by Corry Shores
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[The following is summary. All boldface, underlying and bracketed commentary are my own, unless otherwise indicated.]
“Dialectic and Dialetheic”
1 Why It Is Necessary to Argue This
Many scholars argue that Marx’s and Hegel’s dialectics involve a non-logical notion of contradiction or that contradiction is conceptual and does not obtain in reality. Priest, however, will argue that the logical sense of contradiction is fundamental to their philosophies of dialectic.
[Dialetheism is the philosophical position that true contradictions exist.] It would seem at first uncontroversial to say that Marx’s and Hegel’s dialectics were dialetheic, given their apparent contradictory structures. Priest offers some quotations from Hegel’s Science of Logic to exemplify this.
… common experience … says that … there is a host of contradictory things, contradictory arrangements, whose contradiction exists not merely in external reflection, but in themselves. (440.)
External sensuous motion is contradiction’s. immediate existence. Something moves, not because at one moment it is here and at another there, but because at one and the same moment it is here and not here, because in this “here,” it at once is and is not. [Hegel, cited in Priest 389. Italics in the original. Priest says this comes a few lines after the prior one cited at page 440. From the bibliography: Hegel, G. W. F. 1969 (1812). The Science of Logic. London: Allen and Unwin]
So it seems clear that Hegel is a dialetheist. However, many scholars do not take this interpretation. “many, if not most, interpretations of Hegel assert that where Hegel talks of contradiction, and even asserts one,· he must be understood as meaning something else” (389). Priest cites some examples. Acton seems to say that Hegel did not mean contradiction in its normal formal logical sense. Marxist philosophers such as Cornforth, also, instead of understanding contradiction logically, seem to think of it more in terms of forces acting against one another [which does not present a logical self-contradiction, but rather a conflict between separate entities]. Norman sees the contradiction as “the interdependence of opposed concepts” [rather than one term and its negation both being affirmed.'] Self conflict is merely a conflict internal to one political body [and thus still a conflict not between on things an itself but rather between two parts of one thing.] (390) Also very interesting is the notion of contradiction in the history of Soviet thought. Up until the early 1950s, contradiction meant a number of things, “including opposing· tendencies, diametrically opposed concepts, and logical contradictions,” and even logical contradiction was seen as something that obtains in reality. However, after the early 1950s, contradiction may be something conceptual but not something occurring in reality. Nonetheless, Hegel and Marx do use the notion of contradiction in its logical sense, and for them contradictions do obtain in reality. Priest will argue that it is this logic sense that is most primary in their conceptions of dialectic, and these other senses of contradiction that we discussed above are derivative of that logical sense.
Now, while there are certainly examples of Hegel and Marx using the notion of contradiction in other than its logical sense, to insist that they never meant what they said literally when they claimed that contradictions occur in reality, or even when they asserted - contradictions, inflicts such violence on their dialectics that the distorted product is but a pale shadow of its proper self. For the central theoretical notion of contradiction in Marx and Hegel is precisely-the logical one. Other uses are derivative, and usually derive their significance from the central notion.
Priest, Graham. ‘Dialectic and Dialetheiç’. Science & Society, 1989/1990, 53 (4) 388–415.