Vladimir Ilyich Lenin

Remarks on Books:

Abel Rey.
Modern Philosophy.
Paris, 1908

(Part One)


Written in 1909.
First published in 1933
in Philosophical Notebooks.
Published according
to the original.

Lenin’s Remarks and Notations in Abel Rey’s book “La Philosophie Moderne,” Paris, 1908 (Abel Rey, Modern Philosophy, Paris, 1908) constitute a sequel to the sharp criticism in Materialism and Empirio-Criticism of Rey’s views as expounded in his book La théorie de la physique chez les physiciens contemporains (Modern Physicists, Theory of Physics), Paris, 1907.



PARIS, 1908



[6][1]...Science, the creation of the intellect and
reason, serves only to ensure our effective power

over nature. It only teaches us how to utilise
things, but tells us nothing about their essence....

[7]...Thus my essential task in this study has

been to contrast two points of view: the positive,
“scientific” and the “pragmatic”.
I have tried to
be as impartial as possible in outlining these two


points of view, since I am well aware of a third
and serious danger in this kind of work: that of
not giving one’s adversaries their due. I do not
flatter myself that I have fully achieved my aim.
Such perfect “neutrality” is impossible....


C H A P T E R   I

[28-29]...But contemporary systems of philos-
ophy still oppose one another, battling over a fun-
damental contradiction that arises from the manner
in which the philosophical problem is posed in our
epoch. The form of the antithesis is therefore si-
multaneously the form taken by the succession of
philosophical views at different times and the form
taken by the views existing at the same time.

What, in the present position of the philoso-
phical problem in general, are the possible alterna-
tives? There can be only one, for it is a matter of
keeping science and practice in the closest possible
unity, without sacrificing one to the other, without
opposing one to the other. This means either that
practice will be the consequence of science or, on
the other hand, science will be the consequence
of practice. In the first case, science covers prac-
tice; in the second, practice covers science. It is
a question of preserving a logical connection be-
tween the two terms, and it can only be varied by
reversing them, making the first dependent on the

second, or the second on the first. In the one case
we get rationalistic, intellectualist, and positivist
systems: the dogmatism of science. In the other,
we get systems of pragmatism, fideism
or active
intuition (like that of Bergson): the dogmatism


of action. According to the first systems, one has
to know in order to act: cognition produces action.
According to the second, knowledge follows the
requirements of action: action produces cognition.

It should not be thought that these lattet systems
resurrect contempt for science and the philosophy
of ignorance. It is after serious investigation,
scientific erudition often of the most excellent
kind, after profound critical thinking about sci-
ence, and even through thoroughly “thinking out
this science,” as certain of these philosophers like
to put it, that they arrive at the derivation of

science from practice. If in so doing they belittle
science, it is only indirectly;
for many of them, on


the contrary, believe that they are revealing its
full value....



[33-35]...Let us, however, allow for a moment

that the thesis of pragmatism is correct and that
science is only
a particular art, an appropriate
technique for satisfying certain requirements.
What results from that?

First of all, truth is reduced to an empty word.
A true affirmation appears as the recipe for an
that will prove successful. And since there

V shape with double lines

are several artifices capable of ensuring our success
in the same circumstances, since different individ-
uals have extremely different requirements, we
shall have to accept the pragmatist thesis: all
propositions and arguments which lead us to the
same practical results are of equal value and are
equally true, all ideas which yield practical results
are equally legitimate. From this new meaning
of the word “truth,” it follows that our sciences are
purely contingent and fortuitous structures, that
they could have been totally different and yet
just as true, that is to say, just as suitable as
means of action.


The bankruptcy of science, as a real form of
knowledge, as a source of truth, there you have
the first conclusion
. The legitimacy of other


methods differing considerably from the methods

of intellect and reason, such as mystical feeling,
there you have the second conclusion. It is for


the sake of these conclusions that this entire
philosophy, which to all appearance is crowned
by them, was actually constructed....

What a good argument it is, therefore, to pay
back these powerful thinkers in their own coin!

Scientific truths! But they are only truths in name.
They, too, are beliefs, and beliefs of a lower order,
beliefs that can be utilised only for material action;
they have only the value of a technical instrument.
Belief for the sake of belief, religious dogma,
metaphysical or moral ideology, are far superior.


In any case, they need not be embarrassed
before science, because its privileged position has


Indeed, the bulk of the pragmatist army, in the
face of scientific experience, hastens to rehabilitate
moral experience, metaphysical experience and,
particularly, religious experience. All these types


of experience develop side by side with one another
and can in no way hinder one another, because
they are directed towards different needs, quite
distinct aspects of practice (satisfaction of mate-
rial needs, of moral consciousness or religious
sentiments), and create different values....

[37]...The metaphysicians would not be slow

to take advantage of such a windfall. Besides
restoring religion, pragmatism helps to restore
Since Kant and Comte positivism

during the nineteenth century has invaded almost
the entire sphere of cognition....


[39-40]...Thus, the pragmatist attitude, and
those others which, while not being so philosophi-
cal, original and interesting, lead to similar con-
clusions, always have as their consequence the
rehabilitation of obsolete guiding forms of human
thought which since the middle of the eighteenth
century had been victoriously displaced by scien-
tific positivism: religion, metaphysics, moral dog-
matism i.e., basically social authoritarianism.

That is why it is one of the two poles, between which

all contemporary thinking, all contemporary phi-
losophy, vacillates. It is the pole of dogmatic
reaction, of the spirit of authority in all its forms.
This attitude is the more dangerous since it is at
first presented, by its greatest adherents too, as
the boldest and latest revolt of the free spirit,
a revolt against the only barrier still remaining
and which hitherto served as a lever for overthrow-
ing all the rest: science and scientific truth.

On the other hand, the opposite pole of modern
philosophical thought, the purely scientific atti-
tude—since in making practice the consequence
of knowledge it subordinates everything to sci-
ence—is characterised above all by an endeavour
towards emancipation and liberation. It is here
that one finds the innovators. They are the inheri-
tors of the Renaissance spirit; their fathers and
direct teachers are especially the philosophers and
scientists of the eighteenth century, the great
century of liberation, of which Mach so truly said:
“He who, if only through books, has had the
opportunity of participating in this upsurge and
liberation, will throughout his life preserve a

feeling of melancholy regret for the eighteenth
century.” For thinkers of this type a truth exists


which, if not immutable, is one that can continual-
ly be approached. It cannot be reached except by
scientific methods, and it cannot be found any-
where outside science; truth, science are the neces-
sary and sufficient conditions for all human activ-



[48-49]...It is a matter of its [science’s] objective
Some will think that it is insufficient

to exhaust the reality which comprises its object,
even though they admit, from a certain viewpoint,
that it is necessary....


C H A P T E R   II

[55]...But is not the elimination of all empirical
element also an unattainable limit? The mathema-
tician, the rationalists note, could continue to
increase the wealth of his science even if the ma-

terial world were suddenly annihilated. Yes,
undoubtedly, if it were annihilated now, but
could he create mathematics if the material world
had never existed?...


[61]...Bergson, who perhaps more than any
other helped to propagate these ideas in philoso-
phical literature, would not accept without reserva-
tion the word “artifice”. He believes that science
is greater and higher than merely an artifice, in

relation to matter. But for him matter is not true
it is reality that is diminished, regressive
and dead. And in relation to true reality, which
is living, spiritual and creative, mathematics and
science as a whole can hardly have more than an
artificial and symbolical character. In any case,

V shape with double lines

the fact remains that it was for action on matter,
and not for cognition of its essence, that mathema-
tics was created by the intellect, that first instru-
ment forged under the pressure of practical require-
ments in relation to matter....


[62]...ls it not mathematics which, of all the
sciences, has in our day most strongly inclined
certain minds towards pragmatism, and towards
that sophistry of pragmatism, namely scientific
? In point of fact, it is in mathematics

that we feel furthest from the concrete and real,
nearest to the arbitrary playing with formulas
and symbols, so abstract that it appears empty....

[62-63]...All the truths, more relative and less
exact, which other sciences try to express mathe-
matically and with which they endeavour to
supplement mathematics, gravitate towards this
absolute, as planets to the sun.



[65]...The rigid and homogeneous space of
geometry is not sufficient; the mobile and hetero-
geneous space of physics is required. The universal
mechanism of nature does not signify that matter
contains nothing but geometry; According to

modern hypotheses, it can signify that there also
exists the release or transformation of energy or
the movement of electrical masses....


[74]...It is, in the first place, incontestable that
reason, no matter how disinterested, has a utilitar-
ian function. Scientists are neither mandarins nor
dilettantes. And pragmatism is not wrong in em-
phasising the usefulness of reason, its pre-eminent
usefulness. Only, has it the right to assert that
reason has only a utilitarian function? Cannot
the rationalists reply very plausibly that the use-
fulness of reason results only from the fact that,

in deducing propositions from propositions, it
simultaneously deduces from one another the
relations between the facts of nature?
It thus allows


us to act on these facts; not that this is its aim,
but this follows from it. Logic and the science of
quantity created by the mind, insofar as it simply
analyses the relations it perceives, extend their
power to things themselves because quantitative
relations are simultaneously the laws of things,
and of the mind. If to know is to be able, then it
is not, as the pragmatists think, because science
was created by our practical requirements and for
their sake, so that reason is of no value apart from

its usefulness, but because our reason, in learning
to cognise things, provides us with the means for
acting on them....


[75-76]...The great mathematician, Poincaré,[2]

insists particularly on this arbitrary nature of


Of course, our mathematics fully corresponds
to reality, in the sense that it is adapted to the
symbolic expression of certain relations of the
real; strictly speaking, it was not prompted by
experience; experience merely gave the mind the
occasion for creating it. But, our mathematics,
as it gradually became constituted for conveniently
expressing what we needed to express, is only one
of the infinitely numerous possible mathematics or,
rather, a particular case of some much more general
mathematics which the mathematicians of the
nineteenth century have tried to attain. Having
got this clearly in mind, we at once realised that
mathematics, by its essence and nature, is abso-
lutely independent of its application in experience

and, consequently, absolutely independent of
It is the free creation of the mind, the
most striking manifestation of its own creative

Axioms, postulates, definitions, conventions are,
in essence, synonymous terms. Therefore, every


imaginable mathematics can lead to conclusions
which, when properly expressed by a suitable
system of conventions, would permit us to discover
absolutely identical applications to. the real....

[77-79]...This theory is a good criticism of
absolute rationalism and even of the attenuated
rationalism of Kant. it shows us that it was not
inevitably necessary for the mind to have elaborat-
ed just that mathematics which is so well adapted
for describing our experience; in other words,
mathematics is not the expression of a universal
law of reality, whether our conception of reality
(of the kind that is given us, of course) is the Carte-
sian, Kantian or some other. But Poincaré pre-

sents this conclusion in quite a different way from
that of pragmatism


Some pragmatists, and even all the commenta-
on Poincaré that I have had occasion to read,
seem to me to have very largely failed to under-
his theory. We have here an excellent exam-
ple of distortion by interpretation. They have
made of Poincaré
on this point as also on others,
where their error is still greater—a pragmatist
without the name.
But who can fail to see that
true pragmatism makes mathematics indirectly
dependent upon experience? It is a decree of the
mind, as with Poincaré, but a decree of the mind
directed towards practical action, the free will
of active thought, as the new philosophy conceives
it. For the pragmatist there is no purely contem-
plative and disinterested thought; there is no
pure reason. There is only thought which desires
to understand things and to this end alters the
representation that it makes of them, for its great-
est convenience. Science and reason are the ser-

vants of practice. For Poincaré, on the other hand,
thought has to he taken to a certain degree in the
Aristotelian sense of the word. Thought thinks,
reason reasons, for its own satisfaction; and then,
over and above this, it turns out that certain
results of its inexhaustible creative power can be
useful to us for other ends than purely spiritual


But, in that case, practice is the servant of
science and reason, which go far beyond the bounds
of usefulness. “Thought is only lightning, but this
lightning is everything.”[3]

One may not fully accept Poincaré’s theory;
but it should not be distorted in order to invoke

its authority. Insufficient attention has been paid
to its connection with Kantianism
, from which it

Poincaré and

fully borrows the theory of synthetic judgements
a priori, with the proviso (and it is here that
Kant’s rationalism seems to Poincaré too rigid)
that these synthetic judgements a priori, on which
our mathematics (Euclidean) rests, are not to be
considered the only possible and necessary postu-
lates of rational mathematics....



[80]...Does Poincaré’s theory assign to expe-
rience the role which seems to be its due? Strange!

I would like to tell the pragmatists, who have con-
stantly enlisted it for their own ends
and used


its author’s name like an artillery piece, that
I find very little of the pragmatic in it....



[87]...And if science then develops thanks to its
material usefulness, it should not be forgotten that
only owing to its intellectual usefulness and the
disinterested satisfaction of the mind that desires
to cognise things did it free itself at the outset
from a crude empiricism in order to become true

science. It first enables us to cognise reality, prior
to allowing us to act on it. And it is necessary that
it should first enable us to cognise in order later
to allow us to act....


[90-91]...Does this not give us a valuable indica-
tion of the nature and scope of logic and rational
thought, of which mathematics has always been
considered the pure emanation? And perhaps, also,
of the nature and scope of reason? Here we are

not far from the thought of Mach, who was also
frequently made out to be a pragmatist without
the name.


He seems to us to be much closer to rationalism,
in the sense which,in our opinion, should henceforth
be put into that term
—a rationalism which by

no means excludes a psychological history of reason
with its opportunities and temporary contingencies
and, above all, does not in any way belittle the
role of experience; reason being only codified ex-
perience and, reciprocally, the necessary and uni-
versal code of every kind of experience, taking into
account simultaneously both the moment of evolu-
tion and the psychological organisation of man....

[93-94]...Hence one sees that reason, subjected
to abstract analysis in the consciousness of the
rational being, is capable, with the help of the
principles discovered in it and the ideal develop-
ment of these principles, of agreeing with the
laws of the environment and expressing them.
One sees, further, that, given what we are and
what the environment is, reason cannot be different
from what it is: it is then, as the rationalists claim,
necessary and universal. In a certain sense, it is

even absolute, but not in the sense that this word
is understood by traditional rationalism. For this
latter it means that things exist as reason conceives

them. From our point of view, on the contrary,
we do not know how things exist in themselves,
and to this extent Kantian or positivist relativism
has its raison d’être.
But we have the right to say


that if, in a being of a totally different constitu-
tion, the needs of evolution had established a con-
formity with the environment different from our
own (since one of the two factors of which it is
the product would be different), one would always
be able to establish a system of translation that
would make these two kinds of conformity coincide
with each other. There is nothing absurd in this
hypothesis, because to a certain degree this should
occur between domestic animals and ourselves....


[95-96]...Number and extension, despite their
abstractness, arise from the nature of the real


because reality is multiplicity and extension, and
because relations in space are real relations arising
from the nature of things


In that case, does it not appear that extremely
important conclusions could be deduced from these
initial propositions? Scientific abstraction was
often considered synonymous with non-reality.
Increased abstractness would then signify con-
tinual movement beyond the limits of the real,
further and further removal from it. Is that cor-

Mathematics, in progressively moving away
from sensuous space in order to rise to geometrical
space, does not become removed from real space,
i.e., from the real relations between things. Rather
does it come closer to them.
According to the data
of modern psychology, each of our senses seems
to give us extension and duration (i.e., definite
connections and relations of the real) in its own
. Perception begins to eliminate this subjec-
tivity which depends on the individual or on
accidental peculiarities of the structure of the
species: it builds up a homogeneous and uniform
space, as well as a uniform duration—those syn-
theses of all our various sensuous notions of space.

Why should not scientific work pursue this progress
towards objectivity
? In any case, its strictness, its


exactitude, its universality (or its necessity, they
are one and the same) are so many arguments in
favour of the objectivity of its results
. Consequently
number, order and extension, in spite of our critical
and subjective habits of thought, can he regarded
as properties of things, i.e., real relations;—the
more real because science has gradually freed them
from the individual and subjective distortions,
with which they were originally presented to us
in concrete and immediate sensations. Should
we not, therefore, rightly consider that what re-
mains after all these abstractions is the real and
permanent content, which imposes itself on every

species with equal necessity, for it depends neither
on the individual nor the moment of time, nor
the point of view


[97]...Psychology, for its part, teaches that all our
sensations (which are the direct and ultimate data
of experience
) possess one property: extensiveness

sensation =
the ultimate

or extension. This property is totally unlike
geometrical extension, particularly if we consider
the sensations that affect us most....

[98]...Geometrical space is the result of an
abstract interpretation of optical space, which
de-individualises, generalises, and makes more
manageable for the mind the relations implied by

this optical space. We would willingly supplement


Mach’s thought by saying that the aim of this
operation has been to give these relations their
most exact and precise expression, a universal

Mach +

and necessary expression, hence their objective
expression. Thus geometrical space is the outcome


of an evolution, which has made our thought
increasingly better adapted to certain properties
of the environment. This was a prolonged and con-
tinuous experience, the success of which has cons-
tantly strengthened certain habits of thought that
have become the principles of our geometry....

[100]...Thus, what mathematics teaches us are
the relations between things from the point of view
of order, number and extension

By analysing the real relations that exist be-
tween things, our mind naturally acquires the
capacity to form similar relations from them,
thanks to associations by resemblance. It can,
therefore, also imagine combinations which are
not found in reality; basing itself on those which

are found in it. After having formed conceptions
that are copies of the real
, we can form ideas
that are models, as Taine says, in a slightly different




[103-105]...Absolute rationalism would seem
to have sufficiently good grounds for asserting, by
a kind of idealist realism, that the laws of reason
coincide with the laws of things. But is it not at
all wrong in separating reason from things, and
in thinking that reason by itself alone, in splendid

isolation, obtains cognition of the laws that govern
things? It would have to be admitted, then, that


by virtue of some sort of agreement or miraculous
grace, we possess intuitive knowledge of these
laws or at least a germ of it. Revived in this way,
the Platonic myth of reminiscence seems to be an
extremely gratuitous and extremely uneconomical


Yes, the analysis of reason becomes co-extens-
ive with the analysis of nature
. Yes, mathematics,
in being concerned with the former, is at the same
time concerned with the latter,
or, if you prefer,


provides some of the elements necessary for the
latter. But is it not simpler to suppose that this
is because our psychological activity is gradually
formed through adaptation to the environment and
to the practical conditions in which it has to be

Hence, despite very great differences between
absolute rationalism and the theory outlined here
on the question of genesis and history, we reach,
on the other hand, very similar conclusions on the

question of the value and scope of mathematics: this
value and this scope are absolute, in the human
sense of the word.
As regards the superhuman sense


and a transcendental point of view, I confess that
I have not yet unearthed the secret of it, and am

very little concerned to do so. The possibility
of attaining human understanding of things and
of translating them truthfully into human language
is enough for me....

Is not this conclusion superficial and too petty?

In my view, pragmatism goes to the other extreme,
diametrically opposed to that of traditional ration-
. The latter took the end point for the point


of departure and transferred the properties of the
result to the beginning. Pragmatism, on the con-
trary, approximates the end point to the point of
departure to the extent of confusing the two and
ascribes to the result the properties of the beginning.
Is it not more rational to think that mathematics,
after emerging from a utilitarian anthropomor-
phism, gradually burst through the subjective
limits of this initial horizon? By constantly improv-

ing its analysis, it arrived at certain real, objective
universal and necessary relations of things.


[107]...It has its foundation in the nature of
, just like our reason and our logic, of which


it is a particular application and which are
basically formed in a similar fashion.

It does not matter what path has been taken
to arrive at reality if, by investigating it more
and more closely, we finally envelop it from all


[l09-110]...First of all, after the failures of the
“physicist” philosophers, the great philosophical

tradition of the Greeks, headed by the Eleatics
and Plato throws doubt on the very existence of


matter. Matter is only appearance or, at any
rate, the barest minimum of existence; the science
of material things, in its turn, can only be a purely
relative science, and there is no true science but
that of spiritual things. Thus the problem of matter
begins to be solved by suppressing the problem
itself. Matter can only exist as the indefinable
boundary of the mind and as a function of the

mind, and everything relating to matter is of
a lower order....


[111]...Thus disputes about the reality of the
external world,
idealism, spiritualism, material-
ism, mechanism, dynamism, increasingly appear


to be an outdated and sterile game which must
be left to classic philosophy, understanding this
expression in the sense in which Taine did, philos-
ophy for the classroom....


[113]...Vulgar materialism borrows from it
[physics] all that is basic, as well as all that is
exaggerated and monstrous in it.
What a lucky
chance for the religious spirit, if it can show that


physics knows nothing about the things on which
it allows us to act, and that its explanations are
not explanations at all!


In point of fact, at the time when this philo-
sophical hope was horn and growing strong in the
minds of educated and sincere believers, every-

thing in physics seemed destined to justify and
realise it


[114]...The new physics, energetistic physics,
come into opposition with this traditional mecha-

nistic physics. Come into opposition”—is this
phrase quite correct? As regards a large number of
physicists, one would be tempted to say, rather:
“is used interchangeably” (according to the case
in hand) with the mechanistic method.


[115-116] Indeed, energy is nothing but the
to perform work, it is a mechanical concept
and can always be measured mechanically, i.e.,


with the aid of motion and the science of motion.
Helmholtz, Gibbs and many others by no means
broke with the mechanistic tradition when they
added to mechanics the next chapter, generalising
it in its application to physical realities. They

wished for nothing more, and in fact they did
nothing more than correct and further develop
mechanical conception in line
with the progress


of physics, as had always been done since the time
of Galileo and Descartes. Side by side with the
principles of mechanics and within the mechanical
interpretation of reality, they put forward the
principle of the conservation of force or of energy,
the principle of Carnot and the principle of least
action, one which had already played an important
role since the time of Maupertuis.

Thus, the word “energetics” has primarily the
meaning which makes it part of the science of
physics, as recognised by all scientists. Let us add
that in France this part of physics is more usually
called thermodynamics, and although, etymological-
ly, this word has too restricted a meaning for the

content implied by it, it has the advantage of elim-
inating all the misunderstandings caused by the
other uses of the word “energetics.”


The second use of this word relates not to a part
of physics, but to a general theory of physics as
a whole....

[117]...This law was not incompatible with
the mechanical conception. The latter had good
reasons for claiming that the different manifesta-
tions of energy were basically only different

appearances caused by one and the same basic


[120-122]...But if everything can be reduced to
the principles of classical mechanics, then, in the
opinion of the energeticists there was no explana-
tion for this increasing waste of force, this diminu-
tion of usable energy. Nature ought to be capable
of going back, as it were, and endlessly recommenc-
ing the same cycle of transformations; for classical
mechanics is essentially the science of reversible
transformations, for which time is of no account,
and which, like happy peoples, have no history.
In reality, however, the systems would be no hap-
pier than peoples. They would all the same have
a history. That is why certain physicists have
refused to regard physics simply as the continua-
tion of classical mechanics. They have wanted to
throw off the yoke of tradition, finding it, like all
good revolutionaries, too narrow and too tyranni-
cal. Hence the trivial criticism and later the revi-
sion of the basic principles of mechanics. From
these efforts there arose a new conception of physics,
perhaps not so much in opposition to the former,
as was sometimes asserted, but in any case con-
taining profound modifications.

In general it can be said that, finding classical
mechanics to he an insufficient basis for physics,

the latter has ceased to see in physical phenomena
that which
until then was always seen in them:
the various kinds of motion, forming precisely
the science of classical mechanics. Until then, to


explain a physical phenomenon, to study it, meant
reducing it to forms of motion: the motion of

material masses, of atoms, or vibrations of the
universal transmitting medium—the ether
. Thus,


every physical explanation could be represented
diagrammatically with the aid of the geometry
of motion.


The new conception, which, it was proposed,
should replace the former, consisted in the first
place in the absolute rejection
of all the figurative
representations, of those “mechanical models,”
as the English say, without which at one time there

Crossed parentheses

was no real physics. Mach severely accuses them
of being nothing but “mythology
.” Like all mythol-
ogy, it is childish; it could be useful when we did
not know how to look at things directly; but he
who can walk without crutches is not likely to

make use of them. Let us throw away the crutches
of atomism and vortices in the ether.


reached the age of maturity, physics no longer
has need of crude images for worshipping its gods.
The ahstract language of mathematics is alone
capable of suitably expressing the results of expe-
rience. It alone will be able to tell us what actually
is, without adding and concealing anything, with
the strictest accuracy. Magnitudes, defined algeb-
raically and not geometrically, and even less
mechanically, numerical variations measured with
the aid of a conventional scale, and no longer
perceptible changes measured by displacements
in space in relation to a local origin—there you
have the materials of the new physics: conceptual

physics in opposition to mechanistic or figurative


[123]...This new general theory of physics,
which Rankin already had in mind in 1855, was

elaborated particularly by Mach, Ostwald and


Duhem. “The aim of every science is to replace
experience by the shortest possible operations

of the mind,” says Mach; this formula could be
the motto of scientific energetics....


[127]...It is clear how philosophy, desiring to

silence the arguments drawn from science against
certain particular dogmas and against the religious
standpoint in general, could use this ingenious
Do you put forward certain physical


truths in opposition to certain beliefs? Well, the
new physics desires only one thing, to return to the
ideas of the great epoch of faith.
After the stormy
onslaught of three centuries, it returns, like a new
prodigal son, to the paternal bosom of the most
orthodox Thomism.

What is the most serious of all is that a scientist
renowned for the mathematical precision and ele-
gance of his works, particularly known for his
active propagation of the new physics, for the
limpid, admirably French form in which he has
expounded it, and for his splendid generalisations
in the sphere of energetistic mechanics—this scien-

tist himself considered it possible to align himself
with this philosophical interpretation of the new
scientific theories. We refer to Duhem.
Of course,


in doing so he has tried carefully to draw a strict
line between his scientific and his metaphysical

[130]...Developing this point of view, the new
philosophy could almost immediately deduce from
the contemporary attempts at reforming physics
the purely descriptive character of this physics,
which made no pretence of explaining anything.

And this played into the hands of “fideism.” Science


is powerless to go beyond the limit of qualities;
therefore it has to restrict itself to describing them.
It has to be a simple analysis of sensations, to use
Mach’s expression which, however, our new philos-
ophy fears to borrow from him in its true sense,
which is of a completely “scientific-like” character.

[131-134]...In contemporary literature, one can
quite often encounter ideas of this kind in exposi-

tions varying considerably in quality: |the sciences
of matter tell us nothing about the real, for matter,
as they understand it, matter itself, in the popular
sense of the word, does not exist
. Simple, everyday


perception already distorts external reality. It
builds it up wholly according to the requirements
of our activity. Science then further processes
these raw materials. What it shows us under the
name of matter is only a rough scheme in which
all the living wealth of the real is lost through the
sieve of scientific laws, or a heterogeneous mixture
of abstract elements, arbitrarily isolated or com-
bined, and entirely fabricated by us. Thus the
road lies open for justifying the most mystical
forms of idealism

Without dwelling on these extreme misconcep-
tions one can nevertheless note that even among
serious and well-informed thinkers there remains

a tendency to apply to the physical sciences a crit-
icism analogous to that which Poincaré


to the mathematical sciences, despite the energetic
protestations of Poincaré himself. From this point
of view physics, like mathematics, is a symbolic
, intended simply to make things more
intelligible, by making them simpler and clearer,
more communicable and, above all, more flexible
in practice. To make something intelligible evi-
dently means systematically to distort and alter
the ideas we obtain directly from reality, in order
to be able to make better use of the latter for
satisfying our needs.


Intelligibility, rationality have nothing to do
with the nature of things.
They are merely instru-


ments of action. Moreover, every new discovery
seems to directly contradict our reason, for it
upsets our old habits. The mind has to adapt itself
to it (just as the body first has to learn to ride
a bicycle), for the new law in its turn to appear
to us as rational, arising from our apparent need
of intelligibility. We grossly deceive ourselves
when we think that this arbitrary symbolism
teaches us anything that could satisfy our pure
curiosity, our need for disinterested knowledge.
For knowledge, for cognition in the full sense of
the word, it is necessary to turn elsewhere....


Although the attitude of the vast majority of
physicists to this interpretation of physical science
has been one of silence or contempt, it cannot be


disregarded by philosophical criticism. Though
scientists have the right to say: the dogs bark,
the caravan goes on,
philosophical criticism which
is necessarily interested in the social and educa-
tional significance of doctrines, is compelled to
stop and take notice.


[136-138]...The majority of the adherents of the
new philosophy have addressed themselves exclu-
sively to the scientists, supporters of energetistic
physics and resolute opponents of mechanistic
But among physicists, the extreme sup-


porters of energetistic physics are altogether a small
In the main, physicists continue to be
of course, they are changing their
mechanical conceptions in order to bring them
into accord with the nexv discoveries, for they are


not scholastics. But they always seek to depict
and explain physical phenomena with the aid of
movements open to sensuous perception.

On the other hand, it should not be forgotten
that, while energetics has produced a number of

elegant theories and expositions, almost all the
great discoveries of recent times are due to mecha-
nistic physicists
and are connected with attempts
to present a picture of the material structure of
phenomena. It is worth giving some thought to
this circumstance.


In order to provide theoretical physics with
geometrical rigour, energetics decided to make it

simply a more concise and economically-worded
exposition of experimental data; but can the
theory of physics be reduced to a mere instrument
of economically-worded exposition?
Can it totally


ban hypotheses from a science that has always been
made fertile by hypotheses? Should it not con-
stantly orientate itself for the discovery of the real
with the help of theories which, like the mechanis-
tic theories, are always anticipations of experience,
attempts to obtain a clear idea of the real?

Does it not follow then that to construct the
philosophy of physics by relying exclusively on
purely energetistic physics amounts to a peculiar
narrowing of the basis on which this philosophy

should be built? The new philosophy in essence
turns for confirmation of its ideas only to those
who can be well disposed towards it, and tbey are
only a small minority. This is a convenient ruse,
but a ruse nevertheless.


Besides, are they a vourably inclined towards
it as it imagines?

This is more than doubtful. Almost all the
scientists appealed to by pragmatism or so-called
nominalism have made serious reservations, includ-
ing Poincaré. Let us now turn to them.


[138]...Thus, physics is a science of the real,
and even if it seeks to express this reality in a “con-
venient” fashion, it is nevertheless always reality
that it expresses. The “convenience” is only in the
means of expression.
What is concealed behind
these means of expression which the mind can
vary in searching always for the most convenient,
is the “necessity” of the laws of nature. This neces-

sity is not arbitrarily decreed by the mind. On the
contrary, it constrains the mind, confines its
of expression within narrow limits. Within
the limits close to the approximations of experi-

ence, and the small differences which physical phe-
nomena, governed by one and the same law, retain
because they are never identical, but only very

similar—within these limits the law of nature is
dictated to us from outside and by things them-
selves: it expresses a real relation between things

[139]...Duhem will say, too, that one should

not take the experience of the physicist as a copy
of reality.
Every physical experiment consists of
measurements, and these measurements presuppose


a multitude of conventions and theories....

[140]...Duhem will never deny this truth to the
propositions of physics: they are the description of
reality. Moreover, physical theory is not only an
exact description of the real, it is a well-arranged
description, for it always strives for a natural
classification of physical phenomena—a natural

classification, hence one which reproduces the
order of nature. No dogmatist, whether Descartes,
Newton or Hegel, has ever demanded more....


[141]...Moreover, even if the latter [Dubem]

believes in the necessity for metaphysics side by
side with science, then why does be adhere to
Thomist metaphysics?
Because it seems to him

that it is in better agreement with the results of
physical science....


[142-143]...Ostwald’s “scientism” is very close
to that of the great Viennese mechanist, Mach,

who on these grounds even refuses to be called


a philosopher.


Sensation is absolute. Through our sensations
we cognise reality.
But science is the analysis of our


sensations. To analyse sensations is to discover
the exact relations between them, in short, to

discover the order of nature, giving this expression
its most objective sense
, for the order of nature is


nothing but the order of our sensations....

[144]...In the criticisms of Mach by the rational-
ists, he was sometimes reproached for a tendency
towards pragmatism.
He was accused of sceptical
Is it because this brilliant historian
of science often traces for us its humble beginnings


in the primitive arts of our ancestors? After all,
these were only a first attempt at adaptation. To
give it a precise evaluation, it is necessary to take
a look at the result, at the final point reached.
Or is it because his biological theory of science
makes truth into human truth? But human truth
remains truth; moreover, it is the only truth for
man. Sensation is evidently something human.

Nevertheless it is the absolute, and human truth

is absolute truth, because for man it is the whole
truth and the only truth, the necessary truth. The
properties of man and the universe being what they
are, it is based on the nature of things. It is, in
human terms, the cognition of everything that

[147]...It is possible to imagine the existence of
microbes even though they were invisible up to

the moment when some reagent reveals them. Why
then should we not have the right to imagine
matter as having a certain structure, which expe-
rience will some day reveal


[148]...In that case what is the sense of the cam-
paign begun by Brunetière and continued by reli-
gious-minded people,
who were certainly sincere
but who desired to destroy everything that could
be a stumbling-block; a campaign which, if it
did not lead to pragmatism, at any rate led to some
definite form of pragmatism?...

[149-150]...Just as in mathematics we use terms
of order, number and extension to denote certain
groups of relations on which our sensations depend,
and just as mathematics takes these relations for

its subject, so, further, we denote by the extremely
general name of “matter” a very large number of
—far more complex—on which our sensa-
tions also depend.
Physics makes a study of these


relations. This is all we wish to express when we
say that physics is the science of matter....

[152]...To many people it might seem natural
that physics should have as its subject the elements
capable of entering into these relations and giving
them a real content, and filling them up as it were.
This was Spencer’s idea in his classification of the
sciences. However, this idea cannot be considered
a happy one. We register the elements of reality
directly, immediately, just as they are, and as they
cannot help being.

Their existence requires no justification. One
cannot ask whether it is possible for them to be

other than they are. To assert that would mean
restoring the old metaphysical idol of the thing-in-
itself, i.e., in essence, idle verbalism in one form
or another. Experience should be simply accepted.
It is its own justification, because in the scientific
sphere it is for the positive mind the justification
of every proposition.

The es-
sence of

[154-155]...Is then agnostic criticism of science

correct? And is there a thing-in-itself which is out
of the reach of science?
etc., etc. Here, surely, we
have metaphysics and its inevitable playing with
words! Let us try
to see clearly into this matter.

If the relative signifies something that deals with
relations, then physics is relative. But if the relative
means something that has not penetrated to the


basis of things, then physics, as we understand it,
is not relative, but absolute, because the basis
of things, that at which analysis inevitably ar-
rives in order to explain them, consists of relations
or, rather, the system of relations on which our

sensations depend. Sensations, the given, are
permeated with subjectivity:
these fleeting, lightn-
ing flashes are what they are made by a system
of relations which will probably never be repeated
in exactly the same form and which determines
my state and the state of the environment at the
moment under consideration. But here the scientist
steps in to separate out the universal which is part
of the composition of the individual moment,

V shape with two S's

those laws of which it is the complex expression,
those relations which made it what it is.

All scientific laws in effect tell us why and how
the given thing is what it is, by what it was condi-
tioned and created, because they analyse the rela-
tions on which it depends. And they will reveal

to us absolute human truth,[4] when this analysis


has been completed, if ever it can be.


[156-157]...All the relations on which the trans-
formation and reduction, the diffusion or dispersion
of energy, depend are grouped in the general
physical theory called energetics.

This theory tells us nothing about the nature of
the energies considered
and, consequently, about
the nature of physico-chemical phenomena. It
simply describes how, at the expense of what, and


in what direction, physical or chemical changes
of the state of a given body take place.

The energeticists claim that it is not possible
to go further, that energetics gives us the complete,
necessary and sufficient explanation of material
phenomena, that is to say, the sum-total of the

relations on which they depend. In order to give
more objectivity to their view, some even raise
energy to a sort of substance
which is alleged to be
the true material substance, the real and acting
cause of all our sensations, the model according
to which we should
build our idea of nature.

an amusing
fellow, this

Here energy takes the, place of the corpuscles
of the atomic theories. It plays the same role and
has the same kind of existence: it is the basis
of things, their final nature, the absolute.
ing to Ostwald, for example, the description of the
transformations of energy gives us absolute knowl-
edge of the material universe. “When you are
struck with a stick, what do you feel: the stick
or its energy?” Energy—that is the substantial
reality which lurks beneath all material phenom-


[158]...The mechanists claim, on the other hand,
that it is possible to proceed further.
in their opinion, remains as it were on the surface
of things, but its laws should either be reduceable
to other, more profound, laws
or, at any rate,
supplement them, by presuming their existence.

versus ener-
getics. NB.
Plus loin[5]
than mate-
(p. 157) ener-

As already said, the vast majority of physicists,
and particularly the experimental physicists to
whom physics owes its latest successes, belong to
the mechanistic school.


The supporters of this school criticise in the
first place the conception of energy and show that
one cannot raise it, as some people do, to a physical
or metaphysical entity.

The energy of a system signifies only the capa-
city of the system to perform work: potential
when it does not result in detectable work, actual
or kinetic in the opposite case. Consequently, the
concept of energy is co-relative with the concept

of work, which is a mechanical concept. Hence,
it does not seem possible to represent energy exper-
imentally without turning to mechanics and
motion. But, in that case, to provide an intelligible

explanation of physico-chemical phenomena, should
not energetics be joined with mechanics, be estab-
lished as its continuation and, consequently, be
reconciled with the consideration of mechanical

[159-161]...From this point of view, mechanics,
physics and chemistry form a vast theoretical
system, and mechanics represents the fundamental

basis of this system, just as motion is the ultimate
essence of physico-chemical phenomena.


Of course, modern mechanists no longer claim
that the mechanics of today, any more than the
laws governing transformations of energy, have
reached their final form, that science has found
its unshakable foundation. Having encountered

the criticism of the energeticists—and that is one
of the advances which modern physics certainly
owes to it—they abandoned the rather narrow
dogmatism of the old mechanistic and atomic
They think that the new discoveries should

broaden the scientific horizon and introduce cons-
tant changes in the idea of the external world.
Have we not been witnessing during the last fifty
years the reconstruction, almost the overthrow,
of classical mechanics? The old framework was
smashed first of all by the principle of the conserva-
tion of energy (Helmholtz) and Carnot’s principle.
The phenomena of radioactivity, which allowed
us to penetrate more deeply into the nature of the
led to the idea of the possibility of an electri-

cal structure of matter and of the necessity of sup-
plementing the principles of classical mechanics by
those of electro-magnetism.


Indeed, the mechanistic viewpoint now tends

to adopt the form which is termed the electron
theory. Electrons are the ultimate elements of
all physical reality. Simple electrical charges,
or else modifications of the ether, symmetrically

The electron
theory =

distributed around one point, by virtue of the laws
of the electro-magnetic field, perfectly represent
inertia, i.e., the basic property of matter. The
latter, therefore, is nothing but a system of elec-
trons. Depending on the nature of the modifica-
tions of the ether (modifications as yet unknown)
electrons are positive or negative; a material atom
consists of an equal quantity of each of them, or
at least possesses positive and negative charges
of equal size, the positive charge apparently
occupying the centre of the system. The negative

electrons, or perhaps only part of them, revolve
round the remainder like planets round the sun.

Thus, molecular and atomic forces are only mani-
festations of the movement of electrons, just like
the various forms of energy (light, electricity,


Hence, the remarkable conclusion: the concept
of the conservation of mass (or of the quantity
of matter), which, together with the concept of
inertia, formed the basis of mechanics, cannot,
apparently, be retained in electro-magnetic mechan-

ics: gravitational mass remains constant only
at moderate velocities
, less than one-tenth of that

of light; but, being a function of velocity, it
increases together with it, and the more rapidly

the closer we approach the velocity of light.
This hypothesis presupposes either the existence
of various electrical charges and the ether, or the
ether alone, of which the electron is only a modifi-

Finally, at the present time, the works of
Dr. Le Bon[6] and certain English physicists lead
us, apparently, to the conclusion that neither
the quantity of matter nor even the quantity of
energy remains constant. They are both only
relations depending on the state of the ether and on
its motion.[7]

[163-171]...Today nothing remains, nor should
anything remain, of this idea. We have arrived

at the diametrically opposite viewpoint. All
physicists are prepared to revise the fundamental
principles of their science or to restrict their
as soon as new experimental data

provide the necessary motive for doing so.

The experimental method consists in rising
from particular facts to general laws, and from
the latter to still more general laws, constantly
deepening the nature of the given thing by this
ascending movement. It deduces particular laws
from general laws in its systematising theories only
to the extent that it encounters these general laws
on its path; and it encounters them by means of
particular experiments and by hypotheses which
these experiments are called upon to ver-

But should it be concluded from this that

physicists thereby abandon the hope of arriving
at basic principles and increasingly deep-seated
that will explain and embrace an ever


greater part of the given thing? Such a conclusion,
even though it opposes the mistake of the ancient
mechanists, would he a no less dangerous error.

The present-day spirit of the physico-chemical
sciences, the scientific modern spirit, is not such
as to retreat before the unknown. It advances
more and more boldly towards conquest of it,
but by increasingly reliable methods. The stability
of the principles of physics will be assured only
at the end of the task. That is why we are witness-
ing today, and will witness more than once
again, so many revolutions produced in former,
or in future, ideas by the unforeseen discoveries
which have already thrown light on the path or

are destined to do so in the future. Progressive
physicists, as we have seen, are no longer frightened
by doubt being cast on the principles of the
conservation of mass or of gravitational



Truth is not given ready-made; every day
something more is added to it. That is the con-
clusion which should be constantly repeated.
Thanks to scientific work, our mind daily becomes

Agnosticism =

adapted more closely to its subject, penetrating
more deeply into it.
The assertions which we

believed we could put forward after studying the
mathematical sciences present themselves here,
too, in an almost necessary way, and at least
in a very natural way. Every moment scientific
progress establishes between things and ourselves
a conformity which is at once closer and deeper.

We are comprehending more and better. And we
invariably see that a result established by scien-
tific experiment, i.e., carried through methodically,
may no longer, in the light of new results, have
the same degree of importance but yet continues
to exist by itself, intact and indelible, eternal
as truth, for it is a truth. He who would claim
that this effort is fruitless, or that it will always
be only strictly limited, is very daring and is
refuted in advance by everything that the history
of science reveals to us.

The dispute between energeticists and mecha-
a dispute often extremely lively, particularly
on the part of the energeticists, is properly only
a moment of the progress of the physico-chemical
sciences and, moreover, a necessary moment.
Far from breaking the unity of development which
all historians have noted in these sciences, it
would rather seem to have its natural place there,
like the old disputes between Cartesians and
atomists, between Cartesians and Newtonians or
Leibnitzians, between the kineticists and the
dynamists. And just as in the case of the old
theoretical disputes, the encounter between the
two great contemporary theories or, better still,
their parallel development, has rather had fruitful
results. It has promoted the forward movement
of science.

In the first place, energetics has put us on our
guard against certain abuses of mechanist models,

against the temptation of taking these models for
objective reality.
Further, it has deepened thermo-

dynamics and shown very well the universal
significance of its basic laws which, instead of being
restricted to researches relating to heat, have
a legitimate and necessary application to the
whole field of the physico-chemical sciences.
By extending the scope of these laws, energetics
has greatly contributed to making their formulas
more exact. More than this, while energetics has
shown itself to be less fruitful than mechanism,
from the viewpoint of discoveries, it nevertheless
always represents a splendid instrument of exposi-
tion—sober, elegant and logical. Finally, and

this is particularly notable in such chemists as
Van’t Hoff, Van der Waals and Nernst,
but is

more and more frequently encountered also among
the pbysicists, both theories are readily accepted;
in each case that theory which best lends itself
to the investigation is selected. They are used
concurrently; scientists start out from the general
equations of mechanics or from the general equa-
tions of thermodynamics, depending on whether
the path thus followed appears simpler or more
successful. The point is that physical theories are
essentially hypotheses, instruments of investiga-
tion and exposition, or organisation. They are
forms, frameworks, which have to be filled in by
the results of experiment. And it is these results
alone that constitute the true, real content of the
physical sciences.

It is on these that all physicists agree, and their
constantly increasing quantity, ever more con-
current and harmonious, characterises the prog-
ress of physics, its unity and its lasting nature.
They are the touchstone of the theories and hypo-
theses which served to discover them and which
endeavour to organise them, while respecting

their real affinities, reproducing as closely as
possible the order of nature.
And these theories,
although they are always hypothetical and, it
follows, are always losing something—at times

a great deal—to the extent that experience brings
us new discoveries, never, however, die completely.
They become integrated by becoming transformed
into more comprehensive, more adequate, new
theories. It was so with the Cartesian theory and
with the atomic theory and, from the latter,
with Newton’s theory. Evidently it will be so
with energetics and the old mechanism. And are
not the kinetic hypotheses of the present day
preparing for this integration and this reconcilia-

“The chronicler should note the fact that the
majority of modern results in the field of physical
chemistry were achieved by means of a successful
combination of thermodynamic methods and the
views of the molecular theory, in exactly the
same way as the creators of the modern theory of
heat simultaneously devoted their best efforts
to the development of atomistics, in particular
the kinetic theory.

“...We should regard, as an outstanding result

of the latter, the transference of atomistics to the
science of electricity....
Through this marvellous
widening of its horizon, atomistics threw a totally


new light on a number of physical and chemical


If the unknown is boundless, it would neverthe-
less be wrong in our day to call it incognisable,
as was done a few years ago.

The repeated and irreparable setbacks of
metaphysical attempts led physics to constitute

itself as a science by resolutely eliminating the


problem of matter. Thereafter it sought only the
laws of individual phenomena. This was “physics
without matter.
” But the growing successes due to

this new method permit us, it seems, to assert
today, contrary to the too narrow positivism of
the Auguste Comte kind, that it changed only
the method and not the subject or significance of
physics. Instead of approaching the problem of
matter in all its generality and from its most
difficult and basic sides, it approached it, on the
contrary, through superficial details and from the
most accessible side. This was putting common
sense before audacious pride. Common sense was
rewarded, for nowadays, as a result of so much
work in approaching, we are beginning to compre-
hend the problem in all its generality and in all its

In conformity with history, invariably repeated
by the human mind ever since it has been striving
to know things, science has taken a new subject
of study from the world of metaphysical chimeras.

The nature of matter is no longer a metaphysical
problem because it is becoming a problem of an
experimental and positive order.
True, this problem


has not been solved scientifically; there is still
room for many surprises; but one thing now seems
certain: it is science and not metaphysics that will
solve it.

Furthermore, I think, and I have tried in
another place to demonstrate it, that kinetic
ideas will always be closely linked with the progress
of physics, because they constitute an eminently
useful, if not indispensable instrument of discovery,
and because they are best adapted to the conditions

of our knowledge. That is why I see the future of
physics in the continuation of mechanistic theories.


That is why I have just said that the energetics
theory will probably be absorbed, as was the old
mechanism, into a kinetic theory which is more
flexible and stricter
from the viewpoint of the
admission of hypotheses. But mechanistic hypo-
theses, despite the repugnance felt for them by
abstract minds too preoccupied with mathematical
rigour, will probably always remain necessary for
the progress of physics, because they are hypotheses,
while the deliberate aim of the energetics theory
is to exclude hypotheses. More than this: they
are hypotheses that above all appear capable of
becoming the object of experiments, because they
are expressed in objective terms, in terms of per-
ceptions, which if not real are at any rate possible.
Indeed, science cannot do without guiding hypo-

C H A P T E R   IV

[173-174]...With the problem of life we come
to the basic differences which can separate philos-
ophy from science. Up to now the argument has
been, one might say, above all theoretical. The
majority of the philosophers worthy of the name
admit that, practically speaking, scientific results
are valid for matter. If from the speculative point
of view they were able to raise some objections to
this validity, they nevertheless recognise that
everything takes place as though the conclusions
of science were, if not based on right, at least

applicable in fact to material reality. To some


extent this reality can be expressed by mathematic-
al, mechanical and physico-chemical relations.
For matter, therefore, geometrism and mechanism
remain a good formula for study....

[177] Animism, which was in former times
partly supported by Plato and Aristotle, considers
that all the phenomena of life are due to a rational
force, hence to the soul. In contradistinction to
the Greek physicians who sought the causes of
health or sickness (the theory of humours) in
the data of observation, in contradistinction to
Descartes who absolutely separates the thinking
soul from organic and material facts, Leibnitz
and particularly Stahl support the view that
the inner life processes, although they have
nothing in common with conscious and rational
actions, are nonetheless manifestations of the

Barthez and the Montpellier school, persisting
in the belief that the phenomena of life can be due

only to a special cause, refer them to a vital force
distinct both from material forces and the soul:
hence the name vitalism[10] given to this theory....


[189-190] If we try in some way to synthesise
neo-vitalism according to its chief representatives,
scientists or philosophers, it seems we arrive at

the following: the criticism which the neo-vitalists
make of biological mechanism is closely linked
with that which the pragmatist, anti-intellectual-
ist or agnostic philosophies made of the mathe-
matical and physico-chemical sciences.
It appears


to us that we change the problem when we pass
from matter to life. Essentially, we are once more
faced, as we surmised at the outset, with the same
basic problem, and that problem is again the
problem of the value of science insofar as it is
knowledge. Only the particular terms in which it is
essentially raised are changed.

With what, in fact, did the new philosophy
reproach the mathematical or physico-chemical
sciences? With being an arbitrary and utilitarian
symbolism created for the practical requirements
of our mind, our reason, which are faculties of
action and not of cognition. Thus, when we extend
the physico-chemical method to biological facts we
naturally also transfer in the results that it allows
us to attain the consequences it implies, as regards
the value of these results. Hence the physico-
chemical mechanism will be an excellent formula
for giving us a practical grasp of living things;

it will be totally powerless to enlighten us as
to what life itself is. As with the physico-chemical
sciences in the sphere of matter, physico-chemical


mechanism in the sphere of life will allow us to
act, but never to know....


[192-194]...The neo-Thomists restore force, aspi-
ration, desire in matter,
re-animate it with the

spirit, although heathen, of hylozoism, from
which the Greeks, and in particular Aristotle,
seem never to have fully departed. Incidentally
they distort the Hellenic doctrine. For them matter
has no other activity but the force which the
creator put into it:
the memory, so to speak,
of its creation and the indelible impression of it
which it bears. Hence its activity is not essential
but borrowed, it is creative only by authorisation.
But precisely thanks to that, it does not escape
at all from the complete grasp of mechanism.

Moreover, the nominalists, who have a close
affinity to this neo-scholastic movement,[11] and
the pragmatists, pursuing a regular flirtation with
these philosophies of belief (all too often one has
rather to call them philosophies of believers),
considered that they had the right to say that the
content of their subject is not exhausted by the
sciences of matter. In order truly to know, it is
necessary “to proceed further.” A fortiori, will
they support the view that when we approach
life the limits of science become still more re-
stricted? Physico-chemical mechanism will be
applicable only to the material conditions of life,
but not to life itself.

To sum up, for the pure disciples of Bergson it
will be all the material conditions of life, only
these, but all of them, that mechanism will be
able to attain. For the others, it will not even be
all the material conditions of life, but, insofar as
matter is already to a certain degree living and
stamped with finality, only that which is mechani-
cal and inert that we can abstract from it, only
that which we can adapt from it for our practical
needs. And these formulas can already serve for
answering the question that has been raised and
for fixing exactly the part of vitalism in mechan-

Is it not possible to find a more expressive
formula of demarcation? For the vitalist life
plays the part of a creative force; but precisely
because it depends besides on material conditions,
it is not at all a creation ex nihilo. As a result
of its operation it will certainly give something
new and unpredictable, hut in order to arrive at
that, it will operate on pre-existing elements which
it will have combined, and above all starting from

pre-existing elements to which it will have added.
The mutations observed by the botanist De Vries
who, as a mechanist, interprets them differently

would here be the manifestation itself and the
proof of these creative additions.



On to Part Two >>


[1] Rey A., La Philosophie Moderne, Paris, 1908,—Ed.

[2] Poincaré, La Science et l'Hypothèse, livre I (Paris, Flammarion).—Rey.

[3] Poincaré, La Valeur de La Science (conclusion).—Rey.

[4] In the text, the phrase “absolute human truth” is italicized as well as underlined three times.—KCG.

[5] further—Ed.

[6] Gustave Le Bon: L’Évolution de In Matière.—
L’Evolution des Forces.
(Flammarion, éditeur.)—Rey.

[7] Apparently, matter is converted into energy

and energy into matter. By matter, of course, one
should understand only gravitational matter,
and by


energy—only the capacity to perform detectable work.
If by matter is meant the unknown basis of things,
from which everything originates and into which every-
thing returns, the ether, for example, or some other
primordial entity, then Le Bon’s conclusions by no
means refute its eternal nature and constancy; they
lead neither to creation out of nothing nor to absolute

[8] Lenin is referring to the well-known characterisation of agnosticism given by Engels in Ludwig Feuerbach and the End of Classical German Philosophy (see Marx and Engels, Selected Works, Vol. II, p. 371).—Lenin.

[9] W. Nernst, Revue générale des Sciences, 15 mars 1908.—Rey.

[10] “vitalism” is italicized in the text.—KCG.

[11] The neo-scholastics or neo-Thomists seek above
all to rehabilitate the scholastic interpretations of Aris-
totelianism and therefore the philosophical doctrines of
Saint Thomas.—The nominalists insist on the symbolic,
artificial and abstract nature of science, on the huge abyss
between reality and its formulas.—The pragmatists have
a similar doctrine, but one which rests on a more general
metaphysics. All cognition is directed towards action;
consequently we know only what interests our way of
acting. All these philosophies are agnosticin the sense

that they deny that we can reach, with the help of our
intellectual faculties, an adequate and precise knowledge
of reality
. Despite the fact that Bergson formulated a
metaphysics close to pragmatism—and prior to it—he


arrived at much less agnostic conclusions. Science, reason,
attains part of the real, that which lends itself to being
reduced to complete determinism and to being fully repre-
sented in the form of spatial multiplicity, in a word,
that which is the object of the mathematical and physico-
chemical sciences. It is only for the remainder that rea-
son and science are inadequate and have to he supple-
mented by intuition and philosophy. Incidentally, all
these doctrines are very shadowy and it is very difficult
to define them.—Rey.


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