JOSEPH DIETZGEN (1828-1888) ‘Cosmic socialism’ or ‘materialist monism’. Among the points of convergence between ‘cosmic socialists’ and deep greens, the necessity for a ‘total view’ emerges as central. Dietzgen interested in twin processes of unification and abstraction Dietzgen emphasizes the material actuality of the natural universe. For Dietzgen and monist materialists, there is only one single substance in the universe, and that is ‘matter’.
DIETZGEN’S MONISM The monistic paradigm is very difficult to translate back into the terminological framework of individuated things, concepts and properties. Dietzgen wanted to radically extend the category of matter. He makes this clear in a number of passages. In ‘Social Democratic Philosophy’ (1876), Dietzgen writes: “The conception of matter must be given a more comprehensive meaning. To it belong all phenomena of reality” (Dietzgen, 1906b, p.222). And, again: “Socialist materialism understands by matter not only the ponderable and tangible, but the whole real existence. Everything that is contained in the Universe – and in it is contained everything, the All and the Universe being but two names for one thing – everything this Socialist materialism embraces in one conception, one name, one category.” (ibid, pp.300-301) There is no mind, spirit, activity, movement which is not an expression of matter. Gods and souls are metaphysical reifications. Whilst psychology is important, its status as a science derives from its understanding of the materiality of thought.
DIETZGEN’S MONISM “Historical materialism takes its departure from human society, dialectical monism from the natural universe.” (Untermann, 1914, p.243) Dietzgen wishes to emphasise first and foremost the formal unity of all things, understanding the network of relations which constitute the tools of Marxist social analysis as expressive of the totality of interrelationships that form the dialectical realisation of the natural universe. Our dialectical materialism proves that the question [of whether the mind be judged a property of the brain] ought to be considered after the precept of Spinoza from the standpoint of the Universe, sub specie æternitatis. In the endless Universe, matter in the sense of the old and antiquated materialists, that is, of tangible matter, does not possess the slightest preferential right to be more substantial, i.e., more immediate, more distinct and more certain than any other phenomenon of Nature. (Dietzgen, 1906b, p.307)
DIETZGEN’S MONISM “Historical materialism takes its departure from human society, dialectical monism from the natural universe.” (Untermann, 1914, p.243) For Dietzgen, forces should be conceived, not as effects of matter, nor as instantiating effects upon matter, but identical with matter in his extended sense (Dietzgen, 1906a, pp.124-32) There is an underlying connectedness to all matter. This is something similar to what physicists are currently exploring in the recently confirmed ‘Higgs Field’, or indeed something closer to a ‘field of fields’ – a category of all fields which is ultimately identical with spacetime itself! “Those who assume the forces to be mere properties or predicates of matter are badly informed of the relativity … between substance and property” (Dietzgen, 1906b, pp.297-8). Individual properties such as mass or momentum are abstractive conveniences, efficacious as means to isolate aspects of the relation of dynamic parts to the whole for practical purposes, but only ever relative to other abstractive possibilities
DIETZGEN’S MONISM Thought arises “from infinite circulation of matter” (Dietzgen, 1906a, p.81 “In the practical world of sense perceptions,” says Dietzgen, “there is nothing permanent, nothing homogenous, nothing beyond nature, nothing like a “thing itself”.” (Dietzgen, 1906a, 83) If Dietzgen is to succeed in his assertion of materialism, it will be necessary to do so, as Ž i ž ek argues not by clinging to the minimum of objective reality outside the thought’s subjective mediation, but by insisting on the absolute inherence of the external obstacle which prevents thought from attaining full identity with itself. The moment we concede this point, and externalise the obstacle, we regress to the pseudo-problematic of the thought asymptotically approaching the ever-elusive “objective reality”, never able to grasp it in its infinite complexity. ( Ž i ž ek, 2002, p.179) “Thought is work, and like every other work it requires an object to which it is applied. The statements: I do, I work, I think, must be completed by an answer to the question: What are you doing, working, thinking?” (Dietzgen, 1906a, p.62)
DIETZGEN & ABSTRACTION Dietzgen’s attempt at an account of the processes by which the single and undivided universe is abstracted by consciousness assumes the utility to the human species of the particular patterns of classification applied. Insofar as things exist individually “they manifest themselves in as many different ways as there are other things within which they enter into relations of time and space.” (Dieztgen, 2010, p.38) monist materialists “conclude that there is no such thing as “heat itself,” since it cannot be found, in nature, and we conceive of heat as effects of matter [on itself] which the human brain translated into the conception of “heat itself”.” (Ibid., p.39) The mind does not recognise any absolute separation between things. That is, there is no sense in which something is knowable in isolation, without its having a relationship with other things and with the Universal whole. However, for the purposes of understanding, mind is free to abstract out the Universe’s ‘parts’ into separate things. (Emphases added) (Dietzgen, 1906a, p364).
DIETZGEN & ABSTRACTION We do not see, hear or feel things in themselves in any idealist sense, there are “concrete sights” with which the brain operates to generate organising systems of “sight in general”. Dietzgen builds up an account of (i) the preconscious experience of the singular inclusive universe, (ii) its abstraction into usable parts and (iii) its epistemological reconstruction as a more or less conscious whole.