Chapter Two : Section Three: "L. Feuerbach and J. Dietzgen on the Thing-In-Itself"
n this section Lenin discusses the views of two materialists, Feuerbach (1804-1872) and Dietzgen (1828-1888). Feuerbach is a classical materialist, not a dialectical materialist, but his philosophy is the link between Hegel and Marx and Engels. The thing-in-itself for Feuerbach is something "existing objectively outside of us," Lenin says, and acting "upon our sense-organs.... Sensation is a subjective image of the objective world, of the world an und fur such” [i.e., in and for-itself].
This view of Feuerbach is basic to all forms of materialism. "The 'doctrine' of Machism that since we know only sensation,” Lenin concludes, "we cannot know of the existence of anything beyond the bounds of sensation, is an old sophistry of idealist and agnostic philosophy served up with a new sauce."
Well, I suspect that readers of this outline have all heard about Feuerbach and know something of his materialism from Marx and Engels. If you want to read something by him I recommend his The Essence of Christianity, which has been translated into English by George Eliot (1819-1880) of Silas Marner and The Mill on the Floss fame.
However, you may not be as familiar with Joseph Dietzgen, the next person discussed by Lenin. Dietzgen was a self educated German tanner who independently developed a philosophy of dialectical materialism. He was extremely influential in the socialist movement in the last half of the nineteenth century and the early twentieth century. If you Google his name you will find some interesting articles about him.
Lenin quotes Dietzgen, as an independent materialist: "Unhealthy mysticism unscientifically separates the absolute truth from the relative truth. It makes of the thing as it appears and the 'thing-in-itself', that is, of the appearance and the verity, two categories which differ toto coelo [completely, fundamentally] from each other and are not contained in any common category."
When trying to explain the relation of perception to the thing-in-itself we have already seen how the Russian Machists, especially Bogdanov, confuse the materialist position with Kantianism and agnosticism. "The reason for Bogdanov's distortion of materialism," according to Lenin, "lies in his failure to understand the relation of absolute truth to relative truth (of which we shall speak later)." Section 5 is dedicated to this topic, but first we will look at Section 4.
CHAPTER TWO SECTION FOUR: "Does Objective Truth Exist?"
Bogdanov, in his book Empirio-monism tries to explain what constitutes "objective" truth. Truth, he tells us, "is an ideological form, an organizing form of human experience...." But, Lenin says, "If truth is only an ideological form, there can be no truth independent of the subject, of humanity, for neither Bogdanov nor we know any other ideology but human ideology." But this is absurd because science tells us it is a truth that the earth existed prior to man and his ideologies!
Is this subjectivism some failing in Bogdanov as a person? Lenin thinks not. Bogdanov personally "refuses to own himself a Machist" but still is influenced by the "new" philosophy. It is this mixture of Marxism and Machism that causes the muddle of Empirio-monism. Thus, "Bogdanov's denial of objective truth is an inevitable consequence of Machism as a whole and not a deviation from it." His deviation is from materialism.
Engels, who criticizes both Hume and Kant, even States that Hegel had in fact refuted the main points in both their philosophies. Lenin then quotes Hegel: "For empiricism the external in general is the truth, and if then a supersensible too be admitted, nevertheless knowledge of it cannot occur and one must keep exclusively to what belongs to perception. However, this principle in its realisation produced what was subsequently termed materialism. This materialism regards matter, as such, as the truly objective." But Lenin does not follow up on Hegel.
Instead, he agrees that experience is the source of all knowledge and that materialists hold that objective reality is the source of experience. If you don't hold to this view you become inconsistent and the "inconsistency of your empiricism, of your philosophy of experience, will in that case lie in the fact that you deny the objective content of experience, the objective truth of knowledge through experience."
The Machists think that the "new" physics has made the views of the older materialists "antiquated." Now Lenin was writing a hundred years ago and physics has moved on a pace-- string theory , etc., but he is absolutely right when he says it is "unpardonable to confuse, as the Machists do, any particular theory of the structure of matter with the epistemological category, to confuse the problem of the new properties of new aspects of matter (electrons for example) with the old problem of the theory of knowledge, with the problem of the sources of our knowledge, the existence of objective truth, etc."
This category, "matter", which refers to the objective reality revealed to humans by means of their sense organs has not become "antiquated", Lenin says, since the days of Plato and Democritus.
Coming Up: In the next installment we will finish off chapter two by going over sections 5 and 6.
Thomas Riggins is a retired philosophy teacher (NYU, The New School of Social Research, among others) who received a PhD from the CUNY Graduate Center (1983). He has been active in the civil rights and peace movements since the 1960s when he was chairman of the Young People's Socialist League at Florida State University and also worked for CORE in voter registration in north Florida (Leon County). He has written for many online publications such as People's World and Political Affairs where he was an associate editor. He also served on the board of the Bertrand Russell Society and was president of the Corliss Lamont chapter in New York City of the American Humanist Association.