Jump to content
Avant Labs
blarger

Concrete and Abstract

Recommended Posts

What the deuce is the difference between "abstract" and "concrete" when we apply the term to ideas or fields of inquiry? We bandy about these terms all the time in everyday language, but how do/ought we to categorize them? The boring, and maybe true, argument, is that we classify things we easily understand, that already fit into our frameworks, as "concrete", and we only say "that's abstract" when it makes our brain work in a way it prefers not to or never has before. For me, math and statistics are abstract. But fair warning, I really don't like doing them, mainly because I find tautologies boring, and that I never feel like I've come away smarter or better off after having studied them. Although I don't mind learning them if they help me solve a concrete problem that I am interested in. But again, what does concrete even mean? Of course there are no real answers in discussions like this, but thinking about it will certainly uncover your implicit assumptions in how you interact with and talk about the world.

 

My stab in the dark: I personally call concrete that which occurs in the physico-sensory realm. Academic fields and ideas which try to tell me what has/is/will occur(ed) in the physical realm is Concrete: Biology, History, Astronomy. But all these fields use cognitively created tools to interface with the stuff-world -- symbolic logical systems -- math, formal logic, computer programming, statistical models. Those who like to fiddle with the rules and behaviors of the "tools by which" for fiddling's sake, well, that is an Abstract endeavor. But the real interesting question is, what about philosophy, religion, theoretical psychology, critical theory? I think we need another term, a hybrid -- Con-Stract, which is usefully close to Construct. These fields are ultimately critical (critiquing) in their function, because in aiming to "reveal" or "discover" the patterns or "Rules" by which Man-the-abstracter can and/or should interface with the world of stuff, they in effect Construct new norms and assumptions for everyone else. These fields are ultimately rhetorical in their function -- they try to convince us of that which Is and True that we can't touch or quantify. To summarize, Concrete untertakings ultimately are about Whats. Abstract fields ultimately offer the Hows we record and manipulate and simulate and master Whats. Construct-ive endeavors basically try to "inform" us about the Where, the frameworks-within-which, everything else inescapably occurs, all that which is (and isn't) "hidden but necessary" for everything else in the first place. So by this, Plato and Freud were in their roles more like priests/shamans than scientists or logicians, even if they used organized logical thought and tried to explain things about the world, in terms of the target/implications of their inquiries, and its subsquent function in society. Of course, my conceptions of all these differences are extremely conditioned by the contingencies of history, memes... fucking tangled web, this is.

 

Anyone else have ideas on how to slice this cake?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I always find looking at the etymologies helps:

 

abstract: abs trahere ---> drawn away from

 

concret: con crescere ---> grown together

 

For Hegel, this became the notion that, in terms of Spirit, individual things were abstract (drawn away from the Universal), while the Universal was concrete (all things having grown together). Thus, in the Hegelian system, knowledge moves from the abstract to the concrete.

 

"It seems to be correct to begin with the real and the concrete, with the real production, thus to begin, in economics, with e.g. the population, which is the foundation and the subject of the entire social act of production. However, on closer examination this proves false. The population is an abstraction if I leave out, for example, the classes of which it is composed. These classes in turn are an empty phrase if I am not familiar with the elements on which they rest. E.g. wage labour, capital, etc. These latter in turn presuppose exchange, division of labour, process, etc. For example, capital is nothing without wage labour, without value, money, price, etc. Thus, if I were to begin with the population, this would be a chaotic conception of the whole, and I would then, by means of further determination, move analytically towards ever more simple concepts, from the imagined concrete towards ever thinner abstractions until I had arrived at the simplest determinations."

 

- Karl Marx, Grundrisse

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
The population is an abstraction if I leave out, for example, the classes of which it is composed. These classes in turn are an empty phrase if I am not familiar with the elements on which they rest.
Gee, it would be a wonder if he might have instead considered, oh I don't know, for example, human beings...

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

×