Zeitschrift für Sozialforschung III/1934

Max Horkheimer, Editor

Libraire Felix Alcan Paris

Reviews, p. 266-7

Conze, Eberhard: The Principle of Contradiction. A Contribution to the Theory of Dialectical Materialism.  Self-Published, Hamburg 1932-33 (26 Deliveries; 10 Reichsmark)

Conze makes the attempt “to expand the method of historical materialism to logical thought, its laws and categories.”  He wants to show how “the [concrete] existence of man is also the foundation of his logical consciousness, and how the foundations of existence of logical thought and its conditions of realization are situated in the practical and societal life of men.”  The principle of contradiction and the principle of identity that supports it, that is, the classic axioms of traditional logic, are investigated with this intention.  Following an extensive interpretation of the different formulations of these axioms, the “ground of validity” of the principle of contradiction is to be shown.  This demonstration is to limit its logical validity “to certain subjects and object ranges.”

Conze finds that the “evidentness” [Evidenz] of this axiom ultimately leads back to a definite human practical activity [Praxis]: “The practical activity that supports the principle of contradiction is a practical activity of labor [Arbeit].”

The last paragraph, then, gives the actual “sociological interpretation” of the PoC in that the practical activities that underlie it are rendered concrete as the “social labor of socialized man”:  it is to be shown that the “properties of logical thought itself” and the “psychical and ethical peculiarities that it presupposes can arise only in society and through socialization.”

Conze’s interpretation and critique of traditional logic is essentially guided by the Marxist concept of alienation [Entfremdung].  Traditional logic is under the domination of alienation insofar as in it the objects of thought and its laws appear “as found” and no consideration is given to “their interaction with practically acting and laboring human beings.”  This logic does not consider the objects of thought as “things-in-the-surrounding-world” [Umweltdinge], that is, not as they actually are in full concreteness in practical, everyday behavior, but as mere “objects” [Gegenstände], objects of pure theory made by abstraction from things-in-the-surrounding-world.   Things-in-the-surrounding-world appear solely in the form of abstract objectivity in the judgments of traditional logic, and the norms of thought as such are to be won from this judgment-thinking [Urteilsdenken].  With this, however, the true relationship between surrounding-world-thinking [Umweltdenken] and object-thinking [Gegenstandsdenken] is put on its head because the “behavior-in-the-surrounding-world [Umweltverhalten] of man is not to be traced back to his behavior with respect to the object-world.”  Conze distinguishes the “sentence” [Satz] as an expression of concrete surrounding-world-thinking and from the “judgment” [Urteil] of abstract object-thinking and asserts that “traditional logic demands that declarative sentences [Aussagesätze] have to be interpretable as judgments.  Contrarily, judgments are to be interpreted as special forms of sentences, the logic of judgments is to be traced back to the logic of sentences, and the logical activity of man is to be conceived as a special case of his social activity.”

The attempt to apply historical materialism to logic involves great risks since preparatory works are almost entirely unavailable and because it concerns an area of theory that is far removed from the social “substructure” [Unterbau] and access to this area can only be gained through a series of mediating stages [Vermittlungsstufen].  The uncertainties of a first step into a new territory of materialism find clear expression in Conze’s book: not always are the necessary “mediating stages” traversed; occasionally, the much too “direct” interpretation is in danger of falling back from dialectical to mechanistic materialism.  But the great fertility of historical materialism shows itself already in the present form: the ossified logical theory is loosened everywhere and deconstructed toward its original impulses (we especially point to Conze’s interpretations of nominalism and pragmatism).

Herbert Marcuse (Geneva)


Translated from the German by Holger R. Heine, 2004

Source document: http://www.conze.elbrecht.com/Besprechung.html