Anyone interested in Dialectical Materialism please join the Dialectics study group. We will begin by reviewing the basic ideas and laws of Dialectics. We will then study some fo the more important works. We should try to connect theory with practice and give examples of Dialectics from everyday life, science and history. We should try to apply Dialectics to our current poltical struggle.
We should start by reviewing the basic laws of Dialectics. then we can go over the material at the Dialectics4kids website. then we will begin the study of a major work which we can decide upon.
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This is from wikipedia and provides a good introduction:
At the foundation of Marxism is the belief that everything can be explained by one thing -- Matter. This qualifies Marxism as a fundamentally materialist philosophy. According to materialism, matter is the total explanation for space, nature, man, psychic consciousness, human intelligence, society, history and every other aspect of existence.
Marxism then assigns the task of knowing all truth to science. If science can get to know everything about matter, then it can get to know about everything. Conclusively, matter is accepted as the beginning and ending of all reality. Matter's sovereignty in determining the course of nature is a vital part of Marxist thought and what separates dialectical materialism (the Marxist dialectical method) from dialectical idealism (the Hegelian dialectical method).
Marxism adheres to the three laws of motion (i.e. dialectics) first discovered by the Greek philosophers and codified by Hegel. With these laws Marxism sets out to answer questions related to both nature and humanity, including: What is the origin of energy or motion in nature? What causes galaxies, solar system, planets, animals and all kingdoms of nature to constantly increase their numerical quantity? What is the origin of life, the origin of species and the origin of consciousness and mind? What is the origin of societal order and where is it headed? Does history have an end, if so what will it be? Marx and Engels answer all of these questions with the three laws of dialectics which are the law of opposites, the law of negation and the law of transformation.
Law of Opposites
Marx and Engels started with the observation that everything in existence is a unity of opposites. For example, electricity is characterized by a positive and negative charge and atoms consist of protons and electrons which are unified but are ultimately contradictory forces. Even humans through introspection find that they are a unity of opposite qualities. Masculinity and femininity, selfishness and altruism, humbleness and pride, and so forth. The Marxist conclusion being that everything "contains two mutually incompatible and exclusive but nevertheless equally essential and indispensable parts or aspects." The basic concept being that this unity of opposites in nature is the thing that makes each entity auto-dynamic and provides this constant motivation for movement and change. This idea was borrowed from Georg Wilhelm Hegel who said: "Contradiction in nature is the root of all motion and of all life."
This dichotomy is often found in nature. A star is held together by gravity trying to push all the molecules to the center, and heat trying to send them as far from the center as possible. If either force is completely successful the star ceases to be, if heat is victorious it explodes into a supernova, if gravity is victorious it implodes into a neutron star or a black hole. Furthermore, living things strive to balance internal and external forces to maintain homeostasis, which is nothing more than a balance of opposing forces such as acidity and alkalinity.
Law of Negation
The law of negation was created to account for the tendency in nature to constantly increase the numerical quantity of all things. Marx and Engels decided that entities tend to negate themselves in order to advance or reproduce a higher quantity. This means that the nature of opposition which produces conflict in each element and gives them motion also tends to negate the thing itself. This dynamic process of birth and destruction is what causes entities to advance. This law commonly simplified as the cycle of thesis, antithesis, and synthesis.
In nature Engels often cited the case of the barley seed which, in its natural state, germinates and out of its own death or negation produces a plant, the plant in turn grows to maturity and is itself negated after bearing many barley seeds. Thus, all nature is constantly expanding through cycles.
In society we have the case of class. For example the aristocracy was negated by the bourgeoisie, the bourgeoisie then created the proletariat that will one day negate them. Illustrating that the cycle of negation is eternal as each class creates its "grave-digger", its successor, as soon as it finishes burying its creator.
Law of Transformation
This law states that continuous quantitive development results in qualitative "leaps" in nature whereby a completely new form or entity is produced. This is how "quantitative development becomes qualitative change". Transformation allows for the reverse with quality affecting quantity.
This theory draws many parallels to the theory of Evolution. Marxist philosophers concluded that entities, through quantitative accumulations are also inherently capable of "leaps" to new forms and levels of reality. The law illustrates that during a long period of time, through a process of small, almost irrelevant accumulations, nature develops noticeable changes in direction.
This can be illustrated by the eruption of a volcano which is caused by years of pressure building up. The volcano may no longer be a mountain but when its lava cools it will become fertile land where previously there was none. A revolution which is caused by years of tensions between opposing factions in society acts as a social illustration. The law occurs in reverse. An example would be, that by introducing better (changing quality) tools to farm, the tools will aid the increase in the amount (change quantity) of what is produced.
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What the Heck is Dialectics?
Dialectics is a tool to understand the way things are and the way things change. Understanding dialectics is as easy as 1 - 2 - 3.
One--Every thing (every object and every process) is made of opposing forces/opposing sides.
Two--Gradual changes lead to turning points, where one opposite overcomes the other.
Three--Change moves in spirals, not circles.
These are the three laws of dialectics according to Frederick Engels, a revolutionary thinker and partner of Karl Marx, writing in the 1870s in his book Dialectics of Nature. Engels believed that dialectics was "A very simple process which is taking place everywhere and every day, which any child can understand". This web site is dedicated to proving his point. In fact, if you understand the first seven pages of this site, you already understand the basics of dialectics. (If you landed here without visiting these pages first, please go to the Dialectics for Kids Home Page now).
Here's how it works -
1) Everything is made of opposites.
No object could hold together without an opposing force to keep it from flying apart. The earth tries to fly away from the sun, but gravity holds it in orbit. Electrons try to fly away from the nucleus of an atom, but electromagnetism holds the atom together. Ligaments and tendons provide the ties that hold bones together and muscles to bones.
Like material objects, the process of change needs opposing forces. Change needs a driving force to push it ahead, otherwise everything stays put. A billiard ball only moves when hit with a pool cue or another ball. We eat when our hunger tells us to. A car won't move if it's engine won't start. To win in fair elections candidates need more votes than their opponents.
Engels, drawing from the philosopher, Hegel, called this law the "interpenetration of opposites"; Hegel often referred to the "unity of opposites." This may sound contradictory, but it is easy to understand. It's like the saying, "It takes two to tango." There is no game if one side quits. There is no atom if the electrons fly away. The whole needs all of its parts to be a whole.
Here's a challenge--Can you think of anything that isn't made of opposites? Send your suggestions to email@example.com To read some challenges and responses click here.
2) Gradual changes lead to turning points.
The ABC's of Change give 26 examples of this, one for each letter of the alphabet. What happens is that the two opposing forces in a process of change push against each other. As long as one side is stronger than the other side, change is gradual. But when the other side becomes stronger, there is a turning point--an avalanche, a birth, a collapse, a discovery, . . .
Physicist Michio Kaku gives a detailed example of this process in his book Hyperspace. He follows the turning points or stages in the heating of an ice cube. Click here to see how he describes it: The Dialectics of Water
Engels called this the law of the transformation of quantity into quality. Quantitative change is the gradual build-up of one opposing force. Qualitative change takes place when that opposite becomes dominant.
This law is powerful in describing the stages of development of anything. A person's life follows these quantitative/qualitative changes. Likewise human history, or the history of a particular place, has gone through many stages. The tool of dialectics is so powerful that Michio Kaku describes the history of the universe for its first 10 billion years by a series of dialectical stages, using only 250 words. Click here for Kaku's stages in the evolution of the universe: The Dialectics of the Universe
Using the same approach it is possible to trace the history of the universe right up to the present by identifying the key turning points. Try it by clicking on The Top Ten Stories of All Time
3) Change moves in spirals, not circles.
Many changes are cyclical--first one side dominates, then the other--as in day/night, breathing in/breathing out, one opposite then another. Dialectics argues that these cycles do not come back exactly to where they started; they don't make a perfect circle. Instead, change is evolutionary, moving in a spiral.
Maybe the changes are tiny, so we think nothing is really different--it's true that we hardly change in a measurable way with every breath. But we can see that many cycles do come around to a different place --children are not the same as their parents, even if they are a lot alike. People go to school and learn; when they return home, they are no longer the same. And, like it or not, you are a bit older with every breath. For more examples, see Spirals A - Z or Popcorn, Earthquakes, and Other Changes.
Engels, again following Hegel, called this law "negation of negation". This sounds complicated, but, as Engels said, it is going on all the time. What happens is that first one side overcomes its opposite--this is the first negation. This marks a turning point as in Engels' 2nd law. Next, the new side is once again overcome by the first side. This is negation of negation.
Here are a couple more examples, one cosmic and two common:
The earliest stars were made of hydrogen and helium that were produced in the big bang. Those first generation stars fused these elements into heavier elements such as carbon, oxygen, and iron. When those stars died,(i.e.were negated) they pushed those elements into space. If the first generation star died in a supernova, even heavier elements such as silver and gold were hurled into space. When second or third generation stars form, like our sun, they have these heavier elements, thereby allowing planets and life to form. This evolution is negation of negation.
A normal conversation requires negation of negation to move ahead. First one person talks, then the other; the second negates the first. Pretty soon, however, the first person begins talking again. The conversation makes no sense if the first person simply repeats what they said the first time. Instead, the first person now has listened to the second person talk, so the negation of negation returns to a different place (hopefully one of more understanding.)
Unfortunately spirals can go down as well as up. For example, if a person is feeling depressed, they may take drugs or alcohol to feel better. This may negate their bad feelings for a while, but when the drug wears off, the person often feels worse than when they started.
Of course we want our spirals to go upward. When they do, we live healthier and happier lives, full of learning, growing, and reaching our full potential.
So that's the three laws of dialectics--not too difficult, don't you agree?
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So now we have the 3 laws explained with great simplicity and clarity
I encourage everyone to post their own thoughts on the 3 laws, and to give historical examples of each law in practice
One--Every thing (every object and every process) is made of opposing forces/opposing sides.
Unity of Opposites
Two--Gradual changes lead to turning points, where one opposite overcomes the other.
Quantitative into Qualitative Change
Three--Change moves in spirals, not circles.
Negation of the Negation
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I am sticking this thread. I also am moving this to Literature as I think this will be more appropriate in the Lit section.
So by this it is meaning that each new change brings about a new conclusion.
I like to think of this law as stating the constant changing nature of nature. (Which can be scientifically seen by the law of Entropy)
Class struggle is a good example of this.
In the Manifesto Marx & Engels made a point that there were always 2 general classes that were in direct conflict with each other. The names of these classes change, but for simplicity I like to just think of the classes as the haves and the have nots.
Revolutions are the obvious examples of this law in action.
I liked it. They were easy to understand and descriptive. You repeat what you say a lot, which may be helpful to others, is annoying to me.
I don't really have anything to contribute. I remember when I was younger, I could hardly understand the difference between materialism and idealism, in practice. Maybe you could write something that encompasses that as well? Because I don't want to.
Good idea; I think doing stuff like this would help bring more traffic to the literature section.
I hope this doesn't get me banned again-Fontis
The rule of "spirals" or negation of the negation is basically the heart of the Hegelian triad.
(For some reason Hegelians are so eager to prove that the triad is a myth, but if you look at the Hegelian system the triad works exceedingly well in making sense of it. I call the triad myth, the myth of the myth.)
A historical example Hegel gives is of Asiatic Despotism- Greek Democracy- Christian Monarchy. You have the two opposites Oriental Monarch and Direct Democracy in direct opposition. The Christian monarch contains the fundamental truth of both yet is above them. It both negates and preserves both systems.
The example seed-plant- seed is also an example. As in the end you have a seed again but in much larger quantity.
Or Communism is a return to primitive Communism. But by passing through feudalism and capitalism, it is a Communism with vastly superior productive forces.
The Garden of Eden- The Fall- Jesus
In the end man returns to the Garden of Eden but he preserves the knowledge he gained through the fall.
We will go into much more depth with negation of the negation when we review Hegel.
Law of Transformation is pretty simple.
The only other tough one is Unity of Opposites. Its good to keep in mind what matter in motion is. All motion is contradiction. People claim that moving to point A and point B is not a contradiction since you are never in the same place at the same time. But that would not be motion. That would be you at point A, then disappearing from point A, then rematerializing at point B. The only way to move without contradiction is if you "beam me up scotty"
Also we should keep in mind polarity. The opposite sides to everything. Marx goes into detail about how all commodities are polarities, determined relative to the other.
There is also the issue of principal and antagonistic contradictions which we will review with Mao
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Simply put materialism is the idea that there is nothing outside of matter and all our ideas (spirit) comes ultimately from matter.
Idealism is the belief that an idea or spirit exists outside of matter and that matter is determined by idea. There are two opposite pole skepticism and religion. Despite being poles they are both forms of idealism.
Berkley is an example of how skepticism and religious belief merge together. Berkley used skepticism to prove the existence of God.
When we review the history of philosophy our understanding of materialism vs idealism will become much more nuanced.
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Check out Dialectics- the musical mp3 songs that teach DiaMAt. http://home.igc.org/~venceremos/music2.htm
Dialectics for Teachers
Here are some ideas for teaching dialectics:
1. Quantitative change leads to qualitative change:
* Pump up a balloon with a bicycle tire pump until it pops.
* Cut a rubber band, then stretch it until it breaks.
* Stack blocks until they fall--the tipping point.
* Hold your arms out until you can't hold them any more.
* Open your eyes without blinking, until you have to blink.
* Hold your breath until you have to let it out and take a new breath.
2. Everything is made of opposites:
Can your students think of anything that isn't made of opposites? Remember that any object has to have a force holding its parts together; otherwise they fly apart (2nd law of thermodynamics). Also, any process only moves forward if a force causes it to move (Newton's laws of motion). Also, concepts are not things, so they aren't "made of opposites", but they do need opposites to be understood--e.g. good/bad, fast/slow, etc. If your students come up with a good question here, please send it to firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also read the suggestions that have been sent in to Dialectics for Kids as well as the responses by going to What Isn't Made of Opposites?
3. Change moves in spirals (negation of negation):
* Take a wheel, and mark where it touches the ground. Make the wheel move forward one revolution. The mark is back to its original position, but the wheel has moved forward.
* Stand with weight on your left foot. Take two steps--first right, then left. Now your weight is back on your left foot, but you have moved forward.
* Ask students to try to spell a tricky word--say "collectible". Count how many got it right. Then put the word on the board so everyone can see how to spell it correctly. Then erase it and ask them to spell it again. Now see how many get it right. The same exercise can be repeated with any test or quiz, say 10 true/false questions.
* Ask students what they were doing exactly one year ago, i.e. the time since the earth went one time around the sun. Is anything different? Are some things the same?
4. Knowing both sides of any thing or process:
* Play a card game--say 21 or poker, consider how easy it would be if you knew what cards the other player is holding. Or, if you are playing liar's poker, consider how easy it would be if you knew the card on your forehead.
* Consider any sport--your chances of winning depend not only on the strength of your team, but also the strength of the opposing team. No matter how good your school team is, they couldn't beat a team of top professionals. Try some competition such as tug-of-war or arm wrestling to show the concept of opposing forces.
* Look at the news--read the election polls or results. Which candidates got the most votes? Discuss why one candidate was stronger than another.
* Consider history--who won wars and why were they stronger? Why did the U.S. win in World War II and lose in Vietnam?
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Now that we have some basic familiarity with DiaMat, the question is should our first work focus on theory or history. There are good arguments for both options. Dialectics does not really make much sense unless you are well-grounded in the history of philosophy. On the other hand we don't want to become so caught up in Plato and Aristotle, that we forget our connection to practice.
Stalin is probably the simplest to read on DiaMat, but many of his conclusions are challenged within the movement.
If we do decide to take the historical road
this is a good intro http://home.igc.org/~venceremos/firstthi.htm
And August Thalheimer Introduction to Dialectical Materialism
- The Marxist World-View, reviews the entire history of religion and philosophy with a Marxist outlook.
http://www.marxists.org/archive/thalhei ... /index.htm
A compromise position may be to start with Thalheimer, but instead of starting with his review of the history of philosophy, start with his analysis of DiaMat.
Let me know what you think.
Also do you think it would be better to have a separate thread for each work we study, or should all Dialectics study be kept in this same thread?
Last edited by jacobin1949 on 12 Apr 2008, 19:05, edited 1 time in total.
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I posted a bunch of links to philosophy audio books which should help give context
http://www.soviet-empire.com/ussr/viewt ... 003#688003
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I vote for keeping it in one thread for now, at least until we get some activity going on, and vote for going with theory.
One important thing is to try to emphasize the non-idealism and anti-essencialism of Marx's dialectics, that does not impose its logic on things, but instead reproduces their own movement, and on the importance of their concreteness (understood as richness in relations and determinations).
Last edited by praxicoide on 13 Apr 2008, 05:58, edited 1 time in total.
Igor Naletov on concreteness in a polemic against crude, empirical materialism:
A purely empirical idea of a tree growing under my window and having, for instance, slightly drooping branches, a trunk reaching the height of the first floor and covered with grey-green bark, with light-green buds on its branches the size of a wheat grain, etc. will be an abstract description despite the fact that I could add to it lots of such details which are known to no one but myself, since this tree was and will hardly be interesting for anyone as a possible object of an empirical description.
Hence, the concepts of the concrete and the abstract themselves need a serious analysis. A detailed description of a tree growing in front of my window and presented to me in all its sensual concreteness turns out to be quite abstract since my detailed description based entirely on the sense-perceptions of the colour of the bark, buds, the shape of the crown, the size of the trunk, etc. will hardly be helpful in determining its species. Any student of biology will find my description non-scientific and abstract as it covers millions of trees in the middle part of Russia. Hence, an empirical description can be justly regarded as abstract, arbitrarily subjective, non-scientific etc. since it does not permit distinguishing with certainty one object from a multitude of others.
Of course, it would not be correct to deny concreteness to sensual perceptions. Yet in dialectical logic the concrete is by no means tantamount to the â€œsensually perceptibleâ€. The concrete in dialectics is regarded as a unity in diversity, as a full representation of different aspects and relations of objects and phenomena and, understood like this, is one of the central categories of logic, an expression of the real general, multidimensional which is inherent both in reality and in our knowledge. Another aspect of the concrete is that it represents the objective diversity of a whole object, the totality of all its relations, both internal and external.
As regards the abstract as a logical or epistemological category, it expresses not only the specific distinction of thinking from reality and its sensual perception, but also represents a form of development common to both reality and cognition. In Marx, the problem of the relation of the abstract to the concrete includes not only the .relation of thought to the sensually perceptible but also the problem of the internal division of any object and its theoretical reproduction in the movement of notions. The question of the relation of the abstract to the concrete presents itself in two aspects: first, as the relation between partial and limited knowledge to fuller knowledge and, second, as the relation of the whole to its own moments standing out objectively in its content.
For Marx, the abstract and the concrete express internal contradictions, the movement of which is the life of the object of investigation. It is . not a pure epistemological definition of the methods of work of the human brain in which one element (the concrete) can be identified with a sense perception, and the other element (the abstract), with the theoretical generalisation of the data of sensual experience. It is not a simple definition of the different poles of cognitive activity, even if they are regarded as connected with each other, but also an expression of the internal separation of objects and links between separate sides and phenomena existing objectively outside and independently of human consciousness. Hence, the abstract, according to Marx, can express both the particular and the general to the extent to which these sides stand out objectively in the whole and represent internally dependent, but externally isolated formations.
Engels shows the same understanding of the categories of the abstract and the concrete. For him, the formation of general concepts is the process of abstraction from the multitude of inessential properties, features, objects and phenomena and of the retention of their common, stable, essential properties and features. On the other hand, the formation of theoretical concepts is at the same time a process of concretisation, integration, enrichment and retention in thought of the real content of all relations and links embraced by the given concept. It was Engels who defined exhaustive knowledge as the transformation of the single (concrete) into the universal (abstraction, law) and maintained that the â€œgeneral lawâ€ of change of the form of motion is much more concrete than any single â€œconcreteâ€ example of it.
According to Marx, the coordination and combination of abstractions, the ascent from the simple to the complex is not the mental reproduction of the concrete. â€œ... The method of advancing from the abstract to the concrete,â€ he wrote, â€œis 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.â€ Hence, Marx regards the concrete as the unity of diverse aspects and as diverse aspects of the unity both in reality itself and in cognition. It is true of dialectically interpreted laws and abstractions, as well as of the particular phenomena they reflect. If an investigator proceeding from a general abstract law does not lose sight of the actual circumstances conditioning the operation of this law, if he takes into account the interdependence of this law and other laws and the numerous links connecting them, his thinking is concrete. â€œThe concrete concept,â€ wrote Marx, â€œis 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.â€
So a dialectical movement, would begin from the totality of phenomena, but from an abstract totality since we do not know its inner workings; we then isolate, abstract given categories to determine their movement. Once this is done, these abstract categories are enriched with more relations and ordered according to their movement (they are made more concrete), finally they are correctly brought back in their concreteness as a totality, but as an elucidated totality.
The start and end are the same, but dialectics isn't a circle because the return is enriched in knowledge. This spiral would be going from an abstract totality (mental construction where categories are juxtaposed) to a concrete totality (organic reproduction of its real movement).
A caveat from the same author:
It should be noted first of all that the term â€œdialecticalâ€ is by no means applicable to any opposites or any contradictions. We can only speak of contradictions within the framework of a concrete relationship in which two phenomena, two aspects of one and the same object can be regarded as opposite and mutually contradictory. Accusing dialectics of speculativeness, scholasticism and absence of any scientific value, positivist philosophers and other modern opponents and interpreters of dialectics refer to a vice which is absolutely alien to Marxist dialectics.
The concreteness of the law of the unity and struggle of opposites is violated each time its critics tear apart the two inseparable aspects: the unity and the mutual exclusion of opposites. One cannot speak of the opposition of certain aspects of an object or a phenomenon until after their unity has been established, the degree of their opposition corresponding to the degree of their unity. It was senseless, for instance, to speak of the opposition of the Sun and the Earth before it was found out that both of them are two celestial bodies belonging to one and the same planetary system. Likewise, it is senseless to speak of the opposition of science and, for instance, art till we establish that both of them have the same nature as two forms of social consciousness. Hence, there are no and cannot be any objects or phenomena which are absolute opposites, opposites â€œin generalâ€, in the abstract sense. Conversely, there are no and cannot be any two absolutely identical phenomenaâ€”such identity from the dialectical viewpoint is also abstract.
Any knowledge will be abstract, partial, incomplete, if it does not properly reflect the contradictions inherent in the object under investigation, if it is presented as something immutable, frozen, lifeless. Lenin has closely linked the question of the concreteness of knowledge with the question of the mutability and contradictoriness of the objects and phenomena of reality as is seen from his following emphatic remark: â€œCognition is the eternal, endless approximation of thought to the object. The reflection of nature in manâ€™s thought must be understood not â€˜lifelesslyâ€™, not â€˜abstractlyâ€™, not devoid of movement, not without contradictions, but in the eternal process of movement, the arising of contradictions and their solution.â€
This means that we cannot simply enumerate opposites abstractly, which would be eclecticism. Instead, we can talk of opposites if we can present their deeper unity.
A very important thinker in the development of Dialectics is Heraclitus, Hegel wrote that his entires system of logic could be found in his work
Dialectics-It's all Greek to Me
http://home.igc.org/~venceremos/all%20g ... %20me.html
The first person to develop a comprehensive dialectical world view was Heraclitus who was born around 520 BC. Although only fragments of Heraclitus' writings remain, they have been thoroughly analyzed and debated. According to Charles Kahn in his book, The Art and Thought of Heraclitus, (Cambridge University Press, London, 1979) Heraclitus adopted the natural philosophy developed in Miletus. Thales of Miletus successfully predicted an e clipse in 585 BC. Thales pupil, Anaximander (611-547 BC), explained all natural phenomena "in terms of a conflict between opposing powers." (page 18)
Heraclitus discovered that the concept of unity of opposites applies to the inner human psyche as well as the natural world. "The great cosmic cycle is only the ordinary cycle of natural change and human life writ large." ( page 136) Heraclitus' understood "human life and death as a unity, which forms the central insight in what Heraclitus means by 'wisdom'." (page 110) Kahn argues that Heraclitus view is "congenial to Hegel" with its positive interpretation of negativity--recognizing the life enhancing function of the negative term. Heraclitus recognized that "all things come to pass in accordance with conflict." (page 205)
According to Kahn, "The gods of Heraclitus, . . .can only be the elemental powers and constituents of the cosmos, from which our life comes and to which it returns." This view conflicted with the general religion of the day and with philosophical successors such as Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle who believed that celestial objects were divinities, not material objects.
Heraclitus' views also conflicted with his contemporary Parmenides who argued that nature was an "unchanging constancy." (The Presocratic Tradition from Parmenides to Democritus, WKC Guthrie, Cambridge University Press, 1965). Ironically, a pupil of Parmenides, Zeno of Elea, coined the word 'dialectics' to describe a means of argumentation using paradoxes to prove Parmenides point about reality being unchanging, motionless and indivisible. Similarly Plato used the term dialectic to refer to his world view as developed through questions and answers aimed at showing absurdities in opposing views. Aristotle used the term more as a description of the technique than as a world view itself. So the actual Greek usage of the term dialectic was more limited than today's term, and in some ways was directly opposed to the current usage.
It wasn't until Hegel that dialectic came to mean a broader philosophical world view. The Encyclopaedia Brittanica, Macropedia Vol 4, 15th Edition, 2005, sums it up under the heading "Dialectics"--"originally a form of logical argumentation, but now a philosophical concept of evolution applied to diverse fields including thought, nature, and history."
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Where Did These Ideas Come From?
The ideas of dialectics have a long history. In Asia, the idea that everything is made of opposites--yin and yang--dates back to the I Ching around 3,000 years ago and the Taoist master Lao Tzu around 2,500 years ago. Taoism holds that change is the only constant. Taoist philosophy also understood that "gradual change leads to a sudden change of form (hua)." (Stephen Karcher, Ta Chuan, The Great Treatise, by Stephen Karcher, St. Martins Press, NY, 2000, page 53).
Also around 2,500 years ago in ancient Greece, Heraclitus advanced the idea that all change comes through the struggle of opposites. For more about Heraclitus read Dialectics--It's All Greek to Me. The Aztecs also held the idea of nature being made of opposites, as did the Lakotas in North America. In Africa, the Dogon people of Mali hold the concept of "twin-ness"--perfection/imperfection, disorder/order, etc. in their view of nature and human existence. I'm sure there are many examples from other cultures.
For some reason the idea of everything being made of opposites died out in Western thought. Part of the blame goes to Aristotle. Aristotle's formal logic argued that things can't be both black and white, good and bad--they have to be either/or, not both/and. Unfortunately, St. Thomas promoted Aristotle's view, and this became the official word of the church in the middle ages. But, as Obi-wan Kenobi says, 'Only the Sith deal in absolutes." (Star Wars, Episode III)
By failing to recognize that everything is made of opposites, and that change comes through the conflict between opposing forces, Western philosophy has mystified or even denied change. Eastern philosophy recognizes change as the movement of opposites, but generally sees it as cyclical, without forward motion and evolution. So neither viewpoint was able to grasp the unprecedented changes that started with the industrial revolution in the 19th Century.
Kant and Hegel - Immanual Kant and G.W.F. Hegel reintroduced the idea of dialectics just as the industrial revolution was beginning. Their starting point was ancient Greek philosophy, from which they took the word, dialectics. Hegel writes, "Dialectic. . . is no novelty in philosophy. Among the ancients Plato is termed the inventor of Dialectic; and his right to the name rests on the fact that the Platonic philosophy first gave the free scientific, and thus at the same time the objective, form to Dialectic."
Hegel also describes Socrates use of, "the dialectical element in a predominantly subjective shape, that of Irony."
Hegel credits Immanuel Kant for resurrecting the importance of dialectics. "In modern times it was, more than any other, Kant who resuscitated the name of Dialectic, and restored it to its post of honour. He did it . . . by working out the Antinomies of the reason." (The three previous quotes are from Hegel's Logic, Part One of the Encyclopaedia of the Philosophical Sciences(1830),, Translated by J.N. Findlay, Oxford at the Clarendon Press, 1975, page 117.)
Hegel addressed a paradox posed by Kant, that the world consists of antinomies-- contradictions that cannot be resolved. Kant discusses "a dialectical doctrine of pure reason" that must involve "a natural and unavoidable illusion . . . which can never be eradicated" (Kant, Critique of Pure Reason (abridged), Translated by Norman K. Smith, Random House, NY, 1958, page 215). Kant goes on to say, "after they [the hypothetical opposing forces on the 'dialectical battlefield'] have rather exhausted than injured one another, they will perhaps themselves perceive the futility of their quarrel and part good friends." (Critique of Pure Reason , page 216).
The problem as Kant sees it is that reality presents us with an insoluble dilemma. Kant identifies four antinomies, in which it is possible to prove that both sides are true. These antinomies are:
1. The world is both limited in time and space and it is infinite
2. Matter is both made of discreet particles and is also a continuous composite
3. Everything is determined according to laws of nature and there are other causes apart from nature
4. An absolutely necessary being both exists and does not exist in the world.
Because of these irreconcilable dialectics Kant argued that we cannot know a "thing-in-itself." We can only know the appearance, not the essence of reality.
Hegel replied, yes, contradictions are inherent in reality, but so what? Everything is made of opposites. Â¡No Problemo! To quote Hegel, "Everything that surrounds us may be viewed as an instance of Dialectic." (Hegel's Logic, page 118.) Hegel believed that it is the interplay between opposites that leads to all observable phenomena and our interactions with the world. As he responded to Kant, ". . . profounder insight into the antinomial, or more truly into the dialectical nature of reason demonstrates any Notion whatever to be a unity of opposed moments. . ." (Hegel's Science of Logic,, Translated by A.V. Miller, London, George Allen & Unwin Ltd., 1969, page 191).
Hegel argues that Kant's "conception of the antinomies . . . as contradictions which reason must necessarily come up against . . . is an important view." But Kant is unable to resolve the contradiction because each of the "opposed moments . . .[is taken] in isolation from the other." ( Hegel's Science of Logic, page 191) Hegel uses Kant's example of the antinomy/contradiction that matter is both discrete and continuous. Hegel argues, ". . . neither of these determinations taken alone, has truth; this belongs only to their unity. This is the true dialectical consideration of them and also the true result." (Hegel's Science of Logic, page 197)
Hegel states, "the Antinomies are not confined to the four special objects taken from Cosmology: they appear in all objects of every kind, in all conceptions, notions, and Ideas. . . .The true and positive meaning of the antinomies is this: that every actual thing involves a coexistence of opposed elements. Consequently to know, or, in other words, to comprehend an object is equivalent to being conscious of it as a concrete unity of opposed determinations." (Hegel's Logic,, page 78)
The problem with Hegel, aside from his sometimes impenetrable prose (he clearly needed to read "Dialectics for Kids"), is that he expressed ultimate reality as "The Idea." In other words he believed that thought is primary over matter, that reality is ultimately a manifestation of our thinking. For him dialectics was essentially a matter of analyzing the issues of logic and the human spirit.
Hegel and Engels - Two young followers of Hegel, Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, took Hegel's ideas and transformed them into a philosophical tool for analyzing history, nature, and making social change. They kept the idea of dialectics--motion and change coming about through opposing forces--but turned Hegel "upside down." They argued that thought is a manifestation of the natural world--that our thoughts flow from our experiences and the material world.
Most of the credit for popularizing the idea that this dialectical process is based in nature and human affairs goes to Engels. He boiled down the voluminous and opaque writings of Hegel into three "laws" as cited on the previous page of this site. Marx either didn't have the patience to do this or was not interested. He did remark to Engels in a letter in 1858 that he "would greatly like to make accessible to the ordinary human intelligence, in two or three printers sheets, what is rational in the method which Hegel discovered, but at the same time enveloped in mysticism."
Engels books, Anti-Duhring and Dialectics of Nature , mark his attempt to explain dialectics to a popular audience, but they are not exactly easy reading. This web site is aimed at popularizing dialectics to an even broader audience.
For those wishing to gain a deeper understanding into how Engels drew his ideas about dialectics from Hegel, below are some quotes from Hegel which lead to Engels' formulation of the three laws. These quotes only show that Engels (and this web site) owe a lot to Hegel, not that dialectics as Engels formulated it is identical with Hegel. I also don't think these quotes prove the validity of dialectics. Your daily experience and all scientific experience do that. The quotes just help show where the ideas come from.
1. Unity of Opposites - Hegel describes "The Law of Contradiction" - "Everything is inherently contradictory. . . . contradiction is the root of all movement and vitality; it is only in so far as something has a contradiction within it that it moves, has an urge and activity. (page 439, Hegel's Science of Logic, cited above).
Also, ". . . the grasping of opposites in their unity . . . is the most important aspect of dialectic. . ." (page 56, Hegel's Science of Logic)
Also note the quotes above where Hegel both credits and refutes Kant's concept of antimonies.
Note that Hegel uses the word contradiction to mean the conflict between two opposing sides. (page 431, Hegel's Science of Logic) He does not mean simply a logically contradictory statement such as, "That object is a horse and a television." Rather contradiction in dialectics refers to two sides which are separate, but in relation with each other--positive proton/negative electron, husband/wife, being sleepy/staying awake, etc. as discussed in many examples in Dialectics for Kids. See also the essay Contradictions Everywhere on this web site for more discussion of this term.
2. Quantitative Change Becomes Qualitative - Hegel's Science of Logic , pages 368 -370, gives numerous "examples of such nodal lines", i.e. the leap from quantitative to qualitative change. He states that "metal oxides . . . are formed at certain quantitative points of oxidation . . . They do not pass gradually into one another; the proportions lying in between these nodes do not produce a neutral or a specific substance. . . . Again, water when its temperature is altered does not merely get more or less hot, but passes through from the liquid into either the solid or gaseous states; these states do not appear gradually; on the contrary, each new state appears as a leap, suddenly interrupting and checking the gradual succession of temperature changes at these points. Every birth and death, far from being a progressive gradualness, is an interruption of it and is the leap from a quantitative into a qualitative alteration."
In his book, Phenomenology of Mind, Hegel writes that the spirit of man
". . . is indeed never at rest, but carried along the stream of progress ever onward. But it is here as in the case of the birth of a child; after a long period of nutrition in silence, the continuity of the gradual growth in size, of quantitative change, is suddenly cut short by the first breath drawn--there is a break in the process, a qualitative change--and the child is born. . . . In like matter the spirit of the time, growing slowly and quietly ripe for the new form it is to assume, disintegrates one fragment after another of the structure of its previous world . . . . This gradual crumbling to pieces, which did not alter the look and aspect of the whole, is interrupted by the sunrise, which, in a flash and at a ingle stroke, brings to view the form and structure of the new world." (Hegel, Phenomenology of Mind, translated by J.B. Baille, George Allen & Unwin, Ltd, 1964, page 75)
3. Negation of Negation - Engels describes his 3rd law as "negation of negation." He argued that this is "the fundamental law for the construction of the whole system" [of dialectics]. (Engels, Dialectics of Nature, International Publishers, New York, 1940, Page 26.) Unfortunately, Dialectics of Nature, is an unfinished work, and Engels never proceeded to give rigorous examples of negation of negation in the same way that he did for quantitative/qualitative changes. As noted on the page, "What the Heck is Dialectics?", Engels did say that negation of negation is "a very simple process which is taking place everywhere and every day, which any child can understand." (Anti-DÃ¼hring, International Publishers, New York, 1939, page 148) This quote helped inspire me to create this web site, to see if I could prove Engels' point.
With regard to the first two laws of Engels, I feel that they are correct because I can't think of any exceptions to them. On the other hand, with regard to negation of negation, I think there needs to be a further discussion. Hegel does use the term, but hardly in a simple fashion. He refers to the way "the bud disappears when the blossom breaks through. . .the former is refuted by the latter. . . the fruit appears . . . in place of the blossom." (Hegel, Phenomenology of Mind, page 68).
Also Hegel repeatedly uses the three-fold process of negation of negation in his logic. E.g. Being-Nothing-Becoming; Essence-Appearance-Actuality; Theoretical Mind-Practical Mind-Free Mind; The Universal-The Particular-The Singular. In each case the first element is negated by the second, which is in turn negated by the third. And in each case the third element, the negation of negation, has features of the original element, but is at a higher level of meaning. The problem, as noted earlier, is that Hegel is primarily focused on the mind, not on nature.
Engels, similar to Hegel's example of a bud, uses the example of a grain of barley. ". . . if such a grain of barley. . . falls on suitable soil, then under the influence of heat and moisture a specific change takes place, it germinates; the grain as such ceases to exist, it is negated, and in its place appears the plant which has arisen from it, the negation of the grain. But what is the normal life-process of this plant? It grows, flowers, is fertilized and finally once more produces grains of barley, and as soon as these have ripened the stalk dies, is in its turn negated. As a result of this negation of the negation we have once again the original grain of barley, but not as a single unit, but ten, twenty or thirty fold." (Anti-DÃ¼hring, page 149.)
In this web site, on the page Spirals A-Z, I have given many examples of negation of negation. However, unlike the case of Engel's first two laws, I don't think the case for negation of negation is so conclusive. As noted, with regard to everything being made of opposites, I just can't think of anything that isn't, so it makes sense to call this a "law" like Engels did. Likewise, with the change from quantity to quality, I can't think of any counter examples, so this also seems reasonable to be described as a "law." Now I know that a list of examples are not sufficient to prove a theory, but theory without concrete examples is a pure abstraction. Also, if new examples don't support the theory, the theory has to change. That's why I am always eager for examples of dialectical processes.
Consider the following examples that seem to contradict negation of negation. In each case the second negation does not appear to me to form a synthesis of the first two.
1. ice - liquid water - steam
2. fish - dinosaurs - mammals (evolution of life on earth in general)
3. formation of protons and electrons in the big bang - formation of atoms - formation of stars (evolution of the cosmos in general, although the example star - supernova - new generation star does follow the pattern of negation of negation)
I can also think of a large group of examples where the reappearance of some features of the original entity, but at a higher level, occurs after a number of negations, not just one step
1. the periodic chart -- inert gases with common properties occur at regular intervals along with other elements in columns as atomic number increases; e.g. hydrogen ...lithium ....sodium. .. . potassium etc.
2. the musical scale -- do re mi fa so la ti do (This was an example raised by Hegel, Science of Logic, page 368 and, of course, Maria von Trapp)
3. the internal combustion engine -- combustion - exhaust - intake - compression - combustion
4. a vacation -- journey begins - travel here/there/up/down/etc. - journey ends
5. the food cycle - cultivation - harvest - delivery to market - purchase - preparation - consumption of food - digestion - excretion - fertilizer for more cultivation
Now in each of these five cases, the end result is a negation of negation, i.e. the original condition is repeated, but at a different level. So these examples are at least in the spirit of Engels' third law. All in all, however, it seems to me that negation of negation is more of a general principle that repeatedly occurs in nature, but it is not at the level of a "law".
The importance of negation of negation is to understand that change does not simply go in circles. Cycles do occur--rain, CO2, seasons, life itself--but with each cycle some things change. Most importantly, every conscious act that we carry out should result in a higher level of information for us--e.g. try - fail - learn from mistakes and try again.
Dialectical Materialism - The philosophy that Marx and Engels originated is called dialectical materialism, a term coined by the Russian Marxist philosopher G. Plekhanov. See The Evolution of Dialectical Materialism by ZA Jordan, St. Martin's Press, New York, 1967 for a detailed, albeit theoretically flawed, account of this.
Does this mean that those who agree with dialectical materialism have to agree with Marx's writings on capitalism, or Stalin's 5 year plans, or Mao Zedong's cultural revolution, or other's who describe themselves as Marxist-Leninists? Not at all. Dialectical materialism is a tool for analyzing reality, not a set of dogmatic beliefs. Unfortunately in the former Soviet Union, particularly under Stalin, the Party leaders justified their actions in the name of dialectical materialism. Since history has shown that many of the Party's policies were repressive and/or inept, the concept of dialectical materialism was also discredited.
But dialectical materialism is not to blame for the failure of Soviet socialism any more than it is to blame for the failure of a car to start. Those who believe that socialism is impossible could argue that the fall of the Soviet Union is no more due to a failure of dialectical materialism than is the inability to get a car to fly. Personally I think that the problems of socialism have to do with what the free-market economist Ludwig von Mises called "the calculation problem". For a discussion of economics see: "What does dialectics have to do with communism?"also on this web site. My point here, however, is that the problem with socialism was not dialectical materialism.
While dogmatism on the part of Marxists was surely part of the problem, the failure of dialectical materialism to catch on as a popular world view is not just the fault of the left. People in power are generally not thrilled by a philosophy that teaches people how to change the status quo. It is a lot more comfortable for the powers-that-be (follow the money to see who that is) to downplay the way changes happen and how people can bring change about. With the end of the cold war, the victorious capitalists would just as soon see dialectical materialism disappear, like the former Soviet Union did.
Of course there is also the possibility that all of the examples and ideas on this web site are wrong. If so, I welcome any reader to point out the errors in this thinking. I know there are many points that need development. Also, along the same lines, I welcome anyone who has researched the history of dialectics and can offer more information about how different cultures have viewed dialectics and how different thinkers have approached the subject.
My favorite book on the subject is Dialectical Materialism by Ira Gollobin. The politics are outdated, but the exposition of dialectics is excellent. The book has lots of great examples. And it also has thorough rebuttals to philosophers such as Sartre, Tillich, Hook, Popper, Krishnamurti and others who oppose dialectical materialism. The book is in dozens of libraries. You can get it by inter-library loan.
Please contact me at email@example.com with any constructive criticism or suggestions.
Whew! That was a pretty lengthy essay. Maybe this is a good time to take a break and check out Dialectics, the Musical just for fun.
All at Wikia Maoist
I've got a question. How does this simplistic view of physics account for quantum mechanics? For example sometimes things are there only because you're observing them. Or you can either know the energy quanta or location but not both, because of the quantization of energy.
I'm no expert in science, but the most up to date book I know on Dialectics and modern science is Reason in Revolt, here is their section on Quantum Mechanics. QM does seem to prove one important law of DiaMat, that matter in motion IS a contradiction. At the quantum level matter is in two places at the same time. A and ~A.
The development of quantum physics represented a giant step forward in science, a decisive break with the old stultifying mechanical determinism of "classical" physics. (The "metaphysical" method, as Engels would have called it.) Instead, we have a much more flexible, dynamicâ€”in a word dialecticalâ€”view of nature. Beginning with Planckâ€™s discovery of the existence of the quantum, which at first appeared to be a tiny detail, almost an anecdote, the face of physics was transformed. Here was a new science which could explain the phenomenon of radioactive transformation and analyse in great detail the complex data of spectroscopy. It directly led to the establishment of a new scienceâ€”theoretical chemistry, capable of solving previously insoluble questions. In general, a whole series of theoretical difficulties were eliminated, once the new standpoint was accepted. The new physics revealed the staggering forces locked up within the atomic nucleus. This led directly to the exploitation of nuclear energyâ€”the path to the potential destruction of life on earthâ€”or the vista of undreamed of and limitless abundance and social progress through the peaceful use of nuclear fusion. Einsteinâ€™s theory of relativity explains that mass and energy are equivalents. If the mass of an object is known, by multiplying it by the square of the speed of light, it becomes energy.
Einstein showed that light, hitherto thought of as a wave, behaved like a particle. Light, in other words, is just another form of matter. This was proved in 1919, when it was shown that light bends under the force of gravity. Louis de Broglie later pointed out that matter, which was thought to consist of particles, partakes of the nature of waves. The division between matter and energy was abolished once and for all. Matter and energy areâ€¦the same. Here was a mighty advance for science. And from the standpoint of dialectical materialism matter and energy are the same. Engels described energy ("motion") as "the mode of existence, the inherent attribute, of matter." (2)
The argument which dominated particle physics for many years, whether subatomic particles like photons and electrons were particles or waves was finally resolved by quantum mechanics which asserts that subatomic particles can, and do, behave both like a particle and like a wave. Like a wave, light produces interferences, yet a photon of light also bounces off all electrons, like a particle. This goes against the laws of formal logic. How can "common sense" accept that an electron can be in two places at the same time? Or even move, at incredible speeds, simultaneously, in different directions? For light to behave both as a wave and as a particle was seen as an intolerable contradiction. The attempts to explain the contradictory phenomena of the subatomic world in terms of formal logic leads to the abandonment of rational thinking all together. In his conclusion to a work dealing with the quantum revolution, Banesh Hoffmann is capable of writing:
"How much more, then, shall we marvel at the wondrous powers of God who created the heaven and the earth from a primal essence of such exquisite subtlety that with it he could fashion brains and minds afire with the divine gift of clairvoyance to penetrate his mysteries. If the mind of a mere Bohr or Einstein astound us with its power, how may we begin to extol the glory of God who created them?" (3)
Unfortunately, this is not an isolated example. A great part of modern literature about science, including a lot written by scientists themselves, is thoroughly impregnated with such mystical, religious or quasi-religious notions. This is a direct result of the idealist philosophy which a great many scientists, consciously or unconsciously, have adopted.
The laws of quantum mechanics fly in the face of "common sense" (i.e., formal logic), but are in perfect consonance with dialectical materialism. Take, for example, the conception of a point. All traditional geometry is derived from a point, which subsequently becomes a line, a plane, a cube, etc. Yet close observation reveals that the point does not exist.
The point is conceived as the smallest expression of space, something which has no dimension. In reality, such a point consists of atomsâ€”electrons, nuclei, photons, and even smaller particles. Ultimately, it disappears in a restless flux of swirling quantum waves. And there is no end to this process. No fixed "point" at all. That is the final answer to the idealists who seek to find perfect "forms" which allegedly lie "beyond" observable material reality. The only "ultimate reality" is the infinite, eternal, ever-changing material universe, which is far more wonderful in its endless variety of form and processes than the most fabulous adventures of science fiction. Instead of a fixed locationâ€”a "point"â€”we have a process, a never-ending flux. All attempts to impose a limit on this, in the form of a beginning or an end, will inevitably fail.
Disappearance of Matter?
Long before the discovery of relativity, science had discovered two fundamental principlesâ€”the conservation of energy and the conservation of mass. The first of these was worked out by Leibniz in the 17th century, and subsequently developed in the 19th century as a corollary of a principle of mechanics. Long before that, early man discovered in practice the principle of the equivalence of work and heat, when he made fire by means of friction, thus translating a given amount of energy (work) into heat. At the beginning of this century, it was discovered that mass is merely one of the forms of energy. A particle of matter is nothing more than energy, highly concentrated and localised. The amount of energy concentrated in a particle is proportional to its mass, and the total amount of energy always remains the same. The loss of one kind of energy is compensated for by the gain of another kind of energy. While constantly changing its form, nevertheless, energy always remains the same.
The revolution effected by Einstein was to show that mass itself contains a staggering amount of energy. The equivalence of mass and energy is expressed by the formula E = mc2 in which c represents the velocity of light (about 186,000 miles per second), E is the energy that is contained in the stationary body, and m is its mass. The energy contained in the mass m is equal to this mass, multiplied by the square of the tremendous speed of light. Mass is therefore an immensely concentrated form of energy, the power of which may be conveyed by the fact that the energy released by an atomic explosion is less than one tenth of one per cent of the mass converted into energy. Normally this vast amount of energy locked up in matter is not manifested, and therefore passes unnoticed. But if the processes within the nucleus reach a critical point, part of the energy is released, as kinetic energy.
Since mass is only one of the forms of energy, matter and energy can neither be created nor destroyed. The forms of energy, on the other hand, are extremely diverse. For example, when protons in the sun unite to form helium nuclei, nuclear energy is released. This may first appear as the kinetic energy of motion of nuclei, contributing to the heat energy from the sun. Part of this energy is emitted from the sun in the form of photons, containing particles of electromagnetic energy. The latter, in turn, is transformed by the process of photosynthesis into the stored chemical energy in plants, which, in turn, is acquired by man by eating the plants, or animals which have fed upon the plants, to provide the warmth and energy for muscles, blood circulation, brain, etc.
The laws of classical physics in general cannot be applied to processes at the subatomic level. However, there is one law which knows no exception in natureâ€”the law of the conservation of energy. Physicists know that neither a positive nor a negative charge can be created out of nothing. This fact is expressed by the law of the conservation of electric charge. Thus, in the process of producing a beta particle, the disappearance of the neutron (which has no charge) gives rise to a pair of particles with opposed chargesâ€”a positively-charged proton and a negatively-charged electron. Taken together, the two new particles have a combined electrical charge equal to zero.
If we take the opposite process, when a proton emits a positron and changes into a neutron, the charge of the original particle (the proton) is positive, and the resulting pair of particles (the neutron and positron), taken together, are positively charged. In all these myriad changes, the law of the conservation of electrical charge is strictly maintained, as are all the other conservation laws. Not even the tiniest fraction of energy is created or destroyed. Nor will such a phenomenon ever occur.
When an electron and its anti-particle, the positron, destroy themselves, their mass "disappears," that is to say, it is transformed into two light-particles (photons) which fly apart in opposite directions. However, these have the same total energy as the particles from which they emerged. Mass-energy, linear momentum and electric charge are all preserved. This phenomenon has nothing in common with disappearance in the sense of annihilation. Dialectically, the electron and positron are negated and preserved at the same time. Matter and energy (which is merely two ways of saying the same thing) can neither be created nor destroyed, only transformed.
From the standpoint of dialectical materialism, matter is the objective reality given to us in sense-perception. That includes not just "solid" objects, but also light. Photons are just as much matter as electrons or positrons. Mass is constantly being changed into energy (including lightâ€”photons) and energy into mass. The "annihilation" of a positron and an electron produces a pair of photons, but we also see the opposite process: when two photons meet, an electron and a positron can be produced, provided that the photons possess sufficient energy. This is sometimes presented as the creation of matter "from nothing." It is no such thing. What we see here is neither the destruction nor the creation of anything, but the continuous transformation of matter into energy, and vice versa. When a photon hits an atom, it ceases to exist as a photon. It vanishes, but causes a change in the atomâ€”an electron jumps from a one orbit to another of higher energy. Here too, the opposite process occurs. When an electron jumps to an orbit of lower energy, a photon emerges.
The process of continual change which characterises the world at the subatomic level is a striking confirmation of the fact that dialectics is not just a subjective invention of the mind, but actually corresponds to objective processes taking place in nature. This process has gone on uninterruptedly for all eternity. It is a concrete demonstration of the indestructibility of matterâ€”precisely the opposite of what it was meant to prove.
All at Wikia Maoist
The first work we should study is August Thalheimer's intro to DiaMat, it gives an excellent overview of the histroy of religion and philosophy as well as the Marxist theory of knowledge. In addition since it was written for Chinese comrades, it did not assume a familiarity with western philosophical history. By studying this work we can learn the history of pre-Marxist philosophy and the laws of DiaMat at the same time. The lesson format will be to post excerpts from the work that are of particular interest for each chapter. Comrades are encouraged to read the rest of the chapter at Marxists.org. We will then discuss passages of interest and respond to opinions and questions. Here is an outline of the work:
- The Marxist World-View
Source: August Thalheimer "Introduction to Historical Materialism - The Marxist World View", Covici Friede, 1935
Online Version: Marxists Internet Archive (marxists.org) 2004
Transcription: Edward Crawford
Markup: Mathias Bismo
Preface to the German Edition
Preface to the American Edition
1. Religion: I
Diversity of "modern" world-views. The unity of the natural sciences. The unity of dialectical materialism. Its opponents. The problem: Presentation of dialectical materialism in its historical development. Two basic trends in the modern world-view: the proletarian and the bourgeois. An intermediate trend: the petty-bourgeois, a variety of the bourgeois trend.
Outline of the lectures. Religion: the oldest of the world-views. Essential characteristic of religion. The religious and the natural-scientific explanations of natural phenomena. The chief sources of religion: 1. Relation of man to nature; 2. Social relations. The emergence of the priestly caste from the social division of labor; class structure. The erstwhile progressive role of the priesthood.
2. Religion: II
The development of religion and its relation to the forms of production and of society. Local, tribal, national gods. Christianity as a world-religion. Early Christianity: the religion of slaves and oppressed nations. Feudal Christianity. Religion in capitalist society and its class bases. Social anarchy of capitalism. Religiosity, wars, and revolutions. The revolutionary bourgeoisie as opponents of religion and the church. Religion as a means of authority. Religion and the agricultural class. Religion and the modern working class.
3. Greek Materialism
Rationalist and historical-materialist position on religion. Anti-religious enlightenment as an accessory part of revolutionary preparation. Position of the Communist Party on religion. The Soviet Union and religion. Religion and fully developed socialist society. The "substitute" for religion. Development of the modern world-view. Its beginning in Greece. Prerequisites for the disintegration of religion and the development of philosophy and the natural sciences. Progress in the mastery of natural phenomena. Relation to the development of slave-economy. Greek natural philosophy and the development of the Greek commercial cities of Asia Minor. Tyrants, the people, and the city-nobility. Slave trade and slave-economy. Free artisans and wage-laborers. Thales of Miletus: the beginning of a materialistic explanation of the world. Water as the cosmic principle.
4. Greek Idealism
Anaximander. Matter as the starting-point of cosmic development. Heraclitus. The law of the universal development of things. The beginnings of dialectics. Difference between classic and modern concepts of development. Opposition to the notion of the immortality of individual souls. Heraclitus and the class-relations of his time. The people seek refuge in a religion of redemption. The theory of atoms: the most consistent product of ancient materialism. Idealistic turning-point.
Plato and Aristotle. Beginning of the decline of society based on slave-economy and the transition to idealism. Hindering of technical progress by slave-economy. Supremacy of the Idea and the supremacy of the "rational." Ancient, bourgeois, and proletarian democracy. Reactionary and progressive aspects of ancient idealistic philosophy.
5. Ancient Logic and Dialectics
A few facts about Plato and Aristotle. Athenian society and logico-scientific interests. The subject-matter of formal logic. Significance of formal logic for science. Two main laws of formal logic:
i. The law of identity; 2. The law of contradiction. Evidence for two main laws of formal logic. Proof of two main laws of logic from the standpoint of dialectics. The law of identity postulates the changelessness of things. Limited significance of the law of identity. Dialectical proof of the law of contradiction. Universality of contradiction as the expression of universal change. Examples. Meaningful and meaningless contradictions. Criterion of the actual change of things. Oppositive relation of formal logic and dialectics. Limited field of application of formal logic. Dialectics as the universal and exact comprehension of things in their motion and their interrelations. Materialistic and idealistic dialectics. Sources of dialectics in antiquity: 1. Heraciitus; 2. Socrates, Plato, Aristotle. Synthesis of two in modern dialectics: historical dialectics. An example: Marx's Capital. Dialectics of a totality of relations and its changes. Slave-labor and the limitations of ancient dialectics. The extension of dialectics to complete universality in materialistic form and its social conditions.
6. Indian Materialism
Elements of materialism in the East as a point of departure for dialectical materialism. The religious crisis of the epic period. Brahman priesthood. Social relations in the Vedic period. Emergence of class-oppositions in the primitive communist village communities. Emergence of great landed estates and slave trade. The Sudras. Sharpened class-oppositions in the North-east. Class relations in the sixth century. The social upheaval and the religious crisis. Great merchants as bearers of materialism. The castes. The four main castes. Caste-structure and basic problems of Indian thought. 1. The cycle of regeneration: Sansara. Caste-structure and ideas on regeneration in ancient Egypt. 2. Karma. Buddhism as a rebellion within the bounds of religion against castes and priestly supremacy. Upheavals in primitive Buddhism. Its qualification as a world-religion. Indian materialism as the most radical critic of Brahmanism. Lokayata or the theory of laymen. The main tenets of Indian materialism.
7. Hegel and Feuerbach
Characteristic of scholasticism of European Middle Ages. Transition from feudal to bourgeois development. The Reformation.
Main purpose and substance of bourgeois philosophy. Criticism of Christianity and of religion in general. Making way for the development of the natural sciences. Peak of French materialism of the eighteenth century. Diderot. Helvetius. Voltaire. Rousseau. The religion of reason. German philosophy. Hegel as the pioneer of the bourgeois revolution. The rediscovery and further development of the dialectical method. Dialectics as the universal formula of resolution. Hegelian absolute or objective idealism. Hegel undermines religion from within.
The young Hegelians and the open break with the Christian religion. Ludwig Feuerbach. The Essence of Christianity. Transition from idealism to materialism. Overthrow of supersensual knowledge or metaphysics. The negative destruction of philosophy. Natural-science materialism and historical idealism. Feuerbach as the exponent of the radical, left bourgeoisie of his time.
8. From Natural-Science Materialism to Dialectical Materialism
Contributions and defects in Feuerbach. The sources of the dialectical materialism of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels. The materialistic explanation of history and the destruction of religion and of philosophy. Materialistic dialectics as the positive outcome of the history of philosophy. Theory of knowledge: the independent existence of the external world. The idealistic conception. Consequences of the idealistic conception. The relation of being and non-being and self-consciousness. Subjective and objective ideas. The materiality of the external world. Thought and brain.
9. The Materialistic Theory of Knowledge
The infinite variety and the infinite unity of matter and its functions. The relation of thought to reality. The idealistic view. Thought as a special case of the universal interaction of things. The specificity of human sense-organs. The limitations of human sense-organs. Transcending the specificity and limitations of human sense-organs through thought. The criterion of truth. Note the absence of contradiction. Observation and research as the touchstone of truth. Is a complete or absolute knowledge of things possible? Dialectics and the special sciences. Mutual conditioning of dialectics and the special sciences. Are there innate ideas? The natural characteristics or functions of thought.
10. Dialectics: I
Stages in the development of dialectics. historical materialistic dialectics - Marx and Engels. The Hegelian synthesis of the two ancient stages of dialectics. Bourgeois dialectics. Revival of Hegelian dialectics. Bergson's dialectics. Definition of dialectics. Three sources of dialectics. The three main laws of dialectics. First law: Law of the permeation of opposites, or law of the polar unity of things. The infinite or absolute unity or identity of things. Obstacles to dialectics. The infinite or absolute diversity of the opposition of things. Every proposition that is not without content contains the law of the permeation of opposites. The sources of the first law of dialectics.
11. Dialectics: II
Second law of dialectics: Law of negation. All things are processes or events. Change occurs through opposites or contradictions. Negation indicates the motion or change of things. Negation and affirmation as polar conceptual operations. Emergence of the new through double negation. Thesis, antithesis, synthesis. Two distortions of the law of the negation of the negation: (1) the opportunistic; (2) the anarchistic. Examples. The relation of the second main law of dialectics to the first. The permeation of opposites as process or succession. Third main law of dialectics: Transformation of quality into quantity and of quantity into quality. The third main law of dialectics as a special case of the first main law.
12. Theory of History and Dialectical Materialism: II
Theory of history and revolutionary practice. The fundamental difference between materialistic and idealistic theory of history. Materialistic theory of history and common sense. The idealistic theory of history explains nothing.
What is the mode of production? The capitalist mode of production. Simple commodity production. Production and distribution. What determines the development of the mode of production? The development of the productivity of labor. Classes.
13. Theory of History and Dialectical Materialism: II
The class struggle. Social division of labor and class structure. Class opposition is something objective. Class opposition in action. The class struggle no invention of Karl Marx. Forms of class struggle. Content of class struggle. Class consciousness, class ideology. True and false class consciousness, class illusions, class deceptions. Class membership and class consciousness. Classes and other social groupings. Revolution and evolution.
14. Ancient Chinese Philosophy: I
Ancient Chinese philosophy from the view-point of dialectical materialism. The ancient Chinese popular and state religion. Why no struggle of ancient Chinese philosophy against religion? Class relations in the period of ancient Chinese philosophy. Lao-tse. Interrelation of social and natural order: "universism." Kung-tse.
15. Ancient Chinese Philosophy: II
Sophists or dialecticians. Chinese philosophy and the basic tendencies of philosophy. Presentiments or elements of dialectics in Lao-tse; in Yih-king. Primitive materialism of Mo'-ti'. Sophists. Ancient Chinese philosophy and the requirements of the Chinese revolution.
The progressive, democratic, and unprejudiced appearance of pragmatism. Characteristics of bourgeois philosophy in Europe after Feuerbach. General character of post-war philosophy. Pragmatism is subjective idealism. Affinity of pragmatism with empirio-criticism. Evidence from F. C. S. Schiller. Literature on dialectical materialism. Conclusion.
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