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


Part two/to be continued…

Full text at Marxists Internet Archive