"dialectical approach"
Source Jim Devine
Date 02/07/08/00:18

Nancy writes: >I guess my question is, "What *is* a dialectical approach?<

In their THE DIALECTICAL BIOLOGIST, Levins & Lewontin have a useful
description of the dialectical approach, though it's hardly the only one.
They see the "dialectic" as a set of questions for trying to understand
empirical reality rather than as a set of pre-digested answers. Applying
their description to society, the approach tells us to

(1) look at how the whole -- or totality -- of society shapes and limits the
individual parts of society, e.g., how we are constrained and trained to see
the world in a certain way, to act in certain ways, etc. For example, in a
capitalist society, most of us are encouraged to look at the world in an
individualistic way, while we have little choice but to "look out for number
one" (including our immediate families) and hope that we can do better.

(2) look how the parts add up to and create the whole. This is the
methodological individualist "take" of orthodox economics, which the
dialectical analysis indicates is woefully one-sided and incomplete.

(3) look how the interaction between the whole making the parts and teh
parts making the whole causes dynamic change over time.

What this lacks for me is that there's insufficient emphasis on the
structure of society (perhaps arising from L & L's focus on the "dialectics
of nature"). I would add that, specifically to add the institutions of
class, male domination, white domination, etc.

>Why is a dialectical approach better (more revealing of the truth) than a
non-dialectical approach?)<

It's better because it avoids _leaving things out_, trying to avoid a
one-sided analysis. It tries to not only "tell the truth" and "nothing but
the truth" but "tell the whole truth." The various theories that
neoclassical (i.e., orthodox) economists or other methodological
individualists spin are often not "wrong" as much as radically incomplete,
so that the conclusions are biased in a bourgeois way. The "law of supply &
demand" and other micro-ideas, for example, aren't "wrong" as much as it
misses class relations and the like. Sorry that I don't have time for a more
specific example...

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