Dialectic, revolution, and the timeless

Revolutions stir the blood and open the possibility of total renewal and rebirth. In the intellectual sphere, this spirit of revolution is dialectic, or the habit of thought that takes the liberty to run across all domains and which feels just as free to start with a premise and work out the consequences as it does to deny a consequence and refute the starting points.

Dialectic tends to something other than itself, since we wouldn’t even start to argue if it didn’t think some things could be definitively ruled out. But this gives us the paradox that dialectic presupposes both a termination in some timeless truth and the promise of eternal revolution.

This paradox of dialectic is now playing out in what gets called science, where we find ourselves convinced we have found something both timeless and forever up-for-grabs. Half the time we politely insist that all that we prove in the sciences can be falsified, and that we will simply follow the evidence wherever it goes; while at the same time we dogmatically insist that the method itself and its fundamental presuppositions are not just one philosophy among many possible. On the one hand we want all our scientific beliefs to be open to review, on the other hand we insist that they couldn’t all just vanish like an opium dream – which would, in fact, make them merely an instance of the sort of mythology that we take them to be the antithesis of.

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