Dialectics and the Non Stick Frying Pan

17 Nov

My favourite story about Hegel (Georg Wilhelm Friedrich, 1770-1831) is that he used his formidable skills as a philosopher in order to produce a logical proof that there could be no more and no less than nine objects in the Solar System. At the time he enjoyed a near legendary status that we don’t normally associate with philosophers. Shortly after this logical tour de force someone discovered the existence of Ceres.

Call it a triumph of empiricism over the  a priori proposition.

To return to the main subject of this post, Hegel is probably best known as a master of dialectical argument.

Essentially dialectical argument consists of a merger of opposites with a view to producing something new.

In formal terms this means that you start with a statement, or thesis. Then you take the opposite of this statement, the antithesis, and through the conjunction of these two opposite statements a new statement can be derived, the synthesis.

This can be illustrated in a historical context by the following. One of the conclusions of Hegel’s philosophy was the reification of the state, this is part of the reason why he was seen as supporting right-wing political ideology.

His methods were adopted and developed by Feuerbach and Marx, amongst others leading to the development of left-wing political ideology.

These two ideologies came into conflict during the 20th Century most acutely on the Russian Front during World War II and then again throughout the Cold War.

As many of us know, rocket technology developed rapidly during World War II (Courtesy of Werner von Braun and an unknown number of slave labourers employed in Nazi Germany), as a weapons system.

Further development of rockets as weapons was also spurred on by the arms race during the Cold War. The technology was further developed as an instrument of propaganda during the space race, which culminated in the Moon landing.

One of the spin-off technologies from the Apollo project was the teflon coating used in non stick frying pans.

The above is, of course an exercise in absurdity. Something like 22 million people died in World War II and I don’t think anyone knows how many lives were lost as a result of the Cold War. No advance in kitchen ware can redeem that kind of suffering.

I grew up during the Cold War and to me World War II was very recent history. Both now seem to be receding from consciousness.

Call this my small contribution to reminding people of the crass absurdity of  political leaders who sincerely believe that the systems they create and exploit are worth the destruction of  millions of human beings.

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