The Dream Café

Steven Brust: “A masterful storyteller of contagious glee and self-deprecating badassery” —Skyler White

Anti-Dühring Part 6:Chapter 4: World Schematism


Herr Dühring says that what exists is existence, and all that exists is existence, and, furthermore, existence is what exists. This, he claims, disposes of God. Exactly how it does that is left as an exercise for the reader. But, in any case, we now have a unity, which we created by bringing it together in our thoughts.

Engels mentions that analysis (the separating of elements) is just as important as synthesis in thinking. “Secondly, without making blunders thought can bring together into a unity only those elements of consciousness in which or in whose real prototypes this unity already existed before. If I include a shoe-brush in the unity mammals, this does not help it to get mammary glands.” Or, as Lincoln would have said, to include a dog’s tail in the unity of legs does not make it one.

“To attempt to prove the reality of any product of thought by the identity of thinking and being was indeed one of the most absurd delirious fantasies of — a Hegel.” This is a reference to Hegel as an idealist–as someone who believed thought primary to matter.

I want to make a point here. Idealist thought, except in the most extreme and blatant cases (for example, in mysticism) disguises itself. That is, if I were to ask, “Can there be a thought before there is a brain to think it,” most people would answer no. Yet to many of them, when attempting to understand history, or current events, the question of what people think is not only highlighted above all else, but is utterly divorced from the key question, “what conditions led them to think that?” If they make any attempt to answer that at all, it is usually in form of referring to prejudices or ideas picked up from society, or from parents.  But if this were as determinate as these people believe, not only would no one ever think differently from his parents, but society would never have changed from whatever arbitrary point you want to start at.  But society does change, and, however haltingly, imperfectly, and contradictorily (is that a word? I’m making it a word), thoughts change with it.  If you recall from the previous installment, this lack of connectedness with historical processes is one of the hallmarks of subjectivists, schematists, empiricists  &c. In other words, of those incapable of grasping processes in their complexity and interconnectedness and movement.

In my judgement, American Individualism cannot be understood apart from the circumstances of capitalist development in the United States.  Post-modernism cannot be understood apart from the defeats of the revolutions in Europe and the subsequent demoralization of sections of the intelligentsia. Identity politics cannot be understood apart from the achievement of upper-middle-class income and security among the “radicals” of the 60’s.  Marxism cannot be understood apart from the mass proletarian uprisings of the 19th century. And so on. To do so, in my opinion, is to fall into exactly the error of Herr Dürhing, or Hegel, though not in such a drastic and obvious way. (Note: I really ought not to lump Dühring and Hegel together like that, however; in spite of his idealism, Hegel was a genius who made great contributions to human understanding; Dühring, not so much).

I mentioned earlier something about St. Thomas Aquinas and his pure logic proof of the existence of God. Engels quotes it here: “This runs: when we think of God, we conceive him as the sum total of all perfections. But the sum total of all perfections includes above all existence, since a non-existent being is necessarily imperfect. We must therefore include existence among the perfections of God. Hence God must exist.” The flaw, of course, is that at no point in this process have we examined God; we have only examined the idea of God. Hence, if we have proven anything, we have proven that the idea of God exists, which was never in doubt.

“The real unity of the world consists in its materiality, and this is proved not by a few juggled phrases, but by a long and wearisome development of philosophy and natural science.”

I had to dive into that sentence a bit and flounder around, but when I emerged and examined what was in my teeth, it was this: “The unity of the world” means “what is common about everything that exists.” Where to Dühring this was being (which got us nowhere; that which exists, exists), to Engels it is it’s materiality. This may not be a huge advance, but it is at least something to start with: We have the assertion that everything that exists is matter (and energy as a form of matter, and the laws determining the movement of matter), and that that which is not matter, does not exist. But he makes no attempt to prove it by thought, which would be contradictory and futile; rather, for proof, he refers us to the entire history of the development of human knowledge. That is where the proof is; not in argument.

Let me run with that a bit. Materialism, like any other form of thought, did not spring full-blown from the mind of Feurbach, or any of the earlier materialists–it emerged as part of the process of understanding the world, and then fed into that process; just as did the natural sciences. Our conclusion of the materiality of the world does not come from a thought experiment, but as part of the sum-total of all that human society has learned and accomplished. Or, to put it another way: the cars that drive over the Brooklyn Bridge every day not only prove the truth of our knowledge of engineering, but also prove the materiality of the world. Not “proof” in the sense of a conviction in the head of an individual, but proof in the social sense of permitting further conclusions and deeper knowledge and acting with greater confidence and expanding our (society’s) ability to do. In this sense, proof is social and active instead of individual and passive; and material, not ideological. All of which is me, not Engels; but he got me going, so blame him.



Author: skzb

I play the drum.


  1. I’m doing my notes on Ch 4 before I go back and even look at comments after me on the previous chapter. That’s how I roll.

    So! World Schemetism and stuff. I had to look up: ontological, subtilising (legal scrabble word I did not previously know!), and I tried to look up “nodal dine” but it isn’t in my nook’s faithless wretch of a dictionary and frankly google isn’t helping either. The sentence it is in makes sense around the term anyway.

    “…thought consists just as much in the taking apart of objects of consciousness into their elements as in the putting together of related objects into a unity. Without analysis, no synthesis.”
    So basically, you can’t get anything meaningful out of a process where you’ve already decided that everything has to fit into your worldview?

    “For as soon as we depart even a milimetre from the simple basic fact that being is common to all these things, the differences between these things begin to emerge–”
    “The real unity of the world consists in its materiality, and this is proved not by a few juggled phrases, but by a long and wearisome development of philosophy and natural science.”

    These two bits explain to me why we are building a method for analysis instead of a system where “everything” is falsely understood. (I’m putting everything into quotes there because I think we’re also saying that the concept of everything is not only unnecessary to to theory, but prevents us from getting there. I know you hate the little quotes, but you used a semicolon to join three sentences together up there — a punctuational act with which I strongly disagree — so consider this my vengeance.) Dühring’s unity of being stuff doesn’t work because he’s trying to handwave everything society has worked so hard to understand and accomplish into some viewpoint that can be easily comprehended; if things were so simple, the entire history of the species would be sort of wasted.

    “And not content with pilfering from his worst-slandered predecessor…”
    I think you’ve already answered the question I had about Hegel, but I’m going to type my notes anyway. We keep seeing Hegel through Dührings’ view, with “absurd delirious fantasies”. Engels points out how Dühring slams Hegel for his logic but uses the exact same logic. So in the background always is Hegel — Dühring says Hegel’s an idiot, Engels says Dühring’s an idiot and also cribbed from Hegel, but I’m left with the impression that Engels respects Hegel, and it all makes my head hurt a little bit but I’ll be fine.

    You’re saying that Hegel “was a genius who made great contributions to human understanding,” and I will believe you. For now at least. Do I have to read Hegel too?

    Overall, I think I’m grasping materialism vs. idealism but… fuzzy. Still kinda fuzzy.

  2. skzb

    “So basically, you can’t get anything meaningful out of a process where you’ve already decided that everything has to fit into your worldview?”

    I’d say mostly yes. I mean, our worldview–the way we approach and process information–is, or at least should be, a dialectical process. We draw our worldview from the knowledge we have, test it against new knowledge, refine it, and use it to interpret knowledge. Back and forth.

    We do our best to make adjustments in our worldview as we receive new information; but our worldview determines how we analyze those facts. The object is to scrutinize everything as best we can. Um. I think I got that right.

    “These two bits explain to me why we are building a method for analysis instead of a system where “everything” is falsely understood.”

    Gold star!

    Teresa once told me that semi-colons do not breed, so it is okay to put more than one in the same sentence. Just sayin’.

    ” if things were so simple, the entire history of the species would be sort of wasted.”

    Another gold star! Yeah, if it were as easy as he says, why have we been spending so much time and effort on the natural sciences? We just needed a Dühring to come along and explain everything. Pfui.

    ” Do I have to read Hegel too?”

    I would never inflict that on someone I care about. If you get really, really into it, you can read Lenin on Hegel, which is whole worlds easier (and still really hard). If you do that, there will be aspects of Freedom and Necessity that will suddenly make more sense.

  3. Duhring does seem fond of the hand wavy proof — A, then B, then C, underwear gnomes, voila, hence the conclusion.

  4. skzb

    Yeah. I recognize the technique because that’s how I write my books.

    stares off

  5. lol, but luckily Vlad has Loiosh to keep him firmly on the road of pure logic. If only Duhring had a Jhereg sitting on his shoulder.

  6. skzb

    iknowrite? Would have fixed everything.

  7. So, Duhring says a lot of stuff that does not make sense.

    “All-embracing being is _one_. In its self-sufficiency it has nothing alongside it or over it. To associate a second being with it would be to make it something that it is not, namely, a part or constituent of a more comprehensive whole. …. It is the point of unity of the synthesis where the _invisible idea of the world_ came into being and the universe, as the name itself implies, is apprehended as something in which everything is united into _unity_”

    At first sight, this looks like utter nonsense to me. But I have seen something similar before. It looks like a bad translation of the Tao Te Ching. Is it possible to make any sense of this?

    I can imagine that perhaps all of material reality is a unity. But we perceive it as not a unity. We experience time and distance. At least we experience different things at different times, and we have the interpretation of distance. If we always experienced the same thing, we wouldn’t have much to talk about! Still, like the blind men and the elephant, we could always be experiencing the same elephant even though it doesn’t always seem the same. When we conceptually divide it into different conceptual parts, still the reality might not be divided.

    But so what? If we think of it as undivided and give up all our concepts, what does that get us? Duhring talks like he wants to do it. That’s useless except while you do meditation.

    And if it were to happen that the universe itself is undivided, and our concepts are something we impose on it, what difference does that make? We still must divide it up into the most useful concepts we can manage, because that’s how we roll.

    If I got anything out of this, Engels did not. I could easily be wrong about Duhring, especially since I have from him only what Engels quoted. Engels says that you cannot unify your thinking because first, you can’t put together things unless you first take them apart. Engels says this in two sentences so I may have misunderstood him too, but it sounds like Engels is saying that everything is unified until we analyze it.

    Second, Engels says that we cannot unify concepts unless they naturally go together. You can’t include your concept of a shoe-brush with your concept of mammals, unless a shoe-brush happens to be a mammal. But to me this is assigning supremacy to the concepts. We invent concepts that look like they may be useful for us in dealing with nature. The concepts are not real in themselves, but they might correspond to some extent with patterns that really exist. Huh? Patterns are reality and not perceptions? No. We notice patterns. They are perceptions. They may reflect some sort of organization of parts of reality, or they may not. If there is a correspondence, it might not say about reality what we think it does.

    At first sight it does not make sense to include shoe-brushes as mammals, these are two different concepts that we use for two different purposes. And yet, it shouldn’t be an impossible stretch for people who associate with science fiction. Only an improbable one. Like, before people used hog bristles in brushes, probably they used pieces of hog leather with the bristles still embedded. Later we decided that brushes are better. Can you imagine people using whole living hogs for shoe brushes? And those brushes would be mammals…. Far-fetched but not impossible.

    That aside, we can combine concepts to get other concepts that are less specific, or more specific. A concept that includes mammals and plastic shoebrushes might have some use but not nearly as specific a use as either the concept mammal or shoebrush alone. A concept of mammals-that-can-be-used-to-make-shoebrushes is much more specific. We can combine any two concepts in multiple ways. There is an art to combining them in useful ways, or funny ways, etc. Engel’s choice was intended to ridicule the very concept of combining concepts. No, wait. He says the concepts do match reality, and we can only create new concepts if they match reality too.

    But surely he would agree that our concepts match reality to the extent that they do, through a long process of trial and error. We can create new concepts however we like, but we only find whether they are worth paying attention to when we use them, and that can be a long slow slog.

    Most of the chapter is devoted to beating up Duhring, whose airy philosophizing surely deserves it. Engels does worse when he claims to know the truth than when he demonstrates that Duhring does not.

  8. Gold stars, underwear gnomes, gin bell… happy Jen.

    I am perfectly alright with the contradiction of believing that Teresa knows everything and and quietly disagreeing about semicolons. More than one in a sentence (with the exception of the list usage, obvs) is damnably disorganized.

  9. skzb

    Sometimes it is disorganized; sometimes it is proper; sometimes it’s hard to tell.

  10. *stares* why would you DO that?

  11. Don’t tempt him. If you get him interested in the challenge, he will likely come up with a situation where it makes perfect sense in his current writing. It might be a sentence with 3 or 4 semicolons that is just perfect.

    Almost certainly it will not be necessary to that writing. He will probably get it done faster and possibly better without it, though there is no doubt he could prove his point.

    Please don’t tempt him. There’s every reason to think he will pull out another great novel, but let’s not give him extra challenges right now.

  12. skzb

    Jen: Why do we climb Mr. Everest?

  13. “nodal dine”

    At the start of Chapter 7, reference is made to “the Hegelian nodal line of measure relations already mentioned”. So, it turns out that “nodal dine” in “the Hegelian nodal dine of measure relations” of Chapter 4 is probably just a typo for “nodal line”.

  14. hanniganite – Oh, right. Thank you.

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