ON THE DIALECTICO-MATERIALIST TYPE OF RATIONALITY

Jindrich Zeleny, Prague

In this paper I wish to present some remarks on what can be called the dialectico-materialist type of scientific rationality.1

First I would like to outline what is meant by "type of scientific rationality".

In every epoch, and therefore also in ours, both theoretical and ordinary thought are historical products, linked not only to each other and to language, but also to actual historically changing forms of human work and life. The term "rationality" is for us an abstraction from the process of human cognitive thinking and conscious action and is meant to grasp the logico-ontological foundations of thought. It applies both to theoretical (i.e. scientific in a broader sense) and to ordinary everyday thought. In spite of the great diversity and varying depth of changes in the development of both theoretical and ordinary thought (and in their interconnection too) I think it possible — just by concentrating upon the logico-ontological foundations of thought — to distinguish some basic or eminent historical types of rationality. A type of rationality can be characterized by applying such joint criteria as, e.g.: What are the basic categories and methods of thought under consideration? What conception of the relationship between theory and practice and between descriptive and evaluative statements has been displayed? In other words, different types of rationality exhibit variations in their implict and/or explicit conception of logico-ontological problems which have several levels and can be roughly classified into a few sections concerning: 1) categories and a more or less elaborated theory of categories; 2)

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predication and a more or less elaborated theory of predication; 3) modes of reasoning and rational argument, i.e., what we could perhaps call — by combining a Hegeian and Fregean term — "Forminhalte der Gedankengefüge"; 4) the problem of truth which includes the fundamental logico-ontological questions concerning the relationship between the logical and the historical, between social forms of praxis and forms of thought, between natural forms and reflecting forms of thought mediated by actual human praxis.

The distinction between different historical types of rationality is not absolute, not relativistic, not without continuity. Historical types of rationality exhibit not only distinctions and differences but include also many important common invariants.

If we limit our view only to scientific rationality, at least three eminent2 types of it can be distinguished in our cultural tradition — the Aristotelian, the Cartesian, and the Marxist-Leninist (the dialectico-materialist) type. This is not to say that these are the only three main rationality types or that they cover the whole history of scientific and theoretical culture. The suggested selection of three eminent types of scientific rationality seems appropriate and fruitful to give relevant comparative material for deepening our insight into the contemporary changes in the logico-ontological foundations of scientific thought.

Focusing now on the question of what main differences there are between the Cartesian and the modern dialectico-materialist type of scientific rationality, we can point out the historization of forms of being and thought as the first main distinctive feature of the latter. While the former may be called ahistorically technical, the latter is historical and practical. However, such general characteristics as "historization" do not tell us much if not qualified and specified. Let us try to do just this — by confronting the dialectico-materialist critique of the Cartesian framework with some other critiques of it, which are rather frequent in the twentieth century.

The most significant specification may perhaps be expressed by saying that the historization of forms of being and thought, and the practical foundation of thought within the dialectico-materialist type of rationality does not deprive cognitive thought of objectivity. On the contrary, it makes cognitive thought more deeply objective3 than has been cognitive thought within the Cartesian framework.

This is the point in which Heidegger’s and the dialectico-materialist critiques of the Cartesian framework principally differ. According to Heidegger, all modern scientific thought that originated in the seventeenth century and developed jointly with technological application in machinery, has proceeded on the basis and within the limits of the Cartesian metaphysical framework. Because the objective scientific thought allegedly is always necessarily alienating and reifying, modern man must feel himself homeless in the world, insofar as his consciousness is moulded by objective scientific thought. Therefore, Heidegger thinks that the only escape from this human alienation and homelessness is to leave the way of scientifically objective thought and pass to what he calls the "different", the "future" thought, which is, in its content and form, a sort of existentially-mythical thinking, the world of which is the inseparable Four of Earth and Heaven, Gods and Mortal Men.4

Hence, Heidegger's attack is directed against all theoretical thought which proceeds in an abstract opposition of subject and object, thought and being, and


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therefore also in a mutually self-supporting polarity of subjectivism and objectivism.

In distinction from Husserl, who regarded physicalist objectivism as the only source of what he called the "crisis of European science", Heidegger, after "the turning", sees the situation as more complicated: "The interconnection and mutual impact of subjectivism and objectivism is here fundamental".5

The Marxist critique of the Cartesian framework agrees with Heidegger in assuming that thinking remaining in unmediated abstract opposition of subject and object, hence in the polarity of subjectivism and objectivism, cannot meet our needs — in spite of many actual and potential successes of abstract technological thought in several branches of technological application. Yet while Heidegger is proposing a regressive solution by generally abandoning the scientifically objective approach, the dialectico-materialist critique of the Cartesian framework criticizes and abandons physicalist objectivism for its not being objective enough and aims at deepening the objectivity of thought.

The mode of thought, the kernel of which is materialist dialectics, is more objective than the previous approaches, mainly because it joins the general conception of the process character of all being with the discovery of the practical basis of thought and humanity. Both are indispensable to the rise of the new mode of scientifically objective thought. In it, the notion of what there actually is turns out to be richer and deeper, not only because objective natural motion is regarded as qualitative variability and development, but also because the process unity of subject and object becomes the target of objective theoretical reflection. Attention to the study of the coincidence of man’s changing world and man’s self-changing is one of the fundamental features of the new mode of thought.6

The new mode of thought overcomes the objectivistic tenets by comprehending that men are at the same time the playwrights and actors of their own drama and that all cognitive thinking is part of this practical life process. Simultaneously, the new mode of thought is fundamentally critical of all kinds of subjectivistic tenets which, in one way or another, deny the possibility of objectively true thinking, i.e., of grasping by reflective thought — to an increasing extent — the very nature of what is actually going on in nature and in society. Subjectivism hinders actual human emancipation by cultivating illusions which idealistically distort man’s intellectual and practical self-determination, and, therefore, expose man to unmastered dependencies upon unknown objective factors of natural and social reality.

The new mode of objective thought is open to further development. The intellectual reproduction (and partly pre-production) of what is going on can never be closed or complete, it always develops as the actual reality also does. This implies, for the conception of the dialectico-materialist determinism, that not only the strict mechanistic (Laplacean) form of determinism in its absolutized version is abandoned, but moreover it makes us ready to accept and acknowledge also the new, not yet known, modes of connection and change, as soon as they are proved by experience, that is, not to stick dogmatically only to those forms of determination that have been discovered up to now.7

As to the logico-ontological forms, the new mode of thought has been substantially prepared by their historization consisting in transition from thinking in


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fixed opposites to thinking that is aware of the fact that the polar antagonisms and opposites, thought to be found in nature and society, are only of relative validity, and that their imagined rigidity and absolute validity have been introduced into nature and society by our reflective minds. One of the main preconditions of the new mode of thought is, therefore, making opposites flexible, i.e., the dialectical relativization of opposites. This implies that on the basis of the historicised answer to the question of what "to be" means, also e.g., the categories "thing" and "essence", along with other categories, are modified so as to express aspects of the process which is finally the process of self-production. Accordingly, the notions of proof and explanation together with some forms of predication and of rational argument also change and are modified.8

In a sense, the new mode of thought seems to be closer to Aristotle’s conception of [Greek word] and [Greek word] than to the conception of "the thing" with which modern mathematical natural science started. For Descartes and Newton the natural ens, the natural thing was identified with corpus, subject to the law of inertia. The difference between Descartes’ and Newton’s views on this question — that, e.g., according to Descartes gravity does not belong to the necessary objective properties of every natural thing — is unimportant here, for they are differences within the same basic historical type of rationality. Most significant here is ridding natural things of self-movement,9 or reducing self-movement to motus localis in the same direction and in a straight line. The new mode of thought, with its fundamental conception of things as process and of motion as qualitative change, appears in a sense to go back to Aristotelianism. At the same time, the dialectico-materialist type of rationality, which is historical and practical, is, of course, irretrievably distant from the Aristotelian one, which was contemplative and untechnological. For the new mode of thought comes into being — as far as theoretical forms are concerned — as an outcome of the development of modern science itself, is inconceivable without the intellectual results of several post-Galilean centuries and is prolonging, in critical continuity, this intellectual work. It keeps approaching reality experimentally with the aim of transforming it, and develops this tradition into new forms.

It seems generally advisable not to exaggerate the novelty of the historical types of rationality and not to ignore the continuity while appropriately stressing the discontinuity. The relationship of the dialectico-materialist type of rationality to the Aristotelian and Cartesian ones appears as a historical negation of negation, which means the critical overpassing, but also the critical continuation of the intellectual work done by both.

One of the essential features of the dialectico-materialist type of rationality is that it offers — just through its deeper objectivity conditioned by the double historization mentioned above — an understanding of the world as man’s home and is oriented toward the unification of rationality and morality. The elaboration of this question, however, would exceed the time available for this report.

1 Ideas presented here may be taken as a continuation — on a more general level — of the


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analysis made in my book, The Logic of Marx. Oxford: Blackwell, 1980. [-> main text]

2 Eminent means here: in comparison with others remarkably influential on a large scale and for a long period. [-> main text]

3 In his Philosophical Notebook, Works, vol. 29, 202, Russian Edition, V. I. Lenin mentions the "objectivity of treatment" in the first place among the elements of dialectics. [-> main text]

4 Cf. e.g., M. Heidegger. "Das Ding", in Vorträge und Aufsàtze, Pfullingen, 1954. [-> main text]

5 M. Heidegger, Holzwege, 4th edition, Frankfurt: 1963, 81. [-> main text]

6 For the sake of brevity here and below, the term "new thought" or "the new mode of thought" will always be an abbreviation meaning "the mode of thought, the kernel of which is materialist dialectics". [-> main text]

7 Cf. V. I. Lenin’s comments on philosophical views of some excellent natural scientists that they "conceive the idea of change in a rather restrictive way". Works, vol. 38, Czech edition, 269. [-> main text]

8 For more detail, see J. Zeleny, "Studien uber Dialektik", in Acta Universitatis Carolinae, Monographia LVII, Praha: 1975. [-> main text]

9 We refer here to those Cartesian and Newtonian principal conceptions of motion and the natural thing that entered into the foundations of the rising modern mathematical natural science. In the original works of Descartes and Newton — as is the case with great thinkers — one can find anticipatory germs of other conceptions transcending what was accepted and became widespread in a given period. For the concept of motion and change, cf. e.g., §45 in Descartes’ Principia philosophiae, 3rd part, and Query 30 in Newton’s Optics. [-> main text]


SOURCE: Zeleny, Jindrich. "On the Dialectico-Materialist Type of Rationality", in: Philosophie et Culture: Actes du XVIIe Congrès Mondial de Philosophie / Philosophy and Culture: Proceedings of the XVIIth World Congress of Philosophy, edited by Venant Cauchy (Montréal: Editions Montmorency, 1988), vol. 2, pp. 958-962.


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