File spoon-archives/bhaskar.archive/bhaskar_1999/bhaskar.9907, message 15

Date: Mon, 19 Jul 1999 17:04:34 +1000
Subject: Re: BHA: Re: Diffraction Post two


I am sorry that this has spawned two posts and I am about to give birth to
a third!


Diffracting the Dialectic Post two.

Part three.

Having had a fairly hefty swipe at Marx in Part Two, Bhaskar returns to the
critique of Hegel.  I have, as indicated in my first post, ending Part
Three on page 96 after the sentence:  'I am proleptically interpreting here
in my terms=85 and entailing endist closure).'

This is the place of the  'triple inversions'. There are even 'inversions
of inversions' it seems. Hmmm! Still each to their own, I say.

Seriously though, mention of subject and predicate simply confused me in
this part. I will take a stab at it, but it is not much more than a guess. 

The Inversions: Hegel and Marx

I. Hegel: absolute idealist ontology
Marx:     universals as properties of particular things

II. Hegel: speculative rationalist epistemology
Marx:      knowledge as irreducibly empirical

III. Hegel: substantive idealist sociology
Marx:       civil society (modes of production) as the foundation of the

We are now at the top of page 94. Bhaskar rehearses inversions I and II.
For Inversion I turn to Marx's The Holy Family and the "The mystery of
Speculative Construction" (Marx, 1956: 78-83). I will quote at length from
this, because it gives the general thrust of Marx's method and also because
of its wit.

'If from real apples, pears, strawberries and almonds I form the general
idea "Fruit," if I go further and  *imagine* that my abstract idea "Fruit,"
derived from real fruit, is an entity existing outside me, is indeed the
*true* essence of the pear, the apple, etc., then, in the language of
speculative philosophy I am declaring that "fruit" is the substance of the
pear, the apple, the almond, etc. I am saying, therefore, that to be a pear
is not essential to the pear, that to be an apple is not essential to the
apple; that what is essential to these things is not their real being,
perceptible to the senses, but the essence that I have extracted from them
and then foisted on them, the essence of my idea --""Fruit". I therefore
declare apples, pears, almonds, etc., to be mere forms of existence, modi,
of "Fruit." My finite understanding supported by my senses does, of course,
distinguish an apple from a pear and a pear from an almond; but my
speculative reason declares these sensuous differences unessential,
indifferent.  It sees in the apple the same as in the pear, and in the pear
the same as in the almond, namely "Fruit." Particular real fruits are no
more than semblances whose true essence is 'the Substance" - "Fruit".
(Marx, 1956: 78-9)

The second inversion has Marx as believing in empirically controlled
investigations instead of the speculative mysticism of Hegel.   There is an
interesting aside here about 'preservative dialectical sublation'.  I
understand this to refer to the conservatism of Hegel's dialectic, where
nothing is absented, but is rather sublated and preserved. I am currently
studying Benjamin's 'Theses on the philosophy of history', and it is
striking to see the parallels between the Hegelian dialectic and Benjamin's
notion of the 'weak messianic hope' that future generations will redeem the
past through memory. I am thinking especially of the Third Thesis:

'A chronicler who recites events without distinguishing between major and
minor ones acts in accordance with the following truth: nothing that has
ever happened should be regarded as lost for history.  To be sure, only a
redeemed mankind receives the fullness of its past - which is to say, only
for a redeemed mankind has its past become citable in all its moments. Each
moment it has lived becomes a citation a l'ordre du jour - and that day is
Judgement Day.' (Benjamin, 1977: 256)

The remainder of this part is devoted to a four point development of Marx's
Third Inversion:

III. Hegel: substantive idealist sociology
Marx:       civil society (modes of production) as the foundation of the

The first of the criticisms has to do with Marxism's practical materialism.
This is fairly uncontroversial.
The second criticism is more complex, at least for me.  It is that Hegel
does not distinguish between objectification and alienation. The stakes are
very high here and Bhaskar's reading of Marx's reading of Hegel would
certainly be controversial. It also has to be said that the discussion is
rather 'brisk' to use an expression of Outhwaite's. Presumably in the
forthcoming book on Marx and Hegel the issues will be canvassed at a deeper
level. Again this is where one's sense of the inadequacy of one's personal
grasp of the issues is painfully strong. 

(I had  more material on this aspect of the section but there is a danger
of swamping the Bhaskar too much.  So I have tried to abbreviate it all.)

The charge against Hegel would appear to be that he universalises a
particular social phenomenon, rendering it as somehow an essential part of
the human condition.  Marx's attack is that if we alter the historically
specific mediations of Private property, Exchange, Division of Labour then
we will have a less (non?) alienated society (Meszaros, 1978: 78-9).

However Richard Schacht in his work on alienation takes a radically
different tack.
He asserts that Hegel did not confuse alienation with objectification
(Schacht, 1971: 54). Schacht's thesis was completed under the supervision
of Walter Kaufmann at Princeton. As such it has a Cold War flavour to its
conclusions which seem to point to the inevitability of alienation.
Nevertheless it is an interesting work and deserves more attention than I
have the time to give it at present. 

Briefly then Schacht acknowledges that Hegel had two concepts of alienation
(entfremdung) - one of alienation as 'separation' and the other of
alienation as surrender (entausserung). As one would expect the discussion
is very complex. According to Schacht alienation as separation has at least
three senses. The principal one refers to alienation from the 'social
substance'.  What Schacht means by 'social substance' is not immediately
clear. The examples he gives though of non-separation are taken from the
labour process.  Thus he speaks of 'roles' and 'groups'(1971: 38). There is
also the sense in which alienation here is necessary for the development of
individuality. (1971: 38-9). What Schacht translates as 'separation' is
objectification for Bhaskar and externalisation for Mandel (1971; 78), I

An additional complication is that alienation as separation has, according
to Schacht, two features.  Firstly alienation is a process of becoming.
The individual was at one with the Social Substance  then secondly *it*
became alienated from her.

However there is more to come.  The social substance is the objectification
of spirit. But the individual is also the objectification of spirit. Both
the social substance and the individual have spirit has their true selves.
So the individual's true self is really the social substance.  The solution
to alienation as separation comes when the individual recognises that
social substance is really its true self objectified and surrenders to it.

I hope I have done justice to Schacht's discussion (1971: 40-52). The
underlying conservative nature of his conclusions seem obvious to me.  More
importantly, even if they constitute a correct reading of Hegel, and I am
in no position to judge, they hardly discredit the Marx/Bhaskar criticism
that alienation as it is presented in Hegel is given an ahistorical
interpretation. As a result of which it can never be overcome. So the
upshot of Kaufmann and Schacht's work for all their undoubted knowledge of
the Hegelian texts is to prove that revolution is both unnecessary and
impossible. QED as the CIA might have said and probably did.

>From this initial charge of Hegel's identification of alienation with
objectification Bhaskar moves to Lukacs' critique of Hegel. For Lukacs,
Marx always assumed a material substratum. As well the Marxian dialectic
produced change.  In other words things could be finite. For Hegel life was
'essentially "infinite" and he spoke of "single lives" as "organs" of the
living whole world (Schacht, 1971: 43). (Interesting touch of the Gaia
hypothesis there.) So the characteristics of the Marxian dialectic are that
it has a base in the objective world. It is finitist in the sense that
things get transformed or absented. Change and novelty are possibilities.
It is also open and does not end in some putative closure such as a return
to the Absolute.

We are now half way down page 95 and have moved on to the third critique of
the Triple Inversion (III. Hegel: substantive idealist sociology
Marx: civil society (modes of production) as the foundation of the state.)
This accusation is that Hegel has a purely positive account of reality. He
lacks a concept of absence and absenting and so is vulnerable to the charge
of ontological monovalence. On page 200 Bhaskar claims the discovery of
absence as one of the two great discoveries he has made in DPF. So there
can be little doubt as to the importance of this charge.

I am not quite sure that I understand the next two sentences:

The very most a Hegelian could say is that he is only constellationally
monovalent.  But as Hegel is not concerned with the demi-actual, the
demi-present ( or i.e. the future) etc., this is a very weak response indeed.
III. Hegel: substantive idealist sociology
Marx:       civil society (modes of production) as the foundation of the

The Hegelian system as I understand it is The Absolute - Loss of union with
Absolute - Return to the Absolute.  So the Absolute could function
constellationally as overarching all that is i.e. the demi-actual. So in a
sense the Absolute is absented in the  world.  But the return to the
Absolute always seems to beckon, so the system is at heart positive.

We have now got to the last criticism of the third inversion. We move back
into controversial territory here.  Bhaskar argues that Marx has an element
of the teleological in his work.  I think this is a fair criticism,
especially of the polemical Marx of the Manifesto. Communism is presented
there as the goal of humanity and the process of getting there does seem
somewhat automatic. By the time of Capital, according to Bhaskar, Marx
However what is especially interesting for me is that Bhaskar allows a weak
teleology, and it is located within the Fourth Dimension 4D of his
dialectic, that is, the level of agency.  On page 169 of DPF he puts this
position thus:

'Definitionally then, there is a conatus to deconstraint or freedom, in a
depth dialectic=85 and to the knowledge of the pwer2 relations constraining
the satisfaction of wanted need. Absence will impose the geo-historical
directionality that will usher in a truly humane human global society=85
(1993: 169)'.

There is a more poetic version of this telos on page 98:
'What is certain is that, so long as humanity survives, there will always
be a conatus for freedom to become'.

I think the latter sentence is why I am a Critical Realist.

This criticism of the Third Inversion closes with a comparison of Hegelian
thought with the Bhaskarian dialectic. 

Bhaskar: ontological depth, structural change, open totality and
transformative agency
Hegel:    necessity, becoming,  actuality, infinity.

Necessity and becoming are it seems close to ontological depth and
structural change, but they revert to actuality (closure) and then the
mystical unity with the absolute or the infinite.

All this critique of the Hegel - Marx relationship has been filtered
through the Critical realist concepts of the epistemic fallacy, ontological
monovalence and the speculative illusion.

Some conclusions may be appropriate here.  However I feel inadequate to
this task. However from the little I know, it does seem to me that Bhaskar
has a unique spin on Hegel and on Marx  (to a less extent perhaps).  A
comparison of Bhaskar with Ilyenkov and others from the Russian Academy
would be interesting and I may get the time to pursue it.


Bakhtin, M., _Laughter and Freedom_ in Solomon, M. (ed), _Marxism and Art_,
Detroit: Wayne State University, 1979: 295-300
Benjamin, W., Illuminations, London: Fontana, 1977
Bhaskar, R., _Dialectic: The Pulse of Freedom_, London: Verso, 1993
Fiske, J., _Television Culture_, New York: Routledge, 1987
Ilyenkov, E.V., _Dialectical Logic: Essays on Its History and Theory_,
Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1977
Mandel, E., The Causes of Alienation, in Mandel, E., & Novack, G., (eds)
The Marxist Theory of Alienation, New York: Pathfinder Press, 1970
Marx, K., & Engels, F., The Holly Family, Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1956
Marx, Engels, Lenin, _On dialectical Materialism_, Moscow: Progress
Publishers, 1977
Meszaros, I., Marx's Theory of Alienation, London: Merlin Press, 1978
Novack, G., _Polemics in Marxist Philosophy: Essays on: Sartre  Plekhanov
Lukacs Engels Kolakowski Trotsky Timpanaro  Colletti_  New York: Monad
Press, 1978
Piaget, J., _A brief tribute to Goldmann_, in Goldmann, L., Cultural
Creation, St. Louis: Telos Press, 1979: 125-7
Ruben, D-H,  _Marxism and Dialectics_, in Mepham, J., & Ruben D-H. (eds)
_Issues in Marxist Philosophy_, London: The Harvester Press, 1979: 37-87
Schacht, R., _Alienation_, London: Allen & Unwin, 1971

     --- from list ---


Driftline Main Page


Display software: ArchTracker © Malgosia Askanas, 2000-2005