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


Part fourteen/to be continued…

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


Causality and Necessity in Nature (continued)

“From the contingency of order, purpose and law in nature, theism expressly infers their arbitrary origin; it infers the existence of a being distinct from nature which brings order, purpose, law into a nature that is in itself (an sich) chaotic (dissolute) and indifferent to all determination. The reason of the theists…is reason contradictory to nature, reason absolutely devoid of understanding of the essence of nature. The reason of the theists splits nature into two beings – one material, and the other formal or spiritual” (Werke, VII. Band, 1903, S. 518-20).

Thus Feuerbach recognises objective law in nature and objective causality, which are reflected only with approximate fidelity by human ideas of order, law and so forth. With Feuerbach the recognition of objective law in nature is inseparably connected with the recognition of the objective reality of the external world, of objects, bodies, things, reflected by our mind. Feuerbach’s views are consistently materialist. All other views, or rather, any other philosophical line on the question of causality, the denial of objective law, causality and necessity in nature, are justly regarded by Feuerbach as belonging to the fideist trend. For it is, indeed, clear that the subjectivist line on the question of causality, the deduction of the order and necessity of nature not from the external objective world, but from consciousness, reason, logic, and so forth, not only cuts human reason off from nature, not only opposes the former to the latter, but makes nature a part of reason, instead of regarding reason as a part of nature. The subjectivist line on the question of causality is philosophical idealism (varieties of which are the theories of causality of both Hume and Kant), i.e.., fideism, more or less weakened and diluted. The recognition of objective law in nature and the recognition that this law is reflected with approximate fidelity in the mind of man is materialism.

V.I.Lenin, Materialism and Empirio-criticism: Critical Comments on a Reactionary Philosophy, Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1975, 138-139


Part sixteen/to be continued…

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

Causality and Necessity in Nature

The question of causality is particularly important in determining the philosophical line of any of the recent “isms”, and we must therefore dwell on it in some detail.

Let us begin with an exposition of the materialist theory of knowledge on this point. Feuerbach’s views are expounded with particular clarity in his reply to R. Haym already referred to.

“‘Nature and human reason,’ says Haym, ‘are for him (Feuerbach) completely divorced, and between them a gulf is formed which cannot be spanned from one side or the other.’ Haym bases this reproach mainly on §48 of my Essence of Religion where it is said that ‘nature may be conceived only through nature itself, that its necessity is neither human nor logical, neither metaphysical nor mathematical, that nature alone is that being to which it is impossible to apply any human measure, although we compare and give names to its phenomena, in order to make them comprehensible to us, and in general apply human expressions and conceptions to them, as for example: order, purpose, law; and are obliged to do so because of the character of our language’. What does this mean? Does it mean that there is no order in nature, so that, for example, autumn may be succeeded by summer, spring by winter, winter by autumn? That there is no purpose, so that, for example, there is no co-ordination between the lungs and the air, between light and the eye, between sound and the ear? That there is no law, so that, for example, the earth may move now in an ellipse, now in a circle, that it may revolve around the sun now in a year, now in a quarter of an hour? What nonsense! What then is meant by this passage? Nothing more than to distinguish between that which belongs to nature and that which belongs to man; it does not assert that there is actually nothing in nature corresponding to the words or ideas of order, purpose, law. All that it does is to deny the identity between thought and being; it denies that they exist in nature exactly as they do in the head or mind of man. Order, purpose, law are words used by man to translate the acts of nature into his own language in order that he may understand them. These words are not devoid of meaning or of objective content (nicht sinn-, d. h. gegenstandlose Worte); nevertheless, a distinction must be made between the original and the translation. Order, purpose, law in the human sense express something arbitrary.

V.I.Lenin, Materialism and Empirio-criticism: Critical Comments on a Reactionary Philosophy, Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1975, 137-138


Part fifteen/to be continued…

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


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


 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


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


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


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


Part eight/to be continued…