|Dialectical Materialism (A. Spirkin)|
|Prev||Chapter 2. The System of Categories in Philosophical Thought||Next|
The unity of opposites and contradiction. One of the basic questions of world-view and the methodology of cognition is this: What is the cause of the motion and development of phenomena and is it in the world itself or outside it? Some reply that just as the existence of a clock assumes a clockmaker, so the existence and motion of the world presupposes a creator who steers that world. Just as a clock works when it is wound up by its owner, so the world moves at the will of a higher power. But if the existence and motion of the world presuppose a creator, the existence of the creator himself, by the logic of such thinking, must in its turn presuppose the existence of a creator of an even higher order. And this gets us into false infinity. The scientific world-view does not seek causes of the motion of the universe beyond its boundaries. It finds them in the universe itself, in its contradictions. The scientific approach to an object of research involves skill in perceiving a dynamic essence, a combination in one and the same object of mutually incompatible elements, which negate each other and yet at the same time belong to each other.
The ultimate cause of the development of any concrete system is interaction. Analysis shows that interaction is possible between objects or elements of objects that are not identical to one another but different. Identity and difference have their degrees. Difference, for example, can be inessential or essential. The extreme case of difference is an opposite—one of the mutually presupposed sides of a contradiction. In relation to a developing object difference is the initial stage of division of the object into opposites. When it comes into interaction, an object seeks, as it were, a complement for itself in that with which it is interacting. Where there is no stable interaction there is only a more or less accidental external contact.
It is even more important to remember this point when we are talking about connections between phenomena that are in the process of development. In the whole world there is no developing object in which one cannot find opposite sides, elements or tendencies: stability and change, old and new, and so on. The dialectical principle of contradiction reflects a dualistic relationship within the whole: the unity of opposites and their struggle. Opposites may come into conflict only to the extent that they form a whole in which one element is as necessary as another. This necessity for opposing elements is what constitutes the life of the whole. Moreover, the unity of opposites, expressing the stability of an object, is relative and transient, while the struggle of opposites is absolute, ex pressing the infinity of the process of development. This is because contradiction is not only a relationship between' opposite tendencies in an object or between opposite objects, but also the relationship of the object to itself, that is to say, its constant self-negation. The fabric of all life is woven out of two kinds of thread, positive and negative, new and old, progressive and reactionary. They are constantly in conflict, fighting each other.
The ancients used to say that everything comes about through strife. If a phenomenon contains opposites, it must be in contradiction with itself. The same applies to the expression of this phenomenon in thought. There is an obvious contradiction in the fact that a phenomenon remains the same and at the same time constantly changes, that is, contains opposite tendencies.
The opposite sides, elements and tendencies of a whole whose interaction forms a contradiction are not given in some eternally ready-made form. At the initial stage, while existing only as a possibility, contradiction appears as a unity containing an inessential difference. The next stage is an essential difference within this unity. Though possessing a common basis, certain essential properties or tendencies in the object do not correspond to each other. The essential difference produces opposites, which in negating each other grow into a contradiction. The extreme case of contradiction is an acute conflict. Opposites do not stand around in dismal inactivity; they are not something static, like two wrestlers in a photograph. They interact and are more like a live wrestling match. Every development produces contradictions, resolves them and at the same time gives birth to new ones. Life is an eternal overcoming of obstacles. Everything is interwoven in a network of contradictions.
Contradictions in people's minds and actions have been expressed with brilliant accuracy and vividness in the work of many great artists. The most notable example is, perhaps, Shakespeare, who portrayed man's inner world with such depth of the insight into all the contradictory passions that afflict the soul, the clash of motives, the conflict of emotions, the rivalries between individuals, the critical states of will and mind, the contesting urges of good and evil, the noble and the ignoble, the tragic and the comic. With great skill he traces the development of character right up to the point of its conversion into its own opposite and the contradictions between his characters often amount to individual expression of the contradictions of social forces and interests.
In Dostoyevsky, to take another example, the assertion that all contradictions in life "live together" never loses its force. No matter how nightmarish they may be, no one can escape them; they pursue all men everywhere.
Equilibrium and harmony. Thoughts of contradiction and opposites lead us on to ask whether one may say categorically that contradictions always, simultaneously, presuppose and exclude each other. Life has witnessed cases when opposites, not only exclude but also complement each other, forming a harmonious whole. Take, for example, the problem of psychological incompatibility in a work group, in everyday life, in the family. Compatibility necessarily presupposes certain contradictions, which complement each other and, taken together, form a harmonious whole, a symphony, in which a contrary does not exclude but presupposes its opposite. Consequently, opposites may be combined in different ways and the result may be cacophony or symphony. Pythagoreans spoke of harmony as something without which nothing could exist. The Greek physician and thinker Alcmaeon believed that the health of the organism depended on harmonious combination of contrasting qualities and forces, on their equilibrium, while any superiority or domination of one of them could give rise to illness. This principle of harmonious combination was applied to the universe as a whole. If there were no harmony, contradictory and heterogeneous principles could not enter the synthetic whole of the universe. Musical harmony, the agreement of different tones or measures, appears to Pythagoras and his fellow-thinkers as merely an audible form of universal harmony and is determined by quantitative relations. It is harmony that reveals the secret of the intrinsic agreement of opposites. This unity in the heterogeneous, this agreement in difference, which is to be found in musical harmony, is revealed throughout the universe. By harmony we mean a balanced and viable stable combination of elements and their connections, their internal and external interactions, all their motions. Harmony should be thought of as a process. The life of the universe consists in the constant interruption and restoration of harmony, of equilibrium: everything flows and balances out, everything balances out and flows. We could indicate a number of forms of equilibrium connected with internal motion: the preservation of the state of motion, for example, the preservation of the state of luminous radiation, the process of life, the process of material and spiritual (intellectual) production, and so on. An equilibrium is achieved and results in a stable, harmonious state of the interaction of opposites, which make up the given process taken as a whole (for example, the balanced state of the internal processes of the living organism), the maintenance of interactions between one phenomenon and another (for example, the interaction of an organism and its environment), the stability of a certain form or law (for example, the stability of laws governing physical, organic, social and psychological processes), the equilibrium, the preservation of the basis that generates a given form of motion (for example, the stability of fields of elementary particles as the condition for the origin of atoms, atomic stability, the formation of inorganic and organic compounds, etc). In certain relatively closed systems, the equilibrium of the opposed forces may be prolonged. For purposes of research and use in technology, researchers have agreed to consider certain states of matter as existing in ideally pure form and given them corresponding formulae. Meteorology, for instance, attaches great importance to the study of the relative equilibrium of the atmosphere, thermodynamics studies the relative ther modynamic equilibrium, and nuclear physics, the radioactive equilibrium. Chemistry studies chemical equilibrium.
There is a huge range of so-called statistical equilibria. This is also characteristic of such a highly complex living system as the human being, which is a dynamically balanced system in both its bodily and psychological organisation. When we say of somebody that he is "an unbalanced person", we refer to the pathological excitability of his nervous organisation, a tendency to burst into fits of anger, often for no reason at all.
Contradictions and their resolution. The motion of a contradiction consists in its simultaneously being realised and resolved. Contradictions are constantly subsumed and created, revived in a new form. The resolving of a contradictory system is also a means of moving towards a new system that is historically destined to replace it.
Contradictions are resolved, overcome in struggle. They and their resolution stimulate motion. The interaction of opposites, as a contradiction and its resolution, is what awakens every seed to growth and every bud to unfold as a leaf, a flower, or a juicy fruit. Contradiction and its resolution lend motion to things great and small and are revealed in the regular "reasonable" order of the universe. They account for the unity of life and death, the beating of the pulse, the motion of forces released in crystals, in plants, animals, human beings, society, and in the whole universe. Unless resolved, contradictions do not "spur on" development, they are a necessary but not sufficient condition for development.
There are many ways of resolving contradictions and they depend on various conditions, including the character of the contesting parties in the case of contradictions in the life of human beings and society. In some cases one side of the contradiction perishes and the other triumphs, in others both sides perish, exhausting themselves in the struggle. There may also be a more or less prolonged compromise between the contestants. The resolution of a contradiction may be complete or partial, instantaneous or by stages. Let us take, for example, the present age. It is full of contradictions of every type and variety. On the socio-political plane the situation is dangerously tense because of the unrestrained arms race initiated by imperialism, which forces the socialist countries to take measures to strengthen their defences. Relations between some countries are badly strained. A fierce ideological struggle is going on between the countries of socialism and capitalism. What do the peoples of the world desire? What is their main concern? Everyone knows what it K. is and it was stated in full at the 26th Congress of the CPSU—to achieve detente. The Soviet leadership has affirmed by positive action that it is seeking not to build up contradictions between the world of socialism and capitalism but to resolve existing contradictions by peaceful political means.
It would be a mistake to imagine that every contradiction leads to development. For instance, conflict between the members of a family can hardly be regarded as a source of development. Various processes evidently have an optimal contradictoriness, which encourages development to the greatest degree.
The character of contradiction depends on the specific nature of the opposed sides and also on the conditions in which their interaction takes place. Internal contradictions are interaction of opposite sides within a given system, for example, within a certain animal species (intraspecific struggle), within a given organism or society. External contradictions are the interaction of opposites related to different systems, for example, between society and nature, the organism and the environment, and so on. In the final analysis, the decisive contradictions in development are the internal ones.
Antagonistic contradictions are interactions between implacably hostile classes, social groups and forces. As a rule, they build up to the point of conflict and are resolved in social and political revolutions. Non-antagonistic contradictions are interactions between classes whose basic interests and aims coincide. The socialist revolution resolved and thus eliminated antagonistic contradictions, but it did not eliminate contradic tions in general. Socialism has its contradictions, for example, those between developing production and increasing demands, between the advanced and the backward, between creative thinking and dogmatism. The main contradiction is the one which in a whole set of contradictions plays the decisive role in development.
Contradictions may be found in nature, society and human thinking literally at every step. The whole history of human culture, of scientific knowledge involves a struggle between new knowledge and hypotheses and obsolete propositions, the clash of different and sometimes completely opposed opinions. The struggle of ideas is one of the vital guarantees against the mummification of thought. Great discoveries always evoke animated discussion and argument and this is where the truth is born. Life is an unceasing struggle—a process of development, in which the winner usually achieves progress in the development of knowledge if for no other reason than the necessity to fight, made ever more urgent by the efforts of the opposing side. This stimulates the thought and intellectual abilities of both sides, thus encouraging general intellectual progress.
The stating of contradictions in science is enormously important for the development of knowledge. One should not fear contradictions, for every contradiction contains the embryo of discovery. Creative thinking not only states antinomies but is seeking to resolve them. Dialectical contradiction in thought is not self-contradiction, not a muddling of concepts, but the interaction of opposed positions, points of view, opinions, concepts. Unlike muddled thinking, dialectical contradictions represent consciously perceived contradictions. Unconscious contradictions in thought are a sign of stupidity or of incorrect reasoning, which are corrected either by the thinker himself or by others. Nor can a theory which is internally contradictory be of any scientific importance. It has to be perfected and become internally uncontradictory. Otherwise dialectics would become a justification for total lack of principle and teach an ability to say one thing today and the opposite tomorrow. When caught in a confusion of opposed conclusions, reason feels extremely uncomfortable. Far from hindering us, the recommendations of formal logic, including the rules that protect us against elementary contradictions, against irresponsible jumping from one assertion to another without any objective grounds, help us to discover and express, consciously point out the actual contradictions and variability of things. By dialectics we mean not a person's contradicting himself, although even this may happen unconsciously in the course of research, when mental associations run riot around some idea; what we mean is the contradiction in an object and the reflection of this contradic tion in thought, where it is consciously registered and resolved. As science progresses the number of possible contradictions, paradoxes and antinomies does not decrease but actually multiplies. Great flights of creative thought and discoveries have been and will be made possible precisely through resolving these contradictions. Contradictions taken to the point of antinomy usually turn out to be landmarks in scientific progress, the points where thought breaks through into what was previously unknown.
At the first stage in the process of cognition, when the object is perceived in its initial wholeness and sensuous concreteness, the contradictory unity of opposites cannot be revealed. The knower must therefore begin from mental analysis of the initial unity, breaking it down into its components. Cognition of the aspects of a contradiction in their separateness and even opposition presupposes the synthesis of previously divided opposites. As a result, the one-sidedness of the initial analytical approach to the object, when all its aspects were studied as isolated phenomena, is overcome.
Antinomies, which have an objective basis, are a specific form of the existence of dialectical contradictions in knowledge. The content that they reflect is ultimately an element of the structure of the developing objective contradiction. Cognitive antinomies serve as a form of theoretical reproduction of contradictions in scientific theories, whose develop ment takes place through the uncovering and resolving of the contradictions discovered in previous theories or levels of research. The most effective way of resolving antinomies that arise in theoretical thought is to go beyond their limits, to discover the underlying basis, to find how one opposite turns into the other and reveal the intermediate links.
The philosophical and methodological importance of being able to identify and resolve contradictions is constantly growing in connection with the increasing diversity of people's social relationships, the progress of science and the increasing complexity of the system of concepts in thought. The educative value of an understanding of the principle of contradiction is that it becomes the core of a person's attitude to the world as a world full of contradictions demanding to be known and resolved. Intellectual thought in science, art or politics must start by assuming that the world is contradictory. Otherwise they can only stagnate.