Rees's argument, for example, goes as follows:
"The important thing about a Marxist understanding of the distinction between the appearance of things and their essence is twofold: 1) by delving beneath the mass of surface phenomena, it is possible to see the essential relations governing historical change
-– thus beneath the appearance of a free and fair market transaction it is possible to see the exploitative relations of class society, but, 2) this does not mean that surface appearances can simply be dismissed as ephemeral events of no consequence. In revealing the essential relations in society, it is also possible to explain more fully than before why they appear in a form different to their real nature. To explain, for instance, why it is that the exploitative class relations at the point of production appear as the exchange of 'a fair day's work for a fair day's pay' in the polished surface of the labour market." [Rees (1998), p.187. Bold emphasis added.]
This passage makes it plain that while Capitalism appears on the surface to be fair, its underlying 'essence' is thoroughly exploitative. Hence, in that sense it could be claimed that appearances contradict reality.
But, unfortunately, Rees's example is not a contradiction, however much we might deplore the things it reveals. [Why that is so is explained more fully in Essay Eight Part Two -- 'True Contradictions'? On the misleading nature of the metaphor that certain truths, or even "essences", somehow lie "below the surface", see below.]
Perhaps this is too hasty? Maybe we can rephrase Rees's claim so that the alleged contradiction becomes more obvious:
R17: Capitalism appears to be fair.
R18: It is not the case that Capitalism appears to be fair.
This pair of sentences certainly looks contradictory, but because both sentences are about appearances they are not what Rees intended.
Well, maybe then the following are?
R19: Capitalism is exploitative.
R20: It is not the case that Capitalism is exploitative.
This pair certainly seems contradictory, too, but once again, since these two sentences do not contrast appearance with reality
they will not do either.
A more helpful guide to Rees's intentions is perhaps contained in the relation he says exists between "essence and appearance" and "subjective and objective" views of the world:
"[F]or Lenin practice overcomes the distinction between subjective and objective and the gap between essence and appearance." [Ibid., pp.190-91.]
This could mean, therefore, that these hard-to-pin-down DM-'contradictions' actually arise between "subjective" and "objective" views of the world. But, again, what precisely is the contradiction here, even if what Rees says were so?
Perhaps the following 'argument' might help bring it out:
R21: Capitalism appears to be fair.
R22: This appearance leads people (including workers) to think that it is fair.
R23: Hence, Capitalism is fair.
R24: But, revolutionary theory and practice convinces some that Capitalism is not fair.
R25: Therefore, Capitalism is not fair.
R26: Consequently, Capitalism is both fair and not fair.
R27: But, the contradiction in R26 implies that R23 cannot be true (based on the truth of R25).
R28: Therefore, Capitalism is not fair.
Ignoring the fact that the above argument in hopelessly invalid, its message looks reasonably clear: it is the 'objectivity' of revolutionary theory (expressed in R24) that makes plain the contradiction in R26.
However, even if that were the case, the contradiction is still not between appearance and reality, but between certain beliefs held about both, or perhaps the inferences made from each.
Anyway, few people (and certainly no revolutionaries
) believe that capitalism is both fair and not fair at the same time. Anyone who gives the matter sufficient thought will agree with R23 or R25, but not both at once. Indeed, that is why R28 would be held true by socialists. However, DM requires both R23 and R25 (and hence R26) to be true at once.
It could be objected to this that the above appearances lead to the false belief that Capitalism is fair, which is contradicted by the fact that it is not, and it is this which yields the required contradiction. But, no one is questioning the fact that there are all sorts of contradictory beliefs in people's heads. What is at issue here is (1) whether any two can be (unequivocally) held true together and (2) whether appearances contradict reality --, both of which have yet to be established.
Hence, it does not look like we can construct a clear example of the sort of contradiction Rees had in mind -- even when we use his own choice of candidate!
The "below the surface" metaphor is no less misleading, either.
No one supposes that if we scratched away at the surface of material objects, their "essences" would become apparent, or that if we possessed senses vastly superior to those we now have, we would be able to see/sense abstractions, for example. Indeed, as Leibniz noted, even if we were to shrink down to the size of atoms, we would still not be able to see/sense 'thoughts', or the formal properties of bodies -- or the necessities metaphysicians tell us are 'really' there, forever mocking our senses.
In that case, what does this metaphor actually imply? After 2400 years, we are still not too clear.
However, in response, dialecticians sometimes point us toward this passage from Volume Three of Das Kapital
"Vulgar economy actually does no more than interpret, systematise and defend in doctrinaire fashion the conceptions of the agents of bourgeois production who are entrapped in bourgeois production relations. It should not astonish us, then, that vulgar economy feels particularly at home in the estranged outward appearances of economic relations in which these prima facie absurd and perfect contradictions appear and that these relations seem the more self-evident the more their internal relationships are concealed from it, although they are understandable to the popular mind. But all science would be superfluous if the outward appearance and the essence of things directly coincided." [Marx (1981), p.956. Bold emphasis added.]
(1) First of all Marx is here arguing with "vulgar economists" who fail to examine the economy beyond its superficialities, neglecting the relations between the elements of production and exchange, etc. [Marx's criticism will not be challenged here (or anywhere else for that matter).] But in what way do these 'realities' lie 'under the surface', or behind "outward appearances"?
Well, whatever the answer to that one is, all that Marx in fact did in response was to re-orientate his analysis so that it included wider social and historical factors, those which were also available to theorists not ideologically-transfixed by atomistic theories of language, the economy, individuals and society. In other words, Marx proposed the use of a different grammar/set of concepts to depict the economy. This is nothing new; all major innovations in science do the same. This is not, therefore, to go deeper, but to go social -- exactly the approach suggested here.
(2) Second, as a general description of science, this is far too vague. But, this is not to criticise Marx, for he was not intending to write a treatise on the nature of science here. It is all too easy therefore to read too much into this passage.
(3) Finally, even if we take it at its face value, it makes little sense (more on that presently); in that case it cannot help us in our quest to understand this metaphor --, except we read it in the way indicated in Point (1) above. If essence is given by grammar (as Wittgenstein argued), this will provide us with a way of comprehending this figure of speech, one that does not slide back into the usual Idealist quagmire.
Nevertheless, this metaphor is clearly connected to the ancient idea that nature "hides herself", a doctrine invented, as far as we know, by Heraclitus:
"Nature loves to conceal herself."
This idea has dominated traditional thinking ever since. On this see Eamonn (1994) -- although, as Eamonn points out, materialistically-orientated scientists from the Seventeenth Century onward sought to overthrow this view of nature. By way of contrast, it is equally apparent that the tradition that derives from Hegelian Natürphilosophie
resisted this modernising move. [More on that in Essay Fourteen (summary here
), and in later Parts of this Essay.]
[On this, see also the detailed analysis in Daston and Galison (2007) of the change that took place only relatively recently in the meaning of the word "objective", which replaced the earlier phrase "true to nature".]
Hence, it is quite clear that the usual way of reading this metaphor is based on the view that there is a hidden (or, as we might now say, an a priori) structure to reality accessible to thought alone.
This is connected with the appearance/reality distinction, as Van Inwagen notes:
"The best approach to understanding what is meant by 'metaphysics' is by way of the concepts of appearance and reality. It is a commonplace that the way things seem to be is often not the way they are, that the way things apparently are is often not the way they really are. The sun apparently moves across the sky -- but not really. The moon seems larger when it is near the horizon -- but its size never really changes. We might say that one is engaged in 'metaphysics' if one is attempting to get behind all appearances and to describe things as they really are." [Van Inwagen (1998), p.11. Bold emphasis added.]
This means that the aspiring metaphysician must use language and 'thought' to go where our material senses cannot take us. Naturally, this puts the entire endeavour in Idealist territory.
So, the best that can be made of Marx's use of this metaphor (if we want to absolve him of mysticism and of indulging in Idealist Metaphysics) is to read it naturalistically. That is, if bourgeois economic science views the world superficially, and ideologically, then no wonder it misses essential features of the economy. And by "essential features" I mean those that are necessary to understand it aright -- using the concepts and "forms of representation" found in HM. Now, since the latter concepts are based on, and are consonant with, ordinary/material language, and arise out of a study of the development of our species (with its class divisions and relations of production, etc., etc.), and which connect with our materially-based "forms of life" (indeed, they have arisen out of them), and finally since "essence is expressed by grammar" (as Wittgenstein believed), this interpretation enables us to so rescue Marx.
Now, I am not suggesting that Marx would have put things this way, or even that he'd have agreed with it (but that is certainly possible), but it is the way I view these words and this metaphor, and for the reasons given.