Front Page Titles (by Subject) II: Marxist Naturalism - The Illusion of the Epoch: Marxism-Leninism as a Philosophical Creed
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II: Marxist Naturalism - H.B. Acton, The Illusion of the Epoch: Marxism-Leninism as a Philosophical Creed 
The Illusion of the Epoch: Marxism-Leninism as a Philosophical Creed (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2003).
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© 1962 by H. B. Acton. The copyright to this edition, in both print and electronic forms, is held by H.B. Acton’s estate. It is reproduced here by permission and may not be reproduced in any form without written permission.
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Basic Ideas of Marxist Naturalism
Just as Marxist realism is the denial of the idealist theory of knowledge put forward by Berkeley, and of its phenomenalist offshoots, so Marxist naturalism arises from criticism of Hegel’s speculative idealism. Hegel believed that it could be shown, by the dialectical method, that the universe as a whole is a rational mind within which matter and mere vegetative and animal life are dependent abstractions. On this view, someone who said that the world is material would be neglecting most of its most significant features, someone who said that it was alive would be neglecting many, but not quite so many of its most significant features, and someone who said, with understanding of what was implied in it, that the world is a mind, would be saying what is true and would not be denying that it had material and animal features too. Hegel claimed that his speculative idealism was the most complete philosophy that had hitherto been put forward, that it did justice to what there was of truth in previous philosophies, and that it was superior to Berkeley’s in that it put sense knowledge in its proper, rather subordinate place. The arguments are elaborate, and difficult to summarize, but their principle is that all views other than the view that the world is Absolute Spirit can be shown to involve contradiction, whereas the theory of Absolute Spirit retains all that is true in each of the more limited views without being itself limited in any important way. Hegel thus thought he had established a sort of philosophical religion, for he held that the Hegelian philosophy was the definitive rational expression of the truths which in Christianity, the highest form of religion, were expressed in imaginative terms only. The element of this view that is most important for our present purposes is the claim to establish by philosophical argument, that is to say by speculation, that all conceptions short of the Absolute Idea involved contradictions, and that nature is not an independent being but a moment or aspect of Spirit. “Nature,” Hegel wrote in the Encyclopedia (§ 248), “in itself, in its concept, is divine, but exists in such a way that its mode of being does not correspond to its concept; on the contrary, nature is the unresolved contradiction. . . . Nature appears as the primary, as immediate being, only to that consciousness which is itself external and immediate, that is, only to the sensuous consciousness.”
Now in opposition to all this Marxists argue that nature not only appears to be primary, as Hegel had said, but that it really is primary, and that there is nothing fundamentally misleading in our sense perceptions of it. In his Ludwig Feuerbach, Engels argued that there are at bottom only two main philosophies, idealism and materialism. According to the idealists, mind in some form or another is the primary being from which everything else has sprung, while according to the materialists matter is the primary being from which mind has taken its origin. Engels goes on to say that the group of philosophers known as the Young Hegelians turned “back to Anglo-French materialism” in order to develop their criticisms of the Hegelian system, and that the appearance of Feuerbach’s Essence of Christianity (1841) was decisive in giving form to the materialist outlook of Marx and himself. “Enthusiasm was general; we all became at once Feuerbachians.”1 Now in this book Feuerbach had upheld the two theses mentioned above, viz., that sense experience is trustworthy and reveals nature to us, and that nature is the source of mind and consciousness and stands in no need of a supernatural Creator. More particularly he argued that speculative philosophy is the form that theology takes in an age when natural science has discredited it, and that the explanation of theological doctrines is to be found in the needs and desires of men. “Man,” wrote Feuerbach, “—this is the mystery of religion—projects his being into objectivity, and then again makes himself an object to this projected image of himself thus converted into a subject; he thinks of himself, is an object to himself, but as the object of an object, of another being than himself. . . . Thus, in and through God, man has in view himself alone. It is true that man places the aim of his action in God, but God has no other aim of action than the moral and eternal salvation of man; thus man has in fact no other aim than himself. The divine activity is not distinct from the human.”2 From all this a number of closely related topics emerge: (a) It is held that sense perception is reliable, and reveals an independently existing material world. (b) It is held that nature stands in need of no supernatural Creator, but is itself the source of men and minds. (c) It is held that we can improve our knowledge of nature by employing the methods of the natural sciences, but that the methods of theology and speculative philosophy do not lead to knowledge of anything supernatural. (d) It is held that a natural account can be given of the religious beliefs of men, and that, in particular, God is an imaginative projection of human needs and desires.
We need spend no longer on (a), since we have treated this topic fairly fully in the preceding chapter. But it is important to see how (b), (c), and (d) are connected. Clearly (b) is considered to follow from our scientific knowledge, so that the fundamental questions are whether scientific knowledge is to be preferred to theology and speculative philosophy, and whether these latter give any knowledge of the world at all. Thus (c) is logically prior to (b). (c), however, is also logically prior to (d). For (d) purports to be a psychological (or, as Feuerbach put it, an “anthropological”) account of belief in God, and could only be regarded as not “explaining away” such belief if God’s existence could be proved by theology or speculative philosophy or (contrary to (b) above) by some scientific procedure other than that of psychology or “anthropology.” Thus, if the theological and speculative methods are valueless, and if the only way of getting knowledge of the world is by means of the methods of the natural sciences, then belief in God is unfounded unless scientific methods establish it—and the assertion of (b) is that they do not—and religious beliefs and practices have to be accounted for in psychological or sociological terms. Let us, then, first discuss (c), the Marxist view that the scientific methods are supreme.
Science, Philosophy, and Practice
Marx’s opposition to speculative philosophy is particularly apparent in his early writings, such as the Holy Family and the German Ideology. In the former of these writings (chap. 5, sect. 2, “The Mystery of Speculative Construction”) there is a vigorous passage, quite in the vein of Feuerbach, in which the speculative philosopher is depicted as arguing that the substance or reality of apples, pears, strawberries, and almonds is fruit itself, an organic identity in difference which develops itself in the forms of the different species of fruit. “While the Christian religion recognizes only one unique incarnation of God, for speculative philosophy there are as many incarnations as there are things; in this way it sees in each sort of fruit an incarnation of the substance, of the absolute fruit. The main interest of the speculative philosopher consists, therefore, in producing the existence of real fruit, and in saying, in a mysterious manner, that there are apples, pears, etc. But the apples, the pears, etc., that we discover in the world of speculation, are only the appearances of apples, of pears, etc., for they are the manifestations of fruit, of the rational abstract entity, and are thus themselves rational, abstract entities. Thus the pleasing thing in speculation is finding in it all the real fruits, but as fruits with a higher mystic value, as fruits sprung from the aether of your brain and not from the natural world, incarnations of fruit, of the absolute subject.”3 Anything of value that there is in the Hegelian philosophy—and Marx thought that there was a good deal—was thus the result, not of Hegel’s speculative arguments, but of his great knowledge of history, politics, and art. Speculative philosophers, according to Marx, give the appearance of adding to our knowledge by importing into their systems facts and principles derived from elsewhere. Generalities and abstractions are based on experienced particulars, but the speculative philosopher thinks he can reach to a knowledge of real things by manipulating abstractions whose basis he has forgotten. Marx’s objection to speculative philosophy is, therefore, that it falsely claims to obtain important knowledge of the world by reasoning that is not openly assisted by observation and experiment. He and Engels go even further than this, however, and pronounce the ineffectiveness of any form of philosophy that claims an independent status. “When reality is depicted,” they write in the German Ideology, “philosophy as an independent branch of activity loses its medium of existence.”4 Developing an epigram of Feuerbach, they write in another part of the same work: “Philosophy and the study of the real world are related to one another as are onanism and love between the sexes.”5 The position is made clearer by Engels in the Anti-Dühring when he writes: “As soon as each separate science is required to get clarity as to its position in the great totality of things and of our knowledge of things, a special science dealing with this totality is superfluous. What still independently survives of all former philosophy is the science of thought and its laws—formal logic and dialectics. Everything else is merged in the positive science of nature and history.”6 In brief, then, Marxists maintain that the growth of the empirical sciences demonstrates the fruitlessness of the speculative method, that the validity of scientific thinking is tested by sense experience, and that the sole task of philosophy is to indicate the nature of scientific thinking (“formal logic and dialectics”). As to scientific thinking itself, the first and fundamental character is its practical nature. According to Engels, it is in practice that our views about the world are confirmed or refuted. Referring to those who raise skeptical doubts about human knowledge, he writes: “The most telling refutation of this as of all other philosophical fancies is practice, viz., experiment and industry. If we are able to prove the correctness of our conception of a natural process by making it ourselves, bringing it into being out of its conditions and using it for our own purposes into the bargain, then there is an end of the Kantian incomprehensible ‘thing-in-itself.’”7 In the paragraph from which these words are quoted, Engels gives two examples of how practice can assure us that we have genuine knowledge of the real world. We really understand the chemistry of a coloring-matter hitherto only found ready-made in nature when we know how to manufacture it by artificial means. Again, the truth of the Copernican system was proved when, the position of a hitherto unknown planet having been calculated in terms of the Copernican theory, the planet was actually found to be there.
The reader with some knowledge of the main trends of modern philosophy will be inclined to say that the view so far expounded is pretty much what in England, France, and the United States is known as positivism. Positivism it certainly is, in its depreciation of theology, its linking of metaphysics with theology, its acceptance of the methods of the natural sciences as the sole means of acquiring genuine knowledge, and in its belief that the scientific method is the method of practice and industry. The substance of Comte’s Law of the Three Stages is repeated by Marx, Engels, and Feuerbach, inasmuch as they all believed that in the modern era theological ideas were being dressed up in speculative terms and would be superseded by the positive scientific mode of thinking. Engels’ phrase “positive science of nature and history” shows even a verbal similarity. The emphasis on practice is also common to positivism and Marxism, for Bacon’s dictum “knowledge is power” is accepted in each. The following passage from Comte’s Course of Positive Philosophy sets out his position on this matter: “. . . While the common reason was satisfied to grasp, in the course of judicious observation of diverse occurrences, certain natural relations capable of guiding the most indispensable practical predictions, philosophical ambition, disdaining such successes, was hoping to obtain the solution of the most impenetrable mysteries by means of a supernatural light. But, on the contrary, a healthy philosophy, substituting everywhere the search after effective laws for the search after essential causes, intimately combines its highest speculations with the most simple popular notions, so as finally to build up—apart from the difference of degree—a profound mental identity, which no longer allows the contemplative class to remain in its habitual proud isolation from the active mass [de la masse active—the acting masses].”8 But Marx himself would not admit any value in the work of Comte. Writing to Engels on 7 July 1866 he says: “I am also studying Comte now, as a sideline, because the English and French make such a fuss about the fellow. What takes their fancy is the encyclopedic touch, the synthesis. But this is miserable compared to Hegel. (Although Comte, as a professional mathematician and physicist, was superior to him, i.e., superior in matters of detail, even here Hegel is infinitely greater as a whole.) And this positivist rot appeared in 1832.”9 And in a letter to Professor Beesly of University College, London, dated June 1871, he writes: “I as a Party man have a thoroughly hostile attitude towards Comte’s philosophy, while as a scientific man I have a very poor opinion of it.”10 One would hardly suppose, from these attacks, that Marx and Comte were fully agreed in rejecting speculative philosophy, and that Hegel was the leading speculative philosopher of modern times. Marx, of course, differed from Comte on important matters, notably on politics and dialectics—though even here, as we shall see, the differences between Comte and the Marxists are not as great as the latter maintain—but it is worth considering for a moment why it is that Marxists so vehemently deny this manifest kinship. The Marxist writings are largely polemical, but the objects of attack are not, for the most part, representatives of the orders of society that the Marxists wish to destroy, but rival radicals whose competition they fear. Thus the Holy Family is directed against Bruno Bauer and other radical Hegelians; the German Ideology is critical of Feuerbach, Max Stirner, and certain socialists of the eighteen forties; the Poverty of Philosophy is an attack on Proudhon, whose socialist views had been held up to admiration in the Holy Family; Eugen Dühring, who because of his criticisms of the Hegelian elements in Marxism, was so fiercely attacked by the kindly Engels, was a determined opponent of speculative philosophy and of the current orthodoxies; Lenin’s Materialism and Empirio-Criticism was directed against members of his own party who considered they were supporting a scientific view of the world; and in our own day Marxists are busy criticizing Logical Positivism and kindred views with which they clearly have much in common. I have already pointed out that Lenin’s attitude toward the philosophy of Mach is in part that of the party administrator who wishes to be disencumbered of what he regards as distracting subtleties. It is important to bear in mind, however, that it is a Marxist view—which will be considered in Part Two—that philosophical theories are the expression of class interests. It is therefore never safe to welcome a set of philosophical views on the ground that they fit in with those that one has independently come to regard as true. For they may be linked with other views which reflect different class interests, so that approval of them may weaken the Marxist philosopher’s exclusive devotion to the working class and its Party. Marx’s opposition to a philosophy with which he had so much in common was thus mainly due to his dislike of Comte’s political and social doctrines, which made it inopportune to admit the kinship. In the Soviet Union today, the procedure thus followed by Marx, Engels, and Lenin is vigorously advocated in leading circles. Thus the late Mr. Zhdanov, in his speech to the philosophers about Professor Aleksandrov’s History of Philosophy (which had been awarded the Stalin prize) referred to “the passive, meditative, academic character” of the book, and criticized it for its “absence of party spirit,” rhetorically asking “. . . did not Lenin teach us that ‘materialism carries with it, so to speak, party spirit, compelling one, in any evaluation of events, to take up directly and openly the viewpoint of a definite social group’?”11 Incidentally, Mr. Zhdanov defined philosophy, much as a positivist would, as “the science of thought and its laws, including epistemology.”
The efficacy of the scientific method of hypothesis, observation, and experiment is no longer a matter of controversy, although much remains to be said about how its various features are related to one another. There still is controversy, however, concerning the applicability of the method to human affairs, and this question will have to be touched on in Part Two. Must it also be admitted that there is no longer any place for speculative philosophy, or as it is more often called today, metaphysics? Hegel himself made the obvious reply to the opponents of metaphysics when, in § 38 of the Encyclopedia, a section devoted to empiricism, he wrote: “The fundamental mistake of scientific empiricism is always this, that it makes use of the metaphysical categories of matter, force, one, many, universality, of the infinite, etc., and furthermore draws conclusions under the guidance of these categories, at the same time presupposing and applying the forms of inference, yet with all this it does not recognize that it contains and pursues a metaphysics of its own and is making unconscious use of those categories in a thoroughly uncritical manner.” Present-day “scientific empiricists” would not admit that they use such categories uncritically; on the contrary, they would claim that they are able to give an account of them that accords well with their point of view. This raises one of the major questions of modern philosophy, and we cannot here do more than indicate some very general grounds for not accepting the empiricist-positivist point of view as a presupposition of philosophical good faith as some of its exponents seem to require. In the first place, it seems to me that insufficient attention has been given to the question what sort of theory positivism, or any other philosophical view, must be. Clearly philosophical theories are not confined to particular aspects or areas of the world as scientific theories are, but are in some way about science and common sense. This is what the idealist philosophers of the nineteenth century meant when they said that philosophy is reflective, and it has been recognized, in one way or another, ever since Plato. Furthermore, there are bodies of thought such as history and law that have reached a high level of elaboration without being regarded as parts of science or as mere common sense, and these too need to be embraced in philosophical theory if it is not to remain one-sided or incomplete. Law, of course, is practical, and in many ways akin to morals, and we thus see that philosophical thinking must enquire into the connections of theoretical rational activities with practical rational activities. We may say that philosophy must be thinking in its most self-conscious form, and that such thinking must necessarily be very different from the thinking that is directly immersed in particular enquiries. We should not assume that it must be like the thought of mathematicians or physicists. As one or another special science becomes prominent, however, philosophers will tend to be influenced by their understanding—which may not always be adequate—of the notions current in it, and there will be mathematicizing periods, psycho-analyzing periods, and so on. In our day, many philosophers have been influenced by the conceptions of symbolic logic, and have sought to make use of them in dealing with the traditional problems of philosophy. There is much to be gained by trying out such specialized notions in the philosophical sphere, but it must always be done tentatively, with no more zeal than is necessary to carry such trains of thought effectively forward, since anything beyond this is an example of the very dogmatism or unselfconsciousness that philosophy is meant to correct. In the second place, then, I think that many people expect or claim an unreasonable degree of confidence for philosophical views. There are two main reasons why philosophy should not be considered an exact science. One is that the rules to be followed in thinking about thought (or talking about talk) are not—apart from the rules of formal logic—as obvious or as settled as are the rules of the primary thought activities. We are hardly entitled to have, for example, the degree of confidence in a theory about the nature of deductive inference as we may have in the validity of a particular deduction. The second reason is that, in so far as philosophy is concerned with matters more fundamental than those of any single science or range of activity, an element of what may be called judgment must enter in, as, say, the moral or historical point of view is related to the biological or physical in such a problem as that of free-will or of the nature of mind. Something akin to tact or taste is bound to be required, and it is this, I believe, that Hegel had in mind when he criticized the rigid categories of the Understanding by contrast with the more flexible ones of the Reason. (Hume seems sometimes to think of the Imagination in similar terms.) It is proper that many philosophers should be reluctant to say such things, since they rightly feel that, if dwelt upon, they could lead to a renewal of the uncontrolled speculation, the quasi-intellectual whims, of German “romantic” philosophy. It is right that rigor should be sought, but not right to impose it on unsuitable material. A third point to bear in mind is that we live at a time when scientific activity is more influential than ever before, so that philosophers, if they are to avoid deception by what Marx called “the illusion of the epoch,” must take special care to distinguish between the power of science to discover and its power to impress. The age being as it is, our ideas of what is reasonable in these highly abstract regions of thought are likely to be influenced more than they should be by the might rather than by the rationality of science. It is useful, therefore, on occasion, to correct the bias somewhat, and to regard with perhaps exaggerated skepticism the arguments of those numerous thinkers who are positivists by inclination or as a practical principle. It is all the more important to do this if, as I have suggested above, the grounds for deciding between possible views at the highest level of philosophical abstraction are rational in a sense that has affinity with taste or tact as well as with formal logic. In such matters the barrier between reason and prejudice must be very thin.
Earlier in this section I mentioned Engels’ view that scientific theories are established by “practice, viz., experiment and industry,” along with his suggestion that we have full knowledge of something only when we make it. Now it is quite clear that both positivists and Marxists oppose practice to speculation. Speculation is the “arm-chair” activity of mere thinking. Speculative thought consists of such activities as imagining, considering, defining, and concluding. The man who engages in this sort of thinking does not test his conjectures or conclusions by reference to what goes on out of sight of his arm-chair. His line of argument rather is: “That is how things must be really, however they may appear to be.” With him is to be contrasted the man who, perhaps also from an arm-chair, puts forward a view about how things work, but who, having done this, gets up from his chair and traverses ground to look or touch or listen, so as to ascertain whether the things work as he has said they do. He, or his agents, must walk, climb, lift up stones or make holes in the ground, pull things to pieces or mix them together, take measurements, look through microscopes or telescopes, whereas the speculator, like the mathematician, does not need to do these things. The things that the mere thinker does not do and that the other man does do may quite appropriately be called “practice.” This is the sort of practice involved in the second of Engels’ examples. Someone who accepts the Copernican hypothesis calculates on its basis the existence of a planet, but this remains mere calculation, unpractical paper-work, until the existence of the planet has been verified by someone who sees it through a telescope. “Practice” here means the verifying of hypotheses, that is to say, of suggested theories, emphasis being placed on the need for someone to bestir himself physically, to move or arrange things, or to use instruments of observation. Thus Engels’ second example illustrates the “union of theory and practice” by reference to the generally accepted methods of the empirical sciences. There is nothing in all this that would not be accepted by any educated person—though there is room for a good deal of discussion about the precise rôle of the observation or experiment—and the critic of phenomenalism will be glad to point out that verifying is something that involves moving and manipulating and the use of physical means, so that it would be circular to use the notion of verifiability, as some phenomenalists have done, in analyzing the notion of a physical object. “Verifying,” when used in the phenomenalist theory, is a philosophical, not a common sense, word, and requires us to give a clear meaning to the term “sense datum,” which is far from easy.
Engels’ first example, however, may be taken to suggest that a theory is not fully established until the things it is about can actually be made by human beings. Thus the practice necessary to complete mere theory would be manufacture as well as verification. From this it would follow, for good or ill, that theories about planets could never be as adequate as theories about dyes (Comte thought this, though for a rather different reason), since the latter can be made whereas it is unlikely that planets will ever be produced by human beings. It would hardly be maintained, I imagine, that ability to manufacture is in itself a proof of adequate knowledge, for if it were, then an intuitive cook or peasant distiller would know more than a physiologist or chemist. Can it, then, be reasonably held that physical things and processes are only incompletely understood until they have been or could be manufactured? In a perfectly trivial sense this may be admitted, since until the knowledge of how to make a thing has been acquired knowledge of it is, to that extent, defective. In the same way, knowledge of carrots is defective until the weight is known of all the carrots in the world, though it has to be admitted that knowledge of how to make something is generally more closely linked with a scientific understanding of it than such knowledge of carrots is linked with a scientific understanding of them. Scientific understanding often, but not always, shows the way toward manufacture. The knowledge of how to make them is extremely useful knowledge to have of things that we want to have, and therefore great efforts are made to discover how to make them. In this way, human desires have led to mechanical inventions and the setting up of industrial plants. Scientific knowledge is then used to improve these industrial plants, and the plants can often be used to produce instruments which help the advance of scientific knowledge. Thus there is set up a process in which industry serves science and science serves industry. But this is far from demonstrating that science is an offshoot or sub-species of industry. Science has been developed by men whose aim was to understand rather than to make, and their activity is more like that of the consumers of industrial products than that of their makers. The plant used by the scientist supplements his sense organs, whereas that of the industrialist supplements his muscles. A scientist is not a practical man in the same sense that an industrialist is, for, if the scientist makes, it is in order to know, whereas the industrialist uses his knowledge in order to make.
In our discussion of the Marxist theory we have now distinguished four meanings of “practice.” The first was that in which it stood for the common sense which cannot be shaken by fine-spun skeptical argumentation. The second meaning of the word was an alleged passage, in perception, from an “image” or “copy” to a real grasp of an independently existing physical object. In its third sense the word meant the process of verifying hypotheses by means of observation and experiment. Fourthly, the word was used to stand for that mode of manufacture which, by completing the process of verification, linked science with industry. To conflate these together in the slogan “union of theory and practice” is to invite and spread confusion. To distinguish them is to enable the true to be separated from the false. We have seen that it makes good sense to say that practice refutes skepticism about material things, and that empirical science is a practical activity by comparison with mathematics and mere speculation. The “practice,” however, that is supposed to take us from “image” to material thing, is an expedient required to patch up an incoherent theory of perception, and the attempt to identify science and industry is only a plausible sophism.
Science and the Supernatural
We must now briefly consider the Marxist view that nature stands in need of no supernatural Creator, but is itself the source of everything, including men and minds. According to Marxists, theism is a form of idealism, since idealism is the view that matter depends on spirit, and theism is the view that matter and created minds depend on a divine spirit that gave them being. Now although Marxists have not, as far as I am aware, examined the arguments for the existence of God in any detail, I think it is fairly clear that when they hold that nature is not a creation of spirit but its source, they base their view on the assumption that the empirical sciences reveal nothing of the existence and operations of God but show that mind is dependent on certain types of physical organism which have arisen comparatively late in the evolution of the world. Thus they hold (i) that the only way of finding out about what exists is by experience and the methods of the empirical sciences, and (ii) that the empirical sciences do not reveal a supernatural cause of nature. In addition, however, they hold (iii) that the scientific study of man and his situation shows how the illusory belief in God’s existence has arisen. Engels in Ludwig Feuerbach argues as if Feuerbach’s account of the origin of belief in God, and Tylor’s animistic theory of religion, were sufficient to show that belief in God is untenable. But in themselves “anthropological” and psychological accounts of how men come to believe in God do not disprove the existence of God. For such accounts may be regarded as descriptions of the natural origins of belief in God which supplement but do not disturb the metaphysical proofs of natural theology. It might be argued both that man “projects” his conception of an ideal man, and that the traditional arguments for the existence of God are singly or collectively successful. Engels, however, like Marx and Feuerbach, regarded the traditional arguments for the existence of God as speculative thinking, so that their rejection of speculative philosophy—today generally called metaphysics—was a fortiori a rejection of natural theology. On their view, that is, the methods of the empirical sciences are the only effective ones for exploring the world. Thus Marxist atheism is a consequence of Marxist positivism, and the central and decisive thesis of the Marxist philosophy is the denial of all forms of speculative philosophy in favor of the methods of the empirical sciences. This is a feature of Marxism which, in a world where the natural sciences are so obviously influential, has emphasized its accord with the spirit of the time. Positivism is the orthodoxy of a technological age, and the positivistic component of Marxism is sufficient to recommend it to a very wide public.
Must we then accept the view that the empirical sciences do not reveal a supernatural cause of nature? Such a cause would have to be either one of the objects studied in those sciences or else a hypothesis which they rendered more or less probable. It would be agreed by all parties that no such being is among the observed objects of the empirical sciences, as are trees, rocks, and stars. These are objects of the common sense world, and stand in need of no scientific argumentation in order to be accepted as parts of the real world. Objects such as genes and electrons do not appear in the common sense world of trees, rocks, and stars, and are only believed to exist as the result of complex though convincing argumentation. A supernatural first cause, however, does not figure among such objects either, for it would be more recondite than they, and their source no less than the source of the things in the world of everyday common sense. If, therefore, a supernatural cause of nature were to enter into the considerations of men of science, it could only be as a rather desperate hypothesis reluctantly employed to account for some very general feature of the world. It is idle, I suggest, to speculate further on this aspect of the matter, since it is only within the context of detailed scientific enquiry that such a hypothesis could take on definite shape. On the face of it, however, it appears less improbable that some form of theistic hypothesis involving creation might be called for in the cosmological enquiries of astronomers than elsewhere. To call such a hypothesis “theistic” is, perhaps, going too far, since it is most unlikely that a hypothesis framed in such circumstances would point to a being with the personal and moral characteristics usually attributed to God. Indeed, the more the hypothesis was bound up with specifically scientific conceptions (e.g., electrons or nebulae), the less connection it would have with such conceptions as benevolence or forgiveness.
It is very important to notice that being empirical is not necessarily the same thing as being scientific. An argument or notion may be based on experience, and have all the authority that such a basis can lend, and yet not form part of any recognized empirical science. This is the case with most of the notions and arguments of everyday life. A large part of our empirical knowledge is in terms of the common objects we live among, the objects of human concern, whether natural, such as trees and hills, or artificial, such as houses and roads. Now whereas some of the arguments of natural theology are highly technical, and employ unusual terms such as “necessary” and “contingent,” others are empirical, i.e., based on experience, but do not fall within the ambit of any empirical science. The Argument from Design and the various Arguments from Moral Experience are of this nature. In the former the argument is from alleged similarities between the results of human workmanship on the one hand, and the structure of the physical world, or of parts of it not fashioned by human beings, on the other. In the latter, the moral beliefs of men are taken as data. In neither case is there any need, in formulating the argument, to refer to objects or conceptions that are specifically “scientific,” although some people have thought that the Argument from Design can be strengthened by so doing. Thus, the general, positivistic rejection of speculative philosophy or metaphysics on the ground that it is an attempt to conjure conclusions about matters of fact from baseless premises, does nothing, in itself, to shake the strength of such empirically based arguments. The arguments in question may not be satisfactory, but they are not idle or senseless, and can claim to be empirical in spite of not forming part of any of the empirical sciences.
Granted that astronomy or some other natural science might conceivably need to make use of the hypothesis of an extra-natural cause of nature, and granted also that empirical arguments that do not form part of any special science might conceivably lead to theistic conclusions, we may still ask the further question: “Could there conceivably be a science of the supernatural comparable with the natural sciences in its objectivity and predictive power?” It is certainly the lack of such a science that leads many people to consider that theological enquiry is not worth the trouble of attention. They think that if anything could be found out about such matters, agreed findings would already have been reached and methods found of making predictions. The prophet would be believed if he correctly foretold the results of horse races, and when he protests that God is not interested in horse races, the doubters feel that a winning sequence would nevertheless increase their faith. The whole topic is rendered particularly obscure because of the implications of our vocabulary. Very largely as a result of the growth of science and the spread of the positivistic outlook, the expressions “science” and “the supernatural” tend to be regarded as mutually exclusive, so that the phrase “science of the supernatural” comes very near to being self-contradictory. This is because we tend to regard as part of nature whatever is discovered by the methods of the natural sciences. Thus we tend to regard “psychical research” as the attempt to bring to light hitherto insufficiently confirmed natural occurrences rather than as the search for the supernatural. This may be an effect of using playing-cards and statistical techniques in the study of telepathy and precognition. If the occurrence of such things were established by these methods, and if the conditions of their occurrence could be ascertained, we should be inclined to say that our knowledge of nature had thereby been extended. It would be as if a magician’s formula were after all found to work, not only once and for some specific occasion, but always under given conditions. Magic verified would become science, in accordance with Frazer’s dictum: “Magic is a false system of natural law as well as a fallacious guide of conduct; it is a false science as well as an abortive art.”
If this were all, however, we should have to say that a science of the supernatural could only be understood as a science of what is unusual and particularly difficult to verify. But clearly we should not say this, for it is only certain sorts of unusual or latent things that would be regarded as supernatural. Positrons, for example, were difficult to discover, and manatees are rare, but neither is a class of supernatural being. To be classed as supernatural a being would have to be some sort of mind, not embodied in a normal manner, and capable of effecting changes in the natural world by means not available to humans or animals. Thus a supernatural being would be a disembodied or abnormally embodied personal being whose modes of operation in the physical world were not confined to the human or animal ones. If it were to be established that human beings can foresee the future, know telepathically, and move distant objects by merely willing to do so, then manifestations of these powers would only be called supernatural if they were the work of disembodied spirits, or of unnaturally embodied ones, such as talking trees. If a man were to dream of his dead father, to feel himself impelled to write an automatic script, and to find that this script, in his father’s characteristic style, enabled him to discover some matter that only his father could have known, it would be evidence, though not conclusive evidence, that his father’s mind had survived bodily death. If all the inhabitants of the British Isles woke up one morning recollecting an identical dream, and if the dream were to the effect that, unless they all refrained from drinking water until midday, Mount Snowdon would be split in half at midday precisely; and if some people were widely known to have drunk water before midday, and if Mount Snowdon was observed to split in half at midday precisely, this would be pretty strong evidence for the existence of a powerful being capable of communicating a threat or warning and of carrying out a spectacular task without the normal means. If such striking things happened from time to time, so as to render improbable any suggestion of coincidence, then we should feel there were strong grounds for believing in the existence of a powerful supernatural being. In a society where a great deal is known of the normal operations of nature, the type of event that would be taken as evidence for the supernatural would have to be extremely peculiar. It would weaken the force of the “miracle,” for example, if Mount Snowdon split in two in the course of a severe earthquake, for then, in mid-twentieth-century England, natural causes would be widely presumed. Further, the prophecies or warnings would have to be in unmistakable terms. A disembodied superhuman being would have to adopt different methods to manifest itself in Detroit from those that would suffice in Calcutta or Killarney. Again, inasmuch as supernatural beings would be minds, our knowledge of them would have to be of the same general nature as our knowledge of human minds, for unless there were some analogy from the behavior of human minds, we should have no ground whatever for belief in disembodied minds. Thus, if there were to be a science of the supernatural, it would have to be analogous to the sciences of mind rather than to the natural sciences. The contrast between the social sciences and the natural sciences is not, of course, the same contrast as that between the supernatural and the natural, but it would be a complete misconception of what is possible to condemn theology for not being like the natural sciences. Furthermore, as it is obvious that it is the more mechanical and habitual aspects of human behavior that are amenable to experimental-scientific treatment, so a science of the supernatural would be more readily built up as a science of any subhuman supernatural there might be than of superhuman beings with high moral or aesthetic capabilities. If psychical researchers ever came to investigate spirit messages of a high intellectual, moral, or aesthetic value, psychical research would be becoming experimental theology.
We are now in a position to deal briefly with Lenin’s view, already mentioned in Chapter I, Section 2, that “the electrical theory of matter” is perfectly compatible with materialism and does nothing to render it unacceptable. Lenin had in mind philosophers and physicists who, when it had been shown that the basis of the physical world is not atoms moving in space but something describable rather in terms of waves and energy, concluded that “matter” has disappeared and that materialism is therefore false. According to Lenin, all this is beside the point. For on his view, “the sole ‘property’ of matter—with whose recognition philosophical materialism is bound up—is the property of being an objective reality, of existing outside our mind.”12 Indeed, Lenin considers that the electro-magnetic theory of matter gives greater support to dialectical materialism than does the atomic theory.13 Lenin’s phrasing here is loose and unguarded, for it would imply that whatever was discovered by use of the scientific methods must be material, that “matter” just means “whatever has objective reality—whatever can be established as really existing.” It would follow that if ghosts were verified by fully satisfactory tests, then they would be material things, and that human minds are necessarily material because we have unassailable evidence that they exist. I think that there is a certain impetus in our language toward using the word “matter” in this very wide sense, so as to regard as material anything that common sense and the natural sciences accept as real. This impetus is due to the fundamental character of physics in the hierarchy of the natural sciences, and to the constant success that has resulted from extending physical and chemical conceptions into the biological realm. The tendency may be seen in the following remark of Engels: “The real unity of the world consists in its materiality, and this is proved not by a few juggling phrases, but by a long and protracted development of philosophy and natural science.”14 To use the word “material” as equivalent to “real” or “objective,” however, is to invite all sorts of confusion. In particular, it tends to blind us to the extraordinary difference there is between intelligent and purely mechanical or inanimate behavior. The main reason why the electro-magnetic theory of matter does not disprove materialism is that the behavior of electrons, protons, neutrons, etc., while not reducible to that of solid atoms in empty space, is still not, as far as can be judged, the manifestation of mind or soul. Scientific research could only lead to the “dissolution of matter” in any non-tautological and interesting sense of the word, by showing some form of intelligence at work in things. Natural science could only reveal the supernatural by becoming a moral science too. And as the very notions involved in accurate discussion of the sub-atomic world are so very remote from such conceptions as “person,” “will,” “purpose,” etc., it is not very likely that signs of intelligence and purpose will be found in that quarter. For our notions of mind and spirit are, as I have already indicated, framed in terms of the common-sense world of people, trees, and mountains, not in terms of recondite physical conceptions.
It is a remarkable feature of the Marxist philosophy that, although it discards Hegel’s speculative idealism, it retains at least some of the terminology of his dialectical method. Marxists must therefore think that the dialectical method is compatible with the methods of the empirical sciences, even if not actually identical with them. Yet it is perfectly clear that Hegel does not use the methods of the empirical sciences in his major discussions of nature, man, and society. Fortunately, however, Stalin, in the fourth chapter of the History of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union,15 has given a general account of the Marxist theory of dialectics which goes some way toward solving the puzzle. According to Stalin, “dialectics is the direct opposite of metaphysics.” Now the word “metaphysics” is today most often used to mean the same as “speculative philosophy,” so that it would be natural to suppose that Stalin, in this sentence, is opposing dialectics to speculative philosophy as practiced by Hegel or Leibniz. If this were so, then dialectics would be linked with the scientific method in opposition to what is regarded as idle thinking that evades control by experience. I have no doubt that this association helps to recommend dialectics in some “progressive” circles, but in fact Stalin’s usage is taken from Engels’ Anti-Dühring, in which the following passage occurs: “To the metaphysician, things and their mental images, ideas, are isolated, to be considered one after the other apart from each other, rigid, fixed objects of investigation given once for all. He thinks in absolutely discontinuous antitheses. His communication is ‘Yea, yea, Nay, nay, for whatsoever is more than these cometh of evil.’ For him a thing either exists, or it does not exist; it is equally impossible for a thing to be itself and at the same time something else. Positive and negative absolutely exclude one another; cause and effect stand in an equally rigid antithesis one to the other. At first sight this mode of thought seems to us extremely plausible, because it is the mode of thought of so-called sound common sense. But sound common sense, respectable fellow as he is within the homely precincts of his own four walls, has most wonderful adventures as soon as he ventures out into the wide world of scientific research. Here the metaphysical mode of outlook, justifiable and even necessary as it is in domains whose extent varies according to the nature of the object under investigation, nevertheless sooner or later always reaches a limit beyond which it becomes one-sided, limited, abstract, and loses its way in insoluble contradictions. And this is so because in considering individual things it loses sight of their connections; in contemplating their existence it forgets their coming into being and passing away; in looking at them at rest it leaves their motion out of account; because it cannot see the wood for the trees.”16 Taking this use of the word “metaphysics” for granted, Stalin, in the work just cited, mentions four ways in which the Marxist dialectic is opposed to metaphysics. In the first place, whereas in metaphysics things are regarded as joined in “accidental agglomeration” and as “unconnected with, isolated from, and independent of each other,” according to the Marxist dialectic things are “organically connected with, dependent on, and determined by each other,” and can only be properly understood as such. In the second place, according to the Marxist dialectic nature is in “continuous movement and change,” so that a proper understanding of things requires them to be grasped “from the standpoint of their movement, their change, their development, their coming into being and going out of being.” The implication is that according to metaphysics nature is in a state of “rest and immobility, stagnation and immutability.” The third proposition of Marxist dialectics mentioned by Stalin is that “the process of development” is one in which there is passage “from insignificant and imperceptible quantitative changes to open, fundamental changes, to qualitative changes; a development in which the qualitative changes occur not gradually, but rapidly and abruptly, taking the form of a leap from one state to another; they occur not accidentally, but as the natural result of an accumulation of imperceptible and gradual quantitative changes.” The implication is drawn this time that according to metaphysics processes of development take place “as a movement in a circle,” as “a simple repetition of what has already occurred” (see page 69 below). Finally, Marxist dialecticians hold that “internal contradictions are inherent in all things and phenomena of nature,” and that “the struggle between these opposites, the struggle between the old and the new, between that which is dying away and that which is being born, between that which is disappearing and that which is developing, constitutes the internal content of the process of development, the internal content of the transformation of quantitative changes into qualitative changes.” By implication, therefore, the view of metaphysics is that struggle and contradiction are not inherent in everything.
Summarizing, we may say that according to metaphysics, as expounded by Marxists, things are independent of one another, both static and gradual, and non-contradictory, whereas according to Marxist dialectics they are organically interconnected, dynamic, sudden, and contradictory.
It is, of course, obvious that these contentions are of special importance in the social sphere. Marxists, however, believe that they are basic principles that apply to inanimate nature as well as to human societies. In the next following sections I shall be concerned with their general bearing on nature as a whole rather than with their bearing on the merely human part of it.
As I have already indicated, the word “metaphysics” is generally used to mean (a) philosophy itself, as the study of first principles, and (b) speculative philosophy, i.e., the philosophy which claims to reach conclusions about the world by a priori argument. But the use of the word which Stalin takes over from Engels differs from both of these, and I will now make some suggestions about its sources.
Both Marx and Engels learned philosophy from men who had studied in the Hegelian school, and we should therefore first turn to Hegel for the origin of this piece of nomenclature. Engels makes this clear when in his Ludwig Feuerbach he refers to “the old method of investigation and thought which Hegel calls ‘metaphysical,’ which preferred to investigate things as given, as fixed and stable.” Now Hegel used the word “metaphysics” in the two ordinary senses already mentioned, and maintained that those philosophers who disclaim belief in any first principles or in any unverifiable truths must nevertheless presuppose a metaphysic into which they do not enquire. Thus in § 98 of the Encyclopedia he says that in modern times a good many political philosophers presuppose an atomistic metaphysics: and in the notes to this section he remarks that, since everyone who thinks must have some metaphysics, the important thing is to have the right one. In fact Hegel believed that in his system logic and metaphysics were shown to be one. In his Science of Logic, however, and in the logical part of the Encyclopedia, he writes about “the former metaphysics” (die vormalige Metaphysik). By this he meant such pre-Kantian metaphysical systems as that of Christian Wolff, in which the attempt had been made to establish definite conclusions as to the nature of being in general (Ontology), the soul (Pneumatology), the world (Cosmology), and God (Natural Theology), by means of rigorous deductions from propositions the terms of which had been clearly defined. This form of metaphysics, Hegel thought, was an attempt to apply mathematical or quasi-mathematical methods of reasoning to subjects they were not fitted for. This procedure, he agreed with Kant, was improperly dogmatical, and, again in agreement with Kant, he held that it was characteristic of the Understanding as distinct from the Reason. The categories of the Understanding are rigidly distinguished from one another and are accepted, in this sort of reasoning, pretty much at their face value from “popular conceptions.” A critical examination of them shows, however, that they are not disconnected but can only be adequately grasped in their connection with one another. Thus, for example, according to the Understanding the world is either finite or infinite; but according to the Reason the notions of finite and infinite are not exclusive of one another. On Hegel’s view, accordingly, the dialectical method of speculative philosophy “carried out the principle of totality.” In § 80 of the Encyclopedia he writes: “Thought, as Understanding, remains with the firm and definite distinctions of things one against the other; it treats this form of limited abstract as having real existence.” In § 81 he writes: “The Dialectical stage is that in which these finite characters are superseded and pass into their opposites.” In § 82 he writes: “The Speculative stage, or stage of Positive Reason, apprehends the unity of properties in their opposition, the affirmation that is contained in their dissolution and transition.” That Engels used the word “metaphysics” to mean something like Hegel’s “former metaphysics” may readily be seen by referring back to the passage from the Anti-Dühring quoted in the previous section.
But of course Engels does not, as Hegel did, condemn abstract metaphysics in terms of a more satisfactory speculative philosophy. The more satisfactory thing with which Engels compares it is a dialectics of nature that is at the same time empirical and materialistic. Here, I suggest, he may well have been influenced from other quarters. As early as the seventeenth century, the adjective “metaphysical” had been used (by Bossuet among others) in a pejorative sense to mean “too abstract,” and analogously the noun “metaphysics” had been used to mean the misuse of abstract terms. In the nineteenth century this use of the term was taken over by Comte and turned into a technical term of his philosophy. According to Comte, human thought had passed through two preparatory phases, and was about to enter upon a third and final one. The preparatory phases were the theological, in which explanations of natural events were in terms of gods, and the transitional metaphysical phase, in which gods were replaced by abstract principles. At the positive stage—Hegel, it will be recalled, had used the word “positive” for the highest stage of speculative thinking—explanations were in terms of laws based on the facts themselves, and not in terms of causes, whether gods or hypothetical principles. Positive, i.e., genuinely scientific, knowledge, is, furthermore, always regarded as relative, i.e., as provisional. Whereas at the metaphysical stage of knowledge the claim is made to know some things absolutely, anyone who has advanced to the positive stage is aware that any single scientific proposition is modifiable in the light of further discoveries. Thus, where positive knowledge is relative, metaphysical pseudo-knowledge is abstract and absolute. Comte gave as examples of metaphysical theories the theory of natural rights, and the individualistic laissez-faire economic science of the early nineteenth century. The exponents of these theories, he held, not being concerned with real individuals but with abstractions invented by themselves, falsely believed that individuals could be understood in abstraction from their society and the stage of civilization it had reached, and that the laws of economics were independent of the more complex laws of society as a whole. Central to Comte’s use of the word “metaphysics,” therefore, is the notion of thought which errs by isolating what is in fact joined and by fixing what is in fact fluid. The likeness to Hegel’s “the former metaphysics” is apparent, but whereas Hegel’s contrast was between abstract metaphysical thinking and concrete metaphysical thinking, Comte’s was between abstract metaphysical thinking and positive thinking that was not metaphysical in any sense at all. The Marxist view is that genuinely empirical and scientific thinking is dialectical, so that it is possible to think dialectically without falling into the quicksands of speculation. We may see in the Marxist view, indeed, an exaltation of the methods of the empirical sciences by applying to them epithets which had previously added distinction to the higher flights of Hegelian speculation.
A further point to be observed in the Marxist notion of “metaphysics” is that it is not a consistent view. For the implication of the second characteristic of dialectics is that according to metaphysics nature is in a state of “rest and immobility, stagnation and immutability,” whereas the third characteristic of dialectics implies that according to metaphysics things develop “as a movement in a circle,” as “a simple repetition of what has already occurred.” But clearly if nature is immobile and immutable, it does not move at all, whether in circles or by repetition, and if it moves in circles or repeats itself then it is not immobile or immutable. No one with any intelligence, therefore, who reads Stalin’s account of it could possibly consider “metaphysics” worth subscribing to.
In order to bring out the logical structure of the Marxist dialectics of nature, I will start my discussion of it with the principle that Stalin mentions second, namely with the principle that “nature is not a state of rest and immobility, stagnation and immutability, but a state of continuous movement and change,” etc. Anyone unfamiliar with philosophical literature will be surprised, perhaps, that it should be necessary to deny that nature is at rest and immutable, for it seems to be as plain as anything could be that changes are constantly going on. At the present moment, for example, the reader is running his eye down the page and thus losing sight of part of it and bringing another part of it into view, and this is surely a sort of change. Speculative philosophers, however, have written poems and books in which they have argued that change is impossible and that whatever is real is eternal, that is to say, outside time altogether. I think we may take it, therefore, that, when Marxists assert that nature changes, one of the things they are doing is denying this form of speculative metaphysics, just as they are denying idealism when they repeat the realist platitude. And just as the realist platitude has point only as a counter to idealism, so the assertion of change has point only as a counter to such metaphysicians as Parmenides and Bradley. Now whatever these metaphysicians say, things seem to change. Rivers seem to flow and fires seem to flicker. But according to the metaphysicians we have mentioned rivers do not really flow, fires do not really flicker, and it is only seemings or appearances that really flow and flicker. Thus it would appear that on their view appearances change but realities do not. Are there then appearances? If there are, then appearances are real and realities can change. If there are not, then rivers do not even seem to flow, and fires do not even seem to flicker. If the metaphysician accepts the first alternative, he abandons his assertion that there is no change; if he accepts the second, either he flies in the face of all experience, or he means something very different by “rivers,” “fires,” “flows,” and “flickers” from what is ordinarily meant by these words. For ordinarily we mean by these words the flowing rivers and flickering fires that appear to us, not some recondite reality that only philosophers talk about. Unless the metaphysician is prepared to argue that it is always false to say such things as that rivers flow and fires flicker, his assertion that reality is changeless is not quite what at first sight it seems to be, and is compatible with the changefulness that is so obvious. In so far as Marxists mean to say something like this, it seems to me that they are correct to assert the reality of change.
A second point that Marxists may have in mind when they assert the reality of change is that the physical basis of the world we live in is the changeful, sub-microscopic world of electro-magnetism, of quanta and positrons, in which speeds and movements occur which are enormously greater and smaller than anything we meet with at the macroscopic level. That is, the Marxist accepts the scientific view of the physical world according to which what is behind the ordinary appearances of things is something much more labile than the appearances themselves. The Platonists had held that behind the appearances there were changeless forms. Contemporary physics holds that behind the appearances there is something even more changeful than they. Marxists claim to accept the view of modern physics. (It is interesting to note here another parallel between Marxism and ancient Stoicism. “The Stoics,” writes M. Bréhier in his book on Chrysippus, “transformed the whole of logic into dialectic.” In particular, they argued against the Platonic view that all movement is degrading, and refused to reduce activities, such as “walking,” to states of the agent.)
In the third place, however, Marxists appear to hold the view, first put forward in Ancient Greece by Heraclitus, that only change is real and that rest is a mere appearance. Perhaps we may go so far as to say that the notion of absolute permanence or immutability does not refer to anything we could experience, but is rather an ideal limit. Lightning flashes are impermanent by comparison with houses, but houses are impermanent by comparison with mountain ranges. We always assess changes by reference to backgrounds of permanence, but we find that these backgrounds are themselves subject to change by reference to some further background. We can find no changeless physical thing. The everlasting hills are everlasting only by comparison with the generations of men. We may say with the Marxists, therefore, that the attempt to discover the laws of natural processes is the attempt to understand things “from the standpoint of their movement, their change, their development, their coming into being and going out of being.” It does not follow from this, however, that nothing endures, that all things flow, unless we are using the word “endure” to mean “absolute permanence,” and the word “flow” in a sense in which stagnant pools and mountains flow. It is one thing to say that absolute permanence is not found in nature, and quite another thing to suggest that all nature is equally changeful. It would be absurd to call a man who is a hundred years old a young man just because a range of mountains has existed for hundreds of thousands of years. When, therefore, someone says that nature is changeful, we may agree that this is true, and that it is a useful thing to say to someone else who had said that nature is changeless. But if what is meant is that there is no rest or permanence in nature in the ordinary meanings of “rest” or “permanence,” then the statement is misleading in a way that has something in common with the misleadingness of the statement that change is not real. For it is obvious that, even though everything changes, some things change more than others. Just as, therefore, to say that nothing changes is to deny the manifest differences among things, so to say that everything changes may at any rate draw the mind away from these manifest differences. There is an absurdity in the suggestion that nothing changes because the very attempt to suppose it necessarily appears to involve change—as we strain our attention and reflect—and therefore does involve change in the ordinary sense of the word. There is not this absurdity in the suggestion that nothing moves, since the immobility of the things concerning which it makes sense to say that they move is quite consistent with changes in our thought about them, and quite consistent with changes in intensity, as with the intensities of heard sounds or seen colors. But there is no absurdity in the supposition that everything changes, and that what seems to be permanence is really very slow change. Nor is there any absurdity in the notion that everything about which it makes sense to say that it moves does really move, and that what seems to be immobility is really very slow movement. The reason for this difference is that whereas changelessness and immobility are absolute notions that admit of no degree—not changing is just not changing, and any departure from that must be a change, must be something opposed to changelessness—change and movement are relative notions that admit of degree, and therefore allow a place for changelessness and immobility as very small degrees of change or of movement. If this is so, it follows that metaphysical systems like that of Leibniz which make use of fundamental notions such as activity that admit of degree are superior to systems like those of Parmenides, Spinoza, or Bradley, in which the emphasis is on an absolute unchanging being. That is to say, metaphysical systems cannot be all rejected out of hand for defects that exist only in one class of them. I do not think, therefore, that the Marxist metaphysics is, as metaphysics, as objectionable as the metaphysics of changelessness to which it is opposed.
The Law of the Transformation of Quantity into Quality
Granted that nature is changeful, what forms do its changes take? The Marxists hold that they have discovered the law in accordance with which the changes of nature occur. They call this law “the Law of the Transformation of Quantity into Quality and vice versa.”17 In what follows we shall discuss the transformation of quantity into quality and neglect the reverse operation, since this is not a matter that Marxists give much attention to. According to this law, as we have already seen, “the process of development” is (a) one in which a number of insignificant and gradual changes in the quantity of something are abruptly succeeded by a marked change in its quality, and (b) one in which these abrupt changes are not accidental but are “the natural result” of the preceding quantitative changes. In the passage from which I have already quoted, Stalin also says (c) that these changes of quality are “an onward and upward movement,” (d) that they are a “development from the simple to the complex,” and (e) that they are “from the lower to the higher.” With this sort of change is contrasted the sort of change that nature is held not to undergo, namely gradual changes, “movement in a circle,” “simple repetition of what has already occurred.” Stalin quotes Engels to the effect that Darwin had helped to prove this law by showing that the organic world had evolved from the inorganic, and refers to the following illustrations of it given by Engels: the sudden change of water into steam when the temperature is raised, and to ice when the temperature is lowered; the melting points of metals; the critical points of temperature and pressure at which gases are converted into liquids, etc. Engels had also cited, as examples of the law, the fact that chemical combination takes place only when the combining substances are in the proper proportions—“Chemistry can be termed the science of the qualitative changes of bodies as a result of changed quantitative composition”18 —and Marx’s statement that to become capital a sum of money must be more than a certain minimum. Incidentally, in this passage Marx says: “Here, just as in the natural sciences, we find confirmation of the law discovered by Hegel in his Logic, that at a certain point, what have been purely quantitative changes become qualitative.”19
It will thus be seen that this is another notion that Marxists have adapted from Hegel. In his discussion of the category of “measure” Hegel gives the following examples of the transformation of quantity into quality across what he calls “nodal lines”: (1) The series of natural numbers is formed by the addition of units, so that each number has the same relation to its neighbors that any other number has. But nevertheless, according to Hegel, the series also generates at various points along it different, new relations, such that some numbers are the squares, or square roots, of others. (2) The notes of a musical scale ascend gradually, the interval between any two successive notes being the same as that between the first of them and the note that preceded it. At a certain point in the scale, however, the regular ascension is variegated by a sudden return, with a difference, to the keynote from which the series of notes began. Thus there is a gradual ascension from low C until the next higher C, at which point there is an abrupt return and a relationship to the starting note which the intervening notes did not have. (3) In chemical combination the substances that combine do so in certain definite proportions. Thus only from certain combinations of Oxygen and Nitrogen do the various oxides of Nitrogen result. (4) Water suddenly becomes ice when the temperature is lowered to freezing point. That is, water is gradually cooled down to freezing point—a nodal line—and then suddenly changes from the liquid quality to the solid quality. (5) Birth and death are each of them sudden changes succeeding the gradual changes of growth and decay. (6) By a sudden transition beyond a certain point, carelessness becomes crime, justice becomes injustice, virtue becomes vice. (7) The population of a state may gradually increase without causing any fundamental change in the character of the state. But if the population gets above a certain level the old institutions cease to be adequate, and the state changes its form. “The state,” writes Hegel, “has a proportion relative to its size, such that if it grow beyond this it becomes unstable and collapses under the very constitution which, with another range of size, brought to it happiness and strength.” This is illustrated in the note to § 108 of the Encyclopedia by the constitution of a Swiss canton which “does not suit a great kingdom.” (8) In the note to § 108 of the Encyclopedia Hegel also refers to puzzles about the number of grains it takes to make a heap, and the number of hairs that have to be plucked from a horse’s tail to make it a bald-tailed horse. It is by these examples that Hegel illustrates his principle.20
Before we discuss the Marxist view, it will be as well, I suggest, to look at these examples a little more closely, since they differ from one another quite a lot. They are not easy to classify, but may conveniently be grouped into four classes.
The first class comprises (4) and (5), and, a little less obvious perhaps, (1) and (2). These are the examples that most clearly correspond to those employed by Marxists. In all these cases there is a series of regular changes, of temperature, of growth and decay, of number and of pitch, and at some point in each of the series a member emerges which is not merely the next in the series but has some peculiar characteristic over and above that of being next that differentiates it from the preceding ones. The water gets colder and colder and then, suddenly freezing, becomes a solid; the sleeping embryo wakes up and breaks from the mother; the man’s body gradually decays and then collapses in death; the number 4 is not merely the one that follows 3 but is also the square of 2; the next higher note is not merely the one that follows B but is also the higher C. The general formula seems to be as follows: something has properties A, B, and C; the quantity of C is gradually changed and as a result A or B becomes D. (If the conception were to be fully analyzed we should have to distinguish between unspecific properties like color or physical state and specific ones like scarlet or solid, and between intensive quantity like the loudness of a noise and extensive quantity like size or population. But the scale of our work does not allow of such detailed treatment of this matter.)
The second class is exemplified by (3), the case of chemical combination. Here the notion is not that of a series of gradual changes leading to a sudden jump. Instead there are two (or more) substances which can be combined in all sorts of ways and proportions and yet retain their separate identities; but there is a definite proportion and way of combining them which results in their losing their separate identities and becoming a different sort of substance. Just as water suddenly becomes ice at 0°C, so a mixture of Hydrogen and Oxygen suddenly becomes water when sparked under the requisite conditions. The general formula appears to be: A has properties P and Q, B has properties R and S; mechanically combined they retain their separate identities, but chemically combined they become C, with properties X and Y (or with properties P, S, and X, etc.).
Example (8), it seems to me, makes up the third class, although (6) could conceivably be grouped with it too. A few grains are not a heap, and a million grains are; hairless Harry is bald, and hirsute Horace is not; and so we suppose that there must be a definite number of grains beyond which a heap is attained, and a quantity of hair beyond which baldness lies. But in fact this sort of case is quite different from the first two. With them the “leap” was a leap in nature, from liquid to solid, from mechanical mixture to chemical compound. But with the present case the point of transition calls for human legislation, and it is for us to decide how little hair a man must have if he is to be called bald. If Horace loses a few hairs a day for a long period a time will come when his friends will say: “Horace is bald.” But baldness did not flash on to his head in the way in which his wet hair might have frozen in the cold. There is an intermediate stage when some of his friends might have said he was bald and others might have said he was not.
The fourth class comprises the moral and political examples, i.e., (6) and (7). (7) might have been included in the first class, as the gradual increase of population is analogous to the gradual decrease of the temperature of the water. The “nodal line,” however, is not nearly as definite in the political example. In normal circumstances water freezes at 0°C, but we have no such knowledge of an exact level of population beyond which the constitution fails to operate. There are various reasons for this. The breakdown of a constitution is not something that can be apprehended by the senses, as the transformation of a liquid into a solid can be. Indeed, there is no very definite criterion of the failure of a constitution to work which could be correlated with the fairly definite notion of the population of a state. Temperature and freezing are notions with the same possibilities of precision, whereas the fairly precise notion of population does not consort very well with the rather rough notion of a constitutional breakdown. That Hegel’s comparison of the two cases is suggestive cannot be denied, but it would be misleading (even within the confines of the Hegelian philosophy) to regard them as closely analogous. The importance of thus distinguishing between these different levels of precision (as we may call them) for the philosophy of the social sciences need hardly be emphasized.21 The moral examples given in (6) are even less susceptible of quantitative treatment. It is not by the accumulation of quantitative changes that carelessness becomes crime and virtue becomes vice. It is true that there may be a transition from carelessness to negligence, and from negligence to criminal negligence, but it is not any amount of carelessness that leads to this transition but rather the circumstances in which it takes place and the precautions that might have been taken. There is a slight similarity with (8), since what constitutes criminality is in part a matter of legislation. But the legislation is not the fixing of a quantity, since there is no quantity such as numbers of grains or hairs on which the legislation is based. (Unless it be de minimis non curat lex.) Again, we say that providence is a virtue, but it becomes meanness or miserliness, not when the provident man gets more and more provident, nor when he saves more and more money, but when he saves what he ought to spend or give away. (This is the sort of criticism that is brought against Aristotle’s doctrine that virtue is a mean between two extremes, a doctrine that Hegel, no doubt, had in mind when writing the section we are now discussing.)
We may now return to the Marxist interpretation of the Law of the Transformation of Quantity into Quality. The Marxists chiefly have in mind changes such as those exemplified in the first group of cases given by Hegel, in which there are natural jumps across “nodal lines.” The first question we have to ask is: To what sort of natural changes is this law applied—to the evolution of nature as a whole, or to the changes that take place within the various parts of nature? If the intention were merely to say that some of the changes that take place in the world conform to this law, then it could hardly be contested, for water does freeze and boil. Some Marxists, perhaps, have been content with this, and have thought that if it be granted that such sudden changes occur in inanimate nature it follows that human societies must necessarily undergo revolutionary transformations. But there is no force in this argument. If some natural changes are across “nodal lines” and others are not, some special reasons must be given to show that social changes are of the sort that do occur across “nodal lines.” Apart from such special reasons, all that can be legitimately concluded is that since some physical changes are of this nature, and since human society is a part of the physical world, it is conceivable that some of the changes that take place in human societies conform to this pattern. If all physical changes exemplified this law, there would be slightly more reason for expecting it to be of relevance to human societies, though again the inference would be shaky enough, since it might well happen that the human parts of nature are subject to different laws of change from those that apply in the purely physical parts. But it can hardly be maintained that everything in the physical world changes in the way that water changes into ice or steam. It is characteristic of glass, for example, that on being heated it reaches the liquid stage gradually, and can therefore be manipulated and molded in a way that ice cannot be. In advance of detailed enquiry, the melting of glass might just as well be regarded as a model of social change as the freezing or boiling of water.
The Marxist view appears to be, then, that the law in question is exhibited in the development of nature as a whole. Stalin, in the passage from which I have quoted, refers the laws of dialectics to “nature,” and uses the phrase “the process of development” when he writes specifically of the Law of the Transformation of Quantity into Quality. If we turn to Engels’ Dialectics of Nature we find that Stalin has been faithful to his tradition, since Engels writes: “It is, therefore, from the history of nature and human society that the laws of dialectics are abstracted. For they are nothing but the most general laws of these two aspects of historical development. . . .”22 The scheme presented by the Marxists commences with a universe in which there was only one type or only a few types of physical substance. Changes in the temperature or density or some other quantitative feature of this prime material resulted in the emergence of a greater variety of physical substances until life and mind and human societies have come into existence. This is the evolutionary picture of things that has been familiar since the middle of the last century. What differentiates the Marxist version is the emphasis on sudden leaps as, for example, liquid is considered to have brusquely distilled into a previously gaseous universe and so instituted a new type of being. From time to time something new emerges that is not merely a change of order or arrangement, that is no mere stirring up of the old ingredients.
At this stage we can see how the Law of the Transformation of Quantity into Quality combines the first two classes of example given by Hegel. The change of water into ice exemplifies the acquisition of new properties by the same chemical substance, whereas in chemical, as distinct from mere mechanical, combination, new substances with new properties are produced. In either event, materials come into the world that had not been there before. We can now see why Stalin, in language reminiscent of Herbert Spencer, says that there is a development “from the simple to the complex.” The world is regarded as acquiring physical and chemical variety through stages of mere repetition punctuated by leaps into the hitherto non-existent. The new types of substance are “the natural results” of their components and predecessors, in the sense that we regard freezing and chemical change as normal and natural. The universe gets more various in as natural a way as water turns to steam. What can be meant by saying, then, that the more complex beings are “higher,” and that the evolutionary movement is “onward and upward”? I do not wish now to discuss the tendency we have to prefer variety to monotony, but I have no doubt that we do all tend, other things being equal, to prefer a rich and varied world to one with little in it, and this, no doubt, is the explanation of the use of the word “higher” in this connection. Furthermore, inasmuch as human beings are the most complex of things, and the only ones that frame theories about the development of the world, they may take themselves as standards by which to judge the rest, both out of pride and convenience. Either the evolution of the universe is directed toward the production of man, who is thus the favorite, if not yet the lord, of creation, or else, man, once he has emerged, decides to use his species as the standard of the world’s development. Clearly a Marxist would have to prefer the second alternative.
The view here summarized is substantially that which, in English philosophy, has come to be known as the theory of Emergent Evolution. On this view, there is no need to postulate a Creator of the world; the change and variety of things can be accounted for by supposing that new qualities have emerged from combinations and concentrations of a few original ones by processes we can come to recognize. Exponents of Emergent Evolution, like Marxists, stigmatize as “mechanistic” any attempts to maintain that complex beings are really only groups of simple ones to which they may be reduced. The process of the world is not, according to them, a combining and re-combining of the old elements in manifold ways, but is rather a constant development of types of being that have not existed hitherto. The key word is “novelty.” Thus on this view, life and mind are not merely certain re-arrangements of matter, but something that emerges when these re-arrangements take place. But for these re-arrangements there would be no life and mind, but life and mind cannot be reduced to them. Dr. John Lewis, the Marxist philosopher, gave several pages of his introduction to A Textbook of Marxist Philosophy to showing how Dialectical Materialism and Emergent Evolution are at one on this issue.23 If, however, we turn to the part of this work that is translated from the Russian, we find what looks like vacillation. Mechanism, we are told, “arrives at an absolute monotony of nature,”24 and this is what we should expect; but we are a little surprised to read a few pages later: “Breaks are never absolute.”25 Other Marxists have turned against Emergent Evolution with considerable emphasis. Thus Mr. Caudwell, in his Further Studies in a Dying Culture, writes: “Thus, instead of a world of becoming in which all unfolds itself with complete determinism, because all phenomena are materially real, we have a world unfolded in time and space by the Jack-in-the-box appearance of new and unpredictable qualities. Such a philosophy is incompetent to explain society or the generation either of itself or other philosophies.”26 A similar critical attitude toward Emergent Evolution is adopted by Mr. Cornforth in his Dialectical Materialism and Science.
The reason for this modification of attitude is easy to see. Marxists wish to emphasize two things, the occurrence of sudden leaps in nature, and the possibility of a science of society that will allow social predictions to be made. They hold both that sudden leaps occur and that they can predict what the future form of human society will be. These two views, however, do not easily go together, as I shall now endeavor to show. Both Marxists and Emergent Evolutionists criticize mechanists for not allowing that there is genuine novelty in nature. Now there is a sense of “new” according to which there is something new whenever any change has taken place. In this sense of the word there would be something new if some already existing elements were merely re-arranged. What is new would be the re-arrangement, and someone who knew what the elements were and had had some experience of their being re-arranged could conceive of all sorts of possible re-arrangements that had never in fact existed. But someone might say: “There is nothing really new when old elements are being merely re-arranged. I mean by ‘new’ something of a sort that has never existed before at all.” In this second sense of the word, there is only something really new when something occurs which could not have been conceived of in advance of its occurrence. Nothing that a blind man smells or touches can give him, in advance of seeing, any idea of what the color green is like, and therefore if a man born blind comes to see, he will be seeing things new to him each time he sees a color for the first time. It is possible that a man who has knowledge of some elements and of their re-arrangements will be able to predict how they will be re-arranged in the future, for he knows at least what it would be like for them to be re-arranged in certain ways. But no one could possibly describe in advance of its occurrence a color or a sound which no one had ever yet experienced. If something is new in this second sense it cannot be predicted because no one is able to make or to understand the prediction. Now it is clear that changes leading only to new arrangements of the old units are the sort of change that Stalin describes as “a movement in a circle” and as “a simple repetition of what has already occurred.” It is such changes, however, which can obviously be understood in advance of their occurrence. It is not so obvious that predictions could be made of occurrences that (a) are not mere re-arrangements of elements that already exist, and (b) have never been experienced before. If such predictions are impossible, then two major theses of the Marxist philosophy, the thesis of sudden qualitative “leaps,” and the thesis that at least one qualitative “leap” in the transformation of human society, viz., the transition to Communism, can be foreseen, are in contradiction with one another. This is probably the reason why the Leningrad philosophers say: “Breaks are never absolute,” and why Mr. Caudwell refuses to accept aid from Emergent Evolutionists.
We must distinguish, I suggest, between qualitative leaps or breaks which have been observed on many occasions, like that of water to ice, and those major breaks with the past, like the emergence of liquid or life, which, according to the Marxist theory of evolution, have occurred on specific occasions. There was a time, we may suppose, when there was only gas, and then the first liquid emerged; there was a time when there was only matter, and then life emerged. Once liquids and life have come, it is possible that predictions will be made about when new liquids will emerge and about when new forms of life will emerge—for the man making the predictions will know in a general way what it is that he is predicting. It is conceivable that before such new things first came into existence someone might be able to predict that something very peculiar was about to happen—there might be circumstances analogous in some ways to those that preceded some earlier cosmic “leap”—but he could not, before it occurred, say what sort of thing it was going to be. If this be so, and if Communist society is a qualitatively different type of society from Capitalist society, then it is only possible to predict it if other societies have turned into Communist societies just as water has before now turned into ice. But Marxists do not believe that other societies in the past have turned into Communist societies. They think, rather, that the Communism of the future will be a break through to something that has not existed before. If, therefore, the “Communist quality” of the future society is a new sort of break with the past across a nodal line that we have not yet reached, we can have no idea of what is peculiar to it, and talk about it is talk about our ignorance. It may be said, of course, that according to Marxists there has been a Communist society in the past, viz., Primitive Communism, which is alleged to have existed before classes were instituted. If this were to be granted, then it could be said that prediction of the Communism of the future was comparable to prediction of some new liquid by someone who already has knowledge of liquids. This objection has some point, but it is in fact difficult for a Marxist to uphold, since the Communism of the future is, according to his theory, at several removes from Primitive Communism, and like it only to the extent that it would have no private property and no classes. These formal features cannot constitute what is new in the Communism of the future.
Marxists, it should be mentioned, rest their case in part on the fact that Mendeléeff, in the nineteenth century, was able, on the basis of his Periodic Table, to predict not only that certain hitherto unknown elements probably existed, but also what their properties would be. But Mendeléeff was not able to predict the discovery of properties that nothing had ever had before. The elements that were subsequently discovered (Gallium, Germanium, etc.) possessed, not properties that had never before been known of, but different groupings of qualities possessed by other already known elements as well. If, therefore, this conception is to be applied to the Communist society of the future, all that could be predicted would be that certain properties, A, B, and C, which had never before belonged to any single society, would co-exist in the future Communist society. But this would surely be “simple repetition of what has already occurred, a mechanistic or metaphysical circular change. For the dialectical change that Marxists sponsor is more than a re-arrangement of already existing entities, whether they be already existing units or already existing qualities.
In conclusion, it is perhaps worth pointing out that it is easy to confuse the emergence of new qualities with something that is quite different. The confusion arises when we fail to see the difference between Hegel’s example that on page 75 I numbered (8)—the example about the number of grains it takes to make a heap—and his example about water changing to ice when the temperature is lowered to freezing-point. In the second case there is a marked observable difference; first there is liquid, and then there is solid. In the first case, however, there is no such marked difference at the point of transition, since there is an element of choice about whether we call a set of grains a heap or not. The addition of grain after grain is gradual and remains so, but in some circumstances (e.g., if we were buying or selling sand by the heap) we may have to decide quite definitely between what is a heap and what is not a heap. Now I am not at all sure that all of the “leaps” implied in the evolutionary picture of the world are of the water-into-ice sort rather than of the not-heap-to-heap, or bald-to-hirsute sort. If the world began as a gas, then the emergence of liquidity could be compared to the sudden freezing of water. But it is possible that the emergence of life has been no such abrupt occurrence. For it may be that the natural changes have been gradual, that we feel no hesitation in saying that certain things are without life and that others are clearly alive, but that the point at which we draw the line is one that we have to choose, not one that the facts press upon us in unmistakable fashion. Strictly speaking, indeed, every observable change is a change of quality. Each coldness that we experience as the water approaches freezing-point is a distinct coldness, though we have no separate name for each of them. This may be illustrated by the distinction we make between “warm” and “hot,” for which there would seem to be no precise analogies in the degrees of coldness. Where there are very marked qualitative differences, we feel that a distinct name is needed, but it is unwise to assume that every different name for the stages in a transition corresponds to some marked leap or break.
Now the last paragraph needs to be supplemented by a further complication. Although the transition from grains to heap is one that allows us to draw the line between the two at various, more or less arbitrary points, the distinction has some analogy with the sudden transition from water to ice. For when the grains of sand are added, one after the other, a point is reached when the “look,” of the grains becomes different. First there was a plurality of grains, and then, after a while, we see them as a whole. To begin with we should describe ourselves as adding grains to grains, and then as adding grains to the heap. Psychologists give the name “form quality” to the “look” that wholes have as distinct from the separate appearance of each of their parts. For example, if we look closely at the liquid in a glass we may see small particles swimming about in water, but if we look at it from further away we should say that the water is turbid. In this case turbidity is a form quality analogous to the form quality of being a heap rather than a collection of grains. These are qualities that can no more be described before they have been experienced than hitherto unseen colors could be, and they may thus be regarded as a sort of emergent quality. That they are different from transformations of quantity into quality of the chemical combination sort or of the water-to-ice sort may be seen from the fact that the grains of some substance that does not combine chemically with water, and is not even soluble in it, may have a turbid “look,” though in fact they remain separate. However, there is no need here to take this matter further, now we have seen how unduly simplified the Marxist theory is.
Contradiction and the Negation of the Negation
We have now seen that, on the Marxist view, everything is changing, and that periods of gradual change are interspersed with sudden changes in which new types of being come to birth. Marxists regard it as a merit of their theory that it is also capable of explaining why nature changes at all. They hold that the driving force behind all change is an inherent contradiction in things. This is the fourth of the propositions in which Stalin summarizes the essentials of Dialectical Materialism. In expounding this view, he quotes the following phrase from Lenin’s Philosophical Notebooks: “In its proper meaning dialectics is the study of the contradiction within the very essence of things.” We may supplement this with a rather fuller statement from the same work of Lenin’s: “The identity of opposites . . . is the recognition (discovery) of the contradictory, mutually exclusive, opposite tendencies in all phenomena and processes of nature (including mind and society). . . . Development is the ‘struggle’ of opposites. Two basic (or two possible? or two historically observable?) conceptions of development (evolution) are: development as decrease and increase, as repetition; and development as a unity of opposites (the division of the one into mutually exclusive opposites and their reciprocal correlation). . . . The first conception is lifeless, poor, and dry; the second is vital. The second alone furnishes the key to the ‘self-movement’ of everything in existence: it alone offers the key to the ‘leaps,’ to the ‘break in continuity,’ to the ‘transformation into the opposite,’ to the destruction of the old and the emergence of the new. The unity (the coincidence, identity, resultant), of opposites is conditional, temporary, transitory, relative. The struggle of mutually exclusive opposites is absolute, just as development and motion are absolute.”27 Engels had argued that the fact that things moved at all was proof that contradiction was to be found in nature. “Motion itself,” he wrote, “is a contradiction: even simple mechanical change of place can only come about through a body at the same moment of time being both in one place and another place, being in one and the same place and also not in it.”28 Other examples of “contradiction within the very essence of things” given by Engels and Lenin are: the plus and minus signs in mathematics, positive and negative electricity in physics, the class struggle in the social sphere.
All change, then, takes place through contradiction, opposition, struggle. What makes it evolutionary or progressive is that it proceeds by “the negation of the negation.” Process A is opposed by its contradictory not-A, and, let us suppose, is succeeded by not-A. Not-A, in its turn, however, will be the pole of a further opposition, and so will be succeeded by its opposite, A. This second A, however, will not be merely the first A reinstated, for the first A was the opposite of a not-A that had not yet replaced it, while the second A is the opposite of a not-A which has already replaced the original A. Engels gives the example of a grain of barley planted in the ground. This is “negated” by the plant that succeeds it. This, in its turn, however, is negated (the negation of the negation) by its own decay. From its seeds, however, many new plants may arise. “As a result of this negation of the negation we have once again the original grain of barley, but not as a single unit, but ten, twenty or thirty fold.”29
There is a great deal that might be said about all this, but as much of it would be more relevant to the theory of social development, I shall confine my remarks now to a few fundamental matters.
Dühring himself, and subsequent critics of Marxism, have criticized the whole view on the ground that contradiction and negation are logical notions which cannot be transferred without absurdity to the context of natural processes. The proposition “I am writing” is, for any given individual at any given moment, the contradictory of the proposition “I am not writing,” such critics will say, but the process of writing is itself something happening in the world that cannot conceivably be in contradiction with anything else. On this view, contradiction is a logical, not a natural notion, and it does not make sense to say that one thing or event contradicts another. Such an objection, of course, would have to be elaborated in detail if it were to be pressed against Hegel, since Hegel, in his Science of Logic, held that logic and speculative philosophy were essentially one, and hence that logic is somehow involved in the world that exists beyond human thought. Furthermore, if the Marxist “copy” theory of truth were to be pressed, it might well be concluded that our contradictory notions must copy contradictory things, just as Lenin, in his On the Question of Dialectics, held that our ideas of “causality, necessity, natural law, etc.” were “reflections in the human mind of the laws of nature and of the external world.” My own view is that the Marxist theory of nature is anthropomorphic, and has become so by quite a natural, though misleading, sequence of ideas. It is true that the words “contradiction,” “contrary,” “opposition,” etc., are used by logicians in ways that have to be explained to the plain man. For example, it is not immediately obvious to the plain man that the contradictory of “some men are not mortal” is “all men are mortal.” But the ordinary senses of these logical words are nevertheless closely linked with social conceptions. If one man asserts a proposition and another man denies it, the logical relation of contradiction between propositions will be accompanied by conscious disagreement between men, and this may well arouse an opposition between them that is social as well as logical. Social opposition may show itself in more than merely verbal disputing, and then it becomes a maneuver, a struggle or a fight. Again, a frequent cause of struggle is that two people want the same thing and this thing is something that cannot be shared. One man’s having it, we then say, is incompatible with another’s having it, and in so saying we use a word which has logical as well as social import. Furthermore, if there is a struggle between two men, then if one has defeated the other, the other cannot have defeated the one. Logic settles this, but does not settle the issue of the fight. Such phrases as “incompatibility of temperament” and “contradictory aims” show how natural it is to describe human affairs in words that have logical senses. By a further analogical extension, however, it becomes possible to describe physical processes as “struggling,” “opposing,” and the like, as in Lenin’s phrase “struggle of opposites.” Thus, too, colliding or impinging particles may be described as opposing one another, and so there arises a vague picture of their being opposed in the way that men may be. According to Lenin, in a passage we have already quoted, if nature were free from contradiction it would be “lifeless, poor, and dry”; but since it is contradictory, it is “vital.” (The German text has lebendig.) Now “vital” means “alive,” and in thus opposing it to “lifeless” Lenin talks of nature as if it were a living being. This is not to be wondered at, since he borrows so much of his terminology from Hegel, who undoubtedly thought that there is no such thing as matter utterly divorced from mind. It should be noticed, in this connection, that one of the reasons that Lenin gives in his Philosophical Notebooks for holding that nature is always in movement and struggle is that if it were not self-moved, it would have to get its movement from God. He writes: “Linear procedure and onesidedness, woodenness and ossification, subjectivism and subjective blindness, voilà the epistemological roots of Idealism. Priestcraft (= Philosophical Idealism) nevertheless has naturally gnoseological roots, is not without some basis, is incontestably a sterile flower, but a sterile flower, the blooms on the living tree of the living, fruitful, true, powerful, omnipotent, objective, absolute human knowledge.”30 Elsewhere in the same work he comments: “Intelligent Idealism (der kluge Idealismus) is nearer to intelligent materialism than unintelligent (dumme) materialism. Dialectical idealism instead of intelligent; metaphysical, undeveloped, dead, crude, immovable instead of unintelligent.”31 (I take it that in this last sentence Lenin is saying “Substitute ‘dialectical’ for ‘intelligent’ and ‘metaphysical, etc.’ for ‘unintelligent.’”) What remains when such figures of speech are allowed for is that, according to Marxists, there is nothing in nature that remains changeless, and this may very well be true.
We must next observe that Engels thought that the existence of movement proved that there are contradictions in nature, since if something moves it must be in one place and the next adjoining place at the same moment of time. Now the passage from the Anti-Dühring to this effect that I quoted on page 86 follows very closely what Hegel writes in his Science of Logic, book 2, section 1, chapter 2, C, which is headed “Contradiction.” Here Hegel says: “External sensible motion is itself an immediate fact. Something is moving, not while it is in this now here, and in another now there, but while it is here and not here in the same now, while it both is and is not in the same here. We must grant to the ancient dialecticians the contradictions they showed in movement; but it does not follow from that that there is no movement, but rather that movement itself is an existing (daseiende) contradiction.” Hegel is here referring to Zeno of Elea, who argued that to occupy place A a moving thing has to be at rest there, and to occupy the adjacent place B, it has to be at rest there, and that therefore the thing cannot be in movement at all. In his Lectures on the History of Philosophy Hegel says that Zeno is not to be regarded as denying the existence of movement; movement is as real as elephants. “The question concerns rather its truth; movement is untrue, for its idea contains a contradiction; thus he was intending to say that movement has no true being.” It is therefore obvious that when Hegel says that movement is an existing (daseiende) contradiction he means something very different from what Engels means. When Hegel says that something exists, has Dasein, he is claiming very little for it, for he uses the word Dasein for what has immediate, merely finite being, not for what is ultimately real. Engels, therefore, has taken an argument from Hegel’s speculative philosophy, and used it as if it could be comfortably housed in the Marxist anti-speculative philosophy. But it cannot, surely, belong there, for it is as clear as anything could be that things move, but to say that there could be no movement unless there was contradiction in the realm of fact is to draw a conclusion about matter of fact from a particular conception or notion of what movement must be. We observe things moving, and therefore, according to Engels, we must observe them contradicting one another. Could Dühring’s phrase “arabesques of ideas” find a more striking application?
The notion of “the negation of the negation” is, in the Marxist system, primarily of social significance. It is easy to see that when movements of thought come into conflict with their predecessors the victorious system may well take up into itself features of the defeated system, just as legislation in the English Parliament is frequently (though not always) influenced by the criticisms of the Opposition. Thus, much of the paganism that the early Christians deplored has found its way into Christian thought and ritual. However this may be, the spectacle of such an intelligent Marxist philosopher as Plekhanov disputing whether it is the stalk of the barley, or the whole plant, or “the fertilized ovum,” that is the negated negation of the barley seed, is one that can only arouse embarrassment. It is with some relief, therefore, that we read that barley (or is it oats?) will grow “according to Hegel,” whether the sequence is triadic (seed, plant, seed) or tetradic (seed, stalk, flower, seed).32
Status of the Dialectical Laws
We have not so far discussed the proposition that all things are “organically connected with, dependent on, and determined by each other.” That things are not so connected is the thesis of “metaphysics,” in Engels’ sense of the word. What sort of unity of the world, then, do Marxist philosophers assert? It is easy to see that, on their view, nature is one, inasmuch as it is fundamentally material—there is nothing in nature that is not based in matter. A further suggestion of the view is that everything, including human societies, is subject to natural laws. Again, Marxists believe in universal determinism. Perhaps it is believed that all the sciences form a single continuous system, within which all scientific laws are of the same fundamental type. (Yet this would hardly be consistent with the theory of emergence.) “Dialectical materialism,” writes Mr. Mitin, “is against one-sidedness in science, it insists on the examination of natural phenomena in all their connections and interactions.”33 The practical bearing of such a statement would seem to be that scientists should interest themselves in borderline problems, and aim at comprehensive views. Marxist philosophers also hold—as do non-Marxists too—that no single scientific truth is absolute, but is subject to modification in the light of later scientific developments. On the face of it, this might seem like Hegel’s theory that “the truth is the whole,” that only when Reason has completed the structure of philosophy can the partial truths of departmental knowledge be seen in their proper perspective. Hegel, however, was a speculative philosopher, and Marxists reject speculative philosophy. It is difficult not to conclude, therefore, that Marxists have used the language of speculative philosophy to express the methodological commonplace that any statement of empirical science is subject to the possibility of correction.
There is no doubt as to the Marxist account of the status of the laws of dialectic—the Law of the Transformation of Quantity into Quality, the Law of the Interpretation of Opposites, and the Law of the Negation of the Negation. The Marxist view is that these laws are scientific laws of a high degree of generality. According to Engels, “Dialectics is nothing more than the science of the general laws of motion and development of Nature, human society and thought.”34 “Nature,” he also says, “is the test of dialectics.”35 That this continues to be the Marxist view may be seen from a recently compiled outline for a Soviet History of Philosophy where the “three laws of dialectics” are described as “Marx’s and Engels’ generalization on the data of natural science.”36 This being so, one would have thought that these laws would be subject to revision as the sciences progress, just as other generalizations are. One does not get the impression, however, that this is likely to happen. On the contrary, they appear to have got so deeply imbedded in the Marxist terminology that any future discoveries in the natural sciences would have to conform to them. This is not surprising when we consider the extremely wide range of cases to which the laws are already alleged to apply. The Law of the Negation of the Negation is already general almost to the point of evanescence when it is applied to such very different things as the formula −a × −a = a2, and the growth and reproduction of barley. When it is extended to include the passage from capitalist to communist society the only point of likeness appears to be the words employed. Indeed, it seems to me that the important thing about these laws is that they are formulae which may be used to express any state of affairs that it is desired to bring within their ambit. They are thus modes of expression rather than generalizations, etiquette rather than science. But they are a peculiar sort of etiquette, not of the drawing-room, nor even of the laboratory, but of the scientific journal or, more important still, of the scientific conference. Once these formulae are adopted as modes of speech which men of science are expected to use, then science itself may come to be regarded as absorbed into Marxist society. The conquest of a people’s language becomes a conquest of their thought as etiquette develops into custom and custom into morals. Allez à la messe; prenez de l’eau bénite. Repeating the formula may transform scoffers into devotees.
Marxism and Formal Logic
I will conclude this chapter with some very brief remarks on the Marxist view of logic. In Section 2 of the present chapter (page 48) I quoted a passage from Engels’ Anti-Dühring in which he puts forward the positivist thesis that, as the various special sciences develop, all that is left to philosophy is “the science of thought and its laws—formal logic and dialectics.” From this we may conclude that “formal logic and dialectics” are fairly respectable sciences and that they are distinguishable from one another, at any rate in thought. If, as seems very likely, “dialectics” consists of the sort of consideration we have just been examining in connection with the three “laws of dialectic,” then formal logic would appear to be something different. Further on in the Anti-Dühring Engels says that “Even formal logic is primarily a method of arriving at new results, of advancing from the known to the unknown—and dialectics is the same, only in a much more important sense, because in forcing its way beyond the narrow horizon of formal logic it contains the germs of a more comprehensive view of the world.”37 In the same passage Engels goes on to say that “almost all the proofs of higher mathematics” go beyond formal logic into the realm of dialectics. In his Dialectics of Nature Engels contrasts dialectical logic with “the old, merely formal logic,” saying that the former is not content with merely enumerating the forms of thought and “placing them side by side without any connection,” but “it derives these forms out of one another instead of putting them on an equal level, it develops the higher forms out of the lower.” He then goes on to give an outline of Hegel’s account of the forms of judgment, and concludes the discussion with an attack on those who make a sharp contrast between deductive and inductive logic instead of recognizing that deduction and induction are not exclusive and opposite types of inference.38
We may notice four main points here. (a) Engels allows that formal logic is a part of philosophy that survives the overthrow of speculative philosophy. (b) Hegel had argued that where there is no development or advance in knowledge from premises to conclusion there is no inference at all. On Hegel’s view, that is, a mere tautology would not be a genuine inference. With these views in mind, Engels argues that since formal logic contains inferences it leads to new knowledge. (c) Like Hegel also, however, he holds that formal logic is somehow incomplete, and points the way to dialectical logic. In particular he complains that in formal logic the various types of judgment are regarded as fixed and as rigidly distinguished from one another, instead of being shown to be continuous and fluid. It would therefore be natural to conclude from this part of Engels’ argument that he supposed formal logic to be (in his sense of the word) “metaphysical,” and therefore false. He certainly considered that formal logic belonged to the domain of the Understanding and of the ability to abstract and to experiment which (he says) is common to men and animals, and that the dialectical procedures of the Reason are peculiar to mankind.39 (d) It looks as if Engels would have approved of a sort of logic like that of Bernard Bosanquet or of some contemporary philosophers of “ordinary language” in which, for example, instead of the distinction being between, say, categorical and hypothetical judgments, it is between categorical and hypothetical aspects of them; or instead of there being a separate discussion of deductive and of inductive inference, the two are shown to be very intimately involved with one another; and so on for other well-known logical contrasts.
It will be seen that Engels left his Marxist successors with rather a difficult task, for on the one hand formal logic appears to have his support, and on the other hand he appears to stigmatize it as inferior to dialectics and as “metaphysical.” In the Soviet Union the latter view was fashionable for some time, but since the Second World War formal logic has been defended by Marxist philosophers and its teaching re-introduced into Soviet high schools. Indeed, a textbook of the Tsarist period was re-published for this purpose. Soviet philosophers have in recent years been discussing whether there is one logic only, or whether there are two, formal logic and dialectical logic. From the passages I have referred to it will be seen that Engels contrasted formal logic with “dialectics” and with “dialectical logic,” so that precise guidance cannot be obtained from him. However that may be, new textbooks of formal logic are now being produced in the Soviet Union in which it is stated that there are four basic principles of formal logic, the Principle of Identity, the Principle of Contradiction, the Principle of Excluded Middle, and the Principle of Sufficient Reason, and in which the Square of Opposition, the Syllogism, and the other parts of the traditional formal logic are treated in the traditional way. Thus by “formal logic” the Soviet philosophers mean the modified Aristotelian tradition that held sway in Europe and America until the innovations of Boole, de Morgan, Venn, and Peirce led to the development of what is now called symbolic or mathematical logic. It appears that the writings of Hilbert, Tarski, and other mathematical logicians have been circulated in the U.S.S.R., but they do not seem to have influenced Soviet philosophers (who have labelled them as “idealist”), whatever their influence on Soviet mathematicians may have been. It should be noticed, however, that there is no suggestion on the part of Soviet philosophers that self-contradiction is a feature of the dialectical thinking that they favor or that consistency and rigor are not desirable in all thinking. They consider that the laws of logic somehow copy or “reflect” the real world, and appear committed to this view so long as the writings of Lenin are accepted as authoritative, for in the Philosophical Notebooks he wrote: “The laws of logic are reflections of the objective in the subjective consciousness of men.”40
[1. ]Ludwig Feuerbach, pp. 27–28 (English translation, London, 1935).
[2. ]The Essence of Christianity, translated by Marian Evans (George Eliot) (London, 1854), p. 29. This book, which is very important for the understanding of Marxism, will be discussed in Part Two, Chapter I, below.
[3. ]M.E.G.A., I, 3, p. 230. Hegel (Encyclopedia § 13) had made the very same point, viz., that there is no “fruitness” except in the various fruits. The source of Marx’s view may be seen in the following passage from Feuerbach’s Vorlaüfige Thesen zur Reform der Philosophie (1842): “That which is expressed as it is, the true stated truly, appears superficial; that which is expressed as it is not, the true stated falsely, in reverse, appears profound.”
[4. ]English translation, p. 15.
[5. ]M.E.G.A., I, 5, p. 216. (This is not in the English translation.)
[6. ]Herr Eugen Dühring’s Revolution in Science (English translation, London, 1934), p. 31.
[7. ]Ludwig Feuerbach (English translation, London, 1935), pp. 32–33.
[8. ]Cours de Philosophie Positive, vol. 6, p. 650 (Paris, 1842).
[9. ]Selected Correspondence, 1846–1895. Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels (London, 1943).
[11. ]“Andrei Zhdanov’s Speech to the Philosophers: An Essay in Interpretation,” by J. and M. Miller, Soviet Studies, vol. 1, no. 1.
[12. ]M. and E-C, p. 317.
[13. ]“Modern physics is in travail; it is giving birth to dialectical materialism.” Ibid., p. 365.
[14. ]Anti-Dühring, p. 53.
[15. ]Pp. 106–9. As the quotations that follow come from these pages, there is no need for us to give references to each one. This chapter is reprinted in Dialectical and Historical Materialism, Little Stalin Library, No. 4 (London, 1941).
[16. ]Anti-Dühring, pp. 27–28. It will be noticed that, now that Engels is talking about dialectics, common sense, so important in establishing realism and materialism, is put down somewhat. There is a difficulty here for Marxism.
[17. ]Engels, Dialectics of Nature, English translation by C. Dutt, p. 26 (London, 1946).
[18. ]Ibid., p. 30.
[19. ]Capital, vol. 1, p. 319 (Everyman edition). In a footnote Marx writes: “The molecular theory of modern chemistry, first scientifically worked out by Laurent and Gerhardt, rests on no other law.” (I understand that this is questionable.)
[20. ]The first seven examples are from the Science of Logic, I, III, 2, B.
[21. ]It should be noticed that in Hegel’s writings the notion of the transformation of quantity into quality is first put forward in connection with social affairs—the series of gradual and almost unnoticed changes that lead to a sudden revolutionary outbreak. Nohl, Hegel’s Theologische Jugendschriften, p. 220. Hegel also makes the point in the Preface to the Phenomenology.
[22. ]P. 26.
[23. ]Pp. 12ff.
[24. ]P. 335.
[25. ]P. 340.
[26. ]P. 233.
[27. ]Selected Works, XI, pp. 81–82. Lenin’s Philosophical Notebooks (only a few extracts from which have been published in English) consists of extracts from philosophical authors read by him during the First World War, along with the comments he made on them. There are extracts from and comments on Hegel’s Science of Logic, Lectures on the Philosophy of History, and Lectures on the History of Philosophy; Noël’s La Logique de Hegel; Lassalle’s The Philosophy of Heracleitos the Dark, of Ephesus; on Feuerbach’s Lectures on the Essence of Religion, and Leibniz. Lenin read Hegel’s Science of Logic very carefully, and it is possible from his comments to get a good idea of Lenin’s philosophical ideas at this period of his life. Some students of Marxism have said that in the Philosophical Notebooks Lenin abandons the “copy” theory of perception which he had put forward in Materialism and Empirio-Criticism, and they quote such passages as the following: “The reflection (mirroring) of nature in human thought is not ‘dead,’ not ‘abstract,’ not without movement, but is an eternal process of movement, of the arising and resolving of contradictions” (Adoratski’s edition, p. 115). But this, and other similar passages, in my opinion refer to science rather than to perception, and are in any case rather ambiguous. The passage I have quoted in the text comes from a brief essay in the Philosophical Notebooks headed On the Question of Dialectics. It may be seen in Adoratski’s edition (V. I. Lenin, Aus dem Philosophischen Nachlass: Exzerpte und Randglossen, ed. V. Adoratski, pp. 285–86; Wien-Berlin, 1932).
[28. ]Anti-Dühring, p. 135.
[29. ]Ibid., p. 152.
[30. ]Aus dem Philosophischen Nachlass, ed. Adoratski, p. 289.
[31. ]Ibid., p. 212.
[32. ]G. V. Plekhanov, In Defence of Materialism, translated by A. Rothstein (London, 1947), pp. 112–14.
[33. ]M. Mitin, “Twenty-five Years of Philosophy in the U.S.S.R.,” Philosophy, 1944, p. 80.
[34. ]Anti-Dühring, p. 158.
[35. ]Ibid., p. 29.
[36. ]A Soviet History of Philosophy, translated by William Edgerton, Public Affairs Press, Washington 8, D.C., 1950, pp. 38–39.
[37. ]P. 151.
[38. ]Dialectics of Nature, p. 237.
[39. ]Ibid., pp. 203–4.
[40. ]Aus dem Philosophischen Nachlass, ed. Adoratski, p. 103. See also p. 110. The account of formal logic in the U.S.S.R. is summarized from the lucid description in G. A. Wetter, Der Dialektische Materialismus: Seine Geschichte und sein System in der Sowjetunion (Wien, 1952), pp. 544ff. In the English translation of this work (Dialectical Materialism, London, 1958) Wetter brings his account of the controversy over the status of formal logic up to date. The view that formal logic is an independent science with universal validity is being vigorously upheld (pp. 531–35). But Bochenski (Der Sowjetrussische Dialektische Materialismus, 2nd edition, 1956, pp. 67–68) shows that the adherents of formal logic were accused of being “nihilists” and “vulgarizers” by influential writers in Komunist and Voprosy Filosofic. See also: Logic and Dialectic in the Soviet Union, by Alexander Philopov (Research Program on the U.S.S.R., New York, 1952). There is some interesting material in George L. Kline’s review of Bochenski’s Der Sowjetrussische Dialektische Materialismus, in the Journal of Philosophy, 1952, pp. 123–31.