Sunday, March 22, 2009

What Is Dialectic?

Department Of Applied Mathematics And Theoretical Physics, University Of Cambridge, UK

The article seeks to reassess the validity of the dialectic methodology following the collapse of Communism. The article addresses Karl Poppers 1937 critique of the Marxist Dialectic, which he characterized as "damaging to philosophy and political theory". Popper's critique gave the dialectic method a negative connotation, and the author hopes to rehabilitate the method as a valuable tool for scientific inquiry.
Among his criticisms, the author states that Popper focuses on only one of three "laws" of the dialectic: the law of negation of the negation. The other laws - the law of the unity and struggle of opposites and the law of the transformation of quantity into quality and vice versa - are ignored by Popper. Thus he missed the fundamental aim of the dialectic, which is "to study things in their own being and movement via the connection of opposites". Through the study of connections we can postulate a theory of development, which is the central aim of the dialectic. This particular focus is specifically useful in the various scientific fields, where "the development of our scientific ideas and hypotheses...can only make sense if analyzed through the eyes of dialectic".
The author also finds fault with Popper's conclusion that the dialectic "is opposed to formal logic". The author counters that logical scientific inquiry is, by necessity, set outside the realm of formal logic. The author points out that in the realm of science, two hypothesis that can seemingly be logically proved or disproved are, in reality, not so simple at all. For instance:
  • The sun is shining.
  • The sun is not shining.
Although a peek out the window would seemingly instantly prove which hypothesis is correct, the scientific realities of the real world make the hypothesis much more difficult to prove. Although the sun shines in Erie, the sun does not shine on the other side of the world, in Beijing perhaps, where it is night. The author points out that there is a formal logic and then there is the dialectic, and the two must not be treated as replacements for each other; they are two different tools to be used for different purposes.
The author concludes the article by restating his belief that Poppers thesis unfortunately linked the dialectic to Communism, thus dooming it to be forever linked to that defunct system. This should perhaps be rethought, as the dialectic does provide a unique and useful method, specifically within the scientific realm. The author ends with an interesting point, stating, "It is important that theoreticians of dialectical materialism will do more to depoliticise it. In particular, they ought to convey that its application to the society and history, i.e. historical materialism, should not make any exact social predictions. In addition, the dialectical approach certainly suffers from its apparent applicability to 'everything', the problem that raised the most serious objections from Popper. Indeed, it should be clarified how dialectic classifies and differentiates different processes and types of connections in the world".

No comments:

Post a Comment