Dialectics facilitates the understanding of the complex issues of the universe. What is difficult, however, is to comprehend dialectics(1) itself.
It is difficult to comprehend dialectics because in order to understand it, one has to go beyond the realm of formal logic — the logic to which we have been accustomed for thousands of years. The relationship between formal logic and dialectical logic can be compared from one perspective and to some extent to the relationship between picture and motion-picture; between photo and film(2).
Formal logic shows us disconnected, frozen, and static moments of reality, just like a photograph. Conversely, in dialectical logic, moments appear in their continuum and in an organic and living sense. In dialectical logic, or as the above allegory puts it, in a film, moments and their internal connection can be seen together and objectively. In formal logic, on the other hand, we encounter only fixed and independent forms, that is, only single images.
It may be said that a film is nothing more than a series of single photographs arranged in a sequence. The answer to that is: no, the point here is the living connection of the moments, not their mere mechanical sequence. In a photo, we are faced with only a place; a fixed place in which the element of time is also present yet frozen and fixed. In a film, however, we see time and place together and in living connection with one another.
From a dialectical point of view, moments (photographs) are actualized only in the whole process (film), and the whole process only through moments, and the understanding of each of the two would be incomplete without the other — the particular in the universal, and the unversal in the particular. Whereas in formal logic, the existence of everything is perceived as a picture; as a still image, and as a result, it is recognized in this sense and to this extent. But in the real world, reality is flowing, not static, and therefore a fixed image or a photo of reality reflects only a fragment; only a slice of reality and not the whole of reality. In photographs, the internal relation of images (ie, the internal connection of moments) is separated and reduced to a purely external relation: the mere sequence of moments. Whereas in films, the internal relations of the moments remain intact and therefore the set of moments appears as a process and not a set of separate and independent events.
It may be said that formal logic recognizes cause-and-effect relationships (causality) and therefore reflects the connection or the relationship between moments. The answer is yes, but in the realm of formal logic, causality is presented as linear and mechanical relations, not as “reciprocity”.(3)
But why is that?
In formal logic, “Thing-In-Itself” is the basis; or the axis if you will, of the discussion since formal logic seeks to explain the existence of everything individually in itself and with itself. Just like a picture that describes itself. Because from the point of view of formal logic, the existence of everything must be explained by itself, and this “self”, in formal logic, is an unchanging, abstract and self-determined definition (The Law of Identity A = A), that is, a thing cannot be both itself and its other (The Law of Non-Contradiction). As a result, everything must be either its own self or its non-self (The Law of Excluded Middle).
In dialectical logic, however, the basis of the discussion, and with it the concept of “Thing In Itself,” is transformed. In formal logic, existence can only be understood in stability, and anything that negates this stability is wrong. Formal logic believes that there is no contradiction in the real world. From the point of view of formal logic, contradiction is merely an error of the mind. Whereas in dialectical logic, contradiction is the basic principle of existence and the error of the mind is by not seeing or ignoring this principle. In short, dialectical logic means another way of thinking, another form of thought.
Materialist dialectics teaches us that nothing is eternal and that everything has a beginning and an end. The only thing that is eternal, however, is this endless process of the beginning and the ending of everything. But this process is not a mere repetition, rather a developmental process.
In Hegel’s idealist dialectics, this developmental process pursues an ultimate goal. In other words, dialectical logic in the Hegelian system becomes a transcendental logic. That is, the process of development follows a predetermined goal and reaches absolute perfection at some point. This is not the case with materialist dialectics. In materialist dialectics, there is no predetermined end neither is there a point of perfection. In the materialist perception of dialectical logic, existence does not come from a particular source and has no particular destination to arrive at. In fact, the logic that governs the universe and its development cannot be systematized because, by doing so, we deprive it of its eternal dynamism and reduce it from dynamic thinking (science) to transcendental thought (philosophical system) and, consequently, we idealize its foundation — that is, we give it a kind of boundary and thus a kind of constraint just like Hegel with his “Circle of Circles” which is, in fact, an attempt to systematize dialectical philosophy. However, if we consider materialist dialectics as the basis of existence and its developmental process, then we can never consider a boundary for what is boundless. That is, we cannot consider a finitude for the infinity of existence and the endless process of its development, unless we consider this process to be a teleological movement. But materialist dialectics, or in other words, the logic that governs the process of development, is neither a purely mechanical repetition nor a spiritual movement that pursues an ultimate goal until it finally reaches its point of completion and end. Hence, materialist dialectics should not be seen as yet another kind of philosophical system, but rather as a method of cognition. And just as to science or to knowledge we cannot consider a point of completion, neither can we consider finitude for materialist dialectics.
To understand Marx’s dialectics, it is not only useful but also vital to pay homage to Hegel’s dialectics.(4) Indeed, it is only when Hegel’s dialectics is revealed to us that a comprehensive and correct understanding of Marx and his dialectics can be obtained. By understanding Hegel’s dialectics, not only is it possible to understand Marx’s dialectics, but also to understand the fundamental difference between him and Hegel. It is only at this point that we can really understand how far or how close we are to Marx.
May 6, 2020
1. The dialectics in question here is the dialectics that begins with Hegel and evolves with Marx — although the fundamental elements of this dialectics can be traced back to ancient philosophy, and specifically to the views of Heraclitus.
2. It should be emphasized at the outset that this analogy is used merely to present the notion of dialectics and some of its related categories, and it goes without saying that it does not necessarily cover everything.
3. This is the term that Hegel uses to express the reciprocal relationship between cause and effect. Hegel evolved causal relations from a mechanical relation and concept to a dialectical relation and concept.
4. I find it unlikely that a communist who reads and understands Hegel correctly, would not reconsider many or at least some of their previous views.