Philosophy and Ideology. Z. A. Jordan 1963
The Marxist-Leninist doctrine of universals is fragmentary, not always consistent and for the most part obscure. The obscurity comes partly from Hegel, partly from other sources, and partly from itself. Besides Hegel, possibly Bradley’s and certainly Whitehead’s ideas have influenced Marxist-Leninist thinking on the subject. Several threads of Whitehead’s organic cosmology can be found in the Marxist-Leninist theory of universals: the rejection of any sort of atomism; the reduction of qualities to relations; the reincorporation of the knower into the world as its homogeneous constituent, acted upon and reacting to what is around him; the repudiation of the ‘bifurcation of Nature’; the emphasis upon the internal relatedness and interfusion of events, as well as upon the whole as a determinant for its component parts. The powerful influence of Whitehead’s metaphysics, abstracted from its intimate connections with science, above all, with mathematics and physics, which Marxist-Leninists? ignore, will become clear in the further course of this account. For the moment another thread of the philosophic tradition which affects the Marxist-Leninist point of view on universals must be put into relief. For apart from the conspicuous upper layer of Hegelian origin, there is also an inconspicuous lower one of Aristotelian parentage. There is some truth in the assertion that dialectical materialism stands close to an ‘objectively interpreted conceptualism.
A mystifying element in the Marxist-Leninist doctrine of universals is its professed adherence to some assumptions of nominalism: only particulars exist, universals are a philosophic invention. But its professed repudiation of Platonic entities in the historical sense of this expression, of hypostatised genera and species, properties and other general words, does not mean that the Marxist-Leninist doctrine adheres to the rule that the quantified variable can take only names of individuals as its value. On the contrary, while denying the reality of universals, Marxist-Leninist thinkers are Platonist realists (in the modern sense of this term) in their discourse. It is clear, therefore, that their meaning of the term ‘particular’ must differ from that of a nominalist and that their confession of ontological faith, ‘only particulars exist’, cannot be taken at its face value. For instance, what they say makes it clear that the real world contains common properties, classes, and relations.
Marxist-Leninists reject emphatically the view according to which the statement ‘Every red object is a coloured object’ means ‘(x) if x is red, then x is coloured’. In the propositional schema the predicates” ‘red’ and ‘coloured’ do not purport to name classes, but are used in reference to individuals in a particular context, outside which they have no meaning (such expressions belong to the semantical category called by Husserl ‘syncategoramatic expressions’, and this name was adopted in Poland). No extra-linguistic or extra-logical predicates need be assumed to make the sentences significant and true. According to Marxist-Leninists?, the two quantified statements are not equivalent; the second leaves out some meaning which the first conveys. The truth of the first statement depends on whether there is some entity common to all the elements in virtue of which the class of red objects is not simply fabricated, to be reduced to Locke’s ‘workmanship of the understanding’, but has an objective foundation and is included in the class of coloured objects. Thus, there are no universals in the sense of Platonic ideas and only particulars exist, but universals ‘make up’ or are involved in the conception of particulars. As Lenin put it, ‘the singular is the general’. To say something of a class is not equivalent to a conjunction of statements about the elements of this class. The relations in which particulars stand to each other are of such a nature that they cannot be stated otherwise but by means of general statements, irreducible to singular ones. What is true to say about a class or a property might not be true to say about their elements or instances respectively. The existence of various levels of being, irreducible to each other, must be recognised. It is futile to argue that a class or a property, not being a thing in the reistic sense of this term, does not exist. For though it does not exist in this sense, it has an objective being.
So far there is seemingly nothing in the Marxist-Leninist solution of the problem of universals that goes beyond Aristotelian realism sensu largo. The position taken by a Marxist-Leninist is distinct, however, from that of a contemporary Aristotelian realist as defined by J. M. Bocheński, the eminent Thomist logician. They share the so-called Identity or Common Property theory, which, unlike the Resemblance theory of the nominalist, appears to assume something more than empirically given similarities as the sufficient condition for attributing the predicate ‘φ’ to more than one instance. For to be ontologically justifiable the Identity theory cannot dispense with some unobservable entities, identically present in many individuals, and such entities are what is called universals in re. But Bocheński explicitly rejects the existence of classes in the external world and considers them to be mere constructions of the mind (unless the universe of classes is concealed behind the universal meanings). This is not the case in so far as a Marxist-Leninist is concerned. He is committed to the theory of reflection, and, consequently, he cannot treat what is mirrored in the mind and expressed in linguistic forms as mere constructions with no referent outside the mind and language. He cannot escape recognising the universe of classes and is driven by his own assumptions to positing their reality, reflected by concepts and depicted in the language by predicates.
The fact that Marxist-Leninists have been led by their various theories to the recognition of the universe of classes is obscured from their sight by their preoccupations with social problems and, in particular, the concept of social class. A social class is a collection or a ‘true aggregate of the persons composing it’, according to Bukharin’s definition. The term ‘class’ is in this case a genuine name, it names a certain real complex entity. But classes in the logical sense cannot be identified with any concrete objects or collections: a class of cows is not a herd of cows, a class of stones is not a heap of stones. The relation of part to whole differs from the relation of member to class in some important respects; the first is a transitive relation and the second is not. Moreover, ‘to be part of’ is a functor irreducible to logical terms, ‘to be an element of’ is a quasi-functor. ‘Classes’ in the logical sense are not genuine names, i.e. names of real objects. If they name anything, they must name abstract entities. ‘We may call them aggregates or collections, if we like, but they are universals. That is, if there are classes’ .
The distinction between classes and collections has been sharply drawn by Leśniewski and Kotarbiński, and the latter has also carefully analysed the philosophical implications of the essential difference which the concepts of class and of collection involve. Leśniewski differentiated classes in the distributive sense from classes in the collective sense or the logical from the mereological concept of class. Originally Leśniewsb developed his ‘theory of collections’ as a theory of sets ( 1916), but later he abandoned the idea that the whole theory of sets could be reconstructed on this basis and treated it as an independent theory of the whole-part relation, which has become known under the name of mereology. In mereology ‘class’ means ‘collection’ (of a special sort) and it is a genuine name, for it denotes a physical object and a class in this sense consists of parts or pieces not necessarily contiguous (e.g. the fauna of the British Isles). A particular may be identified with the collection of its parts. Thus, a definite tree is the class (in the mereological sense) of its constituent cells. But a class in the mereological sense is not reducible to a class in the logical sense and the collection must be distinguished from the class of which the parts of the collection are members, in our example from the class of cells (in Leśniewski’s system the calculus of classes is comprised in ontology). If this distinction is not observed, we are bound to fall into contradictions. For the tree in question can be said to consist of cells, or of atoms or of electrons, and the like. Therefore, if the tree as a collection is identified with the class of cells or with the class of some ‘atomic units’, each of which is distinct from the other, the tree is a self contradictory object. We can identify a particular with different collections of its parts, i.e. classes in the mereological sense, but no particular is identifiable with a class in the logical sense. Classes in the logical sense and particulars (collections) must be clearly distinguished from each other.
It appears that Marxist-Leninist thinkers might have been confused by the different meanings which the term ‘class’ may have. Their starting point was social classes, which are instances of classes in the mereological sense, i.e. objects as concrete as the individuals of whom they are composed. They seem to have been misled by this fact, and assumed that the term ‘class’ in the sense in which it is used in the logical analysis of language can also be identified with a collection, namely, the aggregate of its members, a complex but concrete object. For it is certain that they are unaware of the fact that by admitting classes in the logical sense into their discourse they have become committed to the existence of abstract entities, and one of the important sources of their deception is the mereological concept of class. They also feel that the definition of logical class in nominalistic terms necessitates the rejection of the mereological concept of class, and of social class in particular, as a fictitious entity to be explained away by verbal devices.
The kinship of the Marxist-Leninist doctrine of universals with Aristotelian realism is enhanced by the description of the process of abstraction as the apprehension of the essence of things. Aristotle believed that the process of generalisation and abstraction ‘exhibits the Universal as implicit in the clearly known particular. As a rough approximation this is also the Marxist-Leninist view. The essence, however, is not to be conceived as something fixed and immutable, shared by all particular things of a sort, in virtue of which they can be recognised as instances of one and the same species. Also essences are comprised by the evolutionary expansiveness of the Universe, by the development of what is potential, latent, and ‘in itself’ into what is actual, apparent, and ‘for itself.’ The essence endures and evolves, it is, as it were, growing and maturing, objectively and relative to human knowledge, in the progress of which deeper and deeper layers of essence can be discovered. This doctrine of abstraction is of Aristotelian origin, but the Aristotelian seed, as Marxist-Leninists themselves recognise, has clearly grown up in the Hegelian soil.
The process of abstraction by means of which the universals are apprehended and the essences of things discovered does not consist in generalising in the sense of Locke. It is not the operation of abstracting a core of qualities common to many particulars in order that this core may be used in a representative capacity for a whole range of particulars. If this were the only possible abstraction, its intension and extension would vary inversely; the less specific and poorer in content is the class defining property, the wider would be the class. There is a place in knowledge for this kind of abstraction, for generalisations providing economic abbreviations or devices for communication and facilitating thinking. But they have no cognitive value. For purely formal abstractions disrupt and destroy the connections and relations among concrete things, and cannot, therefore, reach their essence, which manifests itself in and is constituted by these connections and relations. Marxist-Leninist philosophy has never ceased echoing Hegel’s dictum that there is no ‘thing in itself’, i.e. a thing unrelated to other things. Therefore, when its relations to other things, constitutive of its being, are disrupted, the thing itself is destroyed.
There is another sort of abstraction, different from the formal, which Marxist-Leninists? call ‘concrete abstraction’. No detailed account of the process by means of which concrete abstractions are obtained is available in the whole of Marxist-Leninist literature. It is always referred to in the most general terms, reminiscent of Lenin’s observations on some aspects of dialectical thinking which is characterised by the endless process of deducing new relationships, by the passage from appearance to essence, and from ‘superficial to deeper layers of being’ . It is certain that the activity of concrete abstraction differs totally from the process of generalising and abstracting which Locke, Berkeley or Hume tried to describe and analyse. For the British empiricists were solely concerned with formal abstractions and are among the main culprits responsible for leading the philosophy of mind astray. The evidence available seems to point to the conclusion that concrete abstraction is a methodological procedure involving operations known from the methodology of empirical science -inductive generalisations, formulation of empirical laws, derivations of their consequences, reformulation and readjustment of hypotheses and theories This complex methodological procedure seems to provide the scaffolding of concrete abstraction as a process, but remains distinct from what by using such devices the mind is able to apprehend.
Concrete abstractions in the sense of a product are probably concepts like those of matter, atom, evolution and similar ones, whose meaning cannot be apprehended and fixed once and for all in a definition, for they must be considered within the whole body of knowledge and theories of which they form a part, and this body is constantly changing and being improved upon. They are rather conceptual schemes than concepts in the accepted sense, or perhaps what Professor Kneale calls ‘transcendent hypotheses’ . They mirror the unobservable but real interfusion of universal inner connections and mutual interdependence in the outside world, and reveal that a particular is not just an instance of a universal, but a knot in the network of interlocking universals. The discovery of the essence of an evolutionary complex whole precedes logically and epistemologically the discovery of the essence of any of its component parts. The essence of an evolutionary complex whole seems to be Hegel’s ‘Universal which comprises in itself the full wealth of Particulars’. Schaff’s description of concrete abstractions or, to avoid ambiguity, of concrete universals, echoes almost word for word Hegel’s celebrated pronouncement: a concrete abstraction does not set the general against the particular but treats the general as comprising the whole rich content of the particular. He suggested that unlike the formal abstractions the concrete ones do not achieve comprehensiveness at the expense of the content, that is, the more general a universal is the more ‘concrete’ and comprehensive it becomes. Correspondingly, a particular is more and more transformed into a complex of universals.
The only example of concrete abstractions, to which Marxist-Leninists specifically refer, is the concept of capital as worked out by Marx. They add that Marx’s method in Capital should not be regarded as an immutable standard procedure, for it has been devised for the social sciences alone, and what is suitable for the latter may fail in other domains of knowledge. Each particular science should try to formulate its own methodological pattern of concrete abstraction.
The concept of concrete abstraction introduces the notion of real aggregate or ‘whole’, a relatively stable, isolated or closed system of interaction. The latter is not simply a compound unit whose parts have no other relation to each other except that involved in being parts of one and the same whole. The concept of real aggregate refers to a whole which fulfils the following two conditions: firstly, the whole exhibits characteristics distinct from the properties of its component parts taken severally and collectively; secondly, the whole is determined by regularities irreducible to those to which each of its parts is subject when it is not a part of this whole. Only the aggregates which satisfy both these conditions are real aggregates in the Marxist-Leninist sense. Since the parts of an integrated system of interaction are supposed to display some important characteristics dependent upon their place in the system and are determined by the regularities which govern the whole, it is often said that it is the ‘law’ of an entire process (a system of interaction) or of the whole that determines the essence of a particular, i.e. a component part of the whole. A whole in the Marxist-Leninist sense includes, therefore, relations or relational properties, which cannot properly be called attributes of the parts, though they relate and qualify parts. If such wholes exist, they cannot be known or specified by the knowledge or by the enumeration of their parts. This raises the question of how we can know that a whole is a whole in the required sense. The only answer which Marxist-Leninists seem to be able to provide is that they are objectively given or found in the natural world. They subscribe to Whitehead’s fundamental idea that Nature is not a mere aggregate of independent entities, each capable of isolation in virtue of being specified by the ‘property of simple location’. The isolation of an entity in thought – the result of a formal abstraction in the Marxist-Leninist terminology – has no counterpart in Nature. ‘An isolated event is not an event, because every event is a factor in a larger whole and is significant of that whole’. A contrary view has no foundation in Nature but substitutes for Nature the model invented by theoretical science.
It is claimed that the conditions which a compound unit should satisfy to be a whole in the Marxist-Leninist sense make more precise the notion of the wholepart relation wrapped in obscurity by its connections with idealist philosophy -Gestalt psychology, holism, vitalism, and the irrational trends originated by Dilthey and Bergson, and reduced to triviality by the formula ‘the whole is more than the sum of its parts’ . The difference is perhaps not so considerable as Marxist-Leninists would wish it to be.
The concept of the whole, as defined above, attributes to a real aggregate two properties which a system of interaction of the sort investigated in natural science does not seem to possess. The whole cannot be constructed from simpler isolated elements by means of some well-defined composition rules derived from the laws to which the component parts are subject. Furthermore, the whole has some emergent characteristics, and consequently, its behaviour complies with some specific laws of its own. These are exactly the features which Gestalt psychology ascribes to the whole when it rejects the additive or associationist approach to mental phenomena and declares that ‘the whole is more than the sum of its parts’.
The Gestalt psychologists, Wertheimer, Köhler, Koffka, have always emphasised that a whole is not an Undverbindung and that its behaviour is not determined by that of its particular elements, but, on the contrary, that the processes in which the parts are involved are themselves determined by the intrinsic nature of the whole. Undverbindung is a characteristic of compound units whose existence can be accounted for by some rules of composition, such, for instance, as the laws of association in psychology or the law of addition of velocities in dynamics. A statement about a compound unit of this sort is, therefore, equivalent to a conjunction of singular statements about its component factors. A genuine whole, a system of interaction or a real aggregate in the Marxist-Leninist terminology, is not an Undverbindung in either of these two senses.
The use of the terms ‘Gestalt’ and ‘whole’ covers very much the same ground and their respective meanings are hardly distinguishable from each other. Moreover, they both play a double role, they are concepts of description, to be applied to what is found in the phenomenal world, and ontological concepts referring to the immanent functional interdependence in the natural world. In both these capacities the concept of Gestalt is more specific than the Marxist-Leninist concept of the whole. The former has also a wider factual empirical basis than the latter; it comprises psychology, physiology, physics, chemistry, and the theory of value, on which only the metaphysical superstructure is based. The Gestalt psychologists have worked out an alternative non-analytical approach to problems of science and their criticism of the traditional scientific methods, which they reject as inadequate, cannot simply be ignored.
This could not be said with full justice of the Marxist-Leninist use of the term ‘whole’ which, incorporating the characteristics of the whole put into relief by Gestalt psychology, still clings to its traditional connotation. The traditional connotation comprises a non-specific use of the word ‘whole’ and refers to the totality or to the total system of things including the properties and relations obtaining among its parts. This is an intuitive concept introduced to the study of history and society by Hegel. Since the operation with totalities of this sort engenders conflicts with the principles of rational and logical thinking, it is often associated with the denial or restrictions of the validity of logic, which is to be replaced by dialectics. The Hegelian concept of the totality has not been eliminated from Marxist-Leninist theories and it interfuses with that of Gestalt. This is clear from the fact that for Marxist-Leninists? it makes sense to speak not only of the study of systems of interaction, which are wholes in the specific sense, but also of the study of the ‘whole of society’, the history of mankind as one single development or the world process ‘as a whole’, which involves the Hegelian concept of the totality.
The crucial point in the discussion to which the inquiry into the ‘atomistic’ and ‘additive’ approach in science has given rise concerns the emergence or unpredictability of some characteristics or entities, which Marxist-Leninists, in common with other supporters of holism, consider to be an immanent trait of the natural world. A property of a compound entity is called emergent if it cannot be inferred from the properties of its component parts. The existence of emergent characteristics or events or entities constitutes a controversial issue, which, in some form or another, has been debated from ancient times. The concept of Gestalt has revived the old controversy. For it follows from the definition of Gestalt that its specific properties are emergent and cannot be predicted, however exhaustive our knowledge of its parts is. If there are Gestalten, there must also be emergent properties, which should be attributed to them as a matter of fact and not only because of our imperfect knowledge. This is what is meant when it is said that wholes are subject to laws. The laws in question state that any entity constituted in such and such a manner has such and such an emergent property.
The issue at stake is not whether there are unpredictable characteristics of events or unpredictable phenomena, but what unpredictability in this context means. For according to the critics of holism ‘unpredictable’ is not an absolute term but a relative one and it requires a conceptual and factual framework with respect to which a given phenomenon can be said to be unpredictable. What is emergent in a system of interaction and cannot be predicted is relative to what factual information concerning its constituent elements is obtainable and what general laws and theories are available at any given time. Therefore, unpredictability alone provides insufficient reason for the recognition of the claim that emergence is a characteristic immanent in phenomena. Unpredictability gives an indication of the state of our knowledge at a given moment; whatever else is inferred from it remains a matter of considerable doubt and of little promise. The doctrine of absolute emergence encourages speculative thought but provides no avenues for exploration and scientific research.
The Marxist-Leninist concepts of the whole and emergence corroborates this opinion. Their introduction marks the point where a fully-fledge speculation decisively gains the upper hand in Marxist-Leninist philosophy.
The conceptual scheme of integrated systems or wholes, each of which contains less comprehensive integrated units and is contained in more comprehensive ones, is based on the doctrine of internal relations and on the monistic conception of relations. They are the logical presuppositions of this particular conception of the whole-part relation.
The monistic conception regards the proposition ‘xRy’ as a whole composed of x and y and R as an unanalysable property of this whole. Consequently xRy is irreducible to a conjunction of φx and ψy. This should not be understood to mean that there is no logical method of reducing relations to classes, but that this reduction is not feasible for ontological reasons, that is, relations constitute an independent ontological category. They cannot be explained away as some other logical constants. Unlike the latter, they are not only constituents of speech but also belong to the constitution of the Universe. The concept of the whole is, therefore, incompatible with nominalism. For while a nominalist is not unduly restricted in the selection of entities which he may admit as values of the variables of the lowest type, is not obliged to search for the ‘ultimate atoms’ of which the Universe is composed, and could choose wholes of some sort as individuals, he cannot accept wholes of an arbitrary order, since they are irreducible to individuals. The monistic conception of relations requires that the ontological validity of such wholes is recognised .
The monistic conception of relations is itself grounded in the doctrine of internal relations, derived from Hegel. For it was Hegel who conceived the idea that properties are no part of things; they are disguised effects of relations and indicate the capacity of being influenced by and of exercising influence on other things. As he put it, properties are determinate relations of one thing to another and it is in virtue of their being related that the terms of the relation are logically and causally ‘posited’. ‘Property is this very reciprocal relation and apart from it the thing is nothing; the mutual determination, the middle term of the Things-in-themselves, which, as extremes, were supposed to remain indifferent as against this their relation, is itself that self-identical Reflection and Thing-initself which these extremes were supposed to be’ .
One of the most puzzling features of the theory of internal relations is its claim that the relations in which things stand to each other modify or determine the nature of related terms. The argument is speculative for it derives its conclusion from the following definition: a relation is internal to a term when it cannot be changed without the thing itself being changed. This is supposed to be a common occurrence. For instance, the value of coal is determined by the regularities of social life; its value is not an intrinsic attribute of coal but that of coal as a product of exchange. Not an atom of matter enters into the composition of value, Marx wrote. It lies hidden behind the exchange relation of commodities and manifests itself in the social relations of one commodity to another. The same applies to other properties of things, whether mechanical, physical or chemical; they are effects of changes which terms undergo in virtue of being related in a certain manner determined by regularities and expressed in laws of Nature or laws of social life.
It is not easy to see what these assertions really mean. Are they intended to state something more than the fact that relational concepts enter into the description of systems of interaction and that processes of interaction, for instance, such as chemical reactions or gravitational behaviour investigated in the classical Newtonian physics, do occur? If they are not, there is no reason to speak of relations modifying the nature of related terms, for these processes of interaction can be described in sober terms. To describe the process, i.e. the sequence of events, which a system of interaction, let us say a system of gravitating bodies, undergoes, we need the concepts of mass, position and momentum. We must also know the law of gravitation which, given the initial conditions of the considered system, allows us to compute the values of the variables or the state of the system at any moment of time. What is called ‘the system’ is determined uniquely by the mass, the ‘intrinsic’ property of gravitating bodies. The system is closed if we do not need to consider any other variables outside its space to predict the gravitational behaviour of the system itself. The specification of other characteristics of the system as a system of interaction requires in addition the relational properties of position and momentum. The procedure, by means of which the state of the system at the time t is computed, is purely analytical or ‘additive’. When it has been performed, there is nothing relevant left out in the analytical description of the process of interaction, and in this sense the description is complete. It is, of course, incomplete in an infinity of manners, but all of them are irrelevant in so far as the gravitational behaviour is concerned.
It is true that we frequently do not know all the relevant variables or that we lack the knowledge of the respective law. Both in and outside mechanics, even with respect to macroscopic phenomena, our knowledge of the laws of motion is insufficient to give an analytical description of every process of interaction. This, however, is clearly due to imperfect knowledge and not to any hidden occult qualities of the whole which prevents the description of its behaviour by analytical means.
It is also obviously true that no similar thing can be done with respect to the value of coal, and nobody would dream of deducing its value from its physical or chemical characteristics. The same applies the other way round: nothing relevant can be inferred about the physical or chemical constitution of coal from what we know about it as a commodity. This is self-evident and trivial. The value, i.e. the quantity or rather the ‘socially necessary quantity’ of labour contained in the commodity, as Marx defined it, is not a term in the vocabulary of physics or chemistry. It is, therefore, no wonder that nothing whatever is inferable about the value of coal from its fullest description in physical and chemical terms. To deal with the value of coal as a commodity we have to introduce new descriptive terms and those terms express relational concepts. It is extremely doubtful whether the best way of indicating this simple fact is to say that the nature of coal undergoes a change by being used as a commodity and thus becomes related to the social conditions of production.
It is clear that the belief ascribing to the relations the power associated with physical things, of causing changes or of inducing new properties, cannot really assert what it states unless it carries a figurative significance. G. E. Moore suggested that there is one perfectly natural sense in which a given relation may be said to modify the terms which it relates. This happens, for instance, when we say that it was the relationship to the flame that melted a stick of sealing-wax put into a flame. We know what we mean thereby, though we do not wish to assert that it was the relationship that actually caused a stick of sealing-wax to undergo a change. Such an assertion would obviously be false. The perfectly natural and intelligible sense in which ‘modify’ is used in such contexts does not imply that the description in which it occurs is correct in any other but a metaphorical sense. For to admit the possibility that relationships may cause the related terms to undergo changes is either to confuse or to identify logical and causal relations.
Two somewhat different versions of the doctrine of internal relations are current among Polish Marxist-Leninists. According to a more moderate view, we can speak legitimately and significantly in some cases of individuals irrespective of the whole of which they are parts. There are relations external and internal not everything is dependent on everything else and can truly, though only partially be known apart from the whole. Besides the relational properties, particular things may have intrinsic attributes: Socrates is a man, some billiard balls are white and round. The intrinsic predicates may signify the recurrent and non-recurrent traits of individuals. In the first case they instantiate some universal characters, in the second they specify a particular object in its uniqueness. Finally, a thing with intrinsic properties is also a part of a whole, and, consequently, it should be said that there are no independent facts and separate things. It is only when they are given the place of a part in the whole and their properties determined by this position become apparent, when they are examined in their manifold and constantly changing interdependence, that we can achieve a true knowledge and apprehend reality unaltered by the analytic dispositions of thought, by formal and artificial abstractions and, generally, by the metaphysical (in the Marxist-Leninist sense) mode of thinking.
The more extreme version of the doctrine of internal relations denies that there are any intrinsic properties or any external relations. There are no ultimate atoms of which the world is composed and only simple units could have intrinsic attributes; there are no ultimate properties common to particulars, for there are no particulars in the accepted sense; there are no ultimate regularities of Nature except those immanent in the Universe as an infinite system of interaction. Therefore, nominalism must fail to achieve its purpose; universals of any kind, whether ante rem, in re, or post rem, are useless; contradictions in thinking and science are inevitable and irrecoverable. This is a purely Hegelian doctrine which presupposes that every unit is complex, that it is a mesh of relations, and that these relations rather than what they relate are the real constituents of the unit.
The dialectical theory, we are told, does not assume that we acquire concepts by grouping together in certain ways selected recurring elements of experience, to use them in a representative capacity and as principles of classification. A concept is created by the endeavour to discover the essence of an evolutionary totality which leads to a mental reconstruction of the concrete. This purpose can be achieved by transcending what is given in perception and discovering genetic and causal connections, structures and laws of change, which reveal the inner universal interdependence of things and phenomena.
The doctrine of internal relations, originated by Hegel and in more recent times held by F. H. Bradley, A. N. Whitehead and Brand Blanshard, is a component part of the tradition associated with philosophic idealism. It is in sharp conflict with the positivistic trend in science and with empiricism in philosophy. When a materialist adopts it, strange consequences are bound to follow.
The doctrine of internal relations has been analysed by G. E. Moore, Bertrand Russell, and Ernest Nagel. They found it logically inadequate and factually false. There is no need to repeat their arguments or to add new ones, for those on record are sufficient for the rejection of the doctrine and have not been refuted by its supporters. It is important, however, to point out some of the implications involved in the doctrine of internal relations and to examine their role in Marxist-Leninist philosophy.
The point at issue between the pluralist and empiricist attitude on the one hand, the monistic and holistic on the other, is not whether particulars do or do not stand in manifold relations to and mutual dependence on each other. For an empiricist this is a matter of fact which he accepts as much as a Marxist-Leninist does. What is at stake between an empiricist and a monist is the question whether these manifold relations of dependence are or are not irreducible, that is, whether they are contingent connections or whether they indicate some necessary structure or a definite and all-inclusive pattern, comprising everything that happens. To consider the manifold relations as contingent does not imply that an empiricist would deny the existence of some recurrent systems of interaction in organic and inorganic matter, for they do occur in our experience.
What he does deny is that these recurrent patterns of order are reducible to some fundamental type of order which provides the Universe with a necessary structure and determines the mode of existence of everything that there is in the Universe. A monist accepts just what an empiricist rejects. He thus discovers a common basis for all knowledge, a body of primitive truths, concepts and methods, from which the essential characteristics and laws of partial, quasi-isolated systems, less comprehensive than that of reality as a whole, can be deduced and provisionally but rationally examined.
On this account a monist rejects as illegitimate and arbitrary any mode of inquiry that isolates any part of reality or considers it in some definite respect unless the fundamental artificiality of this procedure is clearly recognised. He may concede that we cannot deal with everything all at once and that to accept some limitations in our inquiries may be necessary. He will insist, however, that when this preliminary work is done, no true conclusion can be reached without restoring to its due place the principle that everything is related in some way to everything else. This means that the knowledge acquired must be shown to be derivable from the basic set of truths about reality as a whole and the artificial isolation of the investigated system must be demolished as a mere artifice of thought.
This general approach explains why Marxist-Leninists profess various theories incompatible with the empiricist and scientific attitude in philosophy, of which their views are claimed to be the most advanced embodiment. They say that fundamental truths about reality as a whole safeguard the possibility of acquiring knowledge about anything in particular, that ‘wholes’, and not classes of things or events, are the basic unit of inquiry and that the whole-part relation is the primary category of thought, all the others being either derivable from or subsidiary to the former; that no integrated whole is self-contained unless it is the whole of reality; that all artificial barriers between different realms of being must be broken and the traditional ways of thinking reconstructed if the correspondence between thought and reality is to be re-established.
The concessions which the moderate conception of integrated aggregates is ready to make to the common sense view and to the rules of scientific procedure do not modify substantially any of these theories. For both conceptions, the moderately and the radically monistic, assume that the world is not composed of particular simple elements which exhibit definite characteristics and stand in manifold external relations to each other. In fact there are only integrated systems or wholes in the natural world and the goal of science is to discover the evolutionary laws of these wholes. The better we understand the determinant for the whole, the more adequate is our knowledge of the particular, the part of this whole. We must know the whole before we can truly know its parts, the knowledge starts from the universal and reaches by stages the concrete particular, and not the other way round. ‘An infinite sum of general concepts, laws, etcetera, construes the concrete in its fulness’ . No whole is self-sufficient. The ultimate ground of rational knowledge must be derived from the total process of the world in evolution.
Thus, in Marxist-Leninist language the terms ‘universal’ and ‘particular’ seem to acquire a different meaning from that usually accepted. ‘Universal’ seems to be synonymous with ‘integrated whole’. Lenin’s much quoted pronouncement ‘The singular is the general’ is obviously false if ‘is’ stands for class-membership, class-inclusion or identity. The interpretation according to which the sentence ‘the singular is the general’ is an abbreviated form of the sentence ‘the property of being singular is a universal property’ and implies nothing more than an Aristotelian variety of realism, has been explicitly rejected. ‘The singular is the general’ is not a metaphoric sentence; it is significant and literally true as it stands. If ‘is’ means ‘is part of’ and ‘general’ is synonymous with ‘integrated whole’, the sentence under discussion may be significant in the literary sense.
If this interpretation renders faithfully what Marxist-Leninists have in mind, certain conclusions follow. It cannot be said that Marxist-Leninist philosophy has a theory of universals of its own, because it cannot dispense with universals in the traditional sense. According to Marxist-Leninists, an integrated whole is determined by a law of evolutionary development. But a law is a universal statement which states that every whole of a certain kind has such and such a property. To speak of integrated wholes we must be able, therefore, to say which of them are of the same sort or have a common property, and in general, to have at our disposal some principles of classification which cannot be derived from the whole-part relation. The latter is logically posterior to the theory of predicates, class concepts or propositional functions. The distinctions involved in using significantly the language in which the part-whole relation theory is expressed presupposes a theory of universals and does not itself provide it.
It cannot be said, therefore, that what Marxist-Leninists call their theory of universals offers a satisfactory and workable alternative to the existing ones concerned with universals in the phenomenal world. For should it be granted for the sake of argument what Marxist-Leninists profess, namely, that the phenomenal world displays a specific organization, systems of interaction, real aggregates in all degrees of complexity and articulation, there remains the fact that the holist confession of faith, to be stated at all, requires and has to make use of general words and principles of classification.
The second consequence concerns a point which has already been mentioned in passing, namely, the incompatibility of the theory of real aggregates with materialism. This point will now be considered in some greater detail.