Plekhanov 1916

Preface to Abram Deborin’s Book An Introduction to the Philosophy of Dialectical Materialism

Source: Georgi Plekhanov, Selected Philosophical Works, Volume 3 (Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1976), pp. 577-99.
Transcribed: for the Marxist Internet Archive by Paul Flewers.

Moscow Editor’s Note: ‘The Preface was written at the end of 1915 and published in the book A Deborin, An Introduction to the Philosophy of Dialectical Materialism (with a Preface by GV Plekhanov, Zhizn i Znaniye Publishers, Petrograd, 1916. Abram Moiseyevich Deborin (1881-1963) – Soviet philosopher; author of works on dialectical materialism and the history of philosophy.’


What is the task of philosophy? Its task, says E Zeller, is ‘to investigate scientifically the ultimate basis of cognition and being, and to comprehend all existing reality in its connection with that basis’. [1] That is correct. However, a new question arises at once: can the ‘basis of cognition’ be considered as something separate from the ‘basis of being'? That question must be answered decisively in the negative. Our ego contrasts itself to the external world (non-ego), but at the same time it feels its connection with that external world. Consequently, when man begins to philosophise, that is to say, when he conceives the desire to find a consistent world-outlook for himself, he immediately comes up against the question of what is the relation of ego to non-ego, of ‘cognition’ to ‘being’, of ‘spirit’ to ‘nature’. True, there was a time when philosophers did not discuss such questions. This was in the initial period of the development of ancient Greek philosophy. For instance, Thales [2] taught that water is the primary substance from which all things come and to which all things return. But he did not ask himself: what relation has consciousness to that primary substance? Nor did Anaximenes [3] ask himself the same question when he averred that the primary substance was not water but air. However, the time arrived when even Greek philosophers could no longer evade the question of the relationship of ego to non-ego, of consciousness to being. And then the question became the cardinal problem of philosophy. And it remains so even now.

Various philosophical systems give various answers to it. But if we consider the replies given by these various systems we shall see that they are far from being as different as they appear at first sight. All of them can be divided into two compartments.

The first embraces those philosophical constructions which take as their starting point the object, or being, or again, nature. Here, the thinkers have to explain how to the object is added the subject, to beingconsciousness, to naturespirit. Since they do not all explain this in the same way, the result is that, in spite of their having the same point of departure, their systems are not quite the same.

The other compartment takes in all philosophical constructions which take as their starting point the subject, consciousness, spirit. Obviously, here the thinker has to explain how to the subject is added the object, to consciousnessbeing, to spiritnature. And according to the manner in which they fulfil this task, philosophical systems that come into this compartment differ from one another.

He who takes the object as his starting point, if only he has the ability and courage to think consistently, arrives at one of the varieties of the materialist world-outlook.

He who takes the subject as his starting point and again if only he is prepared to think the matter out to the end, will turn out to be an idealist of one shade or another.

And those people who are incapable of consistent thought stop half-way and are content with a mish-mash of idealism and materialism. Such inconsistent thinkers are called eclectics.

To this it may be objected that there are also adherents of ‘criticalphilosophy, who are equally far from materialism as from idealism and yet are free of the weaknesses commonly associated with the eclectic mode of thought. I recall such an objection being advanced against me by Professor Chelpanov. [4] But I refer the reader to Chapter Six of Deborin’s book (’the Transcendental Method’). There he will see just how unfounded this objection is. Deborin clearly and convincingly demonstrates that the ‘critical’ philosophy of Kant suffers from dualism. And since dualism is always eclectic, it is only by a misconception that one can cite Kant in refutation of my contention that every consistent thinker is bound to choose between idealism and materialism.

Fichte already pointed out the inconsistency of Kantianism, although it is true that he initially ascribed this to Kant’s followers rather than to Kant himself. ‘Your Earth’, he said to them, ‘rests on an elephant, and the elephant, in turn, rests on the Earth. Your thing-in-itself, which is a pure thought, has to act upon the ego.’ Convinced that Kant himself was free of this contradiction – indeed an unquestionable and unpardonable one – Fichte declared that the true meaning of the ‘Kantianism of Kant’ lies in idealism (namely, in Fichte’s Theory of Knowledge). Kant disagreed with this, and protested in print against such an interpretation of his philosophy. He described Fichte’s idealist system as resembling an apparition: ‘When you think you have got hold of it, there is nothing there but yourself, and of this self there is nothing but a hand stretched out to catch.’ [5] After that there was nothing Fichte could do but reproach Kant himself with inconsistency, which he did, calling him ‘ein Dreiviertelskopf’ (literally, three-fourths of a head).


Now let us proceed. It is quite obvious that if each of us is a subject for himself (I), to other people he can only be an object (thou). It is no less obvious that people do not exist outside nature but within it. It would appear, therefore, that it is precisely nature (being, object) that must be taken as the starting point of all philosophical systems. How can one explain the origin of those philosophical systems in which the starting point is spirit and not nature?

For an answer to this question we must turn first of all to the history of culture.

The famous English ethnologist, Edward B Tylor, said a long time ago that the very essence of spiritualist philosophy, as opposed to materialist philosophy, stems from primitive animism. [6] Some might consider this as paradoxical. Then again others may remark that, generally speaking, ethnologists are not very competent in the history of philosophy. To such readers I would say that the ethnologist’s opinion in this case is shared, at least partly, by one very famous historian of philosophy. In his very talented work, dedicated to ‘Greek thinkers’, Theodor Gomperz recognises that Plato’s doctrine on ideas bears a significant resemblance to the conceptions of some primitive tribes, conceptions which have their origin in animism. [7] But why resort to authorities? We can see what is going on with our own eyes. What is animism? It is an attempt on the part of the savage to explain natural phenomena. No matter how feeble and ineffectual this attempt may be, it is inevitable in primitive man’s conditions of life.

In his struggle for existence, primitive man performs certain acts that bring about certain happenings. Thus he comes to look upon himself as the cause of these occurrences. By analogy with himself, he thinks that all other phenomena spring likewise from the actions of creatures who like himself have certain sensations, needs, passions, reason and volition. But as he cannot see these creatures, he comes to accept them as ‘spirits’ which in ordinary circumstances are imperceptible to his senses, and act directly upon these senses only in exceptional cases. Religion, the subsequent development of which is determined by the course of social development, stems from this animism.

Gods are those spirits that primitive man believes are disposed towards him and whom he therefore worships. He believes that one or several of these spirits created the world. True, what interests the primitive hunter is not who created the animals, the hunting of which provides him with the means of existence, but where the animals come from. The primitive hunter finds the answer to this principal question in his cosmogony. Stories of the world’s creation only come later, when with the development of the productive forces man’s productive activity extends, and he becomes more and more accustomed to the idea of creation. It is quite natural that the activity of the world’s creator (or creators) seems to primitive man similar to his own productive activity. Thus, according to the myth of one American tribe, man was fashioned from clay. In Memphis they believed that the god Ptah built the world as a mason builds a house; in Sais it was said that the world had been woven by a goddess, etc.

We see that cosmogony is closely related to technique. But that by the way. [8] Here I have but one remark to make: once belief in the world having been created by some spirit or other was established, this paved the way for all those philosophical systems which have spirit (the subject) as their starting point, and, hence, in some way or other define the existence of nature (the object). It is in this sense that we can and must admit that spiritualist philosophy – and every idealist philosophy – in its opposition to materialism, springs from primitive animism.

Needless to say, the creative spirit of the idealists – for example, the absolute spirit of Schelling or Hegel – bears very little resemblance to the god of the American tribe I mentioned above who was said to have fashioned man out of clay. The gods of primitive tribes were completely like people, except that they had greater power. But there is nothing human in Schelling’s or Hegel’s absolute spirit, apart from consciousness. In other words, the conceptions of spirits which primitive man had underwent a very long process of distillation (as Engels expressed it), [9] before merging into the conception of the absolute spirit as formulated by the great German idealists. But the long process of ‘distillation’ could bring no essential change in animist ideas: in essence they remained unaltered.


Animism is the first expression we know of man’s consciousness that there is a causal connection between natural phenomena. It explains natural phenomena with the aid of myths. But although such explanations satisfy the curiosity of primitive man, they do not at all increase his power over nature.

Let us take an example. A Fijian falls ill and lies down on the ground, shouting loudly to persuade his soul to return to his body. Of course, the arguments which he addresses to his soul exert no influence at all on the pathological processes taking place in his body. In order to acquire the possibility of influencing these processes in the desired way, man had first to observe organic life from the standpoint of science. To observe natural phenomena from the standpoint of science means to explain them, not by the action of this or that spiritual being, but by the laws of nature itself. Man succeeds in increasing his power over nature only to the extent that he notices the law-governed connection between phenomena. A scientific view of a particular field of natural phenomena completely excludes an animist view of nature. As one historian of Greece correctly remarked, he who knows the true cause of the apparent motion of the sun round the earth will not tell the story of Helios who every morning mounts his fiery chariot to climb the steep celestial path, and in the evening descends into the west to rest. This means that in explaining the cause of the sun’s apparent motion round the earth he would take as his starting point not the subject, but the object, and would address himself not to spirit, but to nature.

This is exactly how the Greek thinkers of the Ionian school acted. [10] He who taught that the beginning of all things was water or air, obviously started from the object and not from the subject. In exactly the same way, when Heraclitus [11] said that the cosmos was not created by any gods or men, ‘but it was forever, it is and always will be eternal fire, regularly flaring up and regularly dying away’, even with the greatest will in the world it was impossible to impose on him an animist view of the world as the product of the activity of a spirit or spirits. Recalling E Zeller’s definition of the task facing philosophy, we can say that to the thinkers of the Ionian school the ultimate basis of cognition stemmed from the ultimate basis of being. This is true to such an extent that, for example, Diogenes of Apollonia, [12] who maintained that all things are varieties of air, believed that this primary matter possesses reason and ‘knows much’.

The scientific view of natural phenomena has such enormous advantages over the animist view that Greek philosophy had perforce to proceed in its further development from the object instead of the subject, that is to say, to be materialist and not idealist. Yet we know that, at least from the time of Socrates, Greek philosophy quite definitely took the path of idealism. And in our days, idealism has become the dominant philosophy. Nowadays the specialists in philosophy – especially the assistant-professors – do not even think it necessary to argue with the materialists. They are convinced that to criticise materialism is as superfluous as knocking at an open door. The classical country of this majestic contempt for materialism was and, of course, remains Germany, with its innumerable teachers of philosophy who are described very aptly by Schopenhauer. [13] And since the vast majority of our Russian intelligentsia are trailing along behind those German teachers of philosophy (for our intelligentsia has an interest in philosophy) it is not surprising that here in Russia the philosophical people [14] (as Joseph Priestley once called them) have become accustomed to look down on us, the impenitent materialists. This is the explanation of a fact our readers are well aware of, that so many attempts have been made in Russia to provide the teaching of Marx and Engels with a new philosophical basis. All these attempts were dictated by the desire to reconcile the materialist explanation of history with one or other of the brands of the idealist theory of cognition. These attempts were foredoomed to failure, because eclecticism had always been as barren as the virgin who had devoted herself to God. Apart from this, the writers had neither knowledge nor philosophical talent. It is not worthwhile discussing them, although their writings deserve mention as being very typical of the period.


Why did idealism triumph over materialism, notwithstanding the obvious advantages of the scientific view of nature over the animist?

There are two main reasons for this.

First of all, for a very long time natural science made such slow progress that it could not eject animism from all its positions. While gradually becoming accustomed to seeing some fields of phenomena from the point of view of science, people continued to cling to their animist views in other more extensive fields. Consequently, their world-outlook in general remained animist. When social life began to grow complex and relations between separate societies became more frequent, there even came into existence a quite new field of phenomena which for a long time would not yield to scientific research, and, consequently, was interpreted animistically by reference to the activity of some god or other. The tragedies of Euripides [15] often end with the words: ‘In many a shape is the Gods’ will wrought, and much They accomplish that none foreknows. What men deemed sure, They bring to naught, and what none dreamed of They dispose...’ In the struggle of forces within a given nation, as well as in international wars and in trading relations, that which was considered to be impossible, was and is very often accomplished, while that which was expected remains unaccomplished. This to a very large extent supported and still supports belief in the existence of ‘celestial powers’ and the tendency to seek aid from them. Such belief and such a tendency are to be remarked even among those prominent thinkers who have acted as leaders of civilised mankind in the progress towards a scientific understanding of the world. The fathers of the scientific philosophy of nature – the Ionian thinkers – continued to believe in the existence of gods. [16]

Besides this, we should bear in mind the following. Although animist conceptions arise and continue to exist for some time, quite independently of the view which the savage may have of his obligations towards the society to which he belongs, nevertheless this view begins to combine fairly early with the animist conceptions. Subsequently, at higher stages of culture, animist conceptions are wrought into more or less orderly systems of religious beliefs and become very firmly welded with people’s conceptions of their mutual obligations. People begin to regard these obligations as commandments of the gods. Religion sanctifies the morality established in the given society, as well as all its other ‘mainstays’.

In the Laws of Manu, we read that the creator of the universe fashioned people of different social classes out of different parts of his body. From his mouth (said to be the most noble part – GP) he made the Brahmans; from his arms, the Kshatriya; from his thigh, the Vaisya; and lastly, from his feet, the Sudra. [17] It is the creator’s wish that the lower classes should always be obedient to the upper classes, [18] and he goes on to explain that the existing division of society into classes must remain as immutable as the seasonal sequence of the year. [19]

This sanctification of a given social order by a given religion makes the latter a major conservative force. Consequently, religion is very dear to the heart of all conservatives. And if there are in the ruling class of a given society people studying questions of theory in general and philosophy in particular, they will doubtless be sworn enemies of any philosophical doctrine which, extending the conception of natural conformity to law to the whole understanding of the world, undermines the very foundation of religious beliefs. Lucretius made the following rapturous utterance in praise of the materialist Epicurus for rendering harmless faith in the gods:

When human life lay foully on the earth
Before all eyes, ’neath Superstition crushed,
Who from the heavenly quarters showed her head
And with appalling aspect lowered on men,
Then did a Greek first lift eyes to hers –
First brave her face to face. Him neither myth
Of gods, nor thunderbolt, nor sky with roar
And threat could quell...

Such praise presupposes one of two things: either that he who utters it is hostile to the prevailing social order, or that he is firmly convinced in the unshakeable firmness of that order and considers it superfluous to defend it with ‘spiritual weapon’. Taken as a whole, not a single ruling class has ever revolted against its own rule. On the other hand, in present-day European society, which has undergone so many upheavals, the ruling classes have not the slightest reason to believe in the unshakeable firmness of the existing order of things. As a result, they do not scorn the use of the ‘spiritual weapon’, and their ideologists make every possible effort to purge philosophy of all ‘destructive’ elements.

In transitional periods of social development, when a particular class has just attained victory, even though incomplete, over the class above it, and when the excitement of thought aroused by the struggle has not as yet abated – in such transitional periods of social development philosophical hypocrisy begins to be considered a duty which a thinking person owes to ‘respectable’ society. This, too, may appear incredible, but it is true nevertheless. Just take the trouble to read the following passage written by a man who could not have been farther from the materialist explanation of the history of philosophy. He is speaking of England at the end of the seventeenth century and in the first half of the eighteenth century:

If free-thinking had at first to wrest a place from the church authorities for its own development, with the passage of time voices were heard within it speaking against the unrestricted rule of freedom of thought... The esoteric view withdrew ever further from positive religion and, partly under the reverse influence of French literature, even began to adopt the temporal scepticism inherent in the latter. On the other hand, the exoteric doctrine adapted itself more and more to the purely political or police conception of religion... It was precisely in the upper classes of English society that this internally self-contradictory situation... became apparent. [20]


Windelband quite rightly selects Lord Bolingbroke (1662-1751) [21] as the most striking spiritual expression of this situation. Bolingbroke was the author of Letters on the Study and Use of History, first published in 1738.

Being himself as critical and believing as little in the Bible as any deist [we read further in Windelband’s book], he [Bolingbroke – GP] declares all literature disseminating such views to be revolutionary, and calls this literature a plague of society. He does not hide his opinion that free-thinking is a right which belongs solely to the ruling class: and he turns all the egoism of social exclusiveness against... the popularisation of free thought. He believes that in the salons it is permissible to ridicule the narrowness and absurdity of positive religion, and he himself is not above jibing frivolously at it. But in the life of society, religion is an indispensable force that cannot be shaken without endangering the foundation of the state – the obedience of the masses. [22]

Windelband found that, in essence, Bolingbroke ‘had only enough courage to divulge the secret of high society of his time – a secret that was not confined even to this one epoch’. And this is true, of course. But this being true, the history of philosophical ideas in a society divided into classes must be seen in the light of the materialist proposition that it is not thinking that determines being, but, on the contrary, being that determines thinking. The present universal triumph of the idealist world-outlook will then be more of an argument against that world-outlook than in favour of it.

Is there anyone who is unaware that the class struggle in West European society is daily becoming more and more acute? Is there anyone who does not understand that the defence of the existing social order must, for this reason, be of ever growing importance in the eyes of the ruling classes?

Windelband reproaches Bolingbroke with being a ‘conscious hypocrite’ and says that it is easy to notice the ‘short-sightedness of his argumentation’. He is right here too. When the leading ideologists of the upper classes recommend to the ‘masses’ ‘truths’ which they themselves deride in their own circle, the danger arises of their own real mode of thought becoming known to the people and spreading among them. And then the ‘obedience of the masses’, this ‘foundation of the state’, may really be shaken. From the point of view of the social order, the prevalence of the ‘esoteric view’ among the upper-class ideologists is very inexpedient. The maintenance of the social order is more likely to be assured if these ideologists renounce that view and conclude an honest peace with ‘positive religion’. But can we make such a demand of them? No matter how great their store of ‘conscious hypocrisy’, we cannot coerce them into sharing beliefs they do not possess. And this means that they must be inoculated afresh with these beliefs, and for this their concepts will have to be refashioned and, most important, an attempt must be made to demolish the main theoretical basis of their ‘esoteric view’ which is so dangerous to social peace.

What was the essence of that British free-thinking which even its own supporters among the privileged had begun to regard as dangerous? In the final analysis, it amounted to the conviction that all phenomena of nature are invariably subordinated to her own laws. In other words, it consisted in the materialist view of nature. It is easy to verify this by acquainting oneself with the works of such a prominent free-thinker as John Toland (1670-1722); his teaching is thoroughly permeated with the spirit of materialism. [23] Therefore it was against materialism that war had first to be declared by those English guardians of order who found that the dissemination of the ‘esoteric view’, even if confined to the upper strata of society, was harmful from the standpoint both of the Church of England and of social peace.

When a particular need arises which is of great significance to society as a whole or to a particular social class, people will almost always be found who are sincerely prepared to accept the responsibility of satisfying this need. In England, George Berkeley (1684-1753) [24] stepped into the breach against free-thinking. But his main concern in this struggle was precisely to destroy the materialist basis of free-thinking.

Berkeley subsequently became a Bishop. But from notes dating back to the years of his studies, it may be seen that already in his youth he had set himself the task of forging a good ‘spiritual weapon’ for the defence of traditional beliefs. While still a student, he worked out his famous principle of esse est percipi (to be is to be in perception). It is not hard to see what induced him to elaborate and defend this principle. He says in his Commonplace Book: ‘Opinion that existence is distinct from perception is of horrible consequence: it is the foundation of Hobbes’s doctrine, etc’ – that is, of materialism – GP. [25] Elsewhere in the same Commonplace Book, the young student says: ‘Matter once allowed, I defy any man to prove that God is not Matter.’ [26] There was only one way of avoiding such a ‘horrible consequence’, and that was not to admit the existence of matter. [27] This was achieved through the principle that being is equal to being in perception (esse est percipi). From this followed the soothing conclusion that matter itself is but one of our perceptions, and that we have no right to say: this is God’s doing and that is Nature’s. ‘The cause of all natural things is only God’, said the future Bishop. [28] And we have to admit that he was not mistaken when he wrote: ‘My doctrines rightly understood, all that philosophy of Epicurus, Hobbes, Spinoza, etc, which has been a declared enemy of religion comes to the ground.’ [29] I should think so! If there is no matter, there is no materialism.


But there was one thing that did not turn out so well. It seemed to Berkeley that to have a good understanding of his doctrine was to be convinced of its indisputable correctness. In point of fact, it simply meant exposing its inconsistency.

If esse est percipi – and this principle of Berkeley remained with him till the end of his days – then God shares the same fate as matter: like matter, God exists only in our perceptions. Thus, not only does materialism come to the ground, but religion as well. Berkeley’s doctrine, therefore, brings us by a new route to that same ‘horrible consequence’ which our well-intentioned author wished to avoid. Berkeley did not notice this contradiction, or did not wish to notice it. He was blinded by the desire to defend his traditional beliefs at all cost.

Kant, too, was blinded by the same desire. His ‘critical’ system was, indeed, an attempt to reconcile certain views inherited from his Protestant predecessors with the conclusions of the really critical thought of the eighteenth century. Kant thought they could be reconciled by separating the domain of belief from the domain of knowledge: belief to be related to noumena, and the rights of science to be restricted to phenomena. [30] And he, too, did not hide from his readers why it was necessary for him to limit the rights of science. In the preface to the second edition of his Kritik der reinen Vernunft, he says outright that he was induced to do this by a desire to make room for belief. [31]

Voltaire was an irreconcilable enemy of the Catholic Church: remember his motto: ‘Écrasons l'infâme![32] But Voltaire, too, like Kant, was convinced that room had to be left for belief. While waging a bitter war against Catholicism, he was a deist, and preached theism, that is to say, belief in a god who rewarded people for good conduct and punished them for bad. It is sufficient to acquaint oneself even a little with his arguments in favour of such a faith, to grasp why he thought it was necessary. Mallet du Pan tells us in his Reminiscences that once at supper d'Alembert and Condorcet began to defend atheism in the presence of Voltaire. [33] The ‘old man of Ferney’ hurriedly sent his servants out of the room and exclaimed: ‘Now, gentlemen, continue your speeches against God; but as I don’t want to be murdered and robbed tonight by my servants, I prefer them not to hear you.’ This reminds us of the remark made by the same Voltaire about Bayle, [34] whom he regarded as the apostle of atheism: ‘If he had had to manage five or six hundred peasants, he would not have failed to proclaim to them that there is a god who rewards and punishes.’ In this respect the celebrated French Enlightener is reminiscent of the Englishman Bolingbroke who, in general, greatly influenced Voltaire’s ideas. In making room for belief in God in the interests of public order, Voltaire was probably not averse to ‘conscious hypocrisy’.

Voltaire was an ideologist of the French third estate, which was fighting for its emancipation against the spiritual and temporal aristocracy. From the point of view of sociology, it is a highly important fact that class antagonism, the germ of which lay hidden within the third estate, found expression even before the Revolution, in the concern of the French Enlighteners to elaborate a world-outlook which, on the one hand, would be free of obsolete religious and all other prejudices and, on the other, would command the obedience of the economically destitute mass of the population. Only an insignificant section of the eighteenth-century French Enlighteners were not affected by this circumspection, and, indeed, ridiculed it. Where the ‘patriarch’ stopped to glance uneasily over his shoulder at his servants and his Ferney peasants, the materialists went right on to the end. Even before the Revolution, materialism was far from being the dominant trend in the philosophical thought of the enlightened French bourgeoisie. And after the Revolution the latter would have nothing to do with materialism. Phlegmatic, prudent and mealy-mouthed eclecticism was much more congenial to it.

When I say that the history of philosophy, like the history of all ideologies, fully confirms the materialist proposition that it is not consciousness which determines being, but being which determines consciousness, I have no wish to infer that philosophers have always striven consciously to turn their systems into a ‘spiritual weapon’ to further the interests of their class. That would be an unwarranted assertion. True, Windelband has already told us that there are periods when ‘conscious hypocrisy’ plays a very great part in the destiny of philosophical ideas. But we shall be more prudent if we regard such periods as exceptional. The individual does not necessarily have to be a ‘conscious hypocrite’ when striving to coordinate his views with the interests of his class. All that he needs is the sincere conviction that the given class interest coincides with the interests of society as a whole. When there is this conviction – and it comes naturally to individual persons under the influence of their environment – then the best instincts of man: allegiance to the whole, selflessness, etc, dispose him to think those ideas mistaken which threaten to bring a ‘horrible consequence’ to his class (remember the young Berkeley), and, on the other hand, to recognise as true those ideas which promise to be useful to this class. What is useful to a particular social class is true in the eyes of the individuals who compose it. Of course, so long as the class in question lives by exploiting another class or classes, this psychological process of identifying the useful with the true will always presuppose a certain measure of unconscious hypocrisy, which obliges it to turn away from everything likely to hinder this process. And as a given ruling class approaches its decline, this measure increases more and more, with unconscious hypocrisy being joined by conscious hypocrisy. What has been said here is thoroughly borne out by the example of contemporary pragmatical philosophy, to which Deborin devotes some instructive pages.

But whatever the role of conscious or unconscious hypocrisy in the psychological process of identifying what is useful with what is true, this process is inevitable in the course of social development, and we shall understand nothing in the history of ideas in general and the history of philosophical ideas in particular if we lose sight of it. [35]


Kant’s ‘critical’ philosophy is guilty of dualism. This was already clear to Fichte. But if the dualism of the Königsberg thinker is a defect from the standpoint of theory, from the practical point of view it was very convenient for the ideologists of the present-day bourgeoisie in the West European countries. While representing the latest edition of the fairly old doctrine of two truths, it enabled the ideologists of the ruling class to be materialists in science and simultaneously to cling to idealism in the sphere of those concepts which are said to be outside the bounds of scientific cognition. The Kantian variety of the doctrine of two truths is very widespread in Germany. British scientists, who are not too well acquainted with Kant, more readily associate the doctrine of two truths with the philosophy of Hume. I have often used the example of Huxley [36] in my articles; I did so because it is a very instructive one.

On the one hand, the celebrated naturalist stated:

Surely no one who is cognisant of the facts of the case, nowadays, doubts that the roots of psychology lie in the physiology of the nervous system. What we call the operations of the mind are functions of the brain, and the materials of consciousness are products of cerebral activity. [37]

The most ‘extreme’ materialists never went beyond this. Besides this, we find Huxley admitting that contemporary physiology leads by the most direct route to materialism, in so far as one may apply this designation to a theory which declares that apart from substance possessing extension there is no other thinking substance. This is avowed materialism, and, moreover, in its most correct expression, that is to say, Spinozism stripped of its theological garb.

But this same naturalist, as though in alarm at his own boldness, tries to emasculate his purely materialist view with this qualification: ‘But it is, nevertheless, true that the doctrine contains nothing inconsistent with the purest idealism.’ [38]

Huxley tries to prove this by arguing that in essence we know only our sensations:

A brain may be the machinery by which the material universe becomes conscious of itself. But it is important to notice that, even if this conception of the universe and of the relation of consciousness to its other components should be true, we should, nevertheless, be still bound by the limits of thought, still unable to refute the arguments of pure idealism. The more completely the materialistic position is admitted, the easier is it to show that the idealistic position is unassailable, if the idealist confines himself within the limits of positive knowledge. [39]

Such ideas would help to reconcile the ‘respectable’ British public to Huxley’s theories on natural science. [40] They may have set his own mind at rest, to the extent that he still preserved traces of animist views – and he apparently held them pretty firmly, as did almost all Britons of the nineteenth century who in their own fashion were very free-thinking; but it is incomprehensible that he should think of them as being ‘unassailable’.

The reader will remember that in denying the existence of matter independently of perception, Berkeley would have had, if he had wished to think logically, to arrive at denial of the existence of God. Huxley, in trying to make his materialist conclusions less frightening by adopting the main principle of idealism, found himself in a similar situation: to be logical, our biologist would have had to negate the existence of organic life and nature in general independently of perception.

Organic life is unthinkable without the exchange of substances between the organism and its environment. If Descartes said: ‘I think, therefore I am’, the naturalist can and is bound to say: ‘I exist, consequently, nature, too, exists apart from my perception of it.’ Of course, I can declare that in the final analysis I am not an organism but only a sum of certain sensations and conceptions. This was the ‘positive knowledge’ that Huxley had in mind... But it probably did not occur to him how easy it was to reduce this type of ‘positive knowledge’ to absurdity.

Let us take for granted that Berkeley was right, that is, that in fact being is equal to being in perception (esse est percipi). But if this is true, not only matter, not only nature, and not only God have no existence outside my perception. All my fellow-men, too, have no existence; their being is also equal to being in my perception. Nothing and nobody exists except myself and various states of my consciousness – such is the only correct conclusion to be drawn from the basic idealist principle which proclaims that being is equal to being in perception.

Nothing and nobody! Do you understand what that means, reader? It means that you are not the offspring of your parents, but they are your offspring, since their being reduces itself to being in your perception. If the idealists are capable of waving materialism aside only by conjuring up such stupidities, which can be taken seriously only, say, by the inmates of Chekhov’s Ward No 6, [41] then in theory the cause of idealism is hopelessly lost.

The doctrine that nothing and nobody exists except myself and my perceptions is called solipsism. It can be seen that solipsism is unavoidable where the starting point is individual consciousness, that is to say, where the thinker adheres to subjective idealism.


Since solipsism is so obviously absurd, let us leave the domain of subjective idealism, and have a look at the form which the dispute between idealism and materialism takes when being in perception is regarded from the standpoint of that super-individual consciousness to which the idealists appeal when they lack the courage to admit to solipsism.

And first of all, what is super-individual consciousness? Where does it spring from? If being is equal to being in perception, then I have decidedly no (NB: logical) right to talk of some kind of super-individual consciousness that allegedly exists outside my individual consciousness. Here is a repetition of Berkeley’s error, when he first said that there is no being of any kind independent of perception, and then declared that God has being independently of perception.

The idealist who recognises the existence of super-individual consciousness will remain a dogmatist, no matter how much he reiterates the need for criticism. However, we shall be complaisant here too. Let us acknowledge this dogma, and see what follows.

The dogmatic teaching of super-individual consciousness had its most systematic exposition in the works of Schelling and Hegel. Their absolute spirit is nothing else than super-individual consciousness which is supposed to embrace both the object and the subject, both nature and (subjective) spirit. But to Schelling this meant that the universe is only the self-contemplation of this spirit. According to Hegel’s teaching, in which so much space is allotted to the (impersonal, ‘absolute’) logical process, the universe is the self-thought of the absolute spirit. Essentially, this is one and the same thing. And if Huxley, in waving the materialists aside, had thought to seek salvation on the basis of absolute idealism, he would have been forced to tell us:

As a biologist, I admit, of course, the existence both of living organisms and their material environment. But as a philosopher, I think that the material environment surrounding the organisms, the organisms themselves, as well as myself, the biologist, who with great endeavour and success is studying their comparative anatomy and elaborating the theory of their development – in short, all that was, is or will be – was, is or will be only in the self-contemplation or self-thought of the absolute spirit.

Seriously to accept such an ‘apparition’ (recall Kant’s opinion of Fichte’s system) is again out of the question. Schelling’s and Hegel’s systems had their own great merits. They contributed very much indeed to thinking mankind. But they made that great contribution not because they proclaimed the universe to be a process taking place in the absolute spirit. On the contrary, that was their weakest side, which to a very large extent depreciated the brilliant discoveries made by these outstanding authors when they addressed their attention to the real world.

Once more: in a theoretical sense, all attempts to talk one’s way out of materialism by appealing to the basic principle of idealism (esse est percipi, without the subject there is no object, etc) are foredoomed to abject failure. If, in spite of this, these attempts were stubbornly repeated, are still being repeated, and will for long go on being repeated, it is not a matter of theory at all. The stubborn repetition of these theoretically hopeless attempts is to be explained by the socio-psychological cause given above.

But how can the basic question of philosophy be resolved by thinkers who for one reason or another have not themselves experienced the influence of this cause? That is what we shall now see.


The idealists and neo-Kantians reproach the materialists with ‘reducingpsychical phenomena to material phenomena. FA Lange says that ‘materialism is constantly faced with the insurmountable obstacle of explaining how conscious sensation can arise from material motion’. [42] Lange as an historian of materialism should, however, have known that the materialists have never promised to answer this question. They assert only – to use Huxley’s above-mentioned and extremely apt expression – that apart from substance possessing extension there is no other thinking substance and that, like motion, consciousness is a function of matter. This materialist idea was already expressed – true, extremely naively – in the teaching of Diogenes of Apollonia, who maintained that the primary matter – air, according to his teaching – was endowed with consciousness and ‘knew much’. La Mettrie, [43] who is looked on as a ‘most crude materialist’, declined to explain whence came the capacity of matter to have sensation. He accepted this capacity as a fact, he believed it was as much an attribute of matter as its capacity for motion. La Mettrie’s views on this subject were very close to Spinoza’s, which is not surprising, since he was influenced by Descartes in elaborating his theory; but, like Spinoza, he rejected the dualism of the great Frenchman. In his work L'Homme-plante, he says that of all living creatures, man is the one which has the most soul and the plant is the one which has the least. But he gives us to understand at the very same time that the ‘soul’ of the plant does not at all resemble the soul of man. ‘The beautiful soul, which concerns itself with no objects, no desires, has no passions, no vices, no virtues and above all, no needs, would not be burdened even with the care of providing food for its body!’ By this he meant that to the various forms of material organisation correspond various degrees of ‘animation’. [44]

In my controversy with Bernstein, [45] I gave documentary proof that the most brilliant representative of another trend in eighteenth-century French materialism, Diderot, held the point of view of ‘modern Spinozists’ (his own expression), who ‘proceed from the basic principle that matter is capable of sensation’, and are convinced that only matter ‘exists’ and that its existence is an adequate explanation of all phenomena. [46] To avoid unnecessary repetition, I shall add just this: the materialist Moleschott, who at one time was also very well known in Russia, tried to incorporate the same view in his own works, giving it, by the way, the characteristic title of material-spiritual view (stoffgeistige Anschauung). [47]

With the present universal domination of idealism, it is quite natural that the history of philosophy should be expounded from the idealist standpoint. As a consequence, Spinoza has long since been listed among the idealists; so that some reader will probably be very surprised that I understand Spinozism in the materialist sense. But this is the only correct way to understand it.

Already in 1843 Feuerbach expressed the quite justified conviction that Spinoza’s teaching was an ‘expression of the materialist trend of the recent epoch’. Of course, Spinoza too did not escape the influence of his time. As Feuerbach remarked, his materialism was clad in theological costume. [48] The important point was, however, that he eliminated the dualism of spirit and nature. If Spinoza does refer to nature as God, one of the attributes of his God is extension. Therein lies the cardinal distinction between Spinozism and idealism. [49]

The dualism of spirit and nature is also eliminated in idealism. Absolute idealism preached the identity of subject and object in the womb of the absolute. But this identity was achieved by declaring that the existence of the object was nothing more than its existence in the ‘self-contemplation’ (or self-thought) of the absolute spirit. Here too, in the final analysis, to be meant ‘to be in perception’ (esse est percipi). It was on this basis that the idealists could speak of the identity of subject and object.

Materialists assert, not the identity of subject and object, but their unity. ‘I’ am not only a subject, but also an object: each given ‘I’ is a subject for itself and an object for another. That, ‘which for me, or subjectively, is a purely spiritual, immaterial, insensible act, in itself, or objectively, is a material, sensible act’ (Feuerbach).

If this is the case, we have no right to speak of the unknowability of the object.


The ‘critical’ doctrine of the unknowability of the object (the thing-in-itself), which is closely associated with the name of Kant, is in fact a very old theory. It came to modern philosophy from Plato’s idealism which, in turn, took it from primitive animism, as we have seen above.

In Plato’s Phaedo, Socrates asserts that the soul contemplates existence through the body ‘as through prison bars but not with its own unhindered vision’, and is therefore ‘wallowing in utter ignorance’. [50] In another part of the same conversation, he expresses himself even more definitely: ‘So long as we have the body, and the soul is contaminated by such an evil, we shall never attain completely what we desire, which I take to be the truth.’ [51] Truth is inaccessible to cognition ‘through the body’, that is to say, through our external senses, through this prison of the soul – all Plato’s doctrine of cognition is constructed on this. And this same proposition was – without criticism – assimilated by the father of ‘critical’ philosophy, as it was even earlier assimilated by the idealists of modern times and even of the Middle Ages (the ‘Realists’).

The doctrine of the unknowability of things-in-themselves makes sense only if seen in the light of this – absolutely primitive – theory of cognition. Deprived of its decrepit basis, the doctrine of unknowability inevitably leads into insoluble contradictions, in struggling with which the thoughtful Kant earned Fichte’s description of a ‘Dreiviertelskopf’.

Cognition presupposes the presence of two things: first, that which is cognised, and second, that which cognises. That which cognises is known as the subject. In order that an object be known to a larger or lesser measure to the subject, it must exert some action upon the subject. ‘In so far as the human body is affected in any way by a given external body, thus far it perceives the external body’, says Spinoza. [52]

For the human body, the result of the action of an external body upon it will be objectively purely material (change in the state of certain tissues) and subjectively it will be psychical (a certain perception). But in both cases, it will be a state of that which cognises, that is to say, the subject. In this sense, all knowledge is subjective. To be cognised means to be for another. But it does not at all follow from this that true cognition of the object is inaccessible to the subject, or, in other words, that being for another does not correspond to being-in-itself. It was possible to assume this only as long as the cognitive ego was regarded as something immaterial, standing outside nature. This, however, is entirely wrong. ‘My body as a whole’, said Feuerbach rightly, ‘is my Ego, my true essence. It is not an abstract being that thinks [and, consequently, knows the external world – GP] but this real being, this body.’ This body is part of the cosmos. If it is acted upon by external objects in such a manner and not otherwise, then – both from the objective and subjective aspects – this is conditioned by the nature of the whole. As Huxley aptly put it, the human brain is the organ of the self-consciousness of the cosmos. But the body that possesses this organ lives in a definite material environment, and if the brain could not know at least some of the properties of that environment, it would be impossible for the human organism to exist. In order to exist, people must be able to foresee at least some phenomena. This foresight presumes true knowledge at least of some properties of that whole of which the cognitive subject constitutes a small part. [53]

Finally, those eclectically-minded ‘thinkers’ who strive to combine the materialist explanation of history with an idealist theory of cognition overlook the fact that if the object were unknowable to the subject, neither the development of society nor its very existence would be possible: both one and the other presuppose the existence of a certain number of objects-subjects, capable of coordinating their actions in one way or another, that is to say, of knowing one another.

The material by which we get to know nature and one another is provided to us by our external senses. Our reason introduces a certain order into the material provided: it combines some phenomena and separates others. It was on this basis that Kant spoke of reason dictating its laws to nature. In fact, reason only adduces, ‘develops’, what is dictated to it by nature:

We separate that which is separate in nature [said Feuerbach], and connect that which is connected in nature. We subordinate the phenomena and things of nature to one another, in the relationship of basis and consequence, cause and effect, because this is their factual, sensuous, objective, real inter-relationship. [54]

The scientific theory of evolution teaches us that matter existed not only before people and their ideas, or living creatures generally existed, but even before the earth itself and the solar system were formed.

We are told also that many naturalists are nowadays inclined to a conception of the world based on energy. More than that. The German chemist Ostwald, [55] a well-known exponent of energetics, has for long been applying himself to the ‘overcoming of scientific materialism’ (‘Überwindung des wissenschaftlichen Materialismus’). But this is a mere misunderstanding. The good chemist Ostwald hopes to ‘overcome’ materialism by means of energetics only because he is too poorly versed in philosophy.

I do not consider this conception of the world based on energy a satisfactory one. I think it is weak in many respects. The theory of cognition based on energy, in my opinion, entangles itself in insoluble and, one might say, disgraceful contradictions. [56] But when someone opposes this conception of the world based on energy to the materialist, I can only shrug my shoulders.

Joseph Priestley, who was not only a remarkable chemist but, as distinct from Ostwald, also a subtle thinker, refused to attribute to matter the property of impenetrability or solidity. His theory was that matter has only two properties: attraction and repulsion. [57] By his own admission, his view on matter was taken from Boscovich. [58] In other words, the material particle, as Priestley saw it, was but the centre of certain forces. But this point of view, which was essentially very close to the conception based on energy, did not hinder Priestley from persistently defending materialism. And we shall agree that he was fully entitled to do so if we recall the definition the materialists have given and still give to matter: it is that which in one way or another, directly or indirectly, acts on our external senses. [59]

Instead of the words ‘our senses’ it would be better to say: ‘on the senses of living organisms’. Be that as it may, ‘energy’, too, will come under this definition, as long as it is not thought of as something that does not act upon the senses of living beings.

This means that the conception of the world based on energy may be opposed to the mechanical [60] but not in the least to the materialist.

Some German idealists, and with them all others of all kinds and sorts, as Herzen used to say, also grab at the latest discoveries in chemistry as an argument against materialism. Deborin does very well to expose the bankruptcy of this type of spurious argument. I should like to add a few words of my own to what he has said about this (see pages 244-45).

Professor NA Shilov put it very well when he said that, in accepting in principle the possibility of the motion and fluctuation of electrons ‘more or less closely connected with atoms and molecules, the electronic theory thereby, obviously, already acknowledges the electron as a component part of matter’. The same naturalist rightly thinks that modern chemical discoveries suggest the idea of the existence of some materia prima, ‘more subtle than the atoms themselves’. [61] It should be noted, however, that the phenomena taking place ‘within the atom’ are the best possible confirmation of the dialectical view of nature.

Hegel once reproached ‘ultimate physics’ (‘die endliche Physik’) that it held too firmly to definitions based on abstract reasoning. One of the main errors resulting from this was, he said, that ‘ultimate physics’ negated the possibility of the transformation of elements. [62] Later, at the end of the 1850s, Engels, who was then studying comparative anatomy and physiology, remarked that if ‘the old man’ (‘der Alte’) had been writing his Philosophy of Nature ‘today’ (1858), the facts would come flowing to him from every side, to confirm the correctness of his dialectical conception of the processes of nature. [63] What would Engels say nowadays, when there have been such astonishing discoveries of the transformation of matter, going on ‘within the atom’, which not so long ago was considered to be quite immutable?

Everything is fluid; everything changes. One cannot enter the same stream twice. Now we see the truth of this more clearly than ever before!


Notes are by Plekhanov, except those by the Moscow editors of this edition of the work, which are noted ‘Editor’, or the MIA, which are suitably noted.

1. See E Zeller, An Outline of the History of Greek Philosophy (Moscow, 1913), p 1. Eduard Zeller (1814-1908) – German philosopher, specialist in the history of Greek and German philosophy – Editor.

2. Thales (late seventh century-early sixth century BC) – Greek materialist philosopher – Editor.

3. Anaximenes (585-525 BC) – Greek spontaneous materialist philosopher – Editor.

4. Georgi Ivanovich Chelpanov (1862-1936) – Russian psychologist and idealist philosopher – Editor.

5. Kant’s Werke, published by Hartenstein, Volume 10, pp 577-78. There are more details about this in the article ‘Materialism or Kantianism’, contained in my collection of articles, A Critique of Our Critics. [See Georgi Plekhanov, Selected Philosophical Works, Volume 2 (Moscow, 1976), pp 398-414. Johann Gottlieb Fichte (1762-1814) – German philosopher, subjective idealist, exponent of classical German philosophy – Editor. Available at Materialism or Kantianism – MIA.]

6. Edward Burnett Tylor, La civilisation primitive, Volume 1 (Paris, 1876), p 493. [Edward Burnett Tylor (1832-1917) – English anthropologist, student of primitive culture – Editor.]

7. Not having at hand the German original, I am quoting from the French translation – see pages 414-15 of Volume 2 of the Lausanne edition, 1905. [Theodor Gomperz (1832-1912) – German positivist philosopher and philologist, historian of ancient literature – Editor.]

8. For more details of this, see my first article ‘On Religious Seekings’ in the collection From Defence to Attack. [See Georgi Plekhanov, Selected Philosophical Works, Volume 3 (Moscow, 1976), pp 306-413 – Editor. Available at On Religious Seekings – MIA.]

9. Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, Selected Works, Volume 3 (Moscow, 1973), p 346 – Editor.

10. The Ionian school was the earliest materialist trend in Greek philosophy which arose in the sixth to fourth centuries BC in the cities along the Ionian coast of Asia Minor; its main representatives were Thales, Anaximander, Anaxagoras and Heraclitus – Editor.

11. Heraclitus of Ephesus (c 530-470 BC) – Greek materialist philosopher, one of the founders of dialectics – Editor.

12. Diogenes of Apollonia (fifth century BC) – Greek materialist philosopher – Editor.

13. Parerga und Paralipomena: Über die Universitätsphilosophie.

14. Plekhanov here gives the English phrase: the philosophical people – Editor.

15. Euripides (c 480-406 BC) – Greek poet and dramatist – Editor.

16. True, Thales is believed to have said that gods, like everything else, are made from water. This legend shows that Thales’ contemporaries thought that his ideas on gods were unlike their own.

17. Book I, paragraph 31.

18. Book IX, paragraphs 313-36.

19. Book I, paragraph 30.

20. See W Windelband, History of Modern Philosophy and Its Relation to General Culture and the Individual Sciences, Volume 1 (Russian translation, edited by Mr A Vvedensky, St Petersburg, 1908), pp 238-39 – Editor.

21. Henry St John Bolingbroke (1678-1751) – English statesman and writer – Editor.

22. Windelband, History of Modern Philosophy, Volume 1, pp 238-39.

23. Toland wrote of himself and his like-minded associates: ‘We, free-thinkers.’ It is even said that he was the first to whom the appellation ‘free-thinker’ was given. [John Toland (1670-1722) – Irish materialist philosopher – Editor.]

24. George Berkeley (1685-1753) – Irish philosopher, subjective idealist – Editor.

25. Le Journal philosophique de Berkeley, étude et traduction par Raymond Gourg (Paris, 1908), pp 107-08.

26. Ibid, p 123.

27. For Berkeley, according to Stephen, ‘to destroy matter was to free the soul’ (History of English Thought in the Eighteenth Century, Volume 1 (London, 1881), p 39).

28. Ibid, p 89.

29. Ibid, p 125.

30. This is extremely well explained in Philosophical Essays, by Orthodox (LI Axelrod) (St Petersburg, 1906, in Russian), which I urgently recommend to the attention of readers.

31. ‘Ich musste also das Wissen aufheben, um zum Glauben Platz zu bekommen.’ (‘I therefore had to restrict the domain of knowledge to make room for belief.’) (Kritik der reinen Vernunft, herausgegeben von Dr K Kehrbach, Verlag von Reclam, Vorrede zur zweiten Ausgabe, pp 25-26)

32. Literally, ‘Crush infamy’ – MIA.

33. Jacques Mallet du Pan (1749-1800) – French political figure and publicist; Jean le Rond D'Alembert (1717-1783) – French mathematician and philosopher, one of the Encyclopaedists; Jean Antoine Condorcet (1743-1794) – French Enlightener, worked out an idealist theory of historical progress stemming from the continual advancement of the human mind; François Marie Arouet de Voltaire (1694-1778) – French deist philosopher, satirist, opposed absolutism and Catholicism – Editor.

34. Pierre Bayle (1647-1706) – French philosopher, sceptic, critic of theological dogmatism – Editor.

35. Even the neo-Kantian Lange admits that ‘there is no philosophy that develops out of itself’, but ‘there are only philosophising people who together with their teachings are essentially children of their time’ (History of Materialism, translated by NN Strakhov, second Russian edition, p 39). This, by the way, is simply a repetition of Hegel’s well-known idea that the philosophy of a particular age is its expression in ideas. Only this need be added: in human history the character of each particular age, in the last analysis, is determined by the character of its social relations.

36. Thomas Henry Huxley (1825-1895) – British naturalist, follower of Darwin; David Hume (1711-1776) – Scottish philosopher, subjective idealist – Editor.

37. Thomas Huxley, Hume, sa vie, sa philosophie (translated by Compayré, Paris, 1880), p 108. [Thomas Huxley, Hume (London, 1879), p 80 – Editor.]

38. Ibid, pp 108-09. [Ibid, p 80 – Editor.]

39. Ibid, p 111. [Ibid, pp 81-82 – Editor.]

40. See how his biographer, P Chalmers Mitchell, in Life of Thomas Henry Huxley, approves of this point (Chapter 13, pp 210-22).

41. Ward Six was a short story written in 1892 by Anton Chekhov (1860-1904). It is set in an asylum and investigates the relationships between the staff and inmates – MIA.

42. History of Materialism, p 653. [Friedrich Albert Lange (1828-1875) – German philosopher, neo-Kantian – Editor.]

43. Julien Offray de La Mettrie (1709-1751) – French physician and materialist philosopher – Editor.

44. It is worth noting that Du Bois-Raymond, in his speech on La Mettrie (Berlin, 1875), not only correctly presented this view of La Mettrie’s, but acknowledged it as the monist view which is now held by very many naturalists. This speech could serve as the reply to the same Du Bois-Raymond’s much-talked-of speech on the limits to cognisance of nature.

45. See Georgi Plekhanov, ‘Bernstein and Materialism’, Selected Philosophical Works, Volume 2 (Moscow, 1976), p 335 – Editor. [Available at Bernstein and Materialism – MIA.]

46. ‘II ne faut pas confondre les spinosistes anciens avec les spinosistes modernes. Le principe général de ceux-ci, c'est que la matière est sensible’, and so on. [‘One should not confuse the old Spinozists with the modern Spinozists. The main principle of the latter is that matter is sensible.'] (Encyclopedie, Volume 15, p 474) Then follows a brief exposition of Diderot’s own views. [Dénis Diderot (1713-1784) – French materialist philosopher, an ideologist of the French bourgeois revolution of the eighteenth century, head of the Encyclopaedists – Editor.]

47. Für meine Freunde. Lebenserinnerungen von Jacques Moleschott (Giessen, 1901), pp 222, 230, 239. [Jacob Moleschott (1822-1893) – Dutch philosopher and physiologist, representative of vulgar materialism – Editor.]

48. The brilliant Diderot understood this; hence the reason why, as we have seen, he did not wish to confuse the ‘modern Spinozists’ with the ‘old’.

49. Berkeley said (see above) that recognition of the existence of matter independently of consciousness leads inevitably to recognition of extension in God, and this, in his opinion, was the essence of materialism.

50. Phaedo, translated by Dmitri Lebedev (Moscow, 1896), pp 60-61. [HN Fowler’s translation, Look Classical Library, London, 1914, pp 289, 229-231 – Editor.]

51. Page 23 of the same [Russian] translation.

52. Ethics, translated by VI Modestov, fourth Russian edition, p 86. As this part of Ethics is extremely important, I give it here in the original: ‘At quatenus corpus humanum a corpore aliquo externo aliquo modo afficitur, eatenus corpus externum percipit.’ (Benedicti de Spinoza, Opera quae supersunt omnia, Volume 2 (Jena, 1803), p 104). It would be useful to compare this with the following words of Engels: ‘Von Körpern, ausser der Bewegung, ausser allem Verhältnis zu den anderen Körpern ist nichts zu sagen.’ [‘... of bodies out of motion, out of all relation to other bodies, nothing can be asserted.'] (Briefwechsel zwischen Friedrich Engels und Karl Marx, herausgegeben von A Bebel und Ed Bernstein, Volume 4 (Stuttgart, 1913), p 344) [Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, Selected Correspondence (Moscow, 1975), p 264 – Editor.]

53. ‘Pour établir la valeur de nos sensations’, as Pierre Delbet says very well, ‘... il suffit, que pour une même excitation la réaction céllulaire soit la même, et aucun esprit scientifique ne saurait douter un instant qu'elle le soil. Si elle est la même pour une même excitation... la répétition du phénomène entraîne nécessairement à établir une concordance entre l'excitation et la réaction, de telle sorte que cette réaction devient révélatrice de l'excitation. Ainsi s'établit une connaissance du monde extérieur qui ne peut pas être trompeuse.’ [‘In order to establish the significance of our sensations... it suffices that one and the same irritation should produce one and the same cellular reaction, and not one scientific mind could doubt for a minute that it is so. If the sensation is one and the same with one and the same irritation... the repetition of this phenomenon necessarily leads to the establishment of such concord between irritation and reaction that from the reaction we may judge the irritation that produced it. Thus there is established a knowledge of the external world which cannot be deceptive.'] (La Science et la Réalité (Paris, 1913), p 90)

54. ‘Kritische Bemerkungen zu den Grundsätzen der Philosophie (aus dem handschriftlichen Nachlass), Feuerbach’s Werke, Volume 2 (Stuttgart, 1904), pp 322-23.

55. Wilhelm Friedrich Ostwald (1853-1932) – German chemist and idealist philosopher, exponent of energism, a variety of Machism – Editor.

56. It would be very desirable that Deborin in the second edition of his Introduction devote a special chapter to a criticism of this conception of the world based on energy, and to gnosiology based on it.

57. ‘... matter is a substance possessed of the properties of attraction and repulsion only.’ (Disquisitions Relating to Matter and Spirit (second edition, Birmingham, 1782), p 32) [Joseph Priestley (1733-1804) – English chemist and materialist philosopher – Editor.]

58. Disquisitions Relating to Matter and Spirit, pp 23-24. [Ruggiero Giuseppe Boscovich (Ruder Josip Boskovic, 1711-1787) – Croatian mathematician, astronomer and physicist – Editor.]

59. It is easy to understand the origin of this definition: the spiritualists considered, as is generally known, that the ‘spirit’ did not act upon the senses.

60. See the interesting book by Abel Key, L'Energétique et le Méchanisme (Paris, 1908).

61. ‘Within the Atom’, Priroda, February 1915, pp 182 and 179. [Nikolai Alexandrovich Shilov (1872-1930) – Russian professor of chemistry – Editor. Materia prima: first or prime matter – MIA.]

62. Naturphilosophie, p 286, and Zusatz, [Hegel’s] Werke, Volume 7, pp 172-73.

63. See his letter to Marx of 14 July 1858 (the above-cited Briefwechsel, Volume 2, pp 278-79. [Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, Selected Correspondence (Moscow, 1975), p 101 – Editor.]