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Dialectics and Metaphysics

Prepared by the Leningrad Institute of Philosophy under the Direction of
M. Shirokov 1941

Dialectical materialism takes up a somewhat hostile attitude to metaphysics. Why is this ? It is because " the persistent problems of philosophy " are not, as is usually supposed, merely problems for thought, but problems in­ separably connected with stages in social development which carry with them contradictions insoluble at these particular levels.

For instance the failure of a pre-scientific world to under­ stand nature creates special intellectual problems for the philosophy of that period which only clear up when science advances. 

Or again, before the discovery of emergent evolution philosophy will be troubled with dualism and vitalism, and there will be no help for it.

These very problems of pre-Marxian philosophy indicate that men are not yet in the position to solve them. Now it is the false formulation of a problem that creates a philos­ophy. Restate it correctly and the problem disappears and so does the philosophy ! There are no insoluble problems in philosophy but only problems wrongly stated. Hence most contemporary metaphysics is due either to ignorance or to confusion of thought. The list of metaphysical problems which disappear as we proceed to higher organizational levels is a long one and in recent years a school of logical positivists has appeared which threatens to sweep the last of them away. In certain respects the logical-positivists approach the position of dialectical materialism but their view is a purely logical one and takes no cognizance of the changes in thought due to social evolution.

Ayer in his recent book, Language, Truth and Logic, says that metaphysics must eventually disappear, because it tries to say something about what is not matter of fact,whereas the only way to avoid senselessness is either to explain the use of the words and special terms we use (called by Ayer and Russell "symbols ") or to say something verifiable about matter of fact. To consider anything at ali as existing prior to and independent of the concrete is complete folly unless we are working out mere logical possibilities, clearing up the meaning of language, stating in advance how we propose to think, and what is going to count for us as proof. 

Apart from this, which is the real job of philosophy, the only other kind of truth ,is matter of fact, which must be verifiable İn principle by some future sense-experience. To affirm what is not empirically verifiable is to talk nonsense. Professor Schlick of Vienna, writes :
" What about metaphysics ? It is evident that our view entirely precludes the possibility of such a thing. Any cognition we can have of ' Being,' of the inmost nature of things, is gained entirely by the special sciences; they are the true ontology, and there can be no other. Each true scientific proposition expresses in some way the reaI nature of things-if it did not, it would simply not be true. So in regard to metaphysics the justification of our view is that it explains the vanity of all metaphysical efforts, which has shown itself in the hopeless variety of systems all struggling against each other. Most of the so­ called metaphysical propositions are no propositions at all, but meaningless combinations of words; and the rest are not ' metaphysical ' at all, they are simply concealed scientific statements, the truth or falsehood of which can be ascertained by the ordinary methods of experience and observation. (In the future) Metaphysical tendencies will be entirely abandoned, simply because there is no such thing as metaphysics, the apparent descriptions of it being just nonsensical phrases."

Dialectical Materialism and Contemporary Philosophy

The " logical-analytical method " of Wittgenstein and his followers is by no means the only modern philosophy that approximates in certain points to the new dialectic. Benedetto Croce, for all his errors, is condemning abstract­ness when he insists that philosophy is identical with history and that both are the self-conscİousness of life itself. Troeltsch, many of whose positions are open to the gravest criticism, is right when he insists that the fundamental philosophical question is what İs the main trend ofhistorical matter of fact and how does it dominate each special domain, such as law, education, art, politics, and philos­ ophy, and in his insistence that historical activism should supersede historical contemplation. Whitehead's energetic opposition to the whole Kantian bifurcation of nature and mind is a wholesome reaction from dualism.

It would appear, in fact, that not only are scientific discoveries confirming the standpoint of dialectical mater­ ialism but that Western philosophers are increasingly discarding metaphysical concepts, though still reluctant to accept an outlook which undermines the buttresses of the existing order.

There is, however, one tendency in recent Western philosophy with which the dialectical materialists are thoroughly familiar, though we are not as thoroughly acquainted as we should be with their treatment of it. This is due to an historical accident. In 1908 a group of leading Russian socialists living in exile in Capri, became profoundly interested in the new positivism of Mach and Avenarius. 

They proceeded to recast philosophical Marxism along positivist lines. Lenin at once saw that this philosophy was both unsound and also anti-socialist in its implications. He proceeded to write an exhaustive criticism which displayed a surprising knowledge of philosophy and a clear grasp of the question at issue. Lenin's Materialism and Empirio-Criticism has never been sufficiently appreciated by philosophers although it was one of the first and most trenchant criticisms of a sceptical system which so far from disappearing has grown widely in recent years. This scientific positivism has been popularized in recent years by Eddington, Bertrand Russell and others in science, and by Durkheim and Levy Bruhl in sociology. As Lenin rightly discerned, it opens wide the door to solipsism and superstition and has been eagerly seized upon by theologians to buttress irrationalism and supernaturalism. It therefore happens that this criticism as developed in modern dia­ lectical materialism is immediately relevant to much contemporary philosophy and surprisingly up-to-date.

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