On the Coincidence of Logic with Dialectics and the Theory of Knowledge of Materialism

By Ilyenkov, Evald | Monthly Review, January 2020 | Go to article overview

On the Coincidence of Logic with Dialectics and the Theory of Knowledge of Materialism


Ilyenkov, Evald, Monthly Review


This essay by Evald Vasilyevich Ilyenkov (1924-79), "On the Coincidence of Logic with Dialectics and the Theory of Knowledge of Materialism," was published in his most widely known work, Dialectical Logic: Essays on Its History and Theory (first edition in Russian, 1974). The English translation by H. Campbell Creighton is from the edition published by Progress Publishers, Moscow 1977. In this adapted essay, Ilyenkov discusses the idea of the coincidence of dialectics, logics, and theory of knowledge, which was one of the hallmarks of the Ilyenkovian current in post-Stalin Soviet philosophy. Originally, the idea was jotted down by V I. Lenin in his Philosophical Notebooks when he was reading G. W. F. Hegel in 1914 and 1915, as a critique against the separation of the theory of knowledge from other fields of philosophy.

Ilyenkov was one of the most important and controversial Soviet Marxist philosophers. He contributed substantially to the Marx Renaissance that emerged in the so-called Thaw Period and aimed at the reconstruction of Marx's original methodology. In 1960, his first book, The Dialectics of the Abstract and the Concrete in Marx's "Capital," was published, to be followed by important articles and studies on the concept of the ideal and on problems of dialectical logic. Ilyenkov was known as an ardent critic of technocratic tendencies in the Soviet Union. He stressed that socialist society should express humanist values and not merely be an engineering project. Although Ilyenkov had constant problems with the Soviet philosophical establishment, which viewed his innovatory ideas with suspicion, he did not regard himself as a dissident and remained a member of the Party. He died by his own hands on March 21,1979. For more information on Ilyenkov, see: http:// caute.tk/ilyenkov/eng/index.htm.

-VESA OITTINEN

Like any other science logic is concerned with explaining and systematising objective forms and patterns not dependent on men's will and consciousness, within which human activity, both material-objective and mental-theoretical, takes place. Its subject matter is the objective laws of subjective activity.

Such a conception is quite unacceptable to traditional logic since, from the standpoint of the latter, it unites the unjoinable, i.e., an affirmation and its negation, A and not-A, opposing predicates. For the subjective is not objective, and vice versa. But the state of affairs in the real world and in the science comprehending it also proves unacceptable to traditional logic, because in it the transition, formation, and transformation of things and processes (including into their own opposite) prove to be the essence of the matter at every step. Traditional logic is consequently inadequate to the real practice of the scientific and therefore has to be brought into correspondence with the latter.

Karl Marx and Frederick Engels showed that science and practice, quite independently of consciously acquired logical notions, developed in accordance with the universal laws that had been described by the dialectical tradition in philosophy. It can (and in fact does) happen, even in situations when each separate representative of science involved in its general progress is consciously guided by undialectical ideas about thought. Science as a whole, through the clash of undialectical opinions mutually provoking and correcting one another, develops for all that in accordance with a logic of a higher type and order.

The theoretician who has succeeded finally in finding the concrete solution to some contentious problem or other has been objectively forced to think dialectically. Genuine logical necessity drives a road for itself in this case despite the theoretician's consciousness, instead of being realised purposively and freely. It therefore transpires that the greatest theoreticians and natural scientists, whose work has determined the main lines of development of science, have been guided as a rule by the dialectical traditions in logic. …

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