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

 

Why I have such a high regard for Marx, Engels and Lenin

What is Matter? What is Experience? (continued)

One expression of the genius of Marx and Engels was that they despised pedantic playing with new words, erudite terms, and subtle “isms”, and said simply and plainly: there is a materialist line and an idealist line in philosophy, and between them there are various shades of agnosticism. The vain attempts to find a “new” point of view in philosophy betray the same poverty of mind that is revealed in similar efforts to create a “new” theory of value, a “new” theory of rent, and so forth.

V.I.Lenin, Materialism and Empirio-criticism: Critical Comments on a Reactionary Philosophy, Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1975, 130-131

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Part fourteen/to be continued…

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

Image sources: 1st/2nd/3rd

Lenin: Empirio-criticism and historical materialism – part eight

bird2_mini

Parties in Philosophy and Philosophical Blockheads (continued)

Once you deny objective reality, given us in sensation, you have already lost every weapon against fideism, for you have slipped into agnosticism or subjectivism – and that is all that fideism requires. If the perceptual world is objective reality, then the door is closed to every other “reality” or quasi-reality (remember that Bazarov believed the “realism” of the immanentists, who declare God to be a “real concept”). If the world is matter in motion, matter can and must be infinitely studied in the infinitely complex and detailed manifestations and ramifications of this motion, the motion of this matter; but beyond it, beyond the “physical”, external world, with which everyone is familiar, there can be nothing. And the hostility to materialism and the torrents of slander against the materialists are all in the order of things in civilised and democratic Europe. All this is going on to this day. All this is being concealed from the public by the Russian Machists, who have not once attempted even simply to compare the attacks made on materialism by Mach, Avenarius, Petzoldt and Co., with the statements made in favour of materialism by Feuerbach, Marx, Engels and J. Dietzgen. …

A single claw ensnared, and the bird is lost. And our Machists have all become ensnared in idealism, that is, in a diluted, subtle fideism; they became ensnared from the moment they took “sensation” not as an image of the external world but as a special “element”. It is nobody’s sensation, nobody’s mind, nobody’s spirit, nobody’s will – this is what one inevitably comes to if one does not recognise the materialist theory that the human mind reflects an objectively real external world.

V.I.Lenin, Materialism and Empirio-criticism: Critical Comments on a Reactionary Philosophy, Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1975, 323-325

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Part eight/to be continued…

Full text at Marxists Internet Archive

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The number of senses, free will, and productive reality

A good article on how we relate with and know the world – with (again) a useful lead-in by SelfAwarePatterns.

SelfAwarePatterns

Christian Jarrett has an interesting article at BBC Future on the number of senses that we have.

The principle of five basic human senses is often traced back to Aristotle’s De Anima (On the Soul), in which he devotes a separate chapter to vision, hearing, touch, smell and taste. Today, the five senses are considered such an elementary truth that it is sometimes used as a point of consensus before writers embark on more mysterious or contentious topics. “What do we actually mean by reality?” asked the author of a recent article in New Scientist magazine. “A straightforward answer is that it means everything that appears to our five senses.”

If only it were that simple. Simply defining what we mean by a “sense” leads you down a slippery slope into philosophy. One, somewhat vague, definition might argue that a human sense is simply a unique way for the…

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

What is Matter? What is Experience? (continued)

What is meant by giving a “definition”? It means essentially to bring a given concept within a more comprehensive concept. For example, when I give the definition “an ass is an animal”, I am bringing the concept “ass” within a more comprehensive concept. The question then is, are there more comprehensive concepts with which the theory of knowledge could operate than those of being and thinking, matter and sensation, physical and mental? No. These are the ultimate, most comprehensive concepts, which epistemology has in point of fact so far not surpassed (apart from changes in nomenclature, which are always possible).

One must be a charlatan or an utter blockhead to demand a “definition” of these two “series” of concepts of ultimate comprehensiveness which would not be a “mere repetition”: one or the other must be taken as primary. Take the three above-mentioned arguments on matter. What do they all amount to? To this, that these philosophers proceed from the mental, or the self, to the physical, or environment, as from the central term to the counter-term – or from sensation to matter, or from sense-perception to matter. Could Avenarius, Mach and Pearson in fact have given any other “definition” of these fundamental concepts, save by indicating the trend of their philosophical line? Could they have defined in any other way, in any specific way, what the self is, what sensation is, what sense-perception is? One has only to formulate the question clearly to realise what sheer nonsense the Machists talk when they demand that the materialists give a definition of matter which would not amount to a repetition of the proposition that matter, nature, being, the physical – is primary, and spirit, consciousness, sensation, the psychical – is secondary.

V.I.Lenin, Materialism and Empirio-criticism: Critical Comments on a Reactionary Philosophy, Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1975, 130

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Part thirteen/to be continued…

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

What is Matter? What is Experience? (continued)

…the English Machist, Pearson, a rabid antagonist of materialism, says: “Now there can be no scientific objection to our classifying certain more or less permanent groups of sense-impressions together and terming them matter, – to do so indeed leads us very near to John Stuart Mill’s definition of matter as a ‘permanent possibility of sensation’, – but this definition of matter then leads us entirely away from matter as the thing which moves” (The Grammar of Science, 2nd ed., 1900, p. 249). Here there is not even the fig-leaf of the “elements”, and the idealist openly stretches out a hand to the agnostic.

As the reader sees, all these arguments of the founders of empirio-criticism entirely and exclusively revolve around the old epistemological question of the relation of thinking to being, of sensation to the physical. It required the extreme naïveté of the Russian Machists to discern anything here that is even remotely related to “recent science”, or “recent positivism”. All the philosophers mentioned by us, some frankly, others guardedly, replace the fundamental philosophical line of materialism (from being to thinking, from matter to sensation) by the reverse line of idealism. Their denial of matter is the old familiar answer to epistemological problems, which consists in denying the existence of an external, objective source of our sensations, of an objective reality corresponding to our sensations. On the other hand, the recognition of the philosophical line denied by the idealists and agnostics is expressed in the definitions: matter is that which, acting upon our sense-organs, produces sensation; matter is the objective reality given to us in sensation, and so forth.

V.I.Lenin, Materialism and Empirio-criticism: Critical Comments on a Reactionary Philosophy, Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1975, 129

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 Part twelve/to be continued…

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

What is Matter? What is Experience?

The first of these questions is constantly being hurled by the idealists and agnostics, including the Machists, at the materialists; the second question by the materialists at the Machists. Let us try to make the point at issue clear.

Avenarius says on the subject of matter:

“Within the purified, ‘complete experience’ there is nothing ‘physical’ – ‘matter’ in the metaphysical absolute conception – for ‘matter’ according to this conception is only an abstraction; it would be the total of the counter-terms while abstracting from every central term. Just as in the principal co-ordination, that is, ‘complete experience’, a counter-term is inconceivable (undenkbar) without a central term, so ‘matter’ in the metaphysical absolute conception is a complete chimera (Unding)” (Notes, p. 2, in the journal cited, §119).

In all this gibberish one thing is evident, namely, that Avenarius calls the physical or matter absolute and metaphysics, for, according to his theory of the principal co-ordination (or, in the new way, “complete experience”), the counter-term is inseparable from the central term, the environment from the self; the non-self is inseparable from the self (as J. G. Fichte said). That this theory is disguised subjective idealism we have already shown, and the nature of Avenarius’ attacks on “matter” is quite obvious: the idealist denies physical being that is independent of the mind and therefore rejects the concept elaborated by philosophy for such being. That matter is “physical” (i.e.., that which is most familiar and immediately given to man, and the existence of which no one save an inmate of a lunatic asylum can doubt) is not denied by Avenarius; he only insists on the acceptance of “his” theory of the indissoluble connection between the environment and the self.

V.I.Lenin, Materialism and Empirio-criticism: Critical Comments on a Reactionary Philosophy, Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1975, 128-129

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Part eleven/to be continued…

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

The Criterion of Practice in the Theory of Knowledge (continued)

…Before we perceive, we breathe; we cannot exist without air, food and drink.

“Does this mean then that we must deal with questions of food and drink when examining the problem of the ideality or reality of the world? – exclaims the indignant idealist. How vile! What an offence against good manners soundly to trounce materialism in the scientific sense from the chair of philosophy and the pulpit of theology, only to practise materialism with all one’s heart and soul in the crudest form at the table d’hôte” (195). And Feuerbach exclaims that to identify subjective sensation with the objective world “is to identify pollution with procreation” (198).

A comment not of the politest order, but it hits the mark in the case of those philosophers who teach that sense-perception is the reality existing outside us.

The standpoint of life, of practice, should be first and fundamental in the theory of knowledge. And it inevitably leads to materialism, sweeping aside the endless fabrications of professorial scholasticism. Of course, we must not forget that the criterion of practice can never, in the nature of things, either confirm or refute any human idea completely. This criterion too is sufficiently “indefinite” not to allow human knowledge to become “absolute”, but at the same time it is sufficiently definite to wage a ruthless fight on all varieties of idealism and agnosticism. If what our practice confirms is the sole, ultimate and objective truth, then from this must follow the recognition that the only path to this truth is the path of science, which holds the materialist point of view.

V.I.Lenin, Materialism and Empirio-criticism: Critical Comments on a Reactionary Philosophy, Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1975, 126-127

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Part ten/to be continued…

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

The Criterion of Practice in the Theory of Knowledge

Feuerbach also, like Marx and Engels, makes an impermissible – from the point of view of Schulze, Fichte and Mach – “leap” to practice in the fundamental problems of epistemology. Criticising idealism, Feuerbach explains its essential nature by the following striking quotation from Fichte, which superbly demolishes Machism: “ ‘You assume,’ writes Fichte, ‘that things are real, that they exist outside of you, only because you see them, hear them and touch them. But vision, touch and hearing are only sensations…. You perceive, not the objects, but only your sensations,’ ” (Feuerbach, Werke, X. Band, S. 185). To which Feuerbach replies that a human being is not an abstract I, but either a man or woman, and the question whether the world is sensation can be compared to the question: is another human being my sensation, or do our relations in practical life prove the contrary? “The fundamental defect of idealism is precisely that it asks and answers the question of objectivity and subjectivity, of the reality or unreality of the world, only from the standpoint of theory” (ibid., 189). Feuerbach makes the sum-total of human practice the basis of the theory of knowledge. He says that idealists of course also recognise the reality of the I and the Thou in practical life. For the idealists “this point of view is valid only for practical life and not for speculation. But a speculation which contradicts life, which makes the standpoint of death, of a soul separated from the body, the standpoint of truth, is a dead and false speculation” (192). Before we perceive, we breathe; we cannot exist without air, food and drink.

V.I.Lenin, Materialism and Empirio-criticism: Critical Comments on a Reactionary Philosophy, Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1975, 125-126

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Part nine/to be continued…

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

The Criterion of Practice in the Theory of Knowledge

We have seen that Marx in 1845 and Engels in 1888 and 1892 placed the criterion of practice at the basis of the materialist theory of knowledge. “The dispute over the reality or non-reality of thinking which is isolated from practice is a purely scholastic question,” says Marx in his second Thesis on Feuerbach. The best refutation of Kantian and Humean agnosticism as well as of other philosophical crotchets (Schrullen) is practice, repeats Engels. “The success of our action proves the conformity (Uebereinstimmung) of our perceptions with the objective nature of the things perceived,” he says in reply to the agnostics.

Compare this with Mach’s argument about the criterion of practice: “In the common way of thinking and speaking appearance, illusion, is usually contrasted with reality. A pencil held in front of us in the air is seen as straight; when we dip it slantwise into water we see it as crooked. In the latter case we say that the pencil appears crooked but in reality it is straight. But what entitles us to declare one fact to be the reality, and to degrade the other to an appearance?…Our expectation, of course, is deceived when we fall into the natural error of expecting what we are accustomed to although the case is unusual. The facts are not to blame for that. In these cases, to speak of appearance may have a practical significance, but not a scientific significance. Similarly, the question which is often asked, whether the world is real or whether we merely dream it, is devoid of all scientific significance. Even the wildest dream is a fact as much as any other” (Analysis of Sensations, pp. 18-19).

It is true that not only is the wildest dream a fact, but also the wildest philosophy. It is impossible to doubt this after an acquaintance with the philosophy of Ernst Mach. As the very latest sophist, he confounds the scientific-historical and psychological investigation of human errors, of every “wild dream” of humanity, such as belief in sprites, hobgoblins, and so forth, with the epistemological distinction between truth and “wildness”. It is as if an economist were to say that Senior’s theory that the whole profit of the capitalist is obtained from the “last hour” of the worker’s labour and Marx’s theory are both facts, and that from the standpoint of science there is no point in asking which theory expresses objective truth and which – the prejudice of the bourgeoisie and the venality of its professors. The tanner Joseph Dietzgen regarded the scientific, i.e., the materialist, theory of knowledge as a “universal weapon against religious belief” (Kleinere philosophische Schriften [Smaller Philosophical Essays], S. 55), but for the professor-in-ordinary Ernst Mach the distinction between the materialist and the subjective-idealist theories of knowledge “is devoid of all scientific significance”! That science is non-partisan in the struggle of materialism against idealism and religion is a favourite idea not only of Mach but of all modern bourgeois professors, who are, as Dietzgen justly expresses it, “graduated flunkeys who stupefy the people by a twisted idealism” (op. cit., S. 53).

And a twisted professorial idealism it is, indeed, when the criterion of practice, which for every one of us distinguishes illusion from reality, is removed by Mach from the realm of science, from the realm of the theory of knowledge. Human practice proves the correctness of the materialist theory of knowledge, said Marx and Engels, who dubbed attempts to solve the fundamental question of epistemology without the aid of practice “scholastic” and “philosophical crotchets”. But for Mach practice is one thing and the theory of knowledge something quite different; they can be placed side by side without making the latter conditional on the former. In his last work, Knowledge and Error, Mach says: “Knowledge is always a biologically useful (förderndes) mental experience” (2nd German edition, p. 115). “Only success can separate knowledge from error” (116). “The concept is a physical working hypothesis” (143). With astonishing naïveté our Russian Machist would-be Marxists regard such phrases of Mach’s as proof that he comes close to Marxism. But Mach here comes just as close to Marxism as Bismarck to the labour movement, or Bishop Eulogius to democracy. With Mach such propositions stand side by side with his idealist theory of knowledge and do not determine the choice of one or another definite line of epistemology. Knowledge can be useful biologically, useful in human practice, useful for the preservation of  life, for the preservation of the species, only when it reflects objective truth, truth which is independent of man. For the materialist the “success” of human practice proves the correspondence between our ideas and the objective nature of the things we perceive. For the solipsist “success” is everything needed by me in practice, which can be regarded separately from the theory of knowledge. If we include the criterion of practice in the foundation of the theory of knowledge we inevitably arrive at materialism, says the Marxist. Let practice be materialist, says Mach, but theory is another matter.

V.I.Lenin, Materialism and Empirio-criticism: Critical Comments on a Reactionary Philosophy, Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1975, 122-123

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Part eight/to be continued…