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

Causality and Necessity in Nature

The question of causality is particularly important in determining the philosophical line of any of the recent “isms”, and we must therefore dwell on it in some detail.

Let us begin with an exposition of the materialist theory of knowledge on this point. Feuerbach’s views are expounded with particular clarity in his reply to R. Haym already referred to.

“‘Nature and human reason,’ says Haym, ‘are for him (Feuerbach) completely divorced, and between them a gulf is formed which cannot be spanned from one side or the other.’ Haym bases this reproach mainly on §48 of my Essence of Religion where it is said that ‘nature may be conceived only through nature itself, that its necessity is neither human nor logical, neither metaphysical nor mathematical, that nature alone is that being to which it is impossible to apply any human measure, although we compare and give names to its phenomena, in order to make them comprehensible to us, and in general apply human expressions and conceptions to them, as for example: order, purpose, law; and are obliged to do so because of the character of our language’. What does this mean? Does it mean that there is no order in nature, so that, for example, autumn may be succeeded by summer, spring by winter, winter by autumn? That there is no purpose, so that, for example, there is no co-ordination between the lungs and the air, between light and the eye, between sound and the ear? That there is no law, so that, for example, the earth may move now in an ellipse, now in a circle, that it may revolve around the sun now in a year, now in a quarter of an hour? What nonsense! What then is meant by this passage? Nothing more than to distinguish between that which belongs to nature and that which belongs to man; it does not assert that there is actually nothing in nature corresponding to the words or ideas of order, purpose, law. All that it does is to deny the identity between thought and being; it denies that they exist in nature exactly as they do in the head or mind of man. Order, purpose, law are words used by man to translate the acts of nature into his own language in order that he may understand them. These words are not devoid of meaning or of objective content (nicht sinn-, d. h. gegenstandlose Worte); nevertheless, a distinction must be made between the original and the translation. Order, purpose, law in the human sense express something arbitrary.

V.I.Lenin, Materialism and Empirio-criticism: Critical Comments on a Reactionary Philosophy, Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1975, 137-138

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Part fifteen/to be continued…

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