category, so one has only to make an abstraction of every characteristic distinctive of different movements to attain movement in its abstract condition – purely formal movement, the purely logical formula of movement. If one finds in logical categories the substance of all things, one imagines one has found in the logical formula of movement the absolute method, which not only explains all things, but also implies the movement of things.

It is of this absolute method that Hegel speaks in these terms:

“Method is the absolute, unique, supreme, infinite force, which no object can resist; it is the tendency of reason to find itself again, to recognize itself in every object." Logic, Vol. III [p. 29])

All things being reduced to a logical category, and every movement, every act of production, to method, it follows naturally that every aggregate of products and production, of objects and of movement, can be reduced to a form of applied metaphysics. What Hegel has done for religion, law, etc., M. Proudhon seeks to do for political economy.


Bold added.

Notice he also had a go at 'the metaphysicians'.

So, he is criticising Hegel, Proudhon, and anyone else who indulges in this mythical 'process' --, and as that other, longer quotation shows (which I posted in an earlier reply), he is criticising every traditional approach to this 'process'.

He even takes your theory to task (you know, your allegation that abstraction has something to do with 'separation'):

Quote:
Is it surprising that, if you let drop little by little all that constitutes the individuality of a house, leaving out first of all the materials of which it is composed, then the form that distinguishes it, you end up with nothing but a body; that, if you leave out of account the limits of this body; you soon have nothing but a space – that if, finally, you leave out of the account the dimensions of this space, there is absolutely nothing left but pure quantity, the logical category? If we abstract thus from every subject all the alleged accidents, animate or inanimate, men or things, we are right in saying that in the final abstraction, the only substance left is the logical category.


Bold added.

Compare the above with what you posted:

Quote:
The word "abstraction" commonly denotes both a process (the process of separating something from its properties) and the result of that same process. That's a linguistic shortcoming, I'm more than ready to concede this. "Blue" is an abstraction - the result of the process of abstracting from several shades of blue.


Bold added.

'Drop' and 'leave out' are synonymous with your 'separate', and so are also the target of Marx's attack

And thanks for that quotation from the Grundrisse, but, as I have said at my site (as part of an analysis of Bertell Ollman's account of 'abstraction', which he believes is a 'mental process'):

Quote:
In fact, Marx does not actually do what he says he does in this passage; he merely gestures at doing it, and his gestures are about as substantive as the hand movements of stage magicians. This is not to malign Marx. Das Kapital is perhaps one of the greatest books ever written; but it would have been an even more impressive work if the baleful influence of traditional thought had been kept totally at bay.

[Yes, I know the above quotation comes from Grundrisse, not Das Kapital!]

What Marx actually did was use familiar words in new ways, thus establishing new concepts that enabled him to understand and explain Capitalism with startling clarity. Anyone who reads the above passage can actually see him doing this. They do not need to do a brain scan on Marx (even if he were still alive), nor apply psychometric tests to follow his argument (or, indeed, re-create his alleged 'abstractions'). And they certainly do not have to copy his moves -- and they most certainly can't copy them, for Marx failed to say what he had actually done with the concepts he used, or how he 'mentally processed' them (if in fact he did!). Indeed, his 'instructions' how to abstract the "population" are about as useful as John Lennon's famous remark that to find the USA you just had to 'turn left at Greenland'. Hence, no one could possibly emulate Marx here since there are no usable details, which suggests that Marx did not in fact do what he said he had done, or proposed to do --, otherwise, careful thinker that he was, he would have spelt them out. More significantly, no one since has been able to reconstruct these mythical moves, or show that their own weak gesture at applying this method are exactly the same as those used by Marx -- or even that they yield the same results....

Of course, none of this is surprising. Abstractionists become very vague when it comes to supplying the details of this mysterious 'process'; that is why, after 2400 years of this metaphysical fairy-tale having been spun -- over and above the sort of vague gesture theorists like Ollman offer their readers -- no one seems able to say what this 'process' actually is!

By way of contrast, the actual method Marx employed (i.e., the intelligent and novel use of language) is precisely how the greatest scientists have always proceeded. In their work, they construct arguments in an open arena, in a public language -- albeit accompanied by the new use of old words --, which can be checked by anyone who cares to do so. This can't be done with Ollman's "mental constructs".


Or, indeed, yours.

Now, I think Marx back-tracked over his earlier, clearer ideas about 'abstraction' in this later work. What he wrote in his earlier work makes what he had to say in the Grundrisse (about 'abstraction') non-viable.

Quote:
This is a very nice description of the "drowning in categories" that happens to idealists, because they do it wrong.


I don't see how that answers my comment about the failure of communication if your theory is correct. Here it is again (and it still requires an effective answer):

Quote:
An appeal to the existence of a public language would be to no avail here, for even on that basis no one would be able to tell whether Abstractor A meant the same as Abstractor B by his or her use of words (or 'concepts' like "Substance", "Being", and "Nothing"). And definitions can't help here, since they also contain 'abstractions' which are subject to the same problems. For how can Abstractor A know what Abstractor B means by any of the abstract terms he/she uses without access to her/his mind? Abstractor B can't point to anything which is the meaning of a single abstraction he or she might be trying to define, so he/she can't use an ostensive definition [i.e., a definition by pointing at something] to help Abstractor A understand what he/she means. Other sorts of definition must, it seems, use general words, too, since no particular, or no singular term, can give the meaning of any abstraction or abstract term under scrutiny. If so, the same 'difficulties' will confront these general terms, and so on...


You:

Quote:
The process of abstraction is the process of separating a thing from its properties. It does not necessarily take place in the mind. Let's have a look at Marx again:


I don't see how, given your theory of words, you can maintain this. All the words (or at least the verbs, nouns and adjectives) you have used to compose this answer are, according to you, abstractions (with infinite different meanings), and they certainly can't have been obtained outside the mind, on your theory.

But you quote Marx:

Quote:
These objective dependency relations also appear, in antithesis to those of personal dependence (the objective dependency relation is nothing more than social relations which have become independent and now enter into opposition to the seemingly independent individuals; i.e. the reciprocal relations of production separated from and autonomous of individuals) in such a way that individuals are now ruled by abstractions, whereas earlier they depended on one another.


Maybe so, but you forgot this quotation:

Quote:
It seems correct to begin with the real and the concrete…with e.g. the population…. However, on closer examination this proves false. The population is an abstraction if I leave out, for example, the classes of which it is composed. These classes in turn are an empty phrase if I am not familiar with the elements on which they rest…. Thus, if I were to begin with the population, this would be a chaotic conception of the whole, and I would then, by further determination, move toward ever more simple concepts, from the imagined concrete towards ever thinner abstractions until I had arrived at the simplest determinations. From there the journey would have to be retraced until I had finally arrived at the population again, but this time not as the chaotic conception of a whole, but as a rich totality of many determinations and relations…. The latter is obviously scientifically the correct method. The concrete is concrete because it is the concentration of many determinations, hence the unity of the diverse.


Here, Marx tells us how he thinks he arrived at the ideas he expressed in the quotation you posted:

Quote:
Thus, if I were to begin with the population, this would be a chaotic conception of the whole, and I would then, by further determination, move toward ever more simple concepts, from the imagined concrete towards ever thinner abstractions until I had arrived at the simplest determinations. From there the journey would have to be retraced until I had finally arrived at the population again, but this time not as the chaotic conception of a whole, but as a rich totality of many determinations and relations.


So, whatever the results turn out to be, the 'process of abstraction' is, for Marx, a 'mental process', as Ollman indeed points out. Now, I have no objection to the results (except, I do not prefer the mode of expression Marx chose to use), just the 'mental process' allegedly underlying it.

So, this quote of yours offers your case no support. The 'process of abstraction' is, for Marx (as it is for Ollman, and many others), a purely 'mental process'.

Quote:
Under capitalism, individuals are ruled by very real "abstractions" (processes of abstraction): abstract labour, the state and its violence, unemployment and many more.


I don't agree that they do, but even if you are right, it's not with these alleged 'abstractions' I wish to take issue, but the mythical 'process' by which they were supposedly derived.

So, you have yet to show that this is the case:

Quote:
The process of abstraction is the process of separating a thing from its properties. It does not necessarily take place in the mind.


As we have seen, it is a 'mental process' for Marx.

Quote:
The abstracts in my head are representations of real people, so it's not really a problem that I talk to them.


And yet, given the fact that this set of 'abstractions' is the result of 'mental processes' (or they'd not be in your head), and what you also believe:

Quote:
and all nouns, verbs and adjectives are abstractions


Quote:
And yes, of course abstractions differ. Since every thing is infinitely complex, you can abstract an infinite number of moments out of it


you have no way of knowing, from moment to moment, whether you have 'abstracted' the same set of 'abstractions' in the same way. You don't even know whether you mean the same by 'same' from moment to moment.

So, you are stuck in a solipsistic world.

Now, you might sincerely believe you are talking to others (however, if your theory is right, you don't know from moment to moment what you mean by 'believe', 'talking' or 'people') -- but, given your theory, you are merely talking to ever-changing 'abstractions', and those taken from an 'infinite set' (according to you). So, even if you tried to guess the meanings of your words, you stand an infinite probability of getting them wrong.

That is, of course, if you could even decide, from moment to moment, what you mean by 'guess'.

But, now you back-track again (I did say your ideas were all over the place):

Quote:
Probably I didn't express myself clearly. I said that there is an infinite number of abstracts. But precisely because the process of abstraction happens, we can designate certain abstracts and assign words to them. Praxis decides which ones we choose. For instance it wouldn't make much sense to categorize apples based on the number of seeds in them, we commonly categorize them by colour, which is both easier and more useful.


But, all you have is an 'abstract idea' of praxis, and you have no way of knowing if that 'abstract idea' agrees with what you meant by 'praxis' only yesterday.

An appeal to memory is no help, as I pointed out earlier:

Quote:
An appeal to memory here is no use either, since, if you are right, memory is based on 'abstraction',


In which case, you'd be arguing in a circle.

So, and once more, you are lost in a solipsistic world.

But, are you no longer committed to this opinion:

Quote:
And yes, of course abstractions differ. Since every thing is infinitely complex, you can abstract an infinite number of moments out of it.
?

Do you now think there are no differences between the many 'abstractions' you have in your head? But, how can you possibly know this?

Be this as it may, the above comment of yours was in reply to this response of mine:

Quote:
Moreover, in the absence of any rules governing the process of abstraction (such as where to begin, which feature to abstract first, which second -- which never) one person's abstractions would surely differ from those of the rest of the abstractive community. [...] (1) How is it possible for each lone abstractor, in the privacy of their own head, to know if they have arrived at the correct abstract concept of anything at all, or anything in particular? With what, or with whom, can any of the supposed results be checked? No one has access to a single 'abstraction' produced by anyone else, nor has anyone ever been trained to perform this feat correctly. Does a single human being posses so much as a diploma in this mythical skill?


In which case, now that you have back-tracked, you have no answer to this objection of mine:

Quote:
Moreover, in the absence of any rules governing the process of abstraction (such as where to begin, which feature to abstract first, which second -- which never) one person's abstractions would surely differ from those of the rest of the abstractive community. For instance, while Abstractor A could begin by ignoring/attributing Tiddles's engaging purr, B might start with her four legs, whereas C might commence with her shape. But, do we/should they ignore a cat's colour first, or its fur, fleas, whiskers, tail, intestines, age, number...?

And, in the abstractive process, which number relevant to each cat is to be put to one side (or attributed to it): the one cat, the two ears, the four legs, the dozen or so whiskers, or the several trillion atoms of which it is composed...?

And where do we stop? Are we to whittle-away (or attribute) its position on the mat, the last dozen or so things it did, its present relation to the Crab Nebula…?

As we shall see, the nature of this mysterious process is difficult to describe, even if you believe in it. Here are just a few of the serious problems it faces:


You thus now have no way of knowing if your 'abstractions' are the same as anyone else's (but this would undermine scientific knowledge, and inter-communication), or that you even mean the same by 'abstraction' as anyone else -- that is, if your 'theory' is correct.

Quote:
But I'm not.


I know you aren't, but if your theory were correct, you would be (as we have seen).

Quote:
Yes, I've provided more concise definitions at the beginning of my post. Wow, that was a good guess.


But, if all nouns, verbs and adjectives are 'abstractions' (according to you), then you can't possibly know, from moment to moment, that you now mean the same by the words you used in this 'definition' what you meant when you originally posted it -- or that you mean by 'mean' the 'same' from moment to moment.

Indeed, as I pointed out, you are in an impossible position since you don't even know, from moment to moment, what you mean by 'same'.

Quote:
That is not the implication, though. The fact that all definitions are based on other definitions - the fact that "defining" is an infinite circle - doesn't mean that words don't have meaning. It's just that using words to explain words is a bad idea to begin with. This is reminiscent of Gödel's incompleteness theorem.


Not so, there are definitions that don't depend on other definitions -- for example, ostensive definitions.

But, even if you are right, that wouldn't be an effective reply to the point I made:

Quote:
You can see why I said this 'process' made no sense. No sense can be made of a theory whose main implication is that all words lose meaning (even the word 'word'!).


Notice, I didn't refer to definitions, but meanings. Your theory undermines the meaning of every single word (or at least, nouns, verbs and adjectives), and that includes 'definition'.

Quote:
It's just that using words to explain words is a bad idea to begin with. This is reminiscent of Gödel's incompleteness theorem.


Well, I'm not too sure what Gödel's theorem has got to do with this, but I have never argued that we should use only words to explain words. [That was the point of my referring to 'ostensive definitions' in my last but one post.]

Quote:
Weird. I mean I agree that it takes some time to understand him, but I guess I succeeded after a few months.


And yet, even with his 'help', you are still struggling to get your own ideas straight, or explain this mythical 'process' without dropping yourself in a solipsistic hole.

So, it seems Ilyenkov makes little sense to you, too!

Quote:
I don't have to prove this. I defined the process of abstraction as the process of separating something from its properties. I gave an example for the process: The sky (object) | is (separation) | blue (property). We therefore abstract every time we use the copula, by definition.


Even if this were an example of abstraction (but, it is in fact an example of description, with no 'separation' anywhere in sight), that wouldn't show this mythical 'process' was innate.

In which case, you have yet to show this 'process' is innate.

Quote:
This is also an example for proceeding from the abstract to the concrete. As Marx said above, the concrete "is a synthesis of many definitions, thus representing the unity of diverse aspects (i.e. abstracts)," and what the copula does is to unite these abstracts into a concrete: The sky is blue, a little cloudy, and filled with birds who are travelling south. The longer the sentence gets, the closer we get to the concrete.


As we have seen, no sense can be made of this 'process' -- even you, a true believer, have struggled to make yourself clear.

[Moreover, the implicit (and obsolete) logical theory you are using -- invented by Medieval Roman Catholic theologians -- about the copula (etc.) -- in fact destroys the unity of the proposition. (Explanation provided on request.)]

Quote:
Your endless repetitions of the same mistake are annoying.


But, given your 'theory', you have no way of knowing, from moment to moment, what you mean by 'mistake' -- or even 'annoying'.

For all you know, when you posted the above you really meant this:

Quote:
I think you are right, Rosa; this mythical 'process' makes no sense at all.


You:

Quote:
Nah, the more you insist, and insist and exclaim!!! that nothing of what I say makes any sense at all, the more insecure you appear. Like religious people who have to convince themselves of their god by reaffirming their belief all the time.


Still projecting I see...

Quote:
By the way I find it hilarious that you'd use a Freudian concept.


Well, I said that this is what psychologists tell us. I made no commitment to this idea.

Anyway, you have no way of knowing, from moment to moment, that you mean the same by 'Freud'.

But, hey, if you prefer to remain a solipsist, I'm sure the Freudians have a word for that, too. Indeed, one even puts it this way:

Quote:
As a phenomenalist or solipsist, one lives in a world that has two fantasies: the fantasy called fantasy and the fantasy called reality, the latter sometimes containing the delusional conviction that reality is not a fantasy.


http://www.academyanalyticarts.org/hyman8.htm

Alas, you are in an even worse position since you can't know, from moment to moment, that you mean the same by 'fantasy'.

Now that is hilarious...
"The emancipation of the working class will be an act of the workers themselves."
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