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by Igor Naletov

We have been concerned so far with special sciences or, more precisely, with those forms of concreteness which are characteristic of empirical and theoretical investigations in physics, biology, psychology, etc. What about the concreteness of philosophical categories themselves? This is, in fact, the essence of the matter, the more so as the very idea of concreteness of such laws and categories of dialectics as the transformation of quantitative into qualitative changes, the unity and struggle of opposites, the negation of negation, necessity and chance, cause and effect seem to be quite paradoxical at first sight.

The question of the concreteness of philosophical knowledge (laws, categories, principles) evidently calls for special investigation which goes beyond the scope of this work. Since our object is to compare the basic principles of the philosophy of science and dialectical materialism, we feel justified in confining our analysis to just a few laws and categories.

It is not at all accidental that Lenin has taken special note of this idea in Hegel’s Lectures on the History of Philosophy: “If the truth is abstract it must be untrue. Healthy human reason goes out towards what is concrete... Philosophy is what is most antagonistic to abstraction, it leads back to the concrete...” [1] To Lenin, this statement has evidently carried profound meaning, as is evidenced not only from his philosophical ideas, but also from numerous economic and political works. As regards Lenin’s philosophical works proper, he has always placed special emphasis on the principle of concreteness and pursued it with remarkable consistency. This particular aspect of his philosophical heritage deserves special attention. Do we always realise, for instance, the profoundness of his well-known statement that the contrast between matter and mind is meaningful within the framework of the fundamental question of philosophy only?

The assertion of positivist philosophy that the concepts of matter and consciousness are metaphysical and can be replaced by more “concrete” notions of special sciences, such as physics, mechanics, biology, psychophysiology, neuropsychology and others results, in the final analysis, from its inability to understand the philosophical concreteness of the concepts of matter and consciousness. At all stages of the evolution of positivism its adherents have persisted in declaring the concept of matter to be a fruitless abstraction, an absolute and useless symbol, on the grounds that all materials needed for scientific investigation are given to man in the senses, in individual experience. Hence, there is no need, according to positivism, to project something transcendental, something that extends beyond the limits of sensual perceptions. It is significant that the concept of matter or of the physical world proves to be a useless abstraction within the framework of positivist philosophy only. Recognising formally the existence of this world, none of the adherents of this philosophy goes beyond the abstract, metaphysical understanding of matter. Setting up an impassable barrier between matter and the cognising subject, positivism, naturally, is unable to provide a concrete solution to the problem of the relationship between the material world and the world of human consciousness. In this field positivism did not go beyond Kant, and Hegel’s assessment of Kant’s philosophy is fully applicable to positivist views: "The essential inadequacy of the standpoint at which philosophy halts consists in this, that it clings to the abstract Thing-in-itself as an ultimate determination; it opposes Reflection, or the determinateness and multiplicity of the Properties, to the Thing-in-itself; while in fact the Thing-in-itself essentially has this External Reflection in itself, and determines itself as an entity endowed with its proper determinations, or Properties; whence it is seen that the abstraction of the Thing, which makes it pure Thing-in-itself, is an untrue determination.” [304  1]    

No one denies that matter is given man in his sensations and that we should resort to a very high degree of abstraction in order to oppose mentally matter to consciousness, sensations, perception. Yet such abstraction is inevitable if we want to have a more concrete understanding of their relationship. Positivism makes a stand for the inseparable connection between matter and consciousness knowing, in fact, nothing about what is connected with what. By contrast, Marxist scientific analysis is aimed at creating abstractions in order to obtain a concrete understanding of the real, specific forms of the interconnection of matter, the objective world, with consciousness.

As is evidenced from the above, the concepts of matter and consciousness are only valid within the framework of the fundamental question of philosophy. In order to get a profound understanding of the relationship between matter and consciousness, it is necessary to reveal all the forms of their interaction which is not confined to the reflection of objective reality in our consciousness, but also includes the influence of consciousness on the outer world (to the extent to which the reflection of reality is correct). "Of course,” Lenin writes, "even the antithesis of matter and mind has absolute significance only within the bounds of a very limited field— in this case exclusively within the bounds of the fundamental epistemological problem of what is to be regarded as primary and what as secondary. Beyond these bounds the relative character of this antithesis is indubitable." [305  1]    

The concept of matter is not correlated with the individual forms of the cognition of reality, nor with the concepts of information, code or something else of this kind. It is correlated with the concept of consciousness only. What is more, this correlation has any sense in connection with the problem of the dependence of consciousness on matter and the historical formation of matter and consciousness. The concept of matter which is seemingly extremely abstract as it takes no account of all aspects and properties of things except just one—their existence outside and independent of our mind—is in fact epistemologically concrete as it is meaningful in the context of the fundamental question of philosophy only. Outside these bounds the concept of matter has no independent philosophical meaning though it can be used as a stylistic substitude for some other, special terms (for instance, physicists speak of the density of matter in the Universe). At the same time, no knowledge in general can be concrete without the abstractions of matter and consciousness as the opposite sides of reality if only for the fact that without the solution of this fundamental problem it would be impossible to decide which elements of our knowledge can be regarded as true, objective and independent of man no matter how far our science may advance, and which elements are connected with consciousness in one way or another, and, hence, are subject to testing and verification in the general context of human experience and available scientific data. As we shall try to show later, distinguishing between the objective and the subjective in our knowledge is absolutely essential for making our knowledge concrete.

Consequently, no particular experiment aimed at testing the materialist solution of the fundamental question of philosophy will be of any use if it fails to take into account the epistemological concreteness of the concepts of matter and consciousness. This question can only be solved if we abstract from the interconnection of matter and consciousness. Not many experiments can meet this requirement. Yet if science can provide evidence that consciousness appears as a result of the activity of the brain, that certain functions of consciousness can be exercised by a computer and that nature existed prior to man, this scientific evidence is sufficient to confirm the soundness of the materialist viewpoint. Conversely, should the reasonable beings who assumed the title of Homo sapience choose to destroy the abode of their reason, this act, alas, will evidently be the last argument for materialism.

Throughout its entire history positivism has been denouncing, in one or another form and more or less resolutely, the principle of causality as typically metaphysical. Significantly, Machism and logical positivism rejected this principle and the meaningfulness of the categories “cause” and “effect” on the grounds that they could not be tested empirically, i.e. verified or confirmed. The new generation of positivist philosophers armed with Popper’s principle of falsification hold the same view yet on different grounds, namely, that this principle cannot be falsified. Since, they reason, it is confirmed by all human experience, without any exception, the categories of causality are applicable always and everywhere and therefore turn into commonplace devoid of any analytical, i.e. scientific significance.

Popper does not deny the real scientific value of causal explanations, but presents their logical schema as follows: there is some universal judgement, i.e. a law, and a proposition characterising the “initial conditions” in terms of individual events. From these two premises we infer a supposition regarding another individual event. The concepts of cause and effect are eliminated as unnecessary. Popper rejects completely the “principle of causality” in the general, philosophical sense. For him causality rather has an instrumental meaning as an assertion that any event can be explained in terms of causality, i.e. predicted through deduction, which is the same thing.

Depending on the interpretation of the words “can be” in this assertion, it may prove either an analytical statement (tautology) or a synthetic statement (a statement of reality). If we interpret these words as a logical possibility to construct a causal explanation, this statement is tautological, since for any prediction we can always find a universal proposition and initial conditions so. that it can be easily deduced from them. In some situations, however, the words “can be” are regarded as an indication that the world is governed by strict laws and that every phenomenon is an example of universal regularity or law., In that case the above statement should be regarded as a synthetic one, which is not, however, verifiable. Proceeding from this consideration, Popper concludes: “I shall, therefore, neither adopt nor reject the ‘principle of causality’; I shall be content simply to exclude it, as ‘metaphysical’, from the sphere of science. I shall, however, propose a methodological rule which corresponds so closely to the ’principle of causality’ that the latter might be regarded as its metaphysical version. It is the simple rule that we are not to abandon the search for universal laws and for a coherent theoretical system, nor ever give up our attempts to explain causally any kind of event we can describe.” [2]

Thus causality as something elusive is metaphysically identified with the concept of universal law. The principle of causality is understood in a very trivial manner: it is quite sufficient to know that the phenomenon in interest belongs to a certain class of phenomena in order to draw a conclusion that the effect or, more precisely, the predictable event belongs to just another definite class. Any violation of this necessary relationship indicates that one of the classes has been determined incorrectly and should be either broadened or narrowed. Such a concept of causality is indeed trivial from the methodological viewpoint as it is aimed primarily at bringing every phenomenon in accord with the universal law or, more precisely, with a universal empirical generalisation. As to its objective content, this concept does not postulate anything but the regular sequence or regular concomitance of events belonging to different classes. Oddly enough, such an understanding of causality underlies the entire “logic of scientific discovery”, though it is quite obvious that this methodological scheme rules out in principle the possibility of any discovery of new phenomena which go beyond the limits of the universal law or, at any rate, sets them in opposition to it. The universal law understood as regularity of events is incompatible with any new phenomenon in principle. Inversely, any new phenomenon, i.e. what Kuhn calls an “anomaly” in relation to the existing theory is incompatible with the universal law. Consequently, it is not the principle of causality as such which is metaphysical, but its narrow, instrumentalist interpretation by Popper. His interpretation in fact eliminates causality from real science and reflects the ideal of Laplatian determinism, since Popper identifies causality with logical dependence, logical necessity. It is only natural, therefore, that such a canonised concept of causality and law has practically no appeal to science, particularly modern science. As we see, Popper’s own errors lead him to the conclusion that the principle of causality is trivial, unscientific and metaphysical. The truth is that his interpretation of the concepts of cause and effect are indeed alien to the spirit of real science.

The scientists, particularly the natural scientists, never understand causality in such a narrow way as to throw doubt upon it each time an exact prediction proves impossible. Such a prediction requires the knowledge not only of the causal dependence, but also of the specific conditions of cognition. The strictly Laplatian ideal of prediction identified by positivists with causality is generally attainable in such sciences as the mechanics of macroscopic objects, astronomy, and loses its sense when we pass to such fields as hydrodynamics and the theory of elasticity.

Despite the universality of the principle of causality, it is by no means simple to establish the true, objective causal relationship separating it from a multitude of intertwined and overlapping events and phenomena. The singling out of causal dependence from other kinds of relations is in itself a difficult problem from the methodological viewpoint. Even if an observer or an experimentalist have good reasons to expect a causal relationship, they have to display sometimes a high degree of ingenuity in order to create appropriate conditions for the identification of causal dependence. Even in those cases when the signs of causality seem to lie on the surface, it proves to be extremely important methodologically to define those abstractions and assumptions which have to be adopted each time the concept of causality is used in scientific cognition. The need for abstractions in cognising causal relationships has been stressed by Lenin: “Hence, the human conception of cause and effect always somewhat simplifies the objective connection of the phenomena of nature, reflecting it only approximately, artificially isolating one or another aspect of a single world process.” [3]

For instance, the kinetic theory of gases explained the chaotic motion of molecules, the distribution of the concentration of molecules in the field of terrestrial attraction, the emission of electrons from heated metal, the viscosity and heat conductivity of gases and other phenomena on the basis of the principle of causality. All these explanations proceeded from the assumption that gas consists of absolutely resilient minute spherical particles, that these particles possess kinetic energy only, that the magnitude of this kinetic energy depends on the absolute temperature of gas only and that such molecules do not collide with one another.

Though such assumptions somewhat distort the objective processes as there are no gases in nature with the above ideal properties, they nevertheless reflect the conditions under which these processes actually take place. Indeed, under the conditions of moderate temperatures and relatively low pressures the distortions allowed for numerous gases do not have any appreciable effect either on their qualitative or quantitative characteristics.

Hence, the explanations and predictions are based not only on the recognition of causal relations, but also on certain assumptions presupposing the exact knowledge of conditions under which the process in interest takes place. These aspects of scientific investigation are closely connected with one another: explanations and predictions are impossible without objectively grounded assumptions, whereas the assumptions themselves have any sense only in the context of the above explanations or predictions. Yet in the philosophical analysis of the principle of causality it is advisable to distinguish these aspects as more or less independent objects of investigation which could be called an explanation, a prediction and a substantiation of assumptions.

The problem of the subtantiation of assumptions in the context of an explanation or a prediction is not infrequently left out of account in philosophical investigations so that the analysis is often confined to the concept of causality and to the solution of various methodological problems arising in natural sciences in connection with explanation and prediction. The study of initial conditions seems a secondary task which is always subordinated to explanation and prediction proper. Yet it is not difficult to show that the exact knowledge of these conditions sometimes turns out to be problem No. 1 which has to be solved before any explanation or prediction is ever attempted. Besides, if an existing law or theory suggests the existence of a certain causal relationship, the search for conditions under which this relationship can materialise becomes quite an independent research problem and calls for serious creative efforts which may lead to important scientific discoveries. Such investigations often give a powerful impetus to the development of experimental facilities, computers, conceptual and mathematical bodies.

An experiment staged by the outstanding Russian physicist, Pyotr Lebedev, was intended, for instance, to prove the existence of light pressure by demonstrating the effect of a light beam on a metal blade, and also to compare the obtained value of this pressure with the value predicted on the basis of Maxwell’s theory. The most difficult part of the experiment (like of the experiment staged later by E.F. Nickols and Philip Hall) consisted in creating the necessary conditions to ensure the fulfilment of the rules of abstraction. There was no special difficulty in observing the rotation of the experimental blade after switching on the source of light. Yet it was just here that an error might slip in, since the blade could be caused to rotate by other factors as well, such as radiometric forces, the forces of gas convection, etc., the more so as they exceeded many times the weak force of light pressure. It took not only the experimentalist’s resourcefulness in developing the appropriate apparatus, but also called for a profound analysis of the nature of convection and radiometric forces. Hence, attempts to prove the existence of causal relations may lead to the discovery of new phenomena, to new interesting and unexpected explanations pertaining to the conditions under which the main investigation is carried out, and, finally, to the improvement of experimental equipment, as the scientist always tries to envisage its response to various side effects.

It may so happen that the forecast of a causal relationship does not come true under the given set of circumstances. Does it mean that we should question the principle of causality in general? Of course, not. In that case we are faced with this alternative: either our prediction of a causal relationship is not correct and the existing correlation is the result of other indirect links (and we must study them), or the causal relationship does exist, but the experiment or the observations give wrong results due to the presence of unknown interfering factors. In both cases the principle of causality leads to new problem and stimulates new discoveries, often quite unexpected.

Hence, the principle of causality not only fulfils the functions of explanation and prediction, but is also of great heuristic importance. To assess correctly the heuristic role of the principle of causality, one should take into account the fact that the scientific discoveries resulting from the evaluation of specific conditions, the revelation of hitherto unheeded factors, the rejection of ungrounded assumptions, etc. are of ten more important than those sought by scientists in their attempts to explain or predict one or another event. It may seem all the more paradoxical as conditions, according to our own assertion, are inessential for the causal dependence to the extent making it possible to disregard them altogether. Yet the dialectics of these two aspects of objective reality consists in that the conditions inessential for a given causal relationship may prove highly essential for another relationship.

One of the main objects of criticism levelled against dialectics by its present-day opponents is the law of the unity and struggle of opposites. According to an ancient and at the same time the latest argument against dialectics, an objective contradiction is incompatible with the logical principle or law of contradiction whereby two opposite statements cannot be true if they relate to the same time and to the same content. Accordingly, an object of reality cannot possess two mutually excluding properties or be in two mutually excluding states in one and the same respect.

It should be noted first of all that the term “dialectical” 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 “in general”, in the abstract sense. Conversely, there are no and cannot be any two absolutely identical phenomena—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: “Cognition is the eternal, endless approximation of thought to the object. The reflection of nature in man’s thought must be understood not ‘lifelessly’, not ‘abstractly’, not devoid of movement, not without contradictions, but in the eternal process of movement, the arising of contradictions and their solution.” [4]

From the positivist viewpoint this statement is nonsensical. Limiting the subject-matter of philosophy to the analysis of existing scientific knowledge, and this mainly in terms of its correspondence with the standards of formal logic, positivism has once and for all defined its stand in relation to contradictions. Contradictions are only possible in thinking and therefore must be removed from our knowledge as their very presence testifies, according to formal logic, to the falsity of at least one of the opposing statements.

Dialectical contradictions in nature and society differ from the so-called logical contradictions. In contrast to formal logic, which understands contradiction as incompatibility of statements, dialectics regards it as conflict of opposing forces or tendencies. Such dialectical contradictions can be exemplified by the phenomenon of class struggle, the relationship between nature and society, etc.

In thinking and cognition, the concepts of dialectical and logical contradictions coincide, i.e. the dialectical contradiction assumes the form of the logical one. It is important, however, that one should distinguish between the role of contradiction in the development of cognition as empirical phenomenon, on the one hand, and the consequences of contradiction for concrete knowledge, i.e. for cognition in the logical sense, on the other. As regards the former, the revelation and resolution of contradictions is the motive force of cognition (this applies, of course, to essential contradictions inherent in the very nature of cognition, but not to the ones resulting from the subjective inability to think correctly). As to the latter, a contradiction in the logical structure of knowledge is always objectionable as either one of the two contradicting propositions within a given system can be used for deducing logically correct statements. Hence, it is not logical contradiction, but the search for the ways to eliminate it that constitutes the source of the development of scientific knowledge.

The logical principle of concrete identity, the identity of opposites was for Marx (and Hegel) the main logical criterion of concreteness in the approach to the objects and phenomena of the objective world. It was this approach, according to Marx, that made the difference between the trivial, uncritical description of phenomena as they appeared to everyone and their theoretical comprehension.

The dual nature of the commodity was by no means Marx’s discovery. Even before Ricardo and Smith, any man in the street knew quite well that a commodity had use value and exchange value or, in other words, that it could satisfy some human need, or be exchanged for another commodity, more necessary at the moment for a given owner (though both commodities were equivalent in terms of money, i.e. their prices were equal). The assertion that the commodity is a carrier of use and exchange values has nothing in common with the theoretical proposition disclosing the nature of value in general. The former is a mere statement of two isolated abstractions in no way connected with each other, whereas the latter proceeds from the understanding of the use value of a commodity as a method or form of the manifestation of its own opposite—the exchange value or, more precisely, simply “value”. This concept represents a transition from the abstract (from two equally abstract notions) to the concrete (the unity of the notions of use value and exchange value).

Consequently, knowledge cannot be sufficiently concrete unless it reveals some general aspects and properties of the objects and phenomena of the objective world: their essence, main contradictions, content, necessity, etc. Yet it is precisely these aspects and properties which constitute the subject-matter of philosophical investigation proper. Therefore, philosophical concreteness is not a contradictio in adjecto, but a profound theoretical concept. As it turns out, the knowledge given us by physics, chemistry, biology, geography and other special sciences should also be concrete from the philosophical viewpoint. Without such “abstract” (in the traditional sense) categories as quantity and quality, chance and necessity, essence and appearance, etc. the concepts of atom and elementary particle, organism and living cell, man and society turn out to be insufficiently concrete.

There is yet another important side to this problem. If we leave out of account the above categories, any scientific knowledge will only be testable within the scope of the links and relations that have already been revealed. In other words, the test will be confined to examining the empirical content of our knowledge, the object or phenomenon in interest being isolated from other objects and phenomena, and to establishing logical links between this empirical content and the theoretical knowledge already available. Hence, the possibility of a comprehensive test of any knowledge for scientific value and authenticity will be ruled out altogether and, consciously or unconsciously, new concepts or theories will be left exposed to eventual criticism. Knowledge which has not passed through the crucible of a philosophical trial is not only vulnerable to critical attacks, but also liable to various distortions and misinterpretations.

Here is an example. Before the establishment of the contradictory nature of light, its complex quantum-mechanical properties, it would have been impossible, as we are fully aware now, to adopt either the wave or the corpuscular theory. Each of these theories could have been tested by corresponding experiments, yet these experiments contradicting one another would only have been regarded by the adherents of the rival theory as a temporary misunderstanding.

The way of abstract identities leads away from, but not towards dialectics. Dialectics unfolds the analysis of concrete, living objective contradictions, whereas eclecticism, being in fact a counterfeit of dialectics, is engaged in the arbitrary combination of any opposites and identities.

No better appears to be the alternative solution to the problem of contradiction offered by the representatives of the Frankfurt School. This solution, in contrast to the one proposed by positivism, is based on the absolutisation of contradiction and negation and on the rejection of any identity whatsoever. The approach of the Frankfurt School which is distinguished by utter disregard for the concreteness of the categories of identity and opposition can be well illustrated by Theodor Adorno’s proposition concerning “non-identity”. According to him, identity is the enemy of all that is factual, single, particular and, strange as it may seem, concrete. Concreteness, as it turns out, can only be saved through “non-identity” [5]. The trouble, however, is that identity itself in Adorno’s interpretation loses concreteness and turns into something lifeless, static and absolute. Yet the identical, as has been pointed out by Hegel, includes the necessary seed of distinction, discord (Unterschied). Already in his Phenomenology of Spirit Hegel came out against the understanding of negation as activity consisting only in refuting, nullifying the attained result. In the preface to that book Hegel calls true that thinking which emerges in the process of development as a definite negative and therefore as some positive content. Adorno’s “negative”, by contrast, remains abstract and lopsided, pathetically inferior to Hegel’s profound concept— though, according to good Adorno, Hegel has failed to rise to the required level of thinking. Adorno interprets Marx in a similar manner, making special effort to find in his works everything related to the “negative” or “negation” and counterpose it to the “positive” or “negation of the negation”. In point of fact, the only difference between Marx and Hegel in the interpretation of “identity” and “distinction”, “positive” and “negative”, “assertion” and “negation” is that Marx had placed all these categories on a materialistic basis. Freed from speculativeness and abstractness, they have acquired new forms of concreteness and preserved at the same time their interdependence disclosed by Hegel who has correlated each pair and regarded it as an indissoluble unity. “The creator of negativist logic which is full of contradictions,” writes Soviet scientist I.S. Narsky about Adorno, “manipulates, like Proudhon, static antitheses, such as society and nature, democracy and technocracy, history and theory, criticism and apology, process and system, action and cognition, practice and reflection, humanism and scientism, discarding, though, almost any one of these alternatives just as easily or turning them into arbitrarily interpreted symbols... His method is anti-dialectical, dialectics with Adorno ceases to be dialectics and turns into the metaphysics of the rigid models of non-identity.” [6]

It stands to reason that the exposure of trivial contradictions can little contribute to scientific investigation except by bringing in a few odd empirical details. Yet even these meagre scraps of knowledge reveal their utter uselessness when it comes to moulding them into a single concept. Just imagine for a moment a toy factory run by an eclectic in accordance with his theoretical notions. The toyshops would be cram-full of little monsters having an ear instead of an eye and an eye instead of an ear, a kneecap on the shoulder, a frying-pan instead of a hat, gloves instead of shoes, trousers instead of a shirt, etc. This comparison, though, perhaps, a little too blunt, is by no means far-fetched.

Of course, from the viewpoint of logic an ear and an eye, a shoulder and a knee-cap are opposites in a way, just like the right and the left eye, the right and the left foot, hand, etc. Each object is the opposite of another object in some abstract sense. It would be absurd to engage in studying such contradictions without specifying the concrete relationship within which such contradictions are considered.

In his critical analysis of Dühring’s book, Engels wrote that his opponent’s views on the question of contradiction “can be summed up in the statement that contradiction=absurdity, and therefore cannot occur in the real world. People who in other respects show a fair degree of common sense may regard this statement as having the same self-evident validity as the statement that a straight line cannot be a curve and a curve cannot be straight. But, regardless of all protests made by common sense, the differential calculus under certain circumstances [italics supplied] nevertheless equates straight lines and curves, and thus obtains results which common sense, insisting on the absurdity of straight lines being identical with curves, can never attain.” [7]

Referring to the universality of the laws of dialectics, its opponents allege that dialectics can prove or confirm anything in the world, it can be used to justify any political act. Since the laws of dialectics are applicable everywhere and at all times, they cannot be of any help in discovering something new.

Herbert Feigl who honestly confesses to having not read a single Soviet publication in philosophy over the past few years, regards the laws of dialectics as hackneyed banalities. “The vague .principles of dialectics”, according to Feigl, are handicapped by Hegelian logic consisting, in fact, of illogicalities. They are scientifically useless both in terms of ontology and methodology. Dialectics, in Feigl’s opinion, adds nothing new to the special solution of the mind-body problem or the problem of the corpuscular-wave dualism. All that is needed to solve such problems is “the good old two-valued logic” plus the required natural scientific data. “The slogan about the transition of quantity into quality,” writes Feigl, “is just as vague as the triad, or the ‘negation of the negation’.” [8]

No Marxist philosopher would deny the universality of the categories of dialectics. The crucial point is the understanding of this universality. From the Marxist viewpoint, the universality of categories and laws consists in that they reflect the processes and phenomena in nature, society and cognition. It does not mean, however, that the laws of dialectics are applicable to any situation regardless of conditions and that they exist outside and independent of the corresponding phenomena and processes to which they relate. The law of the interdependence of quantitative and qualitative changes is very concrete for all its universality and abstractness (in the empirical sense). It does not apply to any quantity or quality, but only to the quantity of a given quality.

It means that not any, but only strictly definite quantitative and qualitative changes can be linked in a scientific context.

The concrete unity of the quantity and quality of a given object is known to be reflected in the dialectical category of measure which lays special emphasis on the concreteness of this unity. The quantitative changes of a given quality are restricted within the limits of a given measure beyond which the unity under consideration breaks up and is replaced by another unity having its own measure.

The concreteness of quantity and quality accounts for the relativeness of the distinction between quantitative and qualitative changes. It is only in relation to a given quality that one can speak of certain quantitative changes. Outside the bounds of the measure such a counterposition becomes senseless. The number of the electrons on the outermost shell of the atom is directly related to its qualitative characteristics, to the quality as a whole. Yet this number does not affect the aggregate state of the matter which includes the electrons under consideration. We do not mention here the trivial approach to this dialectical category exemplified, for instance, by an attempt to link daylight illumination with the number of stars in the sky.

Proceeding from the abstract logical pattern advocated by the opponents of dialectics, we might say that any quantitative change in general involves one or another qualitative alteration. Take, for instance, the budding of leaves on a tree. The appearance of a new leaf on a branch is in itself a qualitative change—it involves the emergence of a bud, the concentration of chlorophyll, the absorption of light, etc. One might even speak of many qualitative changes. Similarly, the evaporation of several molecules of water from its surface which brings about but a minor quantitative change in the volume of liquid in a vessel is connected with such a qualitative change as the process of evaporation. The same quantity of molecules could have been removed from the same volume by means of, for instance, a sprayer.

Can we indeed speak of quantitative and qualitative changes in this latter case? If we do, we shall make a common, even a typical mistake which leads sometimes to serious misunderstandings. Of course, if we speak in an abstract manner, the elimination of a certain amount of molecules is a quantitative process. But in relation to what? This is just the point, since the principle of concreteness calls for a very definite “reference system” without which any scientific analysis turns into nonsense. Whereas the aggregate state of liquid in a vessel does not change (the qualitative state of water remains invariable), molecules pass into a new state, acquire a new quality, the humidity of ambient air increases, etc., i.e. qualitative changes do take place —but in a different system of relations. The law of the interdependence of quantitative and qualitative changes would indeed turn into commonplace if we did not define in each particular case the relationship between a certain quantity and a certain quality, i.e. did not determine the system the development of which is the object of our analysis.

Taking exception to the law of the transformation of quantitative into qualitative changes, Herman Wetter writes that if the new quality were of a higher order, it would be bound to have something which cannot be explained in terms of the laws of the lower order. That means that the effect would be bigger in some respect than the cause or, to put it another way, it would have no corresponding cause, at least with regard to the increment. Consequently, according to Wetter, the law of the transformation of quantitative into qualitative changes does not explain anything, it merely describes the transition from the old quality to a new one.

As has been pointed out above, the laws of dialectics, though universal by nature, are not confirmable under any arbitrary set of conditions. They are operative within quite definite epistemological limits and become senseless beyond them. In other words, they can be falsified in principle, if we come across a sufficiently large body of contradicting facts. The absurd contentions that the categories and laws of materialist dialectics are trivial and unscientific derive from sheer ignorance. Such contentions are based on the subjective interpretation of dialectics and have nothing to do with its true nature. In most contemporary concepts of Western philosophers claiming to carry on the dialectical tradition, dialectics is replaced by eclecticism, the semblance of dialectics.

To sum up. Philosophical knowledge represents all forms of scientific concreteness: empirical, theoretical and epistemological. It can be confirmed experimentally, given conditions for appropriate abstraction, and it can be falsified outside the limits of the objective field. Philosophical knowledge is theoretically concrete in the sense that it rests on the theoretical foundation of modern science, formulates its laws and provides answers to philosophical questions prompted by the development of science itself. Finally, philosophical knowledge is concrete from the epistemological viewpoint in the sense that each dialectical category and law is based on and relevant to the entire system of philosophical knowledge in terms of its logic and history.


[1]  V. I. Lenin, “Conspectus of Hegel’s Book Lectures on the History of Philosophy”, op. cit., p. 245. [—> main text]

[2]  Karl R. Popper, The Logic of Scientific Discovery, Basic Books, Inc., New York, 1959, p. 61. [—> main text]

[3]  V. I. Lenin, “Materialism and Empirio-Criticism”, op. cit., p. 156. [—> main text]

[4]  V. I. Lenin, “Conspectus of Hegel’s Book The Science of Logic”, op, cit., p. 195. [—> main text]

[5]  See Theodor W. Adorno, Negative Dialektik, Suhrkamp Verlag, Frankfurt am Main, 1966, S. 138. [—> main text]

[6]  I. S. Narsky, “The Problem of Negation and the Negative Dialectics of T. Adorno”, Filosofskiye nauki, No. 3, 1973, p. 77. [—> main text]

[7]  Frederick Engels, Anti-Dühring, Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1975, p. 144. [—> main text]

[8]  Herbert Feigl, “Critique of Dialectical Materialism”, in: Dialogues on the Philosophy of Marxism, Ed. by J. Somerville and H. L. Parsons, Greenwood Press, Westport, Connecticut, 1974, p. 114. [—> main text]

Contents of
Alternatives to

SOURCE: Naletov, Igor [Naletov, I. Z. (Igor´ Zinov´evich)]; translated from the Russian by Vladimir Stankevich. Alternatives to Positivism. Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1984. 470 pp.

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