Understanding the relative nature of things 

                           To “Maestro Tinik” (aka Francisco Samson)
                       whose “beautiful mind” kept me trekking back
                             to the Sierra Madre mountain for years.
                                            May he rest in peace. 


Foreword.  Not many people will find the subject of “the law of contradiction in things” an interesting read.  But for the few curious ones, a general understanding of the relative nature and behavior of things may find practical use in their lives.

A full inquiry into the subject will take time and occupy too much blog space so I will try to be as brief as possible in dealing with the subject for reading convenience.

The Universality of Contradiction.  The concept can be briefly dealt with because it is widely accepted.  Accordingly, in analyzing the law of contradiction in things, we start with the universality of contradiction, then proceed to the particularity of contradiction, and finally return to the universality of contradiction. 

The universality of contradiction has a two-fold meaning.  One is that contradiction exists in the development of all things and the other is that in the process of development of each thing a movement of opposites exists from beginning to end.

In war, offense and defense, advance and retreat, victory and defeat are all contradictions.  The one cannot exist without the other.  The two sides, at once in conflict and in combination with each other, constitute the totality of war, impelling its development and solving its problems.

Translated into our daily lives, everyday we bear witness to and are often confronted with the development and consequences of contradictions between and among opposites — good and evil, hot and cold, weak and strong, joy and sorrow, old and new, etcetera.

Opposition and struggle between people and different ideas also occur frequently in society, reflecting contradictions between classes of people and between the old and the new in society.

Simply put, the universality of contradiction means that contradiction and the struggle between and among opposites exist in and run through the whole process of development of all things and man’s thought without exception.

Every difference in man’s concept should be regarded as reflecting an objective contradiction.  Objective contradictions, reflected in subjective thinking, set going the movement of opposites in  concepts, impel the development of thinking, and ceaselessly solve the problems of thought.

The Particularity of Contradiction.  Our knowledge of the physical world is a knowledge of matter and the forms of its motion.  Because there is nothing in the physical world except matter in motion, this motion must assume a certain form.

But that is not to say that an opposite world to the physical world does not exist.  Just because it cannot be detected by science does not mean that it’s not there.  To deny the possibility of its existence is to claim that science has, indeed, exhausted and solved all the mysteries of life and the universe.

In considering each form of motion, we must take into account the features common to all forms.  But what is especially important and constitutes the basis of our knowledge is that we must take note of the distinguishing features, namely:  the qualitative difference between one form of motion and the others.  Only when we have done this can we distinguish between things.

Any form of motion contains within itself its own particular contradiction.  This particular contradiction constitutes the particular quality which distinguishes one thing from the others.  This is the internal cause or, as it may be called, the basis of the thousand and one ways in which things are different from one another.

Many forms of motion exist in nature — mechanical movement, light, sound, heat, electricity, and others.  All these forms are interdependent and each is qualitatively different from one another.

The particular quality of a form of motion is determined by the particular contradiction inherent in that form.  This holds true not only with nature but also with society and with thinking.  Every form of society, every way of thinking has its particular conradiction and particular quality.

Qualitatively different contradictions can be solved by qualitatively different methods.  For instance, the contradiction between the proletariat and bourgeoisie is solved by socialist revolution; the contradiction between colonies and imperialism is solved by national revolutionary war; the contradiction between the broad masses and feudal system is solved by democratic revolution.

The relationship between the universality of contradiction and the particularity of contradiction is one between the common character and the individual character of contradictions.

The Principal Contradiction and the Principal Aspect of a Contradiction.  As regards the particularity of contradiction, there are still two aspects which require brief analysis:  the principal contradiction and the principal aspect of a contradiction.

For instance, in a capitalist society, the two opposing forces, the working class and the middle class, form the principal contradiction; the other contradiction between the remnant feudal class (or the ruling elite) and the middle class form the secondary contradiction.  We cannot treat all contradictions in a process as being equal, but must distinguish between the principal and the secondary, and pay particular attention to grasping the principal.

The development of the contradictory aspects in a contradiction is uneven.  Sometimes it may appear to be a balance of forces, but that is only temporary and relative, while unevenness remains fundamental.  Of the two contradictory aspects, one must be the principal and the other secondary.  The principal aspect is that which plays the leading role in the contradiction.  The quality of a thing is mainly determined by the principal aspect of the contradiction which has become dominant.

Note that in EDSA-1 (1986) and -2 (2001) revolts the secondary contradiction became dominant and transformed itself into the principal aspect of the conflict on both occassions, leaving the broad masses with nothing but promises, promises for twenty-five years now (and counting).

The Struggle of the Aspects of Contradiction.  The contradictory aspects in every process exclude each other, struggle with each other and are opposed to each other.  A simple process has only one pair of opposites, while a complex process has various pairs of opposites that are in turn opposed to one another.  In this way all things in the physical world and in man’s thought are formed and impelled to move.

The movement of things assumes either one of two forms:  relative rest and conspicuous change.  Both forms are caused by the struggle of the opposites within a thing.  When the movement assumes the first form, it only undergoes a quantitative change but not a qualitative change and consequently appears in a state of seeming rest.  When it assumes the second form, it has already reached a certain culminating point of the quantitative change of the first form, produced qualitative change, and consequenly appears as a conspicuous change. 

The Role of Antagonism in Contradiction.  One of the questions concerning the struggle within the contradiction is:  What is antagonism?  The answer is:  Antagonism is one of the forms of struggle within the contradiction, but not the only form.

Contradiction and struggle are universal, but the method of solving them, that is, the form of struggle, differs according to the nature of contradiction.  Some contradictions are characterized by open antagonism, others are not.  Based on the specific development of things, some contradictions, originally not yet antagonistic, develop and become antagonistic; while others, originally antagonistic, develop and become non-antagonistic.

Author:  Rene “RC” Catacutan
Published 15 October 2011



Some famous thinkers and theoreticians in history (in alphabetical order)

Adam Smith of Scotland (1723-1790).  A social philosopher and a pioneer in political economy.  Best known for his 1776 book An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations, a classic of modern economics beloved especially by free market advocates.

 Albert Camus of France (1913-1960).  Author, journalist and key philosopher of the 20th century, Camus became the youngest-ever recipient of the Nobel Price for Literature in 1957.  Best known for his 1941 book L’estranger (The Stranger or The Outsider), Camus wrote about alienation and moral responsibility, and described himself as a pessimist about the human condition, yet he ardently sought a positive solution to the “absurdist” position that life is meaningless.

Albert Einstein of Germany (1879-1955).  The most famous scientist and theoretical physicist of the 20th century who developed the theory of general relativity which revolutionized physics.  Known for his famous equation e=mc2, Einstein’s work had a profound impact on everything from quantum theory to nuclear power and the atom bomb. 

Aristotle of ancient Macedonia (384-322 BC).  Aristotle was a Greek philosopher and polymath, a student of Plato and teacher of Alexander the Great.  He was one of the “big three” in ancient Greek philosophy, along with Plato and Socrates.  His intellectual range was vast, covering most of the sciences and arts.  He invented the study of formal logic, devising for it a system known as syllogistic, which was considered the sum of the discipline until the 19th century.  His ethical and political theories continue to exert great influence in philosophical debate.  He is also known for his careully detailed observations of nature and the physical world, which laid the groundwork for the modern study of biology.  Among his surviving works are the texts Physics, Metaphysics, Rhetoric and Ethics.

 Augustine of Hippo, also known as St. Augustine (354-430 AD).  Born in Thasgate, Africa (now Algeria), Augustine was a Latin-speaking philosopher and theologian whose writings were very influential in the development of Western Christianity.  In the Catholic Church, he is a saint and and the patron of the Augustinian religious order.  His concept of God’s grace, free will and Original Sin had a great influence in Christian theology.

 Ayn Rand of USA (1905-1982).  Born in Russia, Rand migrated to USA in 1926.  She is known for her two best-selling novels The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged and for developing a philosophical system she called Objectivism, which advocates reason as the only means of acquiring knowledge and rejects all forms of faith and religion.

Bertrand Russel of England (1872-1970).  A Welsh philosopher, logician, mathematecian and social critic, Russel is considered one of the founders of Analytic Philosophy, which grounds mathematics in logic.  His works has had considerable influence in logic, metaphysics, set theory, linguistics, computer science and philosophy.  Millions looked up to Russel as a “prophet” of the creative and rational life.  Religiously, he was an agnostic or an atheist strongly leaning towards materialism.

 Charles Darwin of England (1809-1882).  Darwin is best known as the naturalist who came up with the theory of evolution.  His book The Origin of Species (published in 1859) was a scientific bombshell in its day and remains a much-discussed work more than 150 years later.   Darwin theorized that species evolve as the fittest members survive and pass on their traits to future generation, which was attacked by those who felt that it was contrary to the teachings of the Bible.  Today, Darwin’s theories are embraced by almost all scientists, even as religious arguments against them continue to rage. 

 Confucius (literally “Master Kong”) of China (traditionally 551-479 BC).  Best known as a sage, Confucius was a teacher, scholar and minor political official whose commentary on Chinese literary classics developed into a pragmatic philosophy for daily life.  The philosophy of  Confucius emphasized personal and government morality, correctness of social relationships, justice and sincerity.  Not strictly religious, the teachings of Confucius were a utilitarian approach to social harmony and social systems.

David Hume of Scotland (1711-1776).  Considered by many as the most important philosopher ever to write in English, Hume was a Scottish philosopher, historian, economist and essayist.  He is known especially for his philosophical empiricism and skepticism.  Beginning with his A Treatise of Human Nature (1739), Hume strove to create a total naturalistic  “science of man” that examined the psychological basis of human nature.  In stark opposition to the rationalists who preceded him, most notably Descartes, he concluded that desire rather than reason governed human behavior, saying “Reason is, and ought only to be the slave of the passions.”  He argued against the existence of innate ideas, concluding instead that humans have knowledge only of things they directly experience.

 Elizabeth Anscombe (born Gertrude Elizabeth Margaret Anscombe) of Ireland (1919-2001).  Best known as a British analytic philosopher from Ireland, Anscombe wrote on the philosophy of mind, philosophy of action, philosophy of logic, philosophy of language, and ethics.  Her monograph Intention is generally recognized as her greatest and most influential work, and the continuing philosophical interest in the concepts of intention, action and practical reasoning can be said to have taken its main impetus from this work.  

Emmanuel Kant (or “Immanuel”) of Germany (1724-1804).  Kant was a German philosopher who argued that moral requirements are based on a standard of rationality he dubbed the “Categorical Imperative” (CI).  Immorality thus involves a violation of the CI and is thereby irrational.  His 1781 magnum opus, the Critique of Pure Reason, aimed to unite reason with experience to move beyond what he took to be failures of traditional philosophy and metaphysics.  He hoped to end the age of speculation whose objects outside experience were used to support what he saw as futile theories, while opposing scepticism and idealism of thinkers such as Descartes, Berkeley and Hume. 

Friedrich Nietzche of Germany (1844-1900).  Nietzche was a German philosopher of the late 19th century who challenged the foundations of Christianity and traditional morality.  He fulminated against Christianity and announced the death of God.  He believed in life, creativity, power and the realities of the world we live in, rather than those situated in a world beyond.  Central to his philosophy is the idea of “life-affirmation“, which involves an honest questioning of all doctrines that drains life’s expansive energies, however prevalent those views might be.

Hannah Arendt of USA (1906-1975).  Arendt was a German-Jewish intellectual who was forced to leave Germany in 1933, lived in Paris for 8 years, and eventually escaped to USA when the German military occupied France.  A political theorist with a flair for grand historical generalization, Arendt’s works deals with the nature of power and the subjects of politics, authority and totalitarianism.  She theorized freedom as public, performative and associative.  To her, this means that freedom does not pre-exist the organized community but is rather constructed there, as the common space between its equal members. in which they can bring their own uniqueness, their “natality”, and create something of lasting value as the founding of a government. 

Isaac Newton of England (1642-1727).  Generally considered to be the greatest and most influential scientist who ever lived, Newton was a physicist, mathematician, astronomer, natural philosopher, alchemist and theologian.  He is best known as the genius who explained gravity.  His 1687 monograph Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica lays the foundation for most of classical mechanics.  In this work, Newton described universal gravitation and the three laws of motion, which dominated the scientific view of the physical universe for the next three centuries.  He showed that the motions of objects on earth and of celestial bodies are governed by the same set of natural laws. 

 Jean Jacques Rousseau of Switzerland and France (1712-1778).  Best known as the author of The Social Contract, Rousseau was one of the most influential thinkers during the Enlightenment in 18th century Europe.  His political philosophy heavily influenced the French Revolution, as well as the evolution of the liberal democratic states in Europe and America during the 18th century.  In the Social Contract, which begins with the memorable line:  “Man was born free, but he is everywhere in chains,” Rousseau argues that a civil society based on a genuine social contract rather than a fraudulent one would provide people with a better kind of freedom, in exchange for their natural independence, namely, political liberty, which he understands as obedience to a self-imposed law created by the “general will.”

Jean Paul Sartre of France (1905-1980).  Best known as the existentialist author of Being and Nothingness, Sartre was a French philosopher, playwright, novelist, screenwriter, political activist, biographer and literary critic.  His name is synonymous with existentialism, a branch of philosophy whose tenets include the idea that the essence of existence is founded in human experience and consciousness.  He argued that human beings have no essence before their existence because there is no Creator.  Thus, “existence precedes essence.”  This forms the basis for his assertion that since one cannot explain their own actions and behavior by referencing any specific human nature, they are necessarily fully responsible for their actions.

 John Locke of England (1631-1704).  Widely known as the Father of Liberalism, Locke was a philosopher and physician and one of the most influential of Enlightened thinkers.  He is also known as the author of Essay Concerning Human Understanding.  His ideas formed the foundation of liberal democracy and greatly influenced both the American and French revolutions.  His contributions to philosophy include the theory of knowledge known as empiricism, which addressed the limits of what we can understand about the nature of reality.  Locke held that our understanding of reality ultimately derives from what we have experienced through our senses.  The political implications of his theories included the notions that all people are born equal and that education can free people from the subjugation of tyranny.

John Stuart Mill of England (1806-1873).  Mill was a philosopher, economist and civil servant and an influential contributor to social theory, political theory and political economy.  He was also a key figure in the movement known as utilitarianism, an ethical theory holding that the proper course of action is the one that maximizes the overall “good” of the greatest number of individuals.  Central to Mill’s philosophy was that “over himself, over his own body and mind, the indiividual is sovereign,” but that philosophy should be guided by what is good for society as a whole.

 Karl Marx of Germany (1818-1883).  Best known as the founder of modern communism, Marx was a philosopher, sociologist, economic historian, journalist and revolutionary socialist.  He developed the socio-political theory known as Marxism, an economic and socio-political worldview and method of socioeconomic inquiry that centers upon a materialist interpretation of history, a dialectical view of social change, and an analysis and critique of the development of capitalism.  He published many books during his lifetime, the most notable ones include The Communist Manifesto (1848) and Das Kapital (1867-1894).  Marx’s theories would later be put into action by Vladimir Lenin in Russia.

Martin  Luther of Germany (1483-1546).  Luther was a Catholic priest and doctor of theology, and is best known as the German monk who started Protestant Reformation.  Without quite intending to, he changed the course of Christianity and Western history.  His 1517 complaint against specific abuse in the Roman Catholic church — a document now known as the 95 Theses — sparked the explosive Protestant Reformation that swept Europe for the rest of the century.  Luther didn’t anticipate the uproar touched off by the 95 Theses he sent to a bishop and archbishop to protest “indulgences” being sold by the Catholic hierarchy under Pope Leo X.  His controversial beliefs earned him excommunication from the church.  His break with Rome led to the founding of the Lutherian Church.  He developed a new form of Christian worship that emphasized preaching and popular hymns, and permitted the clergy to marry.  Luther’s writings included hymns, a liturgy and many theological works.  

Niccolo Machiavelli (born Niccolo di Bernardo dei Machiavelli) of Italy (1469-1527).  Best known as the author of The Prince, Machiavelli was a historian, philosopher, humorist and writer during the Renaissance.  He has been called the brilliant creator of modern political science by some, and a cynical beast by others; he is considered the originator of the idea of a political pragmatism that says “the end justifies the means.”  Machiavelli viewed The Prince as an objective description of political reality.  Because he viewed human nature as venal, grasping, and thoroughly self-serving, he argued that ruthless cunning is appropriate to the conduct of government.  Though admired for its incisive brilliance, the book has also been widely condemned as cynical and amoral, and “Machiavellian” has come to mean deceitful, unscrupulous, and manipulative.   

Plato of ancient Greece (428-347 BC).  Best known as the Classical Greek philosopher who wrote The Republic, Plato was one of the early giants of Western philosophy.  Plato’s writings mostly take the form of dialogues, or “dialectics,” in which knowledge is revealed as two characters ask and answer questions of each other.  He founded the Academy in his native Athens in 387 BC, which became a famous hotbed of philosophical and scientific discussions, and is regarded by many as the first known university in the world.  In The Republic, Plato lays out his ideas on the perfect state, and the book remains a staple of college reading lists around the world.  The great Socrates was Plato’s teacher. 

Rene’ Descartes of France (1596-1650).  Best known as the French mathematician and philosopher who said “I think, therefore I am,” Descartes is considered by many as the father of modern science.  He established a new, clear way of thinking about philosophy and science by rejecting all ideas based on assumptions or emotional beliefs and accepting only those ideas which could be proved by or systematically deduced from direct observation.  He made major contributions to modern mathematics, especially in developing the Cartesian coordinate system, and advancing the theory of equations. 

Simone de Beauvoir (born Simone-Ernestine-Lucie-Marie Bertrand de Beauvoir) of France (1908-1986).  Beauvoir was a preeminent French existentialist philosopher, feminist and writer.  Her method incoporated various political and ethical dimensions.  In The Ethics of Ambiguity, she developed an existentialist ethics that condemned the “spirit of seriousness” on which people too readily identify with certain abstractions at the expense of individual freedom and responsibility.  In The Second Sex, she produced an articulate attack on the fact that  throughout history women have been relegated to a sphere of “immanence,” and the passive acceptance of roles assigned to them by society.  In The Mandarin, she fictionized the struggle of existents trapped in ambiguous social and personal relationships at the closing of World War II.  The emphasis on freedom, responsibility, and ambiguity permeate all of her work and give value to core themes of existentialist philosophy.   

 Socrates of ancient Greece (469-399 BC).  Known as the great Greek philosopher who drank hemlock (a kind of poison), Socrates laid the early foundations of Western philosophical thought.  He developed the so-called  “Socratic Method” which involved asking probing questions in a give-and-take which would eventually lead to the truth.  The method remains a commonly used tool in a wide range of discussion, and is a type of pedagogy in which a series of questions are asked not only to draw individual answers but also to encourage fundamental insight into the issue at hand.  His iconoclastic attitude didn’t sit well with everyone and, at age 70, he was charged with heresy and corruption of the local youth.  Convicted, he carried out the death sentence by drinking hemlock, becoming one of history’s earliest martyrs of conscience.  His most famous pupil was Plato. 

Voltaire (born Francois Marie Arouet) of France (1694-1778).  Voltaire (a pen name) was a French Enlightenment writer, historian and philosopher famous for his wit and for his advocacy of civil liberties, including freedom of religion, free trade and separation of church and state.  He applied his wit and  knowledge to writing poetry and political treatises, often incurring the wrath of the French government and the church.  His best known work is Candide (1759), a satire on philosophical optimism.  Voltaire is remembered as a crusader against tyranny and bigotry and is noted for his wit, satire and critical capacity.