The Man of Reason: Part Nine

The conclusion of the Republic with the myth of Er reveals Plato’s belief in the (truth-revealing) power of imagination. By his own criteria, Plato himself would have been banned from his Republic.78

In her essay Lloyd wrote that ‘the seventeenth century rationalists were aware of the limited, and limiting, character of systematised reason’,79 that this reason could not reflect the flux of consciousness. In her treatment of Romanticism, she commented that the emotions are a motivating force in their own right.80 Further, that intuition is associated with female thought styles and ‘deserves to be part of a constructive assessment of the claims and the ideals of reason.’81 In her book The Man of Reason, she wrote ‘the hierarchical relations between reason and its opposites – or between higher and lower forms of reason – have undoubtedly contributed to the devaluing of things associated with the feminine.’82

Plumwood’s discussion of the relevance of emotions to reason is most valuable. She argued for a critiquing of the dominant forms of reason to redefine or reconstruct them in less oppositional and hierarchical ways and for an affirmative assessment of emotion as being both crucial and creative. She wrote of reason and emotions as capable of a creative integration and interaction and ties an inclusion and respect for the emotions to the development of rationality and ethics.83

There is no marker in the brain with the words ‘Emotions please move quietly to the left, Reason, you may go to the right.’ Reason and emotion are inseparable. Lloyd wrote of higher and lower forms of reason, Plumwood of the overcoming of opposition and hierarchy. I propose a scale of cognition – at the ‘lower’ end, those elements to which Ilyenkov referred:

‘It was necessary to go even further back, to uncomprehended contemplation, sense perception, aesthetic intuition, i.e. to the realm of lower forms of consciousness (lower, that is, in relation to conceptual thinking), where there was really no contradiction for the simple reason that it had still not been disclosed and clearly expressed.’84

Together with this, dreams, general intuitions, and ‘above’ – conscious cognition.

The gulf in theory between reason and emotion has its paraphrase in the distinction between philosophical idealism and idealism. Was not the founder of objective idealism idealistic? How rational is it that there could be a heaven above or on earth, how rational the desire, justified by God, to have complete mastery of one’s ‘mind’ or of nature?

I define idealism as the inspiration towards that which is felt to be higher than, and argue that much of this brain function has been appropriated to Reason itself through definition – ‘(philosophical) idealism is the thought that…’,  thereby severing that part from its source, ‘below’ rationality, denying the non-rational. In so doing, Reason and rationalisation are inter-changeable.

Reason as philosophical idealism and ‘non-intellectual’ elements as idealism have both had an immense impact on life. They are driving forces and sources of creative power. What is necessary is that their material basis and inter-relationship in life is reflected in theory. In his ‘Conspectus of Hegel’s Science of Logic’ Lenin wrote:

‘The thought of the ideal passing into the real is profound: very important for history. But also in the personal life of man it is clear that this contains much truth. Against vulgar materialism. N.B. The difference of the ideal from the material is also not unconditional, not excessive…The Idea is Cognition and aspiration (volition) [of man]…The process of (transitory, finite, limited) cognition and action converts abstract concepts into perfected objectivity.’85

Lenin argued that the absolute exists within the relative and is revealed through the development of the ideal in reality by practice.

Sexless Reason has not only been conceived as a transcendence of the feminine, not even of the male, but of life, of matter. The heavens are reflected in the gutter, as Tolstoy thought – but they exist only as elements of the material world. Much has been achieved despite the Man of Reason. He is bare. His upholding is a dissipation and distraction of energy from addressing the reflection in theory of the inter-relationship of reason, the emotions and elements ‘below’ consciousness in practice. His function is the justification and maintenance of division, exploitation and oppression. What is needed for the Man of Reason is not the realisation of his limitations as a human ideal, but the realisation of his passing, in order that men and women alike might come to enjoy a more humane life, free of the dualisms that have developed in his shadow.



78. This same dichotomy can be seen in Marx’s life. Failing to unite science and art in his dialogue ‘Cleanthes’, which also carried him ‘like a false-hearted siren into the clutches of the enemy’, (my italics) Marx (who developed his epistemology primarily on Hegel’s philosophy) abandoned poetry for philosophy in which he hoped to discover ‘our mental nature to be just as determined, concrete, and firmly established as our physical’. In E. Fischer, The Necessity of Art, A Marxist Approach, Trans., A. Bostock, 1959, reprint. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1986, 4. In his doctoral thesis of 1841 he wrote ‘In order for man to become his only true object, he must have crushed within himself  (my italics) his relative mode of being, the force of passion and of mere nature’. (Ibid.) Lenin, Gorky and Lunacharsky wrote that although Lenin loved music, to listen to it disturbed him very much. In Lenin on Literature and Art, Progress: Moscow, 1978, 270, 284, 285. Trotsky also admitted to ‘resisting’ art. In M. Solomon, Ed., Marxism and Art, Essays Classic and Contemporary, 1973; reprint. Detroit, 1986, 192.
Hitler, another idealistic male system-builder, this time of the thousand-year-Reich, who once painted reasonable water-colours for a living, stated ‘As long as a people exists, however, it is the fixed pole in the flight of fleeting appearances. It is the being and the lasting permanence. And, indeed, for this reason, art as an expression of the essence of this being, is an eternal monument – in itself the being and the permanence’ From the speech inaugurating the ‘Great Exhibition of German Art’, 1937, Munich, published in ‘Der Führer eroffnet die Grosse Deutsche Kunstausstellung 1937’, Die Kunst im Dritten Reich (Munich), I, 7-8, (July-August, 1937) 47-61, in H. Chipp, Ed., Theories of Modern Art, A Source Book by Artists and Critics., University of California Press, 1968, 478; Plotinus wrote: ‘”Let us flee then to the beloved Fatherland”: this is the soundest counsel.’ In Plotinus, The Enneads., Third ed. Abridged. Trans., S. MacKenna. op. cit. 54

79. G. Lloyd, ‘The Man of Reason’, in Women, Knowledge, and Reality: Explorations in Feminist Philosophy. Eds., A. Garry and M. Pearsall. Boston: Unwin Hyman, 1989, 124

80. Ibid. 125

81. Ibid. 124

82. G. Lloyd, The Man of Reason, ‘Male’ and ‘Female’ in Western Philosophy, London: Methuen, 1984, x (Preface to 1993 edition)

83. ‘The resolution of human/nature dualism is closely linked with the resolution of other closely associated reason/nature dualisms, such as the reason/emotion dualism…We have noticed how emotion is constructed as the opponent and dualised underside of reason, so that it is identified as an unreliable, unreflective, irrational and sometimes uncontrollable force reason must dominate. We should certainly challenge the narrowing and dominating role of reason…Emotion, like other areas reason has excluded, can be treated affirmatively, as a crucial and creative element, but in doing this we affirm neither the irrational nor the anti-rational.’ V. Plumwood, Feminism and the Mastery of Nature, London: Routledge, 1993, 189

84. E. Ilyenkov, Dialectical Logic, Essays on its History and Theory, Progress: Moscow, 1977, 189

85. V. Lenin, Collected Works, Volume 38 (Philosophical Notebooks), Progress, Moscow, 1976, 114, 195

Engels on Ideology

Ideology is a process which is indeed accomplished consciously by the so-called thinker, but it is the wrong kind of consciousness. The real motive forces impelling him remain unknown to the thinker; otherwise it simply would not be an ideological process. Hence he imagines false or illusory motive forces. Because it is a rational process he derives its form as well as its content from pure reasoning, either his own or that of his predecessors. He works exclusively with thought material, which he accepts without examination as something produced by reasoning, and does not investigate further for a more remote source independent of reason; indeed this is a matter of course to him, because, as all action is mediated by thought, it appears to him to be ultimately based upon thought.

The historical ideologist (historical is here simply a comprehensive term comprising political, juridical, philosophical, theological – in short, all the spheres belonging to society and not only to nature) thus possesses in every sphere of science material which has arisen independently out of the thought of previous generations and has gone through its own independent course of development in the brains of these successive generations. True, external facts belonging to one or another sphere may have exercised a co-determining influence on this development, but the tacit presupposition is that these facts themselves are also only the fruits of a process of thought, and so we still remain within that realm of mere thought, which apparently has successfully digested even the hardest facts.

It is above all this semblance of an independent history of state constitutions, of systems of law, of ideological conceptions in every separate domain that dazzles most people. If Luther and Calvin “overcome” the official Catholic religion, or Hegel “overcomes” Fichte and Kant, or Rousseau with his republican Contrat social indirectly “overcomes’ the constitutional Montesquieu, this is a process which remains within theology, philosophy or political science, represents a stage in the history of these particular spheres of thought and never passes beyond the sphere of thought. And since the bourgeois illusion of the eternity and finality of capitalist production has been added to this, even the overcoming of the mercantilists by the physiocrats and Adam Smith is regarded as a sheer victory of thought; not as the reflection in thought of changed economic facts but as the finally achieved correct understanding of actual conditions subsisting always and everywhere – in fact, if Richard Coeur-de-Lion and Philip Augustus had introduced free trade instead of getting mixed up in the crusades we should have been spared five hundred years of misery and stupidity.

Engels to Franz Mehring in Berlin; London, July 14, 1893, Marx Engels, Selected Correspondence, Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1982, 434-435

Lenin: Is There Objective Truth? Part Two

The question arises, does this denial of objective truth belong personally to Bogdanov, who refuses to own himself a Machist, or does it follow from the fundamental teachings of Mach and Avenarius? The latter is the only possible answer to the question. If only sensation exists in the world (Avenarius in 1876), if bodies are complexes of sensations (Mach, in the Analysis of Sensations), then we are obviously confronted with a philosophical subjectivism which inevitably leads to the denial of objective truth. And if sensations are called “elements” which in one connection give rise to the physical and in another to the psychical, this, as we have seen, only confuses but does not reject the fundamental point of departure of empirio-criticism. Avenarius and Mach recognise sensations as the source of our knowledge. Consequently, they adopt the standpoint of empiricism (all knowledge derives from experience) or sensationalism (all knowledge derives from sensations). But this standpoint gives rise to the difference between the fundamental philosophical trends, idealism and materialism and does not eliminate that difference, no matter in what “new” verbal garb (“elements”) the standpoint is clothed. Both the solipsist, that is, the subjective idealist, and the materialist may regard sensations as the source of our knowledge. Both Berkeley and Diderot started from Locke. The first premise of the theory of knowledge undoubtedly is that the sole source of our knowledge is sensation. Having recognised the first premise, Mach confuses the second important premise, i.e., regarding the objective reality that is given to man in his sensations, or that forms the source of man’s sensations. Starting from sensations, one may follow the line of subjectivism, which leads to solipsism (“bodies are complexes or combinations of sensations”), or the line of objectivism, which leads to materialism (sensations are images of objects, of the external world). For the first point of view, i.e., agnosticism, or, pushed a little further, subjective idealism, there can be no objective truth. For the second point of view, i.e., materialism, the recognition of objective truth is essential. This old philosophical question of the two trends, or rather, of the two possible deductions from the premises of empiricism and sensationalism, is not solved by Mach, it is not eliminated or overcome by him, but is muddled by verbal trickery with the word “element”, and the like. Bogdanov’s denial of objective truth is an inevitable consequence of Machism as a whole, and not a deviation from it.

Engels in his Ludwig Feuerbach calls Hume and Kant philosophers “who question the possibility of any cognition, or at least of an exhaustive cognition, of the world”. Engels, therefore, lays stress on what is common both to Hume and Kant, and not on what divides them. Engels states further that “what is decisive in the refutation of this [Humean and Kantian] view has already been said by Hegel” (4th Germ. ed., pp. 15–16).1 In this connection it seems to me not uninteresting to note that Hegel, declaring materialism to be “a consistent system of empiricism,” wrote: “For empiricism the external (das Äusserliche) in general is the truth, and if then a supersensible too be admitted, nevertheless knowledge of it cannot occur (soll doch eine Erkenntnis desselben [d. h. des Uebersinnlichennicht stattfinden können) and one must keep exclusively to what belongs to perception (das der Wahrnehmung Angehörige). However, this principle in its realisation (Durchführung) produced what was subsequently termed materialism. This materialism regards matter, as such, as the truly objective (das wahrhaft Objektive).”(Hegel, Encyklopädie der philosophischen Wissenschaften im Grundrisse [Encyclopaedia of the Philosophical Sciences in Outline], Werke, VI. Band [1843], S. 83. Cf. S. 122).

All knowledge comes from experience, from sensation, from perception. That is true. But the question arises, does objective reality “belong to perception,” i.e., is it the source of perception? If you answer yes, you are a materialist. If you answer no, you are inconsistent and will inevitably arrive at subjectivism, or agnosticism, irrespective of whether you deny the knowability of the thing-in-itself, or the objectivity of time, space and causality (with Kant), or whether you do not even permit the thought of a thing-in-itself (with Hume). The inconsistency of your empiricism, of your philosophy of experience, will in that case lie in the fact that you deny the objective content of experience, the objective truth of knowledge through experience.

Those who hold to the line of Kant or Hume (Mach and Avenarius are among the latter, in so far as they are not pure Berkeleians) call us, the materialists, “metaphysicians” because we recognise objective reality which is given us in experience, because we recognise an objective source of our sensations independent of man. We materialists follow Engels in calling the Kantians and Humeans agnostics, because they deny objective reality as the source of our sensations. Agnostic is a Greek word: a in Greek means “no,” gnosis “knowledge.” The agnostic says: I do not know if there is an objective reality which is reflected, imaged by our sensations; I declare there is no way of knowing this (see the words of Engels above quoted setting forth the position of the agnostic). Hence the denial of objective truth by the agnostic, and the tolerance – the philistine, cowardly tolerance – of the dogmas regarding sprites, hobgoblins, Catholic saints, and the like. Mach and Avenarius, pretentiously advancing a “new” terminology, a supposedly “new” point of view, repeat, in fact, although in a confused and muddled way, the reply of the agnostic: on the one hand, bodies are complexes of sensations (pure subjectivism, pure Berkeleianism); on the other hand, if we re-christen our sensations “elements”, we may think of them as existing independently of our sense-organs!

V.I.Lenin, Materialism and Empirio-Criticism: Critical Comments on a Reactionary Philosophy, 1908, Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1975, pp. 107-115



1. See F. Engels, Ludwig Feuerbach and the End of Classical German Philosophy (K. Marx and F. Engels, Selected Works, Volume II, Moscow, 1958, p. 371).

Part two/to be continued…

The Man of Reason: Part Eight

Lloyd wrote ‘What is new is the decline in optimism about the eventual victory of reason.’64 An extraordinary statement for a philosopher to make. Why the negativity? Victory over what? ‘Irrationality’? If so, isn’t this the great fear of the Man of Reason?65 Plumwood addressed the issue with pertinent questions – ‘Where does the remarkable set of values enshrined in the Platonic system of thought come from? Why is reason developed in oppositional ways as hostile to nature? The attractions of choosing the shadowy, abstract world of the Forms over the living world of experience are not immediately obvious.’66

A constituent running strongly through the existence of the Man of Reason is his retreat from life. In his Seventh Letter Plato wrote of the experience of his youth:

‘I had much the same experience as many other young men. I expected, when I came of age, to go into politics…When I saw all this (the treatment of Socrates), and other things as bad, I was disgusted and drew back from the wickedness of the times.’67

For Plato and Plotinus, the return of soul to its source is the escape from matter. More than once in his Enneads, Plotinus calls it a flight, an escape. He cited Plato – “ ‘Likeness to God’, he says, ‘is a flight from this world’s ways and things’…”68 Such a proposition, resulting in union with God in solitude is individualist and elitist. It is a doctrine of the salvation of the self from the world. The Enneads conclude:

‘This is the life of gods and of godlike and blessed men, deliverance from the things of this world, a life which takes no delight in the things of this world, escape in solitude to the solitary.’69

Lloyd noted the Man of Reason’s ‘transcendence’ of the feminine,70 Plumwood called it ‘the flight from the feminine’.71

In her essay, Lloyd quotes Descartes from a letter to Princess Elizabeth: “True philosophy teaches that even amid the saddest disasters and most bitter pains a man can always be content, provided that he knows how to use his reason.”, adding ‘His own mastery of reason over the passions, he claims, has cured him of his hereditary dry cough and pale colour and ensured that even his dreams are pleasant.’72 In view of my criticism of the Man of Reason’s flight from the engagement of his complete being in life, Spinoza’s desire to transcend ‘the passions’, hatred, anger, envy, derision, pride, ‘excessive love’, suspicion and enmities can be interpreted as having a more prosaic motive than his Man of Reason would have us believe. This same desire to transcend (escape) ‘the vagaries’ and obligations of life lies at the heart of Neoclassicism, Romanticism and the philosophy of Bergson.

The Man of Reason personifies a rejection of those aspects of ‘mind’ and life which are beyond his control. Poets were to be banned from Plato’s Republic.73 ‘The gravest charge against poetry still remains. It has a terrible power to corrupt even the best characters, with very few exceptions’.74

‘Poetry has the same effect on us when it represents sex and anger, and the other desires and feelings of pleasure and pain which accompany all our actions. It waters them when they ought to be left to wither, and makes them control us when we ought, in the interests of our own greater welfare and happiness, to control them.’75

Yet not only is Plato’s writing, with his notion of eternal Forms and their shadows and his use of simile highly creative, his own writing reveals a rich and idealistic emotional life and a great sensitivity to art  and inspiration:

‘arranged as they are in the plumes of rapid imagination, (poets) speak truth. For a Poet is indeed a thing ethereally light, winged, and sacred, nor can he compose anything worth calling poetry until he becomes inspired, and, as it were, mad, or whilst any reason remains in him…(they compose) from the impulse of the divinity within them’76

His treatment of the ‘divided soul’ is exemplified in the Phaedrus, in which the sexual love of beauty is an inspirational bridge between matter (appearance) and knowledge (of the realm of Ideas):

‘the whole soul of him whose wings begin to grow seethes and throbs with an itching irritation such as is felt in the gums at the forming of the teeth…And as it looks upon the beauty of a boy and particles then come flowing thence upon it, which is called desire, it is warmed and refreshed, it is relieved of its pain and rejoices.’77

Part eight of nine/to be continued…

64 G. Lloyd, ‘The Man of Reason’, in Women, Knowledge, and Reality: Explorations in Feminist Philosophy, Eds., A. Garry and M. Pearsall, Boston: Unwin Hyman, 1989, 126

65 Lloyd argues Hegel’s faith in Reason can be taken not only ‘as the expression of an ideal’, but ‘as an affirmation of faith that the irrational will not prevail. Such a faith may well appear naive; but that does not mean it is bad faith.’ G. Lloyd, The Man of Reason, ‘Male’ and ‘Female’ in Western Philosophy, London: Methuen, 1984, 107

66 V. Plumwood, Feminism and the Mastery of Nature, London: Routledge, 1993, 97

67 Plato, The Republic, Trans., D. Lee. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1979, 14

68 Plotinus, The Enneads, Third ed. Abridged., Trans., S. MacKenna. London: Penguin, 1991, 18 (I,2,3)

69 Plotinus, Enneads, Trans., A.H. Armstrong. In seven volumes. London: William Heinemann, 1966-1988, Volume VI, 345 (VI,9,11). Armstrong referred to this as ‘the flight of the alone to the Alone’.

70 G. Lloyd, The Man of Reason, ‘Male’ and ‘Female’ in Western Philosophy, op. cit. 104

71 V. Plumwood, Feminism and the Mastery of Nature, op. cit. 74. Also 112 ‘Descartes is plainly the heir of the Platonic and rationalist flight from and devaluation of the body, nature and the feminine.’ 116 For Plato and Descartes, knowledge is not only freedom from doubt, but also ‘freedom from the body and its deceptions, weaknesses and hindrances, its personal and emotional ties…In Cartesianism, as in earlier rationalism, the excluded and inferiorised contrast of ‘pure’ thought includes much more than the feminine. Its contrasts now include not only animality and the body itself, but also material reality, practical activity, change, the emotions, sympathy and subjectivity.’

72 Descartes to Elizabeth, 6 October 1645, in Descartes Philosophical Letters, Ed. and Trans., A. Kenny. Oxford University Press: Oxford. 1970, in G. Lloyd. ‘The Man of Reason’. op.cit. 118

73 Cf. Rousseau’s exclusion of women from citizenship.

74 Plato, The Republic, Trans., D. Lee. op. cit. 436

75 Ibid. 437

76 Plato, ‘Ion’, Five Dialogues of Plato Bearing on Poetic Inspiration, London, 1929, 7

77 Plato, Phaedrus, In S. Mainwaring. ‘Winckelmann and the Platonic Educative Eros’, Fine Arts IV thesis, University of Sydney, 1988, 65

*   *   *

I will soon begin a series on the philosophy of the Neoplatonist Henri Bergson

Lenin: Is There Objective Truth?

Bogdanov declares: “As I understand it, Marxism contains a denial of the unconditional objectivity of any truth whatsoever, the denial of all eternal truths” (Empirio-Monism, Bk. III, pp. iv-v). What is meant by “unconditional objectivity”? “Truth for all eternity” is “objective truth in the absolute meaning of the word,” says Bogdanov in the same passage, and agrees to recognise “objective truth only within the limits of a given epoch”.

Two questions are obviously confused here: 1) Is there such a thing as objective truth, that is, can human ideas have a content that does not depend on a subject, that does not depend either on a human being, or on humanity? 2) If so, can human ideas, which give expression to objective truth, express it all at one time, as a whole, unconditionally, absolutely, or only approximately, relatively? This second question is a question of the relation of absolute truth to relative truth.

Bogdanov replies to the second question clearly, explicitly and definitely by rejecting even the slightest admission of absolute truth and by accusing Engels of eclecticism for making such an admission. Of this discovery of eclecticism in Engels by A. Bogdanov we shall speak separately later on. For the present we shall confine ourselves to the first question, which Bogdanov, without saying so explicitly, likewise answers in the negative – for although it is possible to deny the element of relativity (Editor’s note: this should read ‘the element of the absolute’) in one or another human idea without denying the existence of objective truth, it is impossible to deny absolute truth without denying the existence of objective truth.

“…The criterion of objective truth,” writes Bogdanov a little further on (p. ix), “in Beltov’s sense, does not exist; truth is an ideological form, an organising form of human experience.”

Neither “Beltov’s sense” – for it is a question of one of the fundamental philosophical problems and not of Beltov – nor the criterion of truth – which must be treated separately, without confounding it with the question of whether objective truth exists – has anything to do with the case here. Bogdanov’s negative answer to the latter question is clear: if truth is only an ideological form, then there can be no truth independent of the subject, of humanity, for neither Bogdanov nor we know any other ideology but human ideology. And Bogdanov’s negative answer emerges still more clearly from the second half of his statement: if truth is a form of human experience, then there can be no truth independent of humanity; there can be no objective truth.

Bogdanov’s denial of objective truth is agnosticism and subjectivism. The absurdity of this denial is evident even from the single example of a scientific truth quoted above. Natural science leaves no room for doubt that its assertion that the earth existed prior to man is a truth. This is entirely compatible with the materialist theory of knowledge: the existence of the thing reflected independent of the reflector (the independence of the external world from the mind) is the fundamental tenet of materialism. The  assertion made by science that the earth existed prior to man is an objective truth. This proposition of natural science is incompatible with the philosophy of the Machists and with their doctrine of truth: if truth is an organising form of human experience, then the assertion that the earth exists outside any human experience cannot be true.

But that is not all. If truth is only an organising form of human experience, then the teachings, say, of Catholicism are also true. For there is not the slightest doubt that Catholicism is an “organising form of human experience.” Bogdanov himself senses the crying falsity of his theory and it is extremely interesting to watch how he attempts to extricate himself from the swamp into which he has fallen.

“The basis of objectivity,” we read in Book I of Empirio-Monism, “must lie in the sphere of collective experience. We term those data of experience objective which have the same vital meaning for us and for other people, those data upon which not only we construct our activities without contradiction, but upon which, we are convinced, other people must also base themselves in order to avoid contradiction. The objective character of the physical world consists in the fact that it exists not for me personally, but for everybody (that is not true! It exists independently of “everybody”!), and has a definite meaning for everybody, the same, I am convinced, as for me. The objectivity of the physical series is its universal significance” (p. 25, Bogdanov’s italics). “The objectivity of the physical bodies we encounter in our experience is in the last analysis established by the mutual verification and co-ordination of the utterances of various people. In general, the physical world is socially-co-ordinated, socially-harmonised, in a word, socially-organised experience” (p. 36, Bogdanov’s italics).

We shall not repeat that this is a fundamentally untrue, idealist definition, that the physical world exists independently of humanity and of human experience, that the physical world existed at a time when no “sociality” and no “organisation” of human experience was possible, and so forth. We shall dwell now on an exposure of the Machist philosophy from another aspect, namely, that objectivity is so defined that religious doctrines, which undoubtedly possess a “universal significance”, and so forth, come under the definition. But listen to Bogdanov again: “We remind the reader once more that ‘objective’ experience is by no means the same as ‘social’ experience…. Social experience is far from being altogether socially organised and always contains various contradictions, so that certain of its parts do not agree with others. Sprites and hobgoblins may exist in the sphere of social experience of a given people or of a given group of people – for example, the peasantry; but they need not therefore be included under socially-organised or objective experience, for they do not harmonise with the rest of collective experience and do not fit in with its organising forms, for example, with the chain of causality”.

Of course it is very gratifying that Bogdanov himself “does not include” social experience in regard to sprites and hobgoblins under objective experience. But this well-meant amendment in the spirit of anti-fideism by no means corrects the fundamental error of Bogdanov’s whole position. Bogdanov’s definition of objectivity and of the physical world completely falls to the ground, since the religious doctrine has “universal significance” to a greater degree than the scientific doctrine; the greater part of mankind cling to the former doctrine to this day. Catholicism has been “socially organised, harmonised and co-ordinated” by centuries of development; it “fits in” with the “chain of causality” in the most indisputable manner; for religions did not originate without cause, it is not by accident that they retain their hold over the masses under modern conditions, and it is quite “in the order of things” that professors of philosophy should adapt themselves to them. If this undoubtedly universally significant and undoubtedly highly-organised religious social experience does “not harmonise” with the “experience” of science, it is because there is a radical and fundamental difference between the two, which Bogdanov obliterated when he rejected objective truth. And however much Bogdanov tries to “correct” himself by saying that fideism, or clericalism, does not harmonise with science, the undeniable fact remains that Bogdanov’s denial of objective truth completely “harmonises” with fideism. Contemporary fideism does not at all reject science; all it rejects is the “exaggerated claims” of science, to wit, its claim to objective truth. If objective truth exists (as the materialists think), if natural science, reflecting the outer world in human “experience”, is alone capable of giving us objective truth, then all fideism is absolutely refuted. But if there is no objective truth, if truth (including scientific truth) is only an organising form of human experience, then this in itself is an admission of the fundamental premise of clericalism, the door is thrown open for it, and a place is cleared for the “organising forms” of religious experience.

V.I.Lenin, Materialism and Empirio-Criticism: Critical Comments on a Reactionary Philosophy, 1908, Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1975, pp. 107-115


Part one/to be continued…

The Man of Reason: Part Seven

Lloyd’s exposure of what has been done through history, and still is done to women, by men and women in the name of the Man of Reason, is excellent. Her perspective, as that of Plumwood, offers a great deal of insight. Lloyd wrote that a previously existing contrast between men as rational and women as impulsive, emotional etc., between man in God’s image and woman as his companion was deepened by Descartes and Spinoza and carried into a separation of functions – ‘We now have a separation of functions backed by a theory of mind…reason – the godlike, the spark of the divine in man – is assigned to the male. The emotions, the imagination, the sensuous are assigned to women.’50 But this Man was not born in the seventeenth century.

Plato made repeated associations between maleness (as form) dominating femaleness (as matter).51 Lloyd wrote ‘During life, Plato concluded, the god-like rational soul should rule over the slave-like mortal body.’52 Plumwood argued that Plato’s ‘contempt for’ and debasement of’ women and ‘the feminine’ is a major element of his philosophy, in which reason is oppositional to and exclusive of the lower order with which women are associated.53 She noted that  he classed most women with slaves, children and ‘other animals’ – distant from the logos.54 In Plato’s society, women and slaves were excluded from voting.55 Even when he argued in the Laws that women must join the communal meals, Plato wrote:

‘half the human race – the female sex, the half which in any case is inclined to be secretive and crafty, because of its weakness – has been left to its own devices because of the misguided indulgence of the legislator…women have got used to a life of obscurity and retirement, and any attempt to force them into the open will provoke tremendous resistance from them’ 56

The thought of Plato, Aristotle, Plotinus and Aquinas have not only had a great impact on western thought but therefore, the impact has been on western life. Not only does Lloyd observe in her own area the dominance through history by males with a definite effect on philosophy,57 she stated ‘The content of femininity, as we have it, no less than its subordinate status, has been formed within an intellectual tradition.’58

Lloyd cautions against a critique of the Man of Reason from a specifically feminist standpoint since such might amount to ‘a catalogue of the atrocities he has perpetrated on women.’ She argued ‘What is needed is (a) critique of his standing as an ideal, whether as an object of male self-esteem or of female envy…What is needed for the Man of Reason is realisation of his limitations as a human ideal’59

Lloyd’s writing has gone some way to expose the Man of Reason (what state of dress is the Emperor really in?!) and the exclusion and domination done in his name. Surely Lloyd’s essay and book evidence that what is needed is the rejection of (the ideal of) the Man of Reason. Lloyd seems unable to decide. In her book she referred to the ideal as both a ‘self-deceiving failure’ and ‘as embodying a hope for the future’.60

Plumwood argued that reason in the western tradition has been constructed from the perspective of master, to justify not only the oppression and exploitation of women, but also of class and of nature. In this, Plumwood’s analysis is deeper than Lloyd’s. The fundamental point about the Man of Reason is not his maleness but his ideality, his inhumanity.61

Short of engaging in a discussion on the difference in brain structures and functions between male and female, those qualities recognised in the name of the Man of Reason as female and banished to ‘woman’ are also qualities the men who have constructed and those who have argued for him have denied in themselves. ‘The Man of Reason’, to borrow  from Plato, is half a man. Plumwood addresses this in her excellent writing on virtue ethics.

She ties particularity, empathic generalisation (as opposed to universalisation), and an inclusion of the emotions to the development of rationality and ethics. Virtues include openness to others, generosity, friendship, responsibility, loyalty to place, interconnection, continuity and respect for difference and independence – the latter three in particular she applies to our relationship with nature.62

‘(These ethics) are moral “feelings” but they involve both cognitive elements, ethical elements and emotion in ways that do not seem separable…The feminist suspicion is that no abstract morality can be well founded that is not grounded in sound particularistic relations to others in personal life, the area which brings together in concrete form the intellectual with the emotional, the sensuous and the bodily. Such an approach treats ethical relations as an expression of identity’.63

Part seven of nine/to be continued…


50. G. Lloyd, ‘The Man of Reason’, in Women, Knowledge, and Reality: Explorations in Feminist Philosophy, Eds., A. Garry and M. Pearsall, Boston: Unwin Hyman, 1989, 117

51. In the Timaeus, the major metaphor of Plato’s cosmology is that of rational male form (cosmos) ruling irrational female matter (chaos). Plumwood considers this dualism has a parallel in ‘deep ecology’ which she thinks draws on a psychology of incorporation. ‘deep ecology proposes a “unifying process”, a metaphysics which insists that everything is really part of, indistinguishable from, everything else…such treatment is a standard part of subordination; for example, of women, servants, the colonised, animals.’ 177-178. Also ‘deep ecology gives us another variant on the superiority of reason and the inferiority of its contrasts’. 182. V. Plumwood, Feminism and the Mastery of Nature,  op. cit.

52. G. Lloyd, The Man of Reason, ‘Male’ and ‘Female’ in Western Philosophy, London: Methuen, 1984, 6

53. V. Plumwood, Feminism and the Mastery of Nature, London: Routledge, 76 -79

54. Ibid.78

55. Plumwood argued that it is not only a masculine identity underlying the Platonic conception of reason ‘but a master identity defined in terms of multiple exclusions, and in terms of domination not only of the feminine but also of the slave (which usually combines race, class and gender oppression), of the animal, and of the natural.’ V. Plumwood, Feminism and the Mastery of Nature, op. cit. 72

56. Plato, The Laws, Trans., T. Saunders, Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1984, 262-263 (781)

57. ‘Philosophers…have been predominantly male; and the absence of women from the philosophical tradition has meant that the conceptualisation of Reason has been done exclusively by men. It is not surprising that the results should reflect their sense of Philosophy as a male activity…there has been no input of femaleness into the formation of ideals of Reason.’ G. Lloyd, The Man of Reason, ‘Male’ and ‘Female’ in Western Philosophy, op. cit.108

58. Ibid. 106. Also ‘Contemporary consciousness, male or female, reflects past philosophical ideals as well as past differences in the social organisation of the lives of men and women.’ 107

59. G. Lloyd, ‘The Man of Reason’, op.cit. 127

60. G. Lloyd, The Man of Reason, ‘Male’ and ‘Female’ in Western Philosophy, op. cit.107

61. Plumwood noted that Plato’s abstract realm of Forms is maximally distanced from the inferior world of change and that (as developed in Descartes’ metaphor of the machine) permits the emotional distance which enables power and control. V. Plumwood, Feminism and the Mastery of Nature, op. cit. 81, 119

62. ‘(Such an ethics) abandons the exclusive focus on the universal and the abstract associated with egoism, and the dualistic and oppositional accounts of the reason/emotion and universal/particular contrasts given in rationalist accounts of ethics.’ V. Plumwood, Feminism and the Mastery of Nature, op. cit. 184

63. V. Plumwood, Feminism and the Mastery of Nature, op. cit. 183

On the Importance of Induction for Knowledge

Ignaz Semmelweis worked as a doctor at the Vienna General Hospital between 1844 and 1848. He observed that a large proportion of the women in the First Maternity Division who were delivered of their babies contracted a serious and often fatal illness known as puerperal or childbed fever. In the adjacent Second Maternity Division of the same hospital, which accommodated almost as many women as the First, the death toll from childbed fever was much lower.

Semmelweis began his efforts to resolve the problem by considering various explanations that were current at the time; some of these he rejected as incompatible with well-established facts; others he subjected to specific tests.

One widely accepted view attributed puerperal fever to ‘epidemic influences’ spreading over districts. But Semmelweis questioned how such influences could have affected the First Division for years and not the Second. At the same time, there was hardly a case in the city of Vienna or in its surroundings. Semmelweis noted that women who had given birth in the street on their way to the hospital had a lower death rate than the average for the First Division.

Semmelweis noted that overcrowding could not have been the cause since it was a greater problem in the Second Division, partly because of the efforts of women to avoid the First Division. He also considered the diet and general care of the patients in the two Divisions and found there were no differences.

A commission found in 1846 that rough examination by the medical students was the cause, but Semmelweis rejected this view because the injuries resulting naturally from the birth process are much more extensive, and the examinations by the midwives in the Second Division, though done in much the same manner, didn’t have the same dangerous results. Even after the number of medical students was halved and their examinations of the women were reduced to a minimum, the mortality eventually rose to levels higher than before.

Psychological explanations were attempted (the visits of a priest to deliver the last sacraments to dying women was thought to have had a bad effect on the patients). Semmelweis tested this idea and found that the mortality in the First Division did not decrease. He altered the womens’ position of delivery for birth but again found no alteration in the mortality.

In 1847 a fatal accident suffered by a colleague – a cut on a finger from a scalpel used in an autopsy, resulting in the same symptoms he had observed in the victims of puerperal fever – gave Semmelweis the clue he needed. He realised that ‘cadaveric matter’, introduced by the scalpel, had caused the doctor’s illness and death. He realised that the doctors and students had been the carriers of the infection, moving directly to the wards after performing autopsies, having only superficially washed their hands.

Semmelweis again tested his idea by reasoning that if he were correct, his instruction that all medical students should wash their hands in a solution of chlorinated lime before making an examination, could prevent the fever. The mortality from the fever immediately began to decrease.

In further support of his hypothesis, Semmelweis noted that it accounted for the fact that the mortality in the Second Division was consistently so much lower: the midwives there did not engage in anatomical dissection. The hypothesis also explained the lower mortality among the ‘street births’: these women were rarely examined after admission. Again, the hypothesis accounted for the fact that the victims of the fever among the newborn babies were all among those whose mothers had contracted the disease during labor, when the infection could be transmitted to the baby before birth.

Semmelweis broadened his hypothesis by first sterilising his hands, then examining a woman suffering from cervical cancer, and then proceeding to examine a number of other women in the same room after only routine washing. Nearly all of them died of puerperal fever. He concluded that the fever can be also caused by ‘putrid matter derived from living organisms’.

Logical deduction usually moves from the general to the particular and requires that if the premises are true, the conclusion must be true and that to accept the premises and to deny the conclusion is to contradict oneself. It depends on a priori reasoning. Its aim is to produce certain truth.

Induction (the general method of science) usually moves from the particular to the general (from the observed to the unobserved, from the past to the future or from partial experience to claims about general experience). Even if the premises are true, the conclusion might be false, and there is no contradiction in accepting the premises and denying the conclusion. It is based on a posteriori reasoning and is the method by which a general law or principle is inferred from observed particular instances. The problem with inductive argument is that the conclusion is not guaranteed truth (the Absolute Truth beloved of metaphysicians), even though all one’s observations may all be correct.

In order to find the cause of the fever, Semmelweis collected data, analysed it and formed and tested various hypotheses on that basis. These hypotheses were thought up to account for observed facts. Further, they gave no deductively conclusive evidence, but only more or less strong confirmation for their applicability. Semmelweis did not restrict his study to events at his hospital but to better understand these events, took into consideration births before the mothers arrived at the hospital and the incidence of puerperal fever outside the hospital. Because he proceeded inductively, Semmelweis was able to retain, reshape or discard premises in the light of incorrect conclusions. Even when he had identified the cause of the fever’s spread in the hospital, and did a further testing of his hypothesis using ‘putrid matter derived from living organisms’, not all of the women subjected to it died.

In cognition, induction and deduction are not self-sufficient methods, but are closely interconnected and interdependent.

C. Hempel. “Scientific Inquiry: Invention and Test” in Philosophy of Natural Science, Prentice-Hall, 1966

*   *   *

As Lenin wrote:

‘From living perception to abstract thought, and from this to practice, – such is the dialectical path of the cognition of truth, of the cognition of objective reality. Kant disparages knowledge in order to make way for faith: Hegel exalts knowledge, asserting that knowledge is knowledge of God. The materialist exalts the knowledge of matter, of nature…’

V.I.Lenin, Collected Works, Vol., 38 (Philosophical Notebooks), Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1976, 171.


Dialectics at work

From Tony Stephens ‘Conquerors today, vanquished tomorrow’, The Sydney Morning Herald, 05-06.01.02

The American empire of today may be, at least in part, an empire of the mind. It is also an empire of corporate, Coca-Cola hegemony, of CNN, Sex and the City TV culture. It may be a virtual empire, but it’s nonetheless an empire. And many argue that Australia is part of it.

It is hard to imagine the American empire falling but fall it will, unless it defies all of history’s precedents. Morris Berman says in a new book, The Twilight of American Culture: “There is simply no exception to the rule that all civilisations eventually fall apart, and we are not going to beat the odds, or outflank the historical record.”

Berman, an American cultural historian and social critic, says his country’s “comparisons with Rome are quite startling: the late empire saw extremes of rich and poor, and the disappearance of the middle class, the costs of bureaucracy and defence pushed it towards bankruptcy; literacy and Greek learning melted away into a kind of New Age thinking…”.

Berman’s book, published in the United States before September 11, has not been released in Australia. The book argues that factors within American society will bring about its disintegration. Berman has returned recently to the subject, writing in The Guardian that the events of September 11 provided another parallel with the Roman Empire – the factor of external barbarism.

The Goths began pressing against the border of the Roman Empire from the late third century and scored a decisive victory at Adrianople in AD 378. Siege and potential invasion became facts of Roman life after 378. Alaric, the Visigoth leader, invaded Italy in 401 and captured Rome in 410. The Vandals sacked the city in 455 and barbarian mercenaries made the Germanic chieftain Odoacer king of the western empire in 476.

“America, too, now has barbarians at the gates,” Berman says. He sees other similarities – even in one photograph of the shell of the World Trade Centre resembling pictures of the Roman Colosseum. He says the Romans had no understanding of their attackers or their values.

“Similarly, America views Islamic terrorism as completely irrational; there is no understanding of the political context of this activity, a context of American military attack on, or crippling economic sanctions against, a host of Arab nations – with unilateral support for Israel constituting the central, running sore.”

Instead, the enemy is characterised as ‘jealous of our way of life’, ‘hateful of freedom’ and so on. Hence President Bush, no less than the Islamic terrorists, uses the language of religious war: we are on a ‘crusade’; the military operation was initially called ‘Infinite Justice’; and the enemy is ‘evil itself’.

“Along with this is the belief that the Pax Romana/Americana is the only ‘reasonable’ way to live. In the American case, we have a military and economic empire that views the world as one big happy market, and believes that everybody needs to come on board. We – global corporate consumerism – are the future, ‘progress’. If the ‘barbarians’ fail to share this vision, they are ‘medieval’; if they resist, ‘evil’.”

Berman says his book is “for oddballs, for men and women who experience themselves as expatriates within their own country. It is a guidebook of sorts, to the 21st century and beyond”.

Guide Berman seems to rely to some extent on Oswald Spengler, a gloomy prophet who wrote The Decline of the West after World War I. He develops Spengler’s view that every civilisation has its twilight period.

Berman lists four factors present when a civilisation collapses: accelerating social and economic inequality; declining returns on investments in organisational solutions to socio-economic problems; rapidly falling levels of literacy and critical understanding; the emptying out of culture, a kind of spiritual death.

On the dumbing down of America, he quotes a Time magazine poll showing that nearly 70 per cent believed in the existence of angels, another poll revealing that 50 per cent believed in the presence of UFOs and space aliens on Earth, and a US Department of Education survey in 1995 saying that 60 per cent of students had no idea how the US came into existence. Berman says that the US ranks 49th out of 158 United Nations countries on a literacy table. About 60 per cent of adults have never read a book of any kind.

Berman can be glib, with a broad-brush approach leading to sweeping statements based on limited evidence. He also heavily qualifies his theory, sometimes tortuously, regarding a descent into barbarism as “certainly possible, and may even occur to some degree toward the end of the 21st century, perhaps for a short period of time; but the general outlook, it seems to me, is one of slow, rather than sudden, disintegration, for this country seems to be very good at crisis management”.

He says that the dissolution of corporate hegemony is at least 40 years away. What’s more, it might not be a collapse but more of a transformation, even if the United States is a cultural shambles,” an empire wilderness”. If the 20th century was the American century, the 21st would still be the Americanised century.

Then there might be the dawn of a new American culture. This could happen provided the good bits are saved, like the good bits of the Roman Empire were saved during the Dark Ages to re-emerge in the Renaissance.

Berman goes on: “The phrase ‘twilight of American culture’ implies an eventual dawn, and at some point we are going to emerge from our contemporary twilight and future darkness, if only because no historical configuration is the end of history.”


The Man of Reason: Part Six

Lloyd asserted that ‘Robert Pirsig’s book Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance represents an attempt to get at the unity underlying “Classical” and Romantic” thought styles. This is a very different kind of critique of reason from that attempted by the Romantics, who were concerned rather with affirming one side of the dichotomy.’42 It is generally thought that Romanticism followed Neoclassicism – in fact they existed roughly concurrently, Neoclassicism beginning about forty years earlier and waning by 1820 whilst as a movement, Romanticism is generally considered to have passed by 1830.

The Romantics, though they did consider themselves to be in passionate opposition to those who maintained the ‘reason’ side of a dichotomy, in fact represented the other side of a coin – they affirmed the ‘Plotinian’ strand of Platonism, as Neoclassicism affirmed the ‘Platonic’. Whereas Romanticism involved the subordination of form to content and the evocation of the Ideal through dynamism, positioning Nature at the centre of all things, Neoclassicism involved the subordination of content to form and the evocation of the Ideal through stasis, positioning Man at the centre of all things. The Ideal in both cases is ultimately the same – a return through contemplation to unity with the self as God. The contemplation of ‘pedestalised’ (idealised) female form (as opposed to thought about the lived content/reality) was a means to this for the male.

I strongly disagree with Lloyd’s reading of Bergson. His philosophy was a rejection of reasoning in favour of a non-rational mode of access to reality. His notion of ‘mind’ was plainly dualist. He thought that consciousness does not spring from the brain.43 He also thought that ‘there is more in the motionless than in the moving’44 and that Ideas are contained in matter, that we are all born Platonists 45 and that there exists nothing positive outside Ideas.46 Bergson acknowledged his profound obligation to Plotinus 47 and gave a course of lectures on him at the College de France in 1897-98. He suggested the possibility of applying the term ‘God’ to the source from which all things flow.

He claimed that intuition (for him, the immediate non-intellectual knowledge not of discontinuous moments but of the indivisible flow of ‘real’ time), brought the flow of reality (‘duration’) to consciousness as opposed to a succession of changing states. Yet (consistent with the function of Plotinus’ primary hypostasis) he referred to this duration as lifting the soul above the Idea.48 His notion of duration amounts to the intuitive apprehension of the passage of spiritual reality. Bergson’s intuition is the same non-discursive contemplation of perfection in ‘mind’ as that advocated by Plotinus.

If the philosophy of Bergson had any energy to its élan vital, or any flow to its durée, it did so because it was a pale image and a shadow of a vast structure created by a man of far greater integrity to his purpose and of far greater historical and cultural significance.49

In Plotinus’ system, a system containing an Intellect ‘teeming’, ‘boiling’ and ‘seething’ with creative energy and life are all of the concepts central to the philosophy of Bergson – particularly the relationship between contemplation, movement or flow (Bergson’s durée) and the ultimate goal of oneness achieved through that process of ‘mental’ activity in stillness. In that system, exists the source of Bergson’s multiplicity-in-unity, the same distinction between discursive reasoning and intuition, the same aspiration of soul to the Absolute, the same stance on time and space, on extension or absence of extension, the same desire to reject the material world and to orient his audience to their true, perhaps unconsciously remembered, spiritual purpose.

Part six of nine/to be continued…

42 G. Lloyd, ‘The Man of Reason’, in Women, Knowledge, and Reality: Explorations in Feminist Philosophy, Eds. A. Garry and M. Pearsall. Boston: Unwin Hyman, 1989, 127

43 H. Bergson, Creative Evolution, 1907, Trans. A. Mitchell. New York, 1911,  reprint. 1983, 262

44 Ibid. 316

45 H. Larrabee, Ed.  Selections from Bergson,  New York, 1949, 64

46 H. Bergson, Creative Evolution, op. cit. 316

47 H. Larrabee, Ed. Selections from Bergson, op.cit. xiii

48 H. Bergson, The Creative Mind, Trans. M. Andison. New York, 1946, 229

49 Bergson used the achievements of science to refute the ‘positive sciences’ and justify his theories. For example, discoveries concerning the atom. He also tried to argue that his philosophy was consistent with Einstein’s theories. See H. Bergson, Duration and Simultaneity, with Reference to Einstein’s Theory, Trans. L. Jacobson. 1922, reprint. New York, 1965. That Plotinus and Neoplatonism are not taught (distinct from mysticism being advocated) at every institution where philosophy is taught is, because of the implications, the most gross failure of social and intellectual responsibility by time-serving academics.

*   *   *

I will soon begin a series on the philosophy of the Neoplatonist Henri Bergson.

Engels on Will

…history proceeds in such a way that the final result always arises from conflicts between many individual wills, and every one of them is in turn made into what it is by a host of particular conditions of life. Thus there are innumerable intersecting forces, an infinite series of parallelograms of forces which give rise to one resultant – the historical event. This may in its turn again be regarded as the product of a power which operates as a whole unconsciously and without volition. For what each individual wills is obstructed by everyone else, and what emerges is something that no one intended.

Engels to Joseph Bloch in Königsberg; London, September 21[-22], 1890, Marx Engels, Selected Correspondence, Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1982, 395