Lenin: Is there objective truth? Part three

The prince thanking the Water sprite (artist: Richard ‘Dickie’ Doyle), from The Princess Nobody: A Tale of Fairyland (1884) by Andrew Lang

The Machists love to declaim that they are philosophers who completely trust the evidence of our sense-organs, who regard the world as actually being what it seems to us to be, full of sounds, colours, etc., whereas to the materialists, they say, the world is dead, devoid of sound and colour, and in its reality different from what it seems to be, and so forth. Such declamations, for example, are indulged in by J. Petzoldt, both in his Introduction to the Philosophy of Pure Experience and in his World Problem from the Positivist Standpoint (Weltproblem von positivistischen Standpunkte aus), 1906. Petzoldt is parroted by Mr. Victor Chernov, who waxes enthusiastic over the “new” idea. But, in fact, the Machists are subjectivists and agnostics, for they do not sufficiently trust the evidence of our sense-organs and are inconsistent in their sensationalism. They do not recognise objective reality, independent of man, as the source of our sensations. They do not regard sensations as a true copy of this objective reality, thereby coming into direct conflict with natural science and throwing the door open for fideism. On the contrary, for the materialist the world is richer, livelier, more varied than it seems, for with each step in the development of science new aspects are discovered. For the materialist, our sensations are images of the sole and ultimate objective reality, ultimate not in the sense that it has already been cognised to the end, but in the sense that there is not and cannot be any other. This view irrevocably closes the door not only to every species of fideism, but also to that professorial scholasticism which, while not recognising an objective reality as the source of our sensations, “deduces” the concept of the objective by means of such artificial verbal constructions as universal significance, socially-organised, and so on and so forth, and which is unable, and frequently unwilling, to separate objective truth from belief in sprites and hobgoblins.

The Machists contemptuously shrug their shoulders at the “antiquated” views of the “dogmatists”, the materialists, who still cling to the concept matter, which supposedly has been refuted by “recent science” and “recent positivism.” We shall speak separately of the new theories of physics on the structure of matter. But it is absolutely unpardonable to confuse, as the Machists do, any particular theory of the structure of matter with the epistemological category, to confuse the problem of the new properties of new aspects of matter (electrons, for example) with the old problem of the theory of knowledge, with the problem of the sources of our knowledge, the existence of objective truth, etc. Mach “discovered the world-elements”: red, green, hard, soft, loud, long, etc. We ask, is a man given objective reality when he sees something red or feels something hard, etc., or not? This hoary philosophical query is confused by Mach. If you hold that it is not given, you, together with Mach, inevitably sink to subjectivism and agnosticism and deservedly fall into the embrace of the immanentists, i.e., the philosophical Menshikovs. If you hold that it is given, a philosophical concept is needed for this objective reality, and this concept has been worked out long, long ago. This concept is matter. Matter is a philosophical category denoting the objective reality which is given to man by his sensations, and which is copied, photographed and reflected by our sensations, while existing independently of them. Therefore, to say that such a concept can become “antiquated” is childish talk, a senseless repetition of the arguments of fashionable reactionary philosophy. Could the struggle between materialism and idealism, the struggle between the tendencies or lines of Plato and Democritus in philosophy, the struggle between religion and science, the denial of objective truth and its assertion, the struggle between the adherents of supersensible knowledge and its adversaries, have become antiquated during the two thousand years of the development of philosophy?

V.I.Lenin, Materialism and Empirio-Criticism: Critical Comments on a Reactionary Philosophy, 1908, Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1975, pp. 107-115

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Full text at Marxists Internet Archive

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Part three/to be continued…

6 thoughts on “Lenin: Is there objective truth? Part three

    • Hi Anthony,
      I subscribe to dialectical materialism and agree with Lenin who stated simply the struggle between idealism (consciousness is prior to matter [objective reality]) and materialism (consciousness is secondary to matter). When I read this book it was like a breath of fresh air. Philosophy is full of lies, concealed priests, pretence and hidden agendas.

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      • I have been thinking a lot about philosophy recently and in particular whether I find any use in it or not. The conclusion I have reached is that I “suffer” from confirmation bias. But then most of us probably do. For instance I enjoy David Chalmers because I hope he is right. I do not enjoy Dennet because I hope he is wrong. Perhaps at heart we are all like that but I have certainly been guilty or reading certain philosophers because their views make me feel happier in an uncerta in and baffling world.

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      • You would find philosophy not only very useful but essential if ‘philosophers’ were honest but they are not. Lenin correctly wrote that philosophy professors, e.g., while possibly useful on detail, can never be trusted regarding epistemology. Their fundamental purpose is to promote the dominant ideology (defined by Morawski as ‘a system of belief delimited by interests’).

        On a philosophy show on Sydney radio once an academic ‘philosopher’ was asked ‘What is philosophy?’ He replied ‘Posing the most disruptive questions.’ An excellent response and why, contra the Marxist position, there will always be a need for philosophy.

        Unfortunately any disruption that academic ‘philosopher’ might be capable of is bounded by his ideological commitment.

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      • I wonder if any of us are honest? We all have our world view and will argue in its favour. I have my own ideology and certainly these days am reluctant to hear anybody who argues against my dearly held views. In my case, even if I fail to practice it, its about decency and a better world. However I do firmly believe in the importance of disruptive questions. Without which progress is probably impossible. In the realms of consciousness research for instance, we need disruptive questions since current research does not seem to be leading anywhere. Or not very fast anyway. Actually, thinking about it I welcome the new and the novel as long as it is leading in the “right” direction. But of course a philosopher may well consider my “right” direction his wrong. In which case I fear I would refuse to listen. Hmm…what a puzzle.

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  1. Incidentally, as any modern man with any degree of common sense, I applaud the achievements of the enlightenment and the progress of modern science. Without which we would be stuck in disease ridden swamps living a Hobbsian existence. As of course we, as a species, lived for most of our existence. Nonetheless facts alone make very poor fare. It is very noticeable when you come across a collector of facts. They often have good memories and prodigious “knowledge” and yet they seem totally unable to extrapolate or draw any conclusions from such knowledge. They are unable to interpret its meaning. A petty example is a relative who loves military history. He loves dates, details of uniforms, battlefields and so forth. And yet he seems incapable of considering concepts of violence, justice, motive. He seems uninterested in wondering whey a Ghengis Khan or a Hitler acted as they did. Their motives, their mind.

    For me, while facts are important, particularly scientific “facts” (such as they are) but without emotion, without human interpretation as to their significance, facts may as well be a forest of trees falling in the woods with no one to see or hear them.

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