Lenin: Empirio-criticism and historical materialism – part ten

Tardigrade or water bear (Macrobiotus sapiens) in moss. Colour enhanced scanning electron micrograph (SEM) of a water bear in its active state. Water bears are tiny invertebrates that live in aquatic and semi-aquatic habitats such as lichen and damp moss. They require water to obtain oxygen by gas exchange. In dry conditions, they can enter a cryptobiotic state of desiccation, known as a tun, to survive. In this state, water bears can survive for up to a decade. This species was found in moss samples from Croatia. It feeds on plant and animal cells. Water bears are found throughout the world, including regions of extreme temperature, such as hot springs, and extreme pressure, such as deep underwater. They can also survive high levels of radiation and the vacuum of space. Magnification: x250 when printed 10cm wide.

Tardigrade or water bear (Macrobiotus sapiens) in moss. Colour enhanced scanning electron micrograph (SEM) of a water bear in its active state. Water bears are tiny invertebrates that live in aquatic and semi-aquatic habitats such as lichen and damp moss. They require water to obtain oxygen by gas exchange. In dry conditions, they can enter a cryptobiotic state of desiccation, known as a tun, to survive. In this state, water bears can survive for up to a decade. This species was found in moss samples from Croatia. It feeds on plant and animal cells. Water bears are found throughout the world, including regions of extreme temperature, such as hot springs, and extreme pressure, such as deep underwater. They can also survive high levels of radiation and the vacuum of space. Magnification: x250 when printed 10cm wide.

Ernst Haeckel and Ernst Mach (continued)

The storm provoked by Ernst Haeckel’s The Riddle of the Universe in every civilised country strikingly brought out, on the one hand, the partisan character of philosophy in modern society and, on the other, the true social significance of the struggle of materialism against idealism and agnosticism. The fact that the book was sold in hundreds of thousands of copies, that it was immediately translated into all languages and that it appeared in specially cheap editions, clearly demonstrates that the book “found its way to the people”, that there are masses of readers whom Ernst Haeckel at once won over to his side. This popular little book became a weapon in the class struggle. The professors of philosophy and theology in every country of the world set about denouncing and annihilating Haeckel in every possible way. The eminent English physicist Lodge hastened to defend God against Haeckel. The Russian physicist Mr. Chwolson went to Germany to publish a vile reactionary pamphlet attacking Haeckel and to assure the respectable philistines that not all scientists now hold the position of “naïve realism”. Innumerable theologians joined the campaign against Haeckel. There was no abuse not showered on him by the official professors of philosophy. It was amusing to see how – perhaps for the first time in their lives – the eyes of these mummies, dried and shrunken in the atmosphere of lifeless scholasticism, began to gleam and their cheeks to glow under the slaps which Haeckel administered them. The high-priests of pure science, and, it would appear, of the most abstract theory, fairly groaned with rage. And throughout all the howling of the philosophical die-hards (the idealist Paulsen, the immanentist Rehmke, the Kantian Adickes, and the others, and their name is legion) one underlying motif is clearly audible: they are all against the “metaphysics” of natural science, against “dogmatism”, against “the exaggeration of the value and significance of natural science”, against “natural-scientific materialism”. He is a materialist – at him! at the materialist! He is deceiving the public by not calling himself a materialist directly! – that is what particularly drives the worthy professors to fury.

V.I.Lenin, Materialism and Empirio-criticism: Critical Comments on a Reactionary Philosophy, Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1975, 327-328

The Butterfly Nebula

The Butterfly Nebula

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Part ten/to be continued…

Full text at Marxists Internet Archive

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Lenin: Empirio-criticism and historical materialism – part eight

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Parties in Philosophy and Philosophical Blockheads (continued)

Once you deny objective reality, given us in sensation, you have already lost every weapon against fideism, for you have slipped into agnosticism or subjectivism – and that is all that fideism requires. If the perceptual world is objective reality, then the door is closed to every other “reality” or quasi-reality (remember that Bazarov believed the “realism” of the immanentists, who declare God to be a “real concept”). If the world is matter in motion, matter can and must be infinitely studied in the infinitely complex and detailed manifestations and ramifications of this motion, the motion of this matter; but beyond it, beyond the “physical”, external world, with which everyone is familiar, there can be nothing. And the hostility to materialism and the torrents of slander against the materialists are all in the order of things in civilised and democratic Europe. All this is going on to this day. All this is being concealed from the public by the Russian Machists, who have not once attempted even simply to compare the attacks made on materialism by Mach, Avenarius, Petzoldt and Co., with the statements made in favour of materialism by Feuerbach, Marx, Engels and J. Dietzgen. …

A single claw ensnared, and the bird is lost. And our Machists have all become ensnared in idealism, that is, in a diluted, subtle fideism; they became ensnared from the moment they took “sensation” not as an image of the external world but as a special “element”. It is nobody’s sensation, nobody’s mind, nobody’s spirit, nobody’s will – this is what one inevitably comes to if one does not recognise the materialist theory that the human mind reflects an objectively real external world.

V.I.Lenin, Materialism and Empirio-criticism: Critical Comments on a Reactionary Philosophy, Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1975, 323-325

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Lenin: the philosophical idealists – part four

There are the most subtle and powerful proofs for the existence of God – astonishing intellectual achievements, the work of towering philosophical geniuses. Then there is materialism – which explores the relationship between philosophy, ideology and the workingman’s sausage.

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The Criticism of Kantianism from the Left and from the Right (continued)

…Engels, as we have seen, rebuked Kant for being an agnostic, but not for deviating from consistent agnosticism. Lafargue, Engels’ disciple, argued in 1900 against the Kantians (amongst whom at that time was Charles Rappoport) as follows:

“…At the beginning of the nineteenth century our bourgeoisie, having completed its task of revolutionary destruction, began to repudiate its Voltairean and free-thinking philosophy. Catholicism, which the master decorator Chateaubriand painted in romantic colours (peinturlurait), was restored to fashion, and Sebastian Mercier imported the idealism of Kant in order to give the coup de grâce to the materialism of the Encyclopaedists, the propagandists of which had been guillotined by Robespierre.

“At the end of the nineteenth century, which will go down in history as the bourgeois century, the intellectuals attempted to crush the materialism of Marx and Engels beneath the philosophy of Kant. The reactionary movement started in Germany – without offence to the socialist integralistes who would like to ascribe the honour to their chief, Malon. But Malon himself had been to the school of Höchberg, Bernstein and the other disciples of Dühring, who were reforming Marxism in Zurich. [Lafargue is referring to the ideological movement in German socialism in the later seventies.] It is to be expected that Jaurès, Fournière and our other intellectuals will also treat us to Kant as soon as they have mastered his terminology…. Rappoport is mistaken when he assures us that for Marx the ‘ideal and the real are identical’. In the first place we never employ such metaphysical phraseology. An idea is as real as the object of which it is the reflection in the brain…. To provide a little recreation for the comrades who have to acquaint themselves with bourgeois philosophy, I shall explain the substance of this famous problem which has so much exercised spiritualist minds.

“The workingman who eats sausage and receives a hundred sous a day knows very well that he is robbed by the employer and is nourished by pork meat, that the employer is a robber and that the sausage is pleasant to the taste and nourishing to the body. Not at all, say the bourgeois sophists, whether they are called Pyrrho, Hume or Kant. His opinion is personal, an entirely subjective opinion; he might with equal reason maintain that the employer is his benefactor and that the sausage consists of chopped leather, for he cannot know things-in-themselves.

“The question is not properly put, that is the whole trouble…. In order to know an object, man must first verify whether his senses deceive him or not…. The chemists have gone deeper – they have penetrated into bodies, they have analysed them, decomposed them into their elements, and then performed the reverse procedure, they have recomposed them from their elements. And from the moment that man is able to produce things for his own use from these elements, he may, as Engels says, assert that he knows the things-in-themselves. The God of the Christians, if he existed and if he had created the world, could do no more.”1

We have taken the liberty of making this long quotation in order to show how Lafargue understood Engels and how he criticised Kant from the left, not for those aspects of Kantianism which distinguish it from Humism, but for those which are common to both Kant and Hume; not for his assumption of the thing-in-itself, but for his inadequately materialist view of it.

Note

1. Paul Lafargue, ‘Le matérialisme de Marx et l’idéalisme de Kant’, Le Socialiste, February 25, 1900

V.I.Lenin, Materialism and Empirio-criticism: Critical Comments on a Reactionary Philosophy, Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1975, 184-186

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Part four/to be continued…

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

The Criterion of Practice in the Theory of Knowledge (continued)

…Before we perceive, we breathe; we cannot exist without air, food and drink.

“Does this mean then that we must deal with questions of food and drink when examining the problem of the ideality or reality of the world? – exclaims the indignant idealist. How vile! What an offence against good manners soundly to trounce materialism in the scientific sense from the chair of philosophy and the pulpit of theology, only to practise materialism with all one’s heart and soul in the crudest form at the table d’hôte” (195). And Feuerbach exclaims that to identify subjective sensation with the objective world “is to identify pollution with procreation” (198).

A comment not of the politest order, but it hits the mark in the case of those philosophers who teach that sense-perception is the reality existing outside us.

The standpoint of life, of practice, should be first and fundamental in the theory of knowledge. And it inevitably leads to materialism, sweeping aside the endless fabrications of professorial scholasticism. Of course, we must not forget that the criterion of practice can never, in the nature of things, either confirm or refute any human idea completely. This criterion too is sufficiently “indefinite” not to allow human knowledge to become “absolute”, but at the same time it is sufficiently definite to wage a ruthless fight on all varieties of idealism and agnosticism. If what our practice confirms is the sole, ultimate and objective truth, then from this must follow the recognition that the only path to this truth is the path of science, which holds the materialist point of view.

V.I.Lenin, Materialism and Empirio-criticism: Critical Comments on a Reactionary Philosophy, Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1975, 126-127

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Part ten/to be continued…

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

The Criterion of Practice in the Theory of Knowledge

We have seen that Marx in 1845 and Engels in 1888 and 1892 placed the criterion of practice at the basis of the materialist theory of knowledge. “The dispute over the reality or non-reality of thinking which is isolated from practice is a purely scholastic question,” says Marx in his second Thesis on Feuerbach. The best refutation of Kantian and Humean agnosticism as well as of other philosophical crotchets (Schrullen) is practice, repeats Engels. “The success of our action proves the conformity (Uebereinstimmung) of our perceptions with the objective nature of the things perceived,” he says in reply to the agnostics.

Compare this with Mach’s argument about the criterion of practice: “In the common way of thinking and speaking appearance, illusion, is usually contrasted with reality. A pencil held in front of us in the air is seen as straight; when we dip it slantwise into water we see it as crooked. In the latter case we say that the pencil appears crooked but in reality it is straight. But what entitles us to declare one fact to be the reality, and to degrade the other to an appearance?…Our expectation, of course, is deceived when we fall into the natural error of expecting what we are accustomed to although the case is unusual. The facts are not to blame for that. In these cases, to speak of appearance may have a practical significance, but not a scientific significance. Similarly, the question which is often asked, whether the world is real or whether we merely dream it, is devoid of all scientific significance. Even the wildest dream is a fact as much as any other” (Analysis of Sensations, pp. 18-19).

It is true that not only is the wildest dream a fact, but also the wildest philosophy. It is impossible to doubt this after an acquaintance with the philosophy of Ernst Mach. As the very latest sophist, he confounds the scientific-historical and psychological investigation of human errors, of every “wild dream” of humanity, such as belief in sprites, hobgoblins, and so forth, with the epistemological distinction between truth and “wildness”. It is as if an economist were to say that Senior’s theory that the whole profit of the capitalist is obtained from the “last hour” of the worker’s labour and Marx’s theory are both facts, and that from the standpoint of science there is no point in asking which theory expresses objective truth and which – the prejudice of the bourgeoisie and the venality of its professors. The tanner Joseph Dietzgen regarded the scientific, i.e., the materialist, theory of knowledge as a “universal weapon against religious belief” (Kleinere philosophische Schriften [Smaller Philosophical Essays], S. 55), but for the professor-in-ordinary Ernst Mach the distinction between the materialist and the subjective-idealist theories of knowledge “is devoid of all scientific significance”! That science is non-partisan in the struggle of materialism against idealism and religion is a favourite idea not only of Mach but of all modern bourgeois professors, who are, as Dietzgen justly expresses it, “graduated flunkeys who stupefy the people by a twisted idealism” (op. cit., S. 53).

And a twisted professorial idealism it is, indeed, when the criterion of practice, which for every one of us distinguishes illusion from reality, is removed by Mach from the realm of science, from the realm of the theory of knowledge. Human practice proves the correctness of the materialist theory of knowledge, said Marx and Engels, who dubbed attempts to solve the fundamental question of epistemology without the aid of practice “scholastic” and “philosophical crotchets”. But for Mach practice is one thing and the theory of knowledge something quite different; they can be placed side by side without making the latter conditional on the former. In his last work, Knowledge and Error, Mach says: “Knowledge is always a biologically useful (förderndes) mental experience” (2nd German edition, p. 115). “Only success can separate knowledge from error” (116). “The concept is a physical working hypothesis” (143). With astonishing naïveté our Russian Machist would-be Marxists regard such phrases of Mach’s as proof that he comes close to Marxism. But Mach here comes just as close to Marxism as Bismarck to the labour movement, or Bishop Eulogius to democracy. With Mach such propositions stand side by side with his idealist theory of knowledge and do not determine the choice of one or another definite line of epistemology. Knowledge can be useful biologically, useful in human practice, useful for the preservation of  life, for the preservation of the species, only when it reflects objective truth, truth which is independent of man. For the materialist the “success” of human practice proves the correspondence between our ideas and the objective nature of the things we perceive. For the solipsist “success” is everything needed by me in practice, which can be regarded separately from the theory of knowledge. If we include the criterion of practice in the foundation of the theory of knowledge we inevitably arrive at materialism, says the Marxist. Let practice be materialist, says Mach, but theory is another matter.

V.I.Lenin, Materialism and Empirio-criticism: Critical Comments on a Reactionary Philosophy, Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1975, 122-123

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Part eight/to be continued…