Marxist Dictionary

Conception of reality as a dynamic and complex system of densely interrelated parts.

The dialectic appears in Marxist thought as a set of implicit conceptions about reality. Among them:

  • Reality, any reality, forms a unique whole in continuous transformation.
  • The totality (whole) determines and gives meaning to its parts; the mere addition or aggregation of the parts does not allow a coherent description of the whole, if something is unable to be integrated into a global framework of knowledge about the whole, it will become a mere casuistry, alienated knowledge of its own object.
  • The common categories to explain change in empiricism, such as cause and effect, the distinction between the genitive (which gives origin) and the substantive (produced by it), quantity and quality, the antagonistic character of the opposites… are in reality arbitrary, the product of a parceling and [alienation|alienating]] look. Causes and effects are intertwined and merged in the total vision (totality is the determinant, not the linear causal chains); the accumulation of quantitative changes produces nothing but qualitative changes; etc. etc.
  • The compartmentalization of knowledge in different sciences, disciplines, knowledge, etc. does not respond to the structure of reality but to the limitations of empiricism and the metaphysics that accompany it. They are an additional result of ideology.

The dialectical conception of reality is present from Heraclitus and the Epicureans (Lucretius’ “Rerum Natura”) to Spinoza among the materialistic thinkers and from Aristotle to Hegel among the idealists.

Modern philosophy, on the other hand, although it too had brilliant representatives of dialectics (e.g., Descartes and Spinoza), had increasingly crystallized, through English influence, into the so-called metaphysical way of thinking, which also dominated almost exclusively the French in the eighteenth century, at least in their specifically philosophical works. […]

For the metaphysicist, things and their mental images, concepts, are objects of investigation given once and for all, isolated, one after the other and without the need to contemplate the other, firm, fixed and rigid. The metaphysician thinks according to harsh oppositions without mediation: his language is yes, yes, and no, no, that everything beyond this comes from a bad spirit. For him, everything exists or does not exist: one thing cannot be at the same time itself and something else. The positive and the negative exclude each other in an absolute manner; cause and effect are in the same way in rigid opposition. This way of thinking seems at first sight very plausible to us because it is that of so-called sound common sense. But sound common sense, however appreciable a companion it may be in the domestic domain of its four walls, experiences amazing adventures insofar as it takes risks in the wide world of research, and the metaphysical way of thinking, although it is also justified and even necessary in those wide territories, of different extension according to the nature of the thing, he always encounters, sooner or later, a barrier beyond which it becomes unilateral, limited, abstract, and is lost in unsolvable contradictions, because by attending to things it loses their connection, by attending to its being it loses its becoming and its perishing, by attending to its rest he forgets its movement: because the trees do not let him see the forest. […]

[And then] We discover that cause and effect are representations that are not valid as such, but in the application to each particular case, and that merge as soon as we contemplate the particular case in its general connection with the whole world, and dissolve in the conception of universal alteration, in which causes and effects constantly exchange places, and what now or here is effect, there or then is cause, and vice versa.

All these facts and methods of thought fit badly into the framework of metaphysical thinking. For the dialectic, on the other hand, which conceives things and their conceptual reflections essentially in their connection, in their chaining, their movement, their origin and their passing away, facts like those indicated are as many confirmations of its own procedures […].

Dialectics, on the other hand, conceives things and their conceptual reflections essentially in their connection, in their chaining, their movement, their origin and their passing away. […] Only by dialectical means, therefore, with constant attention to the general interaction of becoming and passing away, of progressive or regressive modifications, can an exact exposition of the cosmos, of its evolution and of the evolution of humanity, as well as of the image of that evolution in the mind of man, be obtained.
“Anti-Dühring.” Frederick Engels 1878

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