Eli5 what exactly is dialectical materialism

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Eli5 what exactly is dialectical materialism

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The dialectical materialism is a metaphysical theory of 19th century invented by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels that is based on denying all and any metaphysics. It allegedly inherited Hegel’s dialectics, which is a very obscure theory.

There are three main ideas of the dialectical materialism.

1) There is a thing called matter and it is the only reality that exists.

2) There is something called movement of the matter.

3) Our thoughts about the matter, movement and whatever else is just a kind of the movements of a matter (see 1 and 2)

That is, the process of thinking is just a process of one matter becoming knowledgeable (whatever it means) about another matter.

If you noticed the circular inference, it is there. Also there are three laws of the Universe (three is a magic number, isn’t it?)

1) The law of the unity and conflict of opposites

2) The law of the passage of quantitative changes into qualitative changes

3) The law of the negation of the negation

Sometimes the fourth law is added which is a summary of all three:

*) Every development or evolution of anything appears in a spiral fashion.

It means that there are similarities between certain phases of the development, a sort of perpetual reinventing of the wheel.

It works like this: every development is driven by a conflict. This conflict cannot be solved with the current technical level of advancement, so people accumulate knowledge, invent new technologies and finally are able to overcome the initial conflict only to develop a new one. And this goes on and on.

Unlike, for example, Ohm’s law these three laws do not describe any particular physical process, but are metaphysical. Their intent is to give the “general direction” for any natural philosophy, which included physics, social sciences and almost everything else except theology, religion and other such things.

These laws appeared to be almost useless in physics, but were used by many left-wing thinkers to justify different social theories.

Materialism: The idea that there is an objective, natural reality that exists and nothing beyond it. This is in contrast to other philosophies that claim the supernatural can exist (eg. the spirit, the life force, the divine).

Dialectics: The idea that we achieve understanding of the world by comparing things to each other and seeing how they compliment or contradict each other, refining our understanding. Often, two contradictory things can be true at the same time, and when we ponder (and accept) these things contradictions, we arrive at a better picture of the the world – eg; I love my brother but I can’t stand how ignorant he is. Well, those are two contradictory statements. So how do we reconcile them if both are true? We can reconcile it to “love is an emotion that is capable of surviving minor annoyance”

When you put them both together, you come up to an idea which is something like: Only the physical world exists, nothing supernatural. Everything is caused by a natural process. The way we understand the world is by observing it, developing ideas about it, noticing contradictions that challenge our ideas, and then re-developing our ideas to taking those contradictions into account. Rinse and repeat. This happens on every level of society, from the individual to all of humanity. We replace our ideas with new ones when we see contradictions in what we believe. Companies upgrade machines when they see what new ones can do. Business models die out or merge over time. Technologies converge together. This all ends up leading to a state of continuous and constant improvement. Karl Marx thought this would lead to communism.

Dialectical Materialism (AKA Historical Materialism) is a story that followers of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels tell about history progressing through different stages. Specifically, about how capitalism will eventually turn into, or be replaced, by socialism.

The “Dialectical” part is based on the ideas of a philosopher named Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel. Hegel taught that each era of history is defined by its dominant belief system, or ideology, which changes and improves with time.
Here’s how it works:
Every era’s dominant ideology has some true parts and some false parts.
When an ideology (let’s call it “Ideology A”) has false parts, a second, opposite ideology (Ideology B) will be invented to contradict the first ideology.
Then a third ideology (Ideology C) will be invented that resolves the differences between ideology A and B, and combines the good parts of each.
Ideology C becomes the new dominant ideology and the process starts over. Ideology D comes around to negate C, then Ideology E combines them… and so on.

The process continues over and over again through the ages, like a “dialectic” (which means a conversation or dialogue). As a result, the ideology of the times is always getting better, leading to more freedom for everyone.

That’s what Hegel believed.

Marx and Engels were students of Hegel, but they disagreed with Hegel in important ways.

Hegel saw historical progress as a matter of *ideas* and *beliefs* – ideologies get better because people basically change their minds and start to think differently. Hegel’s dialectic is “idealist” because it is all about *ideas.*

Marx and Engels argued that eras are actually defined by the technologies of the day, and the types of economies that they are able to have. A different type of economy is called a “mode of production”. The economic system of a society is the “base” that defines it, while its ideology is only a window-dressing called the “superstructure,” which distracts people from what’s really going on.

Marx and Engels argued that each era’s economic system created the technologies and resources necessary to overthrow that system and replace it with a better one. And they argued that this process was objective and would happen inevitably, regardless of what anybody happens to think or believe.
Since Marx and Engels believed that material things were more important to progress than ideas were, they called their theory of history a “Materialist” (instead of Idealist) dialectic. That’s why it’s called Dialectical *Materialism.*