Plant on Hegel: the importance of praxis to knowledge


Gustave Courbet, The Stonebreakers, oil on canvas, 1849. Destroyed, Dresden, Germany, 1945.

Theoretical mind is the attempt of the self-conscious person to take possession of the world through the exercise of the intellect, but Hegel argues that without the supplement of practical activity such a grasp cannot be achieved. In practical activity man transforms objects and once they are thus transformed by human activity, the products can be appropriated by the human intelligence. Full self-consciousness is achieved when the mind can fully elucidate its own relationship to the world in practical activity. This is a point of crucial importance. A conceptual grasp of an object can only be attained when that object has been formed and structured by human praxis

Accordingly, full self-consciousness is achieved when man can have a full grasp of the kinds of transformations which he has effected through his practical activity on a world which is not the mere product of his mind, but which can be shaped by his will, this process at the same time contributing to his own development as a person.

Raymond Plant, Hegel, An Introduction, Basil Blackwell, Oxford, 1983, 151-2


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

The ‘Thing-in-Itself’ (continued)

…it was immediately clear to Albert Lévy that the basic position not only of Marxian materialism but of every materialism, of “all earlier” materialism, is the recognition of real objects outside us, to which objects our ideas “correspond”. This elementary truth, which holds good for all materialism in general, is unknown only to the Russian Machists. Lévy continues:

“…On the other hand, Marx expresses regret that materialism had left it to idealism to appreciate the importance of the active forces [i.e., human practice]. It is these active forces which, according to Marx, must be wrested from idealism in order to integrate them into the materialist system; but it will of course be necessary to give these active forces the real and sensible character which idealism cannot grant them. Marx’s idea, then, is the following: just as to our ideas there correspond real objects outside us, so to our phenomenal activity there corresponds a real activity outside us, an activity of things. In this sense humanity partakes of the absolute, not only through theoretical knowledge but also through practical activity; thus all human activity acquires a dignity, a nobility, that permits it to advance hand in hand with theory. …”

Albert Lévy is a professor. And a proper professor cannot avoid abusing the materialists as being metaphysicians. For the professorial idealists, Humeans and Kantians every kind of materialism is “metaphysics”, because beyond the phenomenon (appearance, the thing-for-us) it discerns a reality outside us. A. Lévy is therefore essentially right when he says that in Marx’s opinion there corresponds to man’s “phenomenal activity” “an activity of things”, that is to say, human practice has not only a phenomenal (in the Humean and Kantian sense of the term), but an objectively real significance. The criterion of practice – as we shall show in detail in its proper place – has entirely different meanings for Mach and Marx. “Humanity partakes of the absolute” means that human knowledge reflects absolute truth; the practice of humanity, by verifying our ideas, corroborates what in those ideas corresponds to absolute truth. A. Lévy continues:

“…Having reached this point, Marx naturally encounters the objections of the critics. He has admitted the existence of things-in-themselves, of which our theory is the human translation; he cannot evade the usual objection: what assurance have you of the accuracy of the translation? What proof have you that the human mind gives you an objective truth? To this objection Marx replies in his second Thesis”.

V.I.Lenin, Materialism and Empirio-criticism: Critical Comments on a Reactionary Philosophy, Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1975, 90-91

Part four/to be continued…


Marx’s second Thesis on Feuerbach:

‘The question whether objective 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, i.e., the reality and power, the ‘this-sidedness’ of his thinking. The dispute over the reality or non-reality of thinking which is isolated from practice is a purely scholastic question.’

Marx’s Theses on Feuerbach