Lenin: Empirio-criticism and historical materialism – part fourteen

Democritus, Johannes Moreelse, oil on canvas, c. 1630, Centraal Museum, Utrecht

Democritus, Johannes Moreelse, oil on canvas, c. 1630, Centraal Museum, Utrecht

Ernst Haeckel and Ernst Mach (continued)

Imagine the bitter lot of a Machist when his favourite subtle constructions, which reduce the categories of natural science to mere working hypotheses, are laughed at by the scientists on both sides of the ocean as sheer nonsense! Is it to be wondered at that Rudolf Willy, in 1905, combats Democritus as though he were a living enemy, thereby providing an excellent illustration of the partisan character of philosophy and once more exposing the real position he himself takes up in this partisan struggle? He writes: “Of course, Democritus was not conscious of the fact that atoms and the void are only fictitious concepts which perform mere accessory services (blosse Handlangerdienste), and maintain their existence only by grace of expediency, just as long as they prove useful. Democritus was not free enough for this; but neither are our modern natural scientists, with few exceptions. The faith of old Democritus is the also the faith of our natural scientists” (op. cit., S. 57).

Ernst Haeckel (1834-1919)

Ernst Haeckel (1834-1919)

And there is good reason for despair! The “empirio-criticists” have proved in quite a “new way” that both space and atoms are “working hypotheses”; and yet the natural scientists deride this Berkeleianism and follow Haeckel! We are by no means idealists, this is a slander; we are only striving (together with the idealists) to refute the epistemological line of Democritus; we have been striving to do so for more than 2,000 years, but all in vain! And it only remains for our leader Ernst Mach to dedicate his last work, the outcome of his life and philosophy, Knowledge and Error, to Wilhelm Schuppe and to remark ruefully in the text that the majority of natural scientists are materialists and that “we also” sympathise with Haeckel… for his “free-thinking” (S. 14).

Ernst Haeckel with Nicholai Miklukho-Maklai, his assistant, in the Canary Islands, 1866

Ernst Haeckel with Nicholai Miklukho-Maklai, his assistant, in the Canary Islands, 1866

And there he completely betrays himself, this ideologist of reactionary philistinism who follows the arch-reactionary Schuppe and “sympathises” with Haeckel’s free-thinking. They are all like this, these humanitarian philistines in Europe, with their freedom-loving sympathies and their ideological (as well as political and economic) captivity to the Wilhelm Schuppes. Non-partisanship in philosophy is only wretchedly masked servility to idealism and fideism.

V.I.Lenin, Materialism and Empirio-criticism: Critical Comments on a Reactionary Philosophy, Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1975, 333-334

red-star

Part fourteen/to be continued…

Full text at Marxists Internet Archive

Image sources: 1st/2nd/3rd

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