Sunday, April 27, 2008


READING LENIN: Materialism and Empiro-criticism [ 12 ]
Thomas Riggins


SECTION THREE: "Causality and Necessity in Nature"

Lenin thinks the question of causality is important and wants to begin to look at this issue from the standpoint of materialist epistemology. To do this he turns to Feuerbach's criticism of the philosopher Rudolf Haym [1821-1901, member from the center right of the National Assembly at Frankfort in 1848 and best known for his 1857 biography of Hegel] who attacked him on this issue.

Feuerbach quotes what Haym says about Feuerbach's book "The Essence of Religion": "Nature and human reason are for [Feuerbach] completely divorced, and between them a gulf is formed which cannot be spanned from one side or the other."

Haym is responding to Feuerbach's statement in his book that we "apply human expressions and conceptions to [the phenomena of nature], as for example: order, purpose, law; and are obliged to do so because of the character of our language."

Feuerbach goes on to point out that the big split between nature and human reason that Haym sees is not really there. He says his statement "does not assert that there is actually nothing in nature corresponding to the words or ideas of order, purpose, law." He was just trying to deny their identity (Idealism).

Feuerbach in fact claims that it is theism that makes this division, not materialism. "The reason of the theists splits nature into two beings -- one material, and the other formal or spiritual." Lenin discusses this Feuerbach-Haym dispute and concludes, "Feuerbach's views are consistently materialist."

Lenin says, "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." We should keep in mind the expression APPROXIMATE FIDELITY as Lenin often gets a bit carried away and talks about PHOTOGRAPHIC equivalence which many interpret as ABSOLUTE FIDELITY. This may be too strong a claim.

Since Marx and Engels were influenced by Feuerbach (he was the bridge between them and Hegel his philosophy being a materialist mutation of Hegel's Objective Idealism), Lenin makes the following remark about Engels that "to anyone who has read his philosophical works at all attentively it must be clear that Engels does not admit even a shadow of doubt as to the existence of objective law, causality and necessity in nature."

Lenin now makes some comments about Joseph Dietzgen who had been portrayed by the Machists as a subjectivist with respect to causality. Lenin tells us that while "we can find plenty of confusion, inexactnesses and errors in Dietzgen" so that as a philosopher "he is not entirely consistent", nevertheless the Machist view of him is totally false. He was a materialist and, Lenin quotes him as saying "that 'the causal dependence' IS CONTAINED 'in the things themselves'."

Lenin now demonstrates that Avenarius' line on causality is the same as that of Hume and his agnosticism on this issue. Avenarius, just as Hume, says we do not observe "causes" in nature, ie., "necessity", "All we experience," says Avenarius, "is that the one [event] follows the other.... Necessity therefore expresses a particular degree of probability with which the effect is, or may be, expected." Lenin calls this "subjectivism." With the development of physics in the last one hundred years, especially quantum mechanics, this has become the standard scientific view regarding "causality" and Lenin appears to be wrong in this respect. Materialism can live with a probabilistic universe if it recognizes that probability is an objective feature of reality as it presents itself to us.

But Mach and Avenarius are not justified by these developments. Mach says, "In nature there is neither cause nor effect.... I have repeatedly demonstrated that all forms of the law of causality spring from subjective motives and that there is no necessity for nature to correspond with them."

Modern science and modern materialism detect probability frequencies as objective features of quantum interactions independent of "subjective motives." Since, as Lenin says, the real issue is whether causal connections are the result of "objective natural law or properties of our mind", there is nothing in modern science that does not support the materialist position.

Lenin deals in a similar fashion with Pearson (who says "MAN IS THE MAKER OF NATURAL LAW), Petzoldt (who says "Our thought demands definiteness from nature, and nature always accedes to this demand; we shall even see that in a certain sense it is compelled to accede to it"), Willy (who maintains "We have long known, from the time of Hume, that 'necessity' is a purely logical (not a 'transcendental' characteristic...".

Now, two new subjectivists pop up: Henri Poincare [1854-1912, world famous French scientist] ("The only true objective reality is the internal harmony of the world," and this does not exist except in us); and Philipp Frank [1884-1966, Austrian scientist who later became a logical positivist who taught at Harvard] ("experience merely fills in a framework which man brings with him by his very nature....").

All the above were anti-materialism, or at least agnostics, and the reason Lenin added them to his critique was because they only varied here and there from Hume and Kant. These variations led Yushkevich and other Russian Machists to hail them as producing new ideas in philosophy. Lenin thinks that nonsense. Lenin says the essence of these "new" viewpoints "does not necessarily lie in the repetition of Kant's formulation, but in the recognition of the fundamental idea COMMON to both Hume and Kant, viz., the denial of objective law in nature and the deduction of particular 'conditions of experience', particular principles, postulates and propositions FROM THE SUBJECT, from human consciousness, and not from nature."

Lenin then grants that the Russian Machists "would like to be Marxists" and have read Engels' views on causality but are utterly confused. Yushkevich [P.S. Yushkevich, 1873-1945 was a Russian Menshevick], for example, "preaches" a new fad called "empirio- symbolism" and informs us that energy, in his own words, "is just as little a thing, a substance, as time, space, mass and other fundamental concepts of science: energy is a constancy, an empirio-symbol, like other empirio-symbols that for a time satisfy the fundamental human need of introducing reason, Logos, into the irrational stream of experience."

And let us not forget Bogdanov's "Empirio-monism" where we can read that the laws of nature "are created by thought as a means of organising experience, of harmoniously co-ordinating it into a symmetrical whole."None of this derives from the thought of Marx or Engels but derives from the philosophy of Kant.

Next week we will pick up with Section Four "The 'Principle of Economy of Thought' and the problem of the 'Unity of the World.'"

Sunday, April 20, 2008


READING LENIN: Materialism and Empiro-criticism [ 11 ]
Thomas Riggins


SECTION ONE: "What is Matter? What is Experience"

Lenin says the first question is posed to the materialists while the second is put to the idealists (including the Machists) and agnostics. About 'matter' Avenarius says, "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...." This theory Lenin calls "disguised subjective idealism."

Mach says, "What we call matter is a certain systematic combination of the ELEMENTS (sensations)." This is also subjective idealism. Lenin also has a quote from Pearson's "The Grammar of Science" to the same effect. He also says that the Russian Machists are totally off base when they equate these views to those of modern science. They are simply the old views of the idealists dressed up in new clothing.

Matter, Lenin says, "is that which, acting upon our sense-organs produces sensation." Bogdanov doesn't like this formulation and complains that materialists are not advancing and that their arguments, in his words, "prove to be simple repetitions." This only shows his ignorance as there are in fact basically only two main lines in philosophy with regard to this issue.

"One expression," Lenin points out, "of the genius of Marx and Engels was that they despised pedantic playing with new words, erudite terms, and simple '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."

So much for "matter." Now, how is "experience" used in empirio-criticism?
I should say right off the bat that Lenin says "experience"-- the major concept of empirio-criticism -- is NOT clearly defined by the empirio-critics! With Avenarius it is vague and circular as when he says "pure experience is experience to which nothing is admixed that is not in its turn experience."

This is a definition which the philosopher A. Riehl in 1907 said "obviously revolves in a circle". And, Norman Kemp Smith, in "Mind" vol. XV, remarked, "The vagueness of the term 'experience' stands him in good stead, and so in the end Avenarius falls back on the time-worn argument of subjective idealism." Mach even goes so far as to say, "The acceptance of a divine original being is not contradictory to experience."

The confusion over this term can be seen in its use by Bogdanov. According to Lenin, when Bogdanov says, "consciousness and immediate mental experience are identical concepts" and that matter is "not experience" but "the unknown which evokes everything known" he is being an IDEALIST. Yet he is being a MATERIALIST when he says that those who go beyond experience only arrive at "empty abstractions and contradictory images, all the elements of which have nevertheless been taken from experience."

Mach in several works makes pronouncements in a materialist vein, so much so in fact that Lenin says he "instinctively accepts the customary standpoint of natural scientists, who regard experience materialistically."

All this goes to show that Engels was correct in saying there are only two fundamental positions with regard to "experience"-- i.e., the materialist and the idealist.


This is a short section where Lenin wants to correct a statement Plekhanov made in his book "L. Feuerbach". Plekhanov wrote, "A German writer has remarked that for empirio-criticism EXPERIENCE is only an object of investigation, and not a means of knowledge. If that is so, then the contrasting of empirio-criticism and materialism loses all meaning and discussion of the question whether or not empirio-criticism is destined to replace materialism is absolutely vain and idle." Lenin thinks this is a "complete muddle."

According to Lenin, Plekhanov must have had in mind, and not really understood, the following from Avenarius filtered through his disciple F. Carstanjen. Lenin says, "Fr. Carstanjen is almost literally quoting Avenarius, who in his "Notes" emphatically contrasts his conception of experience as a 'means of knowledge' in 'the sense of the prevailing theories of knowledge, which essentially are fully metaphysical."

Now, Carstanjen maintains that Avenarius did not investigate if experience , i.e., "all 'human predications', as the OBJECT of investigation" was real or not. What he did was simply classify "all possible human predications, BOTH IDEALIST AND MATERIALIST, without going into the essence of the question." As a result, Plekhanov's muddled conclusion above is unwarranted and in error.

Next week we will begin with Section Three of this chapter: "Causality and Necessity in Nature."

Wednesday, April 09, 2008