Lenin: the theory of knowledge of dialectical materialism – part twenty-one

Space and Time (continued)

Engels, exposing the inconsistent and muddled materialist Dühring, catches him on the very point where he speaks of the change in the idea of time (a question beyond controversy for contemporary philosophers of any importance even of the most diverse philosophical trends) but evades a direct answer to the question: are space and time real or ideal, and are our relative ideas of space and time approximations to objectively real forms of being; or are they only products of the developing, organising, harmonising, etc., human mind? This and this alone is the basic epistemological problem on which the truly fundamental philosophical trends are divided. Engels, in Anti-Dühring, says: “We are here not in the least concerned with what ideas change in Herr Dühring’s head. The subject at issue is not the idea of time, but real time, which Herr Dühring cannot rid himself of so cheaply [i.e., by the use of such phrases as the mutability of our conceptions]” (Anti-Dühring, 5th German edition, S. 41).

This would seem so clear that even the Yushkeviches should be able to grasp the essence of the matter. Engels sets up against Dühring the proposition of the reality, i.e.., objective reality, of time which is generally accepted by and obvious to every materialist, and says that one cannot escape a direct affirmation or denial of this proposition merely by talking of the change in the ideas of time and space. The point is not that Engels denies the necessity and scientific value of investigations into the change and development of our ideas of time and space, but that we should give a consistent answer to the epistemological question, viz., the question of the source and significance of all human knowledge. Any at all intelligent philosophical idealist – and Engels when he speaks of idealists has in mind the great consistent idealists of classical philosophy – will readily admit the development of our ideas of time and space; he would not cease to be an idealist for thinking, for example, that our developing ideas of time and space are approaching towards the absolute idea of time and space, and so forth. It is impossible to hold consistently to a standpoint in philosophy which is hostile to all forms of fideism and idealism if we do not definitely and resolutely recognise that our developing notions of time and space reflect an objectively real time and space; that here, too, as in general, they are approaching objective truth.

“The basic forms of all being,” Engels admonishes Dühring, “are space and time, and being out of time is just as gross an absurdity as being out of space” (op. cit.).

V.I.Lenin, Materialism and Empirio-criticism: Critical Comments on a Reactionary Philosophy, Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1975, 158-159

Part twenty-one/to be continued…

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Full text at Marxists Internet Archive

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