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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Lenin: the philosophical idealists – part four

There are the most subtle and powerful proofs for the existence of God – astonishing intellectual achievements, the work of towering philosophical geniuses. Then there is materialism – which explores the relationship between philosophy, ideology and the workingman’s sausage.

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The Criticism of Kantianism from the Left and from the Right (continued)

…Engels, as we have seen, rebuked Kant for being an agnostic, but not for deviating from consistent agnosticism. Lafargue, Engels’ disciple, argued in 1900 against the Kantians (amongst whom at that time was Charles Rappoport) as follows:

“…At the beginning of the nineteenth century our bourgeoisie, having completed its task of revolutionary destruction, began to repudiate its Voltairean and free-thinking philosophy. Catholicism, which the master decorator Chateaubriand painted in romantic colours (peinturlurait), was restored to fashion, and Sebastian Mercier imported the idealism of Kant in order to give the coup de grâce to the materialism of the Encyclopaedists, the propagandists of which had been guillotined by Robespierre.

“At the end of the nineteenth century, which will go down in history as the bourgeois century, the intellectuals attempted to crush the materialism of Marx and Engels beneath the philosophy of Kant. The reactionary movement started in Germany – without offence to the socialist integralistes who would like to ascribe the honour to their chief, Malon. But Malon himself had been to the school of Höchberg, Bernstein and the other disciples of Dühring, who were reforming Marxism in Zurich. [Lafargue is referring to the ideological movement in German socialism in the later seventies.] It is to be expected that Jaurès, Fournière and our other intellectuals will also treat us to Kant as soon as they have mastered his terminology…. Rappoport is mistaken when he assures us that for Marx the ‘ideal and the real are identical’. In the first place we never employ such metaphysical phraseology. An idea is as real as the object of which it is the reflection in the brain…. To provide a little recreation for the comrades who have to acquaint themselves with bourgeois philosophy, I shall explain the substance of this famous problem which has so much exercised spiritualist minds.

“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.”1

We have taken the liberty of making this long quotation in order to show how Lafargue understood Engels and how he criticised Kant from the left, not for those aspects of Kantianism which distinguish it from Humism, but for those which are common to both Kant and Hume; not for his assumption of the thing-in-itself, but for his inadequately materialist view of it.

Note

1. Paul Lafargue, ‘Le matérialisme de Marx et l’idéalisme de Kant’, Le Socialiste, February 25, 1900

V.I.Lenin, Materialism and Empirio-criticism: Critical Comments on a Reactionary Philosophy, Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1975, 184-186

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Part four/to be continued…

Full text at Marxists Internet Archive

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Lenin: the philosophical idealists – part three

The Criticism of Kantianism from the Left and from the Right (continued)

“The Kantian philosophy is a contradiction,” Feuerbach wrote to Bolin on March 26, 1858, “it inevitably leads either to Fichtean idealism or to sensationalism”. The former conclusion “belongs to the past”, the latter “to the present and the future” (Grün, op. cit., II, 49). We have already seen that Feuerbach advocates objective sensationalism, i.e., materialism. The new turn from Kant to agnosticism and idealism, to Hume and Berkeley, is undoubtedly reactionary, even from Feuerbach’s standpoint. And his ardent follower, Albrecht Rau, who together with the merits of Feuerbach also adopted his faults, which were overcome by Marx and Engels, criticised Kant wholly in the spirit of his teacher: “The Kantian philosophy is an amphibole [ambiguity]; it is both materialism and idealism, and the key to its essence lies in its dual nature. As a materialist or an empiricist, Kant cannot help conceding things an existence (Wesenheit) outside us. But as an idealist he could not rid himself of the prejudice that the soul is an entity totally different from sensible things. Hence there are real things and a human mind which apprehends those things. But how can the mind approach things totally different from itself? The way out adopted by Kant is as follows: the mind possesses certain a priori knowledge, in virtue of which things must appear to it as they do. Hence, the fact that we understand things as we do is a fact of our creation. For the mind which lives within us is nothing but the divine mind, and just as God created the world out of nothing, so the human mind creates out of things something which they are not in themselves. Thus Kant guarantees real things their existence as ‘things-in-themselves’. Kant, however, needed the soul, because immortality was for him a moral postulate. The ‘thing-in-itself’, gentlemen [says Rau, addressing the neo-Kantians in general and the muddleheaded A. Lange in particular, who falsified the History of Materialism], is what separates the idealism of Kant from the idealism of Berkeley; it forms a bridge between materialism and idealism. Such is my criticism of the Kantian philosophy, and let those who can refute it….” “For the materialist a distinction between a priori knowledge and the ‘thing-in-itself’ is absolutely superfluous, for since he nowhere breaks the continuity of nature, since he does not regard matter and mind as two fundamentally different things, but as two aspects of one and the same thing, he has no need of any special artifices in order to bring the mind and the thing into conjunction.”1

Note

1. Albrecht Rau, Ludwig Feuerbachs Philosophie, die Naturforschung und die philosophische Kritik der Gegenwart, Leipzig, 1882, S. 87-89

V.I.Lenin, Materialism and Empirio-criticism: Critical Comments on a Reactionary Philosophy, Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1975, 182-183

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Part three/to be continued…

Full text at Marxists Internet Archive

Lenin: the philosophical idealists – part two

The Criticism of Kantianism from the Left and from the Right (continued)

Another immanentist, Johannes Rehmke, reproached Kant because he realistically walled himself off from Berkeley with the thing-in-itself (Johannes Rehmke, Die Welt als Wahrnehmung und Begriff, Berlin, 1880, S. 9). “The philosophical activity of Kant bore an essentially polemical character: with the thing-in-itself he turned against German rationalism [i.e., the old fideism of the eighteenth century], and with pure contemplation against English empiricism” (25). “I would compare the Kantian thing-in-itself with a movable lid placed over a pit: the thing looks so innocent and safe; one steps on it and suddenly falls into… the ‘world-in-itself’” (27). That is why Kant is not liked by the comrades-in-arms of Mach and Avenarius, the immanentists; they do not like him because in some respects he approaches the “pit” of materialism!

And here are some examples of the criticism of Kant from the left. Feuerbach reproaches Kant not for his “realism”, but for his idealism, and describes his system as “idealism based on empiricism” (Werke, II, 296).

Here is a particularly important remark on Kant by Feuerbach. “Kant says: If we regard – as we should – the objects of our perceptions as mere appearances, we thereby admit that at the bottom of appearances is a thing-in-itself, although we do not know how it is actually constructed, but only know its appearance, i.e., the manner in which our senses are affected (affiziert) by this unknown something. Hence, our reason, by the very fact that it accepts appearances, also admits the existence of things-in-themselves; and to that extent we can say that to entertain an idea of such entities which lie at the base of appearances, and consequently are but thought entities, is not only permissible, but unavoidable….” Having selected a passage from Kant where the thing-in-itself is regarded merely as a mental thing, a thought entity, and not a real thing, Feuerbach directs his whole criticism against it. “…Therefore,” he says, “the objects of the senses [the objects of experience] are for the mind only appearances, and not truth…. Yet the thought entities are not actual objects for the mind! The Kantian philosophy is a contradiction between subject and object, between entity and existence, thinking and being. Entity is left to the mind, existence to the senses. Existence without entity [i.e., the existence of appearances without objective reality] is mere appearance – the sensible things – while entity without existence is mere thought – the thought entities, the noumena; they are thought of, but they lack existence – at least for us – and objectivity; they are the things-in-themselves, the true things, but they are not real things…. But what a contradiction, to sever truth from reality, reality from truth!” (Werke, II, S. 302-03). Feuerbach reproaches Kant not because he assumes things-in-themselves, but because he does not grant them reality, i.e., objective reality, because he regards them as mere thought, “thought entities”, and not as “entities possessing existence”, i.e., real and actually existing. Feuerbach rebukes Kant for deviating from materialism.

V.I.Lenin, Materialism and Empirio-criticism: Critical Comments on a Reactionary Philosophy, Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1975, 182-183

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Part two/to be continued…

Full text at Marxists Internet Archive

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

‘Transcendence’

And how does the materialist Engels – at the beginning of the article Engels explicitly and emphatically contrasts his materialism to agnosticism – refute the foregoing arguments?

“…Now, this line of reasoning seems undoubtedly hard to beat by mere argumentation. But before there was argumentation there was action. Im Anfang war die That. And human action had solved the difficulty long before human ingenuity invented it. The proof of the pudding is in the eating. From the moment we turn to our own use these objects, according to the qualities we perceive in them, we put to an infallible test the correctness or otherwise of our sense-perceptions. If these perceptions have been wrong, then our estimate of the use to which an object can be turned must also be wrong, and our attempt must fail. But if we succeed in accomplishing our aim, if we find that the object does agree with our idea of it, and does answer the purpose we intended it for, then that is positive proof that our perceptions of it and of its qualities, so far, agree with reality outside ourselves…”

Thus, the materialist theory, the theory of the reflection of objects by our mind, is here presented with absolute clarity: things exist outside us. Our perceptions and ideas are their images. Verification of these images, differentiation between true and false images, is given by practice. But let us listen to a little more of Engels (Bazarov at this point ends his quotation from Engels, or rather from Plekhanov, for he deems it unnecessary to deal with Engels himself):

“…And whenever we find ourselves face to face with a failure, then we generally are not long in making out the cause that made us fail; we find that the perception upon which we acted was either incomplete and superficial, or combined with the results of other perceptions in a way not warranted by them” (the Russian translation in On Historical Materialism is incorrect). “So long as we take care to train and to use our senses properly, and to keep our action within the limits prescribed by perceptions properly made and properly used, so long we shall find that the result of our action proves the conformity (Uebereinstimmung) of our perceptions with the objective (gegenständlich) nature of the things perceived. Not in one single instance, so far, have we been led to the conclusion that our sense-perceptions, scientifically controlled, induce in our minds ideas respecting the outer world that are, by their very nature, at variance with reality, or that there is an inherent incompatibility between the outer world and our sense-perceptions of it. …”

V.I.Lenin, Materialism and Empirio-criticism: Critical Comments on a Reactionary Philosophy, Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1975, 94-95

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Part five/to be continued…

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…

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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

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

The ‘Thing-in-Itself’ (continued)

The question at issue is Marx’s second Thesis on Feuerbach and Plekhanov’s translation of the word Diesseitigkeit.

Here is the second Thesis:

“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.”

Instead of “prove the this-sidedness of thinking” (a literal translation), Plekhanov has: prove that thinking “does not stop at this side of phenomena”. And Mr. V. Chernov cries: “The contradiction between Marx and Engels has been eliminated very simply…It appears as though Marx, like Engels, asserted the knowability of things-in-themselves and the ‘other-sidedness’ of thinking” (loc. cit., p. 34, note).

What can be done with a Voroshilov whose every phrase makes confusion worse confounded! It is sheer ignorance, Mr. Victor Chernov, not to know that all materialists assert the knowability of things-in-themselves. It is ignorance, Mr. Victor Chernov, or infinite slovenliness, to skip the very first phrase of the thesis and not to realise that the “objective truth” (gegenständliche Wahrheit) of thinking means nothing else than the existence of objects (“things-in-themselves”) truly reflected by thinking. It is sheer illiteracy, Mr. Victor Chernov, to assert that from Plekhanov’s paraphrase (Plekhanov gave a paraphrase and not a translation) “it appears as though” Marx defended the other-sidedness of thought. Because only the Humeans and the Kantians confine thought to “this side of phenomena”. But for all materialists, including those of the seventeenth century whom Bishop Berkeley demolished (see Introduction), “phenomena” are “things-for-us” or copies of the “objects in themselves”. Of course, Plekhanov’s free paraphrase is not obligatory for those who desire to know Marx himself, but it is obligatory to try to understand what Marx meant and not to prance about like a Voroshilov.

V.I.Lenin, Materialism and Empirio-criticism: Critical Comments on a Reactionary Philosophy, Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1975, 89

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Part three/to be continued…

Marx’s Theses on Feuerbach

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

The ‘Thing-in-Itself’

In the theory of knowledge, as in every other sphere of science, we must think dialectically, that is, we must not regard our knowledge as ready-made and unalterable, but must determine how knowledge emerges from ignorance, how incomplete, inexact knowledge becomes more complete and more exact.

Once we achieve the point of view that human knowledge develops from ignorance, we shall find millions of examples of it just as simple as the discovery of alizarin in coal tar, millions of observations not only in the history of science and technology but in the everyday life of each and every one of us that illustrate the transformation of “things-in-themselves” into “things-for-us”, the appearance of “phenomena” when our sense-organs experience an impact from external objects, the disappearance of “phenomena” when some obstacle prevents the action upon our sense-organs of an object which we know to exist. The sole and unavoidable deduction to be made from this – a deduction which all of us make in everyday practice and which materialism deliberately places at the foundation of its epistemology – is that outside us, and independently of us, there exist objects, things, bodies and that our perceptions are images of the external world.

V.I.Lenin, Materialism and Empirio-criticism: Critical Comments on a Reactionary Philosophy, Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1975, 88

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Part two/to be continued…