From: Lau Kam To

Subject: Re: dialectics of nature - reply

Dialectics of Nature

Andy: " It seems to me that any one who recognises that dialectical forms are manifested in history and asserts that such laws are not manifested in other aspects of nature, has the onus of showing why this is so......dialectics constitutes a catergory of logic, an extremely general concept........"

I agree that dialectics constitutes a category of logic, an extremely general concept and also the problem caused in a dialectics confined to history alone. While man is part of nature, a dialectics manifested in history only and not in other aspects of nature will give rise to a dichotomy between history and nature. Dialectics is either comprehensive or you've internal contradiction within the dialectics itself.

It is not that we should foreclose the possibility of a dialectics of Nature, rejecting it out of hand without any investigation or accepting it uncritically (the DiaMat of the 2nd International or in Soviet Marxism). Rather, as Hegel comments on Kant's categorial imperative, order cannot be imposed on where there is no order, what 'ought' to be is no truth if all it is is 'ought', therefore, dialectics must be investigated and proved in different epoches/levels in history and in Nature. In Capital, Marx demonstrated the movement of one stage in the development of human history, the capitalist mode of production, its internal logic and its moments of ultimate breakdown due to internal contradictions. A lecturer in my college once remarked that, in contrast to Malthus whose studies in population were founded on empirical data available at his times, Marx's Capital like many 'sciences' of the 19th century, is a theorectical construct without empirical bases. He didn't notice the amount of statistical reports, factory reports etc. that were found in the Appendix. In the Postface to the 2nd edition of Capital, Marx quoted with approval the review of I I Kaufman in commenting his dialectical method : " The old economists misunderstood the nature of economics laws when they likened them to the laws of physics and chemistry. A more thorought analysis of the phenomena shows that social organisms differ among themselves as fundamentally as plants or animals. Indeed, one and the same phenomenon falls under quite different laws in consequence of the different general structure of these organisms, the variations of their indiviudal organs, and the different conditions in which those organs function. Marx denies, for example, that the law of population is the same at all times and in all places."

(off the topic here - anyone in the group has a full English translation of this review?).

Therefore, in discussing Lukacs, I raised the question of Dialectics of Nature in relation to modern science since the former didn't have much development after Engels. Certainly, Lukacs' reformulation of Nature/history relation has its own limit. In Marx's case, the relation is a much more complex dialectical one: Marx didn't simply substitute 'matter' for Hegel's 'Absolute Spirit'. His starting point is human praxis and it is in praxis, the objectification of labour power, in productive activities, scientific knowledge, and industry etc. that we come to know Nature and transform it. The natural world around us is not a given, it is a product of industry and social development, a product of history. On the other hand Nature is the first premises of history, it provides the materials and objects of labour. Man is a social being, but he is first a natural being, his power in transforming Nature, his act of objectificiation is itself naturally given. Nature is the Nature in History and History is the natural history of man.

The 'movement' is here formulated by Marx, but the 'moments' still need to be worked out, for the Nature/history relation is different in pre-capitalist, capitalist, and socialist society and so is the case with Dialectics of Nature.


Andy: "To undersand dialectical logic, one must have experience in the transformation of one "paradigm" (to use the very apt term of Thomas Kuhn) into another, to have seen and participated in a "logic of events" and felt its power and necessity........"

Exactly. In Hegel's word dialectics is the 'the Road of Despair'.


Julio: "Is math another CONCRETE science, in the sense of being concerned with some aspects of REALITY (space forms and quantity relations) to which it constantly has to refer for verification? ....What's the essence of mathematics, the objectivity of its definitions, axioms, and theorems ......"

Maths, a forbidden planet to me, but I think Andy's reply sums up the gists.

As a supplement:

1) space forms and quantity relations - I remember Kant has probed this problem somewhat in the Transcendental Aesthetics of his Critique of Pure Reason: mathematical knowledge is possible because our intuitions of space and time are a prior and the external objects of our sensible must accord with the propositions of geometry.

2) Hegel has some comments on mathematics in his Phenomenology, para. 42-46 which may be relevant to your question.

Flora: "....we can observe that after a quantity of heat is applied to water, it changes in quality from liquid to steam."

I thought I came across this example in introductory texts on DiaMat, but it still eludes me (perhaps my cognitive development never went beyond the concrete operational stage). H2O is still H2O in solid, liquid or steam form. The heat applied, affect the spacing of the molecules in water, not the molecular structure of water, so I don't understanding why there is a change in 'quality'?

Thanks for all the replies.