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Reply to Keat and Dews on Dialectic


In an article in Radical Philosophy 15, ‘Science,
Social Science, and Socialist Science: Reason as
Dialectic’, I argued that one of the central doctrines
of dialectical materialism, that there are contradictions in reality, and with it the claim that science
can be critical of its real object, can be given a
coherent and acceptable interpretation’that involves
the rejection of some of the basic dogmas of analytical philosophy and the modern philo,sophy of logic
that underlies it: in particular the dogmas of antipsychologism in’logic, the autonomy of values, and
natural science as a model for social science, all
exemplified in a famous exponent of bourgeois
philosophy, Popper. In ‘Dialectic: the Contradiction
of Colletti’ (Critique 7) I showed that these dogmas
were present in the rejection of dialectical materialis m by a famous Marxist philosopher, Colletti
(New Left Review 93). My RP15 article has been the
target of “a fairly brief critical comment by Russell
Keat in RP16, and a full-length paper in RP18 by
Peter Dews has attacked both articles. I’d like to

Russell’s first and most general objection is that
showing that social science can be critically opoosed
to real social contradictions dQesn’t amount to showing that social science can be socialist. I agree with
this way of putting the point, so I must admit that
my title was misleading. But in a number of places
in the paper itself I emphasised that the specific
problem of ‘scientific socialism’ in Marxism involves the more general problems of the relations
between fact and value, theory and practice, and
science and morality, and that my concern was with
the intersection of that specific problem and these
more general problems. Moreover, though I agree
with the point as I’ve formulated it above, I would
emohasise the second occurrence of the word
‘showing’. It seems to me, in other words, that
though I didn’t show this to be the case, nevertheless it’s true that a science that takes objective
social contradictions as its target must be socialist:

as materialist dialectiC, science must comprehend
the whole material structure of present capitalist
society as a structure in contradiction, and it must
oppose that contradictory structure and require its
transformation. It must, therefore, take up the
class position of the proletariat as the only class
capable of understanding and eliminating those
contradictions. When Russell says that ‘criticism
of contradictions does not exhaust the meaning of
socialist criticis m’, I would therefore reply that
though it doesn’t do so explicitlY’it does so

Russell’s second objection is that, contrary to my
argument, acceptance of the fact /value distinction
doesn’t commit socialists to ethical, reformist, or
Utopian socialis m; since a Weberian distinction
between facts and values is compatible with recognisingcausal relations between modes of production

and patterns of distribution and thus with realiSing
the futility of reformist political activity directed
at redistribution. But that doesn’t clinch the point.

Having realised the futility of trying to reform
distribution independently of oroduction, ‘a socialist
accepting the ‘Weberian distinction’ could either
give up his socialis m or try to change the mode of
production. Since my point was about what socialism
is committed to, given the fact/value distinction,
let’s ask why reformism, as Russell correctly
assumes, tends to restrict itself to distri~tion
and not question the mode of production. My answer
would be roughly that the mode of production is, as
Marx shows, more basic than distribution: indeed;
that it’s the most basic aspect of the social structure, that changes there would affect the whole
social order, and that reformism is too feeble
and ineffective to tackle such a task. Fundamental
change requires drastic methods: ‘it must be
revolutionary. The relevant contrasts here line
themselves up about two axes, individual/ class
and morality/politics. Politics, it’s said, is ‘the
art of the possible’. Less mealy-mouthed, Weber
held that ‘for politics the essential means is
violence’ (‘Politics as a Vocation ‘). I would say:

the method of class politics is power. In relation
to that, individualism and morality are.constraints,
the ‘humanist’ constraints of tolerance, moderation
and compromise. For the politics of a class already
in power these ‘constraints’ are highly functional,
since what they. most constrain are radical changes
in the status quo. Bourgeois class politics, its .

power firmly based in the economy and the State,
both cloaks the nakedness of that power and helos to
consolidate it with its liberal morality: indeed with
capital, army, and police in the background,
bourgeois society gives politics itself a moral form,
the form of parliamentary democracy, with ‘freedom of speech and opinion’ institutionalised in the
press and education, all of them dedicated to the
prinGiple that the only legitimate way of resolving
conflict, Le. the only legitimate method of change,
is by ‘dialogue’, diSCUSSion, talk, by words rather
than deeds. It’s under these conditions that the
‘politicisation’ of economic affairs characteristic
of modern liberal states, with their interventionist’

‘policies, represents in fact a way of extending these
moral constraints to the economic base of political
class conflict. The social contract draws the trade
union movement, or at least its leaders, into
political partnership with government and in the
process seeks to replace the strike weapon by the
‘moral’ method of negotiation by democratically
elected leaders. The parliamentary road to socialism is the explicit socialist form of this moralised
politics, the sublimation of class conflict into

The question is, what is the connection between
the fact/value distinction and reformism? As I’ve
suggested, the connection goes through the concept
of morality itself, which according to this distinc29

tion is conceived as the complementary opposite of
science, emotive rather than rational, subjective
rath~r than objective, practical rather than theoretical. In other wordS, the fact/value distinction
characteristically treats values as moral values and
as necessary and overriding for practice, but at the
same time makes them a special target of sceptical
doubt. We can’t do without moral values, but we
can’t avoid arbitrariness in our choice. The rational
response to such a dilemma seems to be to acknowledge the subjective and relativist character of each
person’s moral position and to seek rationality, or
the’ closest possible analogue of it, in the neutrality
of the metalinguistic level. Since. nobody’s position
is objectively truer than anybody else’s, each
person should be as free as possible to ‘do his own
thing’, and nobody has a right to impose his morality on anybody else. Each is ‘entitled to his own
opinion’, or as entitled as anybody else, so each
should be tolerant of opposed opinions. If objective
correctness about particular actions is impOSSible,
we should at least, when there is conflict, seek
agreement by dialogue, possibly by bargaining and
compromise, and if agreement eludes us, .we should
accept a majority verdict. Sceptical about the
content of basic moral judgments, the doctrine of’

. the fact /value distinction thus suoplies the necessary content of morality at the meta-Ievel of methfJd.

Liberalism is the characteristic site of these second
hand principles, the human rights principles of
freedom, tolerance, dialogue, moderation, and
compromise. These prinCiples, though moral and
political, are thought of as ‘neutral’ with respect
to particular actions, permissive rather than regulative: a liberal state or liberal university is
thought of as comprehending within it a pluralism
of different views and styles of life, and as itself
neutral between the m.

The reformist ineffectiveness of socialism conceived and practised as a morality is the ineffectiveness of an idealist and humanist socialism limited
to trying to change the social order ideally, by
moral change in human attitudes, through persuasion of individuals as individuals, not by the class
nolitics of revolutionary struggle. This morality is
the specifically liberal form of values developed
under the ideological domination of natural science.

Socialism that ac~epts this value-free conception of
science and regards socialist values as non-scientific will te1).d to interpret these values as ‘ultimately’

moral, and in doing so will impose on its, own
practice the liberal humanist constraints of
tolerance, dialogue, and compromise, the
constraints of reformism.

Martin Barker, whose careful criticis ms of an
earlier draft of this paper have been extremely
helpful, has suggested in correspondence that this
‘indirect’ connection between the fact /value
distinction and reformist ~ttention to distribution
rather than production is supported and confirmed
by a more direct connection. The fact/value
distinction yields a practical distinction between
means and ends, and a corresponding distinction
between technology on the one hand and morals and
politics on the other. The production process, including the labour process, is a means, and its end
is ‘goods’, commodities that constitute wealth and
whose value is realised in a certain distribution of
ownership and consumption. As such, production,
including labour, is a ‘cost i (work the curse of Adam) ,
and it is the relations between this cost and the
produced goods as ‘benefit’ that measures efficiency.

Distribution can be more or less fair and is a field

for moral and political intervention; but production,
as more or less efficient, is applied science, technology, and not an appropriate subject for moral or
political interference. It’s not, then, simply that
the fact /value distinction helps to shape a socialist
politics too weakened by its liberal moralism to
transform anything so basic as production, but also
that this weakness is compounded by the distinction’s tendency to accept production as technology,
and thus as a social site that realises, as against
its own feeble reformism, the power of a science
that is independent of and impervious to any kind of
morality or politics. Thus the fact/value distinction
weakens socialist politics by diluting it from both
sides 0.£ the distinction. Practical values become
specifically moral values, diluting politics in
general to moral reformis m. At the same time
prQduction, identified with technology and thus
represented as belonging to the factual side of the
distinction, science, is removed from
the range of specific objects available even to this
enfeebled political activity. As both basic and technology, production is more than a match for the
reformist ethical politics of a socialism wedded to
the fact/value distinction.

I hope that this brings out something of the connections between these two replies to Russell’s first
two objections: the connections between science as
critical of real contradictions, science as socialist,
and science as revolutionary. Marx himself more
than once emphasised these connections, from the
Theses on Feuerbach (especially theses 1 and 4),
where the word ‘dialectic’ is absent though its
concept is present, to the famous passage explicitly
on dialectic in one of the Prefaces to Capital: ‘In its
rational form it is a scandal and abomination to
bourgeoisdom and its doctrinaire professors …

because it lets nothing impose upon it, a~d is in its
essence critical and revolutionary’ – a passage
lmmediately followed by the phrase ‘The contradictions inherent in the movement of capitalist society … ‘ ~e dialectic is here said to be in e.f;sence
critical and revolutionary, and therefore antibOl.~rgeois, its target ‘the contradictions inherent in
the movement of capitalist society’.


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Criteria and Standards, Enlightenment ana Otherwise
Hussell ‘s thi~d and final objection is that ‘although
he succeeds in showing the critical practical function of scientific knowledge, he nowhere indicates
how this affects the criteria of validity which should
be applied to the theoretical knowledge upon which
this critical activity is based. The characterisation
Df theoretical knowledge as conSisting in description, explanation, and prediction is not explicitly
challenged … ‘ Russell here seems to assume a
distinction that my whole article criticises: a distinction between ‘theoretical knowledge’ and ‘the
critical practical function of scientific knowledge’.

It was precisely the point of my argument to
challenge the characterisation of theoretical knowledge as descriptive, explanatory and predictive,
by showing how ‘theoretical knowledge’ could be
critical – critical not as something else ·but ~
‘theoreticafknowledge . The critical function is
not something added to or conjoined with this
theoretical knowledge, but an integral part of its
unity. This unity is expressed in the central category of contradiction, since this category is both
critical and explanatory, and in being both, or
better, in conceiving explanation in the evaluative
mode of criticism, as what Marx, in the subtitle
of Capital, calls ‘critical analysis’, this dialectical
conception of contradiction yields a type of prediction in the practical mode of intention: the intention
of the working class, ‘announced and justified in
Marxism as the voice of the movement, to ‘change
the world’ of capitalism into socialism. This is how
Marx’s dialectical materialism differs from traditional materialism and realism, e.g. Feuerbach’s,
with its key concepts of explanation and prediction
shaped by its ‘theoretical stance’, by a relation
between theory and real object that is one of
‘contemplation’ or ‘internretation’ ,and consequently
by its failure to ‘graei ~ the meaning of “revolutionary’:,
of “practical -critical” activity’, a meaning more
fully spelt out in terms of contradiction in Thesis 4.

Russell’s objection concludes with the corr.i~laint:

‘nor is it shown by what alternative, non-Enlighten’ment standards a Marxist science should be judged
in its attempts to provide this knowledge’. My
reply is that precisely in allowing the possibility of
,the contradictory structure of its real object and
thus of standing in a relation not of correspondence
but of critical opposition to that real object Marxist
science embodies non – Enlightenment standards.

Enlightenment standards would rule out any such
possibility as unscientific: for Enlightenment
materialism·and realism, there cannot be contradictions in reality and science must neutrally
replicate that reality in thought. To be more
specific, Marxist science, contrary to Enlightenment standards, is Critique. This means that like
any other innovatory science Marxist theory is
critical of (‘contradicts ‘) other theories about the
same real object, in this case society; but it means
much more than that. As social science in distinction from natural science it mt1st comprehend those
other theories as part of its real object, part of the
social reality it seeks to understand. It does this by
theorising their structural unity with the rest of
society, Le. by explaining their structure in terms
of their material base. But it does not do this as
‘sociology of knowledge’, with its tendency towards
the replacement of epistemological and logical
relations by paradigmatically natural causal relations and thus towards sceptical relativism. On the
contrary, Marxist critique, in criticising other
theories for their ‘cognitive’ defects, in particular
their contradictory structure, traces those defects
back to the material base not as an otherwise
neutral cause but as a cause having a similar contradictory strudure, a structure that is thus
‘reflected’ in theory. In criticiSing other theory,
therefore, Marxist science at the same time
criticises the social basis of that theory and calls
for its transformation in practi ce. Having explained
religion and the holy family ‘in terms of the
inwardly riven and inwardly contradictory character



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of this secular basis’, it recognises that the earthly
family ‘must therefore both be understood in its
contradiction and revolutionized in practice …

destroyed in theory and in practice’ (Fourth Thesis,
Theses on Feuerbach). In this way, the materialist
dialectic ensures that Marxist theory is not just a
scientific revolution, in the Bachelardian or Kuhnian sense, but revolutionary science; in the
socialist sense. If that possibility is not a ‘non£nlightenment standard’, what is ?


Anyone who has read my article with any care will
see,. I think, that much of Peter Dews’ reply is
irrelevant. For example, of Colletti’s acceptance
of the bourgeois doctrine that there are no contradictions in reality, he says ‘ … the reason why
Collefti does this is plain. Established science, the
sciences of physics, biology, etc, which we already
have, pays no attention whatever to dialectics’ (plO).

This might explain Colletti’s view, but it can hardly
justify it: on the one hand, the fact that something
is established (es~cially in capitalist society)’t
(especially for Marxists) show that it doesn’t need
changing; on the other, the question is whether
social science should follow natural science.

Further, on that issue, Dews’ argument on page 11
is just a misunderstanding: I’m prepared to agree
that natural science is not dialectical, my argument
in RP15 p7 being that!! we claim that natural
science is dialectical we must recognise that it’s
not dialectical in the full sense in which social
science can be.

The substance of Dews’ criticism of my pOSition
is contained in two relate,d claims, one in defence
of Colletti, the other in contradiction of my own
positive position. As he correctly points out, I do
not ‘dispute the “bourgeois philosophical” claim
that there are no contradictions in reality in the
sense in which that claim is intended’ (plO), bu~ that
claim is ambiguous: it can mean either that no
contradictory proposition is ever true of reality,
or that people never contradict themselves and
others. In defence of Colletti, Dews then asserts
that ‘No one, least of all Colletti, would wish to
deny that people can contradict thep1selves and each
other, or that thought .and language are in some
sense “part of reality'” (pll); and in attacking my
positive pOSition he accuses me of ‘exploiting’ the
ambiguity by ‘slipping from one meaning … to the
other. Once this manoevre has been exPosed, the
basis of Edgley’s argument is removed’ (pl1).

This latter claim I simply deny, and challenge anyone to find, in my two articles or in Dews’ paper,
any evidence to the contrary. On the former I don’t
doubt that Colletti wouldn’t deny that people contradict themselves, if it were put to him. But as I
point out in Critique 7, pp50-51, in a passage that
Dews entirely ignores, what Colletti says implies
such a denial; it’s not unknown for philosophers, or
anybody else for that matter, to make assertions
that imply things they ‘would wish to deny’. In any
case, this fact, together with Colletti’s more
obvious omission of any explicit reference to the
second possibility for interpreting the idea of contradictions in reality, shows that he fails to understand the significance of this possibility for social
science. Though I don’t ‘dis pute the “bourgeois
philosophical” claim that there are no contradictions in reality in the sense in which that claim is
intended’, I do dispute the view implicit in Colletti
and bourgeoiS philosophy that this is the only
intelligible or important sense that can be given to

the claim.

Forms of Materialism
It’s evident that the blindness of much Marxism on
this subje~t must be due to the pressure of some
powerful influences. As my Crittguearticle suggests,
as my reply above to Russell Keat asserts, and as
I’ve argued at length in a forthcoming oaper,
‘Marx’s Revolutionary Science’ (Issues in Marxist
Philosophy, ed. by J. Mepham and D. Ruben) the
chief intellectual source of this pressure is materialism. Marxism is materialist. But the questionAs,
what is the nature of Marxist materialism? We can,
I think, distinguish four tyoes of materialism,
though the .four may overlap in various ways: first,
a monistic ontology of substance; second, a theory
of unified science in which all the sciences are
reckoned in some sense reducible to physics,
third, epistemological materialism, or what
Colletti, distinguishing his materialism from
Timpanaro ‘s, calls ‘gnoseological materialism’

(Western Marxism: A Critical Reader, p327), Le.

realism; and Marx’s materialism. Dews refers to
, . .. “materialist” terms, that is … terms which
are ultimately reducible to the vocabulary of
physical observation, if not that of physical
science’ (pll). He adds that no doubt I, like most
other contemporary Marxists, would find ‘totally
alien this kind of empiricism and materialism,
exemnlified by reductioni~t positions within analytical philosophy … ” and he asks ‘what precisely do
Marxist invocations of “material reality” commit
us to?’ He doesn’t mention the (admittedly brief)
paragraph in my Critique 7·article (pp51-52).

I say more on this subject in my forthcoming paper
‘Structures Don’t Take to the Streets’ (The Dialectic
of Structure and History, ed. by I. Meszaros). In
these arguments, I reject not only the re”ductionist
materialism Dews refers to but also the type of
materialis m chiefly responsible for the failure of
Marxists to consider the alternative conception of
real contradiction that I outline: enistemological
materialism. Of thiS version of the doctrine Colletli
says simply and clearly that ‘materiaiism presupposes non-contradiction – that reality is noncontradictory’ (p337). In other words, this materialism is non-dialectical. This seems tome the
dominant form of Marxist materialism at the
moment in English philosophy (Bhaskar’s Realist
Theory of Science, Keat and Urry’s Social Theory
as Science, Ted Benton’s Philosophical Foundations
of the Three Sociologies, David Ruben’s Marxism
and Materialism, and Andrew Collie.r’s ‘In Defence
of Epistemology’ in Radical Philosophy 20), and
it’s not difficult to see why: we need a way out of
the idealism and relativism into which the Englishspeaking philosophy of science has been led by
Kuhn and Feyerabend, and against which, in the
wake of analogous theoretical precedents in
Bachelard, Continental Marxism has struggled,
with what some regard as only qualified success,
in the person of Althusser. It’s this epistemological
materialism that, starting like most post-Cartesian
epistemology from propositional knowledge and
th01.lght, insists that reality, as the object known,
is independent of and other than knowledge and
thought about it, and that know ledge and thought
relate to reality only by being true or false of it,
Le. by their success or failure in cdnforming or
corresponding to it. Given this d()ctrine, we are
under pressure to suppose that though there are
contradictions in thought and ideas, the question
whether· there are contradictions in reality, which

is independent of and other than thought and ideas,

can mean only ‘Are contradictory propositions ever
true of reality?’

This form of matp.rialism, epistemological materialism, can, and in contemporary Marxism
standardly does, repudiate empiricism and-with
it an account of knowledge as passive i~ relation to
perception. It provides for knowledge the active
role of ‘theoretical practice’, conceptual innovation
and theory production that imply a critical relation
to existing theory and concepts, including those
embodied in accepted perceptual jUdgments. Thus
it retains the idealist insistence on knowledge as
activity while avoiding the idealist myth of knowledge as active in constituting reality. It avoidsthis myth by claiming that though knowledge is not
just a passive response to perception and reality
but on the contrary needs to be actively produced
what is produced is only the knowledge not the ‘

~eality !hat the knowledge is of. Howev’er, though
In relatIon to its real object knowledge is not
passive in the sense of being a passive response
nor is it, as a finished product, active: though ‘

requiring to be actively produced, as a finished
product its relation to its real object is, as knowledge, the passive, non-practical relation of cor respondence or conformity, the descriptive relation
the relation of value-neutrality. This is what I ‘

reject. I too avoid the idealist myth that knowledge
produces or constitutes reality; but I retain the
conception of knowledge as active in relation to its
real object by arguing that this relation is one of
criticism or oPPosition, a relation in which knowledge does not produce reality but requires it to be
changed. As I argue in ‘Structures Don’t Take to the
Streets’, this is what I take to be Marx’s view in
the Theses on Feuerbach, when he castigates
traditional materialis m for its ‘theoretical stance’

its posture of ‘contemplation’, its philosophy of ‘

‘interpreting the world’ instead of changing it.

What Marx proposes in replace ment is a kind of
materialism in which the real object of theory is
practice and the relation between them not conformity or correspondence but the oppositional relation
of “revolutionary”, … “practical-critical”
activity’, a relation analysed in the fourth thesis
in terms of real contradiction. Though the word
‘dialectic’ is missing from the Theses, Marx is
here developing, in opposition to traditional
materialis m, his own version of materialis m, a
materialis m that is specifically dialectical.

It should be clear from this that Dews’ claims that
according to my view ‘all social science is always
already “dialectical” simply by virtue of its object’

(p13) and ‘!lDialecticity” appears to be- simply a
question of subject-matter, rather than method’

(p14) are simply mistakes. But they are mistakes
not, in my view, because social science has a
‘free choice’ open to it of being dialectical or undialectical, or because dialecticity is a matter of
method rather than subject-matter. I reject the
exclusiveness of these contrasts, as anyone who has
read my article wit!:. any care would recognise.

In general, the method by which a science cognitively appropriates its real object must depend on the
nature of that object. In particular, thE’ .celation
between social science and its realoLject, society,
is a relation of high interdependence. Contradictions in society are not just ‘a question of subjectmatter’, as if all social science then needed to do
was to relate to this object in the same general way
that the natural sciences relate to their objects,
descriptively, by correspondence. My argument

was (of course) that in virtue of this characteristic
of its I’eal object social science could, and to be
adeguate as science should, relate to that real
object critically. Given this, the method of social
science, unlike that of natural science, could,
and to be adequate as science should, be the method
that Marx calls ‘Critique’. In Althusser’s terms,
though in opposition to his doctrine, even after his
self-criticis m, not only philosophy but in my view
Marxist science also is ‘class struggle at the level
of theory’.

Critique or Science: Marxism’s Specificity
In Dews’ opinion, all this is ‘novel’ and ‘eccentric’,
terms that for him are clearly pejorative. This
novelty and eccentricity, it seems, arise in the
relation between my theories and the Marxist
tradition, since my theories, according to Dews,
don’t fit neatly into either of the two pigeon-holes
into which he divides that tradition. These pigeonholes are ‘Marxism as critique and Marxism as
science’, in other words “criticaJ “/Hegelian and
“scientific”/ anti-Hegelian versions of Marxism’

(p13). However, Dews eventually decides that
‘Edgley clearly belongs, if somewhat eccentr1cally,
within’the former ‘camp’. And this Shows, he says,
that· my account ‘fails to touch the deeper problem,
since it shows that Edgley, rather than effecting a
dialectical resolution, has already aligned himself
on the side of the ideologiekritiker in the lengstanding debate between Marxism as critique and
Marxism as science’ (p13). Well, I will say it
again briefly here, though I can’t expect to convince
anyone who in this way refuses to see what I’ve said
at length in my articles, that my argument was that
critique can be, and in Marx is, science; and therefore that I do not align myself on the one side and
against the other. Anyone who still thinks that
critique and science are incompatible arid exclusive
categories I refer to the brief account above in my

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paragraphs replying to Russell Keat, especially the
last two, and also to my ‘Marx’s Revolutionary
Science’ .

Having got me, however ‘eccentrically’, into the
one pigeon-hole and against science, Dews then
accuses me, partly through guilt by association
with Marcuse, of offering a version of critique in
which ‘the concrete complexity of the social formation ceases to be in any meaningful sense the
object of an analytical and explanatory understanding … revolutionary movements cannot live by
criticis m alone. .. They need concrete analyses of
political, economic and social structures … It is
not so much an alternative “dialectical” conception
of scientific knowledge which revolutionaries need
– it is rather that scientific knowledge itself’ (p13);
and finally, ‘the science-critique dilemma will only
be resolved – if at all, and if “resolved” is the
right expreSSion here – in the course of a Marxist
revolutionary practice. Certainly no theoretical
Aufue bung will do’ (p14). All of this, I take it, is
part of Dew8′ argument that what I say, even if
true, ‘would be inconsequential. It tells us nothing
about the specificity of Marxism’ (p13).

In these passages Dews contrives to suggest both
that my philosophical account excludes ‘concrete
analyses of political, economic and social structures’ and ‘revolution~ry practice’, and that, these
being exclusive, what we need is concrete analyses
and revolutionary practice, not philosophical
theories providing ‘an alternative “dialectical”
conception of scientific knowledge’.

Again I reject the alleged exclusiveness of these
distinctions. I’d say that revolutionaries need both
a scientific knowledge of economic, political, and
social structures, and a dialectical conceptibn of
scientific knowledge – and that without one, they
can’t have the other. But this is perhaps too easy
a reply. There’s a sense in which these distinctions are not only exclusive, they fail as distinctions to recognise the positive overlap in such
categories. The content of my articles itself shows
how theoretical work, even if it’s not specifically
about politics, can be political and in particular
part of ‘revolutionary practice’, of ‘practicalcritical activity’: The ‘abstract’ ‘conceptual’

distinctions I discuss and criticise are themselves
socially real features of the formation of sCience
and philosophy as they are practised in the education system. I don’t in the least suppose that these
formations can be changed Simply by attacking
them theoretically, by a ‘theoretical Authebung’.

But I do see this philosophical work as part of the
‘revolutionary practice’ needed, and an essential
part: contrary to what Dews seems to imply
(though of course, ‘no one, least of all Dews,
would wish to deny this ‘), ‘revolutionary practice’

not only does not exclude such theoretical work, it
must include it.

Let me come finally, then, to Dews’ claim that
what I say ‘tells us nothing about the specificity of
Marxis m’. It is of course true that my articles
discuss some very general features of science, as
they are theorised in epistemology and the philosophy of science; and it’s clear that Dews thinks
that the specificity of Marxism is a function solely
of its (relatively) specific concepts, such as mode
of production, surplus value, and so on, which I
don’t mention. But the question of the specificity of
a body of theory is more complicated than that.

The content of a concept is relatively specific, as
opposed to relatively generic, if it distinguishes a
rel~tively small class of objects by characterisin~

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them in their distinctiveness from other objects.

Specificity is thus a measure of the distinctiveness
of the class: the concept of a dog is more specific
than that of an ani mal, and the concept of contradiction is less specific than that of contradictory
mode of production. Clearly, then, there’s a close
relation between the specificity of the concepts of a
theory and its ability to ‘reproduce the concrete in
thought’. The m0re specific the characterisation
of something, the more concrete is the object so
characterised; the less specific, the more abstract.

But of course, Marx recognised and insisted on the
need for abstraction in science, Le. for concepts of
relatively general application, and saw the reproduction of the concrete as achievable by the combination
of these generic or abstract concepts, the concrete
being ‘the concentration of many dp.terminations’

(1857 Introduction, Grundrisse). A contradictory
mode of production is a more concrete object than
either a contradiction or a mode of production: it
is the ‘c0ncentration’ of these more abstract
determinations. Thus if we talk of the soeciftcity
of a theory as a whole, it follows that the ability
of a theory to reproduce the concrete, and thus its
Specificity in this sense, is perfectly compatible
with a high degree of abstractness or generality in
its concepts. But talk of the specificity of a theory
as a whole has another sense, which calls on the
connection between the specificity of the content of
a concept and the distinctiveness of its object. The
specificity of Marxism in this sense would be its
distinctiveness, its character as Marxian in distinction from other bodies of theory; and in this sense
also even a generic concept could have a high degree
of specificity, Le. it could be, as a general
concept, very different from the general concepts
employed in other theories.

In these senses, what I said tells us a lot about
the specificity of Marxism, a lot about what distinguishes Marxism from other bodies of theory. In
these terms, what I said implies that the specificity,
that is distinctiveness, of Marxis m is a function not
only of the specificity of its specific concepts, such
as mode of production, but also of the specificity
of its more generic concepts such as contradiction,
and with that the specificity of such other generic
concepts as those of science” knowledge, and
reason. I was arguing, in other words, for the
specificity of Marxism at the philosophical and
episte mological level. To the extent that Dews, in
supporting Colletti, was denying this in favour of a
conception of Marxist science modelled epistemologically on ‘Established science’, natural science,
it was he, not I, who was obscuring the specificity
of Marxism: its specificity as scientific critique,
as revolutionary science.

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