How to retain the relevance of metaphysics (the primacy of consciousness over matter)

Immanuel Kant by Karl Friedrich Hagemann, 1801, marble, Kunsthalle, Hamburg

How to retain the primacy of consciousness over matter: attach a carefully worded lie to the greatest scientific hypothesis – thus Kant’s ‘Copernican turn’

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 undiscovered 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. The change in point of view, analogous to this hypothesis, which is expounded in the Critique, I put forward in this preface as an hypothesis only, in order to draw attention to the character of these first attempts at such a change, which are always hypothetical. But in the Critique itself it will be proved, apodeictically not hypothetically, from the nature of our representations of space and time and from the elementary concepts of the understanding.’ Immanuel Kant, Preface to the Second Edition, Immanuel Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason, Trans., Norman Kemp Smith, Macmillan, London, 1987, 25 (Footnote)

and ‘We must therefore make trial whether we may not have more success in the tasks of metaphysics, if we suppose that objects must conform to our knowledge. This would agree better with what is desired, namely, that it should be possible to have knowledge of objects a priori, determining something in regard to them prior to their being given. We should then be proceeding precisely on the lines of Copernicus’ primary hypothesis. Failing of satisfactory progress in explaining the movements of the heavenly bodies on the supposition that they all revolved round the spectator, he tried whether he might not have better success if he made the spectator to revolve and the stars to remain at rest. A similar experiment can be tried in metaphysics, as regards the intuition of objects. If intuition must conform to the constitution of the objects, I do not see how we could know anything of the latter a priori; but if the object (as object of the senses) must conform to the constitution of our faculty of intuition, I have no difficulty in conceiving such a possibility.’ (22)

Kant’s incorrect assertion that Copernicus had sought the observed movements in the spectator is not the crucial point – it is that Kant thereby had the pretext to give priority over matter to ‘mind’/consciousness – via concepts and the ‘forms of intuition’. Copernicus’ hypothesis is an objective hypothesis about the world, the functioning of which Copernicus recognised requires neither the spectator – nor their ‘mind’/consciousness.1

In On the Revolutions of Heavenly Spheres, Copernicus a couple of times referred to the spectator: ‘For every apparent change in place occurs on account of the movement either of the thing seen or of the spectator, or on account of the necessarily unequal movement of both. For no movement is perceptible relatively to things moved equally in the same directions – I mean relatively to the thing seen and the spectator.’ Nicolaus Copernicus, On the Revolutions of Heavenly Spheres, Ed., Stephen Hawking, Running Press, Philadelphia, 2002, 12

But the spectator did not figure in his hypothesis itself: ‘For the daily revolution appears to carry the whole universe along, with the exception of the Earth (my emphasis) and the things around it. And if you admit that the heavens possess none of this movement but that the Earth (my emphasis) turns from west to east, you will find – if you make a serious examination – that as regards the apparent rising and setting of the sun, moon, and stars the case is so. And since it is the heavens which contain and embrace all things as the place common to the universe, it will not be clear at once why movement should not be assigned to the contained rather than to the container, to the thing placed rather than to the thing providing the place.’ (12-13)

Not only – going beyond Kant’s noumenal barrier (and, most significantly, towards acquisition of knowledge of the world) – was careful observation crucial to Copernicus’ hypothesis: ‘Having recorded three positions of the planet Jupiter and evaluated them in this way, we shall set up three others in their place, which we observed with greatest care at the solar oppositions of Jupiter’ (291), not only was he entirely comfortable with appearances, repeatedly referring to them and setting out the means for counteracting them: ‘For in order to perceive this by sense with the help of artificial instruments, by means of which the job can be done best, it is necessary to have a wooden square prepared, or preferably a square made from some other more solid material, from stone or metal; for the wood might not stay in the same condition on account of some alteration in the atmosphere and might mislead the observer’ (61), he dealt with the reciprocal relationships between sun, earth and moon, irrespective of which body was moving: ‘It is of no importance if we take up in an opposite fashion what others have demonstrated by means of a motionless earth and a giddy world and race with them toward the same goal, since things related reciprocally happen to be inversely in harmony with one another’ (60), even writing ‘And for this reason we can call the former movement of the sun – to use the common expression – the regular and simple movement’ (161).


The Sage of Königsberg steps forth: ‘it is clearly shown, that if I remove the thinking subject the whole corporeal world must at once vanish: it is nothing save an appearance in the sensibility of our subject and a mode of its representations’ (Immanuel Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason, op. cit., 354).

Sapere aude…

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Note

1. Bertrand Russell wrote that Kant should have ‘spoken of a “Ptolemaic counter-revolution (my italics)”, since he put man back at the centre from which Copernicus had dethroned him..’ Bertrand Russell, Human Knowledge, Simon and Schuster, New York, 1948, 9, in Paul Redding, Hegel’s Hermeneutics, Cornell University Press, Ithaca, 1996, 3. Kant’s calculated nonsense was replicated by A.C.Ewing ‘“Just as Copernicus taught that the movement round the earth which men had ascribed to the sun was only an appearance due to our own movement,” stated Ewing, “so Kant taught that space and time which men had ascribed to reality were only appearances due to ourselves. The parallel is correct.”’ Ibid. Space is the objective distribution of matter, time (not the measure of time) is the objective movement of matter in space. Space, time, matter and motion (all objective) are inseparable. Kant’s crucial spectator with their consciousness is the product of these.

The philosophy of Plotinus: part two

Movement and rest in ‘thought’, the most intense activity and stillness in unity

The hypostases are interconnected, with Body having its existence in Soul, Soul its source in Intellect1 and Intellect its generation from the One. At the same time the One has independence from Intellect as Intellect in turn has from Soul. The notion of illumination passes through the Enneads. The One lights Intellect which in turn illuminates Soul which gives light to this universe. The further away from the One, the weaker the illumination.

The double movement in Plotinus’ doctrine – from unity to increasing multiplicity and return to unification and unity concerns an eternal outpouring from a transcendent One, descending through levels to the lowest reality – the universe of matter and the senses. With the purpose of showing the way to God, it is also an urging of soul through purification2 and simplification to ascend from a meditation on this universe to the one of intelligible reality, to union with the Good, which alone can give Soul true satisfaction. The impetus for the ascent is the memory of a beauty infinitely greater than its weak presence in this world.

Plotinus believed we have forgotten our true nature, which lies within us. So this ‘ascent of the mind to God’, fuelled by desire and remembrance, is equally a journey within, to the core of our being. The One is like the centre of concentric circles. It is beyond thought and desire, and therefore beyond movement. Intellect, which is thought and desire, both moves around the One, and is at contemplative rest. Soul, moved by aspiration towards and desire for Intellect, revolves around it.3

Progress of the soul in freeing itself from illusion and moving towards its goal, beyond the Platonic world of Forms, requires enormous moral and spiritual striving, of which few are capable4 and signifies a deepening contemplation, a closer communion between soul and its origin in pure reality.5 Plotinus’ philosophy unites the religious and the philosophical. Armstrong wrote that it amounts to a prayer.6

The perfect One, without movement, eternally creates and actuates its image, Intellect. Number gives Intellect – the eternal living reality and perfect unity-in-multiplicity – its structure. It in turn produces its image and activity, Soul. Nature is the lower phase and image of Soul, which, as its rational forming principle, carries form to matter.7 Though aspiring to Intellect in a ceaseless contemplation and therefore productive, it is almost the lowest form of contemplation, producing weak and dreamy forms, below which is only matter:

‘What does this mean? That what is called nature is a soul, the offspring of a prior soul with a stronger life; that it quietly holds contemplation in itself, not directed upwards or even downwards, but at rest in what it is, in its own repose and a kind of self-perception, and in this consciousness and self-perception it sees what comes after it, as far as it can, and seeks no longer, but has accomplished a vision of splendour and delight.’8

Matter (which also exists in Intellect), receives the Forms in the three-dimensional space of this universe. Though often referred to in the Enneads as ‘evil’, it has a weak tendency towards the One and so shares in its superabundant productivity.

Activity in the divine is reflected in the activity of the material universe. Existence at every level tends through quickening aspiration to rejoin the level above, of which it is a product and image. Contemplation of the source of an hypostasis always precedes and generates activity and production:

‘The procession of Intellect from the One is necessary and eternal, as are also the procession of Soul from Intellect and the forming and ordering of the material universe by Soul. This emanation from the One is because everything perfect is creative and produces something else. Here we touch an element in Plotinus’s thought which is of great importance, the emphasis on life, on the dynamic, vital character of spiritual being. Perfection for him is not merely static. It is a fullness of living and productive power. The One for him is Life and Power, an infinite spring of power, an unbounded life, and therefore necessarily productive.’9

Plotinus’ philosophy concerns one vast living system, streaming from the One: 10

‘…as the (Divine) plan holds, life is poured copiously throughout a Universe, engendering the universal things and weaving variety into their being, never at rest from producing an endless sequence of comeliness and shapeliness, a living pastime.’11

Life is an activity and power which is omnipresent, ever fresh, inexhaustible, ‘brimming over with its own vitality’,12 unquantifiable and indivisible – what is in the whole is in the part. The greater the living movement, the greater the beauty, and the more the embodied Good, which wakes and raises up the souls of those who respond to it. Hence the more intense is Soul’s desire for the source of that life, for the unity which overcomes loneliness and spiritual incompleteness: 13

‘So here below also beauty is what illuminates good proportions rather than the good proportions themselves, and this is what is loveable. For why is there more light of beauty on a living face, but only a trace of it on a dead one, even if its flesh and its proportions are not yet wasted away? And are not the more life-like statues the more beautiful ones, even if the others are better proportioned? And is not an uglier living man more beautiful than the beautiful man in a statue? Yes, because the living is more desirable; and this is because it has soul; and this is because it has more the form of good; and this means that it is somehow coloured by the light of the Good, and being so coloured wakes and rises up and lifts up that which belongs to it, and as far as it can makes it good and wakes it.’14

Life for Plotinus is eternal creativity and creation, ultimately that of self.15 He several times used the metaphor of a tree to illustrate the process:

‘For the gathering together of all things into one is the principle, in which all are together and all make a whole. And individual things proceed from this principle while it remains within; they come from it as from a single root which remains static in itself, but they flower out into a divided multiplicity, each one bearing an image of that higher reality, but when they reach this lower world one comes to be in one place and one in another, and some are close to the root and others advance farther and split up to the point of becoming, so to speak, branches and twigs and fruits and leaves; and those that are closer to the root remain for ever…’16

Part two/to be continued…

Notes

1. Both Intellect and Soul are Forms.

2. Plotinus distinguished between ‘civic’ and ‘purificatory’ virtues. The former pertain to life in this world, the latter to those which lead the Soul to ‘another life, that of the Gods’ and in Intellect. I,2.7.

3. ‘All things are around the King of all, and That is the cause of all good and beautiful things, and all things belong to That, and the second things are around the Second and the third around the Third.’  I,7.2. This is one of the foundation-texts of Neoplatonic theology and is quoted from the questionably authentic Second Letter of Plato (312e1-4). In the Timaeus circles are the governing force in the universe and in our heads. Also ‘…if one ranks the Good as a centre one would rank Intellect as an unmoved circle and Soul as a moving circle; but moving by aspiration.’ IV,4.16.

4. ‘…to those of power to reach, it is present; to the inapt, absent.’ VI,9.7. Cf. Bergson’s identification of two moral and spiritual types and his comparison between ‘static religion’ and ‘dynamic religion’ in ‘The Two Sources of Morality and Religion’, 1932.

5. Soul arrives at Intellect by contemplation but Intellect arrives at the Good through immediate unity with it.

6. Ibid, Vol.5, 29. ‘What is new (in Plotinus’ system)…is the notion of making the ‘Ideas’ states of being of the Intellect and no longer distinct objects, of bringing the very subject of thought into the intelligible world, of considering the hypostases less as entities than as spiritual attitudes.’ Henry op. cit., li.

7. Here I use Armstrong’s terminology. MacKenna translated this as ‘Lower Soul’, ‘Nature-Looking and Generative Soul’, ‘Logos of the Universe’ and ‘ Reason-Principle of the Universe’.

8. III,8.4. Also ‘the Nature best and most to be loved may be found there only where there is no least touch of Form.’ VI,7.33.

9. Armstrong, op. cit., vol. I, xviii-xix.

10. ‘…Life streaming from Life; for energy runs through the Universe and there is no extremity at which it dwindles out…’ III,8.5. ‘…the law is, “some life after the Primal Life, a second where there is a first; all linked in one unbroken chain; all eternal; divergent types being engendered only in the sense of being secondary”.’ II,9.3.

11. III,2.15.

12. VI,5.12. The vital power of Romanticism, traceable to Plotinus’ doctrine, does not imitate nature, it is the hand of nature. Thus the artwork is not at third remove from the Idea, rather, it carries the viewer ‘upwards’ and ‘inwards’ to it. See Kant’s Critique of Judgement (1790) Bk II, Analytic of the Sublime, No. 46 (Fine art is the art of genius) ‘Since talent, as an innate productive faculty of the artist, belongs itself to nature, we may put it this way: Genius is the innate mental aptitude (ingenium) through which nature gives the rule to art.’  The Sturm und Drang movement in Germany between 1770 and 1790 (with parallels in England and France) was the earliest expression of Romanticism and had vitalism as its nucleus.

13. ‘Here is living, the true; that of today, all living apart from Him, is but a shadow, a mimicry.’ VI,9.9. Although the Cubists’ use of (developments on) the philosophies of Plato and Plotinus was certainly influenced by the ‘alienating’ effects of rapid technological developments at the turn of the century, Panofsky positioned this in a deeper, historical context, arguing that doubt and the turn to speculative thought (questioning the relationship between reality, senses, ‘mind’ and artistic production) dates from Mannerism. ‘…the Mannerists considered it obvious that this “idea” or concetto could by no means be purely subjective or “psychological”; and the question arose, for the first time, how it was at all possible for the mind to form a notion of this kind – a notion that cannot simply be obtained from nature, yet must not originate in man alone. This question led eventually to the question of the possibility of artistic production as such…precisely such a way of thinking was bound to realise that that which in the past had seemed unquestionable was thoroughly problematical: the relationship of the mind to reality as perceived by the senses…Before the eyes of art theorists there opened an abyss hidden until then, and they felt the need to close it by means of philosophical speculation…Earlier art theory (pre- mid-sixteenth century) had tried to lay the practical foundations for artistic production; now it had to face the task of proving its theoretical legitimacy. Thought now took refuge, so to speak, in a metaphysics meant to justify the artist in claiming for his inner notions a suprasubjective validity as to both correctness and beauty.’  Panofsky, op. cit., 82-83. Also ‘At odds with nature the human mind fled to God in that mood at once triumphant and insecure…’, ibid., 99. More broadly (or perhaps more profoundly) – ‘the opposition between “idealism” and “naturalism” that ruled the philosophy of art until the end of the nineteenth century and under multifarious disguises – Expressionism and Impressionism, Abstraction and Empathy – retained its place in the twentieth, must in the final analysis appear as a “dialectical antinomy.”…To recognise the diversity of these solutions and to understand their historical presuppositions is worthwhile for history’s sake, even though philosophy has come to realise that the problem underlying them is by its very nature insoluble.’ Ibid., 126.

14. VI,7.22. ‘Why are the most living portraits the most beautiful, even though the other happen to be more symmetric? Why is the living ugly more attractive than the sculptured handsome? It is that the one is more nearly what we are looking for, and this because there is soul there, because there is more of the Idea of The Good…and this illumination awakens and lifts the soul and all that goes with it, so that the whole man is won over to goodness and in the fullest measure stirred to life.’ VI,7.22. Plato also tied life to truth. On the superiority of speech to writing – Socrates: ‘I mean the kind that is written on the soul of the hearer together with understanding…’ Phaedrus replied: ‘You mean the living and animate speech of a man with knowledge, of which written speech might fairly be called a kind of shadow.’ Phaedrus 276.

15. ‘If there had been a moment from which He began to be, it would be possible to assert his self-making in the literal sense; but since what He is He is from before eternity, his self-making is to be understood as simultaneous with Himself; the being is one and the same with the making, the eternal ‘bringing into existence’.’ VI.8,20. Also ‘Is that enough? Can we end the discussion by saying this? No, my soul is still in even stronger labour. Perhaps she is now at the point when she must bring forth, having reached the fullness of her birth-pangs in her eager longing for the One.’ V.3,17.

16. III,3.7. Also ‘The Supreme is the Term of all; it is like the principle and ground of some vast tree of rational life; itself unchanging, it gives reasoned being to the growth into which it enters.’ VI,8.15, and IV,4.11. In Creative Evolution, Bergson wrote ‘…life is tendency, and the essence of a tendency is to develop in the form of a sheaf, creating, by its very growth, divergent directions among which its impetus is divided.’ In H. Larrabee, ed. Selections from Bergson. New York, 1949, 72. Also compare Plotinus – ‘The fact that the product contains diversity and difference does not warrant the notion that the producer must be subject to corresponding variations. On the contrary, the more varied the product, the more certain the unchanging identity of the producer: even in the single animal the events produced by Nature are many and not simultaneous; there are the age periods, the developments at fixed epochs – horns, beard, maturing breasts, the acme of life, procreation – but the principles which initially determined the nature of the being are not thereby annulled…this is the unalterable wisdom of the Cosmos…’ IV.4,11 with Bergson ‘The animal takes its stand on the plant, man bestrides animality, and the whole of humanity, in space and time, is one immense army galloping beside and before and behind each of us in an overwhelming charge able to beat down every resistance and clear the most formidable obstacles, perhaps even death.’ From Creative Evolution in Selections from Bergson. op. cit., 105.

Engels on the Kantian ‘thing-in-itself’

A toy Spaniel, a dwarf Spitz and a Maltese next to a basket (1855), Johann Friedrich Wilhelm Wegener

The form of development of natural science, in so far as it thinks, is the hypothesis. A new fact is observed which makes impossible the previous method of explaining the facts belonging to the same group. From this moment onwards new methods of explanation are required – at first based on only a limited number of facts and observations. Further observational material weeds out these hypotheses, doing away with some and correcting others, until finally the law is established in a pure form. If one should wait until the material for a law was in a pure form, it would mean suspending the process of thought in investigation until then and, if only for this reason, the law would never come into being.

The number and succession of hypotheses supplanting one another – given the lack of logical and dialectical education among natural scientists – easily gives rise to the idea that we cannot know the essence of things (Haller and Goethe). This is not peculiar to natural science since all human knowledge develops in a much twisted curve; and in the historical sciences also, including philosophy, theories displace one another, from which, however, nobody concludes that formal logic, for instance, is nonsense.

The last form of this outlook is the ‘thing-in-itself’. In the first place, this assertion that we cannot know the thing-in-itself (Hegel, Encyclopaedia, paragraph 44) passes out of the realm of science into that of fantasy. Secondly, it does not add a word to our scientific knowledge, for if we cannot occupy ourselves with things, they do not exist for us. And, thirdly, it is a mere phrase and is never applied. Taken in the abstract it sounds quite sensible. But suppose one applies it. What would one think of a zoologist who said: ‘A dog seems to have four legs, but we do not know whether in reality it has four million legs or none at all’? Or of a mathematician who first of all defines a triangle as having three sides, and then declares that he does not know whether it might not have 25? That 2×2 seems to be 4? But scientists take care not to apply the phrase about the thing-in-itself in natural science, they permit themselves this only in passing into philosophy. This is the best proof how little seriously they take it and what little value it has itself. If they did take it seriously, what would be the good of investigating anything?

Taken historically the thing would have a certain meaning: we can only know under the conditions of our epoch and as far as these allow.

Friedrich Engels, Dialectics of Nature, Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1976, 240-241

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David Hume, ‘The problem of induction’ and the workingman’s sausage

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David Hume is credited with developing induction. He argued that our inductive generalisations rest on the assumption that unobserved cases will follow the patterns that we discovered in observed cases but that one cannot make induction deductively certain. We cannot know that nature is uniform.

Hume distinguished between relations of ideas and matters of fact. He regarded deductive reasoning as demonstrative (involving certainty, established through relations of ideas) and inductive reasoning as probable (involving matters of fact, known by experience).

Hume denied the objective character of causality, arguing that there is no necessary relationship between cause and effect.

He insisted that philosophy cannot go beyond experience and that there is no solution to the ‘problem of induction’ which he set as a syllogism. He asked how we can move from a first premise that all observed A’s have been B to the conclusion that all A’s without restriction have been, are, and will be B.

He thought it can be addressed from two perspectives – that of redundancy (‘All A’s have been observed’), which is disqualified because it cannot be an argument from experience, and that of ‘the principle of the uniformity of nature’.

He also ruled this out because it could only be known to be true by a question-begging appeal to arguments of the very kind here in question (Nature has always been uniform. How does one know? Because it has always been uniform.). Further, such a premise would have to imply that all the A’s experienced by anyone constitute in all respects a perfectly representative sample of A’s.

Hume’s ‘moral’ conclusion was that argument from experience must be without rational foundation.

‘He seems nevertheless to have felt few scruples over the apparent inconsistency of going on to insist, first, that such argument is grounded in the deepest instincts of our nature, and, second, that the rational man everywhere proportions his belief to the evidence – evidence which in practice crucially includes that outcome of procedures alleged earlier to be without rational foundation…Argument from experience should be thought of not as an irreparably fallacious attempt to deduce conclusions necessarily wider than available premises can contain, but rather as a matter of following a tentative and self-correcting rule, a rule that is part of the very paradigm of inquiring rationality – that one would think that other A’s have been and will be the same, until and unless a particular reason is discovered to revise these expectations.’1

Lenin wrote that the sophism of idealist philosophy is that it regards sensation as being not the connection between consciousness and the external world, but a barrier between the two, not an image of the external phenomenon, but the sole entity.2

Whence arises the relations of ideas in deduction – from other ideas, or from within a form of matter which is utterly part of the world?

The (theoretically) absolute truth in nature is approached (the deepening of truth, inseparable from change and uncertainty) through a compound of relative truths by a process of sensory experience, brain processing of that experience and the testing of the resulting ideas in practice.

And this debate, which ultimately traces to that concerning the precedence of matter (objective reality) or consciousness as thought over the other, is directly related to ideology.

‘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.’3

Notes

1. In A. Flew, Ed.,  A  Dictionary of Philosophy, London: Pan, 1984, 172

2. V.I.Lenin, Materialism and Empirio-Criticism, Critical Comments on a Reactionary Philosophy, 1908, Progress, Moscow 1977, 38

3. Ibid., 185-186; Paul Lafargue, “Le matérialisme de Marx et l’idéalisme de Kant”, Le Socialiste, February 25, 1900.

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The purpose of bourgeois philosophy

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Immanuel Kant by Karl Friedrich Hagemann, 1801, marble, Kunsthalle, Hamburg

The purpose of bourgeois philosophy:

‘The workingman who eats sausage and receives a hundred sous a day knows very well that he is robbed by the employer…that the employer is a robber…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 counter to bourgeois philosophy:

‘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.’

Paul Lafargue

The same counter in different words:
‘The question whether objective [gegenständliche] truth can be attributed to human thinking is not a question of theory but is a practical question. In practice man must prove the truth, that is, the reality and power, the this-sidedness [Diesseitigkeit] of his thinking. The dispute over the reality or non-reality of thinking which is isolated from practice is a purely scholastic question.’

Marx, Second thesis on Feuerbach, 1845

A summary of how we have developed:

‘From living perception to abstract thought, and from this to practice, – such is the dialectical path of the cognition of truth, of the cognition of objective reality. Kant disparages knowledge in order to make way for faith: Hegel exalts knowledge, asserting that knowledge is knowledge of God. The materialist exalts the knowledge of matter, of nature…’

Lenin

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Engels on materialism: part 6 – the universe is a process

The second specific limitation of this materialism lay in its inability to comprehend the universe as a process, as matter undergoing uninterrupted historical development. This was in accordance with the level of the natural science of that time, and with the metaphysical, that is, anti-dialectical manner of philosophising connected with it. Nature, so much was known, was in eternal motion. But according to the ideas of that time, this motion turned, also eternally, in a circle and therefore never moved from the spot; it produced the same results over and over again. This conception was at that time inevitable. The Kantian theory of the origin of the Solar System (that the Sun and planets originated from incandescent rotating nebulous masses) had been put forward but recently and was still regarded merely as a curiosity. The history of the development of the Earth, geology, was still totally unknown, and the conception that the animate natural beings of today are the result of a long sequence of development from the simple to the complex could not at that time scientifically be put forward at all. The unhistorical view of nature was therefore inevitable. We have the less reason to reproach the philosophers of the 18th century on this account since the same thing is found in Hegel. According to him, nature, as a mere “alienation” of the idea, is incapable of development in time — capable only of extending its manifoldness in space, so that it displays simultaneously and alongside of one another all the stages of development comprised in it, and is condemned to an eternal repetition of the same processes. This absurdity of a development in space, but outside of time — the fundamental condition of all development — Hegel imposes upon nature just at the very time when geology, embryology, the physiology of plants and animals, and organic chemistry were being built up, and when everywhere on the basis of these new sciences brilliant foreshadowings of the later theory of evolution were appearing (for instance, Goethe and Lamarck). But the system demanded it; hence the method, for the sake of the system, had to become untrue to itself.

Friedrich Engels, Ludwig Feuerbach and the End of Classical German Philosophy, 1886

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Full text at Marxists Internet Archive

Engels on materialism: part 3 – you don’t get philosophy like this in the bourgeois academy

Eleanor Anne Ormerod (1828-1901), entomologist

Eleanor Anne Ormerod (1828-1901), entomologist

…during this long period from Descartes to Hegel and from Hobbes to Feuerbach, these philosophers were by no means impelled, as they thought they were, solely by the force of pure reason. On the contrary, what really pushed them forward most was the powerful and ever more rapidly onrushing progress of natural science and industry. Among the materialists this was plain on the surface, but the idealist systems also filled themselves more and more with a materialist content and attempted pantheistically to reconcile the antithesis between mind and matter. Thus, ultimately, the Hegelian system represents merely a materialism idealistically turned upside down in method and content.

Friedrich Engels, Ludwig Feuerbach and the End of Classical German Philosophy, 1886

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Full text at Marxists Internet Archive

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Engels on materialism: part 9 – ‘What is man? – Half beast, half angel’

Auguste Rodin, The Gates of Hell, Kunsthaus, Zürich

Auguste Rodin, The Gates of Hell, Kunsthaus, Zürich

…Starcke looks for Feuerbach’s idealism in the wrong place.

“Feuerbach is an idealist; he believes in the progress of mankind.” (p.19)

“The foundation, the substructure of the whole, remains nevertheless idealism. Realism for us is nothing more than a protection again aberrations, while we follow our ideal trends. Are not compassion, love, and enthusiasm for truth and justice ideal forces?” (p.VIII)

In the first place, idealism here means nothing, but the pursuit of ideal aims. But these necessarily have to do at the most with Kantian idealism and its “categorical imperative”; however, Kant himself called his philosophy “transcendental idealism” by no means because he dealt therein also with ethical ideals, but for quite other reasons, as Starcke will remember. The superstition that philosophical idealism is pivoted round a belief in ethical, that is, social, ideals, arose outside philosophy, among the German philistines, who learned by heart from Schiller’s poems the few morsels of philosophical culture they needed. No one has criticised more severely the impotent “categorical imperative” of Kant — impotent because it demands the impossible, and therefore never attains to any reality — no one has more cruelly derided the philistine sentimental enthusiasm for unrealisable ideals purveyed by Schiller than precisely the complete idealist Hegel (see, for example, his Phenomenology).

In the second place, we simply cannot get away from the fact that everything that sets men acting must find its way through their brains — even eating and drinking, which begins as a consequence of the sensation of hunger or thirst transmitted through the brain, and ends as a result of the sensation of satisfaction likewise transmitted through the brain. The influences of the external world upon man express themselves in his brain, are reflected therein as feelings, impulses, volitions — in short, as “ideal tendencies”, and in this form become “ideal powers”. If, then, a man is to be deemed an idealist because he follows “ideal tendencies” and admits that “ideal powers” have an influence over him, then every person who is at all normally developed is a born idealist and how, in that case, can there still be any materialists?

In the third place, the conviction that humanity, at least at the present moment, moves on the whole in a progressive direction has absolutely nothing to do with the antagonism between materialism and idealism. The French materialists no less than the deists Voltaire and Rousseau held this conviction to an almost fanatical degree, and often enough made the greatest personal sacrifices for it. If ever anybody dedicated his whole life to the “enthusiasm for truth and justice” — using this phrase in the good sense — it was Diderot, for instance. If, therefore, Starcke declares all this to be idealism, this merely proves that the word materialism, and the whole antagonism between the two trends, has lost all meaning for him here.

The fact is that Starcke, although perhaps unconsciously, in this makes an unpardonable concession to the traditional philistine prejudice against the word materialism resulting from its long-continued defamation by the priests. By the word materialism, the philistine understands gluttony, drunkenness, lust of the eye, lust of the flesh, arrogance, cupidity, avarice, covetousness, profit-hunting, and stock-exchange swindling — in short, all the filthy vices in which he himself indulges in private. By the word idealism he understands the belief in virtue, universal philanthropy, and in a general way a “better world”, of which he boasts before others but in which he himself at the utmost believes only so long as he is having the blues or is going through the bankruptcy consequent upon his customary “materialist” excesses. It is then that he sings his favourite song, What is man? — Half beast, half angel.

Sandro Botticelli, Dante and Beatrice, n.d., The University of Texas, Austin

Sandro Botticelli, Dante and Beatrice, n.d., The University of Texas, Austin

Auguste Rodin, The Cry, bronze, 1886, Musée Rodin

Auguste Rodin, The Cry, bronze, 1886, Musée Rodin

Frederick Engels, Ludwig Feuerbach and the End of Classical German Philosophy, 1886

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Engels on materialism: part 2 – the ideological function of Hume and Kant

Statue of David Hume by Alexander Stoddart, 1995, bronze, in front of High Court Building, Edinburgh, Scotland

Statue of David Hume by Alexander Stoddart, 1995, bronze, in front of High Court Building, Edinburgh, Scotland

Immanuel Kant by Karl Friedrich Hagemann, 1801, marble, Kunsthalle, Hamburg

Immanuel Kant by Karl Friedrich Hagemann, 1801, marble, Kunsthalle, Hamburg

…there is yet a set of different philosophers — those who question the possibility of any cognition, or at least of an exhaustive cognition, of the world. To them, among the more modern ones, belong Hume and Kant, and they played a very important role in philosophical development. What is decisive in the refutation of this view has already been said by Hegel, in so far as this was possible from an idealist standpoint. The materialistic additions made by Feuerbach are more ingenious than profound. The most telling refutation of this as of all other philosophical crotchets is practice — namely, experiment and industry. If we are able to prove the correctness of our conception of a natural process by making it ourselves, bringing it into being out of its conditions and making it serve our own purposes into the bargain, then there is an end to the Kantian ungraspable “thing-in-itself”. The chemical substances produced in the bodies of plants and animals remained just such “things-in-themselves” until organic chemistry began to produce them one after another, whereupon the “thing-in-itself” became a thing for us — as, for instance, alizarin, the colouring matter of the madder, which we no longer trouble to grow in the madder roots in the field, but produce much more cheaply and simply from coal tar. For 300 years, the Copernican solar system was a hypothesis with 100, 1,000, 10,000 to 1 chances in its favour, but still always a hypothesis. But then Leverrier, by means of the data provided by this system, not only deduced the necessity of the existence of an unknown planet, but also calculated the position in the heavens which this planet must necessarily occupy, and when [Johann] Galle really found this planet [Neptune, discovered 1846, at Berlin Observatory], the Copernican system was proved. If, nevertheless, the neo-Kantians are attempting to resurrect the Kantian conception in Germany, and the agnostics that of Hume in England (where in fact it never became extinct), this is, in view of their theoretical and practical refutation accomplished long ago, scientifically a regression and practically merely a shamefaced way of surreptitiously accepting materialism, while denying it before the world.

Frederick Engels, Ludwig Feuerbach and the End of Classical German Philosophy, 1886

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Lenin: Empirio-criticism and historical materialism – part twelve

Ordination of priests, Rome, 2008

Ordination of priests, Rome, 2008

Ernst Haeckel and Ernst Mach (continued)

…Haeckel does not attempt an analysis of philosophical problems and is not able to contrast the materialist theory of knowledge with the idealist theory of knowledge. He ridicules all idealist – more broadly, all peculiarly philosophical – artifices from the standpoint of natural science, without even admitting the idea that any other theory of knowledge than natural-scientific materialism is possible. He ridicules the philosophers from the standpoint of a materialist, without realising that his standpoint is that of a materialist!

The impotent wrath aroused in the philosophers by this almighty materialism is comprehensible. We quoted above the opinion of the “true-Russian” Lopatin. And here is the opinion of Mr. Rudolf Willy, the most progressive of the “empirio-criticists”, who is irreconcilably hostile to idealism (don’t laugh!). “Haeckel’s monism is a very heterogeneous mixture: it combines certain natural-scientific laws, such as the law of the conservation of energy… with certain scholastic traditions about substance and the thing-in-itself into a chaotic jumble” (Gegen die Schulweisheit, S. 128).

What has annoyed this most worthy “recent positivist”? Well, how could he help being annoyed when he immediately realised that from Haeckel’s standpoint all the great doctrines of his teacher Avenarius – for instance, that the brain is not the organ of thought, that sensations are not images of the external world, that matter (“substance”) or “the thing-in-itself” is not an objective reality, and so forth – are nothing but sheer idealist gibberish!? Haeckel did not say it in so many words because he did not concern himself with philosophy and was not acquainted with “empirio-criticism” as such. But Rudolf Willy could not help realising that a hundred thousand readers of Haeckel meant as many people spitting in the face of the philosophy of Mach and Avenarius. Willy wipes his face in advance, in the Lopatin manner. For the essence of the arguments which Mr. Lopatin and Mr. Willy marshal against materialism in general and natural-scientific materialism in particular, is exactly the same in both. To us Marxists the difference between Mr. Lopatin and Messrs. Willy, Petzoldt, Mach and Co. is no greater than the difference between the Protestant theologians and the Catholic theologians.

John Caird, theologian, 1871. From the page: ‘A sermon on Religion in Common Life, preached before Queen Victoria, made him known throughout the Protestant world.’

John Caird, theologian, 1871. From the page: ‘A sermon on Religion in Common Life, preached before Queen Victoria, made him known throughout the Protestant world.’

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.

US dollar bill - In God We Trust. The motto of the United States ‘In God we trust’ was adopted by Congress in 1956 in response to fears of Godless ‘communism’.

US dollar bill – In God We Trust. The motto of the United States ‘In God we trust’ was adopted by Congress in 1956 in response to fears of Godless ‘communism’.

V.I.Lenin, Materialism and Empirio-criticism: Critical Comments on a Reactionary Philosophy, Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1975, 331-332

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Part twelve/to be continued…

Full text at Marxists Internet Archive

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