Mistaken Identity: Long's Conflation of Dialectics and
by Roger E.
The Journal of Ayn
Rand Studies, 3, No. 2 (Spring 2002)
criticism Roderick T. Long (2001) makes of Chris Matthew Sciabarra’s dialectical
thesis is a complex one. He says that Sciabarra fails to clearly draw certain
important distinctions (metaphysical vs. epistemic categories, logical vs. causal
relations, and abstraction vs. idealization) and, as a result, fails to “extricate
himself from internalism.” As consequences of the latter, Sciabarra overstates
his cases (a) against Rothbard’s version of libertarianism, (b) for the
closeness between Hayekian-Randian dialectics and Hegelian-Marxian dialectics, and (c) for the overall applicability and usefulness of dialectics (406).
This brief essay will not address all
of these points, but will instead focus on what seems to be the linchpin of Long’s
case: the allegation that Sciabarra fails to sufficiently distance himself from
internalism. The roots of this supposed failure (not drawing certain distinctions clearly enough) and the further results of this failure (misjudging Rothbard, Hegel-Marx, and the scope of dialectics) are thus
outside the scope of these remarks. The aim here is merely to show that Sciabarra
has maintained a consistent position regarding internalism from the very outset,
and that Long has failed to read Sciabarra carefully enough to detect that consistency.
Vindicating Sciabarra’s Dialectics
at the present and work backward: in Total Freedom: Toward
a Dialectical Libertarianism (henceforth abbreviated as TF), Sciabarra (2000) defines dialectics as “an
orientation toward contextual analysis of
the systemic and dynamic relations of components within a totality” (173; emphasis
added). Compare this with Long’s claim that dialectics is one-sided because it is
integrative and synthetic, lacking the balance provided by analytic philosophy with its
differentiative (distinction-drawing) and analytic nature (426–27). In other words, Long says, dialectics isn’t truly dialectical—nor can it be! Because
of its one-sided integrative, synthetic emphasis, it is not a “full blown methodological
orientation” (426) and can only become so by giving up its identity and forming a
hybrid approach that also uses the “precise conceptual tools of analytic philosophy”
Long has not accurately
portrayed Sciabarra’s view. The definition just cited includes
analyzing how components are related within a totality.
In other words, Sciabarra defines dialectics as being both synthetic
(of one-sided perspectives into a fuller, less distorted perspective) and analytic (of relations among components of a totality).
Also, Sciabarra thoroughly discusses
the truly one-sided perspectives in regard to synthesis and analysis and in regard to internal
relations and external relations, and he identifies these as “strict organicism” (synthetic, internal relations) and “strict atomism” (analytic,
external relations). Thus, it is not the Sciabarran dialecticians, but the organicists
(aka Absolute Idealists) who embody what Long objects to as a one-sided focus on internal
relations and synthesis. It is these latter with whom Long and the analytic community (aka Realists) must pool perspectives, in order to transcend
their respective limited viewpoints and arrive at something approximating Sciabarra’s
model of dialectics.
In both Ayn
Rand: The Russian Radical (1995b; hereinafter RR)
and TF, Sciabarra explicitly disavows an internalist
view of relations. He says that whether a given relation is external or internal depends
upon context, and that an exclusively internalist (or externalist) commitment rests on begging the question, cosmologically speaking (RR, 59–61, 175–76; TF, 182). Yet, Long (2001) says, Sciabarra earlier seemed to suggest
that dialectics was essentially “wedded”
to the doctrine of internal relations (398). In support of this claim, Long first quotes from Sciabarra’s Marx, Hayek, and Utopia (1995a, hence forth
MHU): “A dialectical perspective . . . focuses
not on external connections between static elements, but on dynamic internal relations. . . . Dialectical analysis views things as internally related. Dualism
views things as externally related” (24).
Long overlooks a crucial distinction, possibly because of the ambiguity in the word “as.”
It is true that dualism and atomism view things as
being externally related, rather than internally
related. However, it should also be noted that organicism and monism
view things as being internally related, rather
than externally related. Dialectics, by contrast,
views things insofar as they are internally
related—and it also views things insofar as they are externally related.
In the context specifically of Sciabarra’s
comparison of dialectics and dualism, then, the relevant
point is that dualism fails to acknowledge internal
relations, while dialectics acknowledges them. In a contrast between dialectics and organicism
(or monism), the appropriate relevant point would be that organicism fails to acknowledge
external relations, while dialectics acknowledges
them. Long, in his haste to categorize dialectics as a synthetic, integrative, internalist doctrine,
misses this point entirely. Indeed, as Long notes in his reference to RR, Sciabarra sees internal relations as contextual, as an aspect of something’s
nature, which also includes its being externally
related to certain other things.
Second, Long quotes Sciabarra’s 1995 interview with Full
Context (1995c): “[Dialectics has] an emphasis on Internal Relations. . . .
[A]s a consequence of all of this, dialectics rejects formal dualism [which] stresses not integration and organic unity, but separation and opposition
between spheres, and external relations between parts” (5).
Long misses here is the reason for the stress
on internal relations: it is to correct the atomistic and dualistic tendency to view parts as being non-integrated and
separate from the whole of which they are parts.
In other words, Sciabarra is not saying that external relations do not
exist, but rather that characterizing parts as being externally related (rather than internally
related) is simply incorrect. External relations are relations between
wholes, considered as objects of focus or inquiry,
not relations within wholes, considered as “totalities” or structured
unities—i.e., not between the parts of wholes,
that have been identified through analytical investigation.
Speculating as to How Long Went Astray
Any of the above misinterpretations by Long
of Sciabarra’s dialectics could be explained by itself as a simple, though
regrettable, misunderstanding. As a consistent pattern, however, they indicate
that a deeper influence may be at work. One suggestion that grows out of an appreciation of Sciabarra’s writings is that Long has fallen prey to the tendency to confuse methodological orientations with ontological
or cosmological models of reality.
and consistently avoids the pitfall of inappropriately cosmologizing the various approaches
to investigating fields of academic study. Rather than delving into the ontological implications of the dialectical
approach in a way parallel to that of the dualist or monist or strict atomist or strict
organicist orientations, Sciabarra remains steadfastly epistemological or methodological
throughout his works. And he does so precisely because of the pitfalls
suffered by the other orientations as they each attempt to establish their models not just
as a useful method of explaining the nature of reality, but as the
fundamental explanation of the nature
This hegemonistic tendency of particular
cosmologies to elevate themselves to explanatory preeminence is thoroughly explored by
Stephen C. Pepper in his classic, World Hypotheses:
A Study in Evidence (1942). It might well have been subtitled “The Limits of
Cosmology,” for that is precisely what Pepper seeks to clarify. Each world hypothesis or cosmology is explored in depth and compared with the others,
and what emerges is a thorough parallel on a grand scale of the parable of the four blind
men and the elephant. Each of the four “basically adequate”
world hypotheses has strong points to recommend it, and they all have their serious
Pepper’s solution to the
impasse arrived at is thus to strive for, as he puts it, “rational clarity
in theory and reasonable eclecticism in practice” (330). We should acknowledge
that the “four alternative theories . . . supply us with a great deal more
information on the subject than any one of them alone could have done,”
and thus that we should make our judgments “in the most reasonable
way possible . . . sensibly acting on all the evidence available” (331).The four world hypotheses that
Pepper compares are Formism, Mechanism, Contextualism, and Organicism. Formism (Pepper’s
name for “realism”) is connected with Plato, Aristotle, the Scholastics and Neoscholastics, the Neorealists, and the modern Cambridge realists—and,
it would appear, Roderick Long. Mechanism (or “materialism”) is associated
with the atomists and various early modern philosophers including Descartes, Hobbes, Locke,
Berkeley, and Hume. Contextualism (or “pragmatism”) is connected with Peirce, James, Bergson, Dewey, and others. Organicism (or “absolute idealism”)
is associated with Hegel, Bradley, and others (141–42).
these four cosmologies in two basic ways. First, he distinguishes between analytic and synthetic world
theories, viewing Formism and Mechanism as analytic and Contextualism and Organicism as synthetic. Secondly, he distinguishes between theories that have
“inadequate scope,” which he labels as integrative and
theories that have “inadequate precision,” which he labels as dispersive—the integrative theories being Mechanism and Organicism and the
dispersive (Pepper’s term) or differentiative (Long’s term) theories
being Formism and Contextualism (142).
With this twofold classification scheme in hand, Pepper is able to characterize Organicism as an integrative, synthetic theory (146)—which
is precisely how Long attempts to describe Sciabarra’s dialectics—a
description that more appropriately applies to strict organicism as Sciabarra
defines and discusses it. Also, consider the fact that Pepper characterizes Formism
as a dispersive, analytic theory (146). If we then take “dispersive”
as equivalent to “differentiative,” and if we further acknowledge
other clear signs that Long places himself squarely within the Platonic/Aristotelian
realist tradition, there can hardly be any doubt that Long’s view is a version
of the world hypothesis Pepper calls Formism.
As one reads Sciabarra’s
growing body of thought, one can discern a consistent, continuous thread, running from
MHU through RR to TF. Dialectics,
as Sciabarra conceives it, encompasses and transcends the more limited perspectives of
the synthesis-oriented organicists and monists and the analysis-oriented atomists and dualists
(including Long’s own analytic perspective).
is certainly true, as Long states, that more understanding can be reached by pooling the
valuable techniques and insights of each perspective—and he generously admits that
his own perspective is enriched by the complementary efforts of the synthetic, integrative
approach. Where Long errs, however, is in assuming that Sciabarra and dialectics are on the other side of the fence from the analytic tradition.
On the contrary, Sciabarra the dialectician has consistently sought to transcend
the limiting perspectives of the analysts and the synthesists, while incorporating
their strengths into his dialectical “bag of tricks” for use when
1. I draw here on Sciabarra’s distinction discussed in TF (173, 176).
2. It is instructive to compare
Sciabarra’s position with that of Ayn Rand (1997). In remarks written in 1958, Rand firmly insists that “[c]osmology
has to be thrown out of philosophy,” because “a metaphysical attempt
to establish the literal nature of reality . . . usurps the domain of physics and proposes
to solve the problems of physics by some non-scientific, and therefore mystical, means” (698). This kind of “rationalizing
from an arrested state of knowledge,” she says, takes “partial knowledge as omniscience” and is the pathway
to all sorts of “fantastic irrationalities of philosophical metaphysics” (698, 699).
3. Sciabarra himself mentions
this parable in RR, 380.
similarity between Pepper’s and Sciabarra’s surveys of alternate views and their own preferred solutions is striking.
5. There is at least one significant discrepancy between the ways that Long
and Pepper view the potential for cooperation between the synthetic, integrative approach and the analytic, dispersive/differentiative
approach. Whereas Long is laudably gracious in calling for peaceful coexistence and sharing of research results and perspectives,
Pepper sees Formism and Organicism as being “especially hostile to each other. There is nothing that an organicist so enjoys as devastating
the ‘linear’ or ‘atomic’ logic of the formist, nor anything
a formist so enjoys as tearing down and into small pieces the ‘muddled’
and ‘psychologized’ logic of the organicist” (147–48).
T. 2001. The benefits and hazards of dialectical libertarianism. The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies 2, no. 2 (Spring):
Pepper, Stephen C. 1942. World Hypotheses: A Study in Evidence. Berkeley: University
of California Press.
Ayn. 1997. Journals of Ayn Rand. Edited by
David Harriman. New York: Dutton.
Sciabarra, Chris Matthew. 1995a. Marx, Hayek, and Utopia. Albany: State University of New York Press.
___. 1995b. Ayn Rand: The Russian
Radical. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press.
___. 1995c. Interview. Full Context 8, no. 1 (September). Available at <http://www.nyu.edu/projects/sciabarra/about/fc.htm>.
___. 2000. Total Freedom: Toward a Dialectical Libertarianism. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press.