- Identity/Difference: In formal logic, things are either different or identical, but in dialectics, things can be different and identical at the same time in the context of form and essence (Ollman, 1976, p.34). For example, a shaving machine and a razor are different in form but identical in relation, i.e., both are used to set a beard. This is how Marx describes profit, rent, and interest as different in forms but identical in essence (functional relation) (Marx, 1867, p. 78). All three are forms of surplus-value (the portion of wealth created by workers, their labour value, that is extracted by the owner and not returned to the worker in the form of wages) (Marx, 1867, p. 78).
- Unity of Opposites: Unity of opposites can be witnessed in the universe, from an electron and proton to earth and sun, two forces penetrating each other (Engels, 1845, p. 67). But unity of opposites must never be confused with binary oppositions which are taken as isolated two factors. Unity and penetration of opposites elaborate how two factors are in essence and form penetrating each other as a process being conditioned by relations to other factors constituting the system (Engels, 1845, p. 67). Nothing - no event, person, institution or process - is what it appears to be at a particular time and place, that is, in certain set of conditions. Viewing it in other ways, under different conditions, may produce drastically different or opposite effect.
For example; A knife in hands of a conditioned robber is used as a weapon to assist robbery. However, the same knife in hands of a conditioned cook, that is, conditioned by another set of factors, imperatives, it would not function as weapon to rob but rather as a tool to cut vegetables (Ollman, 1976, p. 89).
Here's deeper implication; Machine owned by capitalist is used to exploit worker because there's extraction of surplus-value included but if owned by worker-cooperative, that is, conditioned by another set of factors, the same machine does not result in exploitation (Gramsci, 1971, p. 45). For Capitalist the same machine is a commodity bought to generate more profits with less workers while for worker the same machine means an instrument that will determine their work and need in workplace, for some it may mean loss of job (Bourdieu, 1977, p. 78).
This isn't to say that the truths that emerge from both perspectives are of equal significance. Forms can be confusing and deceiving. Other connections lead to the conclusion that employees, because of their involvement in the process of transforming nature, have a unique viewpoint on how to make sense of the system's dynamic nature (Foucault, 1980, p. 98).
- Quantity/Quality: Gradual quantitative changes lead to sudden qualitative change in form or essence. Quantitative changes signify evolution while qualitative change signifies complete change. History moves in spirals, the small spirals represent quantitative changes and long spirals represent qualitative changes (Habermas, 1981, p. 56).
For example; If you heat the water, its gradual change in temperature signifies quantitative changes, when it reaches the boiling point, then suddenly water changes its quality from liquid to vapor, gas (Bauman, 1989, p. 78).
- Contradiction: The incompatible development, that is, inner contradictions, of different interdependent elements within the same relation are dependent on certain conditions, as we have already discussed, these conditions are always changing (Giddens, 1984, p. 67). As a result, differences are changing, and given how each difference acts as a component of the Form and/or Essence of others, perceived as relations, we understand how one change affects all others.
In conclusion, dialectical materialism is a way of understanding how things change and interact with each other. It highlights the importance of understanding the system in which something exists and the process by which it came to be. By understanding the relations of identity and difference, unity of opposites, quantity and quality, and contradiction, one can gain a deeper understanding of the complexities of the world and the forces that shape it. Additionally, it's important to consider the perspectives of different individuals and groups, as they may have unique insight into the workings of the system. By considering the material reality and the context in which it exists, one can better understand the truth of the matter, and avoid being enslaved by blind conformity and appeal to authority.
1. Bauman, Z. (1989). Modernity and the Holocaust. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.
2. Bourdieu, P. (1977). Outline of a Theory of Practice. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
3. Engels, F. (1845). The Condition of the Working Class in England. London: Allen & Unwin.
4. Foucault, M. (1980). Power/Knowledge: Selected Interviews and Other Writings. New York: Pantheon Books.
5. Giddens, A. (1984). The Constitution of Society: Outline of the Theory of Structuration. Berkeley: University of California Press.
6. Gramsci, A. (1971). Selections from the Prison Notebooks. London: Lawrence & Wishart.
7. Habermas, J. (1981). The Theory of Communicative Action. Boston: Beacon Press.
8. Marx, K. (1867). Capital: A Critique of Political Economy. London: Penguin.
9. Ollman, B. (1976). Alienation: Marx's Conception of Man in Capitalist Society. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.