Joseph Dietzgen 1876
Source: Joseph Dühring, Philosophical Essays, Charles H. Kerr & Co., Chicago 1906, pp.173-223;
Translated: by Theodor Rothstein & Max Beer;
First published: in Volksstaat, 1876;
Transcribed: by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists Internet Archive.
It is with pride and joy that our comrades look upon the successes achieved in a comparatively short time in the cause of Socialism. The numerous adherents, the large concourse we owe, I think, to the sense of degradation and misery which burns in the hearts of the people. But the splendid discipline, the never-failing tact and the harmonious working of the rank and file we must ascribe to the clear grasp and the systematic comprehension of our theory. Without that the socialist would be to-day what he was heretofore: tender-hearted, but muddle-headed.
The first English and French socialists whose thoughts flashed through the horizon of the end of the eighteenth century, were not slow in recognizing the exploiting and antagonistic character of our champions of “free property.” They saw the negative element, the taint of the deadly disease, within the heart of the factory system. They foretold with ingenious lucidity the decay of the middle-class, the slow, but inevitable divorce of the peasantry and the artisans from their means of production, the transformation of the small producers into wage-slaves, finally the rapid increase of misery and of the number of the proletarian class. But they failed to recognize that the elements of the positive remedy are to be found in the laws underlying economic developments, and that human history in its evolution does not only bring forth problems, but organically contains their solution. In their purely ideological conception of the world they believed it ought to be possible to invent some scheme for the building up of a true and just society. This error of judgment could not but lead to day-dreaming. Every one of these amiable dreamers looked for proselytes and went with them to America or Icaria. One built up a Harmony, the other a New Jerusalem. There were as many sects as ingenious minds to found them. They exhausted themselves in discussing Republic and Monarchy, dictatorial or constitutional government, limited or universal suffrage, and all the intermediate forms of government. They brandished all manner of flags, two- and three-colored, blue and red ones. However, for logical sequence, scientific consistency and harmonious action, one searched in vain.
Amidst this chaotic state of social and political speculation appeared Marx and Engels who, besides their warm devotion to the cause of the people and to socialism, possessed the necessary philosophic knowledge to clear social science of vague guessings and imaginings and to give it a body of positive doctrines. Philosophy revealed to them the basic principle that, in the last resort, the world is not governed by Ideas, but, on the contrary, the Ideas by the material world. They agreed that the proper forms of government and social institutions are not to be looked for in the inner recesses of the mind, but must be found through the investigation into I the material conditions of a given period. The materials for socialist investigations are supplied by the existing capitalist society with its political economy as the palpable body which consumes and produces concrete commodities.
In his Capital, Marx dissected that body and exposed clearly how our social misery is the necessary result of an economic system whose plentiful production by social labor stands in glaring contradiction to its mode of private usurpation. The small number of employers and their set receive as interest, rent, dividend, etc., the whole profit, while the workmen receive a wage, a kind of lubricant to keep the social machinery going. Marx was the first to recognize that, on the whole, human welfare does not depend on the enlightened statesman, but on the productivity of social labor. He recognized that the productive forces and the efficiency of society are by the nature of things impelled to expand, that this expansion led us from barbarism to civilization, that the progress of economic productivity must necessarily lead us out of the glaring contradictions of civilization to the socialist state, to communist liberty, equality and fraternity. He recognized – and this recognition is the bedrock of social science – that human salvation depends on material work and not on spiritualist moonshine. Henceforward we look for salvation not to religious, political and judicial enlightenment, but we see it organically growing out of the development of social economy. Science or education can not bring it; productive labor must do it, which, through science and education, can be made more productive.
To which does the primacy belong; to mechanical work, or to mental speculation? That’s the question. At the first sight it might appear to be a scholastic conundrum; yet, for the purpose of gaining a clear mental vision, it is of vital importance to solve it. The question is, indeed, an old one; who is right, the idealist or the materialist; but now the question has been so far cleared up that there can be no doubt as to the answer. We, of course, are materialists and thus acknowledge the material factors to have the primacy. Our opponents brand us, therefore, as enemies of culture. In reality we are only opponents of those dreamers who divorce scientific training from material work, making out of the former something supernatural which transcends all laws of mechanics. Science and education are in our eyes very valuable means, but means only, while the productivity of labor is the higher end. It is in the first instance the necessity for an ever increasing productivity of labor which forms the real impulse of scientific investigation and progress. In the second instance, of course, science reacts most beneficially on the method of labor.
Yet the question as to where the primacy belongs has a more comprehensive meaning. It involves the cardinal problem, is the world “created” by some monstrous, transcendental schemer, or is our scheming, though no doubt of considerable importance to us, quite a secondary attribute of the monstrous every-day world; we want to know which takes the precedence: thought or being, speculative theology or inductive science. Men are, and have a right to be, proud of their intellect, but it is puerile to give to a thing, which appears to them of primary importance, the primacy of the world. Idealists we call those who exaggerate, idolize the worth of human understanding, turning it into a religious or metaphysical hanky-panky. This school is on the decrease, its last survivals are those who have long ago given up all religious superstitions, but somehow stick to the “belief” that conceptions of freedom, justice, beauty, etc., are shaping human destiny. To be sure, there is a certain truth in that; but in the first instance it is the material world which forms the substance of our conceptions, which determines what is meant by freedom, justice, etc. It is, as we have said before, of vital importance that we should be clear about that, for on it depends the method of giving our conceptions the proper meaning. Indeed, the question as to which is primary, mind or matter, contains also the problem as to the right way to justice and truth.
Impelled by material necessity, Socialists look for the salvation of humanity. Philosophic thought based on facts has given us the guide. We find salvation not in idealistic shuffling, but in the material production. If the nature of things demands that we should get the maximum of result in the minimum of time, then we must work as bourgeois society does: with colossal machinery and for a large public. The small workshop and the small holding must go. The great capitals shall flourish. That’s the work of our liberals, and they have done it so well, that our Empire, our “free” institutions, our parliamentary talking shop, our party discussions about free trade and protection, our no-popery-struggles and other Bismarckian tricks are no more able to master it.
The productivity of labor has become so prodigious that all the legal and economic forms have become inadequate. The result is a series of crises with its usual symptoms: financial panics, bank failures, shutting up of factories, and unemployment in the ranks of the working class. Why? Because the productive forces have outgrown the miserable relation between capital and labor. Under such conditions the minority are able to live in luxury, while the majority are deprived of the necessaries of life. But the number of spendthrifts are too small and the stock is so embarrassingly great that capital cannot be profitably employed. Business is at a standstill, and there is no demand for goods. The only way out of this calamity is participation of the masses in the consumption; the wages must be increased and labor time reduced. But the well-fed capitalist, though in danger of suffocating in his own fat, is too narrow-minded to pay the producer of his wealth, the worker, well and to keep him in steady employment. Our Liberals refuse even a liberal lubricant for human labor-power.
However, circumstances are stronger than the selfish will of the bourgeois. The stock is gradually sold, business revives, the old cycle of fraudulent booming begins again and the wages go up. What a strange, paradoxical thing this bourgeois world is: the more plentiful the supply the greater the misery. One should think men live on bread. But no. Let the soil yield thrice as much, as long as you don’t work an overlong day, you will starve. Should the goblins of the fairy tale return and do all our work during the night, nine-tenths of the nation would have either to starve or to make a revolution. In the past the lack of capital made thrift a virtue. The increase of the wealth of the nation increased also the means of employment and thereby the sources of life of the people. For, as it was said before, the people have not in the first instance been living on bread, but on labor. But now with the increased capital the productivity has reached such a degree that there is not sufficient employment. Then the superfluity engenders misery. Not only Social-democracy, but the national economics demand a larger consumption, a wider market for its products. Even an increase of wages and a reduction of the labor time are no more than palliatives. As the productive forces in the past needed for their fuller development the abolition of serfdom and of restraint of trade, in short, demanded the liberal bourgeois policy, so do they demand to-day the abolition of the capitalist mode of wage-labor and its substitution by the Socialist organization of communistic labor.
The subjective creed breaks up into different denominations – and the various parsons are at loggerheads. Objective science is unanimous; engineers don’t quarrel about principles of mechanics. The theoretical unanimity of Social-democracy, which we mentioned before, proceeds from the fact that we don’t look for salvation in subjective schemes, but we see it growing as a sort of organic product out of the inevitable course of actual development. All we have to do is to facilitate its birth. The irresistible evolutionary process, which formed the planets, and hardened molten matter into crystals, and brought forth in succession plants, animals and men, is also tending irresistibly towards a rational application of labor and towards an uninterrupted development of the productive forces. It is imperative that production be rationally managed under all circumstances. In all periods of civilization, no matter how greatly they differed from one another, it was essential – and such is the logic of things – to achieve the maximum of results with the minimum of effort. This instinct produced by our physical constitution and need, is the universal, the primary cause and the foundation of all so- called higher, spiritual developments and progressive movements. The unfolding of the productive forces is the point of departure, the formative factor which builds up states, determines forms of governments, creates par ties, and clears up and perfects the notions of liberty and justice. The productive forces, having been impeded in their development by guild regulations, broke those medieval fetters, and created the capitalist system which, in its turn, is rapidly becoming a hindrance to the further development of production. Therefore it is necessary to allow the people to take their historically-due part in the consumption and to extend the demand for goods. The old system must go in order to bring morality, liberty, equality and fraternity to a more perfect state. Forward! is our watchword, whether we like it or not.
The hope of Social-Democracy is based on the organic necessity of progress. We do not depend on the good will of any man. Our principle is organic, our philosophy materialistic, but our materialism is richer in essence and more positive than any of its predecessors. It absorbed the Idea, the antagonism of matter, it mastered the domain of Reason, and overcame the antagonism between the mechanical and spiritual view of life. The spirit of negation is with us at the same time positive, our element is dialectical. “Once my work on Economics finished,” wrote Marx to me privately, “I shall write a Dialectics. The laws of Dialectics have been formulated .by Hegel, though in mystical form. What we have to do has to strip it of that form.” Being afraid it might be long before Marx could undertake such a work, and having since my youth independently thought a good deal on that subject, I shall try to throw some light on dialectical philosophy. It is in my opinion the central sun from whom light goes forth to illuminate not only Political Economy, but the whole course of human development, and it will finally, I expect, penetrate to the “final cause” of all science.
The comrades know that I am not an academician, but a simple tanner who learned Philosophy by himself. To its exposition I can but devote my hours of leisure. I shall therefore publish my articles at shorter or longer intervals, whereby it will be my endeavor rather to make each article readable for itself than to write a book with chapters depending upon each other. And not attaching much importance to the learned phraseology, it will be easier for me to avoid unessential matter and unnecessary flourishes which only tend to obscure the subject. On the other hand, I must ask the reader to bear in mind that the art of popular and easy exposition has its limits. To be sure, what one thinks out clearly, one can express clearly. But that truth is relative. With out some preliminary knowledge of a subject it is impossible to talk about it. The peasant is made fun of on the sea; he knows nothing of hawsers, square-rigs and sails, and the sailor cannot speak of his business to him. Neither could I enter into a philosophic discussion without taking some preliminaries as granted, else I could not help falling into platitudes which would neither serve my purpose nor satisfy my taste. Any reader who, in the course of my articles, might complain about obscure writing, would therefore do well to search first for light within himself.
Like my sermons, which were preached with the intention of desecrating the pulpit, my exposition of Philosophy has the intention of degrading that high mistress which, as Ludwig Feuerbach stated, is the devotee and sister of Theology. Social-democracy will get those old spinsters out of the way. As far back as 1844 Frederick Engels spoke in the preface to his Condition of the Working Class in England of the end Feuerbach put to all philosophy. But Feuerbach was so intensely occupied with the theological devotee that he had very little time and mental energy left to join issue with the other sister, the philosophical one. His final solution of philosophy is more implicit than explicit. Yet this disciple of Hegel proves indirectly the truth of Marx’s word: “The true laws of Dialectics are to be found in Hegel, though only in a mystical form.” Feuerbach and Marx, both Hegelians, arrived at the same result by the same method which Feuerbach made use of in his analysis of religion, and Marx in his analysis of social economy.
This historic course proves that our social-democratic anti-philosophy is the legitimate descendant of Philosophy. Owing to this descent we may place it right next to that of our academicians and overtopping them by one length, we may ask them: What do you still want? And when it comes to the subject-matter itself and its proofs, we are so sure of our case that we safely may look from up high down on these learned gentlemen. For us there is no need to appeal to Aristotle or Kant, because we deal with a living thing which is patent to all unprejudiced and unbiased minds. Just as the proof of scientific laws is to be found in the experiment, so are our arguments in conformity with fact which is the basis of our anti-philosophic philosophy. Therefore, it is superfluous to corroborate our arguments by extracts from Greek, Latin or other learned authors.
It may be somewhat puzzling to the uninitiated to find that, while professing the intention of disparaging philosophy, we are proud of our philosophic descent. Yet the contradiction is easily explained: As the alchemistic errors generated modern chemistry, so have the errors of Philosophy generated a Universal Doctrine of Knowledge and Science. An old man who desires to be able to start his life again, does not mean to repeat it, but to improve it. He recognizes the ways he has walked as wrong ones, yet he cannot withhold the seemingly contradictory acknowledgment that they brought him wisdom. The critical attitude taken up by the old man towards his past is just the attitude of social-democracy towards philosophy. It was necessary to struggle through the wrong path in order to attain to the knowledge of the right one. Now, in order to be able to follow up the right way without being misled by any religious or philosophical maze, it is necessary to study the most mistaken of all mistaken ways, namely Philosophy.
Those who take this advice literally will surely think it absurd. For, how could the wrong path lead to truth? But the reader would do well not to stick to the letter but to seek the sense of it. The famous dictum: “My religion is no-religion” illustrates for instance that not always is a a, but that a turns into b. It is the peculiar character of the things of this world that they are not crystallized or fossilized, but they are in an eternal flux, ever changing, ever in a process of transformation, of rising and decaying. All reality undergoes constant changes, and so limitless is the movement of the world that every thing at every moment is not the same thing that it was. The language therefore is not able to do otherwise than to give one name to various forms or things. Also philosophy could not escape the universal law of movement and mutability, and it has undergone such changes that it is a great question whether, like modern Christianity, the new thing should retain its old name for reasons of expediency, or should get a new name to match. Social-democracy has decided against “religion,” and I am now pleading that we decide against philosophy too. Only for the period of transition do we use the expression “Social-democratic philosophy.” In the future we shall probably speak of dialectics or of the general doctrine of knowledge.
Who are we, where do we come from, and where do we go to? Are men the lords and masters, the “crown of creation,” or are they helpless creatures, subjected to wind and weather, and to trouble and toil? What is, what should be, our relation to the things and men about us? That is the great question of philosophy and religion. In the language of the former, the younger sister, that question is expressed in a more rational way. She does not expect the reply from supernatural, divine spirits, nor from ecstasy, but puts it before the sober intellect which exists empirically in the brain. It is the characteristic of philosophy that it snatched away this “great question” from religious sentiment and placed it before the organ of science, the faculty of knowledge, to find the solution.
Less than of our intestines can we know, without special study, of that mysterious thing which as force of thinking dwells in our head. Primitive wisdom used it as people use their stomach, without scientifically inquiring into its construction. Having, however, reached the point when men consciously set before the intellect the great question about existence, they gradually began to inquire into the intellect itself, and the critique of reason or the theory of cognition became the great question.
It is well known that the object of the medieval school men was to support the religious dogmas by rational arguments. They did something that they didn’t intend to do: they put reason above religion; they practically made reason the supreme being. Something like it occurred to Philosophy. She proposed to solve the great question of general existence scientifically, but not knowing how to take it in hand, she turned it upside down, and the scientific solution of the process of thinking, the theory of cognition, became to her the real and fundamental question. The most remarkable philosophical works, especially the most recent, prove, though unconscious to their authors, that change of procedure. Even the title of the principal works, from Bacon’s Organon to Hegel’s Logic and Schopenhauer’s Quadruple Root of the Proposition of the Adequate Reason indicate at once the situation.
The past great philosophers, as well as their present small successors, could not help but acquire more or less of a presentiment of the fact that all the so-called mother of sciences brings home from her excursions really consists in no more than the special theory of cognition. Quotations by the yard could be brought together to prove that statement, but also to prove that that presentiment did not arrive at clear nor consistent consciousness, and that the professors and lecturers of philosophy are quite confused with regard to the problem, the object and the significance of philosophy. None of them has been able to clear his mind of the remnants of superstitions, of phantastic mysticism which dims their vision. Irrefutable evidence for this was given lately by Herr von Kirchmann, who in a Philosophical lecture in popular language said, according to the Volkszeitung of January 13, 1876, that philosophy was neither more nor less than the science of the highest conception of being and knowing ... With the special sciences she has in common the subject of their inquiry and contemplation, the Universe with all that is in it, and she uses the same means ... those of the speculative thought which is striving for a higher unity. The main difference between the special sciences and Philosophy consists particularly in the method, for the latter proceeds from no given premises whatsoever, but from a purely spirit-born principle as a starting point. Of her usefulness Kirchmann didn’t wish to speak, but of her significance for the great spiritual domains of life, of humanity in particular, for religion, state, family, ethics; for neither the courts of justice nor the police, but Philosophy alone was able to protect those great institutions which were attacked with as much boldness as cynicism.
There you have the old devotee made young.
Her name is “Science of all the highest conceptions of Being and Knowing.” That is her name in common parlance. But I should like to see that common sense that could make sense out of that common parlance. “The highest conception of Being” deals perhaps with the conception of the highest fixed stars, or is there still anywhere a higher “Being” left? But I take things too materially; we must remember we are not talking astronomy, but Philosophy, or “Science of the highest conceptions of Knowing.” How can that be materialized; what positive sense can we derive from that phrase?
Philosophy “has in common with the special sciences the object of their inquiry: the Universe with all that is in it, and uses the same means to her work, namely the thought.” But in what does the difference, the distinction of Philosophy, consist? Kirchmann says in the method. Granted that Philosophy and natural science have the same object of inquiry and the same instrument, but a different way of handling. Now, what is the result of that difference? The results of natural science are known. But what has Philosophy to show? Kirchmann tells us the secret: She protects religion, state, family and morality. Philosophy is not a science, but a safe guard against Social-democracy. Then there is no wonder that Social-democrats have got their own Philosophy.
One must not think that Kirchmann was an exception, and was no real philosopher. On the contrary, he is a man of great reputation and speaks quite in harmony with the Faculty. Especially the dictum about “proceeding from no given premises whatsoever,” bears the hallmark of the official Philosophy. The “special sciences,” as well as common sense, get their knowledge through the intellect, from the material world. They make their researches with open eyes and ears, and what can be seen and heard the Philosophy calls “given premises.” In her extravagant conceit which seeks the “eternal treasure,” she looks upon the “appearances” of the world as upon rust-corrupted and moth-eaten things. It is true that it is generally asserted that she is based on all accessible results of the different sciences, but this is only a concession which she is compelled to make – an inconsistency quite in keeping with the general philosophic confusion. She speaks thus with the left corner of the mouth, while with the right one she speaks of “the purely spirit-born or deductive principle to start from,” of no materially preconceived notion whatsoever, which she is running after without ever catching up with it. The whole clap-trap comes really to this: Philosophy is no science but the radically false way used by the mind. Its result is to be found in our inference that by mind alone no truth and no principle can be attained, and no life problem can be solved, but that the human faculty of cognition is an inductive or matter of fact dependent instrument which always and everywhere presupposes experimental material.
This is the lesson that classical Philosophy teaches us. Its successors and epigoni are, for reasons easily under stood, not able to grasp it. They are called upon to defend religion, state, family and morality. As soon as they renounce such calling they cease to be philosophers and become Social-democrats. All those who call them selves philosophers, professors, university lecturers, have, despite their free-thought pretensions, not yet freed themselves from superstition and mysticism; they are all of the same kidney and must be regarded, in the main, from the above social-democratic point of view, as a compact mass of uneducated reactionaries.
Whence do we come, whence the world, and where are both going to? What is the meaning of existence, of our sentiments and of the natural phenomena? Thus asks man, and man is a great questioner that is, a great fool. As the proverb has it, one fool can ask more questions than ten wise men can answer. Yet that question is the cardinal question which has been and will be put by all men at all times. Foolish is only the form in which the question was put first by religion and then by the progressists, also called philosophers. They questioned in a hazy, general way and – “only the fool waits for reply.”
A reply, a clear, rational and positive reply, can only be expected when we specialize after the manner of the “separate” sciences. We can only get at the whole by means of its parts; the Universe can only be understood by climbing up, as it were, its particular forms; we can only reach the general through the special. One must first ask, where do I personally come from? Whence my father and grandfather? What is the eye? What is the ear? What function have the liver or the kidneys to perform? To such questions science replies in a definite and exhaustive manner. Botany deals with trees, shrubs and herbs. Astronomy with stars. The “great question” thus split up, specialized and reasonably formulated can be reasonably and scientifically answered. If, however, such reply does not satisfy the inquisitive student, if there still remains something obscure and unexplained, we have none the less this advantage over religion and philosophy, that we know the method by which we may proceed with our questioning and searching for a reply, and we need not foolishly wait, believe, hope and speculate.
Thus, the “method” is pointed out to us to be the distinguishing mark between Philosophy and the special branches of science. Now, the speculative method of Philosophy is nothing but a stupid questioning and groping in hazy generalities. The philosopher, having no material to work upon, tries to evolve his speculative wisdom from his head like the spider its web from its hind-parts! Nay, the philosopher goes even farther than that, he refuses all material and given premises. His philosophic fabrics have thus less of a real connection than the cobwebs of the spider.
We greatly underestimate the bad effects of this abuse of method if we assume that it does no harm to practical life because it is locked up in those learned works which only few people care for. Those learned books are but the most palpable collection of a widespread poison with which humanity has been infected from the beginning, and from which it is still suffering. An instructive ex ample was given lately by the learned Professor Biedermann in Leipsic in his controversy with the working-men. He wanted the Socialists “to give him, instead of vague and indefinite suggestions, a clear picture of how the future society must be organized and according to their demands shall be built up; especially as to its practical consequences.”
Before giving Biedermann a rational answer it would be, before all, necessary to teach him how to put a question rationally. He is not acquainted with the theory or the science of cognition. Therefore he fails completely to recognize our ways. We are not idealists who dream about the conditions of a future society “as they must be and ought to be.” When we are trying to think about the future society we first proceed from the materials at hand. We think as materialists. God Almighty had the Universe in his head before he made it; his ideas were sovereign and had no need to take notice of realities. This superstition of the sovereignty of the Idea is still rooted in the heads of the philosophers; from it proceeds that demand that we should first project an elaborate picture in all its details of the future society, before attacking and “destroying” the present. The old Socialists, Fourier, Cabet, etc., committed that mistake and we are therefore told to take an example from them. Herr Biedermann fails to understand us, and our ways and our cause. We don’t deal with the future in the way the speculative philosophers do; we deal with it as practical men. We don’t build castles in the air and don’t count the chickens before they are hatched. It is surely foolish to go into business without any forethought and plan, but it is still more foolish and quite after the manner of the fantastic enthusiasts not to reserve to oneself liberty of action with regard to the special conditions as soon as they are at hand – it is like a person who intends to deal in cotton prints and is quite in a hurry to project its stellular and flowery figures which might please the customers while he knows neither his customers nor their taste. We have surely a general conception of the constitution of future society, but we leave its details to the times and circumstances when that conception will have to be realized. Our opponents are undoubtedly entitled to demand from us a clear statement of principle, but they cannot reasonably demand the particulars beforehand. These must be reserved to the Socialist legislators who in their time will have to frame bills for the legislative bodies. And history bears out this statement: What leader of the bourgeoisie, when fighting against feudalism, would have been able to describe all those different and multifarious institutions of bourgeois society, as lawyers, notaries, mortgages, bills of exchange, shares, police and a hundred other things which capitalism has brought in its train? The leaders of the bourgeois movement of freedom of trade and commerce, didn’t trouble themselves prematurely with particular projects; they simply demanded from their aristocratic oppressors “the Rights of Man,” and they left meanwhile the question concerning particulars unanswered. They reserved to themselves liberty of action to meet events as circumstances required.
Take care of the principles and the details will take care of themselves; time and circumstances will bring them out with unfailing certainty. Thus acted the leaders of the bourgeoisie. They refused to weave without material thread. And what all practical men of the past have done instinctively, we Social-democrats are doing with a clear consciousness given to us by the scientific method of cognition.
We, too, demand the restoration of our human rights, and demand our socially due portion of the products of labor. This wish and will of ours is no idle speculation, but the natural outcome of present material wants. And so is the communist economy quite in harmony with the nature of the present social system; it must come; its materials are being produced and multiplied daily. The capitalists are the real silkworms. As soon as their silk in the shape of accumulated productive means is spun by the wage-workers, we shall know how to take it in hand and weave it. The premature question about the future When, Where and How need not trouble us, it is indeed an idle “philosophic” speculation.
Our platform demands from society, by means of the general duty to work, the satisfaction of all reasonable human needs. Our opponents want us to elaborate clearly the “practical consequences” of that idea. They don’t like our negative and critical attitude. We should build up and show “how it could be done” – of course, not in a serious, not in a palpable and practical way, but on paper, by means of harmless theories and ideal descriptions. They fail to recognize that our method is not purely ideological. In our real work we use our brains after the manner of science, and not of idle speculators. Who wants to build must lay the axe unto the roots of the existing trees, and, before all, bring down the tallest and mightiest. But this radical cutting work we must not do. We should construct the future society in spirit only, in theory. And yet they want us to do this theoretical work in an exact and scientific way. Well, let us first critically assort the material on hand. However, the “negation” of the unfit is inseparably connected with the construction of the better. Criticism of the present is the indispensable condition of “improvement.”
That work on a small scale is not profitable and that private property on a large scale exploits the workmen, is an empirical fact; it is won experimentally by induction and did not fall into our heads from the nebulous region of hazy generalities. From that fact we deduce, as a “practical conclusion,” the demand for co-operative work on a rational and communal scale.
Since Adam Smith, and even earlier, it is acknowledged that labor, when applied to nature which is obviously nobody’s property, is the creator of all capital and rent and profit. That labor is not carried out in a private way, but that it is divided among the members of society, is as much a truism as the phrase of the “division of labor.” That the division of labor as practiced to-day, is not carried out in a systematic manner, but that it is more a matter of chance which produces a glut in some articles and scarcity in other articles of the market, more over, that the division of the produce defies all justice and humanity, are bare facts which do not admit of any doubt. From all that we draw the “practical conclusion,” that it is in the interest of the community to abolish private property of the soil, and to transfer all the means of production, created by labor, into the possession of the community, which will share out the duties and the rights, the labor and the produce of labor, in an equitable and democratic way among all its members, according to social needs and irrespective of individual whims.
The special question as to the time, means and method of the transformation, whether it should be done by means of a secret treaty with Bismarck, or by a petition to Parliament, or by a barricade fight in Paris, or by female suffrage in England – all such considerations are extravagant, untimely and foolish. We bide our time and the material which must be submitted to our understanding before we can rationally think the matter out. Our cause is getting clearer every day, and the people are daily becoming more enlightened.
Constant propaganda, the removal of prejudices of the public, untiring criticism, will effect much more than all speculation about the future state of society. Its general outline is given in an unmistakable manner by the present actual nature of things. The determination of its special forms and details must be left to the enquiries of future times.
The earth is wide, the sun warm, the soil fertile and the arms of the people are now strong enough to satisfy all reasonable needs of the masses, be they three times as numerous as at present. But men like Biedermann are in doubt if we have enough brains to be able to divide fairly the plentiful products of labor. He is especially anxious to know “whether all members will have the same claim to a share in the produce,” that is, whether all workingmen will have only rye bread for breakfast, or whether professional work will be rewarded with an extra roll of white flour. I am not used to think much of my personal dignity, but such question I think unworthy of a Social-democratic philosopher, because its solution rests with the social needs of the future community.
Biedermann speaks of “all partners of a labor product.” But rightly conceived, there is only one partner, the working people; and only one product, the working people’s product. Only from this social point of view is it possible to conceive of a just distribution, while the conception of different partners with different rights and privileges to their different products leads only to confusion and serves only those who want to fish in troubled waters. It is not good for man to be alone, says the Bible. It is likewise not good that he should work alone. The individual as well as the small societies should join the whole. Looked at from the standpoint of the whole the solution of the problem of the future society is clear enough, and from this general principle the “practical consequences” will follow in the right time and with the help of inductive enquiry quite rationally.
But what about forced labor – “the limitation of one’s liberty does not agree with the ideal state.” Well, should we evolve the conceptions of liberty and ideal in a fantastic-speculative way out of the pure reason as the German professors do, then, of course, they would not agree with one another. We, however, do not seek in metaphysics for freedom, neither do we look for it in the salvation of the soul from the prison of the body, but in the adequate satisfaction of our material and intellectual needs which are all of them perceptible and bodily felt. Compulsion to labor is, properly speaking, a law of Nature and is only experienced as a limitation of our personal freedom as long as there are masters over us, who deprive us of the produce of our labor. Does the well-paid official consider his prescribed service as a “limitation of his personal freedom?”
No doubt, the adequate satisfaction of all rational needs through society, that is, the social-democratic organization of economics, is a big problem. Such problems are not solved by any individual personality, but by history, by social evolution. And it is puerile to set them before any person, no matter how ingenious, for solution. We go to work in a practical manner, and the first thing is to organize the workingmen, teach them how to defend their own interests and to overcome their powerful and numerous opponents, at first symbolically, by logical arguments; and if they prove themselves impervious to all logic and persist in their actions against all morality that is born and bound by the facts of social necessity, and the analogous order of things, then with the mailed fist.
Yet, we need not fear that it will come to that. We gain daily in numbers, we gain in power and in prestige. As soon as the demoralized rulers will see the signs of the time and come to know our power they will court us and make friends. Those people are not the barbarians they would like to appear.
And now I must apologize to my readers for having occupied their time more with Biedermann than with Philosophy; they belong, however, insofar to the same category as they are both to be informed that we must not speculate in hazy generalities, but that we must inquire in a definite, precise and special manner into the material at hand in order to arrive at truth.
In the foregoing chapters we have represented Philosophy as the descendant of Religion and like it, though somewhat more respectable, as a fantastic speculator. To “ solve the riddle of existence” – is the subject-matter of those two madcaps.
The philosophers give their subject-matter various pompous titles. We have already seen that Herr von Kirchmann calls it “the science of the highest conceptions of existence and knowledge.” The famous Kant defines it as “God, Freedom and Immortality.” In more recent times Dühring defined it as “the development of the highest form of consciousness of the world and life” (Kursus der Philosophie von Dr. E. Dühring, Leipzig 1875, p.2). “Highest form of consciousness” is scientific knowledge, and the “evolution” thereof is performed by researches. According to that we ought to define Philosophy as the scientific exploration of the world and life.
But if one speaks in such a common-sense way the faculty of Philosophy loses its halo, moreover it becomes quite superfluous, for such an investigation is carried on successfully by the special branches of science. It seems that Dühring felt the uselessness of his philosophic guild, for he ascribes to it also the function of “practical activity.” Philosophy has thus not only the task to conceive world and life in a scientific manner, but to demonstrate that conception through the character and actions of its adherents. That way leads to Social-Democracy. Having advanced so far, the philosopher may, perhaps, get a deeper insight into things and do away with Philosophy altogether. To be sure no man can do without some conception of world and life, but that of Philosophy is of a kind which is utterly useless. Its wisdom is an intermediate stage between religion and science. The creation story of the Holy Books is too childish for the philosopher, and the airy, fact-removed and purely mind-born philosophical somersaults are too fantastic for science. We said before the method is the distinguishing feature between religion, philosophy and science. All three look for wisdom. The method of religion is to look for wisdom on the Mount Sinai behind clouds or among ghosts. Philosophy applies itself to the human mind, but as long as the mind itself is befogged by religious mists, it asks and functions in a perverted manner, that is, with out real premises, in a speculative way or in hazy generalities. The method of exact science operates with the material of the perceptible world of phenomena. As soon as we learn to know that method as the only rational one of the intellect, all fantasms are at an end.
If this disquisition happens to come under the eye of a professional philosopher he will surely sneer at it, and if he condescends to reply to it he will try to explain that the men of the special sciences are uncritical materialists who accept the perceptible world of experience without further examination into its truth. And as to his operating without any real premises he will refer you to the many pranks and delusions of the senses which lead us often into errors. Therefore he asks: What is truth and how do we arrive at it?
Right he is. Truth is a great question. It is, especially for Social-Democrats, an interesting question. In the domain of natural science all ghost-seeing has been removed by a rational method. But in social life, where we have to deal with masters and servants, with labor and its produce, with right, duty, law, morality and order, there the parson and the professor of Philosophy are still regarded as authorities and each of them has his special method to mask truth. Religion and Philosophy, once harmless errors, have now been turned into crafty tricks to bamboozle the people and to serve the interests of reaction.
From the lesson given in the preceding article by Professor Biedermann we have learned that it is futile to put any question in an indefinite and hazy manner. In this respect Philosophy has put itself in opposition to sound common sense. For it does not seek, like the special branches of science, for definite empirical truths, but it seeks, like religion, for an extraordinary sort of truth, for an absolute, unreal and exaggerated one. What everybody thinks to be true, what we see, hear, feel, taste and smell, in short, our bodily sensations, do not commend themselves to Philosophy as sufficiently true. Natural phenomena are in its eyes only appearances or semblances, and she refuses to have anything to do with them. That Philosophy treats Nature with disdain, it dare not admit, because natural science has gained in the last hundred years a reputation which cannot be gainsaid. It is none the less certain that Philosophy seeks for a truth which is not to be found in Nature. Philosophic truth that can nowhere be traced must surely have an aroma of its own, and belong to a species totally different from the natural. It is just that the philosopher labors under religious delusions and wants to go beyond all natural phenomena and looks behind this world of phenomena for another world of truth by which the first could be explained – because of all that, I say, he has taken refuge in a method without any really given premises, which tries to weave thoughts into definite materials, or, in other words, blunders about in hazy generalities. Descartes is supposed to have discovered a tiny bit of that transcendental truth; it is at least that bit on which Philosophy has been living ever since. The parson’s truth, the passive belief, which was then current, did not satisfy the philosopher. He began to make enquiries with the doubt which he exercised to such a degree that he doubted everything which is visible and audible. But he noticed that one thing was certain to him, viz., the bodily sensation of his own doubt. He, therefore, put forward the proposition: Cogito, ergo sum (I am thinking, therefore do I exist). Since then it has been impossible for his successors to rid themselves of their exaggerated doubtfulness and of their quests after exaggerated truth.
Far be it from me to refuse to recognize the historic importance and the keenness of mind of that famous sceptic. He was right; the bodily sensation of existence, my consciousness, my thinking, feeling, in short, “my soul” is, as the parson says, beyond doubt. Yet I must add, that I am ascribing to Descartes much more than he really achieved. It is like this, the philosopher had two souls, a traditionally religious and a scientific one. His philosophy has a mixture of both. Religion deluded him into believing that the perceptible world was unreal, whilst his scientific cross-current tried to imbue him with the conviction that the opposite was true. With the unreality, with the doubt he started out and with the statement of his bodily sensation of existence he proved the opposite. Yet the scientific cross-current did not succeed in gaining a full and final victory. It is only the impartial enquirer who, when repeating the experiment of Descartes, finds out that it is the bodily sensation which gives us certainty of the existence of the process of thought when ideas and doubts are moving about in the head. The philosopher turned the thing upside down, he wanted to prove the bodily existence of the abstract thought – he assumed to be able to prove scientifically the exaggerated truth of a religious or philosophic soul, while in reality he has only confirmed the common truth that bodily sensation exists. The sensation of profane existence Descartes mistook for a proof of the existence of a higher being. His misfortune is the general misfortune of all philosophy: to be purely idealistic and spellbound.
I am introducing the readers of the Volksstaat to a subject-matter which they might consider too subtle. But we must make proselytes also among the scholars. So we must prove that we are well informed about “the last causes” of all things, and that our cause has its foundations laid in the deepest depths. We must make short work also of the philosophic bombast. Pure idealists! A clear-headed workingman, when coming to know them, will hardly think it possible that there are such foolish fellows. Idealists in the proper sense of the word are all aspiring men. All the more so the Social-Democrats. Our aim is a grand ideal. But the idealists in the philosophic sense are an irresponsible lot. They assert that everything we see, hear, feel, etc., that the whole world around us does not exist, but are simply flashes of our mind. They assert that our intellect is the only truth, everything else is an idea, a phantasmagory, a mirage, an appearance in the purely ideological sense of the word. Everything which we perceive of the external world, they say, is not an objective truth, not a real thing, but only a subjective drift of our intellect. And when common sense refuses to accept such an assumption they will in a plausible manner demonstrate and tell you that although you see every day the sun rising in the East and setting in the West, yet science teaches quite differently and you must have recourse to science in order that you may be able to use your senses intelligently.
Also a blind hen, says the proverb, finds sometimes a good grain. Such a blind hen is philosophic idealism. That the things which we see, hear or feel are not objects pure and simple, is its good grain. Also scientific physiology comes more and more to the conclusion that the various-colored objects which our eyes see, are sensations of our optic nerve, that all the crude, fine and heavy which we feel, are sensations of heavy, fine and crude. Between our subjective sensations and the objective things no absolute line can be drawn. The world is our perceptible world, that is, as perceived by our senses. Without eyes the objects would have no aspect whatsoever, and without a nose they would have nothing of an odor. “There is no noise without ears to hear it, and no heat and cold without a skin to feel it,” said Professor W. Preyer in Jena in one of his latest articles on the Limits of sense perception. The things of the world do not exist “in themselves,” but they possess their properties only by their relation to each other. It is in relation with sunlight and our optic nerve that the forest appears green. With another light and with a different optic nerve they might appear blue or red. Water is only liquid in relation to a certain temperature, in a low temperature water becomes hard and solid, in a high temperature it turns into gas; it generally runs downhill, but when in touch with a loaf of sugar it runs upwards. It has no properties or existence in itself, but gets them by relation to other things. As with the water so it is with all other things. Everything is but the quality or predicate of Nature which is nowhere to be found in a transcendental objectivity or Truth, but is always round us in fleeting and form-changing appearances.
The questions as to how the world would look if there were no eyes, no sun, no space, no temperature or intellect or sensation, are idle, and fools may investigate them. No doubt, in science as well as in life we are allowed to differentiate, to distinguish and to classify ad infinitum, but in doing that we must never forget that all things form a single unity and a connected whole. The world is a world of senses, and our senses and our intellect are worldly. This is by no means a “limitation” to man, but to those distracted ideologists who want to go beyond Nature. When we demonstrate that the immortal soul of the parson or the undoubted intellect of the philosopher are of the same common Nature as are all the other phenomena of the world, then we have proved that the other phenomena are as real and true as the undoubted intellect of Descartes. We not only believe, assume, think that our sensation has existence, but we feel it truly and really. And conversely: The whole truth and reality is based on feeling, on bodily sensation. Soul and body, or subject and object as the old joke is called by its modern name, are of the same earthly, perceptible, empirical stuff.
“Life is a dream,” said the ancients. Now the philosophers come with the latest: “The world is our Idea.” Yes, but this Idea is not an absolute or transcendental Truth. It is quite sufficient when we distinguish the great, general and true dream in daylight from the more or less unconscious dreaming over night and in the dark, since in so doing we finish with pure Idealism which is the weakest and most shortcoming part of Philosophy.
To base truth not on the word of God and not on traditional principles, but our principles on bodily sensations – that is the cardinal point of social-democratic philosophy.
“God formed the human body out of a clod of day and breathed into it an immortal soul.” Since that time we have the dualism or the two-world theory. The one, the bodily, the material world is dirt, and the other, the spiritual or mental ghost-world is God’s breath. That little story has been secularized by Philosophy, that is, adapted to the Zeitgeist. The visible, audible and tangible, the bodily reality is still regarded as dirty clay, while to the thinking mind is given the kingdom of a transcendental Truth, Beauty and Freedom. Just as the world has a bad name in the Bible, so also in Philosophy. Among all phenomena or objects which Nature offers, Philosophy finds only one object worthy of attention, namely, the mind, the old breath of God; and that only because it appears to those queer heads as a transcendental, unnatural, metaphysical thing. It is surely permitted to the inquirer to limit himself to one object, but he must not deify it, nor tear it from its interconnection, nor worship it in an exaggerated manner. The philosopher who approaches the human mind soberly and makes it the aim of his inquiries, like any other object of the many objects in the world, ceases to be a philosopher, that is, one of those who want to study the riddle of existence in a general, hazy, manner. He becomes a specialist and the special science of the theory of cognition becomes his special branch of inquiry.
Because Philosophy regarded all special objects of the world as dirty and material, nothing remained to it but the hazy speculation in indefinite, misty generalities. The philosophers possess, however, along with the religious soul, an exact Reason with a scientific tendency, a Reason which wants to achieve something definite. They are, therefore, compelled to look out for a definite object, for a scientific specialty. The logic of reality has driven Philosophy to become and to undertake something which it didn’t want to become or to undertake. The reason able desire for success in connection with the traditional worship of the divine breath gave thus to Philosophy as its object of inquiry the matter-of-fact Intellect.
That the common spirit of the human head is their true spirit, the philosophers hardly know; this must be made clear to them by Social-Democrats. The philosophers, as a rule university professors, have an interest in preserving for their professional intellect the character of the divine spark. All the more must it be the interest of the working men to know that this very intellect is a common natural object. Behind the question as to whether there is in our head a sublime idealistic spirit or a common human reason, we find the great social question hidden as to whether might and right are to-day on the side of the privileged class or on the side of the common people.
Struggle of the good against evil is the eternal essence of history. Sometimes the struggle reaches an acute stage, as for instance to-day when the productive working class is struggling against the ruling parasite class. In this struggle a good many splinters are thrown about. Everything is affected by it; even the language is going to pieces. The “highest” conceptions, such as Truth, Freedom, Culture, are being corrupted. “Philosophy” and “seats of learning” must be put in inverted commas in order to mark the equivocal character which they have assumed. Professors have become generals in the army of evil. On the right wing are in command Treitschke, in the centre von Siebel, on the left wing Jürgen Bona Meyer, doctor and professor of Philosophy in Bonn. The latter delivered lately in the Berlin Gegenwart, a logomachy against the Unbelief of our Times, against the religion of Social-Democracy. He leads the crack regiments of his “science,” the labored points of philosophic Idealism, into battle, and he comes just in time to be captured with his war materials in order to enable us to illustrate by them to the students of social-democratic Philosophy our subject-matter.
In the foregoing chapter we have already mentioned the feat of Descartes which the professors of higher magics or Philosophy are in the habit of producing before the public in order to dupe them. They try to demonstrate the breath of God as truth. To be sure that name fell into disrepute, and enlightened, liberal-minded people do not talk any more of the immortal soul. Instead of that they talk in a sober, materialist way of consciousness, faculty of thought and ideas. But to represent it as having a common non-transcendental nature, no enlightened man, even of the liberal class, would dare to do. It is only the Social agitator who represents it like that. To Jürgen Bona Meyer and Co., to the doctors of Philosophy, it is a foregone conclusion, a dogma, that the human mind is of a transcendental nature. Let us have a look at that dogma.
We feel in ourselves the bodily existence of thinking Reason, and with the same sensation we feel outside ourselves the clods of clay, the trees and shrubs. And that which we feel inside, and that which we feel outside ourselves are not far removed from each other. Both belong to the category of perceptible phenomena, of empiric material, and both become known to us through sensation. How to distinguish subjective from objective sensations, the inside from the outside, 100 real dollars from 100 imaginary ones – of that we shall speak upon occasion. Here it is only necessary to grasp that the inner thought, like the inner pain, exists as objectively as the outside world exists subjectively in relation to our organs of sensation. The relation between subject and object, spirit and Nature, thought and existence, which has puzzled so many people, becomes clear when we gain the understanding that the opposition is but a relative one, that these opposites differ only in degrees.
It is the democratic equality of all things in Nature, of the body and the soul, which cannot enter the heads of the “philosophers.” The said Meyer with his science without any given premises starts really from the supposition that the breath of God or the immortal soul or the philosophic intellect is of a higher and more direct Truth than any other children of the common mother Nature. As long as he does not relinquish that idea it is easy to prove that the “external world” is of mere clay, and that its existence does not rest on science, but on belief.
Let Jürgen speak for himself:
“The man who is a non-believer on principle must again and again be referred to the truth proved philosophically that all our knowledge rests in the last resort on some sort of belief. Even the materialist accepts the existence of the world as a matter of belief. He does not possess a direct knowledge of it; he is only sure of the idea of the world which arises in his mind; he believes that there is something which corresponds with his idea, that the represented world is such as he imagines it to be; he does believe in the existence of an external world on the evidence of his mind. His belief in the external world is primarily a belief in his own mind. And why does he believe that the imagined world will be such as the human mind imagines it or must imagine it? – Because it would be irrational to assume that the human mind which has the impulse and the power to imagine an external world, would necessarily be deceived in the exercise of its power ... Thus the belief in the senses is in the last resort a belief in the fitness of our mind. The preconceived notion of the fitness of the world forms thus the last basis of the materialistic conception.”
There you have the feat of Descartes in a new and cheaper edition. “Only the idea is undoubtedly certain,” but also this certainty is uncertain, for he speaks of “the belief in one’s own mind.” Meyer’s belief is “philosophically demonstrated,” yet he knows that he knows nothing, that all is merely belief. He is modest with regard to knowledge and science, but overconfident with regard to belief and religion. Science and belief are used by him in a confused manner, maybe that he does not attach any importance to either of them.
New it is “philosophically demonstrated” that all our knowledge is done for. For the benefit of the reader I may add that the guild of Philosophers at their last general meeting in all solemnity carried a resolution to purge our language from the word “science,” and to put belief in its stead. All knowledge is henceforth merely a believing. All knowledge is now at an end. Sure enough, Jürgen speaks of “direct certainty” and “philosophically proved truth;” but that is simply an unconscious relapse into the bad manners of old. Or, may be, he uses the words like the theologians who regard the mother of Jesus with her eternal virginity, or the talking ass of Balaam as a “demonstrated truth” and “direct certainty.” The Professor, however, corrects himself, for he says explicitly: the belief in the perceptible world is a belief in one’s own mind. Thus everything, spirit and Nature, rests on belief. But, alas, he is surely wrong in trying to impose upon us dialectic-materialists the resolution of his guild. For us the resolution is not binding. We remain true to the use of the language in reserving to ourselves knowledge, and in surrendering all mere believing to the parsons and Doctors of Philosophy.
No doubt “all our knowledge” rests on subjectivity. The wall yonder, against which we could split our heads and find it, therefore, impenetrable, may be passable like mere air for goblins, angels, demons and other ghosts, or for such people who deny the whole dirty clay of the perceptible world – but what of that? Why bother about a world which we can’t perceive? Maybe, that what people call fog and wind are really, purely or “in themselves,” heavenly flutes and counterbasses. But for all that we can have nothing to do with that transcendental moonshine. Social-democratic materialists deal only with things which man perceives empirically. To those things also belongs his own faculty of thinking. The empirical we call truth, and only that do we make an object of science. If Professor Jürgen Bona Meyer and the pure Idealists want to introduce a perverted nomenclature, to give science the name of belief and priestcraft the name of science, then it becomes evident to a good many people that the official Philosophy has turned from a devotee to a servile “menial of the Lord.”
Since Kant made the critique of Reason a specialty of philosophic research we know that the five senses are not alone sufficient to gain experience, but that the intellect must co-operate to that end. The critique of Reason has also taught us that the divine spark can only become active in the material domain, that is, in the empirical world; that Reason without the help of the senses has no sense or understanding, and is therefore a thing of common relationship with all other things. Yet the great philosopher found it too difficult to forget the story of the divinely inspired clod of clay so as to liberate the mind from its ghostly effect and to consummate the emancipation of science from religion. The conception of the disdainful, clay-like matter and of the “thing in itself” or the transcendental truth enveloped all philosophers more or less in a purely idealistic delusion which solely rests on the belief in the metaphysical character of the human mind.
That weak spot of our great critic is now taken ad vantage of by our Prussian and Imperial philosophers in order to make out of it a new religious idol, and a wretched one to boot. “The idealistic belief in God,” says J.B. Meyer in the above mentioned article, “ is surely not knowledge and will never become such, but it is likewise sure that the materialist’s unbelief is not knowledge, but a materialist belief which can no more become knowledge than the idealistic belief.” The metaphysical craving of our philosopher would be quite satisfied if the Social-Democrats would but confess that they understand as little of the question, or that they are as much in the dark about their basic principles as Meyer is about his. He wouldn’t perhaps mind atheism; it is the Social-Democratic self-consciousness which he can’t stand – the self-consciousness which turns even against the thin, consumptive belief of the Prussian and Imperial philosophers. “All religious belief,” continues Meyer, “begins with some exaggeration, with some fallacy, and needs, therefore, constant cutting of its false excrescences ... The progress of belief consists just in this, that through the increase of knowledge, b lief rids itself of superstition.” But he forgets to inform us about that true philosophic miracle of a religion free from superstition which is to remain despite the “constant cuttings.” He goes on angrily: “The popular champions of the materialistic and atheistic unbelief are with few exceptions not leaders of science, but misguided braggarts of knowledge.” Well, dear Jürgen, they do not at all claim the leadership of general science, but are limiting themselves to the study of a specialty, namely, to the theory of cognition, in order to be able to send the parsons of Philosophy about their business.
The philosophic apologies of Jürgen Bona Meyer, quoted in the last chapter, are the last make-shifts of religion. And it isn’t he alone who plays this tune. He has with him in the literature of the day a whole company of musicians who are in the same boat. All of them repeat the same reactionary refrain: “Back to Kant.” The question has therefore an importance which goes beyond the little person of General Jürgen. They do not want to go back to Kant because this great thinker has made short work of the story of the immortal soul that he has undoubtedly done; but they would like to return to him, because he, on the other hand, has left in his system a narrow entrance through which a little meta physics can be smuggled back into it – that he has undoubtedly done, too.
Idolatry, Religion and Philosophy are three slightly different kinds of the same thing, which is called metaphysics or cracked Truth. I apologize for the use of the latter adjective, but an unequivocal characterization demands a strong terminology. The cracked Truth has played a great part in the history of the world. Idolatry, Religion and Philosophy have been evolved from one another in the course of time; and now, in the time of Social-Democracy, we have arrived at the point when Philosophy, the “last Mohican” of the metaphysical tribe, must be transformed into rational Physics.
It is clear: all perverted wisdom rests on the perverted use of our intellect. And nobody has been more successfully and courageously engaged in the inquiry of the intellect and in the foundation of the theory of cognition than Immanuel Kant. Still, there is an essential difference between him and his successors of to-day. In the great historic struggle against superstition he stood on the side of progress; he put his genius into the service of the revolutionary development of science, while our Prussian philosophers serve reactionary politics.
As long as the philosophers were sometimes in danger of being sentenced to take poison, like Socrates, or of ending their life on the stake, like Giordano Bruno, of being expelled by the Prussians and threatened with the gallows, like Wolf, or of being placed under Police supervision, like Kant and Fichte – in short, as long as Philosophy was a dangerous occupation, it was also an honest endeavor to struggle through the mists of metaphysics to Reason, to rational thinking. Now, however, when philosophers have given up the struggle and are sounding retreat, it is time for Social-Democracy to learn with what kind of “science” and with what sort of “liberal” fellows they have to deal.
The push with which Kant has thrown metaphysics out of the Temple, and the narrow back door which he left open are clearly indicated in a few sentences in the preface of the second edition to his Critique of Pure Reason. Not having the volume at hand, I quote from memory. They are as follows: Our knowledge is limited to the experienced things, to the phenomena; what they are in themselves we are not able to know. Yet, the things must be something in themselves, else we would arrive at the inconsistent proposition, that appearance exists without the something which appears.
The great thinker argued seemingly quite logically, and yet his argument is altogether faulty. On his fallacy rests the metaphysical remains which Philosophy still drags along.
It cannot be denied that where there are appearances there is also something which appears. But how would it be if that something were the appearance itself, when appearances simply appear? There would be nothing illogical or irrational in that, if subject and predicate were everywhere in Nature of the same kind. Why should the something which appears be of a quality totally different from the appearance? Why can the things “for us” and the things “in themselves” – why can appearance and truth not be of the same empirical material, of the same Nature?
Reply: Because the superstition about the metaphysical world – because the belief in the dirty clay, which is evident, and the belief in an imperceptible exaggerated or divine truth, which must somewhere dwell in it, has not been cleared completely out of Kant’s mind. The syllogism: Where there are appearances which we see, hear and feel, there must also be concealed in them something quite different, a so-called higher or divine Truth which cannot be seen, heard or felt – this syllogism is a fallacy despite Kant.
The scholastic squabble about God, Freedom and Immortality was repulsive to that thinker. Therefore he put the intellect to the test and asked, whether something cracked, or metaphysics, could be possible as a science. No, was his reply after a wonderfully clear and thorough inquiry. No, our instrument of cognition depends on experience as well as our experience on that instrument. In other words, our mind cannot produce science but with the help of perceptible material, and science must and can have nothing to do with the “other world.” Only in its conscious connection with the materialist experience may the intellect become operative, and all questioning into hazy generalities can lead only to confusion and failure.
But the Königsberg Professor had, as Heine relates, a valet, a common fellow of the people, by the name of Lampe, to whom, it is said, air castles were an emotional necessity. The Professor took pity on him and argued: whereas the world of experience is closely connected with the intellect, we have really nothing else but mental experiences, that is, mental appearances or flashes. Empirical material things are no real truths, but apparitions in the transcendental sense of the word, cobwebs of the mind or something like it. The real things “in themselves,” the metaphysical truths, are beyond our experience, and must therefore be believed, in consequence of the well-known argument: Where there is appearance there must be something (metaphysical) which appears.
Thus was the belief, thus was the cracked truth snatched from the fire of rational inquiry, which was very welcome, not only to the valet Lampe, but also to the German Professors in the “Kulturkampf,” for “popular enlightenment” and against the hated and radically unbelieving Social-Democrats. Immanuel Kant was henceforth the proper man; he helped them to attain the requisite, though not scientific, balance of mental attitude.
The theologians are now no more in need of telling us how the old Lord Zebaoth looks, in how many choirs the angels are divided, and in how many regiments the devils, or whether the commanders are called Gabriel, Michael or Lucifer – for Kant’s philosophy has proved once for all that nothing can be known about them, and that, therefore, the parson must shut up.
But when the Social-Democrats appear on the scene and rejoice over the good news that superstition has disappeared and that the cracked hopes have ceased troubling, and that the earthly salvation has begun, then – of course, things look different, then they will prove to you by the same Kant that, though we cannot see, hear or perceive the metaphysical truth which dwells behind the natural phenomena, we must believe in it. Thus we can not get rid of belief, if not in Rome, and if not in the Bible, then in the “Back to Kant,” Jürgen Bona Meyer and his ilk.
The Social-Democrats are convinced that the clerical Jesuits are less dangerous than the “Liberal” ones. Of all parties the party of the middle-readers is the most wretched. It uses the terms Enlightenment and Democracy as a false label in order to offer to the people adulterated goods and to discredit the genuine ones. They, of course, offer their goods on their best knowledge and conscience. And we do believe that they know little; but the worst of it is that they don’t want to know and don’t want to learn. The superstition is with them not as much a matter of brains as of instinct. They are alarmed at ghost-freed thought, for they feel instinctively that it is dangerous to their interests. And it is that instinctive fear which paralyzes them and renders them unfit for courageous and consistent research.
Under such circumstances it would be a mistake to treat them as equals, to meet them in a friendly spirit and to try to bring them back on the right path. They are by no means stray lambs, but bitter foes. Since Kant a century has gone; Hegel and Feuerbach have come and gone, and before all, the capitalist system has fully developed which exploits the people and, finally, when no profits can be made out of them, throws them pitilessly on the street and leaves them to starvation. Then the people open their innocent eyes. All ideology is driven out of them, and thus we need no tender pedagogues, nor Moses and the Prophets to educate the masses. Our pupils, the wage-earners, possess all qualifications necessary to gain an insight into the Social-Democratic Philosophy, which regards the natural phenomena as the material for theoretical or scientific truth, the empirical and materialist, or, if you like, also subjective truth, which, however, must be clearly distinguished from the extravagant or cracked truth of metaphysics.
Just as in politics we see the nation dividing itself into two camps, on one side the wage-earners and on the other the capitalists, corresponding with the economic development which is thinning the ranks of the middle classes and leaving only two classes: the Have and the Have-not, so is science divided in two general divisions: into metaphysicians there and into physicists or materialists here. The intermediate members and conciliating quacks with their different appellations: Spiritualists, Sensualists, Realists, etc., etc., fall underway into the current. We are steering full steam ahead to a definite and clear outline of things. Pure Idealists are those who sound the retreat, and dialectic Materialists must be the appellation of all those who strive for the liberation of the human mind from all metaphysical magics. In order that names and definitions may not confuse us we must steadily keep in mind that the general want of clearness has not allowed yet of establishing a distinct terminology in this field.
In comparing the two parties with solid and liquid matter we find pulpiness as the intermediate stage. Such indistinctness is the general nature of all things in the world. It is only the faculty of cognition, or science, which clears them and puts them asunder, just as it has distinguished heat from cold by inventing a thermometer and agreed to regard the freezing point as the fixed limit where the indistinct temperature is divided into two different classes. The interest of Social-Democracy demands that we should apply the same process to Philosophy, that we divide the general species of thought into two classes: into purely idealistic, religious, emotional twaddle and into a sober, inductive or materialist method of thinking.
This series of lectures, published in the Volksstaat, have been temporarily interrupted. I shall not speak of the reasons which led to the interruptions, but let me simply say that I am going to continue them, or rather start them anew.
Dialectically speaking, the continuation of the old is at the same time a fresh start, especially in our subject-matter, for the social-democratic conception of the world is a complete system which, in the form of an inverted pyramid, moves, like a whipping-top, on its point. And as the whipping-top spins only in connection with its broad head and with its level plane and with its string which sets it in motion, so can the point of our new, systematic conception of the world not be represented in an isolated manner in itself, but only in the closest connection with the manifold questions which agitate the world. This subject-matter, “the fixed pole in the cease less motion of events,” needs thus continuous variations in order to go on with the old continuation by a fresh start.
Though we Social-Democrats are atheists without religion, we are not irreligious, that is, the gulf between us and the religions is great and deep, but has, like other gulfs, its bridge. It is my intention to lead the social-democratic comrades to that bridge and to show them from there the difference between the wilderness in which the believers are wandering about and the promised land of serenity and truth.
The supreme commandment of the Christian is: Thou shalt love God beyond everything and thy neighbor as thyself. Well, God beyond everything. But who is God? He is the beginning and the end, the Creator of Heaven and earth. We don’t believe in his existence, and yet we find something reasonable in the command which orders us to love him beyond everything.
Those who contemplate the Eternal, Omnipresent and Most Honored cannot fail to perceive that He is in reality nothing else but the personification of the Universe; no mortal can claim nowadays to have seen the All-Father and to have spoken to him. Yet the atheists, too, must acknowledge that reason-gifted man is, despite his intellect and his science, a subordinate creature, dependent on sun and winds, earth, fire, air and water. That means that our mind, destined though it is to rule over matter, is none the less a limited ruler.
With our intellect we can rule in a formal manner only. On a small scale we are able to control the changes and movements of matter according to our will, but taken as a whole, as the substance of things, cosmic matter is superior to all mental capabilities. Science is able to transform mechanical energy into heat, electricity, light, chemical energy, etc., and it may succeed in trans forming all phenomena of matter and of force into one another and to reduce all its forms to one element; but all this granted, science can only change the form, while the essence remains eternal, imperishable and indestructible, a given material. The intellect can get out of matter the secret of its physical changes, but they are after all material ways which the proud intellect can only follow but not command. Sound thinking must always be conscious of the fact that it is, together with the “immortal soul” and the knowledge-proud reason, only a subordinate piece of the Universe, though our present “philosophers” are still occupied with the jugglery of transforming the real world into an “idea” of man. The religious commandment: Thou shalt love God beyond everything, means in plain social-democratic language: Thou shalt love and honor the material world, the corporeal Nature or the perceptible existence as the final cause of all things, as the Existence without a beginning and an end, which was, is and will be from eternity to eternity.
As it is well known and as we have repeatedly stated, the philosophers are a more or less progressive offshoot of the theologians and doctors of divinity. All of them are, consciously or unconsciously, “one reactionary mass,” that is, their common characteristics are to be found in the fact that they regard the Universe as the product of the Intellect, while we regard the Intellect and all other forces, like heat, gravitation and all which is audible, visible and tangible, as a form or species, as a piece or product of the general force, which is identical with the omnipresent, eternal and indestructible cosmic matter. Language has so far treated the conception of force and matter rather arbitrarily. Palpable things like wood, stone, clay, etc., are ponderable forces, while those things which we cannot touch with our hands, for instance, light, heat, tunes, we call imponderable matter. The world of tunes constitutes the matter of the musician. And those who dislike this generalization of the word “matter” may, instead of that, speak of “phenomena.” Bodily, physical, perceptible, material phenomenon is the name of the general species, to which everything belongs, the ponderable and the imponderable, body and soul.
In order to clear ourselves of the “metaphysical craving” it is absolutely necessary to keep in mind that all differences which we may make are but the manifold forms or the attributes of one indivisible unity. Though we differentiate between the bodily and the mental forms, the difference is none the less but a relative one; they are but two kinds of one and the same existence. This difference is no greater than that between cat and dog, who, regardless of their well-known animosity, belong to the same class or species, namely, to that of domestic animals.
Natural science in its narrower sense cannot give us the monistic conception of the world (that is, unity of Nature: unity of matter and mind, of the organic and inorganic, etc.) which is so eagerly looked for in our time, even if science succeed in proving satisfactorily the origin of species and the evolution of the organic from the inorganic. Science achieves all its discoveries through the intellect. The visible, tangible and ponderable part of that organ undoubtedly belongs to the domain of natural science; but the function, the thinking, is investigated by a separate science which some call Logic, or Epistemology or Dialectics. The latter department of science, the understanding or misunderstanding of the mental function, is the common ground of religion, metaphysics and the anti-metaphysical investigation. Here the bridge is to be found which leads from servile, superstitious oppression to modest freedom. Also in the democracy of epistemological freedom modesty governs, that is, submission to material, physical necessity.
The inevitable religion changes in the heads of the philosophers into metaphysics, and in the heads of clear thinkers into the undeniable necessity of a monistic conception of the world. The existing matter-force, also called Universe or Existence, becomes mystified in the heads of the theologians and philosophers, because they do not understand that matter and mind are of the same species, and because they pervert the relation in which they stand to each other. Materialism is, like Political Economy, a scientific, a historical result. Just as we distinguish between modern and Utopian socialism, so also between modern and 18th century materialism. With the latter we have only this in common that we assume matter as the premise, as the cause of the idea. Cosmic matter is to us the substance, while mind is the incidence; the empirical phenomenon is to us the species, and the intellect but a variety or form of it, while all religious and philosophic idealists assume the idea to be the primary, the causative and the substantive force.
What we see, hear, feel, etc., say the idealists, are the intellectual phenomena, insofar as the intellect must exist where things are to be seen, heard and felt. Good and well, say their opponents, but with it there is also matter. Where there is intellect, thinking, consciousness and knowledge, there must be an object, too, a matter which is perceived, and that is the main thing. What is the main thing, matter or mind? That is the old question which separates idealists from materialists. But that question, too, is but a piece of hazy phraseology. The real difference between the two camps is that the one turns the Universe into witchery, while the other camp will have nothing to do with that. All natural phenomena being only perceptible with the aid of our intellect, all our perceptions are intellectual phenomena. Quite so. But in that sum total is included a special sensation, a phenomenon, which especially deserves the adjective “intellectual,” and that is human reason, mind or the faculty of forming ideas, while the other phenomena are collectively called material. Therefore it really comes to this: matter, force and intellect are of the same origin. It is indeed a miserable logomachy to quarrel about the adjectives “intellectual” and “material.” The main thing is to know whether all things are of the same species or whether the Universe is to be divided in a super natural, mysterious witchery and a natural, ordinary clay.
Those who desire to gain a clear notion about that must not be satisfied with simply following the example of the old materialist who reduced everything to ponderable atoms. Cosmic matter has not only gravity, but aroma, light and sound – and why not also intelligence? If the smellable, visible and audible is more spiritual than the ponderable – if the comparative is natural, why not also the superlative? Gravity cannot be seen nor light be smelled, nor the intellect be touched, but we may perceive everything which exists. Don’t we perceive our thoughts as physically as we feel pain, light, heat or stones? The prejudice that ponderable objects are more perceptible than the phenomena which are communicated to us through hearing or feeling in general misled the old materialists to their atomistic speculations, misled them to make the ponderable the final cause of things. The conception of matter must be given a more comprehensive meaning. To it belong all phenomena of reality, also our force of thinking. To the idealists who call all natural phenomena “Ideas” or “intellectual phenomena” we say that the natural phenomena are by no means “things in themselves,” but objects of our sensations. Since also the particular phenomenon called subjective feeling, soul or consciousness is an object of sensation, there is no use here splitting up things into subjective and objective. The objective thing can only be perceived subjectively, and vice versa. Both exist and both are of the same kind; body and soul are of the same empirical material. An impartial observer can have no doubt that spiritual material, or, to be more exact, that the phenomenon of our force of thinking is a part of the world and not the reverse. The whole governs the part, cosmic matter the mind, at least in the main, though it is true that mind reacts on cosmic matter. And it is in this sense that I said we must love and honor the material world as the supreme being, as the cause of all causes, as the creator of heaven and earth.
That confession does not in the least prevent us from regarding the intellect as the primus inter pares, as the first object of all the objects in the world.
When Social-Democrats call themselves materialists, they only want to emphasize their view that they refuse to acknowledge anything which pretends to lie beyond human cognition in a metaphysical way. All witchery must go overboard.
But – so do our philosophical ravens croak – what about “the limits of natural cognition?” Has not the learned Du-Bois-Reymond proved conclusively that the haughty intellect has its limits? And has not our late socialist friend, F.A. Lange, the expert historian of Materialism, agreed to all that and expressly declared that all our knowledge could not penetrate the essence of things, and that, after all, something mystical and inconceivable must remain unsolved forever?
That theory of the limited understanding of common humanity is a fool’s theory, which we shall still further discuss.