Dialectical Materialism

The book The History of Philosophy by Leo Strauss talks about a variety of philosophers and their philosophies. The one whose ideology I shall address today is Karl Marx’s. Marx was a German philosopher and freethinker and along with Fredrich Engels came up with the tenets of Marxism, a worldview that was the basis for the later-created communism. Marxism calls for the adoption of a materialist view of the world, one that describes the world as nothing but the interaction of bodies. In his books such as The Poverty of Philosophy as well as Capital, Volume I, Marx describes nature and society not as two mutually exclusive things, but as one and the same. He saw nature and thus society as being organized according to universal laws: “the law of transformation”, “the law of contradiction” and “the law of the double negation.”
“The law of transformation” is more elaborately known as the law of transformation from quantity into quality and vice versa. The law states that as any given quantity of a certain object changes, the quality of said object also changes in conjunction, and vice versa. This law serves to blur the lines between qualitative and quantitative elements as it binds them both into one concept. A common and simple example used to demonstrate this law is the relationship between water and ice; as water’s temperature decreases it transitions from water to ice, thus the change moves from a quantitative to a qualitative one. To this law there’s also a corollary however that states that there is not a single discernable point where the quantitative transitions into qualitative, rather it is a gradual change; take the example of the fetus, as proposed by Engels, and it is impossible to determine when exactly a fetus becomes a living thing.
The second law, “the law of contradictions”, states that the world is nothing but a stream of unified oppositions and contradictions. The law is supported not by Engels nor Marx but, according to The History of Political Philosophy, by Zeno the Eleatic when he says, “every moving body is at each instant in one and only one place.” Thus we find that all things in motion are also in stasis, paradoxically enough. Another example of “The law of contradictions” is that of a given line that is curved everywhere. It is still straight between two points that are infinitesimally separate, and so not completely curved. If things were seen as separate these contradictions would never occur, but because dialectical materialism is all about analyzing interactions, they do.
The final law as proposed by Marx is the “law of double negation.” This law is also known as the law of progression and ascension. It states that in order for ascension to occur, the currently-pervasive condition must be destroyed. To demonstrate the “law of negation” Engels says: “If you sow a grain of barley, it germinates, it ceases to exist and instead we get its negation, a plant. The plant grows, it produces grains of barley and when these have ripened, the stalk dies, it in turn is negated. As a result of this negation of a negation, we do again have the grain of barley but now as a multiple, it is on a higher level.” This analogy of the grain is perfect for it presents one with a condition in which “thing a” is negated and becomes “thing b” which in turn negates itself and becomes “thing c”, thus becoming greater than both its counterparts. In The History of Political Society another analogy is used: “Select any algebraic quantity as, a, as the affirmation. Negate it by multiplying it by -1, to form -a. Negate the negation by multiplying it by itself, and the product is a2.” This law is embodied in one maxim: to create one must first destroy. It is the most essential law of nature in which everything comes at a cost.
Marx’s dialectical materialism is all about the interaction between bodies and ideas. It is more than just a political or social ideology, however, it is a worldview. It places priority not on humanity but on the supposedly-innate laws of nature that are believed to exist independently of any human consciousness. In dialectical materialism we see that Marx and Engels drew a lot from Immanuel Kant who also believed in concepts such as innate structure, and interaction. Whether or not Marx’s materialism is wholly right, partially right, plain-out wrong or partially wrong is for the reader to decide. Do the laws prescribed by Marx describe nature accurately enough or is there more to nature than mere interactions and laws? We may never know. Nevertheless, the way Marx contributed to our human understanding of materialism is an accomplishment in itself.

Works Cited
Strauss, Leo. History of Political Philosophy. 3rd ed. Chicago: U of Chicago, 1987. Print.

2 comments on “Dialectical Materialism

  1. very interesting concept you discussed

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