Jospeh Dietzgen 1867

Letter to Karl Marx, 7 November 1867

Source: Karl Marx, Letters to Dr Kugelmann (Martin Lawrence, London, undated). Scanned and prepared for the Marxist Internet Archive by Paul Flewers.

Dear Sir

I beg you to allow me, although unknown to you, to express my admiration for the inestimable services which you have rendered by your investigations both for science and especially for the working class. Already in my early youth, when I was able to suspect rather than to understand the extremely rich content of your writings, I was held spellbound by them and I could not refrain from reading and re-reading them until I had made them properly clear to myself. The enthusiasm aroused in me now by the work of yours which has recently been published in Hamburg impels me to what is perhaps the importunate audacity of desiring to assure you of my acknowledgment, admiration and thankfulness. I had studied earlier the Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy, Part I, when it appeared in Berlin, with great diligence and I confess that no book, however voluminous, has furnished me with so much new positive knowledge and instruction as this small work. Consequently I have been awaiting the continuation with much impatience. You expressed for the first time in clear, irresistible scientific form what from now on will be the conscious tendency of scientific development, viz, the subordination to human consciousness of the previously blind natural force of the social process of production. It is your immortal achievement, most honoured Sir, to have provided the understanding of this tendency, to have assisted the realisation that our production proceeds unguided. For that, time must and will bring you general acknowledgment. Reading between the lines of your work, I see that the presupposition of your deep-rooted economics is a deep-rooted philosophy.

Since the latter has cost me much labour, I cannot suppress the desire to make a short communication to you about my scientific efforts, with the acknowledgment that I am only a tanner with an elementary education.

My subject has been, from an early period, a systematic conception of the world; Ludwig Feuerbach showed me the way to it. Much, however, I owe to my own labours, so that I can now say regarding myself: general things, the nature of the general or the ‘essence of things’ is scientifically clear to me. What it remains for me to know are the particular things. Since I know individual details of this, I say to myself that to know all is too much for the individual.

The foundation of all science lies in knowledge of the thought process.

Thinking means to develop the general from what is given by the senses, from the particular.

Appearance forms the necessary material of thought. It must be present before the essence, the general or the abstract is to be discovered. The understanding of this fact contains the solution of all philosophic riddles. For instance, the question of the beginning and end of the world does not any longer belong to science, if the world can only be the presupposition, but not the result of thought or knowledge.

The essence of thought is number. All logical differences are quantitative. All being is a more or less enduring appearing, all appearance is a more or less enduring being.

All causes are effects and vice versa. Within a sequence of phenomena, the one generally preceding is termed the cause. Of five birds, four, for instance, take to flight in consequence of a shot. Consequently the shot is said to be the cause that four fly off and undauntedness the cause that one remains. But if, on the contrary, one takes to flight and four remain, it is not now the shot but timidity that is said to be the cause of the flight. A famous physicist writes: ‘We are not able to perceive heat itself, we only conclude from phenomena the existence of this natural agent.’ I, on the contrary, conclude from the imperceptibility of ‘heat itself’ the non-existence of this agent and understand the phenomena or effects of heat as Materiatur [something material] from out of which the mind forms the abstract conception heat. If, without confusing ideas, we call what is concrete sensuous matter, then its abstract is force. In weighing a bale of goods, the gravitational force is handled by the pound without regard to the matter making up the weight. The hackneyed Büchner says: ‘Now what I want is facts’, but he does not know what he wants; science is not so much concerned with facts as with the explanations of facts, not with matter but with forces. Even if in reality force or matter are identical, their distinction, the separation of the particular and the general is still more than justified. ‘Force cannot be seen.’ Oh yes, seeing itself and what we see is pure force. It is true that we do not see things ‘themselves’ but only their effects on our eyes. Matter is imperishable, that means only that it is, everywhere and at all times, matter. Matter appears and the phenomena are material. The difference between appearance and essence is only quantitative. The power of thought puts together from out of the many – the one; from out of the parts – the whole; from out of the transitory – the imperishable; from out of the accidents – the substance.

Morality. By morality the world understands the regard which a man pays himself and his neighbours with the aim of his own good. Different persons and groups of persons fix the number and degree of these regards differently. Given the group, the power of thought can only separate general from particular right. What is aim? What is means? In regard to abstract human good, all aims are means and in so far the basic statement holds good ‘the end justifies the means’.

If lack of learning did not hinder me, I would write a work on this theme. I believe that I know so much that is new about it.

Pardon me, dear Sir, for presuming to make this claim on your time and attention. I thought to be able to please you by the proof that the philosophy of a manual worker is clearer than the average of our present-day philosophy-professors. I would value your approval higher than if some learned academy wished to appoint me as its member.

I close with the assurance once again that I sympathise from the bottom of my heart with your efforts which have a significance far beyond our time. Social development, the struggle for the rule of the working class, interests me more deeply than my own personal affairs. I regret only not to be able to participate more actively. Allons enfants de la patrie! ['Forward, children of the fatherland.’ The first line of the Marseillaise.]

Joseph Dietzgen
Master of the Vladimir Tannery, Vassili Ostrov, St Petersburg
24 October [7 November] 1867