Intellectual Traditions, Alienation, and the Integration of Knowledge

by Ralph Dumain

Hegel, Marx, Western Marxism, the Dichotomies and the Whole

For several months, I have broached issues in the integration of knowledge, to which there are several obstacles including the artificial disjunction of intellectual traditions. I have argued that this occurs throughout the ideological universe, within philosophy as a whole, and within "Marxism" itself. There is an intellectual route through the natural sciences and another through the geisteswissenschaften, but the two have never been properly integrated, not in the world at large, not in philosophy, and not in Marxism. At best, the dichotomies have been named and analyzed.

Hegel is the grand central station for many who have sought this integration. The Hegelian traditions within Marxism—here I am excluding those concerned solely with the dialectics of nature, and perhaps I should set aside studies of the logic of Capital as well—have not succeeded in integrating knowledge derived from natural science and mathematical logic. As for non-Marxist Hegelianism, I surmise most of the relevant literature is in German, and not much in English. My guess, as far as the English-speaking world is concerned, is that non-Marxist Hegelians who have attempted to integrate natural science are of dubious idealist cosmological persuasions. One of the Harrises—I can't remember which one—arouses my suspicions in this regard.

Why would Hegel be the grand central station? And how is this related to Marx?

The relevance of the Marx-Hegel connection is multi-dimensional. I doubt anyone has ever concentrated on all dimensions at once. In the most general and abstract terms, both Hegel and Marx in their different ways accomplish two tasks at once: (1) they explain and justify an approach to knowledge and its historical development; (2) they relate this development and all forms of consciousness to social development as a whole. By definition there is an intrinsic relationship between (1) and (2), but there is also a problem in collapsing the distinctions within it, which, I will eventually argue, is also related to the inability to fully concretize every aspect of this abstract concept of the whole.

To give one example, Lukacs' early attempt to out-Hegel Hegel in History and Class Consciousness: Unbeknownst to Lukacs, there was some affinity here with Marx's still unknown 1844 manuscipts. Each represents programmatic sophistication and underdevelopment in different ways. For Lukacs the problem is the idealist notion of the identical subject-object, combined with the misconstrual and dismissal of natural science. Yet Lukacs wanted to solve the epistemological problem from a social standpoint. His work should be reexamined with an eye to whether his way of doing this is fully concrete or remains abstract and external to the full range of knowledge which would have to be properly assimilated into this schema. Lukacs called for a concrete logic; others attempted to supply it. This needs to be investigated.

I began a project of reviewing the Frankfurt School with an analysis of Horkheimer's critique of positivism, calling attention to the points where he shows a willingness to accommodate the natural sciences but fails to make contact with them through the smokescreen of positivism. The same can be seen in Adorno.

There is another route, which comes from the autodidactic hyphenated-Americans of the Johnson-Forest Tendency (the first to translate any of Marx’s 1844 manuscripts into English), deriving directly from Hegel and Marx and bypassing the subsequent European tradition (with the exception of Marcuse's Reason and Revolution).

Here is one statement of the fundamental issue as they see it:

Rationalism is the philosophy of bourgeois political economy. It is materialist and not idealist in so far as it combats superstition, seeks to expand the productive forces and increase the sum total of goods. But there is no such thing as a classless materialism. Rationalism conceives this expansion as a division of labor between the passive masses and the active elite. Thereby it reinstates idealism. Because it does not and cannot doubt that harmonious progress is inevitable by this path, the essence of rationalism is uncritical or vulgar materialism, and uncritical or vulgar idealism.

In the springtime of capitalism this rationalistic division of labor was the basis of a common attempt of individual men associated in a natural environment to achieve control over nature. Today this division of labor is the control in social production of the administrative elite over the masses. Rationalism has reached its end in the complete divorce and absolute disharmony between manual and intellectual labor, between the socialized proletariat and the monster of centralized capital.

(from the section 'Rationalism: the Philosophy of the Bourgeoisie' in chapter 11 (Philosophy and State Capitalism) of: State Capitalism And World Revolution, by C.L.R. James in collaboration with Raya Dunayevskaya & Grace Lee, with a new introduction by Paul Buhle (Chicago: Charles H. Kerr Publishing Company, 1986); p. 115.)

Other sections of this chapter are: The Hegelian Critique of Rationalism [key to their picture of the development of philosophy], Rationalism: the Philosophy of Stalinism, The Ideological Crisis of the Intermediate Classes, Philosophy Must Become Proletarian, Orthodox Trotskyism. (See also the quotes I've titled C.L.R. James on the (Post)Modern Intellectual & the Division of Labor and C.L.R. James on Descartes & the Division of Labor.)

(Written 7 June 2003)

Social Organization and the Content of Knowledge

Adorno criticized the "sociology of knowledge" as a completely formal investigation external to any subject matter, whereas there can be no real critique without a view of truth content. So the proper question would be, how has the direction and content of scientific knowledge been skewed by alienated social relations? A problem with an exclusively sociological or overarching philosophical perspective is that their scenarios tend only to recognize the social organization in which knowledge is produced, but say nothing about the content of knowledge. This would give us an excessively holistic (Althusser’s expressive totality?) picture without qualification. Aside from the unevenness of what goes on in the world of knowledge, there remains another issue I’ve brought up before: every scientist, as every other member of society, has to be socialized into a given framework, so then the question is, what happens in this give and take? Is the individual entirely swallowed up in this process or is there a struggle, with the possibility of innovation? Obviously more specificity is needed to pin down what actually happens.

Marx’s remark ‘there will be one science’ comes from the 1844 manuscripts of his Young Hegelian period. To unpack this quote opens up a whole new line of discussion as to what he meant. Marx's remarks are most apropos, because Marx, I argue, recognized the tension that would give birth to the diremption in philosophy between positivism and Lebensphilosophie. Another quote from the same manuscript once beloved of Raya Dunayevskaya: ‘One basis for science and another for life is a priori a lie.

(Written 9 June 2003)

The Socialization of Scientists

The motives of individual scientists matter very much to this analysis, for a very basic reason. Individuals have to be socialized into a system and made to conform to it enough in order to survive in it. Therefore it is important to recognize the type of work would-be scientists would be inclined to do and the philosophical positions they have on it and then see what happens in the process of socialization. What is called scientism and what is implied as positivism is a very specific ideology that plays a role in molding a certain social type, which is not inherently the type of the scientist per se but a more specific type tailored to fit into bureaucratic structures doing the bidding of others. The stereotyped view does not in fact recognize the real diversity that exists and therefore how much effort it actually takes to brainwash individuals to conform. To get an understanding of how this happens in general read Jeff Schmidt's Disciplined Minds, a very important jargon-free analysis of the socialization and functioning of professionals. But just to take one lurid example: I actually had the opportunity to witness a physicist who worked for the Defense Department lie about the history of physics with the hardly veiled goal of convincing grad students that the real interesting scientific problems are always where the money is. But if you think this is the way that all or even most people who are attracted to science think, I would suggest you think again.

Positivism is Not Science

Positivism is not science but it is the ideology of science conforming it to the logic of the market and capitalist production. The distinction is essential. Also important is that it has always been the right wing that rebelled against mechanistic thinking and other liberal values. Mystifying science and technology and blaming them for the nature of capitalist production is Heideggerian, i.e. fascist.

The inability to distinguish science from positivism shows up a certain provincialism in people who occupy certain corners of the theory industry. Any Marxist raised on dialectical materialism knows the distinction quite well. There's a whole tradition—the Stalinists were good at this—of fighting empiricism and positivism from a Marxist materialist perspective. The Soviets did it. Communists in the West did it—read Maurice Cornforth, for example (Science Versus Idealism, etc.). This was the one thing they were good at, and they should be commended for it.

(Written 12 April 2003)

Mechanical Materialism, Empiricism, and the Limitations of Scientific Explanation at the End of the 18th Century

This section stems from a discussion of the dangers of Hegel’s metaphor (for us, not for him) of geist. This should be juxtaposed with a consideration of the limitations of the science and the philosophy of the time. Mechanistic science was the only modern conception and model of science recognized at the time. I dimly recall that this notion can be found in Kant as well. This meant that any other phenomena not fitting into this model had to be explained exogenously to the natural science and model of natural science of the time. Also, science threw the entire world of politics and religion out of whack. Its revolutionary implications were disturbing and had to be moderated. Kant reflects the ambivalence of the time.

A sidebar about mechanism: popular Newtonianism was not necessarily the real thing—not a proper understanding of scientific idealization, the methodology and true character of Newton's physics. (Newton himself could not properly integrate his physics into his total world view which included alchemy and theology.) Newtonian influence on French materialism for example may not have reflected the actual content of physics but rather a popular model or ideology of science. In England, materialism was already eclipsed by empiricism by the end of the 18th century. Hume’s obsession was the problem of induction. This means that the issues of concept formation were already truncated, and it means that the German philosophers were the most sophisticated in investigating the issues of cognition.

Lacking an evolutionary view of the universe, mind as an emergent property of matter was not on the table—or am I forgetting something? Hence it could easily seem, given the complex of information circulating at the time, that the materialist conception of mind—e.g. in La Mettrie—was grossly inadequate, and that one could explain neither concepts nor mind/spirit in the reductionist terms of contemporaneous materialism, let alone via the anemic subjectivism of empiricism. Hence the a priori existence of spirit might well seem plausible. (What about Spinoza?) This is the world that Hegel entered.

(Written 9 June 2003)

Ontological Stratification and Scientific Method

"In the analysis of economic forms, moreover, neither microscopes nor chemical reagents are of use. The force of abstraction must replace both."
  — Karl Marx, Capital, vol. 1, Preface

For me, the ontological differences among the objects of study (i.e. of the various natural and social sciences) come first, as they determine the methods most appropriate to them. While the spirit of scientific theorizing (scientific idealization, not merely empirical generalization) is the same in all cases, the appropriate methods vary according to the objects of study, as well as the nature of any lawlike properties discovered. The shallow scientism of the empiricist sociology I had to suffer some decades back is based on statistical number crunching and trivial hypothesis testing, but obscures the fundamental characteristics of social structure that need to be studied. The unity of science does not consist in an obsession with quantification to the exclusion of other considerations, nor in ignoring the qualitative differences among the objects of study. The world picture is unified with the recognition of internal differentiation and stratification. This is hardly a new thought; anyone studying Marxism should know it, which suggests how little people interested in critical theory nowadays care about Marxism. This view can be found in a number of places, not just in dialectical materialism. There is Roy Wood Sellars' critical realism, for example (See Philosophy for the Future, 1949), not to mention Roy Bhaskar's critical realism (whose followers act is if his ideas are brand new, whereas what's new primarily are his neologisms.)

(Written 12 April 2003)

The Unity and Differentiation of the Sciences

"My" distinction between the natural and social sciences is not dualistic in the manner established by the geisteswissenschaften. I am not interested in dividing them off from one another, each to be shuffled off into a separate realm. That is actually what is wrong with the compartmentalization that creates a separate philosophy of the subject apart from physical science. The trick here is to recognize both the unity of the world and its differentiation at the same time. Recalling what was happening in the last third of the 19th century with the dominance of scientism, Social Darwinism, etc., one can understand the battle that Engels fought, albeit imperfectly, to restore qualitative specificity to the domain of social investigation without severing it entirely from the physical world. Later on, other people came up with ideas about emergent properties, integrative levels, etc. So perhaps one should say the proper world-picture is neither dualistic nor excessively monistic.

So I would agree not to propose a rigid ontological duality, especially the sort that developed in the 19th century I believe with Dilthey and afterwards.

The reservations of one of my interlocutors were based, it seems, on the following line of argument:

(1) If I claim that ontology precedes epistemology (that the character of the object of science determines the method) . . .

(2) . . . then I am making a priori judgments about the objects of study that rigidify the appropriate methods in advance, thus not subjecting my a priori judgments to any further testing or critique.

(3) The priorities should be reversed—epistemology comes first, ontology second—which retains a non-dogmatic spirit of enquiry that leaves open the determinations of the character of the "natural" and "social" dimensions of the world and their delimitations.

I certainly agree with these concerns. I do not claim that we should be rigid about first defining the ontology and then strictly dictating what consequences follow. Nor would I say that quantitative statistical methods are irrelevant in social research. I do not believe that (2) [above] follows from (1). We can keep our ontological delimitations flexible as long as we realize that the distinctions matter.

(Written April 13, 2003)

Compiled & edited for this web page 13 December 2003.
© 2003 Ralph Dumain. All rights reserved.

Positivism vs Life Philosophy (Lebensphilosophie) Study Guide

100 Years of C.L.R. James

2003 Reading Review

Home Page | Site Map | What's New | Coming Attractions | Book News
Bibliography | Mini-Bibliographies | Study Guides | Special Sections
My Writings | Other Authors' Texts | Philosophical Quotations
Blogs | Images & Sounds | External Links

CONTACT Ralph Dumain

Uploaded 13 December 2003

©2003-2022 Ralph Dumain