Lenin: The Theory of Knowledge of Dialectical Materialism – Part Thirteen

What is Matter? What is Experience? (continued)

What is meant by giving a “definition”? It means essentially to bring a given concept within a more comprehensive concept. For example, when I give the definition “an ass is an animal”, I am bringing the concept “ass” within a more comprehensive concept. The question then is, are there more comprehensive concepts with which the theory of knowledge could operate than those of being and thinking, matter and sensation, physical and mental? No. These are the ultimate, most comprehensive concepts, which epistemology has in point of fact so far not surpassed (apart from changes in nomenclature, which are always possible).

One must be a charlatan or an utter blockhead to demand a “definition” of these two “series” of concepts of ultimate comprehensiveness which would not be a “mere repetition”: one or the other must be taken as primary. Take the three above-mentioned arguments on matter. What do they all amount to? To this, that these philosophers proceed from the mental, or the self, to the physical, or environment, as from the central term to the counter-term – or from sensation to matter, or from sense-perception to matter. Could Avenarius, Mach and Pearson in fact have given any other “definition” of these fundamental concepts, save by indicating the trend of their philosophical line? Could they have defined in any other way, in any specific way, what the self is, what sensation is, what sense-perception is? One has only to formulate the question clearly to realise what sheer nonsense the Machists talk when they demand that the materialists give a definition of matter which would not amount to a repetition of the proposition that matter, nature, being, the physical – is primary, and spirit, consciousness, sensation, the psychical – is secondary.

V.I.Lenin, Materialism and Empirio-criticism: Critical Comments on a Reactionary Philosophy, Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1975, 130


Part thirteen/to be continued…

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