V.I. Lenin

Materialism and Empirio-criticism

Critical Comments on a Reactionary Philosophy

In Lieu of An Introduction

How Certain “Marxists” in 1908 and Certain Idealists in 1710 Refuted Materialism

Anyone in the least acquainted with philosophical literature must know that scarcely a single contemporary professor of philosophy (or of theology) can be found who is not directly or indirectly engaged in refuting materialism. They have declared materialism refuted a thousand times, yet are continuing to refute it for the thousand and first time. All our revisionists are engaged in refuting materialism, pretending, however, that actually they are only refuting the materialist Plekhanov, and not the materialist Engels, nor the materialist Feuerbach, nor the materialist views of J. Dietzgen—and, moreover, that they are refuting materialism from the standpoint of “recent” and “modern” positivism, natural science, and so forth. Without citing quotations, which anyone desiring to do so could cull by the hundred from the books above mentioned, I shall refer to those arguments by which materialism is being combated by Bazarov, Bogdanov, Yushkevich, Valentinov, Chernov [V. Chernov, Philosophical and Sociological Studies, Moscow, 1907. The author is as ardent an adherent of Avenarius and an enemy of dialectical materialism as Bazarov and Co.] and other Machians. I shall use this latter term throughout as a synonym for “empirio-criticist” because it is shorter and simpler and has already acquired rights of citizenship in Russian literature. That Ernst Mach is the most popular representative of empirio-criticism today is universally acknowledged in philosophical literature, [See, for instance, Dr. Richard Hönigswald, Ueber die Lehre Humes von der Realität der Aussendinge [Hume’s Doctrine of the Reality of the External World], Berlin, 1904, S. 26. 1 of “metaphysics”, a double of religion (“holy matter”, as Bazarov says).] while Bogdanov’s and Yushkevich’s departures from “pure” Machism are of absolutely secondary importance, as will be shown later.

The materialists, we are told, recognise something unthinkable and unknowable—“things-in-themselves”—matter “outside of experience” and outside of our knowledge. They lapse into genuine mysticism by admitting the existence of something beyond, something transcending the bounds of “experience” and knowledge. When they say that matter, by acting upon our sense-organs, produces sensations, the materialists take as their basis the “unknown,” nothingness; for do they not themselves declare our sensations to be the only source of knowledge? The materialists lapse into “Kantianism” (Plekhanov, by recognising the existence of “things-in-themselves,” i.e., things outside of our consciousness); they “double” the world and preach “dualism,” for the materialists hold that beyond the appearance there is the thing-in-itself; beyond the immediate sense data there is something else, some fetish, an “idol,” an absolute, a source of knowledge? The materialists lapse into “Kantianism” (Plekhanov, by recongnising the existence of “things-in-itself; beyond the immediate sense data there is something else, some fetish, an “idol", an absolute, a source of “metaphysics", a double of religion ("holy matter", as Barzarov says).

Such are the arguments levelled by the Machians against materialism, as repeated and retold in varying keys by the afore-mentioned writers.

In order to test whether these arguments are new, and whether they are really directed against only one Russian materialist who “lapsed into Kantianism,” we shall give some detailed quotations from the works of an old idealist, George Berkeley. This historical inquiry is all the more necessary in the introduction to our comments since we shall have frequent occasion to refer to Berkeley and his trend in philosophy, for the Machians misrepresent both the relation of Mach to Berkeley and the essence of Berkeley’s philosophical line.

The work of Bishop George Berkeley, published in 1710 under the title Treatise Concerning the Principles of Human Knowledge[1] begins with the following argument:

“It is evident to anyone who takes a survey of the objects of human knowledge, that they are either ideas actually imprinted on the senses; or else such as are perceived by attending to the passions and operations of the mind; or lastly, ideas formed by help of memory and imagination. . . . By sight I have the ideas of light and colours, with their several degrees and variations. By touch I perceive hard and soft, heat and cold, motion and resistance. . . . Smelling furnishes me with odours; the palate with tastes; and hearing conveys sounds. . . . And as several of these are observed to accompany each other, they come to be marked by one name, and so to be reputed as one thing. Thus, for example, a certain colour, taste, smell, figure and consistence having been observed to go together, are accounted one distinct thing, signified by the name apple; other collections of ideas constitute a stone, a tree, a book, and the like sensible things. . .” (§ 1).

Such is the content of the first section of Berkeley’s work. We must remember that Berkeley takes as the basis of his philosophy “hard, soft, heat, cold, colours, tastes, odours,” etc. For Berkeley, things are “collections of ideas,” this expression designating the aforesaid, let us say, qualities or sensations, and not abstract thoughts.

Berkeley goes on to say that besides these “ideas or objects of knowledge” there exists something that perceives them—"mind, spirit, soul or myself “ (§ 2). It is self-evident, the philosopher concludes, that “ideas” cannot exist outside of the mind that perceives them. In order to convince ourselves of this it is enough to consider the meaning of the word “exist.” “The table I write on I say exists, that is, I see and feel it; and if I were out of my study I should say it existed; meaning thereby that if I was in my study I might perceive it. . . .” That is what Berkeley says in § 3 of his work and thereupon he begins a polemic against the people whom he calls materialists (§§ 18, 19, etc.). “For as to what is said of the absolute existence of unthinking things, without any relation to their being perceived,” he says, “that is to me perfectly unintelligible.” To exist means to be perceived ("Their esse is percipi,” § 3—a dictum of Berkeley’s frequently quoted in textbooks on the history of philosophy). “It is indeed an opinion strangely prevailing amongst men, that houses, mountains, rivers, and in a word all sensible objects have an existence, natural or real, distinct from their being perceived by the understanding” (§ 4). This opinion is a “manifest contradiction,” says Berkeley. “For, what are the afore-mentioned objects but the things we perceive by sense? and what do we perceive besides our own ideas or sensations? and is it not plainly repugnant that any one of these, or any combination of them, should exist unperceived?” (§ 4).

The expression “collection of ideas” Berkeley now replaces by what to him is an equivalent expression, combination of sensations, and accuses the materialists of a “repugnant” tendency to go still further, of seeking some source of this complex—that is, of this combination of sensations. In § 5 the materialists are accused of trifling with an abstraction, for to divorce the sensation from the object, according to Berkeley, is an empty abstraction. “In truth,” he says at the end of § 5, omitted in the second edition, “the object and the sensation are the same thing, and cannot therefore be abstracted from each other.” Berkeley goes on:

“But, say you, though the ideas themselves do not exist without the mind, yet there may be things like them, whereof they are copies or resemblances; which things exist without the mind, in an unthinking substance. I answer, an idea can be like nothing but an idea; a colour or figure can be like nothing but another colour or figure. . . . I ask whether those supposed originals, or external things, of which our ideas are the pictures or representations, be themselves perceivable or not? If they are, then they are ideas and we have gained our point; but if you say they are not, I appeal to anyone whether it be sense to assert a colour is like something which is invisible; hard or soft, like something which is intangible; and so of the rest.” (§ 8).

As the reader sees, Bazarov’s “arguments” against Plekhanov concerning the problem of whether things can exist outside of us apart from their action on us do not differ in the least from Berkeley’s arguments against the materialists whom he does not mention by name. Berkeley considers the notion of the existence of “matter or corporeal substance” (§ 9) such a “contradiction,” such an “absurdity” that it is really not worth wasting time exposing it. He says:

“But because the tenet of the existence of Matter seems to have taken so deep a root in the minds of philosophers, and draws after it so many ill consequences, I choose rather to be thought prolix and tedious than omit anything that might conduce to the full discovery and extirpation of that prejudice” (§ 9).

We shall presently see to what ill consequences Berkeley is referring. Let us first finish with his theoretical arguments against the materialists. Denying the “absolute” existence of objects, that is, the existence of things outside human knowledge, Berkeley bluntly defines the viewpoint of his opponents as being that they recognise the “thing-in-itself.” In § 24 Berkeley writes in italics that the opinion which he is refuting recognises “the absolute existence of sensible objects in themselves, or without the mind” (op. cit., pp. 167-68). The two fundamental lines of philosophical outlook are here depicted with the straightforwardness, clarity and precision that distinguish the classical philosophers from the inventors of “new” systems in our day. Materialism is the recognition of “objects in themselves,” or outside the mind; ideas and sensations are copies or images of those objects. The opposite doctrine (idealism) claims that objects do not exist “without the mind"; objects are “combinations of sensations.”

This was written in 1710, fourteen years before the birth of Immanuel Kant, yet our Machians, supposedly on the basis of “recent” philosophy, have made the discovery that the recognition of “things-in-themselves” is a result of the infection or distortion of materialism by Kantianism! The “new” discoveries of the Machians are the product of an astounding ignorance of the history of the basic philosophical trends.

Their next “new” thought consists in this: that the concepts “matter” or “substance” are remnants of old uncritical views. Mach and Avenarius, you see, have advanced philosophical thought, deepened analysis and eliminated these “absolutes,” “unchangeable entities,” etc. If you wish to check such assertions with the original sources, go to Berkeley and you will see that they are pretentious fictions. Berkeley says quite definitely that matter is “nonentity” (§ 68), that matter is nothing (§ 80). “You may,” thus Berkeley ridicules the materialists, “if so it shall seem good, use the word ’matter’ in the same sense as other men use ’nothing’” (op. cit., pp. 196-97). At the beginning, says Berkeley, it was believed that colours, odours, etc., “really exist,” but subsequently such views were renounced, and it was seen that they only exist in dependence on our sensations. But this elimination of old erroneous concepts was not completed; a remnant is the concept “substance” (§ 73), which is also a “prejudice” (p. 195), and which was finally exposed by Bishop Berkeley in 1710! In 1908 there are still wags who seriously believe Avenarius, Petzoldt, Mach and the rest, when they maintain that it is only “recent positivism” and “recent natural science” which have at last succeeded in eliminating these “metaphysical” conceptions.

These same wags (Bogdanov among them) assure their readers that it was the new philosophy that explained the error of the “duplication of the world” in the doctrine of the eternally refuted materialists, who speak of some sort of a “reflection” by the human consciousness of things existing outside the consciousness. A mass of sentimental verbiage has been written by the above-named authors about this “duplication.” Owing to forgetfulness or ignorance, they failed to add that these new discoveries had already been discovered in 1710. Berkeley says:

“Our knowledge of these [i.e., ideas or things] has been very much obscured and confounded, and we have been led into very dangerous errors by supposing a twofold existence of the objects of sense—the one intelligible or in the mind, the other real and without the mind” (i.e., outside consciousness). And Berkeley ridicules this “absurd” notion, which admits the possibility of thinking the unthinkable! The source of the “absurdity,” of course, follows from our supposing a difference between “things” and “ideas” (§ 87), “the supposition of external objects.” This same source—as discovered by Berkeley in 1710 and rediscovered by Bogdanov in 1908—engenders faith in fetishes and idols. “The existence of Matter,” says Berkeley, “or bodies unperceived, has not only been the main support of Atheists and Fatalists, but on the same principle doth Idolatry likewise in all its various forms depend” (§ 94).

Here we arrive at those “ill consequences” derived from the “absurd” doctrine of the existence of an external world which compelled Bishop Berkeley not only to refute this doctrine theoretically, but passionately to persecute its adherents as enemies.

“For as we have shown the doctrine of Matter or corporeal Substance to have been the main pillar and support of Scepticism, so likewise upon the same foundation have been raised all the impious schemes of Atheism and Irreligion. . . . How great a friend material substance has been to Atheists in all ages were needless to relate. All their monstrous systems have so visible and necessary a dependence on it, that when this cornerstone is once removed, the whole fabric cannot choose but fall to the ground, in so much that it is no longer worth while to bestow a particular consideration on the absurdities of every wretched sect of Atheists” (§ 92, op. cit., pp. 203-04).
“Matter being once expelled out of nature drags with it so many sceptical and impious notions, such an incredible number of disputes and puzzling questions [“the principle of economy of thought,” discovered by Mach in the ’seventies, “philosophy as a conception of the world according to the principle of minimum expenditure of effort"—Avenarius in 1876!] which have been thorns in the sides of divines as well as philosophers, and made so much fruitless work for mankind, that if the arguments we have produced against it are not found equal to demonstration (as to me they evidently seem), yet I am sure all friends to knowledge, peace, and religion have reason to wish they were” (§ 96).

Frankly and bluntly did Bishop Berkeley argue! In our time these very same thoughts on the “economical” elimination of “matter” from philosophy are enveloped in a much more artful form, and confused by the use of a “new” terminology, so that these thoughts may be taken by naïve people for “recent” philosophy!

But Berkeley was not only candid as to the tendencies of his philosophy, he also endeavoured to cover its idealistic nakedness, to represent it as being free from absurdities and acceptable to “common sense.” Instinctively defending himself against the accusation of what would nowadays be called subjective idealism and solipsism, he says that by our philosophy “we are not deprived of any one thing in nature” (§ 34). Nature remains, and the distinction between realities and chimeras remains, only “they both equally exist in the mind.”

“I do not argue against the existence of any one thing that we can apprehend, either by sense or reflection. That the things I see with my eyes and touch with my hands do exist, really exist, I make not the least question. The only thing whose existence we deny is that which philosophers [Berkeley’s italics] call Matter or corporeal substance. And in doing this there is no damage done to the rest of mankind, who, I dare say, will never miss it. . . . The Atheist indeed will want the colour of an empty name to support his impiety. . . .”

This thought is made still clearer in § 37, where Berkeley replies to the charge that his philosophy destroys corporeal substance:

“. . . if the word substance be taken in the vulgar sense, for a combination of sensible qualities, such as extension, solidity, weight, and the like—this we cannot be accused of taking away; but if it be taken in a philosophic sense, for the support of accidents or qualities without the mind—then indeed I acknowledge that we take it away, if one may be said to take away that which never had any existence, not even in the imagination.”

Not without good cause did the English philosopher, Fraser, an idealist and adherent of Berkeleianism, who published Berkeley’s works and supplied them with his own annotations designate Berkeley’s doctrine by the term “natural realism” (op. cit., p. x). This amusing terminology must by all means be noted, for it in fact expresses Berkeley’s intention to counterfeit realism. In our further exposition we shall frequently find “recent” “positivists” repeating the same stratagem or counterfeit in a different form and in a different verbal wrapping. Berkeley does not deny the existence of real things! Berkeley does not go counter to the opinion of all humanity! Berkeley denies “only” the teaching of the philosophers, viz., the theory of knowledge, which seriously and resolutely takes as the foundation of all its reasoning the recognition of the external world and the reflection thereof in the minds of men. Berkeley does not deny natural science, which has always adhered (mostly unconsciously) to this, i.e., the materialist, theory of knowledge. We read in § 59:

“We may, from the experience [Berkeley—a philosophy of ’pure experience’][2] we have had of the train and succession of ideas in our minds . . . make . . . well-grounded predictions concerning the ideas we shall be affected with pursuant to a great train of actions, and be enabled to pass a right judgement of what would have appeared to us, in case we were placed in circumstances very different from those we are in at present. Herein consists the knowledge of nature, which [listen to this!] may preserve its use and certainty very consistently with what hath been said.”

Let us regard the external world, nature, as “a combination of sensations” evoked in our mind by a deity. Acknowledge this and give up searching for the “ground” of these sensations outside the mind, outside man, and I will acknowledge within the framework of my idealist theory of knowledge all natural science and all the use and certainty of its deductions. It is precisely this framework, and only this framework, that I need for my deductions in favour of “peace and religion.” Such is Berkeley’s train of thought. It correctly expresses the essence of idealist philosophy and its social significance, and we shall encounter it later when we come to speak of the relation of Machism to natural science.

Let us now consider another recent discovery that was borrowed from Bishop Berkeley in the twentieth century by the recent positivist and critical realist, P. Yushkevich. This discovery is “empirio-symbolism.” “Berkeley,” says Fraser “thus reverts to his favourite theory of a Universal Naturai Symbolism” (op. cit., p. 190). Did these words not occur in an edition of 1871, one might have suspected the English fideist philosopher Fraser of plagiarising both the modern mathematician and physicist Poincare and the Russian “Marxist” Yushkevich!

This theory of Berkeley’s, which threw Fraser into raptures, is set forth by the Bishop as follows:

“The connexion of ideas [do not forget that for Berkeley ideas and things are identical] does not imply the relation of cause and effect, but only of a mark or sign with the thing signified” (§ 65). “Hence, it is evident that those things, which under the notion of a cause co-operating or concurring to the production of effects, are altogether inexplicable, and run us into great absurdities, may be very naturally explained . . . when they are considered only as marks or signs for our information” (§ 66). Of course, in the opinion of Berkeley and Fraser, it is no other than the deity who informs us by means of these “empirio-symbols.” The epistemological significance of symbolism in Berkeley’s theory, however, consists in this, that it is to replace “the doctrine” which “pretends to explain things by corporeal causes” (§ 66).

We have before us two philosophical trends in the question of causality. One “pretends to explain things by corporeal causes.” It is clear that it is connected with the “doctrine of matter” refuted as an “absurdity” by Bishop Berkeley. The other reduces the “notion of cause” to the notion of a “mark or sign” which serves for “our information” (supplied by God). We shall meet these two trends in a twentieth-century garb when we analyse the attitudes of Machism and dialectical materialism to this question.

Further, as regards the question of reality, it ought also to be remarked that Berkeley, refusing as he does to recognise the existence of things outside the mind, tries to find a criterion for distinguishing between the real and the fictitious. In § 36 he says that those “ideas” which the minds of men evoke at pleasure “are faint, weak, and unsteady in respect to others they perceive by sense; which, being impressed upon them according to certain rules or laws of nature, speak themselves about the effects of a Mind more powerful and wise than human spirits. These latter are said to have more reality in them than the former; by which is meant that they are more affecting, orderly and distinct, and that they are not fictions of the mind perceiving them. . . .” Elsewhere (§ 84) Berkeley tries to connect the notion of reality with the simultaneous perception of the same sensations by many people. For instance, how shall we resolve the question as to whether the transformation of water into wine, of which we are being told, is real? “If at table all who were present should see, and smell, and taste, and drink wine, and find the effects of it, with me there could be no doubt of its reality.” And Fraser explains: “Simultaneous perception of the ’same’. . . sense-ideas, by different persons, as distinguished from purely individual consciousness of feelings and fancies, is here taken as a test of the . . . reality of the former.”

From this it is evident that Berkeley’s subjective idealism is not to be interpreted as though it ignored the distinction between individual and collective perception. On the contrary, he attempts on the basis of this distinction to construct a criterion of reality. Deriving “ideas” from the action of a deity upon the human mind, Berkeley thus approaches objective idealism: the world proves to be not my idea but the product of a single supreme spiritual cause that creates both the “laws of nature” and the laws distinguishing “more real” ideas from less real, and so forth.

In another work, The Three Dialogues Between Hylas and Philonous (1713), where he endeavours to present his views in an especially popular form, Berkeley sets forth the opposition between his doctrine and the materialist doctrine in the following way:

"I assert as well as you [materialists] that, since we are affected from without, we must allow Powers to be without, in a Being distinct from ourselves. . . . But then we differ as to the kind of this powerful being. I will have it to be Spirit, you Matter, or I know not what (I may add too, you know not what) third nature. . .” (op. cit., p. 335).

This is the gist of the whole question; Fraser comments: according to the materialists, sensible phenomena are due to material substance, or to some unknown “third nature"; according to Berkeley, to rational Will; according to Hume and the Positivists, their origin is absolutely unknown, and we can only generalise them inductively, through custom, as facts.

Here the English Berkeleian, Fraser, approaches from his consistent idealist standpoint the same fundamental “lines” in philosophy which were so clearly characterised by the materialist Engels. In his work Ludwig Feuerbach Engels divides philosophers into “two great camps"—materialists and idealists. Engels—dealing with theories of the two trends much more developed, varied and rich in content than Fraser dealt with—sees the fundamental distinction between them in the fact that while for the materialists nature is primary and spirit secondary, for the idealists the reverse is the case. In between these two camps Engels places the adherents of Hume and Kant, who deny the possibility of knowing the world, or at least of knowing it fully, and calls them agnostics[8]. In his Ludwig Feuerbach Engels applies this term only to the adherents of Hume (those people whom Fraser calls, and who like to call themselves, “positivists"). But in his article “On Historical Materialism,” Engels explicitly speaks of the standpoint of “the Neo-Kantian agnostic,"[9]— regarding Neo-Kantianism[10] as a variety of agnosticism.[3]

We cannot dwell here on this remarkably correct and profound judgment of Engels’ (a judgment which is shamelessly ignored by the Machians). We shall discuss it in detail later on. For the present we shall confine ourselves to pointing to this Marxist terminology and to this meeting of extremes: the views of a consistent materialist and of a consistent idealist on the fundamental philosophical trends. In order to illustrate these trends (with which we shall constantly have to deal in our further exposition) let us briefly note the views of outstanding philosophers of the eighteenth century who pursued a different path from Berkeley.

Here are Hume’s arguments. In his An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, in the chapter (XII) on sceptical philosophy, he says:

“It seems evident, that men are carried, by a natural instinct or prepossession, to repose faith in their senses; and that, without any reasoning, or even almost before the use of reason, we always suppose an external universe, which depends not on our perception, but would exist though we and every sensible creature were absent or annihilated. Even the animal creations are governed by a like opinion, and preserve this belief of external objects, in all their thoughts, designs, and actions. . . . But this universal and primary opinion of all men is soon destroyed by the slightest philosophy, which teaches us, that nothing can ever be present to the mind but an image or perception, and that the senses are only the inlets, through which these images are conveyed, without being able to produce any immediate intercourse between the mind and the object. The table, which we see, seems to diminish, as we remove farther from it: But the real table, which exists independent of us, suffers no alteration: It was, therefore, nothing but its image, which was present to the mind. These are the obvious dictates of reason; and no man, who reflects, ever doubted, that the existences, which we consider, when we say, ’this house,’ and ’that tree’ are nothing but perceptions in the mind. . . . By what argument can it be proved, that the perceptions of the mind must be caused by external objects, entirely different from them, though resembling them (if that be possible), and could not arise either from the energy of the mind itself, or from the suggestion of some invisible and unknown spirit, or from some other cause still more unknown to us? . . . How shall the question be determined? By experience surely; as all other questions of a like nature. But here experience is, and must be entirely silent. The mind has never anything present to it but the perceptions, and cannot possibly reach any experience of their connection with objects. This supposition of such a connection is, therefore, without any foundation in reasoning. To have recourse to the veracity of the Supreme Being, in order to prove the veracity of our senses, is surely making a very unexpected circuit . . . if the external world be once called in question, we shall be at a loss to find arguments, by which we may prove the existence of that Being, or any of his attributes.”[4]

He says the same thing in his Treatise of Human Nature (Part IV, Sec. II, “On Scepticism Towards Sensations"): “Our perceptions are our only objects.” (P. 281 of the French translation by Renouvier and Pillon, 1878.) By scepticism Hume means refusal to explain sensations as the effects of objects, spirit, etc., refusal to reduce perceptions to the external world, on the one hand, and to a deity or to an unknown spirit, on the other. And the author of the introduction to the French translation of Hume, F. Pillon—a philosopher of a trend akin to Mach (as we shall see below)—justly remarks that for Hume subject and object are reduced to “groups of various perceptions,” to “elements of consciousness, to impressions, ideas, etc."; that the only concern should be with the “groupings and combinations of these elements."[5] The English Humean, Huxley, who coined the apt and correct term “agnosticism,” in his book on Hume also emphasises the fact that the latter, regarding “sensations” as the “primary and irreducible states of consciousness,” is not entirely consistent on the question how the origin of sensations is to be explained, whether by the effect of objects on man or by the creative power of the mind. “Realism and idealism are equally probable hypotheses” (i.e., for Hume).[6] Hume does not go beyond sensations. “Thus the colours red and blue, and the odour of a rose, are simple impressions. . . . A red rose gives us a complex impression, capable of resolution into the simple impressions of red colour, rose-scent, and numerous others” (op. cit., pp. 64-65). Hume admits both the “materialist position” and the “idealist position” (p. 82); the “collection of perceptions” may be generated by the Fichtean “ego” or may be a “signification” and even a “symbol” of a “real something.” This is how Huxley interprets Hume.

As for the materialists, here is an opinion of Berkeley given by Diderot, the leader of the Encyclopaedists[11]:

“Those philosophers are called idealists who, being conscious only of their existence and of the sensations which succeed each other within themselves, do not admit anything else. An extravagant system which, to my thinking, only the blind could have originated; a system which, to the shame of human intelligence and philosophy, is the most difficult to combat, although the most absurd of all.”[7]

And Diderot, who came very close to the standpoint of contemporary materialism (that arguments and syllogisms alone do not suffice to refute idealism, and that here it is not a question for theoretical argument), notes the similarity of the premises both of the idealist Berkeley, and the sensationalist Condillac. In his opinion, Condillac should have undertaken a refutation of Berkeley in order to avoid such absurd conclusions being drawn from the treatment of sensations as the only source of our knowledge.

In the “Conversation Between d’Alembert and Diderot,” Diderot states his philosophical position thus:

“. . . Suppose a piano to be endowed with the faculty of sensation and memory, tell me, would it not of its own accord repeat those airs which you have played on its keys? We are instruments endowed with sensation and memory. Our senses are so many keys upon which surrounding nature strikes and which often strike upon themselves. And this is all, in my opinion, that occurs in a piano organised like you and me.”

D’Alembert retorts that such an instrument would have to possess the faculty of finding food for itself and of reproducing little pianos. Undoubtedly, contends Diderot.—But take an egg:

“This is what refutes all the schools of theology and all the temples on earth. What is this egg? A mass that is insensible until the embryo is introduced thither, and when this embryo is introduced, what is it then? An insensible mass, for in its turn, this embryo is only an inert and crude liquid. How does this mass arrive at a different organisation, arrive at sensibility and life? By means of heat. And what produces heat? Motion. . . .”

The animal that is hatched from the egg is endowed with all your sensations; it performs all your actions.

“Would you maintain with Descartes that this is a simple imitating machine? Little children will laugh at you, and the philosophers will reply that if this be a machine then you too are a machine. If you admit that the difference between these animals and you is only one of organisation, you will prove your common sense and sagacity, you will be right. But from this will follow the conclusion that refutes you; namely, that from inert matter organised in a certain way, impregnated with another bit of inert matter, by heat and motion—sensibility, life, memory, consciousness, emotion, and thought are generated.”

One of the two, continues Diderot, either admit some “hidden element” in the egg, that penetrates to it in an unknown way at a certain stage of development, an element about which it is unknown whether it occupies space, whether it is material or whether it is created for the purpose—which is contradictory to common sense, and leads to inconsistencies and absurdities; or we must make “a simple supposition which explains everything, namely, that the faculty of sensation is a general property of matter, or a product of its organisation.” To d’Alembert’s objection that such a supposition implies a quality which in its essence is incompatible with matter, Diderot retorts:

“And how do you know that the faculty of sensation is essentially incompatible with matter, since you do not know the essence of any thing at all, either of matter, or of sensation? Do you understand the nature of motion any better, its existence in a body, its communication from one body to another?”


“Without knowing the nature of sensation, or that of matter, I see, however, that the faculty of sensation is a simple quality, single, indivisible, and incompatible with a divisible subject or substratum.”


“Metaphysico-theological nonsense! What, do you not see that all qualities of matter, that all its forms accessible to our senses are in their essence indivisible? There cannot be a larger or a smaller degree of impenetrability. There may be half of a round body, but there is no half of roundness. . . . Be a physicist and admit the derivative character of the given effect when you see how it is derived, though you may be unable to explain the relation between the cause and the effect. Be logical and do not replace a cause that exists and explains everything by some other cause which it is impossible to conceive, and the connection of which with the effect is even more difficult to conceive, and which engenders an infinite number of difficulties without solving a single one of them.”


“And what if I abandon this cause?”


“There is only one substance in the universe, in men and in animals. A hand-organ is of wood, man of flesh. A finch is of flesh, and a musician is of flesh, but differently organised; but both are of the same origin, of the same formation, have the same functions and the same purpose.”


“And what establishes the similarity of sounds between your two pianos?”


“. . . The instrument endowed with the faculty of sensation, or the animal, has learned by experience that after a certain sound certain consequences follow outside of it; that other sentient instruments, like itself, or similar animals, approach, recede, demand, offer, wound, caress;—and all these consequences are associated in its memory and in the memory of other animals with the formation of sounds. Mark, in intercourse between people there is nothing beside sounds and actions. And to appreciate all the power of my system, mark again that it is faced with that same insurmountable difficulty which Berkeley adduced against the existence of bodies. There was a moment of insanity when the sentient piano imagined that it was the only piano in the world, and that the whole harmony of the universe resided within it.” [Ibid., Vol. II, pp. 114-18.]

This was written in 1769. And with this we shall conclude our brief historical enquiry. We shall have more than one occasion to meet “the insane piano” and the harmony of the universe residing within man when we come to analyse “recent positivism.”

For the present we shall confine ourselves to one conclusion: the “recent” Machians have not adduced a single argument against the materialists that had not been adduced by Bishop Berkeley.

Let us mention as a curiosity that one of these Machians, Valentinov, vaguely sensing the falsity of his position, has tried to “cover up the traces” of his kinship with Berkeley and has done so in a rather amusing manner. On page 150 of his book we read:

“. . . When those who, speaking of Mach, point to Berkeley, we ask, which Berkeley do they mean? Do they mean the Berkeley who traditionally regards himself [Valentinov wishes to say who is regarded] as a solipsist; the Berkeley who defends the immediate presence and providence of the deity? Generally speaking [?], do they mean Berkeley, the philosophising bishop, the destroyer of atheism, or Berkeley, the thoughtful analyser? With Berkeley the solipsist and preacher of religious metaphysics Mach indeed has nothing in common.”

Valentinov is muddled; he was unable to make clear to himself why he was obliged to defend Berkeley the “thoughtful analyser” and idealist against the materialist Diderot. Diderot drew a clear distinction between the fundamental philosophical trends. Valentinov confuses them, and while doing so very amusingly tries to console us: “We would not consider the ’kinship’ of Mach to the idealist views of Berkeley a philosophical crime,” he says, “even if this actually were the case” (p. 149). To confound two irreconcilable fundamental trends in philosophy—really, what “crime” is that? But that is what the whole wisdom of Mach and Avenarius amounts to. We shall now proceed to an examination of this wisdom.


[1] Vol. I of Works of George Berkeley, edited by A. Fraser, Oxford, 1871. There is a Russian translation. —Lenin

[2] In his preface Fraser insists that both Berkeley and Locke “appeal exclusively to experience” (p. 117). —Lenin

[3] Fr. Engels, “Ueber historischen Materialismus,Neue Zeit,[12] XI. Jg., Bd. I (1892-93), Nr. 1, S. 18. Translated from the English by Engels himself. The Russian translation in Historical Materialism (St. Petersburg, 1908, p. 167) is inaccurate. —Lenin

[4] David Hume, An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding. Essays and Treatises, London, 1882, Vol. II, pp. 124-26. —Lenin

[5] Psychologie de Hume. Traité de la nature humaine, etc. Trad. par Ch. Renouvier et F. Pillon [Hume’s Psycbology. A Treatise of Human Nature, translated by Ch. Renouvier and F. Pillon], Paris, 1878. Introduction, p. x. —Lenin

[6] Th. Huxley, Hume, London, 1879, p. 74. —Lenin

[7] Oeuvres complètes de Diderot, éd. par J. Assézat [Diderot, Complete Works, edited by Assézat], Paris, 1875, Vol. I, p. 304. 7 —Lenin

[8] See K. Marx and F. Engels, Selected Works, Vol. II, Moscow, 1958, pp. 369-70.

[9] See K. Marx and F. Engels, Selected Works, Vol. II, Moscow, 1958, p. 101.

[10] Neo-Kantianism—a reactionary trend in bourgeois philosophy preaching subjective idealism under the slogan of a return to Kantian philosophy. It arose in the middle of the nineteenth century in Germany, where at this time there was an increased interest in Kantianism. In 1865 Otto Liebinann’s book Kant and, the Epigones was published, each chapter ending with the call: “Back to Kant”. Liebmana put forward the task of correcting Kant’s Drain error "—tue recognition of “things-in-themselves”. ’the revival of Kantianism was helped by the wurks of Kuno Fischer and Eduard Zeller, and one of the early representatives of neo-Kantianism was Friedrich Albert Lange who tried to use physiology as a basis for agnosticism.

Later, two main schools of Neo-Kantianism were formed: that of Marburg (I-icrmann Cohen, Paul Natorp, etc.) and that of Freiburg or Baden (Wilhelm XVindelband, 1-leinrich Riekert, etc). The former tried to substantiate idealism by speculating on the successes of natural science, especially on the penetration of mathematical methods into physics; the latter counterposed the social sciences to natural science, trying to prove that historical phenomena are strictly individual and not subject to the operation of any laws. Both schools put the question of the logical basis of science in place of the fundamental question of philosophy. Criticising Kant ’from the right ", the neo-Kantians declared the ’thing-in-itself" to be a “limiting concept” to which knowledge was tending. Denying the objective existence of the material world, they regarded as the object of knowledge not the laws of nature and society, but merely the phenomena of consciousness In contrast to the agnosticism of the natural scientists, that of the neo Kantians was not “shamefaced materialism”, for it asserted the impotence of science in regard to cognition and changes of reality. The neo-Kantians openly attacked Marxism, counterposing to it “ethical socialism”. In accordance with their theory of knowled2e they declared socialism to be the “ethical ideal” of human social existence, an ideal to which mankind was striving but which it could not attain. This “theory” of the neo-Kantians was seized upon by the revisionists, headed by Eduard Bernstein, who put forward the slogan: “The movement is everything, the final goal is nothing”, Neo-Kantianism was one of the philosophical pillars of the Second International. In Russia attempts to "combine neo-Kantianism and Marxism were made by the “legal Marxists” G. V. Plekhanov, Paul Lafargue and Franz Mehring opposed the neo-Kantian revision of Marxism. Lenin laid bare the reactionary nature of neo-Kantianism and showed its connection with other trends of bourgeois philosophy (immanentism, Machism, pragmatism, etc.).

[11] The Encyclopaedists—a group of philosophers natural scientists and publicists of the French Enlightenment hi the eighteenth century who joined in publishing the Encyclopédie ou dictionnaire raisonné des sciences, des arts et des métiers (Encyclopaedia or Es—planotory Dictionary of the Sciences, Arts and Professions) (1751. 80). It was organised and led by Penis Diderot, whose closest assistant was Jean le Rond d ’Alembert. Paul Henri Holbach, Claude Adrien Helvetius and Voltaire actively assisted in publishing the Encyclopaedia and Jean Jacques Rousseau contributed to the first volumes.

[12] Die Neue Zeit (New Times)—the theoretical magazine of the German Social-Democratic Party, published in Stuttgart, 1883- 1923. Until October 1917 it was edited by Karl Kautsky, after that by Heinrich Currow. Several works by Marx and Engels were published for the first time in Neue Zeit, e.g., K. Marx’s Critiquu of the Gotha Programme, F. Engels’ Contribution to the Critique of the Social-Democratic Draft Programme of 1891 and others. Engels constantly helped the editors of the magazine by his advice and often criticised it for allowing departures from Marxism to bc published in it. Contributors to Neue Zeit included outstanding leaders of the German and international workers’ movement at the turn of the century: August Bebel. Wilhelm Liebknecht, Rosa Luxemnburg, Franz Mebring, Clara Zetkin, G. V. Plokhanov, Paul Lafargue and others. From the second half of the nineties onwards, after the death of Engels, the magazine began systematically publishing articles by revisionists including a series of articles by Eduard Bernstein, “Problems of Socialism”, which marked the opening of a campaign of the revisionists against Marxism. During the First World War, the magazine adopted a Centrist position, in effect supporting the social-chauvinists.

The Encyclopaedists were the ideologists of the revolutionary bourgeoisie and they played a decisive part in the ideological preparation for the eighteenth-century bourgeois revolution in France.