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

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Part fourteen/to be continued…

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Lenin: Empirio-criticism and historical materialism – part thirteen

Ich

Ich

Ernst Haeckel and Ernst Mach (continued)

The “war” on Haeckel has proved that this view of ours corresponds to objective reality, i.e., to the class nature of modern society and its class ideological tendencies.

Here is another little example. The Machist Kleinpeter has translated from English into German a work by Carl Snyder, World Picture from the Standpoint of Modern Natural Science (Das Weltbild der moderner Naturwissenschaft, Leipzig, 1905), which had a wide circulation in America. This work gives a clear and popular account of a number of recent discoveries in physics and other branches of natural science. And the Machist Kleinpeter was called upon to supply the book with a preface in which he makes certain reservations, such as, for example, that Snyder’s epistemology is “not satisfactory” (S. v). Why so? Because Snyder never entertains the slightest doubt that the world picture is a picture of how matter moves and of how “matter thinks” (S. 288). In his next book, The World Machine (London and New York, 1907), Snyder, referring to the fact that his book is dedicated to the memory of Democritus of Abdera, who lived about 460-360 B.C., says: “Democritus has often been styled the grandsire of materialism. It is a school of philosophy that is a little out of fashion nowadays; yet it is worthy of note that practically all of the modern advance in our ideas of this world has been grounded upon his conceptions. Practically speaking, materialistic assumptions are simply unescapable in physical investigations” (p. 140).

“…If he likes, he may dream with good Bishop Berkeley that it is all a dream. Yet comforting as may be the legerdemain of an idealised idealism, there are still few among us who, whatever they may think regarding the problem of the external world, doubt that they themselves exist; and it needs no long pursuit of the will-o’-the-wisps of the Ich and non-Ich to assure oneself that if in an unguarded moment we assume that we ourselves have a personality and a being, we let in the whole procession of appearances which come of the six gates of the senses. The nebular hypothesis, the light-bearing ether, the atomic theory, and all their like, may be but convenient ‘working hypotheses’, but it is well to remember that, in the absence of negative proof, they stand on more or less the same footing as the hypothesis that a being you call ‘you’, Oh, Indulgent Reader, scans these lines” (pp. 31-32).

V.I.Lenin, Materialism and Empirio-criticism: Critical Comments on a Reactionary Philosophy, Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1975, 332-333

Non-Ich

Nicht-Ich

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Part thirteen/to be continued…

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Lenin: Is There Objective Truth? Part Three

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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Part three/to be continued…