Further Studies in a Dying Culture. Christopher Caudwell 1949
Source: Oriole Chapbooks, published c. 1960;
First Published: in 1938 in Studies in a Dying Culture, by Bodley Head;
Transcribed: by Andrej Nj;
Proofed and corrected: by Guy Colvin, November 2005.
IT has been obvious for some time that the world of physics has been deviating farther and farther from the world of perception. The world of physics is a world composed of points and instants and lines, bare of quality. Nothing in it can be felt, smelt, or seen. The world of relativity physics, which combines space and time, seems to take us ever farther from reality as directly experienced. How is this, for physics is built up from the results of perception? The discrepancy between Newton’s and Einstein’s theories was settled in favour of Einstein by perception – the Michelson-Morley experiment, the eclipse experiment and observation of Mercury’s movements. The perceived world therefore is primary and gives status to the various possible self-consistent logical worlds. The perceived world is real. Should it not therefore be possible to express the world of physics in terms of less abstract entities? Could we not make it sound like the real world? That was the goal of Whitehead’s method of Extensive Abstraction.
To take an example, space may be defined as built up of points, and betweenness, a property of these points; and these points may be defined in various ways. The Euclidean method was to define a point as an entity having position but no magnitude, which is obviously a thing never met with in perception. Points may also be defined as the class of ordered triads of real numbers with their signs, which seems an even more remote definition but is, thanks to the development of Cantorian transfinites, one which gives the required properties of continuity to space. Either definition is equally satisfactory for developing a geometry.
Whitehead suggests instead that we should regard points as of the class of ‘sets’ of volumes. For example, the set of concentric spheres converging in a limit gives all the extensive relations of a point. The intensive properties of such a set are not what we might expect from a point, but the intensive relations of such entities do not concern us any more than the interior of the earth concerns the map-maker. Whitehead develops his theory with great logical skill. He treats time in a similar way, using a class of overlapping events to represent the ‘instant’ of older physics. Russell has a method different in detail, but similar in principle.
Whitehead and Russell therefore make the curious assumption that ‘volumes’ or ‘events’ are more gross and perceptually obvious to anyone than points or instants. But a volume is an abstract idea. Our sensory surfaces, with which we gain our knowledge of external reality, are all areas, not volumes, and the nerve endings are dotted about this area, each ending providing a point of sensation, which is a kind of minimum sensory datum. Thus sensation is, like mathematical space, built up of points, lines and areas, and these are built up by experience into volumes. Even a line or area will be explored by the motion of the point nerve-endings over it. Points can therefore claim at least as much concrete existence in perception as volumes. True, physiological points, unlike geometrical points, have magnitude, but it does not feel as if they had, because they constitute a threshold. In any case, perceptual volumes differ as widely from geometrical volumes as sensory from geometrical points.
The perception of abstract volumes in fact require a high order of sophistication. We never perceive abstract volume without considerable education in abstractions. I doubt if anyone even among painters, saw volume, until Cezanne. Neither primitive man, nor the Bushman, nor the average child, perceive volume in the abstract, if their paintings are any clue. It is always stuff, voluminous things, vapour, clouds, mass, that we perceive. Matter is perceptual; volume is not.
But I am even more critical of the assumption that it is only from what we perceive that physical abstractions are built up. On what grounds can this be justified? It is I who experience. My conscious world is filled, not only with things, volumes, points, but with desires, hopes, and memories. Why must these be omitted? Why do those very philosophers such as Kant, Whitehead and Russell, who hold the egoistic components of the conscious field to be primary, demand that physics be built up out of secondary entities?
They do so because the bourgeois philosopher cannot help producing this dualism, and yet he remains unconscious of its source. It is not Berkeley who fights mechanical materialism, but Berkeley who generates it. Condillac does not refute solipsism, he produces it. Hume does not dissolve the causal world of physics in which atoms move according to the foresight of a divine calculator; on the contrary, it is Hume who calls such a parody of reality into existence.
Given in reality is subject and object. No sphere of reality is absolutely self-determined, for if it were it would be unknowable, and therefore would not exist. Between subject and object exists a network of relations, including the conscious field. Since no part of reality is isolated, this conscious field must directly or indirectly have determining links with every part of reality. Since reality is becoming subject to endless change, this conscious field may continually increase in size and still more intricately develop inside reality.
Because it is a relation or sum of relations, the conscious field ‘contains’ (or has as terms) both subject and object, by whose interaction it is generated. Now in the analysis of this field there are four alternatives.
(a) We may sort this bunch of relations, each of which has the form s-o (subject related to object), on the assumption that o depends on s, which is self-determined. We then get a world of phenomena in which everything known is generated by the subject or ‘I’, which is therefore primary. This of course is solipsism.
(b) We may sift through all these relations on the assumption that s depends on o, which is self-determined. We then get a world of phenomena in which everything known is generated by the object or ‘external’ world, which is therefore primary. This is mechanical materialism.
Either point of view lands us in difficulties. If the subject is self-determined, how does it come into existence? If the object is self-determined, how does it come to be known? If all relations (i.e. qualities) are not completely real but only one term is real and the other dependent and secondary, what in fact are the real parts of qualities? Whether we adopt position (a) or (b) we reach the depressing conclusion that no qualities are really real. If we are physicists, and our programme is to confine ourselves to qualities independent of the subject – objective facts – we soon find that the observer is involved in all such qualities as colour, smell, taste. Further research, such as that of relativity physics, shows us that the observer is even involved in such apparently objective qualities as size, shape, mass, motion, time, distance. In all such qualities the observer must be specified. We finally get nothing absolute but mathematical equations, which express only the comparability of these qualities among themselves, and are therefore purely metrical. But mathematical equations are thoughts; they do not exist concretely. We are therefore back at a completely subjective world, having started out in pursuit of a completely objective world.
(b) If we are philosophers, instead of physicists, and our programme is to confine ourselves to qualities independent of the object – the general truths achievable by ‘pure’ thought – we soon find that the object is involved in all such apparently subjective qualities as causality, perception, thought. We finally get nothing absolute but Universals, or concepts such as Whiteness, Truth, and the like. These concepts must however exist independently of the thinker’s brain, for this brain is a particular object. These Universals must one by one be stripped of all the distinctions that arise from particularities, and thus we are left with nothing but the laws of the comparability of Ideas among themselves, in other words, with logic. We get a world in which the sole realities are Ideas or Universals existing independently of the thinker according to logical laws – the idealism of Hegel. But such a world exists independently of the subject. We are therefore back at a completely objective world, having started out in pursuit of a completely subjective one. And we are all ready to start out on another circle.
Like Fabre’s processionary caterpillars on the rim of a jam jar, we can walk that circle again and again, the most dreary captivity of thought. It is one that every philosopher has hitherto been doomed to tread, and now bourgeois physics is treading it too. It is the circle of thought divorced from action: the cage of pure reason.
(c) No attempts to heal the dualism by combining the two positions have been successful. Any such compromises forcibly fly apart. The simplest compromise, that of Hume, Kant, Mach, Avenarius and the neo-realists, is to assert that phenomena (or sensa) are primary, that is, exist by themselves. But it is impossible to carry through such an argument logically, for the phenomena become completely lawless, they are simply a heap of relations, which we can take any way. Imagine a fabric being spun by a loom. If we snip the threads close to the shuttles, the whole weaving process becomes confusion, there is no pattern. How can colour generate size, size beauty, or beauty logic without the basis of the material object or subject? Such a world is not a subject either of discussion or thought, it is a mere chance collocation. The laws of science or thought are then simply convenient methods of enumerating these phenomena. One method is as good as another. There is no question of differing degrees of truth or reality. There is no meaning in the query whether one statement is truer than another. The most that can be claimed is that one is more economical – but it may be economical of paper, breath, thought, or bodily energy, and therefore, in a paper shortage, science might be completely transformed in all its hypotheses. This is not irony; it is a true statement of the Machian-Kantian position. A diagram may illustrate the problem.
The centre disc, A, is the subject. The outer disc, B, is the object. The threads represent the relations between them, or the phenomena. The whole system is the developing Universe. The pattern is all formed by one thread which, running through every hole, weaves the continuous intricate system. By declaring that only phenomena are real, phenomenalism, in all its forms, snips off these threads at the holes, and it is now no longer possible to understand the laws of their spacing, tension, or interweaving.
Not all relations are known and conscious, but by following the endless thread, we come on new relations. We follow its course by means of action to change the object whose results, summarised in scientific laws, express objective reality in terms of thought and are able to predict the course of the thread. Thus phenomenalism (positivism) is anti-scientific, for it gives us no reason to suppose that the Universe of phenomena need be linked by any relations. On the contrary, such relations are declared to be unknowable. The linkage is provided by the material basis of phenomena, and positivism denies the knowability of this matter.
So clear is this difficulty, that positivism is never carried out thoroughly to the end. In Kant’s critical idealism, the object is smuggled in as the unknowable thing-in-itself, and the subject as ‘the categories’. In Mach the unknowable Ding-an-Sich reappears, but the subject is now smuggled in under the form of the ‘most economical laws of thought’, the subject being the judge of economy.
Phenomenalism does not therefore, as was supposed by the critical idealists, the positivists, and the neo-realists, reconcile the dualism of subjectivism or objectivism. It cannot in fact exist for a moment as a system, and either one or both positions have to be smuggled in, so that the system, as it develops, becomes either subjectivism or objectivism, or yet another nominal alternative. If a relation between two terms exists, i.e. if the reality is A plus B, it is possible to take either A, or B, or (and this is the position of phenomenalism) we may take the plus alone, and claim to be reconciling the dualism. But of course we are not. We are forced in practice to join one party or the other.
(d) The final alternative is to omit the plus altogether. How then explain the knowledge by B of A, and the effect shown by A of B’s actions upon A. By something that is neither B nor A, something that is outside reality – i.e. God. This is the philosophy of Descartes and Leibnitz. Spinoza’s system has certain affinities with it, and chiefly differs in its resolute monism. According to such philosophers, A and B function entirely separately, and the congruity of these, functioning – Man knowing the world by thought and the world showing traces of Man’s action on it – is explained by the fact that they were arranged beforehand by God, like elaborate mechanisms, so to run in time. In such a world, if the system is consistently carried out, no qualities are real, for neither subjective (mental) qualities, nor objective (material) qualities are primary. All are generated by God. The only real qualities therefore are the absolute qualities of theology – Omniscience, Omnipotence, Perfect Love, and so forth. Man and the world of colour, hope, and life are simply a shadow-show. But just as the stripping of the subjective element from objective qualities reduces them to mere equations, and the reverse process reduces them to logic, so the elimination of both subjective and objective elements in the qualities of a world, from which the relations have already been excluded, leaves us with nothing but the fact that these elements are produced by an unknown outside term, or ‘First Cause’. Even the theological attributes of God vanish, and we have only the uncaused Cause – another name for the self-determined primary term, which was given in our premises. We simply take out again the empty thing we put in.
Why does thought torment itself with this dualism, selecting every possible combination, yet thrown always back upon itself? And what is the solution? The second question will be answered first. The solution is dialectical materialism. Dialectical materialism goes behind subject and object to the material basis from which their antagonism arose.
(e) A and B, and the relations between them, are all real. The Universe is one, and is as a whole absolutely self-determined, but no part of it is absolutely self-determined. All that is real exists, and all that is real is determined, that is, every part of the Universe is in mutually determining A-B relations with the rest of the Universe. Everything therefore is knowable, for the meaning of knowable is simply this, the possibility of expressing a determining relation between that unknown but knowable thing, and a thing already known. This possibility is given in our premises.
This is our premise: that the Universe is a material unity, and that this is a becoming.
This material unity of becoming cannot be established by thought alone. It is established by thought in unity with practice, by thought emerging from practice and going out into practice. Phenomena are exhibited by the thing-in-itself, and if we can by practice force the thing-in-itself to exhibit phenomena according to our desire, then we know this much about the thing-in-itself – that in certain circumstances it will exhibit certain phenomena.
This is positive knowledge about the thing-in-itself. When we can in practice achieve all possible transformations, we have all possible knowledge about the thing-in-itself. Thus we prove that the universe is a material unity by proving in practice the material basis of all phenomena. This material basis is the thing-in-itself, or the like content of any phenomena exhibited by the thing-in-itself. This proof of material unity is secured by change and is therefore a process of becoming, of differentiation, of the emergence of the new. But it is a proof of unity, of the sameness, likeness, or determinism in all phenomena.
‘The point is to change the world, not to interpret it.’ For it is not possible to interpret the world, except by changing it. Thus the impasse of philosophers is seen to be the impasse of philosophy, and a proof of the impossibility of interpreting the world by thought alone.
A-B do not exist as eternally discrete entities. The Universe is a becoming, a development. The becoming is primary. Reality does not become in time and space, but time and space are aspects of its becoming. Becoming is change. If a thing is changed, it manifests an unlike, a hitherto non-present quality. If change is real, and by our premises it is primary, such a quality does not come into existence either by the gradual decrement of a known quality to nothing, or the gradual increment of a very faint quality to something. Before, it was not, not in any way. Now it is, in every way. There has therefore been a ‘jump’. To deny this is to deny the reality of change, and to suggest that the quality was already there, but so faintly we did not ‘notice it’. But nothing new would then have come into being. There would therefore have been no change, and reality is, by our definition, change.
Although such a quality is new, it is not arbitrary, i.e. absolutely self-determined. By definition, the Universe is one. A quality that is self-determined is, as we saw, unknowable. Therefore each new quality, as it leaps into existence, is determined by all qualities up till then present in the universe.
These qualities do not come into being in time. Time does not flow on while they emerge. The emergence of such qualities is what time is. Time then is an aspect of, or abstraction from, change. Time is new quality as it emerges.
But change does not merely involve the coming into existence of qualities. If we find different qualities lying about, even though they mutually determine each other, we cannot say ‘something has changed’. The qualities may be qualities of different things, and so there will have been no change. There must therefore be something in all qualities that remains the same, even though these qualities are new, otherwise we cannot say, the ‘Universe has changed’. There must be something like in all unlikes. Otherwise we could say, ‘these unlikes are not changed things, they are different things. We have not moved in time, but in space.’ How else can we distinguish motion in time from motion in space, unless time is not something in which things change, but the change itself?
But if the newness of quality, the unlikeness, as it emerges, is time, the oldness, the likeness, is space. Qualities do not arrange themselves homogeneously in space, space is the homogeneity in their qualities. Space is quantity or known quality as it remains unchanged; it is therefore the thing-in-itself, the material unity of the Universe. The Universe is a spatial Universe. Space therefore is an aspect of matter, which is precisely what relativity physics has established by practice. Mass-energy, or the likeness in phenomena, generates space. This is established by practice.
All laws of development, of evolution, of difference, of quality, of aesthetics, of consciousness, are temporal. All laws of conservation, of metrics, of comparability, of universal and unchanging relations, are spatial.
But time and space are only aspects of becoming or change. If we could completely abstract time or space, and divide relations into a set entirely temporal, and a set entirely spatial, we should have two absolutely self-determined spheres, contradicting our premises for each sphere would be unknowable to the other sphere. Therefore no absolute time or space, as premised in Newtonian dynamics, exists. We know both time and space and prove this by their mutual convertibility, by the change of qualities and the reproduction of quantities.
Neither does an absolute spatio-temporal continuum, expressible in purely metrical terms, exist. Such a continuum would after all be purely spatial, for it would be expressible entirely in terms of quantity. It would be self-determined, and independent of all quality. It would therefore be unknowable to quality, and quality would be unknowable to it. Hence Einstein’s relativity physics still contains an illegitimate absolute, which accounts for its being irreconcilable with quantum phenomena.
We take as our premise ‘becoming’, the becoming of a material unity which is generated by our transformation of matter. Becoming, which involves change, which involves like and unlike, involves also development. If we had no development, we would have no ‘becoming’. In development there is a relation between the qualities A, B, C, D, E, which is not only mutually determining, but such that A is in some way contained in B, B in C, C in D, and D in E, but not E in D, D in C, C in B, B in A. This relation, which is technically called ‘transitive but assymetrical’, is involved in the process of becoming, just as are the existence of like and unlike. If becoming were otherwise, if qualities could not all be ranged in this unique order, we should come upon groups of qualities such, for example, that A would be contained in B, and then B in A; or in some other way there would be a ‘break’ or return to a quality in which all the new qualities of the interim no longer appear. But such a return is indistinguishable from the previous situation, and therefore we no longer have a process of becoming, but of unbecoming. Moreover the relation of containing and being-contained is, in development, mutually determining. If therefore the series of qualities (or events) in any way returns on itself in this fashion, the Universe splits in two ‘in time’. We have two or more sets of self-determined qualities, sufficient to themselves, each unknowable and non-existent to the other.
We now see that the determination of qualities as they appear is a relation of a special sort. It is a transitive assymetrical relation known as ‘cause and effect’, in which one quality mutually determines another in a way which may be described as the containing (or sublation) of one quality in another. And all qualities (or events) may, by this means, be ranged in a unique order.
Moreover since no set of qualities is self-determined, we can never have a set of distinguishable qualities such that A alone determines or is contained in B; B alone determines or is contained in C, and so on, otherwise the series A, B, C, would be self-determined and unknowable. This would only be permissible if this series were the Universe. But we do not regard the Universe as composed of one event at a time. We do not believe that, whatever cross-section we took of the mass of qualities that we call the Universe, we would reveal over all the sections one quality only. If we could do that, space would then be separable from time, and we could collect spatial and temporal qualities in self-determined sets, which is contrary to our premises and experience. This cross-section would correspond to a universal or absolute present, which is permitted to Newtonian dynamics but is rightly eliminated from relativity physics.
Since then this series is impermissible, the qualities are always arranged as follows: A and A1 contained in B. B and B1, contained in C. A2 and A3 contained in B1. The only arrangement which will now completely satisfy all our premises is that each new quality, as it emerges, is determined by another quality (subject or antithesis) and the rest of the Universe (object or thesis). This does not apply merely to the qualities of cognition but to all events. In older formulations of causality, it would be stated that each ‘event’ (new quality) has a ‘cause’ (prior quality) and a ‘ground’ (the rest of the Universe). The ground is currently omitted for reasons of economy. For example, we say a bell is the cause of a sound. The air, earth, fixed stars must, however, be as they are in order for the bell to produce the sound. Any general scientific law must contain Universal constants. This is recognised by modern relativity physics (p) and quantum physics (h).
This then leads to the dialectical law of becoming, applicable to all qualities, that is, to all events. Any new quality, as it emerges, is determined by (or ‘contains’) a prior quality (the cause) and the rest of the Universe of qualities. Or, more strictly – since becoming is logically prior to time and space – the two terms determining a quality, (a) the prior quality and (b) all other determining qualities, are to that quality cause and ground, and contain its past time and its surrounding space. All other qualities, not contained in this way, are part of its effect, and contain its future time. It is this relation which enables us to settle causality and time and space, which are never absolute, but relative to a quality.
Logically we express this as follows. Every new quality (B) is the synthesis of an opposition between (A) the cause, prior quality or thesis, and its negation (not-A), or antithesis – the rest of the Universe of qualities existent in relation to A. This dialectical movement does not take place in Time and Space, but Time and Space are abstractions from it.
Thus time not only is an abstraction of the unlikeness in qualities, but is also and therefore the abstraction of the assymetrical relations between them which leave time open and ‘infinite’, and make its process and its arrangement unique, so that we cannot conceive the past in the future, or yesterday to-morrow, or ourselves going backwards in time. To go backwards in time would be to shed those qualities which contain the past, layer after layer, till we reach the past. But all that retraced ‘shed’ past, now no longer being in determining relations with the past-become-present, would cease to exist, and we should not have gone backwards in time. Or to go backwards in time would be to come again on to the qualities of the past which, contained in the present, now also contain the present, so that we revolve in a self-determined circle like a needle stuck in a gramophone record, and can therefore know nothing outside that circle, either past or future. We and the ‘outside’ would be non-existent to each other.
Space is not only an abstraction of the likeness in qualities, but it is also and therefore an abstraction of the symmetrical relations between them which make space closed and finite, and makes its process and its arrangement non-unique, so that we cannot conceive one part of space being different from another part, nor our being unable to retrace our steps over any distance we have traversed, just as we cannot conceive one part of time being like another part, nor of our being able to go back over any portion of time we have traversed. For if the qualities A, B, C, D, and E are assymetrically transitive, so that A is contained in B, B in C, and C in D, and D in A, there is a common relation to all events – in this particular series it is A, for if A is in B, and B is in C, and C is in D, and D is in E, A must be in E. A therefore, is the spatial relation or likeness in development. It is that which develops, just as the unlike elements are the qualities exhibited by it in its development.
Every quality is an event; every event is a quality. Every quality of event is a relation between the subject A, and the object not-A – the rest of the Universe. The simplest quality (or event) is a quantum, in which there is a relation between the electron A and the rest of the Universe not-A. Relations peculiar to A and general to the Universe must therefore both figure in the complete specification of a quantum. A quantum is the most temporal quality we can abstract, just as the interval is the most spatial.
Development does not take place in time and space. Development, becoming, and change, secrete time and space. Time and space are abstractions of it. Memory exhibits the assymetrical transitive relations we have mentioned, so does experience. They are therefore more concrete, nearer to reality and to becoming, than abstract time or space, or even the abstract spatio-temporal continuum. Learning, growth and evolution are not qualities absolutely peculiar to life; they are what we call becoming in its living aspects. Becoming includes both spatial finity and temporal infinity.
We now see that there is a universal dialectic of reality, a mode of movement which is prior to time, space, life and all other events and qualities. This dialectic proceeds as follows. First we have a quality. But a quality is a relation between subject and object, between A, subject, and not-A, the rest of the Universe. But the rest of the Universe not-A, has as its object A, to A it is subject and to it A is the rest of the Universe. The most ‘primitive’ quality we take therefore has two terms and a relation, this relation is involved in ‘becoming’ and ensures that the process of reality is open and ‘infinite’ at both ends.
Our most infinite regress into the past brings us therefore to a quality, to an event. We cannot imagine anything simpler, for such a simplex one-term thing would be absolutely self-determined and could not be known-by-us, since knowing is a mutually determining relation between us and the thing. Any known event is already a quality, is already a subject-object relation. It already involves within itself an antagonism which can generate the means by which it is known.
We may take either term as primary and the other as dependent on it. Since we can take either term as primary, neither can be primary. They may be regarded as simultaneous. But they are not independent terms, for they are connected by a relation. The simplest quality therefore reveals itself as a subject-object relation. But the process of becoming involves that a new quality emerges (or event occurs) not by the increment of something already there, but abruptly, exhibiting something altogether unlike. But it also involves that this new state contains the first old quality in addition to the unlike new. This new state or quality is also analyseable as a two-term relation, and must in turn be succeeded by a new quality.
In other words, the fundamental mode of motion is a state, revealed to contain a thesis and an antithesis each of which is all that is not the other (are opposites), and yet neither are self-determined but are on the contrary, in mutually determining relation (unity of opposites). This is the thesis and antithesis. This state must give place to another, containing both the old quality (A and B) and yet an unlike element C. This is the synthesis. This quality, when it reveals its dualism, no longer reveals the dualism A and B, for this dualism parted between it (relation of subject to rest of Universe) the whole of reality. There is now newness, so therefore the same portioning of reality can no longer reveal the same dualism. The old dualism is therefore ‘reconciled’ in the new synthesis C, which itself however can now be analysed as a two-term relation, the foundation of another movement.
Quantity is the comparison of qualities among themselves. For this to be possible, they must all have a common element of likeness. Yet this likeness, constantly, by the dialectic movement, gives birth to the new. Quantity becomes quality, yet remains quantity. This movement guarantees the determinism of becoming, but not its pre-determinism. The pre-determinism of becoming is a nightmare arising from mechanical materialism.
This movement is not imposed on becoming by thought. It is the only way becoming can really become, conformably to our reason and experience; and it is in our reason because our experience is part of this becoming. This movement contains within it time and space, memory and perception, quality and quantity, all of which entities are abstractions from it. Time is the difference between synthesis and the preceding relation, space is the similarity between them. The dialectic movement of the Universe does not occur in space and time, it gives rise to them. The external world does not impose dialectic on thought, nor does thought impose it on the external world. The relation between subject and object, ego and Universe is itself dialectic. Man, when he attempts to think metaphysically, merely contradicts himself, and meanwhile continues to live and experience reality, dialectically.
Knowledge of reality can only be generated when subject and object attack each other dialectically, each changing the other in the process. The change of the object is man’s transformation of nature. The change of the subject is knowledge. Thus dialectical materialism heals the subject-object dualism, not by denying one (idealism or mechanical materialism) or both (positivism), but by making this antagonism the creative source of knowledge, as an active relation in which both man’s theory and practice are generated.
We thus see that the dualism that torments philosophy, the dualism between the mind and nature, between the subject and object, between the ego and the external world, is the analysis of a quality, or the two-term relation, which is not unique to mind but part of the process of becoming. The same dual relation describes the relation between a quantum and its surroundings. We make the problem needlessly difficult by making our ‘A’ term not any particular human brain but men’s brains in general, and ‘not-A’ not Nature at any particular time but nature throughout the past. The dialectic relation still retains its essential form, but is difficult to analyse fruitfully. It is quite legitimate to do this, but it is simpler to take one human brain in particular, or even a particular set of relations such as perception. The basic dialectic remains the same, and the analysis is now simpler.
The question of which is first, mind or matter, is not therefore a question of which is first, subject or object. Every discernment of a quality (mind, truth, colour, size) is the discernment of a two-term relation between a thing as subject and the rest of the Universe. Mind is the general name for a relation between the human body, as subject, and the rest of the Universe. The human body is a general name for a relation between the rest of the Universe, as subject, and the mind, as object. Mind is a loose name for such relations holding with all such human bodies (or including perhaps the bodies of animals) just as body is a loose name for such relations holding with all minds. Going back in the Universe along the dialectic of qualities we reach by inference a state where no human or animal bodies existed and therefore no minds. It is not strictly accurate to say that therefore the object is prior to the subject any more than it is correct to say the opposite. Object and subject, as exhibited by the mind relation, come into being simultaneously. Human body, mind, and human environment cannot exist separately, they are all parts of the one set. What is prior is the material unity from which they arise as an inner antagonism.
We can say that relations seen by us between qualities in our environment (the arrangement of the cosmos, energy, mass, all the entities of physics), existed before the subject-object relationship implied in mind. We prove this by the transformations which take place independent of our desires. In this sense nature is prior to mind and this is the vital sense for science. These qualities produced, as cause and ground produce effect, the synthesis, or particular subject-object relationship which we call knowing. Nature therefore produced mind. But the nature which produced mind was not nature ‘as seen by us’, for this is importing into it the late subject-object relationship called ‘mind’. It is nature as known by us, that is, as having indirect not direct relations with us. It is nature in determining relation with, but not part of, our contemporary universe. Yet, by sublation, this nature that produced mind is contained in the universe of which the mind relation is now a feature; and that is why it is known to us.
Such a view of reality reconciles the endless dualism of mentalism or objectivism. It is the Universe of dialectical materialism. Unlike previous philosophies it includes all reality; it includes not only the world of physics, but it includes smells, tastes, colours, the touch of a loved hand, hopes, desires, beauties, death and life, truth and error. In such a view all things pass away, for all things must change, and yet nothing passes away, for the past is sublated in the future. Such a world is finite and infinite; it contains both.
All other philosophies split on this rock, that they contain self-determined spheres of qualities, whether this be the continuum of Einstein (for relativity physics is a philosophy) or the world of Ideas of Plato, or the world of sensory data of Berkeley, or the world of ‘values’ of axiologists. But one is then driven into the difficulty that here on the one side one has a self-determined sphere of values, tensors, ideas, or sensa, not in relation with all other nameable qualities on the other side. Therefore one of these two spheres is primary and real, and the other secondary and unreal, or not really real. In the world of physics for instance, smells, colours, hardnesses and shapes are not really real. But the reality of dialectical materialism is competent to include all these qualities as real, for all are in mutually determining relations with each other. There is no closed world of art, physics, morals, or mind. All these worlds are open, and are part of the one causality and process; and of no quality must it be said ‘this is an appearance or an illusion’. Such a world includes as real not only all truths, but all errors, yet error remains opposed to and distinguishable from truth. Such a world includes future and past, but the future remains opposed to and distinguishable from the past.
Moreover, such a world of reality, although it contains all qualities and all experience and has no closed parts, is yet as a whole self-determined. It requires for its movement no unknowable forces, general indeterminism, or mysterious gods. It is free in itself. Precisely because it contains in itself no closed worlds and in it truth and error, being and not-being, mutually determine each other, it is not itself determined. Such a Universe is therefore monistic and pluralistic, just as it is finite and infinite. Its future is not fully predictable, because if the unlikenesses in qualities were predictable, they would not be new. But its future is fully determined, because if the quantities of the future were not like those of the present it would no longer be one Universe of becoming.
In such a Universe, thought is real; it plays a real role; but matter is real. Thought is a relation of matter; but the relation is real; it is not only real but determining. It is real because it is determining. Mind is a determining set of relations between the matter in my body and in the rest of the Universe. It is not all the set, for not all the necessities whereby my body and the rest of the Universe mutually determine each other is known to me, not all my being is conscious being. In so far as these relations are conscious, I am free, for to be free is to have one’s conscious volition determine the relations between the Universe and oneself. The more these relations between my body and the Universe are part of my conscious volition the more I am free. These relations are necessary or determining relations. Freedom is the consciousness of necessity.
This is the theory of dialectical materialism which is itself the outcome of a dialectical movement. A philosophy is generated in society and is therefore the outcome of a social movement. The early mechanical materialism of Descartes and Hobbes, strengthened by Condillac and d’Holbach and accepted as the official methodology of physics, produced its opposite, idealism, and this reached its climax with absolute idealism. Absolute idealism is the apex of bourgeois philosophy, and all succeeding philosophies are either pedestrian recapitulations of earlier philosophies or simple eclecticism. There has been no noteworthy bourgeois philosopher since Hegel. For these two opposing bourgeois philosophies, by their very contradictions, gave rise to their synthesis, dialectical materialism. This was the outcome of classical bourgeois philosophy. It synthesised these elements not by a rigid formalism but by proceeding beyond philosophy, by becoming a sociology and exhibiting how both mechanical materialism and objective idealism were generated, as a social product, in social action upon reality through economic production.
Dialectical materialism was itself an outcome of the contradictions of capitalist economy. When communism and dialectical materialism emerged, all the discoveries of bourgeois science that made such a view of the Universe necessary now began to distort the framework of bourgeois culture, so that it could no longer hold the forces it had generated and bourgeois theory became a brake instead of an aid to action and discovery. Relativity and quantum physics, experimental psychology, evolution and genetics, anthropology, comparative religion, are a few of the disruptive forces in modern culture, which necessarily give rise to semi-dialectical philosophies, to incomplete attempts at synthesising the anarchy of bourgeois thought. The characteristic of the relation of bourgeois theory to practice in science is that the more general the theory, the more it is a hindrance to practice; the mote detailed and particular it is, the less it acts as a distorting force.
Neo-Realism (or neo-Platonism) is, in its various forms, but a late development of phenomenalism or positivism. Concepts of ‘organisation’, entelechy, closed spheres of value and the like, merely represent the veering of positivism towards objective idealism and mentalism. It is easy enough to see that such philosophies do not heal dualism, and do not give any thorough-going reality to all classes of experience. Whitehead, Russell, the Gestalt psychologists, Eddington, Jeans, Broad, and the many others only differ in their capacities for logic, or the narrowness of their aims and content. It is not really possible to sit on the fence in bourgeois dualism. Sooner or later one finds oneself on one side and to-day that side is always idealism, never mechanical materialism. Of course such late bourgeois idealism has never the scope or coherence of Hegelian Idealism, just because all the old confidence has gone. The bourgeois no longer really believes in himself or his theory.
Morgan and Alexander may be bracketed as leaders of a popular philosophy which really found its pioneer in Spencer and its most subtle exponent in Bergson. Impressed by the fact of biological evolution, a concrete proof of the transformability of matter, that life has a dialectical history, such philosophers attempt to forge a dialectical ‘theory of life’ which takes the following form: New unpredictable qualities appear as jumps. Thus, ‘liquidity’ represents one jump, ‘life’ another, ‘mind’ a third, and so forth. These qualities emerge.
Such a philosophy collapses, however, because these qualities, or jumps, are imposed. They do not result from qualities which are two-termed relations, whose terms, by their repulsion, created the synthetic quality that ‘emerges’. Mind is a simple one-term quality without relation; such qualities are not therefore after all real. In spite of the desperate attempts of such philosophers to save sensory data, sensa remain secondary and unreal. Moreover time and space are not the dialectical change. They are (according to Alexander) the matrices in which the change takes place. As with Plato, space is the womb of all becoming.
Thus, instead of a world of becoming in which all unfolds itself with complete determinism, because all phenomena are materially real, we have a world unfolded in time and space by the Jack-in-the-box appearance of new and unpredictable qualities. Such a philosophy is incompetent to explain society or the generation either of itself or other philosophies. It cannot heal dualism.
It gives rise to the question, if these qualities are not determined but imposed, who imposes them? We thus return to a very early philosophy, to a god determining but Himself self-determined, outside the Universe, who arbitrarily pumps in these qualities into a passive world. It makes no difference whether, as with Bergson, such a god exists now or, as with Alexander, such a god exists in the future and is continually attracting these qualities out of the world, as the sun raises blisters on the skin.
These new bourgeois evolutionary philosophies which start out to be dialectical and scientific, end by being less so than the older bourgeois philosophies. The world becomes an amorphous mass lying in Time and Space with no determining relations between its phenomena, for all values are imposed upon it in an arbitrary way, as if it were a piece of dough. Such philosophies fail in their primary motive, that of synthesising bourgeois philosophy. Should anyone wish to have the melancholy proof of this, they need only read Alexander’s Space, Time and Deity, which proves his philosophy to be inadequate even to contain relativity physics.
Indeed, unless such a philosophy can penetrate to the seat of bourgeois dualism – its genesis in the society that produced it – it cannot escape from dualism. It cannot reconcile dualism, any more than the separate boughs of a tree can be ‘reconciled’ if we cannot see the trunk. Mechanical materialism and absolute idealism represent the extremest possible antitheses of bourgeois dualism and any philosophy which does not reconcile them is doomed to be a less logical philosophy. Bergson is as good an example as any of the bourgeois who, striving to escape from bourgeois categories, in fact falls back into them. He attempts to describe an evolutionary world, but at the end, all he has is a static world, whose mass is moved on by an external elan vital. He attempts to describe a world in which Time is real, because the past is conserved in the present. But his past conserved in the present is a world in which Time is unreal, because the qualities which make the past present are not temporal, they are products of an outside force, Life, and Time therefore becomes merely the empty stage of their exhibition.
Bergson attempts to describe a world in which mind has significance, and is real, but he creates a world in which mind, because it is separate from matter and plays on it as organ, is a complete machine without mind. All sensa, all values, and all qualities are either not in the world, and are therefore an unreal facade, or are in the world, in which case they are not mental. He endeavours to pose intuition as a synthesis of instinct and intelligence. He attempts to escape from metaphysical dualism and the weakness of formal logic – that nothing emerges which is not already there – but he only does so by demarcating instinct and intelligence as if they were entirely separate things. But this is not so; all instincts have intelligent modifications, and are conditioned by experience. All intelligence utilizes organic instruments (the brain, existing reflexes). The difference is a matter of degree. By making it absolute, Bergson achieves as his new term, intuition. What is his intuition? Exactly what he is trying to escape from – scholasticism! Intuition, as Bergson visualises it, solves problems ‘by pure thought’, and not as problems are in fact solved – by instinct, modified by experience, becoming increasingly conscious and therefore increasingly intelligent. Now this solving of problems without modification by practice is precisely the method of metaphysics and logic – of all the rationalism which Bergson rightly condemns for its sterility. Thus Bergson’s intuition is not a synthesis of two contradictions. The contradiction is not between instinct and intelligence, but between instinctive action and conscious thought, and the synthesis is science, a positive activity which, on the one hand, changes the world to man’s instinctive desires and, on the other hand, changes man by making him more conscious of reality. But Bergson, revolting against metaphysics, produces simply an extreme form of rationalism, his ‘intuition’.
All these late bourgeois philosophies fail in this one elementary requirement:
(1) ‘Do they explain (that is, include) all the scientific discoveries of their era, in the one framework?’
Not one of them is competent to do this. There are two other requirements:
(2) ‘Do they include, as real and unified, all forms of experience – colours, sounds, values, aims, time, space and change?’
(3) ‘Do they account, not only for these, but for the evolution of all the various arts, sciences, and religions in their historical evolution, and for their own explanation of them? In other words, do they explain not only the objects of experience, but the evolution of explanations of these objects, both in their truth and their falsity?’
Obviously a philosophy which achieves these goals has transformed itself into a sociology, but it is a measure of the poverty of bourgeois philosophy that not only does it fail in all attempts at solving the first question, but the very need to solve the other two hardly presents itself. When one views, in their contemporary cultures, the achievements of Descartes, Locke, Spinoza, Kant and Hegel, it is possible to realise how far-reaching has been the dissolution of bourgeois culture. It is even possible for M. Maritain, speaking as a Thomist, to hurl insults at contemporary bourgeois philosophy:
‘The drama of Western culture consists in the fact that its stock of common metaphysics has been reduced to an utterly inadequate minimum, so that only matter holds it together, and matter is incapable of keeping anything together.’
It is not either matter or metaphysics that is responsible for the decomposition of bourgeois culture, but the social anarchy rooted in its economy. But whatever the cause, this decomposition has now advanced to a stage where a Scholastic philosopher can reproach the bourgeois philosophers with a ‘betrayal’ of reason and with an ‘incoherent’ world-view. Would not Newton, Galileo, Bacon and Descartes turn in their graves if they knew the time had come when a medievalist could reproach their heirs with a ‘betrayal of reason’? Nothing could reveal more clearly the retrogression of bourgeois philosophy.
Because bourgeois intellectual confusion is rooted in the form of society of which it is a product, it cannot attain to the consistent world-view of dialectical materialism without seeing what is the law of motion of this society that produces bourgeois philosophy, and what will be its outcome. But when one has seen that, one has ceased to be bourgeois; one no longer stands in one’s own light and can see bourgeois culture clearly. One has become a Communist.
This transition, which involves understanding in oneself all the formulas and conventions imposed by one’s bourgeois upbringing and deriving therefrom something more fundamental, is not easy. Thus, many even of those people who see clearly the bankruptcy of capitalism, and the analytical power of Marxism, are unable to grasp the synthesis. They remain bourgeois, and therefore they impose on themselves the task of ‘improving’ or ‘modifying’ dialectical materialism. They propose to bring it ‘up-to-date’, by modifying it according to the lessons learned from recent scientific development.
They do not see that such a programme is simply one of making dialectical materialism bourgeois – making it moreover not classical bourgeois, which could merely mean dissolving it into the Hegelianism or mechanical materialism of which it is the outcome, but degenerate bourgeois, making it Bergsonian or Machian. They do not see that the task vis-à-vis dialectical materialism and the latest developments of bourgeois science is not that of bringing dialectical materialism up to date, but that of bringing these anarchic developments up to date by synthesising them in the consistent world-view of Marxism. This is obvious, for on the one hand one has a coherent system – dialectical materialism – and on the other hand one has a chaotic confusion of ‘discoveries’ – relativity physics, quantum physics, Freudism, anthropology, genetics, psycho-physiology, which are based on exclusive assumptions and contradict or ignore each other. If there is to be any relation between these two groups at all, obviously dialectical materialism must impose its coherence on the mish-mash, and not the mish-mash its incoherence on dialectical materialism. The second programme is simply pointless. It would be better to leave things as they are.
Of course in practice all who set themselves the second programme perform it in a typically bourgeois way. Whatever the particular closed world of bourgeois ideology they inhabit – physics, psychology, economic, philosophy, art, or religion – it is the limited and exclusive categories of that world they would enforce on the universal categories of dialectical materialism. The dialectical materialism so ‘improved’ is not only therefore now inadequate to take in all the other closed worlds that this particular bourgeois renovator does not inhabit, but soon proves itself as incapable as ordinary bourgeois philosophy of dealing completely even with the closed world in which resides the expert in modernising. Necessarily so, for the closed world is just the characteristic of bourgeois bankruptcy.
To return to the question with which this essay began: Can physics, in its final stages of relativity, be restored to the world of real experience? Can I, as I live, remember, think, move, see and act, find in that concrete immediate experience the refined concepts of relativity physics? Not only can I, but I must, for relativity physics is extracted from perception and experience, just as is Newtonian physics. The fall of an apple, the passage of light, the motion of earth and sun, the weight of objects, all these experienced perceived realities gave a common content to Newtonian and Einsteinian hypothesis. But there was also a difference, and this too owed its existence to an experience – to the Michelson-Morley experiment. And the confirmation of the later theory was due to experience, to seen things, the precession of the perihelion of Mercury, the bending of light rays by gravitation, and the gain in mass of w particles. Therefore all the entities of this physics, whose form could be determined by experience, must exist in experience.
I live, therefore I think I am. I have experience whether I perceive or reflect and this is common to both feelings, that I endure. ‘I,’ a thing that remains unchanged. But this ‘I’ endures; it lives. It sees, suffers, thinks of things that are not the same, for sometimes it has suffering, sometimes joy. Sometimes it sees one thing, sometimes another. And yet it is always the ‘I’, the unchanging thing, that sees and suffers. So that this always like ‘I’, is also unlike; continually, new things emerge and yet my perception of these things shows the same element in their behaviour to me. They too endure, and yet they change. Always there is a like perpetually manifesting unlike; continually there is unlikeness revealing a like. This is experience, or becoming.
Becoming, because I remember. First I suffered, then I rejoiced, then I feared. Suffering, I did not know of the rejoicing or the fear. Rejoicing, I ‘remembered’ the suffering, it tinged my rejoicing; but I did not yet know fear. Fearing at last, I remembered that I had rejoiced with a memory of suffering, and suffered but with no memory of fear or rejoicing. All my feelings could be arranged in that order, in which the subsequent included memories of the precedent, but not vice versa. This order of feelings I called ‘Time’. Every item in it had this unlikeness which yet could by memory range them in a unique order.
But not my perceptions of things. These things had an order among themselves. I could go to a thing, and then walk to another thing, and then it appeared that, exactly retracing my steps, I could come on the original thing. Exactly retracing my steps; here was a difference. For I could experience a thing; then experience another thing, then return to the original thing and yet remember not only my experience of another thing, but my earlier experience of the original thing. Thus I had no unique endless order, but a closed order which I could repeat in endless ways. All these repetitions, these recurrences, could be ranged in this likeness upon unlikeness. I called this ‘Space’.
And now I was able to distinguish more sharply between my own feelings, which were always in Time, in a unique order, and things, which were ranged in Space, in an order not unique but closed.
I was inclined to separate Time from Space, and my feelings from things; but this was wrong. They were different; they were opposite; but how could I say they were exclusive, for the relations between them were just what experience was? Every experience contained a feeling, a newness, a knowledge that Time had moved on, and a thing, an oldness, a knowledge that I had met this before. I who had the feelings of difference, yet remained I. I remained I because I myself was a thing – a body. The things, whose relations remained repeatable and non-unique, caused the change in my feelings. Every experience contained subject and object, time and space. I discovered I could never separate them in experience. How could the statement that they were absolutely separate therefore have meaning? Moreover Time and Space always contained an experience or relation between things. How then could the statement that things had relations in Time and Space, conceived as neutral containers, have meaning? It was just my experience in my relations with things which gave me my ideas of time-relations and space-relations. How could these relations exist without terms, as things-in-themselves? If I made this mistake (and for a time I did make it) it was one for which I had no warrant. It led me into all kinds of paradoxes, so I gave it up, and set out to measure and classify and compare, not happenings in Time and Space, but the time and space in happenings.
How did I carry out this important task? First of all by the invention of numbers. All qualities, all elements in the flux of experience, are becoming. There is a likeness, a something that changes, and an unlikeness, the changefulness of this thing. Moreover there are not merely bundles of likeness and unlikeness, but all qualities can be arranged in a unique order, such that event A is ‘memorably’ contained in B, event B in C, event C in D. This ‘nesting’ of events involves that there is something common to all events. Thus, in the series just named, quality A is common to all events. Experience never finds an end to the events in either direction.
This gives us the series of integers: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, etc. The series is dialectic; each number synthesises (memorably contains) every previous number, and yet contains a new quality, for how otherwise could we differentiate it? This series is thus adequate to describe all quantities, for it describes the essential process of becoming.
But the series is not unique. 2 may be determined by 1 and 1, or 1/2 and 3/2, and so on. Each quality is then the limit of an infinite number of different possible series.
Let us take two things – two likenesses. We take a thing here, where I am now, and a thing there where I am not now. We measure the number of like events between these things. For example we ourselves pace backwards and forwards (9 steps on each journey, 9 events). This is a like relation. The original thing returned to after our pacing has changed, but, because there is a likeness recogniseable beneath the change, we call it ‘the same thing’.
Thus space becomes a relation between ourself and things. We pace between things. We never find distance except as a relation between ourselves and things (ourselves pacing, measuring, and watching). Distance becomes the measurement of like events among themselves by us.
Just because the two sets of nine like events also had an element of unlike and were arranged inclusively in our memory in the series 1-9 and 10-18, they were valid as a measurement of like things. Thus we find an element of unlikeness in all our relations of like things determining them. Time always figures in space.
We decide to find how little time need figure in space. Time is the element of unlikeness, what is the minimum? In the pacing of like events forward or back between things, there is always this unlikeness. The fewer the events, the less the unlikeness. We find that of all relations involving likeness and unlikeness, the light ray can mediate between things with the least unlikeness in contemporary events.
This relation, the light relation, is therefore the most spatial relation between events. It is a minimum relation. A minimum relation is unique. We therefore have a minimum relation which, when it occurs between two things, involves the least element of unlikeness between all other related qualities in the world. This minimum relation we call zero interval, but, discovering the same relation in a different sphere, we call this minimum relation the quantum. Zero interval is the least unlikeness in the universe which will differentiate ‘between’ things, and make them different in space. The quantum is the least unlikeness in things which will integrate a thing and make it the same in time.
What is the most temporal relation? It is that relation which has the most likeness in it. But we recognise things as ‘knots’ of likeness. Therefore the greatest possible likeness in relations inheres within what we call a thing. While qualities are emerging in experience, those which show most likeness have as their relation maximum interval, which is the most spatial relation. We say, this thing follows a geodesic. The geodesic relation is the relation a thing’s qualities have among themselves and therefore it is the most temporal relation. Discovering the same relation in a different sphere, we call it an electron.
But now we close the circle. This likeness is only evidenced in a bunch of relations. It is an intersection of qualities; the most like element in them. But in each quality, because we can distinguish between the qualities, there is an unlikeness. The electron never exists in itself, always it is manifesting unlikenesses. But the light interval, although it connects two different things, yet connects them, and therefore is the result of an element of likeness in its opposed terms.
What world follows from all this?
(a) Time and space are the way we sort the qualities in which material things participate. Each sorting is different for each thing; therefore each has its own time and space. There is nothing outside this emergence of qualities, not even relations, for every quality contains a subject, a relation, and an object (the rest of the universe). These qualities are discontinuous and have a minimum, the quantum or the light ray, and a maximum, the characteristic of following a geodesic and being matter, but neither is separate from the other. The quantum is the unit of time, the electron of space, but each is involved in the other, each emerges from the one material becoming of experience.
All these qualities, according to their difference and likeness, can be sorted in a unique series: i.e. the Universe is completely determined. The series nowhere holds back on itself; no sphere is self-determined. The series is not time; time merges from the subject-object analysis; time is contained in the series, but only as the ‘perspective’ of one particle. This is true also of space.
Time, like space, is three-dimensional (past, present, future). But because time is an accretion of unlikenesses, these three dimensions always distinguish themselves. Those of space must be distinguished, because space is an accretion of likenesses. That is why wave mechanics requires six dimensions to describe the relation of two electrons, for there is never a relation between two electrons only, but between an electron and the rest of the world.
This is the world of experience as seen by dialectical materialism. It is not only a world of experience, but also a world of biology, psychology, sociology, art and physics. Not only is it the world of relativity physics, but it is also, and at the same time, the world of quantum physics.
The world, in the process of becoming, exhibits an accumulation of unlikeness. Likeness has as one aspect organisation. This increase of unlikeness appears, therefore, as an increase of disorganisation. This is the ‘entropy gradient’, the basis of the Second Law of Thermodynamics.
It is maintained by bourgeois physics, however, that a Universal return from disorder to order, i.e. a return of the series from A includes B, B includes C, to C includes B, is not impossible, but only grossly improbable. This is based on a misunderstanding, due to the concept of Time as the matrix of becoming.
Time is in fact the inclusive series of unlike qualities such that A includes B, and B includes C. Consequently it is by definition impossible to talk of such a series returning on itself in time, for Time is the non-returning of the series. The last of such a series that returned would be ‘past’.
If anyone could define Time in any other way, so as to produce a more consistent world-view and upset our experience and the discoveries of relativity physics, then that would no longer be the case. But until they do reach such a formulation, no meaning can be assigned to a Universe which returns to a previous order from disorder. It is not extremely improbable, but impossible, for it is a contradiction in terms. If it happened, or could be shown to be possible, it would indicate, not only that our present definition of Time is wrong but also what Time really is.
The physicist, confronted by a small-scale infringement of the law – e.g. gas gathering into half of a receptacle and leaving the other in a vacuum, would reason in this way: ‘Here is disorder becoming order, which is just what cannot happen since it means the time in this receptacle has, so to speak, gone backwards in comparison to my time. I therefore conclude that in fact it has not gone back, and that there is a subsequency about the local accumulation of a gas, which can only mean that it is part of a larger increase in unlikeness or disorder. In other words I must assume that this gas must have been acted upon by forces outside itself, and that there is an outside cause for this behaviour. If not, it is my time that has gone backwards, and I am living into the past. But this receptacle is too small for this to be a necessary deduction.’
The concept of entropy involves that the system in which entropy must increase is self-determined and therefore unknowable and non-existent. The second Law of Thermodynamics therefore only applies accurately to the whole Universe and the probability it measures is really the degree of its inaccuracy.
It follows from a dialectical world-view that nothing is absolute and self-determined but the Universe itself. The complexity of men’s conscious relations with the Universe may grow continuously, but they will never be co-incident with the Universe. Their very increase is the generation of new qualities which now form part of the unknown. Thus nothing is unknowable because nothing is self-determined or unmediated, but absolute knowledge is unattainable. Every expression or vehicle of knowledge, every formulation of consciousness, is incomplete. It does not ‘contain’ an error, but its limited truth is determined by its limited error. The elimination of its error does not give us absolute truth: a new hypothesis is required synthesising them in an ampler statement. This can only come about if the error in the former hypothesis has been revealed in practice – if the contradiction implicit in it has become overt, and truth and error have flown asunder, generating a new truth. Man therefore learns by his mistakes. The discovery of an error is the discovery of a new truth, for, if the error is discoverable, the new truth is now knowable. This is the ‘unity of truth and error’, and it is not a ‘mysticism’ of dialectics, but is a description of a process common to the methodology of science and life.
Are we therefore, as dialectical materialists, supporters of Vaihinger’s ‘Als 0b’ (The Philosophy of ‘As If’. – Ed.) and the value of fictions? No, for to believe in the absolute value of error as an end is to be as limited as to believe in an absolute truth. In dialectics an error cannot be tolerated. The antagonism between truth and error is real. Once known, once this negation has revealed itself, the intolerableness of error prevents thought from resting upon it, and man moves on to a new truth. But according to Vaihinger, man is consciously content with error and rests on it. Thought loses its impetus. Vaihinger’s view remains a metaphysical bourgeois doctrine. He is a positivist: his position is that reality is unknowable. Since entities are unknowable in themselves, everything that works is as true as it is possible for a thing to be true.
But dialectics, if it is to justify its programme, must explain the origin of this ‘tired’ bourgeois philosophy. It must leave no sphere self-determined. It must close the changing circle of being. Why has dualism wrecked bourgeois philosophy? Why was Platonism ‘congealed’ and not dialectical? Why is Marxism dialectical?
If no sphere is self-determined, ideology must be in a mutually determining relation with the society of which it is a product. They must fit each other at every level, like hand and glove, like river and river bed, for philosophy is a social product. This arises from the very fact that we can talk about society. The private thoughts of an individual are inaccessible; the desires of a man to do something are invisible. But as soon as man’s thoughts issue in language, in concepts, in a coherent system, they become social. They have adopted social forms: language and ideas, evolved by the process of society. Such a public system of thought is a social product. And as soon as man’s desires to do something result in action, in the moulding of material into something socially recognised as having use and value, here too aim becomes end, desire becomes a social product. Thought and will are private and personal; a philosophy and a commodity are social products. Yet thought and will, though private, are determined by the philosophy and material products of the society into which a man is born. What I am taught and what I see round me, influence what I think about and what I desire.
Thus thought is naturally dialectic in so far as it is part of the process of society. At each stage thought and material being are flung apart and return on each other, in mutual determinism, generating the new qualities of society. How then does thought become congealed? Bourgeois revolt gives rise to mechanical materialism. This in turn generates idealism. But these two opposites cannot be reconciled within the framework that produced them. All thought that remains within these two poles becomes non-dialectic. It becomes barren logic-chopping. The true synthesis is Marxism; but Marxism is revolutionary; it rests on a revolution of the class structure of society. It is the class structure of society that is holding back the dialectical movement of thought. The poverty of bourgeois philosophy is rooted in the breakdown of bourgeois economy. These outworn production relations are holding back the productive forces of society, holding back not merely the full produce of idle factory plants, derelict coffee plantations, unploughed fields and unemployed men, but of human brains.
We know the bourgeois illusion to be a reflex of the class structure of bourgeois society. The first stage is the bourgeois revolt: ‘I am free in so far as I throw off all social restraint.’ Man, by the insurgent exercise of his desires, can dominate his environment, not as master dominates slave – such relations are banned – not by a simple fiat of his will – but as an owner dominates his property, as a craftsman dominates his tool, a farmer his land – by knowing its laws. The bourgeois sees the environment as his tool in the first stage of the bourgeois development.
This first dialectic movement of the revolutionary bourgeoisie gives rise to Elizabethan tragedy, to the exploration of the world, to Spanish and Tudor monarchy, to Galileo, to the splendid collation of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, finally to Newtonism and Cartesianism. The discovery of the ‘law of gravity’, of analytical geometry, of the farthest limits of the world, marks the crescendo of the bourgeois explosion into the environment. The bourgeois has now seized the environment as tool. The mechanical materialistic philosophy of Hobbes, Condillac, D’Holbach, and the like expresses the limit of the vast social movement which has already, in reaching the limit, clearly revealed its opposite. This is the apogee (1750) of the first stage of capitalism.
For from the environment, dominated as a tool in the extraverted, exploring period of social relations, we now pass to the bourgeois himself in the introverted analytical period. All the bourgeois acts of will at first flow into the environment, and are there realised. This is not in his opinion a determining relation, for the bourgeois is, by his initial revolution, free in himself. Because therefore this is not a mutually determining relation, because he knows as it were by simple inspection, he has no two-way connexion with his environment. He has no guarantee that the environment known by him has an independent existence. If it determined his knowing, even as his knowing determined it, this would perforce constitute independent existence on its part. But the bourgeois denies this! Hence Berkeley, Hume, Kant, Comte, and neo-positivism. In this second stage of bourgeois economy we have the birth of idealism. The environment either does not exist, or is unknowable. Mind is primary.
This development is the result of industrial capitalism, of the terrific power over its environment manifested by the machine. This makes it seem as if the mind is everything, and the environment nothing. It makes mind seem the sole active force generating all quality.
Society can only seem to be the success of individual will in an economy in which men act as if their sole actions are undetermined and primary. The bourgeois producing for the market, free from all social control and restraint, believes that in doing what seems most to fulfil his will to profit, he is free. The market, the regulator of bourgeois economy, stands to him as environment, and shields him from reality.
In fact his actions are determined by the market and the market itself is determined by the completely blind actions of thousands of men like himself, but the law of its determinism is unknown to him. There is no control, no awareness of the relations between individual producers which determine slump and boom. Hence the bourgeois regards the success of society in changing the environment, not as the outcome of social laws, but as the outcome of free individual mind, as the success of personal conation. When he is sufficiently insulated from the environment by the development of his class, this becomes idealism.
Such an idealistic philosophy is necessarily the philosophy of a ruling class, with whom the environment seems to obey their free will as will. The proletariat cannot generate such a philosophy because this same capitalist economy exploits them. It forces them to bring their labour power into the market to sell to the best bidder or go empty away if there is none. Its anarchy makes them unfree. It does not fulfil their wills, it exploits them.
The proletariat has a remedy, that of social organisation. By combining into trade unions, and accepting social constraints, not haphazard but to a conscious end – higher wages, better conditions – the workers secure the fulfilment of their wills. And in the factories where they work, their organisation is what gives labour its productivity.
Thus the proletariat, generated by the exploitation of bourgeois economy, cannot accept any philosophy that sees freedom in lack of social organisation and constraint; the path of freedom, the road of fulfilment of desire. On the contrary, the only way they can realise their wills is by establishing, in bitter fight, the organisations and social restraints (Factory Acts, Right to Strike, etc.) which the bourgeois rejected. Thus the operation of bourgeois economy generates its negation in its exploited class.
But this negation is not a return to medieval philosophy, which bourgeois philosophy itself negated. Medieval social restraints were unconscious; their organisations were not planned to secure an end; they were rigid, inflexible, imposed from above. They did not represent mass co-operation but lord-and-slave domination. They were the product of a class society.
Thus the philosophy enforced on one, by being a member of the proletariat, is higher than either feudal or bourgeois philosophy. It is nearer to reality; it includes them both. It includes the organisation embodied consciously in feudal society, but it does not permit these organisations to arise as expressions of the privilege of a ruling class. They arise from the needs of the co-operative task, just as to lift a huge rock necessitates co-operative action by a gang of men and this action is not imposed by a lord’s will, but by the shape and weight of the stone and the nature of the tools available.
In Hegelianism the Idea becomes absolute, objective, and creates the whole world. This is the climax of bourgeois philosophy. Concurrently bourgeois economy is reaching its apex.
Up till then there had been no dualism in bourgeois philosophy, only the dialectic yea and nay of thought generating greater complexity and subtlety. Up till then there had been no strife between bourgeois social relations and productive forces, only a tension generating still greater fertility. But now this becomes dualism.
Formal logic is not a law of thought, it is a rule of symbolism. If we are to denote social references by social referents, if we are to indicate for social purposes socially interesting events in the flux of becoming by discrete, permanent symbols, there is one elementary necessity:
Each discrete permanent symbol must denote an entity on which our actions will converge.
For example, if by ‘this rock’ we sometimes mean a tree, sometimes a cloud, there will be no social convergence. But a language is designed to secure social convergence. Hence ‘this rock’ must always secure social convergence.
This involves the so-called ‘Laws of thought’. The Law of Contradiction, ‘a thing cannot both be A and Not-A,’ secures unidirection in social convergence. The Law of the Excluded Middle, ‘a thing must be either A or Not-A,’ secures unanimity in social convergence.
Logical laws are therefore social. They are approximate rules which must be obeyed if language is to fulfil a social function. They are in no way true of the nature of reality. They do not in fact make any statement about the nature of reality. They merely make the following statement:
‘It is desirable to ensure co-operation in the active relation of society to reality.’
Of course this is tautologous, inasmuch as the existence of a language implies not merely the recognition of this law, but the fact that, even before language came into being, there must have been social co-operation to bring it into being. That is why logic is a late outgrowth from language.
Formal logic does not express the vital nature of reality, but expresses certain abstract characteristics of social action. Its laws are manifestly untrue as statements of reality. It is not true that a thing is either A or not A. Yesterday it was A; to-day it is not-A. It is not true that a thing cannot both be and not be A. To-day I am alive, some day I will be dead. To-morrow I will or will not be dead. Both alternatives are equally true. The use of the verb ‘is’ gives a spurious truth to the methodological rules of logic: it implies a universal instant; but this we know from relativity physics to be impossible. There is only a social instant. There is a ‘present’ common to members of society existing and moving at roughly the same speed and in the same place in the Universe and able therefore to undertake a cooperative task. Outside this society, the ‘is’ becomes a ‘was’ or ‘will-be’, and the ‘laws’ of logic cease to be valid. Even within society logic is only approximately true. It is a rough ‘working’ rule like the absolute Time and Space of conversation and appointment-making which is also an unreal social approximation.
Social tasks show us change in reality. Our symbols must be continually altered; our thoughts and forms continually become qualified and enriched. Our active contact with reality ensures a continual dialectical change in thought and perception, and the constant ingression of the new as the result of our changing relations with it. Thought therefore needs only to go out in action to remain dialectical; hence the dialectical nature of scientific hypotheses. The hypothesis goes out in the experiment and, as a ‘result’, becomes changed, and returns upon the hypothesis to alter it. The fresh hypothesis now gives rise to a fresh experiment. The experiment, if it negates the hypothesis, produces a new one, competent to synthesise both the negation and the original hypothesis.
Whenever we see thought becoming non-dialectical and logical, there must be a breach between thought and action.
Instead of preoccupying itself with the changing subject-object relation, mind preoccupies itself with the forms of that symbolism which, in the past, has contained old dialectical formulations of realities. This indicates a similar process in society itself. The productive relations of society have become separated and antagonistic from the productive forces. The ruling class, the class whose philosophy language expresses, has ceased to be fertile, and has withdrawn and become merely parasitic. Thought has become introverted. We see this emphasis on logic, formalism, and withdrawal from action in the Hellenistic, Scholastic, and modern bourgeois philosophies. We see it in all developed philosophies, for the towering of philosophy as queen of thought is itself the reflection of a class cleavage. The development of logistic in contemporary thought is, like neo-realism, a good example of this trend. Logistic is a preoccupation not with the use of mathematics but with the nature of its symbolism. As a result, logistic has not generated a single new development in mathematical thought.
Dialectics is not therefore – as the Scholastics imagined formal logic to be – a machine for extracting the nature of reality from thought. It is the denial of the possibility of the existence of such a machine. It is a recognition of mutually determining relations between knowing and being. It is a creed of action, a constant goad forcing the thinker into reality. Thought is knowing; the experience is being, and at each new step new experience negates old thought. Yet their tension causes an advance to a new hypothesis more inclusive than the old. When capitalism has generated at one pole, the exploited proletariat, with unprecedented misery, and at the other end, the exploiting bourgeoisie, with unprecedented wealth, a new quality emerges from their antagonism, that of Communism. A synthesis of the contradictions of bourgeois economy having come into being, these contradictions are now revealed nakedly as truth and error. Bourgeois philosophy now becomes sterile dualism, and it is proletarian philosophy or Marxism which is dialectic. But because it is the task of the proletariat, arising from the mode of their generation, to solve the problem of human relations and of the gulf between knowing and being, Marxism is more than a philosophy, it is a sociology. It is a theory of the concrete society in which philosophy, and other forms of ideology, are generated.
Bourgeois philosophy, therefore, can generate no greater philosophy than Hegel’s, any more than feudalism could generate anything higher than Thomism, or Hellenism anything more all-embracing than Platonism and Aristotelianism. To rise beyond Hegel’s idealistic synthesis, one must see that the mind in its turn is determined by social relations, that knowing is a mutually determining relation between subject and object, that freedom is not accident but the consciousness of necessity. One must see that if freedom for a man in society is the attainment of individual desires, it involves conscious co-operation with others to obtain them, and that this conscious co-operation will itself transform a man’s desires. To see this is to cease to be a bourgeois, and to cease to tolerate bourgeois economy. One is already a communist revolutionary. Bourgeois economy itself produces these, for to be shown that freedom does not lie in lack of social organisation is to be proletarianised. It is to be declassed if one is a bourgeois or to be made class-conscious if one is a proletarian. It is to find how helpless one is by oneself to resist the dominating and exploiting relations that are concealed in bourgeois economy.
To have become a dialectical materialist is to have been subject to exploitation, want, war, anxiety, insecurity; to have had one’s barest human needs denied or one’s loved ones tormented or killed in the name of bourgeois liberty, and to have found that one’s ‘free-will’ alone can do nothing at all, because one is more bound and crippled in bourgeois economy than a prisoner in a dungeon – and to have found that in this condition the only thing that can secure alleviation is co-operation with one’s fellow men in the same dungeon, the world’s exploited proletariat. This cooperation itself imposes on one’s actions laws deriving from the nature of society and of the aims one has in common with those others. Then one has ceased to be a bourgeois philosopher: one has become a dialectical materialist. One has seen how men can leave the realm of necessity for that of freedom, not by becoming blind to necessity, or by denying its existence, but by becoming conscious of it.