Lenin: the philosophical idealists – part ten

Turner and Turning Lathe, the Encyclopaedia of Diderot and d’Alembert, 1772

Turner and Turning Lathe, the Encyclopaedia of Diderot and d’Alembert, 1772

Two Kinds of Criticism of Dühring

In this quotation, Lenin argues for the development of materialist theory

Engels says very clearly that Büchner and Co. “by no means overcame the limitations of their teachers”, i.e., the materialists of the eighteenth century, that they had not made a single step forward. And it is for this, and this alone, that Engels took Büchner and Co. to task; not for their materialism, as the ignoramuses think, but because they did not advance materialism, because “they did not in the least make it their business to develop the theory [of materialism] any further”. It was for this alone that Engels took Büchner and Co. to task. And thereupon point by point Engels enumerates three fundamental “limitations” (Beschränktheit) of the French materialists of the eighteenth century, from which Marx and Engels had emancipated themselves, but from which Büchner and Co. were unable to emancipate themselves. The first limitation was that the views of the old materialists were “mechanical”, in the sense that they believed in “the exclusive application of the standards of mechanics to processes of a chemical and organic nature” (S. 19). We shall see in the next chapter that failure to understand these words of Engels’ caused certain people to succumb to idealism through the new physics. Engels does not reject mechanical materialism for the faults attributed to it by physicists of the “recent” idealist (alias Machist) trend. The second limitation was the metaphysical character of the views of the old materialists, meaning the “anti-dialectical character of their philosophy”. This limitation is fully shared with Büchner and Co. by our Machists, who, as we have seen, entirely failed to understand Engels’ application of dialectics to epistemology (for example, absolute and relative truth). The third limitation was the preservation of idealism “up above”, in the realm of the social sciences, a non-understanding of historical materialism.

Having enumerated these three “limitations” and explained them with exhaustive clarity (S. 19-21), Engels then and there adds that they (Büchner and Co.) did not emerge “from these limits” (über diese Schranken).

V.I.Lenin, Materialism and Empirio-criticism: Critical Comments on a Reactionary Philosophy, Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1975, 221-222

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Part ten/to be continued…

Full text at Marxists Internet Archive

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