Re: virus: Popper on Hegel

David McFadzean (
Fri, 20 Oct 1995 10:22:52 -0600

At 12:00 AM 10/20/95 -0700, T. Harms wrote:

> I am quite prepared to admit that this is not a bad description of
>the way in which a critical discussion, and therefore also scientific
>thought, may sometimes progress. For all criticism consists in pointing
>out some contradictions or discrepancies, and scientific progress consists
>largely in the elimination of contradictions wherever we find them. This
>means, however, that science proceeds on the assumption that
>_contradictions are impermissible and avoidable_, so that the discovery of
>a contradiction forces the scientist to make every attempt to eliminate it;
>and indeed, once a contradiction is admitted, all science must collapse.
>But Hegel derives a very different lesson from his dialectic triad. Since
>contradictions are the means by which science progresses, he concludes that
>contradictions are not only permissible and unavoidable but also highly
>desirable. This is a Hegelian doctrine which must destroy all argument and
>all progress. For if contradictions are unavoidable and desirable, there
>is no need to eliminate them, and so all progress must come to an end.

I interpret Popper to be making this argument:

Hegel's dialectic depends on contradiction, but contradiction is
impermissible in science, therefore Hegelian doctrine is not
compatible with science.

I find it hard to believe that Popper would commit such an elementary
logical fallacy as equivocation (see
but he seems to be using two definitions of "contradiction" in his
argument. Hegel is saying that criticism is essential to rationalism,
and that out of the critical process new ideas are synthesized. Popper
is saying (I think) that science depends on logic which does not allow
contradictions. Both are right, but they aren't talking about the same sorts
of contradiction.

Creationists like to point out that there are contradictory theories being
proposed in evolutionary theory (gene selection vs. group selection for
instance), but that doesn't mean that evolution, let alone the whole of
science, has collapsed! I wouldn't be surprised if a new theory shows that
gene selection and group selection are just two ways of looking at the same
process: a Hegelian synthesis of the current theories.

> But this doctrine is just one of the many tenets of Hegelianism.
>Hegel's intention is to operate freely with all contradictions. 'All
>things are contradictory in themselves', he insists, in order to defend a

I have no idea what Hegel was getting at with that statement.

>position which means the end not only of all science, but of all rational
>argument. And the reason why he wishes to admit contradictions is that he
>wants to stop rational argument, and with it scientific and intellectual
>progress. By making argument and criticism impossible, he intends to make
>his own philosophy proof against all criticism, so that it may establish
>itself as a _reinforced dogmatism_, secure from every attack, and the
>unsurmountable summit of all philosophical development.

That could be, after all he thought the end product of his dialectic,
the whole meaning of history and philosophy, was the 19th century
Prussian state. However this doesn't mean that his notion of the
dialectic is not a useful meme. Virus advocates evaluating ideas
on their own merit, not due to their historical contingencies.

David McFadzean       
Memetic Engineer      
Merak Projects Ltd.