Lenin: Empirio-criticism and historical materialism


Parties in Philosophy and Philosophical Blockheads

Karl Grün quotes a letter from Marx to Feuerbach dated October 20, 1843, in which Marx invites Feuerbach to write an article for the Deutsch-Französische Jahrbücher against Schelling. This Schelling, writes Marx, is a shallow braggart with his claims to having embraced and transcended all previous philosophical trends. “To the French romanticists and mystics he [Schelling] says: I am the union of philosophy and theology; to the French materialists: I am the union of the flesh and the idea; to the French skeptics: I am the destroyer of dogmatism.” That the “skeptics”, be they called Humeans or Kantians (or, in the twentieth century, Machists), cry out against the “dogmatism” of both materialism and idealism, Marx at that time already saw; and, without letting himself be diverted by any one of a thousand wretched little philosophical systems, he was able through Feuerbach to take directly the materialist road against idealism. Thirty years later, in the afterword to the second edition of the first volume of Capital, Marx just as clearly and definitely contrasted his materialism to Hegel’s idealism, i.e., the most consistent and most developed idealism; he contemptuously brushed Comtean “positivism” aside and dubbed as wretched epigoni the contemporary philosophers who imagined that they had destroyed Hegel when in reality they had reverted to a repetition of the pre-Hegelian errors of Kant and Hume. In the letter to Kugelmann of June 27, 1870, Marx refers just as contemptuously to “Büchner, Lange, Dühring, Fechner, etc.”, because they were incapable of understanding of Hegel’s dialectics and treated him with scorn. And finally, take the various philosophical utterances by Marx in Capital and other works, and you will find an invariable basic motif: insistence upon materialism and contemptuous derision of all obscurity, of all confusion and all deviations towards idealism. All Marx’s philosophical utterances revolve within these two fundamental opposites, and from the standpoint of professorial philosophy, their defect lies in this “narrowness” and “one-sidedness”. In reality, this refusal to recognise the hybrid projects for reconciling materialism and idealism constitutes the great merit of Marx, who moved forward along a sharply-defined philosophical road.

V.I.Lenin, Materialism and Empirio-criticism: Critical Comments on a Reactionary Philosophy, Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1975, 316-317

Dark matter ring modelled around galaxy cluster CL0024+17

Dark matter ring modelled around galaxy cluster CL0024+17

Distant supernova, dark energy

Distant supernova, dark energy. For details, click on third link at bottom.

If you add up all the matter and energy in the universe, you'd find little that is familiar. The stars and gas that astronomers see in their telescopes make up just 0.5 percent of the cosmos. Just 0.01 percent of the universe is made of elements heavier than hydrogen or helium. Because of uncertainties, the numbers in this chart do not add up to 100 percent.

What the universe is made of: if you add up all the matter and energy in the universe, you’d find little that is familiar. The stars and gas that astronomers see in their telescopes make up just 0.5 percent of the cosmos. Just 0.01 percent of the universe is made of elements heavier than hydrogen or helium. Because of uncertainties, the numbers in this chart do not add up to 100 percent.


Part one/to be continued…

Full text at Marxists Internet Archive

Image sources: 1st/2nd/3rd/4th

Schelling and Nietzsche Respond to Kant: Part Four

Kant’s setting out of his dilemma – we can only know appearance – contained, for the Romantics, the solution – we are free to overcome it – by focusing on our inner experience.1

And not only to overcome that dilemma but, because of our freedom to focus on our inner experience, to bridge the schism between appearance and what stands beyond it (all the dichotomies symbolised by that schism, ‘the world’) – on the basis of mysticism (the dominant Western form being Neoplatonism).

The very dryness and one-sided rationalism of Kant’s philosophy was an incentive to take that step. The other incentives – our freedom (which Kant intended to be moral) and the justification to focus on the self by exploring the at first implicit then overt Neoplatonism2 in his writing (in fact, the very framework of the dilemma) were the answer.

Kant’s philosophy was both the concentration of a problem and a dare – to fully take up what had not been fully explored, fully indulged in, in German philosophy in the modern period. The Romantics, Schelling and Nietzsche responded eagerly to Kant and met his unintended challenge.

Nietzsche’s vitalist philosophy, from The Birth of Tragedy to the final ‘aphorism’ of The Will to Power (which ‘aphorism’ contains a synopsis of The Enneads) was built on Neoplatonism mixed with Platonism and Christianity – the parallels between his god Dionysus and Christ are numerous.3  In The Gay Science Nietzsche wrote: ‘Even less am I concerned with the opposition between ‘thing in itself’ and appearance: for we ‘know’ far too little to even be entitled to make that distinction.

For Nietzsche, we simply have no organ for knowing, for ‘truth’.4 The ‘truth’ to which he (as one drenched in ‘god’) referred was Absolute and ineffable, not (as for the materialist) deepening and relative (it was once true that the earth is flat). It was constrained by the same ‘limits of reason’,5 the same Neoplatonic perspectivism to which Leibniz, Kant and Schelling subscribed.6

In hindsight, the ‘diagnoses’ that Schelling and Nietzsche made of Kant convey that he was far too restrained, too controlled. But in their writing, all of the dualisms were retained – only the emphasis was different. The ‘reason’ of Kant shifted to the ‘emotion’ of Schelling and Nietzsche, but the writing of all three was equally within the embrace of Lloyd’s Man of Reason, equally divorced from true life and nature, and from the criterion of practice.

Kant wrote:

‘the fundamental laws of the motions of the heavenly bodies gave established certainty to what Copernicus had at first assumed only as an hypothesis, and at the same time yielded proof of the invisible force (the Newtonian attraction) which holds the universe together. The latter would have remained for ever un-discovered if Copernicus had not dared, in a manner contradictory of the senses, but yet true, to seek the observed movements, not in the heavenly bodies, but in the spectator.’7

He believed that in his Critique of Pure Reason he had made a similar revolutionary achievement in metaphysics – he too had developed an hypothesis that contradicted previous metaphysicians and made the spectator necessary.

What Kant and Copernicus did could not have been more different, each from the other. The observation of matter, and thought about and testing of those observations, resulting in certain laws, confirmed Copernicus’ hypothesis – one which did not seek the observed movements in the spectator, but of bodies in relation to the sun.

For Copernicus, the spectator (or particularly – their consciousness) was not required. His discovery went beyond appearances, which according to Kant’s Critique, was impossible. Kant engaged in sleights of hand to justify his division between theoretical knowledge and practical knowledge,8 between ‘conceptual knowledge’ and the distorting influence of the senses, between what goes on in the spectator’s head and in the world, of which that spectator’s head and body are a part.

Like Schelling and Nietzsche, Kant was not guilty of ‘spiritual sickness’ nor ‘decline of life’, he contemplated the world on the basis of a long philosophical tradition – one divorced from the criterion of practice.



1. In his metaphysics Kant argued that a person’s perception of the world is dependent on what they bring to the act, in his moral theorising he argued that the individual is free to determine their actions and in his aesthetics he argued the beautiful is to be found in the subject’s experience.

2. Behind which stood Leibniz

3. The final words of Ecce Homo (the words spoken by Pilate before the crucifixion of Christ) are ‘Have I been understood? – Dionysos against the Crucified…’ My reply – in the din of ideology, nowhere near well enough. Ecce Homo, Trans., R.J. Hollingdale, Penguin, 2004, p. 104, section 8

4. The Gay Science, Trans., Josefine Nauckhoff, Cambridge University Press, 2007, p. 214 section 354

5. The Anti-Christ, p. 185, section 55, in Twilight of the Idols (or How to Philosophise with a Hammer) and The Anti-Christ, Trans., R.J. Hollingdale, Penguin, 2003

6. Schelling wrote: ‘Within the absolute all particular things are genuinely separated and genuinely one only to the extent that each is the universe unto itself, and each is the absolute whole.’ The Philosophy of Art op. cit., p. 34, #26

7. Immanuel Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason op. cit., Preface to Second Edition, Note p. 25

8. The Critique of Judgement op. cit., p. 15. For any reader willing to consider Kant’s carefully worded and much repeated lie (in his and subsequent philosophy academics’ attempts to retain the relevance of metaphysics) that his great ‘achievement’ (in The Critique of Pure Reason) replicated in philosophy what Copernicus had contributed to science, I recommend my previous post.

Schelling and Nietzsche Respond to Kant: Part Three

Schelling and Nietzsche both made excellent criticisms of Kant. Schelling who wrote that to philosophise, one cannot neglect the issue of matter,1 that matter is the foundation of all experience2 also wrote

‘It is quite possible to drive even the most convinced adherent of things-in-themselves as the causes of our ideas into a corner by all sorts of questions. One can say to him, I understand how matter affects matter, but neither how one in-itself affects another, since there can be no cause and no effect in the realm of the intelligible, nor how this law of one world extends into another altogether different from it, in fact completely opposed to it. You would then have to admit, if I am dependent on external impressions, that I myself am nothing more than matter’3

He not only argued the priority of matter over thought but the impossibility of a law completely opposed to the material world and its causal determination, itself functioning in this world. Kant defined matter as ‘that in the appearance (of an empirical intuition) which corresponds to sensation’.4

Yet matter, as with space and time, is a concept for what exists independently of consciousness and thought – of us. Space is not a thing in which matter is distributed, it is the distribution of matter itself, time is not a measure which we rely upon, it is matter in motion. In the functioning of matter there is no requirement for us. We are manifestations of matter. This is the unity that Kant rejected.

It is most interesting that Schelling, the same person who wrote so well about matter (although his discussion of it, indicatively, slipped into the metaphysical), who, on this basis identified the flaw in Kant’s noumenon, then proposed as the solution that philosophy take over the role of religion, later that nature itself be deified and mythologised – that mythology supplant matter.5 He developed his ‘cure’ by drawing on a Platonic/Neoplatonic/Christian current present in German philosophy long before Kant, and in Kant’s philosophy itself.6

Nietzsche’s relation of Christianity and ‘god’ to metaphysics and Kant is justified – his thoughts are tersely, astutely and (as one would expect from him) acerbically expressed. His defence of becoming and praise for the senses themselves warrant praise.

But if one has any concern for what is preached and philosophically practised, when one examines Nietzsche’s arguments more closely, his own position becomes ‘the last smoke of evaporating reality’.7 I know of no more contemptuously hypocritical and self-contradictory philosopher than Nietzsche. In relation to his own writing, his condemnation of Kant warrants Homeric laughter. His indebtedness to Kant was profound.

Part three/to be continued…


1. Ideas for a Philosophy of Nature op. cit., p. 181

2. Ibid., p. 179

3. Ibid.

4. The Critique of Pure Reason, op. cit., p. 65, A20

5. ‘(mythology) is the world and as it were the ground in which alone the exotic plants of art are able to bloom and grow.’ The Philosophy of Art op. cit., p. 45, #38

6. In his writing on morals, Kant advocated not only belief in God as ‘a postulate’ but Christian morals and ‘practical’ faith in the Son of God. Schelling wrote: ‘(the divine imagination) is the means by which the universe is populated; according to this law life flows out into the world from the absolute as from that which is without qualification one.’ The Philosophy of Art op. cit., p. 37, #30

7. Twilight of the Idols, op. cit., p. 481, section 4

Schelling and Nietzsche Respond to Kant: Part Two

In his Ideas for a Philosophy of Nature Schelling, particularly in response to Kant’s philosophy, wrote that through philosophy, man had placed himself in opposition to the external world, had separated himself from his natural processes, making himself his object – thereby creating divisions between ‘mind’ and body, reason, emotions and sensuality, above all between himself and Nature and that with this separation, from the world and from himself as an active whole, he had begun to reflect on both.1

Reflection is a preoccupation with dissection, dismemberment and the evocation of chimeras which as things in themselves, lie beyond reason, intuition and imagination and are therefore impossible to fight. It is a spiritual sickness which kills man’s highest being, his spiritual life – which comes only from Identity between particular as self and universal as Nature.

By asking how ideas of external things arise in us, philosophers did away with the identity of object and idea, positing things as independent of us. The understanding endlessly divides. Yet, our ideas only have substance because of our assumption of agreement between them and things.

In asking how we have ideas, we raise ourselves above those ideas and become beings in ourselves, the counter of things in themselves. ‘Mind’ and matter are thereby permanently divorced. Utilising Kant’s assertion of our freedom, Schelling argued that on this basis I can raise myself above the interconnection of things, existing only for myself. He asked what drove philosophers to forsake common ways of thinking to invent arcane philosophical structures.

Where Plato set matter against God, Spinoza was the first who recognised ‘mind’ and matter as one. Both Leibniz and Newton also recognised this unity – the former in the pre-established harmony of the spiritual world, the latter with regard to the equilibrium of forces in the material world.

Where Leibniz and Newton diverge, it is to be hoped, thought Schelling, that the mid-point of our ‘universe of knowledge’ can be found such that the systems of Leibniz and Newton can appear either the same or as different aspects of the same.

To resolve the divisions and return man to identity and equilibrium within himself and with Nature, Schelling proposed a philosophy of Nature in which philosophy performed the function of religion – when we engage in philosophy, when we employ the appropriate concepts and ideas, we have the same purpose as that of religion.

In his Philosophy of Art he argued for the deification of nature, the infusion of religion, mythology and the gods in both nature and society, and for art and fantasy (which, with imagination can unite the Absolute with particularity in an image) to supplant reflective science, which is premised on the separation of knower from objectified known and is therefore incapable of expressing the Absolute in its unity.

Where Schelling responded to Kant, Nietzsche derided and condemned him. He banded Christianity and priests with philosophers and attacked Kant as exemplary of both with concepts such as ‘reason’, rationality (at any price), caution and opposition to the instincts. Kant (‘an underhanded Christian’2) was motivated similarly to the Christian – both devalued this world as ‘appearance’ to argue for a false ‘true world’ beyond that ‘appearance’ – ‘a mere reflex of the faith in the ego as cause.’3

Philosophers believe that they cannot perceive that which has being because the senses (the body) lie. Nietzsche argued that this world of ‘appearance’ is the only world and that just as the senses show becoming and do not lie, the ‘true’ world of Kant and the Christians is a lie.

Echoing Schelling’s terminology in his writing on the Kantian schism between ourselves and things in themselves, Nietzsche wrote that to devalue this world is a sign of decadence and the decline of life – a will to slander it. With equal relevance to Kant and the Christian, life comes to an end where the ‘true’ world (for Kant the unknowable, for the Christian, the ‘kingdom of God’) begins.

Kant’s distinction between appearance and the noumenal thing in itself was the basis for his holding that we are free agents and as such can be first causes. Nietzsche rejected this, believing that our actions take place in causal chains. Again, Nietzsche tied the free will of Kant, functioning in the shadow of his moral imperative, to Christianity – considering both as the attempt through the imputation of guilt to make mankind dependent on the theologian.

Nietzsche wrote that the reasons why this world has been characterised as apparent are the very reasons that justify its reality, that the criteria of ‘true being’ amount to naught. Most probably thinking of Kant, he wrote that the ‘true world’ is a promise ‘for the sage, the pious, the virtuous man’.4

Displaying ironic facility, he wrote that it is at least unattained and therefore unknown. It is an idea no longer good for anything. In abolishing the ‘true world’ the apparent one is also abolished…the briefest shadow…incipit Zarathustra!5

Part two/to be continued…


1. To exemplify the significance of Kant to Schelling: ‘With that separation, reflection first begins; he separates from now on what Nature had always united, separates the object from the intuition, the concept from the image, finally (in that he becomes his own object) himself from himself.’ Friedrich Schelling, Ideas for a Philosophy of Nature, Trans., E.E.Harris and P.Heath, Cambridge University Press, New York, 1988, p. 172

2. F. Nietzsche, Twilight of the Idols, from The Portable Nietzsche, Trans, W.Kaufmann, New York, Penguin, 1976, p. 484, section 6

3. Ibid., p. 495, section 3 

4. Ibid., p. 485

5. Ibid., p. 486

Schelling and Nietzsche Respond to Kant

‘The begetting of the gods out of one another is itself a symbol of the way the ideas inhere in and issue from one another. The absolute idea or God, for example, encompasses all ideas within itself…they are begotten of him.’1

The question that underlies all others is ‘Which precedes the other? Which therefore is the product of the other – matter (the philosophical concept for objective reality) or consciousness and its manifestation in thought?’2 The referent of the ‘metaphysics’ of ‘metaphysical matter’ is not, as is commonly believed, Aristotle’s writing that came after his Physics, but what lies beyond the processes and change of the physical world – which nothing does.

At the core of First Philosophy, at the core of what Aristotle called the Science of Theology3 was and is an understanding of and orientation to ‘god’. Recognising the primacy of objective reality over consciousness and thought, my approach to the subject will be materialist.

To write thus avoids pitfalls – that the world can be known both metaphysically and ’empirically’ – with the latter’s exaggeration of the role of the senses and its deduction of knowledge not from reason on the basis of sensory experience and the testing of that reason in practice, but from mere experience.

In particular, it avoids the pitfall of being caught up by competing idealisms and philosophies which amounted to struggles within an argument (that consciousness and thought are primary to or independent of matter, that consciousness to any degree precedes that which is independent of it and especially, that the world cannot be known or that there are limitations on our knowledge of the world).

Kant expressed strong criticism of prior metaphysicians and claimed to offer something new. Schelling strongly criticised Kant, advancing his solution to the problems he identified. Nietzsche, the arch-rhetorician, made even stronger criticisms of Kant and metaphysics, pointing us to Dionysus and his ‘higher man’.

Yet, despite the assertions by all three that they were putting forward something fundamentally new, my argument will be that not only are there several strong continuities between Kant, Schelling and Nietzsche, those continuities – which were anchored in a long tradition from Platonism, through Neoplatonism and Christianity – and differences – can best be understood on a materialist basis.

As the Neoplatonists argued that the One in its unity cannot be known, so Kant argued that the one world in its unity, that ‘thing in itself’ of which we have representations, cannot be known – ‘appearance’ being the barrier.4 He denied that we can go from a knowledge of objects presented to us in consciousness to knowledge of ‘things in themselves’.

The Neoplatonism implicit in Kant’s earlier writing became explicit in The Critique of Judgement – what was possibly his attempt to overcome the dichotomies of his earlier work.5 Schelling and Nietzsche were to build their philosophies, in particular, on Neoplatonism.

Part one/to be continued…


1. Friedrich Schelling, The Philosophy of Art, Trans., D.W.Stott, University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis, 1989, p. 44, #36. This quotation exemplifies one of my arguments – in its compactness can be found the influences of Platonism, Neoplatonism and Christianity – all rolled into One. It echoes ‘For God so loved the world…’

2. At the very end of his Critique of Pure Reason, Kant, under the heading ‘The History of Pure Reason’, discussed early developments regarding this question, in Greek philosophy – between ‘sensualists’ (represented by Epicurus) and ‘intellectualists’ (represented by Plato). ‘Those of the former school maintained that reality is to be found solely in the objects of the senses, and that all else is fiction; those of the latter school, on the other hand, declared that in the senses there is nothing but illusion, and that only the understanding knows what is true.’ Immanuel Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason, Trans., Norman Kemp Smith, Macmillan Education, London, 1987, p. 667 A 854. Epicurus, following Democritus, went much further than Kant’s division between bodies that sense and the objects they sense – he held that everything, including sensing bodies and their objects, is made of atoms moving continuously. Plato’s philosophy is also more complex.

3. Hegel wrote of ‘the science of religion’ ‘The object of religion, like that of philosophy, is the eternal truth, God and nothing but God and the explication of God. …Thus religion and philosophy coincide in one. In fact philosophy is itself the service of God, as is religion. …The linkage between them is nothing new. It already obtained among the more eminent of the church fathers, who had steeped themselves particularly in Neopythagorean, Neoplatonic, and Neoaristotelian philosophy.’ Georg Hegel, Lectures on the Philosophy of Religion, Ed., Peter C. Hodgson, Clarendon, Oxford, 2007, vol. 1, pp. 152-153

4. Regarding his transcendental unity of apperception: again, it is not a unity of a thing, rather an abstract unity of ourselves as thinkers and the world as we think it.

5. ‘the feeling of the sublime involves as its characteristic feature a mental movement combined with the estimate of the object, whereas taste in respect of the beautiful presupposes that the mind is in restful contemplation, and preserves it in this state.’ Immanuel Kant, The Critique of Judgement, Trans., James Creed Meredith, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1988, p. 94. Also ‘The mind feels itself set in motion in the representation of the sublime in nature; whereas in the aesthetic judgement upon what is beautiful therein it is in restful contemplation.’ Ibid., p. 107. The junctures of ‘the sublime’ and movement and of contemplation and rest are the two great pathways to ‘god’ in our culture – both in the sense of well-trodden and what has been created on that basis. They appear in Schopenhauer, and in Nietzsche where they recur as the Dionysiac and the Apolline, blended in The Birth of Tragedy for even greater effect. The linking of the sublime and movement is a core tenet of Romanticism. Again, cf. ‘the highest model, the archetype of taste, is a mere idea, which each person must beget in his own consciousness…(and this) may more appropriately be called the ideal of the beautiful. While not having this ideal in our possession, we still strive to beget it within us’ (ibid., pp. 75-76). Compare with the central simile of the sculptor in The Enneads (I.6.9). As with in vino veritas, so often writing on art gives a similar result.