When nature and society are seen through the lens of dialectics and systems thinking
For them a dialectic of nature belongs to Hegelian idealism, not to a We can know society and history from the inside, as they really are, because they are the . Sooner or later, alterations in the inner relation of forces, and interactions with . Dialectical Materialism (A. Spirkin) The key to the mysteries of human nature is to be found in society. Sometimes the relation between man and society is interpreted in such a way that the latter seems to be something that goes on around. Mar 10, using it to analyze the dialectical relationship between society and nature.5 By necessity there is a “metabolic interaction” between humans.
The Fordist production model that originated in the West and was copied by the Soviet Union is one of the major causes of the global ecological crisis. The productive forces are in modern society socially and ecologically destructive forces.
In late capitalism there is a tendency of commodification and privatization of nature and human knowledge. Especially in the later writings of Marx and Engels one can find formulations that suggest a productivist logic that sees nature as an enemy opposed to man, as a resource and object that must be mastered, exploited, and controlled.
But throughout the works of Marx and Engels one can find many passages where they argue that there is an antagonism between capitalism and nature that results in ecological degradation and that a free society is also based on alternative, sustainable relationships between man and nature. The idea of an alternative society-nature-relationship and of nature conservation can already be found in the works of Marx and Engels, they are precursors of ecological thinking.
These classes are distinguished from each other by the difference of their perspective positions in the economy. A social class is constituted by the function, which its members perform in the process of production. The position which the individual occupies in the social organization of production, indicates the class to which he or she belongs. The fundamental determinant of class is the way in which the individual cooperates with others in the satisfaction of his basic needs of food, clothing and shelter.
Other index such as income, consumption, occupation are so many clues of his prestige symbols. Hence, according to Marx, the income or occupation of an individual is not an indication of his class-position i.
The separate individual forms a class only in no so far as others have to carry on a common battle against another class; otherwise they are on hostile terms with each other as competitors. On the other hand, the class in its turn achieves an independent existence.
The development process of a social class depends upon the development of common conditions and upon the realization of common interests. Economic conditions had first transformed the mass of the people of the country into workers. The determination of capital has created for this mass a common situation and common interests.
This makes it already a class as against capital, but hot yet for itself. In this struggle this mass becomes united and constitutes itself as a class for itself. The interests it defends become class interests. So, in that vision of history, revolutions are not political accidents, but the expression of historical necessity.
Revolutions perform necessary functions and they occur when conditions for them are given. Jean-Paul Sartre, possibly the most influential living man of letters, and Jean Hyppolite, Sorbonne professor and Hegelian scholar, upheld the existentialist viewpoint. The first is that dialectics is sheer metaphysics, a vestige of theology, an aberration of logic, meaningless verbiage which has no reference to reality and is useless for scientific thought in any field.
This is the opinion of almost all scholars, scientists, and those trained by them in the universities of the US and England, where empiricism, positivism, and pragmatism hold sway.
Another is that dialectics is valid in certain domains but not in others. Adherents of partial dialectics usually maintain that its laws apply to mental or social processes but not to nature.
Man and Society
For them a dialectic of nature belongs to Hegelian idealism, not to a consistent materialism. This position has been put forward by quite a number of Marxists and semi-Marxists.
Such is the view taken by the existentialists Sartre and Hyppolite. The third position is that dialectical materialism deals with the entire universe and its logic holds good for all the constituent sectors of reality which enter into human experience: The laws of dialectics, which have arisen out of the investigation of universal processes of becoming and modes of being, apply to all phenomena.
Although each level of being has its own specific laws, these merge with general laws covering all spheres of existence and development, which constitute the content and shape the method of materialist dialectics. This view, held by the creators of scientific socialism and their authentic disciples, was defended in the debate by Garaudy, Vigier, and the chairman, Jean Orcel, professor of mineralogy at the National Museum of Natural History.
An American would consider it strange that the controversy on the question should take place only between two schools of dialecticians, one piecemeal, the other thoroughgoing. Very few people in the United States today are convinced that dialectical logic of any kind is worth serious consideration. In the US, where capitalism reigns supreme, anything associated with socialism and communism is depreciated, if not tabooed. Marxism is regarded as obsolete, its philosophy false.
In the Soviet Union, where the socialist revolution abolished capitalism decades ago, dialectical materialism is the state philosophy. Under Stalin, in fact, it became scholasticised and ossified, as Vigier admits and Hyppolite testifies. The latter tells how during a recent visit the Soviet Academy of Sciences contrived to have him talk to the students about mechanism instead of existentialism, as he wished.
However, all the questions after his lecture related to existentialism. The intellectual and political climate of France stands between those of the major cold war antagonists.
There is lively tension and continual intercourse between Marxist and non-Marxist currents of thought, and especially between the politically oriented atheistic existentialists such as Sartre, and various exponents of Marxism. Wright Mills reflect the ideological differences between their two countries.
Mills held a place among radical intellectuals in the English-speaking world like that of Sartre in Europe. Indeed, even this footnote reference was an afterthought added to his original manuscript in deference to friendly critics. Such a blackout of dialectics would be unthinkable for Sartre. He was educated and lives in an environment where both Hegelian and Marxist philosophies are taken seriously, on a continent where scientific socialism has influenced intellectual and public life for almost a century, and in a country where the Communist Party gets a quarter of the vote and has the allegiance of much of the working class.
He has developed his own ideas in contact and contest with Marxism, from the time he propounded the philosophy of existence as its rival to the present stage, when he conceives of existentialism as a subordinate ideology within Marxism which aspires to renovate and enrich it.
Mills took from Marxism only those elements that suited his empirical sociology and New Left orientation. He cut the dialectical heart out of the Marxist method of thought and presented what was left as the whole organism.
Sartre has a higher esteem for dialectics. But as we shall see, he too accepts only what can be fitted into his Marxised existentialism. The transcript of this Paris debate between existentialists and Marxists is worth examining at length because many of the chief objections to materialist dialectics were posed and answered in the light of present-day scientific developments.
His arguments are distinctively existentialist. He agrees that history and knowledge are dialectical processes because they are created by humanity and humanity is involved in their development. There is a historical materialism but no dialectical materialism. Dialectics is internal to history. The province of dialectics cannot go beyond human practice. It is illegitimate to extend dialectical laws to nonhistorical, nonhuman phenomena. Sartre presents three main reasons for this restriction: History and society are such.
Nature, on the other hand, does not constitute a single integrated whole. Nature may be infinite, even contain an infinity of infinites. But it consists of fragmented totalities which have no inner unity, no universal and necessary interconnection. The disunity of nature forbids any universal dialectic. The contradictions operating in history cannot be the same as antagonisms in nature. Social contradictions are based upon the reciprocal conditioning and organic interpenetration of their contending sides through human mediation.
The opposing forces inside a physical-chemical system are not interactive and interrelated in this way. We can know society and history from the inside, as they really are, because they are the work of humanity, the result of our decision and action.
Their dialectical linkages are disclosed through the contradictory interplay of subject and situation.
Individual and Society: The Dialectical Conception of History
But physical phenomena remain external to us and to other objects. They are opaque to our insight. We cannot penetrate to their real inner nature and grasp their essence. In sum, nature must be nondialectical because of its disunity, its lack of contradiction, its insurmountable externality and inertia. The only possible dialectical materialism is historical materialism, which views our establishment of relations with the rest of reality from the standpoint of our action upon it.
Is Nature Dialectical?
Orthodox Marxists revert to theology and metaphysics, says Sartre, by extending dialectical laws over nature on purely philosophical or methodological grounds. He does, however, concede that dialectical laws may at some point be found applicable to nature.
But only by way of analogy. This presently involves a risky extrapolation, which must await verification through further findings by the natural scientists. And even if they should discover that physical processes resemble the dialectical type and start to use dialectical models in their research, this would provide no insight into the nature of nature, no true knowledge of its essential features.
Thus the existentialist Sartre turns out to be a positivist in his last word on the possible relations of dialectics to the physical world. For him the ideas of this logic can be no more than handy hypotheses in metaphorical dress that may help scientists order and clarify their data but cannot reflect the content of nature.
Sartre is not consistent in his effort to imprison dialectics in the social world and strike it out of prehuman and nonhuman phenomena. His arguments against the dialectics of nature are more fully set forth in his philosophical work of pages, Critique of Dialectical Reasonof which the first part was published here in under the title Search for a Method.
There he admits that living matter, at least, may develop dialectically. Garaudy correctly observes that once Sartre has recognised that negation and totalisation exist in the prehuman state, it will be difficult to stop halfway and keep dialectics confined to biology without extending its jurisdiction to the rest of nature. In his rejoinder to Sartre, who wishes to see only partial unities or specific totalities in nature, Vigier points out that nature is a whole made up of myriad parts.
The reality of the universe we inhabit is both material and dialectical. Its unity is expressed in an infinite series of levels of existence. Each of the specific realms of being which collectively constitute the material universe is finite, partial; it incorporates only a limited aspect of the whole. In itself nature is endless and inexhaustible. It forever generates new properties, modes, and fields of existence.
There are no limits to what it has been, to what it now is, to what it may become. One of the major errors of mechanical and metaphysical thought about nature, Vigier says, is the notion that it is based upon ultimate elements from which everything else issues and with which the rest of reality can be built up.
Actually science has been developing along different lines, both in regard to the universe at large the macrocosm and to the subatomic domain the microcosm. What appears immobile on one level is really in flux at another level. There are in principle no irreducible or immutable elements in nature. This has just been reconfirmed by the acknowledgment that so-called elementary particles can no longer be considered the ultimate objects of microphysics.
New microparticles keep turning up which reveal more profound movements and antagonisms. The history and practice of the sciences demonstrate that various totalities exist in nature as well as in human history. Vigier points out that living organisms are totalities which can be decomposed into finer totalities such as the giant molecules. Farther afield, the earth, the solar system, our galaxy, and all galactic systems taken together can be approached and analysed as totalities with a disregard for their detailed fluctuations.Marxism, nature and society - Martin Empson
The distinct totalities which are found all around us in nature are relative, partial, and limited. Yet, far from negating the unity of nature, they constitute and confirm it.
Experiments show that however complicated the biochemistry of life, its processes are fundamentally the same from the algae to the human organism. We ourselves are made of star-stuff. It has been ascertained that the universe has a common chemistry, just as all the diverse forms of life on earth share similar biological laws. The same elements that make up the earth and its inhabitants are present in the most remote stellar regions.
- The Dialectic of the Nature-Society-System
The substantial unity of nature is asserted not only in its structural components, but in its stages and modes of development. Science is rapidly filling in a vast panorama of cosmic advancement. It is uncertain how the observable universe originated, if it did at all. Then it proceeded to the chemical conditions required for the primary reactions leading to the first forms of life, on through the transformations of organic species, up to the advent of humanity.
All this has been climaxed by the birth and forward movement of society over the past million-odd years. This unified process of development is the real basis for the universality of the dialectic, which maintains that everything is linked together and interactive, in continuous motion and change, and that this change is the outcome of the conflicts of opposing forces within nature as well as everything to be found in it.
To assert that everything is in the last analysis connected with everything else does not nullify the relative autonomy of specific formations and singular things. But the separation of one thing from another, its qualitative distinctions from everything else, breaks down at a certain point in time and in space. So long as the opposing forces are in balance the totality appears stable, harmonious, at rest—and is really so.
But this is a transient condition. Sooner or later, alterations in the inner relation of forces, and interactions with other processes in the environment, upset the achieved equilibrium, generate instability, and can eventuate in the disruption and destruction of the most hard-and-fast formations.
Dialectics is fundamentally the most consistent way of thinking about the universal interconnections of things in the full range of their development. I I I In addition to denying the unity of nature, Sartre attempts to erect impassable barriers between different orders of existence by splitting nature from human history.
Is this justified by the facts? There was a profound interruption in the continuity of natural evolution, a qualitative jump, when humankind lifted itself above the other primates by means of the labour process.