Header Ads

Header ADS


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

Kant’s great contribution to philosophy lay in the combination he effected between reason and experimental fact.

Hume had not only dissolved the soul into a succession of experiences; using the same argument he overthrew the whole conception of law on which both Descartes and Spinoza had built up their rational universes. Hume argued that we can never prove cause and effect, we merely infer it from the frequent occurrence of two successive phenomena. It is merely mental habit that makes us think that if the first phenomenon occurs the second is bound to follow. A law is simply a convenient formula summing up what usually happens. We have no guarantee that the sequences hitherto observed will reappear in future experience.

Now materialism had attacked religion in the name of science and philosophy. Then Berkeley had refuted materialism with its own arguments about matter and sense impressions, but now Berkeley’s doctrine of experience in the hands of Hume has overthrown the doctrine of the soul, the necessity for God, the rationality of the universe and the very existence of science itself.

Someone was badly needed to rescue religion more effectively than Berkeley and also to rescue science. This Kant did by pointing out that Locke was wrong in imagining that a series of impressions falling on the brain could build themselves up into a systematic picture of the universe. They could not do this but for the inherited structure of the mind. All knowledge needs two factors, sense data and pre-existing mental forms in which to fit them. These mental forms make up the empty framework of a perfectly rational universe. We cannot apprehend anything at all without using this already functioning notion of a rational world in which cause and effect links all phenomena. Hence all the facts we absorb simply fill out this picture and cannot be to us other than orderly facts. In practice therefore we never get the scheme of a scientific world without multitudes of facts to prove it, but all those facts have only entered the mind through the gateways of the logical forms so that they could never be to us other than logical.

This ingenious justification of science leads straight to those modern scientific conceptions which explain scientific theories as symbols, convenient fictions or arbitrary forms. It is really the profoundest scepticism. Things as they really are can never be known. Our subjectivism is double, not only are our experiences Subjective but the forms which order them and build there up into our experience of an objective world are subjective too.

Now the mental machine which produces for us a scientific world cannot by its very nature give us anything else. It is therefore useless to ask it to prove the existence of God or speak to us of goodness and beauty. But the mental machine is only a part of the mind. It has other faculties equally valid and important. We are not always thinking scientifically. The practical5 reason, as opposed to the scientific reason, gives us our power to apprehend God and duty.

In our day Bergson has given us his own version of Kant. Reason is a tool for doing things with the world. Intuition is a direct apprehension of the entirely irrational world as it is in itself. The scientist investigates part of the world and investigates it for a special purpose. He assumes that part of the world to be a machine. He therefore further assumes that the whole universe is an aggregation of machine-like bits and makes up one big machine. But the scientific abstraction kills what it dissects out, freezes what it immobilizes, and is wholly false to life as a living, moving whole. Life itself is apprehended not by reason or science but by intuition. Thus Bergson grows out of Kant and at the same time helps to explain his great forerunner.

Lenin described the philosophy of Kant as

“a reconciliation of materialism with idealism, a compromise between the two, a combination in one system of heterogeneous, opposed philosophical tendencies. When Kant allows that to our representations there corresponds something outside us, something in itself, he is a materialist. When he declares this ‘thing in itself’ to be unknowable, transcendental, of another world, he is an idealist.”

What is valuable in Kant’s theory is his demonstration that there is no nature for us that is not made over by social man. That man does not stand over against nature contemplating it as an unpeopled universe, but is himself an active part of the nature he is observing. Mind is active and science is not a photograph of the physical universe but the product of man’s activity upon nature and nature’s corresponding reaction upon man. There is no “nature in itself” but only “nature for man.”

But why should that mean that human science is a fiction or other than a genuine reflection of an objective world? The most that it can mean is that it is partial and incomplete, which may be readily admitted. But it is true as far as it goes and it is always going farther. From this point of view there is not the slightest need to make a mystery of man’s apprehension of the non-physical side of nature as though this required another type of reason. It is the same reason but concerned with other and sometimes wider aspects. In fact apart from these wider social ideas and plans the narrower tasks of science would never be attempted, for it is civilization as a whole that gives the scientist and the specialist their jobs.

Out of Kant’s idealism grew the systems of Fichte, Schelling and Hegel, all of which criticized him while building upon him. By far the most important was Hegel’s. Hegel, like Spinoza, believed that the world was one rational system and that everything was interconnected. In order to understand anything it must be seen in all its relations. Now this is the basis of Hegel’s distinction between appearance and reality. Kant’s distinction was between scientific appearance, the world as known to reason, and the reality of things in themselves, the world not known to anybody. Hegel’s distinction is between appearances which are partial and incomplete, like Bergson’s view of science, and reality which is all-embracing and complete, like Bergson’s whole world as apprehended by intuition.

Now most of experience is obviously partial. It will therefore show manifest signs of incompleteness if carefully examined. It will be seen to imply other things on its fringe or on which it depends just as one small portion of a picture really implies the whole composition. Now if reason gets to work on any portion of experience and seeks to find out all that is implied in that experience, including the contrary truths which the very existence of so many truths imply, reason will be driven onward to include more and more in its embrace, ever seeking to clear up seeming contradictions until at last it includes all the facts and the whole truth and there are no more contradictions and partialities. This final truth will be the whole truth about everything.

Now this mental process of passing from the part to the whole, from the self-contradictory to the self-consistent is the dialectic. Is it, we now have to ask, a purely mental activity, which a sufficiently powerful mind could engage in with nothing to start with but a chip of concrete reality and at last come to know everything? Or is it a real historical unfolding of all the implications of a universe in embryo, like a chick growing from an egg?

The first alternative suggests a palacontologist reconstructing a prehistoric monster from a single bone, or a detective reconstructing a crime from a single clue. The second suggests the evolutionary process as the working out of the potentialities of the universe.

Hegel himself seems to have meant both. But by the expanding, unfolding universe he meant, among other things, the development of Absolute Spirit itself. It was here that Hegel was a pure idealist. But in so far as he never splits the world in two, never thinks for a moment of mere mind, as Berkeley did, never considers spirit as opposed to matter, as Descartes did, but, like Spinoza, holds firmly to substance as containing within it both mind and matter and constituting one Universe, Hegel is always thinking of the concrete working out of the pageant of history, of biological evolution, of political and legal institutions. He is a realist all the time. But because he is an idealist too he sees all these solid, concrete things as manifestations of the unfolding of objective spirit, whose moments are not only individual consciousnesses but also all the creations of human thought, all forms of society, all aspects of the State, in a word, all that exists.

Heraclitus had spoken of the continuous transition of phenomena from non-existence to existence and vice versa. There is a perpetual flux from one form to another, from the unity of opposites into their division and from the division back to unity. This inspired guess Hegel turned into the basic principle of a new logic worked out by himself, and on this base he constructed a whole system of philosophy to show how “absolute spirit,” objective consciousness, is developed from “nothing,” a pure abstraction, into an absolute idea which grasps all and contains all in itself. There is no doubt that the absolute spirit of Hegel is that same God, that same divine reason which as it were realizes itself in human history in the productions of philosophy, art, law and in social institutions. Hegel, however, made God descend from his immutable perfection and proceed along the path of development, contending with himself and enriching himself with new content. But how, according to Hegel, does absolute spirit make its dialectical way, how does this dialectical process of development take place? Hegel sees the essence of development in the unity and strife of opposites, in the fact that every phenomenon contains an internal contradiction that drives it forward and brings it ultimately to destruction and the transition to something else. However, the destruction of one phenomenon is at the same time the emergence of a new one which denies the last phenomenon but also contains it in itself. Hegel demonstrates this idea by citing the history of philosophy, of art, and the material of human history. One philosophic system changes itself to another. Every philosopher down to Hegel held his system to be absolute truth and all previous systems to be delusions, but Hegel showed that such a view is naive, that every philosophic system is a step in the development of absolute spirit. Absolute spirit in every historical epoch knows itself in the form of a definite philosophy that corresponds to the historical content of the given stage of its development. In another epoch this form appears as antiquated and yields place to its successor, which denies it and at the same time contains in itself the positive content of the superseded philosophy. “The philosophy, latest in time, is the result of all preceding philosophies and therefore must include them all in itself.” The same holds true of religion, law, art, and social institutions. All these fields of absolute spirit were studied by Hegel as connected with one another, and were found to be in close mutual relations. Hegel taught that “only in the presence of a given form of religion can a given form of State structure exist, only in the presence of a given State structure can a given philosophy and a given art exist.”

But Hegel was seeking the fundamental cause of the historic process, the principle which determines the dialectic of development of nature and society, seeking it in the development of contradictions within absolute spirit, which finds in nature and society its own form of disclosure and development, whereas Marx saw this basic cause in the very real contradictions of the material processes both in nature and society.

When Napoleon tried by means of the bayonets of his army to introduce bourgeois relationships into Germany, Hegel, who at that time was creating his dialectical method, was in sympathy with the French Revolution and greeted the entry of the Napoleonic troops into Jena as the historical incarnation of a new form of absolute spirit. They say he then called Napoleon “the absolute spirit on a white charger.” But twenty years later, when the feudal monarchy of Frederick William III was being consolidated in Germany, Hegel had lost his revolutionary ideas and had become the State philosopher of the Prussian monarchy.

The dialectical method had made it possible for Hegel in his youth to generalize in idealistic form all the scientific experience of his time, all the course of the historic process, and from idealistic, perverted positions to criticize the one-sided, mechanistic methods which the science of his day was using. Hegel harshly criticized the completely formal logic that ruled up to his time, disclosed its internal contradiction and showed the impossibility of understanding dialectical processes on its basis. Hegel first formulated in idealistic form universal laws for the development, the transition of certain phenomena into other phenomena. These phenomena proceed, according to Hegel, by means of “a negation of a negation.” Marx in The Poverty of Philosophy expounds this theory of Hegel as follows:

“But once it has placed itself in thesis, this thought, opposed to itself, doubles itself into two contradictory thoughts, the positive and the negative, the ‘yes’ and the ‘no.’ The struggle of these two antagonistic elements, comprised in the antithesis, constitutes the dialectic movement. The yes becoming no, the no becoming yes, the yes becoming at once yes and no, the no becoming at once no and yes, the contraries balance themselves, neutralize themselves, paralyse themselves. The fusion of these two contradictory thoughts constitutes a new thought which is the synthesis of the two. This new thought unfolds itself again in two contradictory thoughts which are confounded in their turn in a new synthesis. From this travail is born a group of thoughts. This group of thoughts follows the same dialectic movement as a simple category, and has for antithesis a contradictory group. From these two groups is born a new group of thoughts which is the synthesis of them. As from the dialectic movement of simple categories is born the group, so from the dialectic movement of the groups is born the series, and from the dialectic movement of the series is born the whole system.”6

Thanks to such a development of absolute spirit by means of its internal contradictions, no one stage of it is fortuitous, but each flows out of all the preceding history that it contains in itself. “Everything that is real,” said Hegel, “is rational, and everything that is rational is real.” By this Hegel meant to say that all existing social institutions and forms of ideology are determined by the development of absolute spirit, are steps in the movement of reason. Here Hegel is formulating his idealistic principle of dialectic; the development of reason is also the development of reality. This proposition has served as the ground for charging Hegel with reactionary tendencies, with justifying every infamy, every social tyranny, since for him everything that exists is rational. Hegel in the last years of his life was indeed inclined thus to interpret this dialectical proposition of his, it was also used thus by an official philosophy mainly concerned with self-preservation. Hegel’s philosophy at one time became the official philosophy of the Prussian monarchy. We know that this idea in Russia too was the cause of much agony of thought in such people as Belinsky, who could not persuade themselves that the regime of Nicholas was rational merely because it existed! But Hegel’s dialectical method offered foundations for quite different social conclusions. Because, granted that that which is rational is real, then if the real should prove to be irrational and cease to correspond with its idea, it means, according to Hegel, that it has become antiquated, doomed and subject to destruction. The monarchy was irrational, therefore it was unreal. The monarchy exists, but the moment it becomes irrational it has already ceased to have its roots in life, in reality, it no longer corresponds to the new stage in the development of society and therefore must perish. Thus the Left-Hegelians were able to interpret this proposition of Hegel so as to aid them in the struggle with the monarchical order and religion. They were able to show that Christianity and religion are irrational and therefore must perish, and so it is necessary to contend with them. Thus the Russian Hegelians argued also, fighting against Tsarism. They proved the irrationality, backwardness, and savagery of the Tsarist regime and hence the necessity for its overthrow, and they sounded the call to fight against it.

The main contradiction of Hegel’s philosophy is reflected in the fact that the proposition we have quoted can be interpreted in two opposite ways at once.

In Hegel’s philosophy we find an expression of the ambiguity of the ideology of the bourgeoisie of that time—the progressive and the reactionary sides of it. On one side it is characterized by a desire to destroy everything that is antiquated, irrational and doomed to pass away, and to replace it with the new that has grown within the womb of the old; on the other side it is characterized by a dread of the new, a dread that was strengthened by what they saw of the French Revolution, and by the conviction that the status quo in Germany must remain, that it was not subject to change. But Hegelianism cannot logically defend the status quo. Dialectic is revolutionary, it sees in everything processes of change, phenomena in constant flux; every assertion of absolute rest, eternity and immutability contradicts it.

In the further development of the class struggle within capitalist society, both the Hegelian idealism and the Hegelian dialectic were used as theoretic weapons. The radical bourgeoisie of Germany tried to use Hegel’s philosophy as a theory of bourgeois revolution. However, experience soon showed that the philosophy of Hegel, as such, either grows quickly into a reactionary ideology of the conservative elements of the bourgeoisie and takes on the character of a rationalistic religion, or it is used by the revolutionary groups of society.

As long as Hegel was alive these opposing camps developed the two contradictory sides of his philosophy and yet carried on their struggle within the Hegelian system as a whole. But, as we know, in the years 1830-31, a wave of revolutions rolled over Europe, affecting a number of countries from Spain to Poland. In Germany philosophical disputes under the influence of this revolution took on an openly political character. The matter reached the point at which groups of “right” Hegelians, of the “centre” and of the “left” were formed within the Hegelian school, the last mentioned eventually breaking off as an independent group. The revolutionary wave, however, very soon subsided, and the revolutionary strivings of the liberal bourgeoisie in Germany did not lead to any real political achievements. They found their outlet only in philosophic disputations. But for this very reason the philosophical struggle grew in importance and intensity, especially in the sphere of theology where the new philosophy engaged in radical criticisms of the dogmas of the Church.

Marx and Engels took a direct part in this movement of the young Hegelians. Marx, however, soon ceased to be satisfied merely with the philosophic criticism of religion, and began to play an active part in the political struggle as editor of the Rhenish Gazette. In 1842 he even broke with the “free men,” as the young Hegelians in Berlin called themselves. Marx wanted a serious struggle and not empty declamation, although this bore a revolutionary character.

“I required,” wrote Marx, “that there should be less noisy phrases and self-flagellation and more definiteness, more knowledge of the matter and penetration into its concrete essence. Further, I expressed the wish that when they criticized religion they should push forward as the first thing to be done to a criticism of political conditions, and not merely criticize the political conditions in their religious setting, because the former approach is more in accordance with the spirit of the paper and the level of its readers: religion, in itself lacking content, dwells, not in the sky, but on earth and itself collapses along with the dissolution of the distorted actuality, whose theory it presents.”

Feuerbach, who studied under Hegel, was the most significant of his liberal disciples. This “left” wing began by criticizing orthodox religion from an Hegelian point of view, contending that the new philosophy far from buttressing orthodoxy reduced dogmas to myths and led to a naturalistic pantheism. Feuerbach went even farther, and showed that religion was nothing more than the imaginative projection of human needs and hopes. Man, in so far as he is rational, is to himself his own object of thought. Whenever man is thinking of God, or infinity, or law, or love, he is not really thinking of the Eternal at all, but of outward projections of his own nature. Feuerbach recalled philosophy from unsubstantial metaphysics to the solid facts of human nature and natural science. “Speculative philosophy,” says Feuerbach, “is drunken philosophy; philosophy must again become sober. Do not strive to be a philosopher as distinct from a man; just be a thinking man.”

What is Feuerbach getting at? He is criticizing Hegel for falsely solving the contradiction between being and thought by transferring it into the interior of one of the primary elements, namely thought. According to Hegel thought is also being, nature is postulated by the idea, material being is created by spiritual being, by God. Kant was only saying the same thing when he affirmed that the outer world receives its laws from reason, instead of reason receiving its laws from the outer world. In what is this really different from the conception that the divine reason dictates to the world the laws which regulate it?

But this means that Idealism is not really establishing the unity of being and thought at all. It is rupturing that unity for it is leaving real being entirely out of the question. The truth is that thought is conditioned by being, not being by thought. It is matter that thinks, it is the body that becomes the subject, the real material being is the subject, and thought is its function, its predicate.

This is the real solution of the problem of thought and existence, of mind and body, the only solution which does not suppress one of the elements of the contradiction.

This is very like the philosophy of Spinoza. It asserts that the purely subjective spiritual act of thought is objectively the material action of a physical body. What is this but Spinozisin without its theological lumber? The unity of thought and extension in one substance minus the unnecessary equation of that substance with the concept God?

Feuerbach’s weakness was pointed out by Marx. His materialism only contemplates the material world. The mind is only acted upon by the world it thus comes to know. Knowing is the mind’s real activity—yes, but that is only half the truth. We know the world only by acting upon it, and when we act upon it and change it, we change our own nature too and our knowing mind with it.

Powered by Blogger.