Dialectics, Complexity,and the Systemic Approach: Toward a Critical Reconciliation

Philosophy of the Social Sciences 43 (4):411-452 (2013)
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This article attempts to assess Mario Bunge’s important but widely neglected criticisms of dialectics. It begins by providing a contextualized interpretation of Friedrich Engels’s metaphysics of the dialectics of nature before embarking on a detailed discussion of Leon Trotsky’s and contemporary “dialectical” scientists’ views on materialist dialectics. It argues that while some of Bunge’s criticisms are eminently sensible, the principles underlying the works of dialectical scientists are compatible with Bunge’s emergentist and systemic approach and can shed light on such issues as the levels of organization, the diachronic and synchronic aspects of emergence, and the individualism-holism-systemism trilemma. This article also submits that dialectics is best interpreted as a guideline for a philosophy of change instead of a magical wand that liberates the investigator from study of facts. Understood as something that serves heuristic purposes, dialectics can be sensibly utilized by scientists to shore up or refine their methodological principles and thereby to facilitate empirical research.



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