Subject Object Cognition. V A Lektorsky 1980
According to Kant, the continuity and unity of experience are conditioned by the transcendental unity of apperception, that is, the unity of the Transcendental Subject himself. Kant believes that the proposition “I think” is the supreme foundation of knowledge. In critically analysing the German philosopher’s conception, we have pointed out that the actual dependence is of a different kind. It is true that the knowledge of external objects assumes self-consciousness, but the latter in its turn assumes the former. Both knowledge and self-consciousness are ultimately conditioned by the subject’s practical object-related activity in the world of real objects, an activity that is social in its very nature, including as it does the relation of the given subject to others.
Thus Kant erroneously interpreted the actual facts of cognition. Still, we have to admit that self-consciousness indeed plays a special role in the acquisition of knowledge. This fact merits a more careful analysis.
Let us note, first of all, that self-consciousness is always knowledge of a special kind.
True, Kant draws a basic distinction between knowledge and self-consciousness, emphasising that the Transcendental Subject can only be consciously realised but it cannot be the object of knowledge. It is the attempt to think of this Subject as an object of experience that leads to one of the antinomies of pure reason, Kant believes. Sartre also separates consciousness and knowledge as a matter of principle, pointing out that consciousness does not necessarily deal with the world of objects, whereas knowledge obligatorily implies an object to which it refers. The world that is external with regard to consciousness, different and independent from it (the world in itself) does not initially appear as a world of objects, according to Sartre, and is not therefore an object of knowledge. Consciousness is not reflective in its very nature and therefore does not initially know itself, let alone the world of external objects. However, it immediately realises itself as different from the world in itself (therefore Sartre names consciousness “Being For-Itself”). In this way the philosopher separates self-consciousness and knowledge of self (reflexion).
Let us note that both Kant and Sartre believe that under ordinary conditions there exists a relation of the subject to himself which appears as knowledge of himself. It is a different matter that, according to these philosophers, the individual empirical subject’s experientially given knowledge of self is not the same as grasping the true deep nature of this subject (the latter appears as the Transcendental Subject, according to Kant, and as “pure” consciousness, Being For-Itself, according to Sartre).
Inasmuch as we begin our analysis with the study of individual empirical subjects and their mutual relations, the statement that a certain kind of knowledge is given in ordinary self-consciousness can hardly raise any objections. Later we shall also try to explain the facts interpreted by Kant and Sartre as a fundamental difference between consciousness (self-consciousness) and knowledge. We have noted the very important circumstance, recorded in modern psychology, that the objective amodal scheme of the world underlying all types and kinds of perception also assumes the incorporation of a scheme of the subject’s body in it. The knowledge of the position of one’s body in the objective network of spatio-temporal connections, the knowledge of the difference between the objective changes in the real world and the succession of the subjective states of consciousness, the knowledge of the connection between the perspectives of experience and the objective position of the subject’s body — all of these varied kinds of knowledge are included in a compressed form in an elementary act of consciousness, the act which is indeed assumed by any cognitive process.8 6 Without self-consciousness, the subject cannot determine the objective state of affairs in the world. In the specific and supreme form of reflection termed cognition, the subject does not simply know something — he also realises that he knows it, that is, he always stands in a certain relation to knowledge and himself. If that were not so, cognition could not exist. As Marx stated: “The animal is immediately one with its life activity. It does not distinguish itself from it. It is its life activity. Man makes his life activity itself the object of his will and of his consciousness. He has conscious life activity. It is not a determination with which he directly merges. Conscious life activity distinguishes man immediately from animal life activity.”
Since all this is quite true, a situation emerges which appears quite paradoxical and even impossible. Indeed, if I cognize some object, can I simultaneously also cognize my cognizing self and the act of my cognition? Does not accepting the thesis that knowledge of an object also assumes knowledge of the cognizing subject and the act of his cognition lead to an insoluble logical paradox? Is not the latter similar to the paradoxes which arise when an utterance has itself for a referent? (These paradoxes, along with some others, were discovered early in this century in set theory and stimulated intense studies in the foundations of mathematics.) Consider these facts. My eyes can see everything that surrounds me. They also see certain parts of my own body. They see other subjects looking at certain objects. But my eyes cannot in principle see themselves and the process of their vision. (It can be objected that the eyes see themselves in the mirror. But what we see in the mirror is not the eyes themselves but only their reflection. Of course, the reflection in the mirror has a likeness to my eyes, and I can imagine with the aid of the mirror the way I myself, my face and my eyes look to an external observer. However, when I look in the mirror, it is not my eyes that are the object of my experience but only their physical reflection on the surface of a certain body. The fact that this reflection resembles the picture my eyes present to a stranger is not at all evident and not known at the early stages of the development of the psyche.)
Keith Gunderson, a modern American philosopher, points out that the cognizing subject cannot be the object of his own experience, an object of his knowledge. Experience is directed at the world of external objects. I can know the states and relations of physical objects. I also know other individuals, both at the level of everyday knowledge and through special scientific inquiry (e.g., physiology, psychology, sociology, etc.). In his turn, another subject may study me, and in this case I shall be the object of this other subject. But I cannot know myself, the subject, as an object of my own experience. Otherwise, Gunderson believes, we would get lost in an insoluble paradox similar to the paradoxes of set theory. It has to be recognised, states the American philosopher, that the subject himself, the carrier and generator of knowledge, drops out of the domain to which his knowledge refers. There is nothing surprising about it, he continues, since this fact is characteristic not only of man but in general of all systems, including artificially constructed technical mechanisms, which have to do with receiving information from the environment. Any such system gathers information about objects different from the system itself, but it cannot obtain information concerning the process itself of gathering information. Periscope lenses reflect everything that happens around, but they cannot reflect themselves.
We may agree with Gunderson that the situation where cognition of the world of objects also implies the subject’s cognition of himself and the process of such cognition indeed appears rather paradoxical. At the same time, we cannot discard the real and basic fact of human cognition really involving self-consciousness. The examples cited by the American philosopher do not contradict that fact. The point is that artificial mechanisms gathering information do not implement the process of cognition, they do not have self-consciousness or consciously realise the world of objects. The information gathered by these mechanisms only becomes a fact of cognition when it is assimilated by man. A submarine’s periscope by itself does not see anything: the man using it does. Man’s perception of the external world presupposes an elementary act of self-consciousness, otherwise it will not see anything even with the aid of a periscope (self-consciousness thus pertains to the man using the periscope rather than the periscope itself).
What is the way out of this paradox? Let us describe the solution in the briefest outline, with the intention of later recurring to this problem. The point here is that although self-consciousness is knowledge, it is knowledge of a special kind. So far we have assumed that knowledge presents to the subject the world of objects that are realised as such. This is true both of perception, which is a kind of knowledge associated with the individual subject, and of scientific theories, which are objectified forms of knowledge. However, the object of self-consciousness is not given to it (self-consciousness should not be confused with reflexion). When I perceive a group of objects, I realise at the same time the difference between my consciousness and these objects, I realise the spatio-temporal position of my body, etc. But all these facts of consciousness are in the background or on the periphery and not in the focus of consciousness. Directly, my consciousness is aimed at external objects that are the object of knowledge. My body, my consciousness, my cognitive process do not in this case form part of the objects of experience and knowledge. Thus knowledge of self implied by any experience and expressed in the form of self-consciousness is knowledge of a special kind. It might be somewhat tentatively called “implicit knowledge,” as distinct from explicit knowledge with which we are usually concerned. The goal of the cognitive process is acquisition of explicit knowledge. Implicit knowledge acts as a tool or method of acquiring explicit knowledge.
When I touch a thing with my hand, I feel the object itself and not my hand. The tactile sense speaks of the external object and not of myself. Only in the background of my consciousness do I realise the act of touching, localising the action of the object on myself at my fingertips. If I touch the object with a stick, not with my hand, the tactile impression is again connected with the object itself, not with the tool I use (the stick). The latter is no longer in the focus of consciousness but on its periphery, and is experienced as a direct continuation of my body. In this case, the sensation of the action of the object (we have already pointed out that this is not the same as the tactile image of objects) is experienced as localised at the end of the stick and not at my fingertips.
Many philosophers argued that, inasmuch as a most important and probably the only task of epistemological analysis is substantiation of knowledge, it should obviously single out and dissect all premises of knowledge, including those connected with self-consciousness. Epistemological research must explicate what is implicit, thus implementing absolute reflexion.
We may recall that one of the solutions to the problem offered in the past consisted in the assertion that the reflexive relation of “I” to itself constitutes the supreme foundation of any knowledge. The proposition formulating this reflexive relation was taken to be absolutely indubitable and irrefutable. The epistemological reflexion about knowledge was interpreted as reflexion of “I” about itself.
We have endeavoured to show the cul-de-sacs and the insoluble difficulties to which the acceptance of this orientation in epistemology leads. In particular, we have tried to show that any knowledge, and in the first place the knowledge of the world of external objects, though it assumes the subject’s self-consciousness, cannot as a matter of principle be reduced to the subject’s reflexion about himself. And insofar as knowledge about external objects can never be absolutely unquestionable (such as not to allow any further specifications and corrections), however reliable it may be in practice, natural doubts arise about the need for searching for absolute principles and absolutely indisputable foundations of knowledge.
These doubts are redoubled as we take into account the experiences of modern science in substantiating certain special kinds of scientific knowledge. We have already noted, for instance, the impossibility of completely reducing arithmetic to set theory or of one physical theory to another, as well as the impossibility of reducing theoretical knowledge to a set of protocol utterances, propositions about “sense data” or laboratory operations. Different structures of knowledge are linked in ways other than reduction. This circumstance has to be taken into account in substantiating knowledge.
The question remains, however: to what extent is absolute completeness of reflexion possible? To what degree can the premises of knowledge be singled out, elucidated, and dissected?
In attempting to answer this question, let us recall Quine’s arguments about the problem of radical translation. Quine points out that the language in which we speak is given to us in a different manner than a strange language which we study. With regard to the latter, we consider the relation of its expressions to the real objects and actual situation, that is to say, we reflect about this language. As for our own language, it directly presents to us the picture of the world and not its own structure. We know our own language in the sense that we can use it for rendering some objective content. But that is not explicit knowledge. The language is inseparable for us from that objective knowledge which we obtain with its help, so that we do not even notice it, as it were: it is in the background of consciousness. (That does not rule out the possibility of reflexion about our own language, but we have to split our language into two in this case. One of them will be the object language, the one that is studied, that is, it will play a different role than before, functioning as an ensemble of theoretical hypotheses, idealisations, etc., rather than as implicit knowledge naturally given to consciousness. The second language, used as a tool for studying the first, retains the properties of implicit knowledge.) Assume that we study the structure of the theory of arithmetic trying to establish its ontology, thus performing an act of theoretical reflexion about this conceptual system. In this case, we use set theory as an instrument of reflexion. In the context of this study, set theory is not an object of reflexion and is accepted as something familiar and clear. The reverse task is also possible: translation of the propositions of set theory into the language of the theory of arithmetic. Here set theory itself will be the object of reflexion and the theory of arithmetic will be accepted as something not subject to reflexion in the given context.
In studying the history of various proofs of the stereometrical theorem concerning the correlation of the numbers of sides, apices, and faces of a polyhedron, Imre Lakatos showed that finding the weak points of arguments, that is, increasing their rigour, always assumes the existence of “foundational” knowledge. The latter serves as an instrument of analysis itself, that is, a mode of reflexion about proofs, taken as an intuitively clear and unreflected guarantee of rigour. “By each ‘revolution of rigour’ proof-analysis penetrated deeper into the proofs down to the foundational layer of ‘familiar background knowledge’ ... where crystal-clear intuition ... reigned supreme and criticism was banned.” At the same time reflexion about the “foundational layer,” i.e., knowledge assumed to be immediately clear (implicit knowledge, in our terminology) reveals the problematic character and even falsity of a whole series of its components. “The amount of assumed familiarity decreases as criticism turns background knowledge into knowledge.”
Reflexion about the “foundational layer” assumes adopting some other type of knowledge as not subject to reflexion in the given context of the means of analysis.
Thus even in such a science as mathematics, where the problem of substantiating knowledge figures prominently, and reflexion about the existing systems of knowledge plays an enormous role, every procedure of reflective analysis implies a framework of implicit “foundational” knowledge that is not reflected upon in the given context. Implicit knowledge plays a much more important role in factual sciences, that is, in the disciplines dealing with explanation of empirical facts. In these sciences, research activity is, as a rule, aimed at the world of real external objects rather than at the theory itself. The elaboration and development of a theoretical system and its application to empirical data (the two are usually inseparable) are perceived by the researcher as establishment of the objective connections of reality itself.
The theoretical conceptual system is not in this case considered separately from the knowledge about real objects formulated in its terms. In such disciplines, theories are usually left unformalised and often unaxiomatised. The rules for processing empirical data, the norms and standards of discourse, and the modes of selecting significant problems are not formulated explicitly but are specified along with the basic paradigmal content premises of the theory, i.e., as implicit knowledge. Michael Polanyi and Thomas Kuhn, modern specialists in the history and theory of science, pointed out the importance of implicit knowledge (“tacit knowledge” in their terminology) for the development of natural science. That does not mean that theoretical reflexion plays no role in the development of natural scientific knowledge (although the theoreticians mentioned here are inclined to belittle this role in every way, distorting the actual state of affairs).
The property of reflexion indicated here (the dialectical connection between reflected and unreflected knowledge) is fully manifested with regard to those kinds of knowledge which exist in unobjectified form, i.e., belong to the individual subject (perception, recall, etc.), and also with regard to individual consciousness itself. As we have stressed, each act of individual cognition assumes self-consciousness, that is, implicit knowledge of the subject about himself. One may try to transform this implicit knowledge into explicit one, that is, to translate self-consciousness into reflexion. In this case, the subject analyses his own mental experiences, observing the flow of his psychical life, endeavouring to find out the nature of his “I,” etc. It appears that in this act of reflexion, “I” simply merges with itself. In actual fact that is not so. Every act of reflexion is an act of conscious realisation or understanding. The latter always assumes definite means of understanding, a kind of framework of semantic connections. Outside this framework, reflexion is impossible. At the same time, the semantic framework presupposed by the act of reflexion is not subject to reflexion in the act itself; “dropping out” of it, it is taken as an instrument of such an act, that is, as implicit knowledge. The dissection of the flow of psychical life and meaningful definiteness of the images coming to the surface of consciousness, the spatio-temporal reference of memories — all of this is given to consciousness in the act of individual reflexion. However, the modes themselves of semantic formation of this givenness are not reflected upon. Therefore, the question does not arise in subjective reflexion about the basic possibility of other semantic characteristics of psychical life, that is, of the possibility of the content and structure of psychical life other than that which is given in self-observation. “I” itself also drops out of the act of reflexion, at least partially, for if it makes itself the object of its reflexion, it must also perform this as the subject. And that means that “I” as the subject of reflexion is not reflected upon as long as we remain within the framework of individual consciousness.
This circumstance served as the basis for Kant’s and Sartre’s view that the true nature of the subject cannot be the object of knowledge or reflexion, being given to non-reflecting consciousness only. Ludwig Wittgenstein follows a similar pattern of argument: “ 5.63 1. The thinking, presenting subject; there is no such thing. If I wrote a book The World as I Found It, I should also have therein to report on my body and say which members obey my will and which do not, etc. This then would be a method of isolating the subject or rather of showing that in an important sense there is no subject: that is to say, of it alone in this book mention could not be made. 5.632. The subject does not belong to the world but it is a limit of the world. 5.633. Where in the world is a metaphysical subject to be noted? You say that this case is altogether like that of the eye and the field of sight. But you do not really see the eye. And from nothing in the field of sight can it be concluded that it is seen from an eye... 5.64 1. ...The philosophical I is not the man, not the human body or the human soul of which psychology treats, but the metaphysical subject, the limit — not a part of the world.” The English philosopher Gilbert Ryle believes that the “systematic elusiveness of “I” in the course of reflexive analysis indicates the fictitious nature of the object of reflexion itself, i.e., of “I” as a specific structure irreducible to the physical, bodily characteristics of man.
Does all of this mean that unreflected implicit knowledge cannot in general be regarded as an object of reflexion being doomed to remain forever on the periphery of consciousness, unamenable to analysis in principle? Not at all. The instrument of reflexion, that is, its semantic framework; can itself become the object of reflexive analysis, but for this purpose it must be interpreted in another semantic framework which will not be reflected upon in the new context. Implicit knowledge should not be understood as something irrational or as an arbitrary assumption unrelated to reality. In actual fact, this kind of knowledge always reflects, with a definite degree of precision, objective dependences, and in many cases practical and cognitive activity does not need special analysis of at least some of the cognitive premises on which they are constructed.
There are situations, however, when this kind of analysis proves a necessity. As w e have noted, such a situation exists, e.g., in the study of the foundations of mathematics.
Let us consider the following very important point.
Where implicit knowledge becomes explicit, thus becoming the object of reflexion, it undergoes certain changes. Theoretical reflexion about a system of objectified knowledge means its dissection, formulation of a number of assumptions and idealisations and at the same time (which is particularly essential) specification of the knowledge itself, rejection of certain implicitly accepted premises (the procedure of reflexion is prompted exactly by the need for revising some premises of knowledge). What previously appeared clear, intuitively understandable and simple, proves to be complicated enough as a result of reflexion, and often problematic, sometimes even simply erroneous. The result of reflexion is not therefore some simple and self-obvious truths or a set of absolutely indisputable assertions forming an “absolute foundation” of the system of knowledge to which different kinds of knowledge can be reduced in one way or another. The result of reflexion is a theoretical system which is a relatively genuine reflexion of some real dependences in a definite context and which at the same time implies a whole series of assumptions, a certain implicit knowledge as a premise.
Reflexion thus takes one beyond the framework of the existing system of knowledge, generating new knowledge, both explicit and implicit. What originally seemed (e.g., in mathematics) a purely substantiating procedure, is in reality a mode of development of the content of knowledge itself and one of the important ways of theoretical development. This procedure results in increasingly more precise reflection of the objective dependences of reality and exact reproduction of the structure and content of the scientific theories themselves. A study whose immediate goal was merely increasing the rigour of an argument generated in fact greater theoretical content in the given scientific field. Summing up his investigation of the history of proofs of the stereometrical theorem, Imre Lakatos writes: “ ‘Certainty’ is never achieved (the reference here is to metaphysical absolute certainty. — V.L.), ‘foundations’ are never found — but the ‘cunning of reason’ turns each increase in rigour into an increase in content, in the scope of mathematics.”
As for the factual sciences, the links between the procedure of substantiating knowledge and the development of theoretical content are here even more explicit. We have noted already that in these sciences the problem of substantiation does not usually figure as an independent one. To the extent in which the existing system of theoretical notions allows the solution of scientific problems arising in this system, permitting at the same time definite practical applications, this system is regarded as sufficiently well founded. The emergence of a substantively novel theoretical system and adoption of new paradigmal research premises reveal that the conviction of the adequacy of the old paradigm’s foundations was not quite justified. The new paradigm is not adopted through analysing the structure of theoretical knowledge within the framework of theoretical reflexion. about science but in studying the real objects themselves, that is, it is accepted as a tool for a more adequate theoretical reproduction of the real dependences. At the same time, the adoption of a new paradigm implies a procedure for correlating it with an old paradigm. The latter figures in this case as an object of reflexion. Its postulates, concepts, and semantic connections are reconstructed and compared with the real objects and actual connections with the aim of retaining all that has objective real content in the old paradigm, and of eliminating everything that has no such content, that is, proves to be fictitious. Here, the new paradigm functions as an instrument for presenting the real objects and dependences. Thus, theoretical reflexion acts as an important element of transition from one paradigm to another (though Polanyi and Kuhn reject this), albeit it does not exhaust the content of the transition. This reflexion essentially means reconstruction of and inquiry into the old paradigm in the light and by means of the new one. Thus the theory of relativity allowed a clarification of the latent premises of classical mechanics which were not (and could not be) clear to its creators themselves. Galileo, in his turn, had to subject the system of premises and assumptions of Aristotelian physics to theoretical reflexion in laying the foundations of classical mechanics. But he could only solve this task successfully insofar as he went beyond the framework of the conceptual system of Aristotelian physics. Theoretical reflexion is the result of going beyond the limits of a given conceptual system and at the same time the means of such a step. As we see, in any case it proves to be closely linked with the development of the content of theoretical knowledge.
In this connection, one should consider the untenability of one interpretation of the special theory of relativity. This interpretation, which gained currency thanks to Bridgman, reduces the entire significance of the special theory of relativity to reflective analysis of primary concepts of physics (such as the concept of simultaneity). From this standpoint, Einstein created not so much a physical theory as a metatheory which deals with the problem of the meaning of physical concepts. The laboratory operations of measurement referred to in the special theory of relativity are viewed as an absolutely reliable basis of science, the foundation on which physics must be built. In actual fact, the operations of measurement used in the special theory of relativity, in their turn, assume a number of theoretical premises that are not operational in nature. The task of this theory is by no means solution to the problem of meaning of scientific concepts but the discovery of new content dependences in actual reality. Reflective analysis, that is, discussion of the problems of the nature and meaning of the concepts of physics, indeed played an important role in the elaboration of the principles of this theory. But this analysis is intimately linked with comparing the old and new paradigms — classical mechanics and Einstein’s conception. Besides, theoretical reflexion was not and could not be the only tool of substantiating the new theory.
Reflexion about knowledge thus proves to be closely linked with the development of its content and with going beyond the limits of the existing conceptual system. (That does not mean, however, that the reverse proposition is also true, that is, that any development of the content of knowledge appears as reflexion. For instance, the development of a theoretical system within the given paradigmal premises obviously cannot be taken as an example of reflexion.)
If that is how things stand, the question arises, does the problem of substantiation of knowledge have any meaning at all? Classical philosophy and science presented the solution to the task of substantiating knowledge as finding a set of assertions which would be absolutely indisputable and unshakeable, assertions to which all other kinds and types of knowledge could be reduced in one way or another. Since such a task cannot be solved (and we have tried to show that that is so), should we not recognise that the problem of substantiating knowledge does not exist at all? Many Western specialists in the foundations of mathematics, logic, methodology, and philosophy of science, in the theory and history of natural science come to this conclusion.
One can hardly agree with this view. What is the meaning of the task itself of substantiating knowledge? Apparently, it is the establishment of the sphere of application of the given system of knowledge and separating that which is true knowledge from that which only lays an empty claim to this title. On the general epistemological plane, it is a question of finding general criteria for the solution of this task, which may be applied to different cases, to various concrete systems of knowledge. If we assume that this task has lost all meaning, the conclusion will have to be accepted that there are no criteria in general which allow to draw a boundary line between knowledge and absence of it.
In reality, the evolution of cognition is a dialectical process of delimitation of knowledge from absence of knowledge and at the same time a process of increasingly more precise demarcation of the objective sphere of application of the existing systems of knowledge. Substantiation of knowledge implies, first of all, correlating it with real objects through practical object-oriented activity. At the same time, not all kinds of knowledge can be directly included in practical activity. Besides, practice itself is always limited by the given concrete historical level of its development. Therefore, even the practical application of the given system of knowledge is not tantamount to full substantiation of the latter. Practice assumes the development of the systems of knowledge themselves. It is in the course of this joint development of mutually connected practical activity involving objects and cognitive activity that knowledge is substantiated. Substantiation must not thus be understood as an ensemble of procedures enabling one to provide an unshakeable basis for knowledge once and for all but rather as historical development of cognition, as emergence of new theoretical systems, discarding some old conceptions, establishment of new links between theories, revision of old theories, etc. Substantiating a given theoretical system means going beyond its framework, including it in a deeper context, and considering it against a broader background.
Thus, those procedures which were considered in the history of philosophy and science as methods for resolving the problem of substantiation are indeed relevant to the solution of this problem but in a sense different from the previously assumed. These procedures do not at all provide “absolute” substantiation, being merely elements in the historical process of substantiation coinciding with the development of knowledge itself. Substantiation as it actually takes place therefore includes elements of scientific research which classical pre-Marxian and non-Marxist philosophical and methodological literature did not consider in the context of the given problem (e.g., the origin of new theories). If substantiation of knowledge coincides with its development, and theoretical reflexion is only one of the elements of the latter, that means that actual substantiation is not reducible to reflexion, being much broader in scope.
We have already pointed out that reflexion brings about not only a transcending of the existing system of knowledge but also its transformation. Implicit premises, becoming explicit ones, are not merely singled out, dissected and reconstructed, though even this procedure by itself changes the nature of knowledge that is the object of reflexion. Some premises are specified or entirely discarded. In itself, this is quite understandable: the need for reflexion arises only when doubts appear about the substantiation of the basic premises. The task of theoretical analysis lies in revising these premises, and the attainment of this task is impossible without changing, be it partially, what is critically studied. But that means that the very object changes as a result of theoretical reflexion. Let us dwell on this circumstance in somewhat greater detail.
When theoretical knowledge reproduces the dependences between the real objects existing independently of knowledge, as often as not one has to go beyond the limits of the given conceptual system, including the objects under study in new relations, introducing new idealisations, constructing new systems of abstract objects, etc. None of these processes, characterising the development of theoretical knowledge about real objects, changes the objects themselves to which knowledge refers. The relation between reflexion and its object is different. Through reflexion, its object, the system of knowledge, is not only included in new relations but is also completed and rebuilt, that is, it becomes different from what it was before reflexion. The process of inquiry proves to be intimately linked with creatively reshaping the very object under study. This peculiar relation between cognition and changes in the object arises because in this case we do not deal with an object existing independently from cognition and consciousness but with cognitive reproduction of cognition itself and of consciousness, directing cognition towards itself.
The peculiar relation between reflexion and its object indicated here is found not only in systems of objectified knowledge but also in individual consciousness. The point is that reflexion about the state of consciousness, about the properties of a concrete personal “I” emerges in the context of the task (whether realised or not) of restructuring the system of consciousness and personality. When I realise myself as “I” with such and such traits, I do not merely objectify certain moments of my psychical life that were previously fluid or scattered, as it were (thereby introducing definite changes in the state of my consciousness). I also reflexively analyse myself in the light of some ideal which I accept, an ideal which expresses a type of relation to other persons and thus socially mediates my relation to myself. When I analyse myself, trying to realise my qualities, contemplating my attitude to life, and looking into the deep secret places of my own consciousness, I thereby wish to “substantiate” myself, as it were, to find a solid basis for the frame of reference, giving up some things for good and taking an even firmer hold of others. My individual “ego” thus changes and develops in the process and as a result of reflexion.
But does it not follow from the above that reflexion simply creates its own object, actually reflecting nothing? Many modern bourgeois philosophers and some Western specialists in the theory of science accept this view, to some extent or another. As we recall, according to Quine’s “ontological relativity” principle we must not speak of the ontology of a given theory as long as we remain within its framework: a given theoretical system will have some ontology (and different ontologies ascribed to the theory may be mutually exclusive), depending on the language of the system into which we are going to translate it. It so appears that the arbitrarily chosen “angle of view” determines in the process of reflexion its ontology and content. Polanyi develops a conception according to which any attempt at a theoretical reflexion about the norms and rules of theoretical thinking and standards of scientific quality adopted by a given community of natural scientists in the form of implicit knowledge is inevitably doomed to failure, as these norms and rules are not in principle amenable to rational analysis. He believes that what is formulated as a result of such reflexion is merely the product of reflexion itself, having no relevance to the real norms of theoretical thinking which are forever doomed to remain implicit knowledge. The latter thus assumes quite an irrational colouring. Finally, Sartre insists that the individual “I” is entirely the product of reflexion itself. Cognition attempting to cognize itself has the impression that it faces a certain definite object termed “I,” while in actual fact the “I” had not existed before the process of reflexion began. Therefore “I,” in Sartre’s view, does not express the true nature of consciousness.
To answer the question whether reflexion creates its own experience in its entirety, let us continue our analysis.
It is not any reflexion that is concerned with science.
If reflexion is intimately connected with the development of a system of theoretical knowledge, only that kind of reflexive analysis accords with the task it faces which facilitates the augmenting and enrichment of knowledge. In other words, theoretical reflexion can restructure its object, the system of scientific knowledge, only to the extent in which this restructuring serves to establish conceptual structures which express more precisely objective real processes reproduced in scientific theory and at the same time agree with the objective norms of development of knowledge itself. If this condition is not satisfied, reflexion proves to be false. This means that the image of knowledge reconstructed in reflexion and real scientific knowledge itself may not correspond to each other. There are many such examples in the history of science. Thus, the analysis of the theoretical premises and the logical structure of classical mechanics performed by Ernst Mach in the late 19th century on the whole proved to be a false reflexive image, and could not serve as a basis for constructing a new physical theory. Sometimes the reflexive image is inadequate in some important respects, capturing at the same time certain real dependences of knowledge. For example, the reflexion about the foundations of mathematics in the framework of intuitionism contributed to the development of scientific thought, being unable at the same time to reconstruct some important propositions of mathematical theory, which could not be sacrificed without going beyond the limits of mathematics itself. All of this shows that reflexion combines, in a specific manner, a reflection or reconstruction of its object, a system of knowledge, with its critical restructuring.
Reflexion and its object may also fail to agree in the framework of individual consciousness. The image of “I” is not always adequate to the real “I.”
The starting point of classical pre-Marxian philosophy and psychology was that the subject has a special inner access to himself and a better knowledge of himself and of the states of his consciousness than anyone else. Moreover, it is this individual subjective reflexion that was regarded as perfect and infallible knowledge as distinct from knowledge of external objects. It must be conceded that indeed I know something about myself that can be unknown to others. Images of memories and subjective associations which surface as I perceive some object are my personal property, something directly given to my consciousness. True, many of my individual experiences are usually objectified, being accompanied by external actions — bodily motions, facial expressions, exclamations, so that other individuals can make judgments about the inner states of my consciousness. At the same time, I can suppress by an effort of will external expression of any given experience, even of pain. In this case, I alone will know about this experience.
Let us recall, however, that reflexion is a kind of cognition. And cognition is not simply passive absorption of information from without but the establishment of definite links, the singling out of semantic dependences, an activity of interpretation. There is no sense in speaking of errors where information is simply passed on from one system to another (what occurs here are merely losses and distortions of information but not errors). The possibility of errors only arises where cognition appears.
What could be more indisputable than an elementary statement “I feel pain"? Let us note, however, that the realisation of one’s pain is associated with localisation of this experience, and the localisation may be erroneous (a fact everyone is familiar with who had toothache). The awareness that “I feel pain” includes not only knowledge of the difference between “I” and “not-I” but also a certain semantic interpretation of the experience of pain itself: singling it out among other experiences, knowledge of its being conditioned by the state of my body, distinguishing between my pain and that of another subject, etc.
The life of consciousness cannot flow uninterpreted. If an image comes to the surface of my consciousness, I try to define it, that is, to find out what it stands for, and to what concrete person or event of my life it refers. I often err in interpreting separate images; for instance, I may erroneously localise in space and time the object of memory, mistakenly correlate a given image with some person or other, etc.
When I have some emotional experience, e.g., joy, reflexive realisation of this experience is inseparable from the feeling itself. It may so happen that in reality I am not so joyful as it appears to me in the act of subjective reflexion. (I appear joyful to myself because for certain reasons which I do not realise I wish to be so.) In this case, a stranger may judge my emotional state better than I myself, although that stranger may also be mistaken, of course.
The possibility of error grows if I try to realise reflexively the properties of my personality, to cogitate on my concrete “I” as a whole. The thing is that my personality, my “I,” is not open to me fully in the act of individual reflexion but most comprehensively manifested in my relations with other persons and can be most precisely understood by the latter. Another subject observing me from the outside can evaluate my “I” better than I myself. Of course, to the extent I take into account this evaluation of myself by others, I can assess myself more or less correctly, too. If I am subject to mental disorder, I find it hard to define the states of my consciousness. Another person, a psychiatrist, will be better suited to untangle my subjective experiences.
It is also important to bear in mind the following circumstance. As we have indicated, reflexion as a special kind of cognition assumes a definite semantic framework which is not reflected upon in the given act itself. Therefore, when I consciously interpret even those states of mine which are known to me alone, being given only from within, I use a system of semantic connections transcending the boundaries of my individual consciousness and connecting me with other subjects. I view the subjective states of my consciousness through another person’s eyes, as it were. That means that if that “other” moved into my body, had the same life story as myself, and occupied the same spatio-temporal position as myself, he would reflexively realise the same subjective states. As we have already remarked, the framework of semantic connections assumed by subjective reflexion emerges in the course of joint interpersonal activity and is assimilated by each individual in his development, in the communication with other individuals through the medium of man-made objects embodying the experience of social-cultural development. That means that reflexion about the frame itself, and in the first place reflexion about such an important element of this frame as the reflecting “I,” is only possible if we leave the limits of individual consciousness, considering a different, more comprehensive and fundamental system of relations. We refer to the system of inter-personal activity, in which practical transformation of the world of objects, communication and cognition exist in a direct unity. It is in the process of this social activity that the norms of cognition are worked out. The interiorisation of the standards of this activity produces the individual “I” itself, which will thus remain incompletely reflected as long as we remain within the individual’s consciousness, and can only become the object of reflexion when we study a broader system of relations.
Thus, the source of norms and standards of cognition should be sought for exactly in collective forms of activity. It so appears that those kinds of knowledge which exist in intimate association with the subject (perceptions, images of memories, etc.) are, as it were, side by side with knowledge existing in objectified form as the property of everyone (knowledge reified in implements of labour, objects of everyday life, scientific apparatus, theory, etc.). As we have attempted to show in the first chapter of this part, it is the study of objectified forms of knowledge and the collective forms of activity producing them that enable one to understand the cognitive processes performed by the individual.
So far we have paid attention to the far-reaching similarity between the objectified kinds of knowledge and that knowledge which is inseparable from the individual subject. In both cases there exists, along with explicit knowledge, implicit knowledge which is only made explicit through reflexion. As for the latter, both reflexion about objectified knowledge (let us tentatively name it objective) and reflexion about knowledge inseparable from the individual subject (let us call it subjective) reveal basically identical relations to their object.
In calling reflexion “objective” we merely refer to the fact that it belongs to the objectified forms of knowledge, ignoring the extent to which it adequately reproduces its object. Objective reflexion may fail to accord with the thing, being in this sense subjective in its content. Reflexion that is subjective in form can also be both objective and subjective in content. Thus, the designations “objective” and “subjective” reflexion as applied here refer only to form, not content.
Let us point out that objectified knowledge differs in a number of important aspects from the individual’s knowledge. If an individual subject possesses some implicit knowledge (e.g., the knowledge of the language he speaks, the knowledge of self, etc.), he realises it in one way or another, although he does not have that knowledge in dissected and reflected form. As for objectified knowledge, elements can coexist in it which are not at the given moment realised by any individual subject. Supposing, for instance, that some scientist established hitherto unknown dependences and wrote an article about them. The article was accepted and published in a scientific journal. It was read by several dozen persons specialising in this field. But the article failed to affect the subsequent course of research and was soon forgotten. About a century passed. During that time the author of the article died, as well as the few persons (editors and readers) who once knew its content. At present, no one knows what the article was about, and, moreover, no one even suspects its existence. Does that mean that knowledge objectified in the article does not exist at all? We would hardly dare to assert this, for the article has not disappeared: it rests in libraries among files of old journals, being only temporarily absent from the actual cognitive process. It is quite possible, however, that a researcher in the history of science will discover it, read it, and conclude that its ideas are very much in the spirit of these times. Thereupon knowledge objectified in the article will get a new lease on life: it will become the object of discussion and argument, references to it will be made in scientific journals, and scientists will ponder the ideas expressed in it.
Let us consider another example. Suppose that at a given moment no one thinks about the content of Newton’s theory. Does that mean that at a given moment knowledge objectified in this theory does not exist and that it will begin to exist again only when someone thinks about this theory? That would be hard to accept.
Let us further take into account that in any objectified knowledge there is, as a rule, content which is not known to anyone who is using this knowledge. This content may remain unrealised by the producer of this objectified knowledge-creator of a scientific theory or author of a work of art. This content is manifested only in the historical development of cognition. For example, thermodynamics and the atomic-molecular theory were originally developed independently from each other. But that does not mean that the links between the theories had not existed objectively until they were established and consciously realised. Further, when Cantor formulated his set theory, he was not yet aware of the paradoxes inherent in it, although the paradoxes already existed in the content of the theory itself. In analysing Leo Tolstoy’s works, Lenin showed that they were the “mirror of the Russian revolution,” although neither the great writer himself nor his numerous readers had realised before Lenin’s works this exceptionally important aspect of the content of the works by the classic of Russian literature. An important point here is that realisation of the content inherent in objectified knowledge does not imply introducing subjective views but only the establishment of the links objectively inherent (though previously unrealised) in the given knowledge.
That is also true of the so-called interpretation of texts — scientific, philosophical, literary, etc. Of course, any such interpretation inevitably carries an element of subjectivity. But it can claim to interpret the text only insofar as it brings out the content actually inherent in this text without introducing into the latter something that is not (and cannot be) present in it.
Delimitating what the author of some system of ideas wanted to say from the objective content of the latter is one of the fundamental principles of Marxist-Leninist philosophy in the study of science as well as of other phenomena of social consciousness and culture.
Thus, certain elements of objectified knowledge may not be realised at the given moment by any of the individual subjects of which society consists.
Let us further note another important circumstance. Knowledge that is inseparable from the individual subject is given to the latter as directly coinciding with its object (if it does not coincide with the latter, it is illusion, not knowledge). In other words, knowledge of this kind appears as something static and complete, while the objectified knowledge produced by scientific research is in principle incomplete. Scientific knowledge necessarily implies unsolved problems: the very concept of such knowledge includes the need for further research involving formulation and discussion of new hypotheses, their evaluation according to certain standards, etc. That, in its turn, is only possible under division of research work and organisation of a special system of scientific communication — publications in journals, debates, and other forms of contacts between researchers. Knowledge, inseparable from the individual subject, appears as personally addressed to him, while objectified knowledge explicitly includes its being intended for all subjects concerned with the study of these problems. In other words, the modes of treatment of objectified knowledge are collective in their nature. For this reason, the study of scientific knowledge and cognition associated with it is impossible without an analysis of communication systems functioning in collectives of a special type called scientific communities. The modern science of science is more and more inclined towards this conclusion.
But does it not follow from the above that objectified knowledge is knowledge without a subject, i.e., that it exists independently of any subject and must be understood outside of a relation to the latter? That is the conclusion to which Karl Popper, one of the major modern bourgeois philosophers and methodologists of science, is inclined.
Let us consider his arguments on the subject in greater detail.
Popper sharply distinguishes between “subjective knowledge,” i.e., knowledge intimately linked with the individual subject, and “objective knowledge.” The latter includes the content of journals, books, libraries, etc. This content is expressed in the form of theoretical systems, problems and problem situations, critical arguments, and also of certain “states of discussion.”
Popper insists on the independence of the content referred to here from subjective opinions and views, including this content in a special sphere of reality, a “third world,” the world of the objective spirit (this world also comprises the content of belles-lettres and works of art). The “third world” exists, according to Popper, side by side with the “first world,” the world of real physical objects, and the “second world,” the world of individual consciousness.
The “third world” is, of course, the product of man, the British philosopher admits. But, being produced by man, this world nevertheless became autonomous and independent. In any case, it is impossible to understand the characteristics and logic of the development of the “third world” from an analysis of individual human consciousness. The reverse procedure is more fruitful, in Popper’s view: many important features of individual consciousness may be correctly understood if one takes into account its continual interaction with the world of the objective spirit independent of it.
To show more clearly the independence of the “third world” from man and his consciousness, the philosopher suggests the following mental experiments.
Supposing all our machines and tools are destroyed in some catastrophe, and simultaneously all our subjective learning of using them is lost, and only libraries and man’s capacity to learn from them survive. In this case, after a historically necessary period, the world of culture and technology will be reconstructed and so will the specifically human mode of life associated with it.
Let us now imagine that not only machines and tools are destroyed and the subjective knowledge of how to use them is lost, but all libraries are destroyed too (though man’s capacity to read books may. have survived). This time, there will be no re-emergence of our civilisation for many millennia.
The independence of the “third world” is expressed, according to Popper, not only in that man may not realise some of its fragments. Although that which pertains to the kingdom of the objective spirit is usually created by man, there exists as a matter of principle the possibility of generation of some elements of this world by automata and not man, Popper believes. A series of books of logarithms may be produced and printed by a computer, the logarithms in these books being more exact than in books written by men. The books produced by the computer may lie about in a library for years unused by any person. Nevertheless, these books, of which no subject knows or has ever known, contain indubitably objective knowledge.
True, Popper admits, for the signs contained on the pages of books to be regarded as the carriers of “objective knowledge,” the books must have a special characteristic — the possibility of being read and understood. He believes, however, that this possibility need not be realised. It is not impossible that the books will be read by beings other than man. (Suppose that mankind perishes but libraries survive. Visitors from outer space may discover our books, decode and read them.)
Popper regards the biological approach as quite fruitful in the study of the “third world.” A biologist studying the behaviour of animals must take into account that they produce “non-living structures” that are vital for them. Spiders spin webs, birds build nests, wasps build nests, beavers construct dams, animals make paths in forests, etc. Although the “non-living structures” are produced by animals, they exist quite objectively and independently of their creators, once they emerge. Popper distinguishes between two main categories of problems arising from the study of these structures. The first category pertains to the method used by animals when constructing these structures and the animals’ relations to their products. The second category. of problems is concerned with the characteristics of the structures themselves: the chemistry of the materials used in the structure, their geometrical and physical properties, their dependence upon special environmental conditions, etc. In analysing these problems we cannot do without studying the structures in terms of their biological functions. Popper believes that problems of the second category are more fundamental, for one may draw conclusions about the possible modes of their production from the knowledge of the objective structures themselves.
The same principle is applicable, according to Popper, to the study of the products of human activity: houses, implements, works of art. This approach proves to be particularly significant in the study of science. Popper asserts that genuine scientific epistemology must be concerned with the study of the “third world,” in the first place the content of scientific theories, problems, scientific arguments, etc., rather than with the analysis of the subject, his consciousness, and cognitive activity. That will be epistemology without the cognizing subject.
Popper is undoubtedly right in noting that separate fragments of objectified knowledge may not be realised at the given moment by a single individual, that the laws of development of this knowledge cannot be reduced to the laws of individual consciousness, and that the latter itself must be understood as connected with the world of objectified knowledge. We have already touched on these important properties of cognition. Popper’s critique of the traditional approach to epistemological problems in bourgeois philosophy is also to a great extent correct.
But does it follow from all this that the world of objectified knowledge must and can be understood irrespective of the subject?
There are no grounds for such a conclusion. Although objectified knowledge is not the same as conscious knowledge, that is, knowledge possessed by an individual subject, the two kinds of knowledge are closely bound up.
Only man, a concrete individual subject, may be the creator of objectified knowledge. And that means that any objectified knowledge must, at least at the time of its emergence, be to some extent consciously realised, that is, be the property of a subject. This is not at all contradicted by the possibility of production by a computer of separate fragments of objectified knowledge. The results of computer activity can be regarded as knowledge only insofar as behind the programme we discern man setting it down and capable of interpreting its output. For the computer itself, there is no knowledge.
Still less can knowledge exist “in itself,” regardless of its being used in the cognitive activity of concrete individuals. The utilisation may, of course, be potential, but it is important that the potential should exist. Its preservation is ensured by the fact that the product in which knowledge is objectified, even if it is not actually a part of the ongoing cognitive process, remains included in social-cultural links which make it possible for concrete subjects to use it in their activity at any moment. And that means that even those fragments of objectified knowledge which are not at present realised retain close links with what is realised and used in actual activity. If the connection between the fragments of knowledge that are included in the cognitive process and those that are not, is disrupted, the latter ceases to be any kind of knowledge at all.
Assume that a civilisation is dead and no one knows the language once spoken by its subjects. Although the books written in that extinct language survive, no one is capable of decoding them and the connection is thus lost between the defunct culture and the actual social-cultural process, including the cognitive one. And that means that the books preserved no longer contain any knowledge. Properly speaking, they are not even books but simply objects with strange strokes in them.
Cognition is implemented by real persons, by concrete individual subjects. Knowledge in subjective or objectified form exists only inasmuch as it is directly or indirectly correlated with that activity. At the same time, the cognitive activity itself should be regarded on the social-historical plane, as activity of interconnected subjects — past, present, and future. For this reason, if certain fragments of objectified knowledge are not consciously realised by a single existing subject; that does not mean that these fragments are in general outside the subjects’ consciousness, for these fragments may be associated both with the subjects of the past and those of the future (association with the past is obligatory, for only man can produce knowledge).
The social-historical and collective nature of the cognitive process is expressed not only in its being implemented by an ensemble of interacting individuals. The interaction itself assumes the existence of specific laws of the development of knowledge, laws that are different from those which characterise individual knowledge. Thus, the individual subject is not the carrier of the collective cognitive process, and neither is a mere agglomeration of subjects. The collective subject may be regarded as such a carrier, to be taken in the sense of a social system irreducible to the agglomeration of individuals constituting it. Let us note that there are many collective subjects of cognition connected by definite relations. For example, the study of the functioning of a given paradigm of theoretical knowledge assumes an analysis of some community; the latter appears in this case as a collective subject of a definite kind of cognitive activity. Different paradigms apparently determine different collective subjects associated with them. At the same time, paradigms are included in a general process of development of scientific knowledge, with its characteristic common standards and norms. And that means that the given scientific community is a sub-system of a more extensive system — the community of all specialists in the given area of knowledge and the community of all individuals engaged in scientific activity. The scientist uses in his activity some national language or other, and that means that he is included in the society speaking the given language. This community, which obviously comprises also those individuals who are not concerned with science, is again a definite collective subject of cognition. The functioning and development of knowledge is determined by the processes in a broader social system than the community of scientists. The social sciences are directly linked with the social position, interests, and practical activity of definite social classes. That means that it is the latter that appear as collective subjects of the cognition of social processes. The type of social practice characteristic of a given class determines the horizon of the cognitive possibilities open to its members. As is well known, the Marxist theory of society expressing the interests of the proletariat provides, for the first time, a scientific basis for the study of the social processes. A person not involved in science is nevertheless involved in cognition and, consequently, connected with various collective subjects.
At the same time if not only the diversity but also the unity of the socio-historical development of cognition is taken into account, society should also be regarded as a collective subject including a great number of subjects both collective and individual. It is the existence of definite connections between different collective subjects that ensures the unity of the cognitive process. The difference between these subjects is responsible for different conceptions of what should be regarded as cognition.
A complete disruption of connections between collective subjects would result in a disintegration of cognition as a unified process implemented by mankind. In this case, society as a whole would cease to be the subject of cognitive activity.
Each individual subject is simultaneously included in different collective subjects. Different systems of cognitive activity, with their diverse standards and norms, are integrated in the individual into a whole. The existence of the latter is the necessary condition of the unity of “I.” The disruption of links between different collective subjects or the impossibility of integration within the framework of the given individual of those systems of cognitive activity which are associated with different collective subjects, would entail the disintegration of the individual subject.
Thus Marxist-Leninist philosophy asserts that cognition can only be correctly understood if it is considered in connection with the forms of life activity of concrete historical subjects on the basis of studying object-related practical and communicative activities of collective and individual subjects. “If one considers the relation of subject to
object in logic, one must take into account also the general premises of being of the concrete subject (= life of man) in the objective surroundings,” stated Lenin.
The individual subject, his consciousness and cognition must be understood in terms of their incorporation in different systems of collective practical and cognitive activity. But that does not mean that the individual subject is in some way dissolved in the collective. First, the collective subject itself does not exist outside concrete persons, real individuals interacting among themselves according to the specific laws of collective activity. The collective subject cannot be regarded in the same light as the individual one. The former is not a personality in its own right, it has no individuality of its own and does not perform any acts of cognition other than those performed by the separate members. Second, cognition, which is inseparable from the individual subject, does not directly coincide with the objectified systems of knowledge, though it is closely linked with and ultimately determined by them. The individual traits of my perception, my memories and subjective associations constitute knowledge that is important for me personally and is accessible to me alone. They do not form part of the system of objectified knowledge that is the property of all individuals and is included in the structure of the collective subject. And that means that the types of knowledge intrinsically characteristic of the individual and the collective subjects do not fully coincide with or dissolve in each other but rather mutually imply each other.
We may recall that Kant, Fichte, and Husserl posit, along with the individual subject, the transcendental one. The latter expresses the inner community of the various empirical individuals; in this respect, it may appear similar to the collective subject. Indeed, the conceptions of these philosophers include some steps towards the collective subject idea. But these are merely initial steps, and they could only be discerned after the Marxist doctrine of the socio-historical nature of the process of cognition was formed. In more concrete terms, the Transcendental Subject as conceived in philosophical transcendentalism is basically different from the collective subject as a concrete socio-historical community. The Transcendental Subject, as transcendentalists believe, is an individual of a special kind, the supra-individual “I.” At the same time, it is supra-empirical, existing outside time and space. But the collective subject, though different from the individual one, is quite empirical and set in definite spatio-temporal limits. The Transcendental Subject is accessible only from within, from the inside of individual consciousness, being in fact a deep layer of the latter. As for the collective subject, though non-existent outside a system of interacting individuals, it exists at the same time outside each separate individual subject, in a sense. The collective subject manifests itself and the laws of its functioning not so much through the inner structures of the individual’s consciousness as through external practical activity involving objects and through collective cognitive activity with systems of objectified knowledge. Finally, the collective subject is not singular. A great many such subjects are in a state of change: some collective subjects and the inherent forms of their activity emerge while others die out. The relations between different collective subjects may be complicated enough.
Let us undertake in this connection an analysis of Popper’s thesis concerning the importance of the “biological approach” to the study of the relation between man and the “third world” and the assumption that the analysis of the structure of the products of scientific activity determines the study of the modes of their production.
The English philosopher’s principal error lies in his failure to understand that the man-made objects of the “second nature,” i.e., objects implementing a specifically socio-cultural content, beginning with labour implements and buildings and ending with scientific theories, are radically different from those changes in the external environment which animals produce, since man’s practical activity involving objects is social in its very nature and assumes the use of labour implements and communicative links between individual subjects. The specific features of this activity also determine its spontaneous development and continual reaching beyond the established confines. Applying the “biological approach” to its study is absolutely fruitless. “In creating a world of objects by his practical activity, in his work upon inorganic nature, man proves himself a conscious species-being, i.e., a being that treats the species as its own essential being, or that treats itself as a species-being,” wrote Marx. “Admittedly animals also produce. They build themselves nests, dwellings, like the bees, beavers, ants, etc. But an animal only produces what it immediately needs for itself or its young. It produces one-sidedly, whilst man produces universally. It produces only under the dominion of immediate physical need, whilst man produces even when he is free from physical need and only truly produces in freedom therefrom. An animal produces only itself, whilst man reproduces the whole of nature. An animal’s product belongs immediately to its physical body, whilst man freely confronts his product. An animal forms objects only in accordance with the standard and the need of the species to which it belongs, whilst man knows how to produce in accordance with the standards of every species, and knows how to apply everywhere the inherent standard to the object. Man therefore also forms objects in accordance with the laws of beauty.”
Of course, books and other man-made objects in which knowledge is reified exist objectively. If they are to be considered from the standpoint of the chemical composition of the materials, their physical structure and geometrical form, they do not differ basically from natural objects, including “non-living structures” created by animals. They exist as carriers of knowledge only as long as they are included in the human cognitive activity. Outside the latter, these objects have no structure at all, if the reference is to the structure of knowledge objectified in them and not chemical and physical structure. To understand a book means to reproduce a definite structure of cognitive activity. To assimilate a theory reified in a book means to accept the need for further activity in this field, an activity patterned on a definite model, for a scientific theory is not so much ready-made knowledge as the activity of problem solving. If a definite kind of cognitive activity is inadequately decoded, we cannot say that we have this knowledge.
Supposing that a book is read not by men but by some visitors from outer space, non-human reasonable beings (that is the example discussed by Popper). These beings will be able to master the knowledge reified in the book only if they decode its language, i.e., when they are able to reproduce the socio-cultural communicative and cognitive system of connections in which the book was once included. And that is only possible to the extent in which the visitors from outer space will become reincarnated as human beings, as it were, assimilating the real properties of human cognitive activity.
Cognition and knowledge exist only as long as the specific activity of the collective subject is maintained and consequently the activity of the individual subjects included in it.
If elementary perception implies not only a relation to an external object but also the self-consciousness of an individual subject, the obligatory conditions of scientific activity are not only the movement of cognition through the domain of objects but also the conscious realisation (not necessarily in the form. of reflexion, i.e., explicit knowledge) of the modes and norms of cognitive activity and the standards of assessing its results intrinsically characteristic of the collective subject, for it is only through these modes and norms that the problem field of research can be specified.
Epistemology proves to be impossible without the cognizing subject.
The role of objectified systems of knowledge in the development of cognition, just as all the other questions of understanding the cognitive relation between subject and object, were given a much more precise and profound treatment than Popper’s by Hegel, the greatest representative of the German classical idealist philosophy. Of all the pre-Marxian and non-Marxist philosophers Hegel came closest to understanding many of the essential features of the problem analysed here, though at the same time strongly mystifying it.
Hegel asserts that individual consciousness and self-consciousness cannot be understood from within. Although each individual is given his “I” and the unity of self-consciousness as immediate certainty, this unity is actually mediated by the individual’s relation to other individual subjects. The individual consciousness recognises something different in the other self-consciousnesses and at the same time something that is internally identical to it. The individual subject exists for himself as an “I” only through a relation to others. “Everyone is the mean for the other, through which each mediates and links up with himself, and each [is] for himself and for the other immediately given being existing for itself, which is at the same time thus for itself only through this mediation. They recognise themselves as mutually recognising one another.”
The “substance” of the individual, his “inorganic nature,” are forms of the objective spirit, that is, essentially collective modes of activity, reified products of human culture. Assimilating the latter and taking up these forms of activity (the objective spirit exists only insofar as it is an activity), the individual becomes a subject.
Reflexion implies going beyond the limit of individual consciousness: recognition of oneself in the other individuals constituting society and at the same time objectification of man in the artifacts of the world of culture created by him.
But reflexion is not simply a relation to the individual “I.” The essence of reflexion consists, according to Hegel, in cognition of the objective spirit itself, in the process of dialectical development of knowledge. This development is substantiation of knowledge, reflexion upon it and deepening in itself. A real foundation emerges at the end and as a result of development, not at the beginning. The movement ahead and development of the content of objective knowledge is at the same time a movement backwards, a discovery of the true hidden basis of the whole process.
“Consciousness is, on the one hand, a realisation of the object, and on the other, consciousness of oneself: the conscious realisation of what is true for it and the realisation of one’s knowledge about it.” The object appears to the consciousness only in the shape in which it knows that object. The consciousness compares its knowledge of the object with the object itself. “If in this comparison the two do not correspond to one another, the consciousness seems to be obliged to change its knowledge, to bring it in accord with the object; but in this change of knowledge the object itself actually changes for it for the available knowledge was essentially the knowledge of the object; along with the knowledge, the object too becomes different, for it belonged in fact to this knowledge.” The consciousness makes it clear that what previously appeared as being-in-itself, i.e., independently from the given consciousness is in actual fact merely being for the given consciousness. At the same time, it is not only the consciousness and its object that change but also the standards and criteria of verifying the agreement between knowledge and its object. “The criterion of testing is changed, when that of which it was to have been the criterion does not stand the test; and the test is not only a test of knowledge but also of its own criterion.”
Hegel points out that the new object of knowledge comes into being “through conversion (Umkehrung) of consciousness itself.” At the same time, individual consciousness does not know how that occurs, for the emergence of the new object “takes place behind its back, as it were.”
Therefore, reflexion of knowledge about itself at each stage of its development (the latter being incomplete) is “untrue,” imperfect reflexion, implying the existence of unreflected movements of consciousness “behind its back.” Knowledge in some form or other is not yet that which is cognized, Hegel insists.
According to Hegel, cognition is a world-historical dialectical process in which both subject and object change. The subject is not some ideal object, it is not something primordially equal to itself but eternal motion, becoming, development, sublation of all established boundaries and positing new ones. The subject is inseparable from restlessness and activeness, expressing that activeness in the purest form. He is inconceivable outside a relation with the object he cognizes and changes. At the same time, the object itself is transformed along with the development of consciousness,, i.e., it changes in the historical process of cognitive activity. The conception of subject and object as entities isolated from and metaphysically opposed to each other is quite untenable and can only lead into philosophical cul-de-sacs.
However, Hegel sees reflexion, the self-consciousness of the Absolute Spirit, the Absolute Subject, as the essence of the cognitive process, and that is where idealistic mystification of the whole problem starts.
The Absolute Subject, according to Hegel, underlies the whole of reality in general. The substance is to be thought of as the subject, Hegel insists. What appears to the individual consciousness as an object independent from and cognized by it is in actual fact the product of the Absolute Spirit. Hegel tries to show that the development of cognition leads to a sublation of the independence of the cognized object from the cognizing subject, if the latter is to be understood as the Absolute Subject and not an individual one. The Absolute is ultimately the Subject-Object, thinking about thinking, the cognition of self.
Hegel’s attempt to interpret cognition as self-cognition is also connected with the above thesis. Starting out from the real facts of interaction between consciousness and self-consciousness, cognition and reflexion, Hegel, following Fichte, endeavours to present all knowledge as reducible, in the final analysis, to self-cognition. True, Hegel speaks of the self-cognition of the Absolute Subject and not of that of an individual “I” or even of a Transcendental “I.”
Hegel’s analysis of the concrete historical development of cognition went far beyond the limits of philosophical transcendentalism, showing the collective nature of cognition, the development of its forms and norms in time, and revealing the dialectics of reflexive and unreflected content of knowledge. At the same time, according to Hegel, fully adequate cognition, that is, cognition that really deserves its name, is only attained when absolute completeness of reflexion is achieved, when the subject (the Absolute Subject) becomes, as it were, absolutely transparent for itself and reflects on itself without going beyond its own limits. It is in this act of coincidence of the cognizing subject with itself that the process of substantiation of knowledge is completed.
Hegel believes that the foundation of knowledge should not be sought for at the source of the cognitive process. This foundation is not given, it is moulded and takes shape in the development of cognition. In this point, Hegel opposes the metaphysical view of the problem of substantiating knowledge, widespread in Western bourgeois philosophy. At the same time, though the foundation of knowledge lies, according to Hegel, at the end rather than at the beginning of the cognitive process, substantiation is interpreted in his system as coinciding with absolute reflexion, with the self-consciousness of the Absolute Spirit.
Just like Descartes, Kant and Fichte, Hegel believes that only the self-cognition of the spirit, its knowledge of itself, can reach absolute adequacy. It is in the act of absolute reflexion that the absolute foundation of knowledge is found. Thus Hegel essentially reproduces the traditions of philosophical transcendentalism at this basic point of his epistemological conception. True, Hegel speaks of some supra-individual, Absolute Subject. But Hegel believes that the individual, too, inasmuch as he became part of the motion of the Absolute Spirit and assumed the standpoint of “absolute knowledge,” does not merely comprehend the Absolute adequately but grasps at the same time his own deep essence, i.e., cognizes himself. The individual’s self-cognition coincides in this case with absolute reflexion.
Hegel’s philosophy ultimately explains the development of cognition by the self-cognition of the Absolute. The Absolute, which exists at the beginning of development in itself only, must eventually also become being for itself. And that means that all the historical vicissitudes of the real cognitive process are predetermined in the suprahuman spheres. The real persons, the individual subjects of practical and cognitive activity are merely disappearing elements in the development of the supra-individual forces.
The relations between individuals, human communication, the real practical activity, man’s reification of himself in the works of culture, and the unfolding of the social process, which Hegel includes in the sphere of the objective spirit, all of these elements mediating the spirit’s relation to itself are ultimately sublated; the spirit returns to itself as to the “inner.” It is in the relation to itself as the “inner,” in the existence for itself rather than for others, that the spirit appears in the most adequate form.
Hegel believes that external object-related activity cannot produce consciousness. This kind of activity achieves merely objectification of consciousness, as a result of which consciousness itself is enriched. But the crux of the matter is that any external mediation of consciousness must be sublated in the unity of the immediate and the mediated, in a dialectical identity of consciousness with itself.
Purely immediate consciousness (whether this is taken to mean empirical knowledge or intellectual intuition) does not exist, Hegel insists. Immediate certainty, inasmuch as it is merely immediate, is not knowledge. The latter implies mediation. Only that knowledge is adequate in which unity is attained of the immediate and the mediated in the form of the new dialectically mediated. In the immediate, which exists at the beginning of the development of cognition, the possibility and necessity of mediation are embedded, and the nature of the latter is predetermined. The result of the development of cognition and mediation is a return to the immediate on a new basis, Hegel believes. “Mediation is nothing but equality to itself in motion, or else it is reflexion in itself... The ‘I’ or becoming in general is, owing to its simplicity, precisely the immediate in the process of becoming and the immediate itself.” (In real cognition, however, there is always, in a definite sense, a unity of the immediate and the mediating elements in knowledge. This unity does not in itself guarantee the truth of knowledge.)
In the final analysis, Hegel reduces the essence of any cognition to reflexion. Insofar as the object of reflexion changes in the course of the latter, Hegel concludes that cognition deals with an object which is a product of the Absolute Spirit itself. Hegel’s Phenomenology of the Spirit is the story of the struggle of self-consciousness with the object, as a result of which the object proves to be a proper moment of Absolute self-consciousness. “As it drives itself towards true existence, it will reach a point where it will discard the appearance of being encumbered with the foreign which exists only for and in the capacity of another, or where appearance will be equal to the essence, its presentation coincides thereby with precisely this point of the science of the spirit properly speaking; and finally, as it captures this its being itself it will express the nature of absolute knowledge itself.”
“The main point is,” wrote Marx, “that the object of consciousness is nothing else but self-consciousness, or that the object is only objectified self-consciousnessself-consciousness as object. (Positing of man= self-consciousness.)
“The issue, therefore, is to surmount the object of consciousness. Objectivity as such is regarded as an estranged human relationship which does not correspond to the essence of man, to self-consciousness. The reappropriation of the objective essence of man, produced within the orbit of estrangement as something alien, therefore denotes not only the annulment of estrangement, but of objectivity as well. Man, that is to say, is regarded as a non-objective, spiritual being.”
As Lenin wrote: “Hegel seriously ‘believed’, thought, that materialism as a philosophy was impossible, for philosophy is a science of thinking, of the universal, but the universal is a thought. Here he repeated the error of the same subjective idealism that he always called ‘bad’ idealism.”
Thus, although Hegelian philosophy grasps a number of important moments of the real cognitive process, on many fundamental issues it reveals an affinity to the epistemological position of philosophical transcendentalism; remaining within the limitations of idealism, it cannot give an adequate picture of cognition.
In the light of what has been said here let us attempt to answer the following question: what are the properties of epistemological reflexion? In other words, what is the nature and character of research which has cognition itself for its object?
We have already analysed some conceptions, widely spread in bourgeois philosophy, according to which epistemology does not assume any premises, as the very possibility of any knowledge, including scientific knowledge, must be substantiated in its framework. Substantiation is in this case understood as finding types of knowledge that would be absolutely reliable and directly given in their content. The adherents of these conceptions searched for this knowledge in individual consciousness. We may recall that it was this course of reasoning that was characteristic of epistemological transcendentalism, in, particular of Descartes, Fichte, and Husserl. In this conception, “absolute,” transcendental reflexion about the content of the subject’s consciousness becomes a method of epistemological research, and “absolute knowledge% its result. Absolute knowledge can only be obtained within the framework, of epistemology. All other kinds of knowledge, both everyday and scientific, are relative and conditional from the standpoint of transcendentalism.
But that means that epistemology becomes a rather specific discipline basically different from the particular scientific theories. (Some transcendentalists, such as Husserl, believe that epistemology, being the foundation of scientific knowledge, is not itself a theory in the precise meaning of the term, but a kind of pre-theoretical description of the immediately given obvious entities.)
The supporters of this approach to epistemological problems differ in their understanding of the very nature and content of the obvious entities which are, in their view, directly given to the subject’s consciousness. This general type of understanding of epistemological problems also includes some trends of subjectivist empiricism, in particular, such schools of bourgeois philosophy as neo-realism and critical realism.
The situation is somewhat more complicated in the case of the epistemological conceptions of such philosophers as Kant and particularly Hegel, who go beyond the limits of this approach in some essential aspects.
However, in the view of Kant and Hegel, too, philosophical epistemological reflexion is concerned with obtaining “absolute” knowledge, unlike studies in the special scientific disciplines and reflexion in these areas.
As a reaction to the breakdown of the attempts to solve the problem of substantiating knowledge in its metaphysical (and as a rule, subjectivist) interpretation, the view now gains currency in bourgeois philosophy that this problem has no meaning at all, and that epistemology therefore loses its right to exist as a special philosophical discipline. All real problems pertaining to understanding the mechanisms and character of the cognitive processes are studied, from this point of view, by the special scientific disciplines. Thus, according to Quine, cognition is the subject-matter of scientific inquiry in the framework of the physiology of higher nervous activity, psychology, which uses the apparatus of information theory, and a number of other special scientific disciplines. A scientific epistemology (which in Quine’s view has not yet been created) is only conceivable as a generalisation of the results of these special disciplines. This future science must take a naturalistic and biological approach to man and his cognitive process (the so-called naturalised epistemology). Jean Piaget believes that the genetic epistemology he has constructed is a generalisation, on the one hand, of the empirical and theoretical data of psychology (mostly of Piaget’s own psychological theory) and, on the other hand, of the data of the history of science. In this conception, epistemology actually appears as a special scientific discipline of a certain kind: first, a rather general discipline, and second, one dependent on other, more special sciences of cognition. (We ignore here the fact that psychology itself may be treated in quite different ways: both as an empirical science of the facts of consciousness and as a science of behaviour — in the spirit of behaviourism.)
From the standpoint of early Wittgenstein, the traditional theory of knowledge was merely an inadequate interpretation of psychological data in terms of philosophy. As distinct from psychology, Wittgenstein believed, genuine philosophy must be concerned with the study of language and not cognition: “4.1121 Psychology is no nearer related to philosophy, than is any other natural science. The theory of knowledge is the philosophy of psychology.”
The school of linguistic analysis, which is dominant in the modern bourgeois philosophy of England, the formation of which was strongly affected by the later works of Wittgenstein, adheres to a special position in the interpretation of the nature of epistemological research, one that is intermediate between the reduction of this research to empirical generalisation of certain objectified data and the position, analysed above, which posits the task of epistemology to be the analysis of the premises of any knowledge, including scientific knowledge. The philosophy of linguistic analysis insists, on the one hand, on the possibility and necessity of solving the philosophical problems of cognition through studying the entirely objective and generally accepted facts of the usage of words of the ordinary language. This study is only made possible by painstaking collective effort of many specialists, each of whom specifies and particularises the empirical results already obtained by applying special technical procedures. The work of an analytical philosopher reminds one, in many respects, of the work of a researcher engaged in some special science. This philosophy declares most problems of traditional epistemology, the problem of substantiating knowledge among them, to be pseudo-problems. On the other hand, the philosophy of linguistic analysis emphasises that it is the usage of everyday language that determines the semantic, or content, aspects of all the special scientific theories, in particular the theories of those sciences which study the processes of cognition. These sciences, psychology included, cannot in principle solve a single philosophical question pertaining to the understanding of knowledge and cognition, analytical philosophers believe. Epistemological problems are solved in analytical activity which in itself is not scientific, for it encompasses issues that are involved in all the sciences, and is basically a-theoretical. The results of analysis, these philosophers insist, cannot be juxtaposed with experience in the same way as special scientific theories, for analysis deals with the structure of experience itself. Everyday language, which is the object of activity of an analytical philosopher, appears as a kind of primary givenness determining the content of all the types and modes of cognition. It is therefore not surprising that the activity of analytical philosophers manifests a certain affinity with philosophical transcendentalism, in particular phenomenology and Kantian philosophy, an affinity that is often realised by the analytical philosophers themselves. Several Soviet philosophers have criticised the epistemological conception of the philosophy of linguistic analysis.
However, is it possible to reveal the true nature of knowledge and cognition through simple inductive generalisation and systematisation of the conceptions of cognition formed in everyday life and in the separate sciences? The notions of the character of cognition, of the standards, criteria, and norms of knowledge, considerably vary not only in the transition from pre-scientific knowledge to scientific and from science to science: they also vary within the framework of a single scientific discipline in its historical development. Indeed, one of the essential tasks of epistemology is separating knowledge from absence of knowledge and establishing the standards of knowledge and cognition. It proves to be impossible to solve this task through elementary accumulation and systematisation of the varied facts of cognition, including those studied by psychology. Epistemology does not simply study the cognitive process in its actual implementation but sets down the general norms of cognitive activity.
Pointing out this fundamental fact, Popper rejects in his book The Logic of Scientific Discovery the naive naturalistic epistemology (which he also calls an “inductive theory of science”) trying to describe the empirical behaviour of scientists. In actual fact, Popper says, epistemology is a general methodology of cognition. It does not describe what actually takes place in cognition but rather stipulates what requirements cognition must satisfy to agree with certain norms and ideals. According to Popper, a specialist in epistemology formulates the general norms of cognitive, and in the first place scientific, activity, and formulates certain proposals which are accepted purely conventionally. What cognition is, and what science is, is settled by agreement and not by empirical study. The character of the agreement determines the boundary between statements which express knowledge and those that do not. In Popper’s view, the specialist in epistemology (or methodology) formulates certain “absolute” prescriptions in the sense that their content is not prompted by empirical experience. These prescriptions, however, do not describe any specific supra-empirical reality, is transcendentalist philosophers believed, and neither do they express any absolute truths. They are not assertions in the strict sense, and therefore they cannot be either true or false. Some epistemological conventions can be replaced by others. Epistemology reveals connections between different epistemological (methodological) norms, resembling in this respect a scientific theory. Strictly speaking, however, epistemology (methodology) is not a theory, according to Popper, for it does not reflect any object.
What is one to be guided by, then, in accepting some epistemological (methodological) system or other? If the choice is not determined either by empirical experience or the structure of transcendental consciousness, epistemological conventions can be absolutely arbitrary. In what way is then one epistemological system better than another? Or must they all be recognised as acceptable? In this case, all argument in epistemology is meaningless, all epistemological problems cease to be real problems, while their different solutions prove to be simply camouflaged proposals for rules of some sort of a game which we call cognition. Popper rejects these subjectivist and relativistic conclusions which follow from his epistemological conceptions. He believes that there are certain criteria which compel the choice of one epistemological system over another. Among these criteria Popper includes the absence of contradictions in the system of epistemology and the extent to which the given system proves to be fruitful, facilitating the understanding of cognition as it actually occurs. It is easy to see, however, that these criteria are, on the one hand, quite inadequate (even a most arbitrary and fantastic construction may be internally non-contradictory) and indefinite, and, on the other, they may contradict the basic principles of Popper’s conception (an epistemological system has to be correlated, in one way or another, with actually existing cognition).
Still, how is the question of the nature and character of epistemological research solved? In searching for an answer to this question that would conform to the principles of dialectical materialist philosophy, let us note, first of all, that scientific epistemology is a theory which deals with actual empirical facts of cognition and attempts to study the varied forms, kinds, and types of cognition and knowledge (both scientific and pre-scientific) in terms of their inherent standards and norms. In the first place, epistemology is oriented at analysing objectified kinds of knowledge and collective forms of cognitive activity, for it is these kinds of knowledge and cognition that reflect the cognitive norms In the most pure form. That means that scientific epistemology appears mostly as a form of objective reflexion. At the same time, epistemology also has to take, into account, to some extent, the facts of individual consciousness (here the cognitive norms appear in a “transmuted form”), inasmuch as other empirically accessible paths of the reconstruction of certain cognitive standards are often absent.
A scientific theory of knowledge must thus necessarily be compared with the empirical data of cognition. But, just as any scientific theory, it does not merely passively reproduce or describe these empirical data but endeavours to reveal the essence of the process considered. For epistemology that means the singling out of such cognitive standards and norms which express deep characteristics of cognition and may not directly coincide with the way these norms are in certain cases understood in everyday cognition or in a concrete scientific study.
Epistemology must therefore take into account, in the first place, the real cognitive processes, correcting its propositions and specifying and developing them in the light of the real facts of cognition. The basic principles of dialectical materialist epistemology (the principle of reflexion, the principle of unity of practical activity and cognition, the principle of unity of dialectics, logic, and epistemology, etc.) do not at all express “absolute” and final solution to all possible epistemological problems or the creation of a closed epistemological construction incapable of development. These principles specify the necessary conditions of fruitful scientific study of epistemological problems, a study that never stands still but formulates and solves new questions and makes more precise certain propositions through the development of real cognition itself and the special sciences about it (psychology, the history of science, the science of science, etc.). At the same time, scientific epistemology, just as any scientific discipline, constructs a kind of idealised model of the process under study, later gradually specifying and particularising that model, comparing it with the empirical data of cognition. Thus epistemology is not a product of direct grasping of certain subjective certainties, and neither is it a simple description of the diverse facts of cognition. Still less can epistemology coincide with some special science of cognition, whether it be psychology or the science of science.
Although epistemology is in some basic aspects similar to all the other scientific theories, it differs in some points from most theories. We must not forget that epistemology is a reflective theory.
Most scientific theories deal with objects of which they have no previous knowledge. No science can ignore the data of everyday experience, of course, but the development of scientific knowledge means going beyond the limits of this experience. The latter says nothing of the nature of those objects with which, for instance, modern physics deals. The knowledge of these objects is only acquired in the process of scientific research itself. A reflective theory, however, has, as we have noted, some preliminary, implicit knowledge of the object about which it formulates explicit knowledge. Epistemology as a reflective theory proceeds from an implicit knowledge of what knowledge and cognition are and what the basic cognitive norms are, i.e., it begins with implicit knowledge which is contained in individual consciousness, in everyday language, and in the paradigmal premises of scientific theories.
At the same time reflexion about knowledge, translation of the latter from its implicit into explicit form, and its theoretical formulation, involve certain changes of the very object of reflexion, revealing the imaginary character of some formations which were included in knowledge without proper foundation before the implementation of the procedure itself. We have already cited examples of reformulation of the object of reflexion as a result of this procedure in the special sciences. Epistemology differs from reflexion in the special sciences in that it tries to establish the necessary conditions for any cognition and universal cognitive norms. The links between an epistemological system and a certain particular theory of a special science are therefore rather mediated. Nevertheless, formulation of an epistemological conception is always an attempt not merely to state the existing practice of cognition but also to change this practice, to reject certain established canons of cognitive activity as distracting cognition from the attainment of its goal, and at the same time to introduce new standards of this activity. The general image of cognition and science created by epistemology is itself included in the real course of cognition and in certain respects restructures it. Therefore any serious, influential epistemological conceptions are not only an interpretation of the existing practice of cognition but also a critique of some aspects of this practice in the light of some ideals of knowledge and science.
Thus, a certain gap between the model of knowledge constructed in epistemology and the actual cognitive practice is explained not only by the differences between any scientific theory and its empirical basis. As far as these differences are concerned, epistemology should strive for a greater assimilation of empirical data, it must be revised and made more precise. At the same time, the differences between epistemology and the corresponding empirical practices of cognition may mark a gap between the specified ideal of knowledge and the practice of its realisation. In the latter case, practice, the empirical givenness of cognition, must be restructured and brought to the level of the ideal.
The above does not mean that all epistemological systems (and there have been quite a number of these in the history of philosophy) could affect the actual course of cognition. We must not assume either, that this influence was necessarily fruitful wherever it occurred. Situations were not infrequent in the history of philosophical and scientific thought where a given epistemological conception specified a reference frame for the production of special scientific theories of a definite type and at the same time an entirely erroneous conception of the nature of cognition, knowledge and science, which resulted in an insoluble collision in the construction of a general epistemological conception, essentially limiting at the same time the possibilities of science itself. For instance, the epistemological empiricism of Bacon played a very progressive role at the time of the formation of experimental science. At the same time, it did not accord with the actual practice of contemporary natural science and later became a drag on its development. We have already discussed some substantive defects of Descartes’ epistemological conception. It cannot be ignored, however, that Descartes’ epistemology serves as a basis of his metaphysics, while the latter is the nucleus of a research programme in physics and in psychology. Some historically important results were attained in Cartesian physics. Considerable factual material was accumulated within the framework of empirical psychology, though this psychology outlived its usefulness as a scientific discipline by the beginning of the 20th century. The epistemology of Kant, a critic of which was given above, did not merely formulate a general research strategy in several theoretical disciplines (for example, Kant’s epistemology posits the impossibility of rationalist ontology, a special status of psychology as a non-mathematised science, the need for complement ing biological descriptions with teleological ones, etc.). Kant’s conception (along with Husserl’s phenomenology) was used by Brouwer and Heyting in constructing the intuitionist programme for the foundations of mathematics. Some important results were obtained in mathematical intuitionism, although on the whole this trend failed to solve the task it set itself. It is well known, however, that Kant’s aprioristic interpretation of the basic principles of classical science came into a sharp collision with the development of cognition.
There are other instances, too, of the influence of epistemological conceptions on the development of science. An epistemological system may be completely inadequate as reflexion about scientific knowledge, offering an entirely false image of science and being quite untenable on the general philosophical plane. At the same time, such a system is used for the production of some local special scientific theories which retain a certain value even after their philosophical interpretation is rejected. That is possible because some aspects of the real cognitive process are usually grasped even in false epistemological constructions. But the special scientific theories produced in such cases are usually of very limited significance. At the same time, the main paths of scientific development are here obstructed by false epistemological constructions, and the development of theoretical thought in this area is on the whole deflected. That was the situation, e.g., with the epistemology of operationalism and the physical theories constructed according to operationalist prescriptions.
The epistemology of dialectical materialism is specific in that it provides, for the first time, an adequate picture of cognition, knowledge, and science. And that means that the impact of this image of cognition on the actual development of science must result in extremely significant results. The history of Marxist philosophy and its relationships with the natural and social sciences confirms this idea. Marx’s Capital, which embodies the scientific theory of political economy, was created on the basis of conscious application of the dialectical materialist epistemology and methodology of science.
Relying on a scientific conception of the nature of theoretical thinking and consciously employing the philosophically substantiated method of ascending from the abstract to the concrete, Marx constructed a scientific economic theory, formulating in detail the methodological problems arising in theoretical research and consistently solving them on the basis of general epistemological principles. Marx criticised bourgeois political economy not just by comparing the content of a scientific theory with distorted interpretations of the same subject-matter but through consistent refutation of basically erroneous methodological approaches. The main defect of bourgeois political economy, which predetermined its basically unscientific quality and was directly linked with its social function, was, as Marx showed, a false interpretation of both the nature of the object cognized and of the ways and methods of scientific cognition. Therefore a change in methodological and epistemological orientation is a necessary condition of creating a scientific political economy.
The epistemological ideas worked out by Lenin in his Materialism and Empirio-Criticism (the entire complex of ideas of the Marxist-Leninist theory of reflection, the scientific conception of matter, of image, the dialectics of relative and absolute truth, the thesis of the inexhaustibility of matter “in depth,” the thesis of reflection as a property of all matter, etc.) were adopted by modern science (physics, biology, physiology, psychology, cybernetics, etc.), and proved to be exceptionally fruitful. One of the traits of the modern stage in the development of science is the consciously realised need for including general epistemological ideas (of which the scientific basis is Marxist-Leninist epistemology) into the production of theories in the special areas of knowledge. Modern science has reached a stage in its development when its further advance demands the weaving of self-reflexion into the very fabric of scientific research. That is the basis for an ever increasing interaction between philosophical, in particular epistemological, and special scientific knowledge.