Sunday, March 09, 2008


READING LENIN: Materialism and Empiro-criticism [ 7 ]
Thomas Riggins


After reading some of the philosophers reviewed by Lenin you might agree that they are not using their brains when they think, but that would be wrong. Bazarov, Lenin tells us, certainly thinks the answer to the above question is yes. Bazarov says if you say " 'every mental process is a function of the cerebral process', then neither Mach nor Avenarius would dispute it." But Lenin says Bazarov is wrong and doesn't really understand what is at issue. Avenarius, for example, Lenin writes, explicitly says, "Sensations are not 'psychical functions of the brain'."

Materialism says just the opposite: "Thought and consciousness are products of the human brain," (Engels: Anti-Duhring). This is also the view of modern science. But Avenarius, Lenin points out, "rejects this materialist standpoint and says that 'the thinking brain' is a 'FETISH OF NATURAL SCIENCE' " (The Human Concept of the World).

He, as well as Mach, thinks that science is mistaken in adopting the common sense materialist view. He says that science is engaged in making an incorrect INTROJECTION when it puts the external world that we experience inside of us-- i.e., in our brains and "in our central nervous system." Lenin will let Bogdanov explain what Avenarius means.

Bogdanov maintains that Avenarius is trying to avoid IDEALISM with his theory of INTROJECTION. According to Bogdanov, the "gist" of the theory is developed to answer the problems of the dualism of mind and body and goes like this: we have direct acquaintance with physical objects including other people. We don't have direct acquaintance with the "mind" of another person, so we postulate it as an "hypothesis ." We think the other person's "mind" is IN his body; the person's experiences "are inserted (introjected) into his organism." But Avenarius thinks this is "a superfluous hypothesis" and is responsible for the contradictions arising from mind/body dualism. If we refuse to introject we won't have mind/body dualism hence we avoid IDEALISM. This is what Bogdanov believes.

Indeed! Lenin says Bogdanov "swallowed the bait" that Avenarius' real target was IDEALISM. Avenarius' main theory is, Lenin reminds us, that "of the 'indissoluble' connection of the 'complete' experience, which includes not only the SELF but also the tree [that we are experiencing], i.e., the environment." Our experience is one unified reality self/tree NOT two realities a tree AND a refection of the tree in our brain.

Avenarius may have a point about what our experience IS but should we STOP there or can we try to further explain what is involved with that experience. Avenarius wants to explain the world from the GIVEN, but perhaps there is more to the "given" than meets the eye. At least Lenin thinks so and that is why he is a materialist.

What Bogdanov failed to understand, according to Lenin, is that in the theory of "introjection" Avenarius "refuted" Idealism "only insofar as he 'refutes' the existence of the object without the subject, matter without thought, the external world independent of our sensations; that is, it is refuted IDEALISTICALLY." The way that mind body dualism is refuted by materialism is "that the mind does not exist independently of the body, that mind is secondary, a function of the brain, a reflection of the external world." What could Bogdanov have been thinking when 16 years after this was written the Soviet Government delivered Lenin's brain to him at his new institute with instructions to reanimate it? Its still on the shelf, unfortunately.

Even while Bogdanov and the Russian Machists were misunderstanding Avenarius and pushing their own philosophy of "empirio-monism" under the guise of a revamped Marxism, Avenarius' own followers in the West had come to reject his theory of "introjection" as unscientific and as just another form of the Idealism it had claimed to overcome. This leads Lenin to remark that, "The Russian Machists will soon be like the fashion-lovers who are moved to ecstasy over a hat which has already been discarded by the bourgeois philosophers of Europe."


Por fin! We have arrived at the end of chapter one. This section is only a few pages long and it sums up the entire chapter. Lenin has established that empirio-criticism is based on SUBJECTIVE IDEALISM: "The world is our sensation --- this is the fundamental premise, which is obscured but in no wise altered by the word 'element' and by the theories of the 'independent series', 'co-ordination', and 'introjection'."

To hammer home his contention that the philosophy of Mach and Avenarius is a form of SOLIPSISM (only the thinking subject is known to exist-- i.e., for any person such as you, only you exist) and unscientific, Lenin ends the chapter with a quote from the great Austrian physicist L. Boltzmann (1844 - 1906 ): "What is immediately given is only the sense-impression, or only the one thought, namely, the one we are thinking at the present moment. Hence, to be consistent, one would have to deny not only the existence of other people outside one's SELF, but also all conceptions we ever had in the past." This is ridiculous ERGO so is empirio-criticism. Nevertheless, there are five more chapters in Lenin's book, so next Sunday we will review the first two sections of chapter two, "The Theory of Knowledge of Empirio-Criticism and of Dialectical Materialism II ".

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