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"I have been unable to find any place where Cohen does the intellectual work to show with some care what's wrong with dialectics."

It's been several years since I've read it, and I suppose it's debatable whether the discussion proceeds with "some care" or not, but in _If You're an Egalitarian, How Come you're So Rich?_, especially in the chapters on the development of socialism and Hegel in Marx, Cohen discusses "dialectics" a fair amount. This obviously post-dates KMTH by many years, but not the 2nd edition, (IYAE is based on lectures given in 1996) and so not that introduction, as they came out pretty close together.

(I've been, pretty slowly, and mostly for "fun", reading the Cambridge Companion to Marx over the last month or so. Stylistically, the papers are all pretty clearly written and argued, but I'll admit that none of the discussions of "dialectics" have made it seem like a plausible and interesting approach, with this perhaps especially applying to the chapter most directly focused on it, "Logic: Dialectic and contradiction" by Lawrence Wilde. That doesn't mean that there's nothing to it, of course, but it also doesn't encourage.)

Eric Schliesser

Hi Matt, yes, Cohen mentions Marx's relationship to Hegelian dialectics a bit If You're an Egalitarian, How Come you're So Rich?. But somewhat oddly, the discussion leaves out some of the features that are generally taken to be most obscure (and revolutionary)and, when I double checked, I could not find a critical treatment of why today we should stick to the empirical residue. So, I treat this as confirming my general argument. I'd be happy to be pointed to passages that suggest otherwise.


It's been too long since I've read IYAE for me to have a strong memory of it, and I'm not super keen to re-read it. I am, for somewhat different reasons than suggested in this post, not a huge fan of G.A. Cohen, but I did think the idea that he didn't discuss dialectics sounded odd and unfair, which is why I mentioned the discussion there.

As for analytic Marxism more generally, I'm probably more inclined to the criticism that takes up the first 48 pages or so of Elster's _Making Sense of Marx_. I'm no Marx expert, but the discussions I've read of "dialectics" by supporters and from the parts of Marx I've read haven't made me think there is much there, and I'm sympathetic to Elster's account that what is useful can, and should, be put in more rigorous and helpful forms, with the rest safely tossed aside. I'm open to being convinced otherwise, but I haven't seen anything to suggest that I should be so far.

Eric Schliesser

1. You misrepresent my post, Matt. I never claimed he doesn't discuss dialectics; the dismissive comments and rejections are discussions. I am just noting that the dismissals are unearned (in so far as argument is supposed to the way our labor earns our keep).

2. I also agree that Elster's discuesses dialectics at length in Making Sense of Marx. But you haven't actually pointed to the winning arguments or anything like that. (Let alone helped anybody reconstruct them.) You thereby instantiate the very feature of what I am objecting to.

3. I happen to agree that section 1.5 of that book is among the better efforts by any analytic marxist to engage with dialetics. And maybe I'll be motivated to write up why it, too, fails at what it sets out to do.

3. It is an interesting sociological fact that Cohen -- who certainly mentions Elster plenty in the very passages I quote from above -- didn't feel the need to point to Elster's treatment of dialetics as a methodological source/inspiration/authority.

4. Finally, I am not interested in making dialectics convincing to you (or anybody); that's not my role in life.


I'm happy to let others judge the fairness of your presentation, Eric (though I'll note that it's not the first time I have thought you've presented authors unfairly on the blog), but beyond that, I'll also note that it's certainly not any more reasonable to suggest that I present, or reconstruct, "winning arguments" in blog comments - "that's not my role in life" than for you to provide them in a blog post. I certainly didn't see any here, either.

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