V.I. Lenin


Critical Comments on a Reactionary Philosophy

( Chapter Four: The Philosophical Idealists as Comrades-In-Arms and Successors of Empirio-Criticism )

4. Whither is Empirio-Criticism Tending?

Let us now cast a glance at the development of Machism after Mach and Avenarius. We have seen that their philosophy is a hash, a pot-pourri of contradictory and disconnected epistemological propositions. We must now examine how and whither, i.e.,in what direction, this philosophy is developing, for this will help us to settle certain “disputable” questions by referring to indisputable historical facts. And indeed, in view of the eclecticism and incoherence of the initial philosophical premises of the trend we are examining, varying interpretations of it and sterile disputes over particulars and trifles are absolutely inevitable. But empirio-criticism, like every ideological current, is a living thing, which grows and develops, and the fact that it is growing in one direction or another will help us more than long arguments to settle the basic question as to what the real essence of this philosophy is. We judge a person not by what   he says or thinks of himself but by his actions. And we must judge philosophers not by the labels they give themselves (“positivism,” the philosophy of “pure experience,” “monism” or “empirio-monism,” the “philosophy of natural science,” etc.) but by the manner in which they actually settle fundamental theoretical questions, by their associates, by what they are teaching and by what they have taught their disciples and followers.

It is this last question which interests us now. Everything essential was said by Mach and Avenarius more than twenty years ago. It was bound to become clear in the interval how these “leaders” were understood by those who wanted to understand them, and whom they themselves (at least Mach, who has outlived his colleague) regard as their successors. To be specific, let us take those who themselves claim to be disciples of Mach and Avenarius (or their adherents) and whom Mach himself ranks as such. We shall thus obtain a picture of empirio-criticism as a philosophical current, and not as a collection of literary oddities.

In Mach’s Introduction to the Russian translation of the Analysis of Sensations, Hans Cornelius is recommended as a “young investigator” who is following “if not quite the same, at least very close paths” (p. 4). In the text of the Analysis of Sensations Mach once again “mentions with pleasure the works” of Cornelius and others, “who have disclosed the kernel of Avenarius’ ideas and have developed them further” (p. 48). Let us take Cornelius’ Introduction to the Philosophy[1] and we find that its author also speaks of his endeavour to follow in the footsteps of Mach and Avenarius (pp. viii, 32). We have before us then a disciple acknowledged by the teacher. This disciple also begins with sensations-elements (pp. 17, 24), categorically declares that he confines himself to experience (p. vi), calls his views “consistent or epistemological empiricism” (p. 335), emphatically condemns the “one sidedness” of idealism and the “dogmatism” of both the idealists and the materialists (p. 129), vehemently denies the possible “misconception” (p. 123) that his philosophy implies the recognition of the world as existing in the mind of man, flirts with naïve realism no   less skilfully than Avenarius, Schuppe or Bazarov (“a visual, as well as every other sense perception, is located where we find it, and only where we find it, that is to say, where the naïvenaïve mind, untouched by a false philosophy, localises it”—p. 125)—and this disciple, acknowledged as such by his teacher, arrives at immortality and God. Materialism—thunders this police sergeant in a professorial chair, I beg your pardon, this disciple of the “recent positivists”—converts man into an automaton. “It need hardly be said that together with the belief in the freedom of our decisions it destroys all considerations of the moral value of our actions and our responsibility for them. Just as little room is left for the idea of the continuation of our life after death” (p. 116). The final note of the book is: Education (or the youth stultified by this man of science presumably) is necessary not only for action but “above all . . . to inculcate veneration (Ehrfurcht) not for the transitory values of a fortuitous tradition, but for the imperishable values of duty and beauty, for the divine (dem Göttlichen) within us and without” (p. 357).

Compare this with Bogdanov’s assertion that “there is absolutely no room” (Bogdanov’s italics) and “there cannot be any room” for the idea of God, freedom of the will and immortality of the soul in Mach’s philosophy in view of his denial of every “thing-in-itself” (p. xii). While Mach in this same book (p. 293) declares that “there is no Machian philosophy,” and recommends not only the immanentists, but also Cornelius who had disclosed the kernel of Avenarius’ ideas! Thus, in the first place, Bogdanov absolutely does not know the “Machian philosophy” as a current which not only nestles under the wing of fideism, but which itself goes to the length of fideism. In the second place, Bogdanov absolutely does not know the history of philosophy; for to associate a denial of the ideas mentioned above with a denial of the thing-in-itself is to insult the history of philosophy. Will Bogdanov take it into his head to deny that all consistent followers of Hume, by rejecting every kind of thing-in-itself, do leave room for these ideas? Has Bogdanov never heard of the subjective idealists, who reject every kind of thing in-itself and thereby make room for these ideas? “There can be no room” for   these ideas solely in a philosophy that teaches that nothing exists but perceptual being, that the world is matter in motion, that the external world, the physical world familiar to all, is the sole objective reality—i.e.,in the philosophy of materialism. And it is for this, precisely for this, that materialism is combated by the immanentists recommended by Mach, by Mach’s disciple Cornelius, and by modern professorial philosophy in general.

Our Machians began to repudiate Cornelius only after this indecency had been pointed out to them. Such repudiations are not worth much. Friedrich Adler evidently has not been “warned,” and therefore recommends this Cornelius in a socialist journal (Der Kampf, 1908, 5, S. 235: “a work that is easy to read and highly to be commended”). Through the medium of Machism, downright philosophical reactionaries and preachers of fideism are palmed off on the workers as teachers!

Petzoldt, without having been warned, detected the falsity in Cornelius: but his method of combating this falsity is a gem. Listen to this: “To assert that the world is idea [as is asserted by the idealists—whom we are combating, no joke!] has sense only when it implies that it is the idea of the predicator, or, if you like, of all predicators, i.e.,that its existence depends exclusively upon the thought of that individual or of those individuals; it exists only inasmuch as he thinks about it, and what he does not think of does not exist. We, on the contrary, make the world dependent not upon the thought of an individual or individuals, or, to put it better and clearer, not upon the act of thinking, or upon any actual thought, but—and exclusively in the logical sense—upon thought in general. The idealist confuses one with the other, and the result is agnostic semi-solipsism, as we observe it in Cornelius” (Einführung, II, 317).

Stolypin denied the existence of the cabinets noirs![5] Petzoldt annihilates the idealists! It is truly astonishing how much this annihilation of idealism resembles a recommendation to the idealists to exercise more skill in concealing their idealism. To say that the world depends upon man’s thought is perverted idealism. To say that the world depends upon thought in general is recent positivism, critical realism—in a word, thoroughgoing bourgeois charlatanism!   If Cornelius is an agnostic semi-solipsist, Petzoldt is a solipsist semi-agnostic. You are cracking a flea, gentlemen!

Let us proceed. In the second edition of his Erkenntnis und Irrtum, Mach says: “A systematic exposition [of Mach’s views], one to which in all its essentials I can subscribe, is given by Professor Dr. Hans Kleinpeter” (Die Erkenntnistheorie der Naturforschung der Gegenwart, Leipzig, 1905: The Theory of Knowledge of Modern Natural Science). Let us take Hans Number Two. This professor is an accredited disseminator of Machism: a pile of articles on Mach’s views in philosophical journals, both in German and in English, translations of works recommended by Mach with introductions by Mach—in a word, the right hand of the “teacher.” Here are his views: “. . . All my (outer and inner) experience, all my thoughts and aspirations are given me as a psychical process, as a part of my consciousness” (op. cit. p. 18). “That which we call physical is a construction of psychical elements” (p. 144). “Subjective conviction, not objective certainty (Gewissheit) is the only attainable goal of any science” (p. 9). (The italics are Kleinpeter’s, who adds the following remark: “Something similar was already said by Kant in the Critique of Practical Reason.”) “The assumption that there are other minds is one which can never be confirmed by experience” (p. 42). “I do not know. . . whether, in general, there exist other selves outside of myself” (p. 43). In § 5, entitled “Activity (Spontaneity) in Consciousness,” we read that in the case of the animal-automaton the succession of ideas is purely mechanical. The same is true of us when we dream. “The quality of our consciousness in its normal state essentially differs from this. It possesses a property which these [the automata] entirely lack, and which it would be very difficult, to say the least, to explain mechanically or automatically: the so-called self-activity of the self. Every person can dissever himself from his states of consciousness, he can manipulate them, can make them stand out more clearly or force them into the background, can analyse them, compare various parts, etc. All this is a fact of (immediate) experience. Our self is therefore essentially different from the sum-total of the states of consciousness and cannot be put as an equivalent of it. Sugar consists of carbon, hydrogen   and oxygen; were we to attribute a soul to it, then by analogy it would have to possess the faculty of directing the movement of the hydrogen, oxygen and carbon at will” (pp. 29–30). § 4 of the following chapter is headed: “The Act of Cognition—an Act of Will (Willenshandlung).” “It must be regarded as definitely established that all my psychical experiences are divisible into two large main groups: compulsory acts and deliberate acts. To the former belong all impressions of the external world” (p. 47). “That it is possible to advance several theories regarding one and the same realm of facts . . . is as well known to physicists as it is incompatible with the premises of an absolute theory of knowledge. And this fact is also linked with the volitional character of our thought; it also implies that our volition is not bound by external circumstances” (p. 50).

Now judge how bold Bogdanov was in asserting that in Mach’s philosophy “there is absolutely no room for free will,” when Mach himself recommends such a specimen as Kleinpeter! We have already seen that the latter does not attempt to conceal either his own idealism or Mach’s. In 1898-99 Kleinpeter wrote: “Hertz proclaims the same subjectivist view [i.e., as Mach] of the nature of our concepts. . . . If Mach and Hertz [with what justice Kleinpeter here implicates the famous physicist we shall soon see] deserve credit from the standpoint of idealism for having emphasised the subjective origin of all our concepts and of the connections between them—and not only of certain individual ones—from the standpoint of empiricism they deserve no less credit for having acknowledged that experience alone, as a court entirely independent of thought, can solve the question of their correctness” (Archiv für systematische Philosophie, Bd. V, 1898-99, S. 169-70). In 1900 he wrote that in spite of all the points on which Mach differs from Kant and Berkeley, “they at any rate are more akin to him than the metaphysical empiricism prevailing in natural science [i.e., materialism! The professor does not like to call the devil by name] which is indeed the main target of Mach’s attacks” (op. cit., Bd. VI, S. 87). In 1903 he wrote: “The starting point of Berkeley and Mach is irrefutable. . . . Mach completed what Kant began” (Kantstudien, Bd. VIII, 1903, S. 314, 274).

In the preface to the Russian edition of the Analysis of Sensations Mach also mentions T. Ziehen, “who is following, if not the same, at least very close paths.” We take Professor Theodor Ziehen’s book The Psychophysiological Theory of Knowledge (Psychophysiologische Erkenntnistheorie, Jena, 1898) and hnd that the author refers to Mach, Avenarius, Schuppe, and so forth in the very introduction. Here therefore we again have a case of a disciple acknowledged by the teacher. Ziehen’s “recent” theory is that only the “mob” is capable of believing that “real objects evoke our sensations” (p. 3), and that “over the portals of the theory of knowledge there can be no other inscription than the words of Berkeley: ‘The external objects subsist not by themselves, but exist in our minds!’” (p. 5). “What is given us is sensations and ideas. Both are embraced by the word psychical. Non-psychical is a word devoid of meaning” (p. 100). The laws of nature are relations not of material bodies but of “reduced sensations” (p. 104. This “new” concept—“reduced sensations”—contains everything that is original in Ziehen’s Berkeleianismt).

Petzoldt repudiated Ziehen as an idealist as far back as 1904 in the second volume of his Introduction (S. 298-301). By 1906 he had already included Cornelius, Kleinpeter, Ziehen and Verworn (Das Weltproblem, etc., S. 137 Fussnote) in the list of idealists or psychomonists. In the case of all these worthy professors, you see, there is a “misconception” in their interpretations “of the views of Mach and Avenarius” (ibid .).

Poor Mach and Avenarius! Not only were they slandered by their enemies for idealism and “even” (as Bogdanov expresses it) solipsism, but their very friends, disciples and followers, expert professors, also understood their teachers pervertedly, in an idealist sense. If empirio-criticism is developing into idealism, that by no means demonstrates the radical falsity of its muddled Berkeleian basic premises. God forbid! It is only a slight “misconception,” in the Nozdriev-Petzoldt[6] sense of the term.

The funniest thing of all perhaps is that Petzoldt himself, the guardian of purity and innocence, firstly, “supplemented” Mach and Avenarius with his “logical a priori” and, secondly, coupled them with Wilhelm Schuppe, the vehicle of fideism.

Had Petzoldt been acquainted with Mach’s English adherents he would have had very considerably to extend the list of Machians who had lapsed (because of a “misconception”) into idealism. We have already referred to Karl Pearson, whom Mach praised, as an unadulterated idealist. Here are the opinions of two other “slanderers” who say the same thing of Pearson: “Professor Pearson is merely echoing a doctrine first given clear utterance by the truly great Berkeley” (Howard V. Knox, Mind, Vol. VI, 1897, p. 205). “There can be no doubt that Mr. Pearson is an idealist in the strictest sense of the word” (Georges Rodier, Revue philosophique,[7] 1888, II, Vol. 26, p. 200). The English idealist, William Clifford, whom Mach regards as “coming very close” to his philosophy (Analysis of Sensations, p. 8), must be considered a teacher rather than a disciple of Mach, for Clifford’s philosophical works appeared in the seventies. Here the “misconception” is due to Mach himself, who in 1901 “failed to notice” the idealism in Clifford’s doctrine that the world is “mind-stuff,” a “social object,” a “highly organised experience,” and so forth.[2] For a characterisation of the charlatanism of the German Machians, it is sufficient to note that Kleinpeter in 1905 elevated this idealist to the rank of founder of the “epistemology of modern science”!

On page 284 of the Analysis of Sensations, Mach mentions the “kindred” (to Buddhism and Machism) American philosopher, Paul Carus. Carus, who calls himself an “admirer and personal friend” of Mach, edits in Chicago The Monist, a journal devoted to philosophy, and The Open Court,[8] a journal devoted to the propagation of religion. “Science is divine revelation,” say the editors of this popular little journal, and they express the opinion that science can bring about a reform of the church that will retain “all that is true and good in religion.” Mach is a regular contributor to The Monist and publishes in it individual chapters from his latest works. Carus corrects Mach “ever so little” à la Kant, and declares that Mach “is an idealist or, as we would   say, a subjectivist.” “There are, no doubt, differences between Mach’s views and mine,” although “I at once recognised in him a kindred spirit”.[3] “Our Monism,” says Carus, “is not materialistic, not spiritualistic, not agnostic; it merely means consistency . . . it takes experience as its basis and employs as method the systematic forms of the relations of cxperience” (evidently a plagiarism from Bogclanov’s Empirio-Monism !) . Carus’ motto is: “Not agnosticism, but positive science, not mysticism, but clear thinking, not supernaturalism, not materialism, but a monistic view of the world, not a dogma, but religion, not creed, but faith.” And in conformity with this motto Carus preaches a “new theology,” a “scientific theology,” or theonomy, which denies the literalness of the bible but insists that “all truth is divine and God reveals himself in science as he does in history.”[4] It should be remarked that Kleinpeter, in his book on the theory of knowledge of modern science already referred to, recommends Carus, together with Ostwald, Avenarius and the immanentists (pp. 151-52). When Haeckel issued his theses for a Monistic Alliance, Carus vigorously opposed him on the ground that, first, Haeckel vainly attempts to refute apriorism, which is “quite in keeping with scientific philosophy”; second, that Haeckel’s doctrine of determinism “excludes the possibility of free will”; third, that Haeckel is mistaken “in emphasising the one-sided view of the naturalist against the traditional conservatism of the churches. Thus he appears as an enemy to the existing churches instead of rejoicing at their higher development into a new and truer interpretation of their dogmas . . .” (ibid., Vol. XVI, 1906, p. 122). Carus himself admits that “I appear reactionary to many freethinkers who blame me for not joining their chorus in denouncing all religion as superstition” (p. 355).

It is quite evident that we have here a leader of a gang of American literary fakers who are engaged in doping the people with religious opium. Mach and Kleinpeter joined this gang evidently as the result of a slight “misconception.”



[1] Cornelius, Einleitung in die Philosophie [Introduction to Philosophy] (Germ. ed., 1903) —Ed.

[2] William Kingdon Clifford, Lectues and Essays, 3rd ed., London, 1901, Vol. II, pp. 55, 65, 69: “On this point I agree entirely with Berkeley and not with Mr. Spencer” (p. 58); “The object, then, is a set of changes in my consciousness, and not anything out of it” (p. 52). —Lenin

[3] The Monist,[9] Vol. XVI, 1906, July; P. Carus, “Professor Mach’s Philosophy,” pp. 320, 345, 333. The article is a reply to an article by Kleinpeter which appeared in the same journal. —Lenin

[4] Ibid., Vol. XIII, p. 24 et seq., “Theology as a Science,” an article by Carus. —Lenin

[5] Lenin is referring to the lying statement of P. A. Stolypin, Chairman of the Council of Ministers, who denied the existence in the postal service of “cabinets Theirs” engaged in examining the correspondence of persons regarded as suspects by the tsarist government.

[6] Nosdrev—a character in N. V. Gogol’s novel Dead Souls; a landlord, swindler and trouble-maker. Gogol called him a “historical personage”, since wherever he appeared “histories” and rows developed.

[7] Revue philosephique de la France et de l’Etranger (Philosophical Review of France and Abroad)—a journal founded in Paris in 1876 by the French psychologist Thédodule Bibot.

[8] The Open Court—a journal of a religious tendency, published in Chicago from 1887 to 1936.

[9] The Monist—an American philosophical journal of an idealist tendency, edited by Paul Carus. It was published in Chicago from 1890 to 1936.

  3.The Immanentists as Comrades-In-Arms of Mach and Avenarius | 5. A. Bogdanov’s “Empirio-Monism”  

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