The purpose of bourgeois philosophy


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…’




A Materialist Critique of Cosmopolitanism: Part Two

Further, cosmopolitan morality is bound to an ideal.10 Couture and Nielsen wrote:

‘A cosmopolitan is a world citizen, but “world citizenship” should not be taken literally for it is basically the expression of a moral ideal. We, as the Stoics thought, should give our first allegiance to the moral community made up of the humanity of all human beings. We should always behave so as to treat with respect every human being, no matter where that person was born, no matter what the person’s class, rank, gender, or status may be. At the core of the cosmopolitan ideal is the idea that the life of everyone matters, and matters equally. This, in broad strokes, is the cosmopolitan moral ideal.’11

The orientation to and around the concept ‘ideal’ recurs throughout cosmopolitan theorising: Kok-Chor Tan writes of ‘the cosmopolitan egalitarian ideal that the terms of distributive justice ought to be defined independently of people’s national commitments’,12 Pogge writes that he is ‘guided by the cosmopolitan ideal of democracy’13 and of ‘an ideal world of reasonably just and well-ordered societies’ – although our world is ‘non-ideal’.14

Wallace Brown wrote ‘Kant’s theory of justice is an a priori ideal…Kantian justice is…meant to provide an ideal standard from which all existing civil legislation is to be judged. …As Kant argues, “such is the requirement of pure reason, which legislates a priori, regardless of all empirical ends.” ’15

Beitz wrote ‘We might begin by asking, in general, what relevance social ideals have for politics in the real world. Their most obvious function is to describe a goal toward which efforts at political change should aim. …Ideal theory…supplies a set of criteria for the formulation and criticism of strategies of political action in the non-ideal world, at least when the consequences of political action can be predicted with sufficient confidence to establish their relationship to the social ideal’16

O’Neill, critical of idealisation, argued that it can easily lead to error. ‘An assumption, and derivatively a theory, idealises when it ascribes predicates – often seen as enhanced, “ideal” predicates – that are false of the case in hand, and so denies predicates that are true of that case.’17

She adds that ‘ordinary processes of confirmation and testing are likely to detect and reject (idealisations). Idealisations are far more dangerous in practical reasoning, because it aims at guidance’18 Further, ‘A convincing conception of practical reasoning…must start from the gritty realities of human life’.19

She wrote that conceptions of practical reasoning may be divided into two broad types – teleological (Platonist) or action-oriented (which embody types or principles of action and are Kantian).

But there is a ‘third’ type of ‘practical reasoning’ – materialist. Both of the types O’Neill identified give priority to consciousness (as perfectionism) over that which is independent of it – ‘matter’.20 O’Neill puts her constructive approach forward as practical, yet she shies away metaphysically from a materialist theoretical basis – which lies not in the considered observation of ‘gritty reality’ but in the recognition and understanding of the necessary relationship between theory and practice – i.e. how theory arises from the abstraction of perception and is tested through practice in the material world.

Besch wrote: ‘The fact (if it is a fact) that I tend to accurately represent my environment does not supply me with a guideline by which I can avoid misrepresenting it, but supposes that I have some such guideline.’21 That guideline, the vehicle for ever deepening truth is praxis.

Lenin summarised the process: ‘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’22 The truth of knowledge is practically verified.

Part two/to be continued…


10. Any uncritical use of the concept ‘ideal’ or its derivatives is to place consciousness prior to matter – with one exception: ‘X is idealistic’ implies an emotional response to the world, not a linguistically reasoned position. Marx never theorised about communism because he knew that to do so would be to prioritise consciousness over the objective world. However ‘communism’ itself is an ideal which fails to cater for contingency and the profundity of contradiction which drives the world (which the theory of evolution does do). It is most noteworthy that two of the greatest dialecticians – Hegel and Marx – believed there was an ‘end point’ – either in the Prussian state or communism.

11. Jocelyne Couture and Kai Nielsen, ‘Cosmopolitanism and the compatriot priority principle’, in Gillian Brock and Harry Brighouse, Eds., The Political Philosophy of Cosmopolitanism, Cambridge UP, Cambridge, 2005, pp. 180-195, 183. They continue ‘To be committed to such an ideal involves understanding that we are part of and committed to the universal community of humanity whether there is anything actually answering to the idea of there being such a community or not. If we are at all tough-minded, we will realise there is no world community and that the actual world is more like a swinerai (pigsty).’ 184. A little further on they wrote ‘it is unfortunately only in ideal theory that we can find a global order that is just.’ Ibid., 189.

12. Kok-Chor Tan, ‘The demands of justice and national allegiances’, in The Political Philosophy of Cosmopolitanism, op. cit., Cambridge UP, Cambridge, 2005, pp. 164-179, 167.

13. Thomas, W. Pogge, ‘Cosmopolitanism and Sovereignty’ Ethics Vol. 103 No. 1 (Oct., 1992), pp. 48-75, 70.

14. Thomas W. Pogge, ‘An Egalitarian Law of Peoples’, Philosophy and Public Affairs, Vol. 23, No. 3 (Summer, 1994), pp. 195-224. pp. 201-202.

15. Garrett Wallace Brown ‘Kant’s Cosmopolitanism’, The Cosmopolitan Reader, op, cit., pp. 45-60, 49. Rawls, though not a cosmopolitan, was consistent with this, writing that Utopian requires the use of political/moral ideals, principles and concepts. John Rawls, The Law of Peoples, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, 1999, 14.

16. Charles R. Beitz ‘Justice and International Relations’, The Cosmopolitan Reader, op. cit., pp. 85-99,  97.

17. Onora O’Neill, Towards Justice and Virtue, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1996, 41.

18. Ibid., 42.

19. Ibid., 61.

20. ‘We have reconstructed O’Neill’s attempt to ground a Kantian constructivist conception of practical reasoning on a fundamental requirement of all reasoned thought, and we have seen that this attempt fails. …O’Neill’s case for Kantian constructivism…is self-defeating.’ Thomas M. Besch, ‘Constructing Practical Reason: O’Neill on the Grounds of Kantian Constructivism’, The Journal of Value Inquiry, vol. 42, no. 1, 2008, 74. Also, in failing, O’Neill’s ‘case about the scope of practical reasoning (shows that) there are perfectionist value judgements at the normative core of Kantian constructivism.’, Thomas M. Besch, ‘Kantian Constructivism, the Issue of Scope, and Perfectionism: O’Neill on Ethical Standing’, European Journal of Philosophy, vol. 19, no. 1, 2011, pp. 1-20, 2.

21. Ibid., 9.

22. V.I.Lenin, Collected Works, Vol., 38 (Philosophical Notebooks), Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1976, 171.

A Materialist Critique of Skepticism


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‘…all the early philosophers (said) that nothing could be cognised, apprehended, or known, because the senses were limited, our minds weak, and the course of our lives brief, while the truth had been submerged in an abyss’1

Philosophical skepticism, though derived from skepsis – ‘enquiry’, is a doubting – not of the world, that it exists, but of us – of the faculties that bind us to the world, of our abilities to sense and reason with regard to it. Skeptical self-doubting ranges from a perceived unreliability of sensation and reason to whether one can know anything about the world on the basis of them.

Rather than focusing on one period or philosopher, I will critique elements of skepticism which function throughout its history – elements often shared by both its proponents and those who believed they had a counter to it, in their arguing against it. My critique will be dialectical materialist, holding that ‘matter’ or objective reality is prior to its product consciousness and that objective reality functions according to laws of motion and change cognised scientifically.

The core of my argument will be that philosophical skepticism is a failure to understand our relationship with the world, which was summarised by Lenin: ‘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.’2 I aim to bring out the meaning of this sentence through my critique of skepticism.

Two concepts which profoundly orient and limit skeptical debate, as with philosophy generally, are ‘mind’ and ‘truth.’ In Annas and Barnes’s translation of Empiricus’s Outlines of Skepticism, for ‘mind’ they use the word ‘intellect.’3 For Cicero the ‘mind’ is the source of and identical to the senses.4 Montaigne wrote of ‘our minds.’5 Descartes wrote of his.6

Not only are there no ‘minds,’ only brains in bodies, the concept ‘mind’ is burdened with a history of separation and patriarchy with its associated dualisms7 and its use prevents philosophical discussion from fully engaging with and absorbing scientific developments. ‘Mind’ directs away from the world. Of our brains, of what we do not know or understand, it is appropriate to say that we do not know or understand now, thereby leaving future research open.8

Part one/to be continued…


1. Cicero, On Academic Scepticism, Trans., Charles Brittain, Hackett Publishing, Indianapolis, 2006, 106

2. V.I. Lenin, Collected Works, Vol., 38 (Philosophical Notebooks), Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1976, 171

3. For example ‘Suspension of judgement is a standstill of the intellect…’ Sextus Empiricus, Sextus Empiricus: Outlines of Scepticism, Trans., Julia Annas and Jonathan Barnes, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1994, 5.

4. ‘For the mind, which is the source of the senses and is even itself identical to the senses, has a natural power it directs at the things by which it is moved.’ On Academic Scepticism, op. cit., 19-20.

5. Michel de Montaigne, ‘An Apology for Raymond Sebond’ The Complete Essays, Trans., M.A. Screech, Penguin, London, 2003, 667

6. ‘it is certain that I, that is to say my mind, by which I am what I am, is entirely and truly distinct from my body, and may exist without it.’ ‘For it is, it seems to me, the function of the mind alone, and not of the composition of mind and body, to know the truth of these things.’ René Descartes, Discourse on Method and The Meditations, Trans., F.E. Sutcliffe, Penguin, London, 1968, pp. 156, 161. Also ‘I never asked “Am I a mind?” I begin with the discovery of myself as a thinking thing, which then provides a content for the concept of ‘mind’. …Nor have I assumed that mind is incorporeal. I demonstrate that it is, in the Sixth Meditation.’ Réne Descartes, Meditations on First Philosophy, Trans., Michael Moriarty, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2008, 222.

7. Anaxagoras believed that nous put motion into the world but remained apart; there is the obvious Christian history of the ‘Mind’ of ‘our Father’ God; the dualisms, including reason/emotion, nature/nurture are all a denigration of the female.

8. That Helios drove the chariot of the sun was at least poetic.


Lenin on Matter: Part Five

The destructibility of the atom, its inexhaustibility, the mutability of all forms of matter and of its motion, have always been the stronghold of dialectical materialism. All boundaries in nature are conditional, relative, movable, and express the gradual approximation of our mind towards knowledge of matter. But this does not in any way prove that nature, matter itself, is a symbol, a conventional sign, i.e., the product of our mind. The electron is to the atom as a full stop in this book is to the size of a building 200 feet long, 100 feet broad, and 50 feet high (Lodge); it moves with a velocity as high as 270,000 kilometres per second; its mass is a function of its velocity; it makes 500 trillion revolutions in a second – all this is much more complicated than the old mechanics; but it is, nevertheless, movement of matter in space and time. Human reason has discovered many amazing things in nature and will discover still more, and will thereby increase its power over nature. But this does not mean that nature is the creation of our mind or of abstract mind, i.e., of Ward’s God, Bogdanov’s “substitution”, etc.

V.I.Lenin, Materialism and Empirio-Criticism: Critical Comments on a Reactionary Philosophy, 1908, Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1975, p. 262

Part Five/To be continued…

Lenin on Matter: Part Four

Matter has disappeared, they tell us, wishing from this to draw epistemological conclusions. But has thought remained? – we ask. If not, if with the disappearance of matter thought has also disappeared, if with the disappearance of the brain and nervous system ideas and sensations, too, have disappeared – then it follows that everything has disappeared, and your argument as a sample of “thought” (or lack of thought) has disappeared. But if thought has remained – if it is assumed that with the disappearance of matter, thought (idea, sensation, etc.) does not disappear, then you have surreptitiously gone over to the standpoint of philosophical idealism. And this always happens with people who wish, for the sake of “economy”, to conceive of motion without matter, for tacitly, by the very fact that they continue their argument, they are acknowledging the existence of thought after the disappearance of matter. This means that a very simple, or a very complex philosophical idealism is taken as a basis; a very simple one, if it is a case of frank solipsism (I exist, and the world is only my sensation): a very complex one, if instead of the thought, ideas and sensations of a living person, a dead abstraction is taken, that is, nobody’s thought, nobody’s idea, nobody’s sensation, but thought in general (the Absolute Idea, the Universal Will, etc.), sensation as an indeterminate “element”, the “psychical”, which is substituted for the whole of physical nature, etc., etc. Thousands of shades of varieties of philosophical idealism are possible and it is always possible to create a thousand and first shade; and to the author of this thousand and first little system (empirio-monism, for example) what distinguishes it from the rest may appear important. From the standpoint of materialism, however, these distinctions are absolutely unessential. What is essential is the point of departure. What is essential is that the attempt to think of motion without matter smuggles in thought divorced from matter – and that is philosophical idealism.

V.I.Lenin, Materialism and Empirio-Criticism: Critical Comments on a Reactionary Philosophy, 1908, Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1975, pp. 248-49

Part Four/To be continued…