14 August 2005
I have not had the opportunity to do updates for some time. Most
of the discussions I've been privy to concern human evolution and
sociobiology, including their ideological and political ramifications.
I still don't have new information organized for you. So in the
interim, here are a few thoughts. While most prominent representatives
of these trends tend to be liberals, there is the right-wing ideological
climate to consider, a trend that solidified during the 1980s, with
an attack on the prospects of social amelioration, most recently
codified in the pseudo-scientific The Bell Curve. But this
article addressed a trend already perceptible in the early '80s.
It also contains a criticism of Karl Popper and addresses the history
and application of the notion of falsifiability.
Welty, Gordon. "The
Attack on Mead and the Dialectics of Anthropology," Science
and Nature, No. 9 (1990), pp. 14-27.
4 July 2005
Whitehead or Marx? Or, How to Process Philosophy
"Matter without motion is just as inconceivable as motion
without matter." — Friedrich Engels, Anti-Dühring
"The real unity of the world consists in its materiality,
and this is proved not by a few juggled phrases, but by a long
and wearisome development of philosophy and natural science."
— Friedrich Engels, Anti-Dühring
While there are variant ways of labelling the dynamic, I have written
many times about the historical vacillation of modern philosophy
in capitalist societies between ever-disintegrating positivist tendencies
and a reactive reversion to organicism and spirituality, effecting
a reconstitution of wholeness on a mystical ideological basis.
Organic ideologies take many forms—Neo-Thomism, Eastern mysticism,
New Age spirituality, speculative metaphysics . . . Without a grasp
of the overall contours of competing philosophical ideologies, one
easily becomes disoriented in a morass of philosophical nit-picking;
hence the combination of sophistication and gullibility that abounds
among our philosophers.
Analytical philosophy’s British origins coincided with a rebellion
against British Neo-Hegelian idealism—from Bradley, to Russell.
The bourgeois propagation of dualisms couldn’t be more poetic when
one considers the erstwhile team of Bertrand Russell and Alfred
North Whitehead (co-authors of Principia Mathematica). While
Russell shifts from one incoherent position to another, Whitehead
takes a page out of Bradley and refurbishes the project of speculative
metaphysics—now process philosophy—suitably upgraded for our time.
Instead of the old static substantialism, now we have occasions
and events—not substance, not matter, as a basis, but motion. (Cf.
L. Bazhenov, "Matter and Motion.")
It is significant for Whitehead’s project that he knew nothing
of Hegel, let alone Marx. (Cf.. Harry K. Wells, Preface
to Process and Unreality: A Criticism of Method in Whitehead's
One should distinguish, as I insistently do, between mystical emergentism
and emergent materialism. For the latter, matter is the basis upon
which all entities are builtno vitalism, no teleology, no
theology—only levels of organization of the material world, the
crucial dividing line being where consciousness and society begin.
The world is seen as a differentiated, stratified unity. The very
aim of emergentism should be to target the specificity of the levels
of organization of the material world mandating explanation; i.e.
emergentism should be the very opposite of obscurantism, metaphysical
vagary, mystical holism, and vague bio-physical explanation of social
What could be more obsolete, more antiquated, than a metaphysical
approach to history? “Philosophy of History” is itself very nearly
a waste of time, except for the philosophical problems of historiography.
(Cf. Siegfried Kracauer, History:
The Last Things Before the Last.) Early modern attempts
to fix a science of history made use of the concept of volksgeist
(Herder, for instance), taken over and rationalized by Hegel, who
nonetheless put substantial concrete content into his philosophy
of history, while framing it in dubious metaphysical categories.
Marx rebelled against the metaphysical basis of both Hegel himself
and of the Left Hegelians, rejecting the volksgeist, the
weltgeist, teleology, hypostatization (cf. The
Holy Family), the logic of categorical explanation (cf.
The Poverty of Philosophy, Notes on Wagner). Marx was uninterested
in traditional problems of ontology beyond praxis, value theory,
and the need to explain the nature of commodities. (See George Lichtheim,
and Dialectical Materialism, on Marx’s materialism. See also
E. V. Ilyenkov, "The Concept
of the Ideal.")
Marxist ontology as usually understood is the product of Engels,
later christened as “dialectical materialism” by Plekhanov. It
became dogmatized in the USSR and itself reached the nadir of metaphysical
mystification with Lysenkoism, and another low during the Maoist
Cultural Revolution. But later, both ‘orthodox’ (including Eastern
European) and ‘western’ Marxists opposed mystical organicism. (See
my Positivism vs Life Philosophy (Lebensphilosophie)
Study Guide.) There are some Marxists who shade off into mystical
holism, e.g. Joseph Needham. (See my review
of J. J. Clarke's The Tao of the West.) Engels' lapses
notwithstanding, his purpose was to combat the obscurantism of his
day, i.e. vulgar metaphysical evolutionism and pseudo-(social-)scientific
As opposed to emergent materialism, mystical emergentism lacks
a social theory that even approximates a serious analysis of social
organization. Generally, it capitalizes on speculative constructs
and vague reasoning by analogy. It’s mind, teleology, or God all
the way down.
Whitehead is a major inspiration for such obfuscation. Developments
in 20th century physical theories have induced many scholars to
reckon with the concept of novelty. (See, e.g., Milic Capek, The
Philosophical Impact of Contemporary Physics, Princeton, N.J.,
Van Nostrand, 1961.) While emergentists generally acknowledge the
emergence of novelty, Whitehead’s unrestricted metaphysical attributionse.g.
the ‘creativity’ of the cosmosshould be regarded with suspicion.
appears to be a benefactor of the Whiteheadian fudge factor. While
the roots of higher brain functions can be found in simpler biological
organisms, and while there is indeed a genetic code, and while indeed
the exchange of “information” exists on a pre-human-consciousness
level, the ascription of semiosis to the simplest biological processes
seems to be a form of reasoning by analogy, eliding the specificity
of what ‘meaning’ means to intelligent organisms. Undifferentiated
generalizations construct an ideological, not concrete, picture
of the unity of the world. Needless to say, such thinking makes
its practitioners sociologically as well as philosophically naive.
What is the link between Whitehead’s social/political philosophy
and his metaphysics? First, there is the lack of a substantive
social theory. Does Whitehead even have a developed social ontology,
let alone a political economy, theory of the state, conception of
mode of production and class differentiation? Instead he struggles
with the abstract dualities of individualism and collectivity, change
and stability. At best he is the speculative metaphysician of the
According to Johnson (see July 3 blog entry), Whitehead decried
the Malthusianism, laissez faire economic individualism, and social
Darwinism of the 19th century. He was sensitive to economic
forces and decried the fragmentation and specialization of the modern
mind. He stressed the idea of ‘civilization’tolerance, inquiry,
communication, fraternity, democracy, and both self-realization
and cooperation. Johnson relates Whitehead’s social philosophy
to his panpsychism and his notions of actual entities, ‘societies’
(of entities), and eternal objects.
Morris (see July 3 blog entry) pulls together Whitehead’s social
philosophy from his scattered, unsystematic remarks, addressing
the failures of process thinkers (philosophers and theologians)
to develop process social theory. Morris reviews Whitehead’s development
beginning in the 19th century. Whitehead was for ‘change’
while skeptical about ‘progress’. As he expressed it later: “Advance
or Decadence are the only choices offered to mankind. The pure
conservative is fighting against the essence of the Universe.”
Process cosmology is teleological and its aim is the maximization
of Beauty. Whitehead saw uniformity and force as the main threats
to social progress. Ideas are the key to history, and “Abstract
speculation has been the salvation of the world . . .” Whitehead
favored individual freedom and diversity as well as social solidarity,
rejecting classical individualistic liberalism as well as collectivist
regimentation. Whitehead is seen to be in agreement with Mill and
Hobhouse. Whitehead was very much influenced by Victorian, 19th
century evolutionism, but he was opposed to social Darwinism, as
were the “new liberals.”
So this is what Whitehead had to offer in the 20th century.
This metaphysical banality is not even remotely up to par to where
Hegel was over a century earlier. And of course Marx is not even
in the same mental universe. The only thing sadder about Whitehead
than this are the retrograde metaphysicians inspired by him.
3 July 2005
Does anyone give good Whitehead?
I'm going to comment on Whitehead via these two articles:
Johnson, A. H. "The Social Philosophy of Alfred North Whitehead,"
Journal of Philosophy, vol. 40, no. 10, (May 13, 1943), pp.
Morris, Randall C. "Whitehead and the New Liberals on Social
Progress," Journal of the History of Ideas, vol. 51,
no. 1 (Jan.-Mar. 1990), pp. 75-92
Abstract: This article aims to contribute to the task
of reconstructing Whitehead's political beliefs through a detailed
comparison of his theory of social progress with those advanced
by L T Hobhouse and J S Mill. It begins by outlining certain key
ideas concerning progress contained in Whitehead's metaphysics.
It then examines the concepts of uniformity and force which Whitehead
identifies as the main threats to social progress. These dangers
are shown to be related not only to the principles of order and
novelty in his metaphysics, but also correspond closely to the
concerns of the new liberals with individuality and sociability.
The malignant influence of Whitehead can be found in the "work"
of Christian de Quincey. He summarizes his perspective in an article,
"Radical Nature and the Paradox of Consciousness," ReVision,
March 22, 1999. See the Wikipedia article on de
Quincey. He has written a trilogy on "Radical Consciousness,"
covering nature, science, and knowing. See also his web site: Deep
Spirit. Not for the philosophically squeamish.
3 July 2005
The God Gene (1)
I reported on the string theory lecture. The subsequent event in
the lecture series was "The
Thursday, May 26. Reception 5:15 p.m. Lecture and Discussion
American Association for the Advancement of Science
Auditorium, 1200 New York Avenue, NW, Washington DC.
AAAS Dialogue on Science, Ethics, and Religion Seminar Series
God Gene?" featuring Dean H. Hamer & Lindon J. Eaves
Dean Hamer received his B.A. from Trinity College, Connecticut
and his Ph.D. from Harvard Medical School . He has worked at the
National Institutes of Health for 24 years, where he is currently
the Chief of the Section on Gene Structure and Regulation in the
Laboratory of Biochemistry of the National Cancer Institute. His
research has led to contributions in a variety of areas including
recombinant DNA, drug and vaccine production, and gene regulation.
He was a co-inventor of animal cell gene transfer, and recently
has begun a program on molecular therapeutics for HIV/AIDS. For
the past nine years, Dr. Hamer has studied the role of inheritance
in human behavior, personality traits, and cancer risk-related
behaviors such as cigarette smoking. His discovery of genetic
links to sexual orientation and the temperamental traits of sensation
seeking and anxiety have changed the way we think about human
behavior and raise a host of important scientific, social and
ethical issues. In his most recent popular book, The
God Gene: How Faith Is Hardwired into Our Genes, he proposes
that human spirituality is an adaptive trait, but also that he
has located one of the genes responsible.
Lindon J. Eaves is a Distinguished Professor in the Departments
of Human Genetics and Psychiatry and Director of the Virginia
Institute for Psychiatric and Behavioral Genetics at Virginia
Commonwealth University. He received a B.S. in Genetics and a
Ph.D. in Behavioral Genetics from the University of Birmingham,
England. Dr. Eaves also serves as priest-in-residence at St. James
Episcopal Church in Richmond, Virginia. He has served as president
of both the Behavior Genetics Association and the International
Society for Twin Studies.
On May 6, some time before the event, I wrote:
On lumping things together [e.g. dialectical biologists and postmodernists]
. . . this has to do with the aggregative polarities and tendencies
of bourgeois thought. Consider the science vs mumbo-jumbo camp
in the Anglo-American world (of which the fraudulent dichotomy
of analytical and continental philosophy is a manifestation).
The defenders of science who oppose religion, postmodernism, etc.
nonetheless have no problems with all kinds of pseudo-science
that suits them. The otherwise salutary web site butterfliesandwheels.com
lumps dialectical biology in with all other kinds of claptrap.
Opponents of religion proffer piffle like memes and God genes.
The Dawkinses of the worldquite eloquent in opposing religious
nonsensehave no conception of social science. While the
defense of Darwinism against creationism is absolutely necessary,
most Darwinian apologists are dolts when it comes to explaining
human affairs, and their brand of reductionism is useless. Already
Engels had to oppose the nonsense circulating in the late 19th
century, and today's apologists are little better.
This issue is logically distinct from the genuine scientific
contributions of the darwinian synthesis and even of sociobiology,
but the problem is, most scientists seem to be philosophically
naive and utterly helpless once they attempt to extend their narrow
specialized expertise into a world view. Dialectical thoughtwhich
should be the art of taking things apart and putting them back
together (Engels, following standard practice, called it analysis
and synthesis; and Lenin called it the breaking up of a whole
and cognition of its contradictory parts)is central to the
task of correcting the chronic category mistakes of bourgeois
On May 7, also before the event, I wrote:
If the God gene is the scientific answer to creationism, woe
to the future of American science.
Some geneticist claims to have found the gene for spirituality.
I sense a general pattern in the dynamics of the science vs mumbo-jumbo
camp in the Anglo-American world (of which the fraudulent dichotomy
of analytical and continental philosophy is a manifestation).
Many defenders of science who oppose religion, postmodernism,
etc., nonetheless have no problems with pseudo-science that suits
them. The otherwise salutary web site butterfliesandwheels.com
lumps all critics of sociobiology, reductionism, etc., in with
all other kinds of claptrap. Opponents of religion proffer piffle
like memes and God genes. The Dawkinses of the worldquite
eloquent in opposing religious nonsensehave no conception
of social science. While the defense of Darwinism against creationism
is absolutely necessary, most Darwinian apologists are dolts when
it comes to explaining human affairs, and their brand of reductionism
is useless. One must remember that evolution (though genetics
was still a mystery) as well as physics served as master metaphors
for pseudo-explanations of society in the late 19th century (the
situation in which Friedrich Engels intervened as proponent of
the newly founded perspective of historical materialism), and
today's apologists do not seem to be terribly more sophisticated
in matters of social science. This issue is logically distinct
from the genuine scientific contributions of the darwinian synthesis
and even of sociobiology, but the problem is, so many scientists
seem to be philosophically naive and utterly helpless once they
attempt to expand their narrow specialized expertise into a world
On May 26, just before the event, I wrote:
Judging from the event description, this looks like pseudoscientific
rubbish, but that might make it even more philosophically interesting.
I have doubts about this entire seminar series, and about the
spineless way the American scientific establishment caves to American
religiously and intellectual illiteracy. But also reprehensible
is conceptually childish pseudoscience masquerading as social
scientific explanation, for which real scientists, not theologians,
are responsible. I see both forms of mystification as inevitable
ideological effects of the type of society we live in, and the
situation worsens with social decay.
I don't know what Eaves has to say, but you can get a taste
of Hamer's drivel for yourself, as he has written a book called
The God Gene.
There is an unfortunate history of sociologically and philosophically
illiterate pseudo-biology, which surfaced in recent times with
the sociobiology controversy of the 1970s. That otherwise respectable
scientists, especially those known for their defense of science
and rejection of religion, would indulge such naive nonsense is
very depressing though hardly novel.
Here is a critique from Scientific American: Faith-Boosting
Genes: A Search for the Genetic Basis of Spirituality by Carl
Zimmer (September 27, 2004).
A couple of blog critiques:
god, and no "god gene", either
Gene.... (October 21, 2004) (Gene Expression blog).
I made one brief public comment after the
event. Now all I have to do is to write up a report of the talks
3 July 2005
In a previous entry, I quoted someone else containing a cite of
this work, but I should reference it myself as a resource for historical
Margaret Sheehan, Marxism
and the Philosophy of Science, 1st edition (1985).
Sheehan also wrote a short essay on the need for a unified world
Scientists and the Unity of Science
This essay by Popper includes remarks on reduction and emergence:
Popper, Karl. "A
Realist View of Logic, Physics, and History" (1966),
in: Objective Knowledge (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1972).
Note this book review:
Blackmore, Susan. "Destroying the Zombic Hunch" [Review
of Sweet Dreams: Philosophical Obstacles to a Science of Consciousness
by Daniel C. Dennett], Nature, vol. 435, 5 May 2005, p. 21.
You can find the original
version of this text on Blackmore's web site.
2 July 2005
I am currently working on improving the format of this web page,
including the addition of a link section. I also have to compile
additional entries from June 2005.
The last few entries in the archive
may seem rather disconnected. This is because they are extracts
from a much larger conversation, which includes these topics:
Evald Ilyenkov and the concept of ideality,
Marx's value theory, emergence, & abstract materialism
science, practice, objectivity, epistemology, & materialism
Lenin vs. Mach
labor, language, linguistics (Chomsky, Vygotsky), human evolution
I don't think it is realistic for me to try to preserve all these
conversations here, not even my scattered contributions. Conversational
threads can get quite tangled. The three-way discussion on Ilyenkov's
notion of ideality got rather involved. Ilyenkov's conception of
human artifacts as the unity of materiality and ideality has radical
implications for the concept of emergent properties. One of my interlocutors
is working on some publication. I should urge both of them to compose
Ilyenkov works under debate include:
"The Concept of the Ideal"
Materialist Conception of Thought as the Subject Matter of Logic,"
Chapter 8 of Dialectical Logic.
One interesting paper on Vygotsky:
Lantolf, J., & Thorne, S. L. (forthcoming, 2005). Sociocultural
Theory and the Genesis of Second Language Development. Oxford:
Oxford University Press. Draft version. 1
Date: Fri, 17 Jun 2005 00:58:31 -0400
Subject: Re: O, Dialectics! : Bakhurst
Thanks. Popper has an idea of how the 3 worlds interact (which
has direct causal impact on which), but I don't remember exactly
how. I'm not happy with the terminology, which seems to me misleading,
and I'm not certain how in his scheme something belongs to more
than one world at one time. But a comparison is in order.
I should also remember Sohn-Rethel better. His key idea is real
abstraction, which presumably roughly corresponds to ideality (though
covering a restricted range of phenomena I believescientific
& philosophical abstraction, value form). Some extracts: http://www.autodidactproject.org/other/sohn-rethel-x.html
I also vaguely recall Dubrovsky restricted ideality to subjectivity.
I put some extracts online some time ago: http://www.autodidactproject.org/other/dubrov1.html
At 09:19 PM 6/16/2005 -0700, Steve Gabosch wrote:
I am not at all up to speed on the German Marxist Sohn-Rethel
(please help), but a thought immediately comes to mind on Popper's
"Three Worlds" cosmology.
If one ignores the positivist framework of these three worlds
invented by Popper and attempts to make them as dynamic and "dialectical"
as possible, one might have some success drawing some rough correspondence
between a) Popper's world 1, the world of physical objects and
organisms, and Ilyenkov's material world; b) Popper's world 2,
of mental activity, and Ilyenkov's will and consciousness; and
c) Popper's world 3, the products of the human mind, and Ilyenkov's
realm of ideality.
But there is still a fundamental difference that makes the two
world views completely different. If we are to make Popper's three
worlds dynamic and historical, and assign any meaning to his numbering
system, then world 1, objects and organisms, must generate an
emerging world 2, mental activities, which in turn (in conjunction
with each other) generate world 3, the world of products of the
Ilyenkov, however, makes it crystal clear that he sees just the
opposite genetic-historic relationship between world "2"
and world "3". He argues that it is ideality that generates
will and consciousness, not the other way around. See paragraph
76. Also note Ilyenkov's brief mention of Popper in paragraph 77.
To expand on Ilyenkov's discussion of the "secret twist of
idealism," (discussed earlier in the essay "the Concept
of the Ideal), it is this "inversion" of ideality, on
one hand, and will and consciousness, on the other, that creates
a major stumbling block in philosophy and science. When plain materialists
and empiricists do this, they are committing an essential idealist
error. It is one of the most common errors in bourgeois social science.
At 01:02 PM 6/16/2005 -0400, Ralph wrote:
This is the key. How would you compare Ilyenkov's view to that
of Sohn-Rethel, or to Popper's 3-worlds theory?
At 07:16 PM 6/15/2005 -0700, Steve Gabosch wrote:
As I see it, the key concept in this regard that Ilyenkov offers
is that just as Marx discovered how social relations can be
"embodied" into things in the form of commoditiesthrough
the incorporation of abstract labor into the value-formso
too, Marxists can explain that social relations are embodied
in all cultural objects - through the incorporation of meaningful
cultural activity into the ideal form.
Ilyenkov explains that plain materialists and idealists alike
make the error of viewing the boundary between the material
and the ideal as being the world of the inside versus that of
the outside of each individual human head. In contrast, he argues
that according to dialectical materialism, ideality and materiality
must be distinguished in terms of the composition of each object
- both the composition of the physical attributes, which of
course are the sources of its materiality, and the composition
of its social origins and social context, which are the sources
of its ideality - just as Marx analyzed the composition of the
commodity. According to Ilyenkov's theory, objects within the
human cultural realm objectively possess both materiality and
ideality, just as commodities in a market economy possess both
concrete and abstract labor, possess both use-value and exchange-value.
Date: Wed, 8 Jun 2005 14:44:02 +0200
Subject: Re: O, Dialectics!
[A response to R. Dumain from Victor:]
From R. Dumain: Tuesday, June 07, 2005 16:35
Very interesting post. Just a few isolated comments to begin .
At 03:10 PM 6/7/2005 +0200, Victor wrote:
The fact that life forms activities are directed to concrete
future states, they are, no matter how simple or mechanical,
exercises in reason. This why, if you will permit a reference
to an earlier thread, I regard the investigation into biosemiology
to be a vitally important exploration of the roots of reason.
The most primitive forms of self reproduction are a totally
mechanical process yet they are at the very root of the rational
We are not here proposing that nature has a rational aspect,
a la Spinoza. As I wrote earlier I really have no idea what
nature or Nature is. What I am proposing is that the roots of
rationality are in the mechanical purposive activity of life
forms and that whatever life forms "know" [including
ourselves of course] is a function of our practical activities
in nature FROM THE VERY ORIGINS OF THE ACQUISITION OF KNOWLEDGE
in whatever form it may be acquired, stored, recovered etc.
But biosemiology itself seems to be rather obscurantist, more
akin to Whitehead's philosophy of organism than to Marx.
I'm more interested in Sharov's work (despite indications that
his general methodological approach is Dubrovskian*) than in Hoffmeyer
and the Western Biosemiologists.
2. Objectivity: In its essence objectivity refers to conscious
reflection on something rather than the reflection of something
in consciousness. That is to say that objectivity is the function
of a activity and not something we passively assimilate as we
confront the daily world. Some of the things or, better, activities
we objectify (very few in my opinion) are those of our own subjective
consciousness. Most are not. Most of our objectifying involves
activities that are the preconditions for our own subjectivities,
either the activities that emerge out of the collective subjective
activities of men learned or developed in the course of collaborative
activities while others involve activities that are preconditions
for consciousness in all its aspects. Hegel, for example, divides
his system of logic into two parts, objective logic and subjective
logic or notional logic where the former is that logic which
we enact without subjective reflection. Objective logic is objective
because the only way we can deal with it intellectually in any
other fashion than just doing it is as an object of reflection
[I expect AB to come down on me like a ton of bricks on this
In its many concrete manifestations in human activity, intellectual
and material, the principle of self-perpetuation, at least for
men, is as subjective an issue as is the concept of self; the
idea of property, of individual interests and even of "family
values" are directly related to the activity of primitive
self-perpetuation, though highly charged with many concrete
connections to the complexities of human social existence. These
slogans of superficial individualism of Social Darwinism and
its inheritors, the bio-sociologists and others like them, only
scratch the surface of things. Regarded objectively, the self-perpetuating
activity of life forms is sublated in virtually all forms of
human activity from eating and intercourse to social labour,
wage slavery, and social revolution.
Sounds like some version of Lenin's (or the Soviets' in general)
theory of reflection. Life activity is a form of reflection. However,
the 'roots of reason' strike me as no more than roots, not reason.
No, not at all. As you must of read further on in this message
I reject Lenin's passivist, "reflection in consciousness",
for the activist, "conscious reflection on...".
See point 2 in the original message:
"2. Objectivity: In its essence objectivity refers to conscious
reflection on something rather than the reflection of something
in consciousness. That is to say that objectivity is the function
of a activity and not something we passively assimilate as we confront
the daily world. "
The natural sciences reflect exactly this relation between intellect
and practice. There are no real ontological truths in science.
Nothing is holy or beyond question and the only real proof is
a sort of abstracted form of practice, experimentation. Whatever
ontologising scientists do, and some do, is tolerated by the
scientific community only insofar as it remains speculation
and does not interfere with the scientific process. Great scientists
have had "ideas"; Newton philosophized that the world
was a clock wound up by the creator and then left to its own
devices, Einstein was sure that "God does not play dice",
and Hawkins was until a few years ago sure that unified field
theory would answer all the questions of physics. Most of these
and many more are, fortunately, either forgotten or on the way
to being forgotten, though the scientific contributions of their
makers remain important, even vital, components of the giant
artefactual system men have built to enable their persistence
in the world.
The Royal Society started this practice, to keep metaphysics
and theology out of empirical science.
Finally, the natural science of human activity and history,
and this is what Historical Materialism, should be and sometimes
is, can least afford the ontologising forays that occasionally
crop up in fields such as physics, chemistry and organic sciences.
The very abstractness of the subjects of these sciences renders
the prononciamentos of important scientists fairly harmless
in the long run. The natural science of human activity is as
concrete as a science can be. It deals directly with human activity
and with its consequences, and philosophic dogmatism of the
left and of the right can only cause disaster, to real people
and real communities (as we have witnessed in the past and as
we do witness today). The only way to avoid these disasters,
to the extent they can be avoided at all, is through adopting
a critical and practical approach to theorizing and to subject
every idea to serious debate and testing much as we are doing
Sounds very much like Popper, who himself ended up ontologizing
in the end.
Yeah, I see I've been too careless in formulating my views with
regards to ontologising. This is particularly important considering
that the methodological grounds for the Royal Society's decision
was based on Neo-Kantian/Logical Positivist metatheory.
The problem of doctrinaire or absolutist realism which is the
actual target of my comments is not aimed at the realism of theoretical
statements, but rather at the disassociation of theoretical statements
from the human activity involved in their formulation. That is to
say that theoretical formulations are real descriptions of real
things and real actions, but this reality is situational both in
time, space and in the selection of essence by the human agency
or agencies that make them. So long as being and theories of being
are regarded as functions of the dynamic relations between subject
and object, between practice and thought and then practice once
again, and therefore descriptive of historical states and teleological
logical thought they are "good science".
Date: Fri, 03 Jun 2005 15:29:26 -0400
Subject: O, Dialectics! nearing the end game
See comments interleaved below.
At 06:27 PM 6/3/2005 +0000, redtwister666 wrote:
. . . The summary is this: Why try to hold to such a notion of
materialism? It is still too attached to what we want to get beyond.
Materialism fidgeting over "mind and matter" is abstract
and irrelevant to communists. Like "atheism", it is
beside the point (see good link at the bottom on Marx, religion
Pannekoek does wish to argue that `objective reality' encompasses
far more than physical matter. In effect, this is an argument
that in conceiving what exists objectively, as a totality, our
concept should not contain any conception of primacy. In Pannekoek's
hands materialism becomes a word for a kind of neutral monism.
What do you mean by "physical matter"? The concept is
not necessarily scientifically sustainable, since energy is not
"physical matter", unless you are choosing to use a
Energy is also not ideal or spiritual. The counterpoint to matter-energy
(the physical) is the realm of the ideal or non-physical. Materialism
as irrelevant to communistsis this your view? I personally
am not arguing about communism. However, obscurantism like all other
social phenomena is relevant to communists. World view issues are
social issues, even when they are remote from manifestly political
More so, is the only objective existence of a building, for
example, its physical materiality? But its form is the product
of our activity upon the material world. So then all that is objective
are the material components of the building, and only sans their
form (as bars, as concrete, etc.), which means that their chemical
composition even is not entirely objective, since concrete is
already crushed stone without water, and then you add water. So
compositions that we make out of other things are not, as those
compositions are `man made.'
There is some confusion here. You are confusing the material reality
of man-made objects (which are no less material for being man-made)
with the system of social and economic relations in which buildings
function (not to mention the functionality of buildings themselves).
This is a basic argument of Marx, which, transposed beyond his time,
would count as an argument against Neurath's physicalism. We can't
understand social organization in terms of strictly physical objects.
Since concrete does not exist independent of human activity,
any more than alloys are likely to, like chromium-molybdenum steel
or aluminum, then what is really real is not that form of materiality
or even their chemical composition which would only exist as an
after effect of human activity, but maybe their molecular composition
or their atoms. However, I bet I could show that their molecular
composition is a product of human activity, so then we have their
Bad argument. Human activity in this instance, involves the manipulation
of matter, hence it is physical activity.
Ah ha, safe landing! Except that atoms are in part made up of
electrons, which are not physical matter at all, and so we come
to problems, especially at the level of quarks, that "physical
matter" is in part built up out of energy, which indeed is
independently existing but not easily called "physical matter".
So I do not need to show that every instance of the concept of
"physical matter" is wrong, but merely that it is a
generalization that does not hold up.
Completely confused reasoning.
So this (matter-ist) notion of independently existing objective
reality then comes down to: well, it's a useful political tool
This is Gil's argument, presumably. Not a good one.
You then say correctly that in the absence of idealist philosophy,
the affirmation of materialism is not needed.
It does seem that concepts are only meaningful by way of contrast.
But you mistakenly move forward to the claim that materialism
involves the idea that the world exists prior to us. There is
no need to be a materialist to claim this. Only to refuse sensationalism
and subjective idealism. Humean empiricism merely argues that
the claim that the world exists prior to us is meaningless and/or
As a realist, you could be a materialist or an objective idealist.
On this correspondence theory of assent, I am trying to grapple
your point. If I grasp it correctly, then do you claim that my
paragraph above is irrelevant because I am trying to draw out
implications of the concept?
I mean all I can see is that it is a proposition which cannot
be sustained upon close inspection but which serves a political
purpose, which of course would explain the ethical claims made
by you originally which left Ralph and I somewhat nonplussed.
I see no way in which this relates to materialism in the sense
used by Marx then in the Theses on Feuerbach, where his specific
critique of the old materialism was exactly its failure to grapple
with human practical-critical activity. But of course, this takes
us in a circle to once again saying that Marx did not primarily
address himself to the problem we are considering.
Exactly, so what's your problem?
More to the point, an adequate critique of Mach et al would seem
to involve reference to Marx's idea that the issue at hand is
not to disprove Mach's ideas, but to show what Mach's phenomenalism
represents, how it is that it arises in that time and under those
conditions and in what way those ideas appeal to the conditions
in Russia in 1908.
This is a good question, to which I don't know the answer. But
of course whether Mach is right or wrong is independent of his appeal
Stray concept: "Neither Hegel nor Marx can have a 'theory
of knowledge'. They both know that knowledge is a socio-historical
movement. A 'theory' of this movement would have to include a
'theory' of itself, and that is impossible for any 'theory'."
This will likely annoy Ralph, but it seems to me that you have
in effect made this claim, when you talk about the problems of
assent, et al.
I don't know what this is about. But don't Hegel and Marx have
a theory of their own theories?
There is a difficult question here: what do `mind' and `matter'
mean? The answer can only be that those terms mean what the philosophies
define them to mean that Marxism is criticising. They are concepts
defined by idealism, and in Marx's case defined by absolute idealism.
If we continue to engage in the critique of idealism todayin
its phenomenological formthen they would mean something
I think this is very good. The concepts of mind and matter are
inherently historical, and our job is not to counterpose "our
theory" to theirs, per the above.
A better point would be that Marxists may monitor the progress
of knowledge and criticize it, but don't have either exclusive rights
or competence to advance every piece of human knowledge. So of course
the need for philosophical criticism changes according to changes
in the intellectual environment.
In this regard it is worth referring to the solipsim point that
Lenin makes and Pannekoek finds so absurd. It may be worth recalling
(if I am correct) that Carnap describes his own post- Mach position
as methodolological solipsism, which he combined with a metaphysical
anti-solipsism. In this distinction may lie the significant element
of truth in Lenin's characterisation and the potential for dispute
about it. I won't go into it in any détail, just say that
modern idealism tends to affirm that thinking can be understood
in terms which a materialist would deny.
The problem is that Lenin does not know Carnap and Carnap has
his own agenda with Mach. Nor is anything you are saying here
that is interesting to be found in Lenin's book. At most, you
and I could defend the formulation that Lenin and Pannekoek share:
the independently existing objective reality. At most. The rest
of Lenin, where he deals with Marx's ideas, is a complete train
Note that Lenin's engagement with Marx's ideas in MAEC
has not even been discussed as yet.
The proper critique of Mach would seem to flow from the following:
"Every history of religion, even, that fails to take account
of this material basis, is uncritical. It is, in reality, much
easier to discover by analysis the earthly core of the misty creations
of religion, than, conversely, it is, to develop from the actual
relations of life the corresponding celestialised forms of those
relations. The latter method is the only materialistic, and therefore
the only scientific one. The weak points in the abstract materialism
of natural science, a materialism that excludes history and its
process, are at once evident from the abstract and ideological
conceptions of its spokesmen, whenever they venture beyond the
bounds of their own speciality."
To put it another way, it is much easier to dispute the sensationalist
metaphysics of Mach than it is to "develop from the actual
relations of life the corresponding" metaphysical forms of
Marx's criticism is clear, but your addendum is not.
"The weak points in the abstract materialism of natural
science, a materialism that excludes history and its process,
are at once evident from the abstract and ideological conceptions
of its spokesmen, whenever they venture beyond the bounds of their
own speciality." Vol 1 Capital, footnote 4, Ch. 15.
This is quite the bit with sociobiology, a nice summation. The
problem with the "materialism" you are propounding as
found in and defended by Lenin is simply that no materialism that
excludes "history and its process" is of interest.
Here you are mistaken, for reasons I've been arguing for months.
Maybe I am bull-headed, but what is the point of such a materialism?
You cannot have one set of standards for "natural sciences"
and another for "social sciences", one in which "abstract
materialism" is ok and the other in which it is bad.
You are not quite right here. Presumably, the goal of a philosophy
of science, or of philosophy in general, is an integrated view.
The ideal of scientific explanation is abstractly the same, but
takes on different forms according to the object of investigation.
Can you really have prediction in social theory, per Popper's infantile
arguments against Marxism? How could "laws" possibly be
of the same character when forms of social organization cannot exist
independently of human activity, as opposed to the formation of
galaxies? As for the adequacy of "abstract materialism"
in its own domain, we'd have to be specific about what that means.
Here the other debate about dialectics of nature pops in.
Ultimately Gil, I think we are closer rather than farther, but
you feel attached to this `base materialism' detached from humanity,
I do not. I am quite at home however with your general comments
on correspondence, assent, etc.
Here is one possible issue: natural science seeks to understand
"what is", to show how this or that aspect of nature
is, and must be, so. In natural science that may indeed be acceptable.
In social science, it is quite the apologetics. Marx has no interest
in explaining because he has no interest in justifying.
In justifying what? Presumably you mean that Marx is disregarding
the ontological and epistemological issues pertaining to the domains
of chemistry and physics. And indeed this is the case. It wasn't
his fight at the time.
There almost seems to be a tendency to either lean towards sociobiology
because it sees a unity of human social investigation into nature
and humanity, while Gould ends up reifying the separation of "magisteria"
to combat sociobiology.
I'm not conversant with Gould to understand
the remark, but you are correct. Having attended an AAAS dialogue
on the "God gene" a week ago, I can testify as to how
stupid these people are. The sociobiologists are liberals, BTW,
not reactionaries, but philosophically, they are clueless. There
is no inherent reason people interested in this area have to be
as dumb as they are. Clearly they are indoctrinated with certain
conceptions of scientific explanation, statistical research methods,
etc., and they are completely bewildered about the issues involved.
I debated them last week, and they live in a completely different
mental universe from mine. [> God
As tangents, I found these very interesting, though it will again
annoy Ralph. What specifically interests me is the argument you
have put forward seems to go in two directions at once. You want
an objectively existing material reality, but you do not want
it to include humanity. Really, this is the problem. Either it
is completely metaphysical or it is somewhat trivial. I would
think that you tend towards the trivial rather than the metaphysical.
Gil will have to answer for what he wants. For me, it's a question
of differentiation. There is one reality, but it is differentiated,
and when one constantly confuses the objects of one's discourse,
dialogue cannot progress. . . .
Thu, 02 Jun 2005 04:51:14 -0400
On June 1, I participated in a philosophical discussion of a talk
given by Douglas Adams (author of A Hitchhiker's Guide to the
There an Artificial God?" (speech at Digital Biota 2, Cambridge
U.K., September 1998).
My initial reaction (31 May) was:
Interesting essay, more for its suggestiveness than the thoroughness
of its logic. There are many many philosophical principles touched
on that could be pursued.
While the example of the relation between rice production and
religion in Bali suggests a functional connectionnot exactly
a shocking propositionthe nature of the alleged functionality
is left a mystery: if religion enables coordinated action, that
is its functionality.
And then comes Adams' conclusion:
So, my argument is that as we become more and more scientifically
literate, it's worth remembering that the fictions with which
we previously populated our world may have some function that
it's worth trying to understand and preserve the essential components
of, rather than throwing out the baby with the bath water; because
even though we may not accept the reasons given for them being
here in the first place, it may well be that there are good
practical reasons for them, or something like them, to be there.
I suspect that as we move further and further into the field
of digital or artificial life we will find more and more unexpected
properties begin to emerge out of what we see happening and
that this is a precise parallel to the entities we create around
ourselves to inform and shape our lives and enable us to work
and live together. Therefore, I would argue that though there
isn't an actual god there is an artificial god and we should
probably bear that in mind.
Perhaps Adams has an evolutionary functionality in mind. The
problem is, as with Dawkins' nonsense about memes, is the lack
of recognition that the socially organized cognitive activity
of the human species mediates its relationship with the physical
environment as well as with its historically created institutions.
Natural selection is used as a vague metaphor to model social
institutions and even science itself (Popper). The price of this
nebulous and naive metaphor, of course, is to write Hegel and
Marx out of intellectual history as crackpots, and to install
pseudoscientific biological argument as real scientific explanation
of social and cultural institutions. One would think that a systems
approach, which is essentially synthetic, would be superior to
the simpler method of analyzing a complex phenomena into its constituent
elements and assuming that the complexity of the world is resolved
via mathematical calculation from elementary laws of nature. Evolutionary
biology, when applied within its proper domain, is the farthest
thing from such simple-mindedness, yet when correlating the same
body of knowledge with an understanding of social and cultural
constructs, is innocent as a newborn. Hence the nonsense of memes
on the reductionist end of the spectrum, and the mystical nonsense
of biosemiotics on the holistic end. Such is the duality of bourgeois
This is my original list of talking points for the discussion:
1) tautology (as explanatory principle)
2) evolution (& tautology)
3) God/Creator: historical origin
4) 4 stages of history (sand)
5) the universe is misleading, i.e. our immediate environment
gives us the
wrong impression of the whole enchilada
6) Newton understood mechanics, but not how his cat was put together
7) life as complexity
8) computer metaphor
9) emergence & complexity
10) fiction: money, God; from bottom to mysterious top of pyramid
11) evolution & religion
12) sacred & its immunity from criticism: fixed order
13) Bali: religion's relation to rice cultivation (cf. Jane Ellen
15) intuitive orientation without analysis, e.g. feng shui
16) scientific world -> artificial God
17) Internet world
18) one-many relations & democracy
We covered most of these points, but didn't get to 10, 14, 15,
Here is my outline of what we actually discussed:
(1) evolution & tautology (life's self-replication, vs creationism,
(a) failure to distinguish (1) mechanisms of evolution (science,
non-tautological), (2) philosophical interpretation (what happens,
( b) Adams' lack of clarity, should have said: explaining the
mechanism = explaining the why
(2) who is competent to address complex social scientific questions?
natural scientists? Philosophers? Is social science scientific?
(3) God/creation: historical origins. Missing steps in Adams'
argument: from seeing agency in natural phenomena to abstract
concept of Creator
(4) the sacred: beyond criticism (is it enough to identify it
as principle of order, social coordination?)
(5) problems with genetic explanations of cognitive constructs
and social organization: the God Gene, memes, etc.
(6) reductionism, complexity, & emergence: mind-body problem,
neurophysiology & thought contents. Is emergence an issue
of complexity alone?
(7) science & ethics/politics: limitations of science in
solving our problems. Example: depression: medical problem or
Just as this discussion heated up, two participants had to leave.
See (9) etc.
(7b) missing link: explanatory concepts (social theory) to make
sense of our social situation
(8) many-many, one-one, one-many, many-one interactions
(9) popularizations not properly grounded in sciences; limitations
(10) Marx & social theory, critical theory, limitations
of Popper (critical rationalism)
(11) overcoming fragmentation in the history of philosophy;
why there is no publicly functioning standard by which to rise
above the banalities of Adams et al.
(11) is the climax of the whole discussion. A basic question was
raised before the meeting started to break up. I only addressed
it later on, when not everyone got to hear my perspective. Basically,
I was very hard on Adams, who, I think, gave us the discrete ingredients
for discussion of a range of exciting and fundamental questions,
but whose own synthesis of these elements is unacceptably substandard.
Other discussants were unhappy about the severity of my criticism,
and wanted to know where the high standard I'm demanding is to be
found, and who exemplifies it. My answer is that the standard can
be constructed, but there is no place in the institutionalized intellectual
world it can be found. I then proceeded to sketch what I think happened
to philosophy as it began to fragment into positivist and irrationalist
wings in the mid-19th century. I also addressed the fictional concept
of 'continental philosophy', which I contend does not exist as such
except as an artifact of the Anglo-American analytical establishment's
historical amnesia. I then broached the question of intellectual
synthesis, which I claim is inhibited by the existing institutionalization
of knowledge. At this point, the remaining discussants had to disperse,
so I ended with an explosive assertion: the Achilles heel of critical
theory was its inability to deal with natural science, which it
naively relegated to positivism. All of this is prolegomena to my
overarching view of the philosophical synthesis necessary. While
none of my specific ideas are original, the problem is that it takes
detective work to seek them out and gather them into one place,
as our institutions are not set up to make this happen. My efforts
can be glimpsed on my web site: Positivism
vs Life Philosophy (Lebensphilosophie) Study Guide.