Letters to the Editor:
Wartofsky, Mussachia, Et Al

On Philosopher‑Scientist Teamwork

Maybe my ironies masked the point, or maybe Talkington missed it in his review of my "Sin, Science and Society" paper (S&N #4, pp 79‑80). I wouldn't want the contemporary philosophy of science community to have much to say about science, science policy or research, because I think they would say mostly wrong things; and this on the grounds that they have very little relation to either the practice of science or to the social uses of science. The refinements of methodological critique and of historical reconstruction are very important, but not to the point I was talking about.

I also don't think Lenin solved the problem; and Soviet practice until quite recently has been a disaster in this area. It was Mitin and dogmatists of his sort who creamed the Soviet scientific establishment, and were almost universally despised by the working scientists, dialectical materialists among them included. So which philosophers? Soviet philosophy of science of the last period has become quite sophisticated, less dominated by the Apparatchiki, but is little known in this country. What its critical or guiding role for scientific practice is I don't know; but that is because, I suspect, it doesn't pretend to assume one.

I wouldn't argue that philosophers should not have a role in the clarification and critique of scientific practice, in general, because I don't think this is a general question. What is general is that philosophy should have a role in science—a position I am quite clearly associated with in much of my published work: but not any old philosophy, and certainly not the pseudo‑philosophy which characterized the Stalin period and the Lysenko disaster. A "guiding" role would be, to my mind, much too strong, and also dangerous. Platonic philosopher‑kings are to be dethroned wherever they arise. They are autocrats. Science has to become philosophical—and historically has been, in its deepest moments. But no philosophical vanguard of the scientific proletariat, please. Critical collaborators, yes; but modest ones, willing to learn from the practice of scientists and the social practices of a society what science is and what science needs. Where Lenin spoke of a partnership—with which I agree—that's fine. Where a senior partner decides policy, I disagree.

Talkington makes, I think, an elementary error in misinterpreting what I described as a "slight ripple in the pond"—which is in fact, the case for the philosophy of science I was talking about concretely—for a normative argument that philosophers in general should be "sideline critics" (his words, not mine.) At present, philosophically‑minded scientists and scientifically‑minded philosophers are beginning to make a bigger ripple—e.g. in current debates in biology (about genetics, evolutionary theory. sociobiology) and in some of the social sciences. That's all to the good. But it is a beginning only. In any case, I prefer a small ripple, to a big splash, if the splash comes from dumping philosophical garbage into the pond of science.

I must say that among working scientists in the physical sciences (including Marxists) the "potential value of the dialectical materialist mode of thought" remains a vague promise. because the heuristics of the mode of thought count for very little unless they can be interpreted specifically and in detail—and they haven't been in a very long time. I am all for following through on this, but it will require an internal critique of older and inadequate versions of dialectics in science which badly need to be discarded or "aufgehoben". Appeals to the classics don't bake any scientific or philosophical bread.

Marx W. Wartofsky
Dept of Philosophy
Boston University

My criticism of the Wartofsky paper (S&N #4), was intended to be concrete and based on the internal evidence of the paper itself, which seemed to be written from the viewpoint of a sideline critic rather than that of a philosopher working in partnership with scientists. Since Wartofsky agrees with Lenin on the need for such a partnership, his paper would have been more constructive if, along with his perceptive criticism of bourgeois philosophy of science, he had presented also the alternative Marxist approach.

I think that Wartofsky will find Science and Nature in basic agreement with the substance of his arguments. For example, we do not propose in any way that philosophy should have a dominant role. In criticizing his paper, I proposed only that Marxist philosophers can and should "help scientists themselves clarify their working philosophy, that which actually guides scientific practice from day to day." This urgent goal can be achieved only by voluntary cooperation in which the philosopher seeks to grasp the essence of the concrete scientific problem while the scientist seeks to understand how Marxist philosophical principles can help illuminate the same problem. Creative collaboration along this line will help advance both science and philosophy. But we can expect that the process will be neither easy nor peaceful all the time. Better to argue out the issues in the pages of Science and Nature.

Secondly, we all agree that the Stalin period was a disaster, but this must be seen as the result of an arbitrary intervention by the state into the internal affairs of not only science but also philosophy of science (and both may still suffer somewhat in the USSR from the effects of the Stalin distortion). On the other band, our immediate responsibility is more directly concerned with the distorting effects of the system under which we live and practice. Whatever degree of professional freedom we may enjoy under state monopoly capitalism and multi‑national imperialism must not be permitted to delude us concerning the insidious effects of bourgeois philosophy on the scientific enterprise. Problems of both these sorts, concerning the three‑way relations of science, philosophy and society, are open for discussion and debate in Science and Nature.

Lastly, though Lenin has useful things to say, we can agree that he did not solve all our problems. The physical sciences, as Wartofsky suggests, need particularly the articulation of Marxist philosophical principles as they apply to concrete problems. But to see this urgent need only in terms of "an internal critique" of dialectics seems quite one-sided. Equally necessary is the need for analyzing the prevailing positivist/empiricist agnosticism which permeates physics. Personally, I think that J. D. Bernal has pointed the way toward such an analysis:

Positivism is not at root a philosophy derived from physics . . . but it has bitten very deep into physics, especially in Britain and America, where a traditional distrust of all philosophy makes scientists unconsciously an easy prey to the first mystical nonsense that is sold to them. The relativism of Einstein, the indeterminacy of Heisenberg, the complementarity of Bohr, take a positivist form, not for any intrinsically physical reason but because they were conceived by men brought up to have a positivist outlook . . . As it stands, the whole of modern theoretical physics has no coherence: it is full of logical inconsistencies and circular arguments. [Science in History, MIT Press 1971, p. 861.]

That's my opinion. And, of course, it's subject to rebuttal in the pages of Science and Nature.

Our primary editorial purpose is to demonstrate that the principles of dialectical and historical materialism provide the most useful philosophical framework for the cognitive problems of the practicing scientist. And this is not a "vague promise": see the excellent statement by Nobelist Nikolai N. Semyenov, "On Intuition Versus Dialectical Logic" (S&N #1). We believe that our pedagogical purpose is often best served by publishing side by side the opposing views and critical comments of Marxists who disagree on how Marxism applies to scientific problems. An instructive example is the continuing discussion of causality in quantum mechanics (S&N #3, #4 and this issue). There are many more such issues in biology, physics and mathematics which need the same kind of ventilation.

Lester Talkington
Tappan, New York

The Dialectics of Dialectical Logic

Thanks for the material you sent. Your journal looks quite interesting, and I wish to subscribe, starting with the 3 back issues.

I appreciate the opportunity to comment on your Bibliographic Brief [S&N No. 4] of my article on contradiction in dialectical materialism [Sci & Soc 41: 257; 1977]. My intent was to show that real dialectics and their representation in thought are not incompatible with classical logic, and that their presentation in strict Hegelian terms is unnecessarily obscure and even misleading. For the record, I do maintain that nature and that part of nature we call the mind, and also society, are dialectical. All the essential characteristics are there: the unity and struggle of opposites, qualitative transformations, etc. The contention is over the compatibility of classical logic and dialectics, and the worthiness of a Hegelian logic (or of a separate dialectical logic at all).

To restate the crux of my position: a formal logic per se is an abstract system, rather like a game, and need not have any relation to either natural thought or nature. Formal logics are non‑contextual, so let's forget about them for the time being. We are concerned here with natural logic, the logic implicit in natural thought, and its ability to represent the fundamental, dynamic patterns of the natural world. Natural logics are contextual, and I would suggest that any dialectical process can be described in terms that are compatible with classical logic taken contextually, i.e., the rules of classical logic applied to the particular dialectical context (for example, discussions of dialectics are, for the most part, consistent with classical logic). Some will object that doing so will distort dialectics into a nondialectical form, but this is not inevitable—if I am correct in contending that the essential characteristics of dialectical processes are not incompatible with a classically consistent representation (description).

That strict Hegelian dialectical logic and classical logic (as man‑made representational systems) are incompatible, is not the point here. The question is what framework most lucidly describes (or captures) the characteristics of actual dialectical processes. Every concrete example I have ever seen purporting the incompatibility of classical logic and dialectics has misrepresented and misapplied the former. (Several such examples originating with Hegel, Marx, et al. are discussed in my Science and Society paper.) We can argue all day in the abstract (because we're speaking different languages), but can any defender of Hegelian dialectics come forward with a concrete example, perhaps from the natural sciences, of a dialectical process that cannot be described within a classically consistent framework?

Concerning the accusation that I am a bourgeois philosopher, I believe as a Marxist that "individual" consciousness is social in nature, and that, being a philosopher in a bourgeois society, my philosophical consciousness is bound to have socially and historically delimited constraints. Until the day we are born and raised in a mature socialist world, we are all "bourgeois philosophers". In the meantime, we might restrict our use of the term to those ideologues who push a clear pro‑capitalist, anti‑Marxist line.

Michael Mark Mussachia
180 Calle Cuervo
San Clemente, CA 92672

We welcome Mussachia as a subscriber and look forward to more dialog with him on the philosophical problems of science. We find some definite areas of agreement in his letter. For example, when Mussachia affirms that the "part of nature we call the mind" is dialectical, and when he defines "natural logic" in terms of "natural thought, and its ability to represent the fundamental, dynamic patterns of the natural world", it seems that only differences of terminology separate him from the Marxist concept of dialectical logic. We can further agree with Mussachia's central argument that the description of a dialectical process must be "compatible" or "consistent" with traditional logic; scientific discourse demands logical construction of descriptive statements.

But Mussachia's discussion stops short; it fails to deal with some essential aspects of natural thought. We must ask whether natural thought consists exclusively of descriptive statements? Is not Mussachia's account incomplete since he fails to discuss those creative thought processes which, it is widely agreed, cannot be explained in terms of classical, formal logic? How does Mussachia propose to account for the origin and development of new scientific concepts and hypotheses? Karl Marx, that incorrigible dialectician, has shown how a different kind of logic is required for thought processes at the inquiry stage (before descriptive presentation is even possible). Discussing his own use of the dialectical method, Marx wrote that

the method of presentation must differ from that of inquiry. The latter has to appropriate the material in detail, to analyse its different forms of development, to trace out their inner connexion. Only after this work is done, can the actual movement be adequately described. If this is done successfully, if the life of the subject‑matter is ideally reflected as in a mirror, then it may appear as if we had before us a mere a priori construction. [Capital, N.Y. 1967. i, 19 (preface to 2nd German edition).]

Thus Marx explains why the usual description of scientific results makes it appear that scientific thought proceeds according to the laws of classical logic, though the actual thought processes develop dialectically (whether or not the scientist has ever heard of dialectics as the natural mode of investigative thought). Engels and Lenin dealt at much greater length with the special role that dialectical. logic plays in the conceptualization processes of scientific research; the interested reader may turn to their works to learn more about what is missing from Mussachia's account of natural thought (see Basic Bookshelf list this issue).

We must also address the central question posed by Mussachia: "what framework most lucidly describes (or captures) the characteristics of actual dialectical processes?" Agreeing already that any description must consist of logically consistent statements, the answer is simply that the framework of the so‑called "laws of thought" based on classical or formal logic are necessary but not at all sufficient for the purpose. Here, Marx provides an excellent "concrete example" in Capital itself, where the dialectical mode of inquiry is forever shining through his logically constructed statements describing the results obtained. "To Marx," says Robert S. Cohen, "exposition and articulation, when carefully accomplished, showed the movement of thought, a conceptual dynamic." [Dict. Sci. Biog. xv, 411.]

Finally, there is the matter of name‑calling. I objected to Mussachia characterizing as "Papists of the Left" those like myself who find dialectical. materialism a useful philosophy. He objects to my characterizing as "bourgeois prejudice" his attacks on dialetical materialism. I agree that we should drop all such labels and work together toward rooting out bourgeois elements within Marxist philosophy, learning to speak the same language, and moving the world toward mature socialism.

Lester Talkington

In Defense of History

I enjoyed the item on Popper in which you saw fit to invoke my authority [S&N No. 4 p 2] and agree with it wholeheartedly. It seems to me that his resistance to scientific analysis of historical subjects has done great harm to both historical science and philosophy of history.

Arthur L. Caplan
Associate for the Humanities
The Hastings Center
Hastings‑on‑Hudson, N.Y.

Sociobiology Deja Vu!

Here is a nice quote from Lenin on sociobiology. Note that even back in 1906 the same terminology was used:

The author [Bogdanov] begins . . . by refuting the "eclectic socio‑biological attempts of Lange, Ferri, Woltmann and many others" . . . Can anyone imagine anything more sterile, lifeless and scholastic than this [Bogdanov's] string of biological and energeticist terms that contribute nothing and can contribute nothing in the sphere of the social sciences? . . . meaningless terms which seem to lend "profundity" to the questions but which in no way differ from the eclectic biologico‑sociological attempts of Lange & Co.! . . . all he is doing is to reclothe the results already obtained . . . in a biological and energeticist terminology. The whole attempt is worthless from beginning to end, for the concepts "selection", "assimilation and dissimilation" of energy, the energetic balance, and so forth are, when applied to the sciences, but empty phrases. In fact, an inquiry into social phenomena and an elucidation of the method of the social sciences cannot be undertaken with the aid of these concepts. [Materialism and Empirio‑Criticism, N.Y. 1970, pp. 339‑340.]

Val Dusek
Dept of Philosophy
Univ. of New Hampshire

PS: With respect to the conflict over "real" contradictions in nature, see the pamphlet by G. von Wright, Time, Change, and Contradiction (Cambridge Univ. Press 1969). One of the world's most eminent logicians argues here for the choice: either real contradictions, or totally discrete, atomistic time. V.D.

On Feminist Critiques of Science

Elizabeth Fee has presented a very constructive analysis, grounded in the realities of our time. She clearly makes a good case for the "feminist critique as a tool for seeing what it might mean in practice to liberate science from the inherited habits of thought inscribed by the previous separation of human experience into mutually contradictory realms" . . . ["Is There a Feminist Science?" [S&N No. 4].

A good point was made by Fee when she notes that scientists today are salaried workers in "big science." As a matter of fact, engineers and scientists have a long history as mercenaries serving feudal lords and military empires, and this pattern has now extended to the present era, dominated by the large industrial corporation. In the early days of modern science, objectivity and disinterestedness were a part of the self‑protective ideology of small‑scale science. Scientists, whether they know it or not. have now evolved beyond this idealistic "objectivity" and must seek personal integrity in ethical and political commitment.

Norma Undershaft
445 S. Kensington Ave.
LaGrange, Ill. 60525

Science must indeed be considered relative to its historical and social contexts but in principle it is one, unified body of knowledge. It makes sense to pursue the study of scientific socialism but transposing the terms into "socialist science", or now into "feminist science," is not particularly meaningful. Elizabeth Fee ["Is There a Feminist Science?", S&N No. 4] supports the notion of Jean B. Miller that the male psyche, as socially created in the western capitalist world, is peculiarly unable to integrate self‑creative activity with a primary concern for others. What are we to make of such a thesis as a criterion for evaluating the comparative contributions of Rosa Luxemburg and V. I. Lenin to the scientific analysis of imperialism? With all due respect to the need to explore fully the problems of thought and feelings, the "radical feminist view of science" pursued by Ms. Fee is diversionary as it stands, needing much more solid work to make it intellectually convincing.

Robert A. Griffin
Southern Connecticut
State College

EDITOR'S NOTE: What Dr. Fee really advocates can be summarized in the following excerpts from her paper [S&N No. 4, pp. 48‑49]:

The radical feminist view of science is only one of the forms in which the growing popular distrust of scientific institutions and authority is expressed . . . Because science has been presented as an objective force above and beyond society, and because it has been seen as a monolithic power, it may appear that the claim of science to be the arbitrator of truth must be accepted or rejected wholesale.

We need not, however, go so far as to reject the whole human effort to comprehend the world in rational terms, nor the idea that forms of knowledge can be subjected to critical evaluation and empirical testing . . .

The radical feminist critique of science and of objectivity, therefore, needs to be developed in ways which will allow us to identify those aspects of scientific activity and ideology which need to be questioned and rejected, without at the same time abandoning the ideal that we can come to an ever more complete understanding of the natural world through a collective and disciplined process of investigation and discovery.

Marxist Internationalism

I appreciate very much your efforts in publishing an interesting journal. I will try to urge my colleagues in other Japanese universities to subscribe to your journal. Please send me five copies of each issue (Nos. 1 to 4) as well as the bill and subscription forms.

I will urge my colleagues to send you English versions of their papers, but I am afraid that very few Marxist philosophers and social scientists in Japan write their works in European languages.

I am president of the Tokyo Ass'n for Japanese‑Vietnamese Friendship and, in this context, I would like to urge you to send your journal to Institute of Philosophy, Academy of Social Sciences, 27 Tran Xuan Soan, Hanoi, Socialist Republic of Vietnam. If you cannot mail the journal to Hanoi directly, I am ready to forward it there. As Professor at Hiroshima University I have been also strongly engaged in the struggle against nuclear weaponry and for human survival.

Shingo Shibata
Hiroshima University


SOURCE: Letters to the Editor, Science & Nature,  no. 5 (1982), pp. 1-7.


Note: The exchanges above between Wartofsky and Mussachia and Talkington illustrate Talkington's typical ignorance, obtuseness, dogmatism, and Sovietism that dragged down the intellectual level of his unique journal. It is also remarkable how serious philosophers and scientists sympathetic to Marxism were able to tolerate this intellectual sloppiness and insensitivity. —RD


Bibliographic Briefs for Natural Scientists, issue #4

Karl Popper and Creationism

Science and Nature, Table of Contents, issues #1-10 (1978-1989)

Vienna Circle, Karl Popper, Frankfurt School, Marxism, McCarthyism & American Philosophy: Selected Bibliography

Positivism vs Life Philosophy (Lebensphilosophie) Study Guide

Marx and Marxism Web Guide


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