Engels on Dialectics, Part Five: Causality

bullet_leaving_barrel

The first thing that strikes us in considering matter in motion is the inter-connection of the individual motions of separate bodies, their being determined by one another. But not only do we find that a particular motion is followed by another, we find also that we can evoke a particular motion by setting up the conditions in which it takes place in nature, that we can even produce motions which do not occur at all in nature (industry), at least not in this way, and that we can give these motions a predetermined direction and extent. In this way, by the activity of human beings, the idea of causality becomes established, the idea that one motion is the cause of another. True, the regular sequence of certain natural phenomena can by itself give rise to the idea of causality: the heat and light that come with the sun; but this affords no proof, and to that extent Hume’s scepticism was correct in saying that a regular post hoc can never establish a propter hoc. But the activity of human beings forms the test of causality. If we bring the sun’s rays to a focus by means of a concave mirror and make them act like the rays of an ordinary fire, we thereby prove that heat comes from  the sun. If we bring together in a rifle the priming, the explosive charge, and the bullet and then fire it, we count upon the effect known in advance from previous experience, because we can follow in all its details the whole process of ignition, combustion, explosion by the sudden conversion into gas and pressure of the gas on the bullet. And here the sceptic cannot even say that because of previous experience it does not follow that it will be the same next time. For, as a matter of fact, it does sometimes happen that it is not the same, that the priming or the gunpowder fails to work, that the barrel bursts, etc. But it is precisely this which proves causality instead of refuting it, because we can find out the cause of each such deviation from the rule by appropriate investigation: chemical decomposition of the priming, dampness, etc., of the gunpowder, defect in the barrel, etc., etc., so that here the test of causality is so to say a double one.

Natural science, like philosophy, has hitherto entirely neglected the influence of men’s activity on their thought; both know only nature on the one hand and thought on the other. But it is precisely the alteration of nature by men, not solely nature as such, which is the most essential and immediate basis of human thought, and it is in the measure that man has learned to change nature that his intelligence has increased. The naturalistic conception of history, as found, for instance, to a greater or lesser extent in Draper and other scientists, as if nature exclusively reacts on man, and natural conditions everywhere exclusively determined his historical development, is therefore one-sided and forgets that man also reacts on nature, changing it and creating new conditions of existence for himself. There is devilishly little left of ‘nature’ as it was in Germany at the time when the Germanic peoples immigrated into it. The earth’s surface, climate, vegetation, fauna, and  the human beings themselves have infinitely changed, and all this owing to human activity, while the changes of nature in Germany which have occurred in this period of time without human interference are incalculably small.

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Reciprocal action is the first thing that we encounter when we consider matter in motion as a whole from the standpoint of modern natural science. We see a series of forms of motion, mechanical motion, heat, light, electricity, magnetism, chemical union and decomposition, transitions of states of aggregation, organic life, all of which, if at present we still make an exception of organic life, pass into one another, mutually determine one another, are in one place cause and in another effect, the sum-total of the motion in all its changing forms remaining the same (Spinoza: substance is causa sui strikingly expresses the reciprocal action). Mechanical motion becomes transformed into heat, electricity, magnetism, light, etc., and vice versa. Thus natural science confirms what Hegel has said (where?), that reciprocal action is the true causa finalis of things. We cannot go back further than to knowledge of this reciprocal action, for the very reason that there is nothing behind to know. If we know the forms of motion of matter (for which it is true there is still very much lacking, in view of the short time that natural science has existed), then we know matter itself, and therewith our knowledge is complete. (Grove’s whole misunderstanding about causality rests on the fact that he does not succeed in arriving at the category of reciprocal action; he has the thing, but not the abstract thought, and hence the confusion – pp. 10-14.) Only from this universal reciprocal action do we arrive at the real causal relation. In order to understand the separate phenomena, we have to tear them out of the general inter-connection and consider them in isolation, and then the changing motions appear, one as cause and the other as effect.

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For one who denies causality every natural law is a hypothesis, among others also the chemical analysis of heavenly bodies by means of the prismatic spectrum. What shallowness of thought to remain at such a viewpoint!

Friedrich Engels, Dialectics of Nature, Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1976, 230-232

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Part five/to be continued…

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Engels on the exaltation of man

Michelangelo, ‘David’, marble, 1501-1504, Galleria dell’Accademia di Firenze (Florence)

Michelangelo, ‘David’, marble, 1501-1504, Galleria dell’Accademia di Firenze (Florence)

So much is certain: comparative physiology gives one a withering contempt for the idealistic exaltation of man over the other animals. At every step one is forced to recognise the most complete uniformity of structure with the rest of the mammals, and in its main features this uniformity extends to all vertebrates and even – in a less distinct way – to insects, crustaceans, tapeworms, etc. The Hegelian business of the qualitative leap in the quantitative series is also very fine here. Finally, among the lowest infusoria one reaches the primitive form, the simple, independently existing cell, which in turn is not to be distinguished by anything perceptible from the lowest plants (fungi consisting of single cells – the fungi of the potato and the vine diseases, etc.) or from the germs of the higher stages of development up to the human ovum and spermatozoon inclusive, and which also looks just like the independent cells within the living body (blood corpuscles, the cells of the epidermis and mucous membranes, the secretion cells of the glands, kidneys, etc.)…


Engels to Marx in London, Manchester, July 14, 1858, Marx Engels, Selected Correspondence, Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1982, 102

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

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Lenin: Empirio-criticism and historical materialism – part three

China’s Chang’e 3 with rover Jade Rabbit landed on lunar surface 14.12.13

Parties in Philosophy and Philosophical Blockheads (continued)

Entirely in the spirit of Marx, and in close collaboration with him, Engels in all his philosophical works briefly and clearly contrasts the materialist and idealist lines in regard to all questions, without, either in 1878, or 1888, or 1892, taking seriously the endless attempts to “transcend” the “one-sidedness” of materialism and idealism, to proclaim a new trend – some kind of “positivism”, “realism”, or other professorial charlatanism. Engels conducted his whole fight against Dühring completely under the watchword of consistent adherence to materialism, accusing the materialist Dühring of verbally confusing the issue, of phrase-mongering, of methods of reasoning which involved a concession to idealism and adoption of the position of idealism. Either materialism consistent to the end, or the falsehood and confusion of philosophical idealism – such is the formulation of the question given in every paragraph of Anti-Dühring; and only people whose minds had already been corrupted by reactionary professorial philosophy could fail to notice it. And right until 1894, when the last preface was written to Anti-Dühring, revised and enlarged by the author for the last time, Engels continued to follow the latest developments both in philosophy and science, and continued with all his former resoluteness to hold to his lucid and firm position, brushing away the litter of new systems, big and little.

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

Dust storm activity over Northern Hemisphere of Mars, captured by Mars Colour Camera on-board Indian Mars Orbiter Spacecraft from altitude of 74500 km on 28.09.14

Dust storm activity over Northern Hemisphere of Mars, captured by Mars Colour Camera on-board India’s Mangalyaan Mars Orbiter Spacecraft from altitude of 74500 km on 28.09.14

Gliese 832c: the closest potentially habitable exoplanet

Gliese 832c: the closest potentially habitable exoplanet

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Part three/to be continued…

Full text at Marxists Internet Archive

Image sources: 1st/2nd

Lenin: the recent revolution in natural science, and philosophical idealism – part five

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“Matter has disappeared” (continued)

Materialism and idealism differ in their answers to the question of the source of our knowledge and of the relation of knowledge (and of the “mental” in general) to the physical world; while the question of the structure of matter, of atoms and electrons, is a question that concerns only this “physical world”. When the physicists say “matter disappears” they mean that hitherto science reduced its investigations of the physical world to three ultimate concepts: matter, electricity and ether; now only the two latter remain. For it has become possible to reduce matter to electricity; the atom can be explained as resembling an infinitely small solar system, within which negative electrons move around a positive electron with a definite (and, as we have seen, enormously large) velocity. It is consequently possible to reduce the physical world from scores of elements to two or three elements (inasmuch as positive and negative electrons constitute “two essentially distinct kinds of matter”, as the physicist Pellat says – Rey, op. cit., pp. 294-95). Hence, natural science leads to the “unity of matter” (ibid.) – such is the real meaning of the statement about the disappearance of matter, its replacement by electricity, etc., which is leading so many people astray. “Matter disappears” means that the limit within which we have hitherto known matter disappears and that our knowledge is penetrating deeper; properties of matter are likewise disappearing which formerly seemed absolute, immutable, and primary (impenetrability, inertia, mass, etc.) and which are now revealed to be relative and characteristic only of certain states of matter. For the sole “property” of matter with whose recognition philosophical materialism is bound up is the property of being an objective reality, of existing outside the mind.

V.I.Lenin, Materialism and Empirio-criticism: Critical Comments on a Reactionary Philosophy, Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1975, 240-241

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Part five/to be continued…

Full text at Marxists Internet Archive

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Lenin: the recent revolution in natural science, and philosophical idealism

The 'indivisible' atom. 'With each epoch-making discovery even in the sphere of natural science, (materialism) has to change its form' (Engels)

The ‘indivisible’ atom. ‘With each epoch-making discovery even in the sphere of natural science, (materialism) has to change its form’ (Engels)

Engels says explicitly that “with each epoch-making discovery even in the sphere of natural science [“not to speak of the history of mankind”], materialism has to change its form” (Ludwig Feuerbach, German edition, p. 19). Hence, a revision of the “form” of Engels’ materialism, a revision of his natural-philosophical propositions is not only not “revisionism”, in the accepted meaning of the term, but, on the contrary, is an essential requirement of Marxism. We criticise the Machists not for making such a revision, but for their purely revisionist trick of betraying the essence of materialism under the guise of criticising its form and of adopting the fundamental propositions of reactionary bourgeois philosophy without making the slightest attempt to deal directly, frankly and definitely with assertions of Engels’ which are unquestionably of extreme importance for the given question, as, for example, his assertion that “…motion without matter is unthinkable” (Anti-Dühring, p. 50).

It goes without saying that in examining the connection between one of the schools of modern physicists and the rebirth of philosophical idealism, it is far from being our intention to deal with specific physical theories. What interests us exclusively is the epistemological conclusions that follow from certain definite propositions and generally known discoveries. These epistemological conclusions are of themselves so insistent that many physicists are already almost reaching them. What is more, there are already various trends among the physicists, and definite schools are beginning to be formed on this basis. Our object, therefore, will be confined to explaining clearly the essence of the difference between these various trends and the relation in which they stand to the fundamental lines of philosophy.

V.I.Lenin, Materialism and Empirio-criticism: Critical Comments on a Reactionary Philosophy, Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1975, 232-233

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Part one/to be continued…

Full text at Marxists Internet Archive

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Reply to Moshe – 1

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Hello Moshe,

Thank you for your kind reply. I agree, the world will never be perfect – far from it. We are animals, not gods. But each one of us has the greatest product of nature yet known to us, a powerhouse, between our ears. And with that, in my view, comes an obligation.

You have argued on your blog for the necessity of all to employ that powerhouse and do that most difficult of things – think for themselves, and to never stop thinking for themselves. To never accept anyone as their intellectual master. To stand on their own intellectual feet.

The ready supply of those dedicated to providing everyone else with their answers, with the skills to achieve it and the burden of individual responsibility work against this.

All of this, while of the greatest importance, depends on consciousness and thought. But there are three other points, more fundamental, which Marx showed us – building on several currents, particularly the methods, subtlety and poetry of mysticism no less.

That matter is primary, that the one (theoretical) absolute is change and that the forces of production constitute the base of social relations.

These three are unwilled, with their own dynamic. They are ‘at work’ in all that we do and, together with our ability to think and how successfully we engage this with these three, point to the future of our species.

We, imperfect as we are, have the ability to rise to the challenges of that future.

Best regards, Phil

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Patriarchal reason and dreaming: lucid dreaming

What the Man of Reason (linguistic, conceptual,  propositional and academic) refuses to acknowledge

What the Man of Reason (linguistic, conceptual, propositional and academic) refuses to acknowledge

ABC Radio National/All in The Mind/Dreams-the lucid experience 02.11.14

Stephen La Berge: The first thing is that people definitely like lucid dreaming, they find it a rewarding experience. It’s an unusual condition. I’m having this amazing control where I can do things that I didn’t think were possible. I can fly, for example. Walt Disney says that doing the impossible is kind of fun.

The second general area might be simulation or using the dream state to practice, and that ranges from things like athletic performance, musical performance, social interactions. People have described overcoming shyness, using it as a means of cognitive behaviour modification, overcoming fears. When you are lucid it still feels real, even though you know it’s not. So you know you are safe but you know if you are doing something like you’ve got stage or performance anxiety, as one person described in our book, he is going to play the violin in front of this big audience, so he is doing it in his dream. It still feels like he is in front of the big audience, and he feels a bit of trepidation, but he does it and it all works well and he feels great, and that then relieves his anxiety.

Then a third area is creativity, enhancing the possibilities of new ideas. For example, artists looking for a new painting would go in their lucid dream to open a door in the expectation that on the other side of this door will be a gallery showing new art. And indeed they open the door and there are these new paintings, and then you remember and then reproduce when they wake up. People have described using that as a means of getting new musical ideas, new ideas in computer programming and relationship management, all kinds of things that are basically using a creative synthesis of our abilities at night.

…Dreams have long had the reputation for being the way that people work through problems, get to the point of being able to let go of something, including for example having experience with an encounter with a dead loved one and being able to experience them in a way that lets you actually say goodbye and let go. So many different applications of healing in terms of the mental health level of overcoming nightmares, of facing your nightmares and working through them in a way that gives you a sense of empowerment that you can handle these fears within yourself. Just one final broad area is the idea of knowledge that lucid dreaming can give you an opportunity to have an encounter between the unconscious and conscious mind in the dream world that is difficult to arrive at in other places. And so that means self-encounter, self-exploration, then lucid dreaming is one of the ways to do that. It’s the levels that you can’t get elsewhere that I think are most important, and that is dreaming the impossible dream, doing what you can’t do while you are awake.

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A Materialist Critique of Cosmopolitanism: Part Seven

Legutko wrote regarding Pogge’s project for global reform that there is a ‘global regime’ and that Marxism is the best-known theory to explain its birth and existence, the traces of which theory ‘are easily identifiable’ in Pogge’s writing.57

Legutko writes ‘Whether Marxism as such can be reconciled with moral cosmopolitanism is a complex issue…I see no obvious reason why some aspects of this philosophy could not be so incorporated.’ He then gave three reasons for why this is not possible (?!):

i) that the existing institutional framework of this ‘deliberate human construction’ (the ‘global regime’) with its intended consequences, explained by Marxism and required by Pogge, can be removed and replaced.

What Marx identified and explicated was the unwilled base of this framework with its unintended consequences, how this base was reflected in the framework built on it, that any modification of that structure will not ‘get rid of’ its base and that the contradictions inherent in this base will instead result in the overthrow of that mode of production, taking its institutional framework and all its associated conscious intentions with it – ‘a step (Legutko writes) which, understandably, Pogge does not seem inclined to take.’

ii) moral cosmopolitanism ‘is primarily an ethical position, useful for the criticism of existing institutions (Pogge’s writing exemplifies this). Marx looked far deeper than and beyond criticism of existing institutions

iii) the Marxist interpretation contradicts ‘the initial message of moral cosmopolitanism (which ran from the Stoics through Kant), which was that of prudence and caution (my italics) in political restructuring’.

Benhabib’s recognition of the relationship between solidarity, integration and socioeconomic equality bears not only on proximate but distant others – particularly with regard to justice, rights and global poverty. She is correct to argue that redistribution and true recognition go hand in hand. But such theorising must inevitably lead to the global mode of production and the class relations structured on it.

For theorising about our care for distant others to be truly worthwhile it must be bound to material reality at every point, to how material reality functions. Cosmopolitan philosophy does not do this – it calls for institutional solutions within an economic structure based not on care but on exploitation, on a lack of care for others.

In failing to address the class nature of capitalism, such theorising undoes the bonds of consciousness and reason from their material base and positions the former two as primary to the latter. In so doing, it idealises the future.58

Cosmopolitan philosophy is the product of non-dialectical reason – it fails to show an understanding of the necessity of contradiction and change – both in reason and in the world (of which reason is a reflection), where they manifest as inevitable difference.

In my critique of cosmopolitanism it has been my purpose to assert that any theorising done regarding our care for ‘distant others’ should be done on a material basis – and having considered cosmopolitan philosophy from this perspective I have concluded that it cannot genuinely function as as vehicle for one’s concern for distant others. That is the task of internationalism.

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Notes

57. Ryszard Legutko, ‘Cosmopolitans and communitarians: A commentary’ in Chris Brown, Ed., Political Restructuring in Europe: Ethical Perspectives, Routledge, London, 2001, 230-31

58. ‘“The politician,” Rawls writes, “looks to the next election, the statesman to the next generation, and philosophy to the indefinite future.” Our task as philosophers requires that we try to imagine new, better political structures and different, better moral sentiments.’, Pogge, ‘An Egalitarian Law of Peoples’, op. cit., 224.

Lenin: The Theory of Knowledge of Dialectical Materialism

Sensations and Complexes of Sensations

For every scientist who has not been led astray by professorial philosophy, as well as for every materialist, sensation is indeed the direct connection between consciousness and the external world; it is the transformation of the energy of external excitation into the fact of consciousness. This transformation has been, and is, observed by each of us a million times on every hand. The sophism of idealist philosophy consists in the fact that it regards sensation as being not the connection between consciousness and the external world, but a fence, a wall, separating consciousness from the external world – not an image of the external phenomenon corresponding to the sensation, but as the “sole entity”. Avenarius gave but a slightly changed form to this old sophism, which had been already worn threadbare by Bishop Berkeley. Since we do not yet know all the conditions of the connection we are constantly observing between sensation and matter organised in a definite way, let us therefore acknowledge the existence of sensation alone – that is what the sophism of Avenarius amounts to.

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

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Part one/to be continued…

Lenin: Is Motion Without Matter Conceivable?

The fact that philosophical idealism is attempting to make use of the new physics, or that idealist conclusions are being drawn from the latter, is due not to the discovery of new kinds of substance and force, of matter and motion, but to the fact that an attempt is being made to conceive motion without matter. And it is the essence of this attempt which our Machists fail to examine. They were unwilling to take account of Engels’ statement that “motion without matter is unthinkable”. J. Dietzgen in 1869, in his The Nature of the Workings of the Human Mind, expressed the same idea as Engels, although, it is true, not without his usual muddled attempts to “reconcile” materialism and idealism. Let us leave aside these attempts, which are to a large extent to be explained by the fact that Dietzgen is arguing against Büchner’s non-dialectical materialism, and let us examine Dietzgen’s own statements on the question under consideration. He says: “They [the idealists] want to have the general without the particular, mind without matter, force without substance, science without experience or material, the absolute without the relative” (Das Wesen der menschlichen Kopfarbeit, 1903, S. 108). Thus the endeavour to divorce motion from matter, force from substance, Dietzgen associates with idealism, ranking it with the endeavour to divorce thought from the brain. “Liebig,” Dietzgen continues, “who is especially fond of straying from his inductive science into the field of speculation, says in the spirit of idealism: ‘force cannot be seen’” (109). “The spiritualist or the idealist believes in the spiritual, i.e., ghost-like and inexplicable, nature of force” (110). “The antithesis between force and matter is as old as the antithesis between idealism and materialism” (111). “Of course, there is no force without matter, no matter without force; forceless matter and matterless force are absurdities. If idealist natural scientists believe in the immaterial existence of forces, then on this point they are not natural scientists…but seers of ghosts” (114).

Thus we see that scientists who were prepared to assume that motion is conceivable without matter were to be encountered forty years ago too, and that “on this point” Dietzgen declared them to be seers of ghosts. What, then, is the connection between philosophical idealism and the divorce of matter from motion, the separation of substance from force? Is it not “more economical”, indeed, to conceive motion without matter?

Part one/to be continued…

V.I.Lenin, Materialism and Empirio-Criticism: Critical Comments on a Reactionary Philosophy, 1908, Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1977, pp. 246-254, 247