Front Page Titles (by Subject) 10.: Marxism and Formal Logic - The Illusion of the Epoch: Marxism-Leninism as a Philosophical Creed
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10.: Marxism and Formal Logic - H.B. Acton, The Illusion of the Epoch: Marxism-Leninism as a Philosophical Creed 
The Illusion of the Epoch: Marxism-Leninism as a Philosophical Creed (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2003).
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Marxism and Formal Logic
I will conclude this chapter with some very brief remarks on the Marxist view of logic. In Section 2 of the present chapter (page 48) I quoted a passage from Engels’ Anti-Dühring in which he puts forward the positivist thesis that, as the various special sciences develop, all that is left to philosophy is “the science of thought and its laws—formal logic and dialectics.” From this we may conclude that “formal logic and dialectics” are fairly respectable sciences and that they are distinguishable from one another, at any rate in thought. If, as seems very likely, “dialectics” consists of the sort of consideration we have just been examining in connection with the three “laws of dialectic,” then formal logic would appear to be something different. Further on in the Anti-Dühring Engels says that “Even formal logic is primarily a method of arriving at new results, of advancing from the known to the unknown—and dialectics is the same, only in a much more important sense, because in forcing its way beyond the narrow horizon of formal logic it contains the germs of a more comprehensive view of the world.”37 In the same passage Engels goes on to say that “almost all the proofs of higher mathematics” go beyond formal logic into the realm of dialectics. In his Dialectics of Nature Engels contrasts dialectical logic with “the old, merely formal logic,” saying that the former is not content with merely enumerating the forms of thought and “placing them side by side without any connection,” but “it derives these forms out of one another instead of putting them on an equal level, it develops the higher forms out of the lower.” He then goes on to give an outline of Hegel’s account of the forms of judgment, and concludes the discussion with an attack on those who make a sharp contrast between deductive and inductive logic instead of recognizing that deduction and induction are not exclusive and opposite types of inference.38
We may notice four main points here. (a) Engels allows that formal logic is a part of philosophy that survives the overthrow of speculative philosophy. (b) Hegel had argued that where there is no development or advance in knowledge from premises to conclusion there is no inference at all. On Hegel’s view, that is, a mere tautology would not be a genuine inference. With these views in mind, Engels argues that since formal logic contains inferences it leads to new knowledge. (c) Like Hegel also, however, he holds that formal logic is somehow incomplete, and points the way to dialectical logic. In particular he complains that in formal logic the various types of judgment are regarded as fixed and as rigidly distinguished from one another, instead of being shown to be continuous and fluid. It would therefore be natural to conclude from this part of Engels’ argument that he supposed formal logic to be (in his sense of the word) “metaphysical,” and therefore false. He certainly considered that formal logic belonged to the domain of the Understanding and of the ability to abstract and to experiment which (he says) is common to men and animals, and that the dialectical procedures of the Reason are peculiar to mankind.39 (d) It looks as if Engels would have approved of a sort of logic like that of Bernard Bosanquet or of some contemporary philosophers of “ordinary language” in which, for example, instead of the distinction being between, say, categorical and hypothetical judgments, it is between categorical and hypothetical aspects of them; or instead of there being a separate discussion of deductive and of inductive inference, the two are shown to be very intimately involved with one another; and so on for other well-known logical contrasts.
It will be seen that Engels left his Marxist successors with rather a difficult task, for on the one hand formal logic appears to have his support, and on the other hand he appears to stigmatize it as inferior to dialectics and as “metaphysical.” In the Soviet Union the latter view was fashionable for some time, but since the Second World War formal logic has been defended by Marxist philosophers and its teaching re-introduced into Soviet high schools. Indeed, a textbook of the Tsarist period was re-published for this purpose. Soviet philosophers have in recent years been discussing whether there is one logic only, or whether there are two, formal logic and dialectical logic. From the passages I have referred to it will be seen that Engels contrasted formal logic with “dialectics” and with “dialectical logic,” so that precise guidance cannot be obtained from him. However that may be, new textbooks of formal logic are now being produced in the Soviet Union in which it is stated that there are four basic principles of formal logic, the Principle of Identity, the Principle of Contradiction, the Principle of Excluded Middle, and the Principle of Sufficient Reason, and in which the Square of Opposition, the Syllogism, and the other parts of the traditional formal logic are treated in the traditional way. Thus by “formal logic” the Soviet philosophers mean the modified Aristotelian tradition that held sway in Europe and America until the innovations of Boole, de Morgan, Venn, and Peirce led to the development of what is now called symbolic or mathematical logic. It appears that the writings of Hilbert, Tarski, and other mathematical logicians have been circulated in the U.S.S.R., but they do not seem to have influenced Soviet philosophers (who have labelled them as “idealist”), whatever their influence on Soviet mathematicians may have been. It should be noticed, however, that there is no suggestion on the part of Soviet philosophers that self-contradiction is a feature of the dialectical thinking that they favor or that consistency and rigor are not desirable in all thinking. They consider that the laws of logic somehow copy or “reflect” the real world, and appear committed to this view so long as the writings of Lenin are accepted as authoritative, for in the Philosophical Notebooks he wrote: “The laws of logic are reflections of the objective in the subjective consciousness of men.”40
[37. ]P. 151.
[38. ]Dialectics of Nature, p. 237.
[39. ]Ibid., pp. 203–4.
[40. ]Aus dem Philosophischen Nachlass, ed. Adoratski, p. 103. See also p. 110. The account of formal logic in the U.S.S.R. is summarized from the lucid description in G. A. Wetter, Der Dialektische Materialismus: Seine Geschichte und sein System in der Sowjetunion (Wien, 1952), pp. 544ff. In the English translation of this work (Dialectical Materialism, London, 1958) Wetter brings his account of the controversy over the status of formal logic up to date. The view that formal logic is an independent science with universal validity is being vigorously upheld (pp. 531–35). But Bochenski (Der Sowjetrussische Dialektische Materialismus, 2nd edition, 1956, pp. 67–68) shows that the adherents of formal logic were accused of being “nihilists” and “vulgarizers” by influential writers in Komunist and Voprosy Filosofic. See also: Logic and Dialectic in the Soviet Union, by Alexander Philopov (Research Program on the U.S.S.R., New York, 1952). There is some interesting material in George L. Kline’s review of Bochenski’s Der Sowjetrussische Dialektische Materialismus, in the Journal of Philosophy, 1952, pp. 123–31.