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

1. Fictionalsim in Modern Science

Of recent years we have witnessed a strange revival of subjectivism in certain novel theories of the true nature of science. Avenarius in 1888 and Mach about the same time came forward with a methodological positivism which, while rejecting much in Kant, nevertheless admitted a subjective or voluntary factor in knowledge.

Mach identified the physical object with its sensible appearances. Science, therefore, deals only with the last events in a chain of supposed material causes and effects which events are merely experiences. Man groups these “experiences” in scientific systems mainly as a matter of expediency. A thing is a construct of a selection of impressions, the mind or ego perceiving the thing is also a construct of the same impressions plus others of a different order. These primary experiences we describe in their modes of occurrence by a system of reference designed solely for purposes of economy. We may speak of “space,” “force,” “mass,” “cause,” but these are only short expressions for regularities of behaviour among successive or simultaneous impressions. Science, therefore, is not really explaining anything, still less is it describing an objective scientific world. It merely describes observed relationships among impressions.

Le Roy and Poincaré gave even greater emphasis to the subjective element in scientific thought. We apply to an unorganized and amorphous nature a purely conventional system which works with some measure of success. Nature is more easily ordered by one such system than by another, but that is as much as we dare say, the system cannot for a moment be held to be a true description of nature.

Le Roy argued that one of the reasons why the facts seem to fit the theory is simply that we only collect such facts as are relevant to that theory, they are therefore bound to fit. The theory is true to the extent that there are enough facts to make it credible, but another theory might be equally true, and be able to amass its own verifactory data too.

In more recent times Eddington has argued that the system of pointer readings, which really constitute science, is not a picture of reality but only a symbol. The pointer reading is no more truly representative of reality than a telephone number is like the subscriber who is so designated. Science in abstracting only the measurements of things, has really let the things themselves, in their richness and complexity, go. Hence to apprehend reality in its fullness some other logic than that of science is required, call it the sense of values, religious intuition, what you will.

These subjectivist attacks on the validity of science were severely criticized by Lenin in his Materialism and Empirio-Criticism, where he pointed out that the whole system of error is due to the old, discredited subjective idealism of Berkeley and the confusion between experiencing an objective world, and merely having experiences. This new scientific theory about scientific theories is only idealism once again, only Kant in a fresh guise, only a re-hash of subjectivism. If matter cannot think, then thought must indeed have an existence in a world of its own in spite of all difficulties. But the only result of such a dualism will be the endless confusions of philosophy. But if matter can think, in the brains of men, then there is no need to go skating on the thin and dangerous ice of subjectivism. Science becomes the imperfect but largely satisfactory picture of man’s universe which is validated by his successful practice in controlling nature, and which he has discovered in the process of handling nature and thinking about it.

Thus nature is not a final order of the world of experience which must be accepted as given. It is still an unfinished business. It is neither the terrifying thing the primitive mind envisaged or the lifelessly rigorous affair that rationalists have depicted. Nature is never permanent. Man himself takes a hand in the creative process, and suffuses purely physical and biological events with the aims and desires implied in mind.

“Nature is involved in life, and life is, of course, involved in nature. Life seems to be an expression not of some fixed mood of nature, but of its evolving processes, and not of processes that are fixed for ever in a single groove, but of processes that interminably weave and interweave, yielding moments for the interference of intelligence; so that, if we learn how, we may help, age after age, to select processes artistically intelligent enough to produce an ever finer human living, and a nature as well that will accept and foster that finer human living.”

2. State Absolutism

Hegelian Idealism takes a characteristically modern form in the philosophy of the hierarchical totalitarian state which is really only the absolutism of Bosanquet and Bradley worked out to its logical conclusion.

According to this theory the State is the living organism in which alone the individual finds his true self-hood and true freedom. It is the actualization of freedom, because in its institutions, its law and its actual creation of functional individuals, like bees in a hive, it provides firstly the concrete opportunity and secondly the men to take advantage of it. The State as such stands for an entity over and above the sum of individual wills, and a lawful will to which every individual must submit. In sharing in the common life the individual, therefore, not only fulfils himself but transcends himself.

“Representing as it does that aspect of the individual’s will which harmonizes with the will of others, his will, that is to say, for the good of all, including self, as opposed to his will for the good of self at the expense of all, it is of necessity always rational and always right.”

This is that confusion of the actual with the possible so characteristic of idealism. Here it means that absolute idealism sanctifies all existing institutions including the class relationships of modern capitalism. Hegelian idealism in the hands of the English idealists has been turned into an ideological weapon.

The truth of the matter is that the organized community exists only to serve the interests of the individuals who comprise it. The individual does not exist merely to serve the interests of the community. Where the latter theory is held it merely disguises the exploitation of the many in the interests of the few. The “State” or “Community” that is served being nothing more or less than the minority that wields the State machine, the owning class.

The idealist method of attributing a higher will to the individual which is nothing to do with what he desires, but which enables him to transcend his merely individual self is simply a device for giving an appearance of justice and democracy to what must otherwise appear the purely arbitrary and tyrannical acts of a class state.

The Dialectic as a Theory of Knowledge
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