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 Post subject: u wot m8
PostPosted: Wed Jun 05, 2013 3:23 pm 
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ZeroNowhere wrote:
Zanthorus wrote:
"A system of natural and historical knowledge, embracing everything, and final for all time, is a contradiction to the fundamental law of dialectic reasoning."

I assume this means that Engels would have something to contribute to scientific attempts to present a grand unified theory of everything. One of the central conflicts in Engels text seems to be between an idea of progress centering on the gradual development towards an absolute truth and one in which progress is marked by significant breaks between epoch's and shifts of a more paradigmatic nature.

Well, there's actually a more specific point lying behind this, primarily directed at Hegel and theology. This might become clearer on looking at this:

Engels, from Ludwig Feuerbach and the etc. wrote:
And this [ie. declaring absolute truth], indeed, for the simple reason that [Hegel] was compelled to make a system and, in accordance with traditional requirements, a system of philosophy must conclude with some sort of absolute truth. Therefore, however much Hegel, especially in his Logic, emphasized that this eternal truth is nothing but the logical, or, the historical, process itself, he nevertheless finds himself compelled to supply this process with an end, just because he has to bring his system to a termination at some point or other. In his Logic, he can make this end a beginning again, since here the point of the conclusion, the absolute idea — which is only absolute insofar as he has absolutely nothing to say about it — “alienates”, that is, transforms, itself into nature and comes to itself again later in the mind, that is, in thought and in history. But at the end of the whole philosophy, a similar return to the beginning is possible only in one way. Namely, by conceiving of the end of history as follows: mankind arrives at the cognition of the self-same absolute idea, and declares that this cognition of the absolute idea is reached in Hegelian philosophy.


The general point of Hegel's philosophy here was historicism, in other words that God develops Himself through successive stages in finite history, rather than remaining the same and aloof from the world. If the universe is the realisation of God, and each successive stage of society an expression of the mind of God, then God had to in a sense evolve, especially if you tilt towards a fortunate Fall theology (evil was a necessary part of God's plan). However, God is at the same time an absolute, timeless being, who precedes the world and has absolute knowledge, and so Hegel's system ultimately had to involve a concept of absolute knowledge which did not have a historical character (these tensions may have lead to the accusation of 'pantheism,' in other words identifying God entirely with the process). To be clear, Marxism isn't relativistic, and doesn't state that truth is just a matter of historical system, but it does base any conception of truth on the practical life of human beings, rather than on the absolute truth which a God knows. Of course, if language, ideas, consciousness, etc., could only evolve through the material practice of living beings, then this somewhat precludes a creator God, and indeed productive activity actually requires finitude (you can't make a hammer without its raw materials ceasing to be as they were), so that in a sense the infinite, immortal, etc. only arises historically in the context of the finite.

This isn't just a matter of negation, though, or simply becoming an opposite pole to Hegel. The Marxist conception of truth, whether absolute or not, isn't only a relativistic opposition to Hegelian absolutism (sorry), but instead a different formulation of truth altogether. For a comparison, the religious like to talk about how materialists have no answer to the 'problem of death,' but if we do posit that the infinite, immortal, the soul, etc., can arise only from the finite practice of human beings, then this implies a reformulation of the concept of 'immortality' or 'the infinite' within this lens, rather than simply denying or seeking for it. The problem of death reduces itself to not simply the problem of physical duration, but, in really practical terms, the problem of the passing of satisfactions and objects, the experience of finitude in life (on which see here), and finitude isn't something that productive activity can leave behind regardless of our lifespans. We therefore aren't talking on the same plane, because they might define immortality in terms of God or a Cartesian ideal of absolute truth, whereas we don't have one. For comparison, the idea of a cosmic speed limit was quite disorienting to ideas of maximum velocity, because there are clearly higher numbers than ~3x10^8, but nonetheless the universe acts as if this is infinite, and so the idea of how velocity works on a cosmic scale had to be reformulated. Within our framework (but not theirs, mind), 'absolute truth' isn't simply a false proposition, but is meaningless except in examining its historical origins.

After all, even Hegel was able to integrate some conception of 'qualitative leap' into his ideas, although he maintained a fairly all-embracing, 'final' system. At the same time, it would be true to say that he didn't fully realise the concept, because for him the process was one of the continual evolution of the infinite being which begun it, and so nothing fully new took place. This can also be seen in his promotion of the communal and universal/abstract over the individual, say in art, while for Marxism the individual can't simply be an 'expression' of social ideas because, simply speaking, society doesn't have ideas (whereas, of course, for idealists it does in the form of God or 'man in general'.) Social relations synthesize and raise themselves into the individual, as does objective into subjective (eg. matter into mind), and the latter stage is higher than the former, such that Marx criticises capital for the inversion of subject-object relations (while many modern atheists are keen to naturalise this inversion by saying that the mind is an epiphenomenon.) The rising of subjectivity, say, gives rise to a whole new dynamic of subject-object relations, where the newly produced subject becomes an active force changing its basis and itself. As such, there is a clear conception of something new arising here, because things are not a matter of the evolution of the Mind into matter. In Hegel you did have a sense of emergentism, the idea of higher systems emerging from lower stages, but it wasn't fully realised or dynamic. There's not just a progress towards one, fixed goal, the intentions change with the stages.

It's also true to say that Engels had issues with ideas of gradual progress towards a fixed ideal. To speak of a fixed ideal or asymptote is to assume that it can be defined, while, so far as we can't get outside of human modes of practice and activity (or, rather, there is no 'outside'), we clearly can't reasonable speak of an 'absolute truth' towards which our current truth tends. Insofar as it makes sense to speak of absolute truth, or the infinite, it's only insofar as it becomes an aspect of our practice, rather than an a priori concept. Of course, conversely, it only makes sense to speak of historicity insofar as it becomes practical, as it does in Marxism, while in relativism it can lead to no practical consequences (other than being annoying to talk to.) Engels states that the infinite is 'both knowable and unknowable:' knowable in the sense that we do, ultimately, know universals and laws which originate from our experience and can't simply be done away with (Newton's ideas, say, weren't wholly repudiated by Einstein so much as explained and limited), and unknowable in the sense that we can't have absolute knowledge which is fixed for all time, and hence our knowledge cannot be truly 'infinite.' To say that both of these apply is in a sense to repudiate the question, or at least declare that we have to take a perspective above the dichotomy which it poses, which is something gone over in an admittedly slightly stilted piece here. Likewise, Marxism repudiates both atomised egoism and collectivism, and this is because it is above both of them, and can flit between them as it will. The human individual is both particular and universal, and is also neither. The future isn't summarised in terms of eternal truths and categories, given now and for all time, but instead is the realm of ethics and practice. The productive individual shall live in it, but the metaphysician who only passively self-justifies an age and its categories does not.

As far as paradigms go, you're basically correct on that. It also links up with the idea of 'infinite knowledge,' as infinite knowledge is after all knowledge of the whole while finite knowledge is knowledge in parts. The main problem that philosophy has with paradigms is that a choice of paradigm determines how we look at evidence, but paradigms themselves seem arbitrary. However, for Marxism, paradigms aren't arbitrary, but historically motivated, and so in a sense Marxism was just a result of the early socialist and workers' movement struggling and entering into life with their still-undeveloped ideas, and giving these a contact with reality which would determine its content. Their choice of paradigm may have been 'arbitrary' as far as justifications and theories go, but nonetheless it was through comprehending its historical place as a viewpoint that it realised itself clearly superior to other paradigms. The fact that it is a superior viewpoint which the lower ones can't fully comprehend or pin down comes down to the fact that the organised proletariat are the highest form of class movement thus far, and seem a paradox to the viewpoint of the capitalist production process, by which the proletariat are rendered an atomised, passive class. In its wholly alienated state, the proletariat's organisation as a class is something which subverts the terms in which the proletariat is postulated, and so leads to the self-abolition of the proletariat.

Xan wrote:
The French revolutionaries and the Utopian Socialists equally believed that they had discovered the perfect mode of life but both were constrained by the conditions of life which they found themselves in. Marxism gets around this by providing an account of the conditions which gave birth to itself rather than considering itself sprung from thin air, it sees the future contained within the present whereas utopian socialism saw only an abstract future which it deigned to bring into the present. So far so already known but repetition of that which is already known can sometimes be useful to those who are want to forget the basics.

Well, the task of Marxism here might be best seen by understanding the objections raised to socialism. The primary one is, of course, that human nature is inherently greedy/evil/etc., which is generally now backed up with scientific speak despite being just original sin sans God and sense (so, akin to Freud.) Why does this work, though? Well, insofar as it's treated as a purely empirical matter, one to be proved by genetics and etc., the socialist implicitly admits that their ideas have no necessary connection to the material world and are just promoted by virtue of being 'nice ideas.' In a debate proper, the side which can have a claim to realism and box the other into the side of ideals is going to have the upper hand, and their whole case comes down to the fact that you can't refute reality. Hence the cynicism which modern bourgeois ideology often takes on in response to communism, because simply speaking it has the side of 'grim reality' and can just say 'deal with it' while being unmovable. If you like, the field of debate is more suited to the dramatic than the epic. If you're debating against somebody who's defending how things currently are, then you're forced onto the other antithesis, namely that of ideals (which is why Nietzsche, Freud, etc., always oppose socialism only by restraining it to the characteristics which Dallas associates with the epic).

This ended up manifesting a deep problem with many of the utopian socialists, namely that their claims were based upon 'human nature,' and so their opponents simply had to say, 'Well, yes, but if that's human nature, then what do we have now?' and their case dissolved. A touch of duality, of another view, was enough to problematise theirs. They had decided for socialism, but not yet lived in it or struggled to understand it or give it meaning in reality, and this isn't to be derided per se, because of course socialism could hardly start otherwise.** Still, though, Marx took on the basic challenge which this whole issue raised, namely of bringing socialism out of the realm of contingency and into the real movement of history. This tends to get him complaints about the 'mechanical' nature of his procedure, which are amusing primarily because if he wasn't 'mechanical' he would just be dismissed as utopian. It's also interesting, because it shows how, when socialism becomes a viewpoint not only in opposition to capital but above it, capitalists can't really oppose it as such because they can't pin it down properly. This isn't to say that Marx abandons the initial, proletarian impulse of socialism altogether to establish socialism by neutral scientific investigation, or alternatively to say that Marxism 'has no ethical viewpoint' - we're revolutionaries, not just economic forecasters - but rather that, beginning from this initial impulse born in the proletarian movement, Marxism represents its life and growth in the world, through which the proletariat come to understand their own place and that of their ideals.

How Marxism does this isn't only to understand the modern world and its movement towards self-negation, but to therefore appropriate both the idealistic and realistic sides of the debate to a higher degree than capital can know. The utopians represented the, "romantic viewpoint," which is capital's, "legitimate antithesis up to its blessed end," which could therefore be pinned down and attacked by capital. Marxism, though, as much as its followers try to be either mechanical and nihilistic or utopian, is not just an antithesis. Insofar as the proletariat is just an antithesis to the bourgeoisie, it is an atomised, passive class within the capitalist framework, but as far as it organises and acts in its interests as a class, it subverts the whole system. The activity of the proletariat just doesn't make sense to a system of complete alienation, and indeed from a class which supposedly have nothing to defend or establish. Marxism isn't utopian, it's not non-ethical, it's whatever it may wish to be.

With the utopians, they didn't so much create abstract futures, which they imposed on the present, as they did pasts, in other words ethical axioms, principles, and ideas of human nature. This is why they didn't really manage to confront capitalism, namely because instead of going forward and confronting it they instead remained within the realm of abstract principles and utopic communities, and so drew on the feudal critiques of capitalism for breaking up the social and relational framework of feudalism. They weren't really operating ethically per se, which would involve engaging with the world, instead they were just asserting that their principles were true and so be it. It's somewhat similar to the difference between mystical or New Agey religions and Christianity: the former (and Feuerbach) tend to claim that all we need to do is acknowledge what we really are, our inner essence which is God, and we will be fine, while the latter posits that our 'inner essence' participates in the flawed state of the world, and salvation may only be sought through actively seeking out the future Kingdom. The idea of original sin is quite similar to acknowledging the fact that we are formed as human beings by the social relations which we inhabit, and so cannot just 'be what we are' but have to remove ourselves from it through renewed relations. Hence, Marxism is an ethical, future-based thing, while utopianism is based on the past, and on abstract ideas of community rather than the community integrating developed individuality which Marx proposes. Still, utopianism set the stage for the Marxist paradigm in an important sense, and Marx was left to bring what still laid dormant to life.

* "As the famous words go, “Thou knowest, Lord, the secrets of our hearts,” and this is what Jesus reveals to us, not a name unrelated to our personality, but one encapsulating it. This can be seen, for example, in the example of Peter, whose given name was changed to one meaning ‘rock,’ a name that would not always describe his actions, but would describe the nature of the challenges which he would face, and so the unique nature of his religious journey. [...] How, then, are we able to sacrifice ourselves to God and ‘be crucified with Christ’ without wholly losing our personal relation to God? Perhaps the answer can be found in the way that Peter became ‘Peter,’ rather than just ‘Godly Person v3.’ Peter’s name is defined not just by his perfections, but instead by his struggle to gain them, and it was this struggle that ended up giving his faith the characteristic tinge that it took on. He wasn’t always a ‘rock,’ but he generally struggled in ways concerning his own steadfastness and ‘rock-like’ nature, and this meant that his journey to Christ was uniquely his own. This is a product of his life in Christ, and it begun in a sense of self-forgetting but ended in finding a new self."

** "Ultimately, the journey to God begins just by saying ‘yes,’ to Christ, with accepting a new paradigm with which to view the world, and the individual meaning of this decision comes later. You have to choose the lens before you look through them, and this first decision has to draw upon conventions and pre-existent ideas rather than being a product of personal reason, because our reason simply hasn’t developed in this new sphere. If the public church recedes as a social organism, then the world which we are brought up in becomes increasingly one where the default decision is a ‘no’ to Christ instead, and so we lack the framework required to feel God’s palpable presence in our everyday life. This is what atheists really mean when they refer to a 'lack of evidence of God' in the modern world."


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 Post subject: Re: u wot m8
PostPosted: Wed Jun 05, 2013 8:22 pm 
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