The Meaning of Hegel's Logic

IX: A Very Brief History of Materialism

I include this very brief, schematic summary of the history of materialist philosophy for two reasons:

  1. it is not possible to understand the objective idealism in Hegel's philosophy without following to some extent the problems with which materialism was wrestling in the period leading up to Hegel, and
  2. the understanding of this history is thus also necessary in order to understand how to approach Hegel's Logic as a materialist.

As remarked above, the essence of philosophy is the relation between being and consciousness. In what follows, I have attempted to highlight the contradictions manifested in the development of this essence. Hegel's philosophy thus arises as the synthesis of these contradictions, itself a concrete Notion, expressing the history of its genesis in the history of Western philosophy up to his time.

Galileo, Bacon and Descartes

In the early sixteenth century, Francis Bacon and Rene Descartes both came to similar conclusions in relation to the state of the science and philosophy of their time. Bacon is quite clear:

Since it seems to me that people do not keep strictly to the straight and narrow when forming their opinions or putting things to the test, I have decided to use all the means at my disposal to remedy this misfortune. For in nothing else does the aspiration to deserve well show itself than it things are so arranged that people, freed both from the hobgoblins of belief and blindness of experiments, may enter into a more reliable and sound partnership with things by, as it were, a certain literate experience. For in this way the intellect is both set up in safety and in its best state, and it will besides be at the ready and then come upon harvests of useful things.

Now the beginnings of this enterprise must in general he drawn from natural history; for the whole body of Greek philosophy with its sects of all kinds, and all the other philosophy we possess seem to me to be founded on too narrow a natural-historical basis, and thus to have delivered its conclusions on the authority of fewer data than was appropriate. For having snatched certain things from experience and tradition, things sometimes not carefully examined or ideas nor securely established, they leave the rest to meditation and intellectual agitation, employing Dialectic to inspire greater confidence in the matter.

But the chemists and the whole pack of mechanics and empirics, should they have the temerity to attempt contemplation and philosophy, being accustomed to meticulous subtlety in a few things, they twist by extraordinary means all the rest into conformity with them and promote opinions more odious and unnatural than those advanced by the very rationalists. For the latter take for the matter of philosophy very little out of many things, the former a great deal out of a few, but in truth those courses are weak and past cure. But the Natural History which has been accumulated hitherto may seem abundant on casual inspection, while in reality it is sketchy and useless, and not even of the kind I am seeking. For it has not been stripped of fables and ravings, and it rushes into antiquity, philology and superfluous narratives, neglectful and high-handed in matters of weight, over-scrupulous and immoderate in matters of no importance. [opening lines of the Preface to Natural History etc., Francis Bacon, 1609]

Bacon proposes a systematic investigation of Nature, particularly mechanics, since "nature of its own accord, free and shifting, disperses the intellect and confuses it with its variety", and:

In general I assign the leading roles in shedding light on nature to artificial things, not only because they are most useful in themselves, but because they are the most trustworthy interpreters of natural things. Can it be said that anyone had just happened to explain the nature of lightning or a rainbow as clearly before the principles of each had been demonstrated by artillery or the artificial simulacra of rainbows on a wall? But if they are trustworthy interpreters of causes, they will also be sure and fertile indicators of effects and of works. [op cit]

and Bacon urged

"Experiments of Fruit not ones of Light", "meticulous care and hand-picked trials, not to mention funding and the utmost patience besides".

Already the great Galilei Galileo had begun on this project, timing the speed with which balls rolled down a ramp with an egg-timer, extracting from the mass of measurements the underlying principle exhibited in the motion, and thereby laying the basis for modern experimental science, mechanics and astronomy.

Thus began the empirical trend of natural science which indeed laid the bass "for the building up of Philosophy", laying the greatest emphasis on experience as the source of knowledge.

Hegel commented on this trend:

Under these circumstances a double want began to be felt. Partly it was the need of a concrete subject-matter, as a counterpoise to the abstract theories of the understanding, which is unable to advance unaided from its generalities to specialisation and determination. Partly, too, it was the demand for something fixed and secure, so as to exclude the possibility of proving anything and everything in the sphere, and according to the method of the finite formulae of thought. Such was the genesis of Empirical philosophy, which abandons the search for truth in thought itself, and goes to fetch it from Experience, the outward and the inward present.

The rise of Empiricism is due to the need thus stated of concrete contents, and a firm footing - needs which the abstract metaphysic of the understanding failed to satisfy. ...

When it thus appeared that abstract metaphysical thinking was inadequate, it was felt that resource must be had to empirical psychology. The same happened in the case of Rational Physics. The current phrases there were, for instance, that space is infinite, that Nature makes no leap, etc. Evidently this phraseology was wholly unsatisfactory in presence of the plenitude and life of nature. [Shorter Logic, §37: Empiricism]

Rene Descartes, on the other hand, shared Bacon's contempt for the reliability of the science of the day:

I shall not say anything about Philosophy, but that, seeing that it has been cultivated for many centuries by the best minds that have ever lived, and that nevertheless no single thing is to be found in it which is not subject of dispute, and in consequence which is not dubious I had not enough presumption to hope to fare better there than other men had done. And also, considering how many conflicting opinions there may be regarding the self-same matter, all supported by learned people, while there can never be more than one which is true, I esteemed as well-nigh false all that only went as far as being probable.

Then as to the other sciences, inasmuch as they derive their principles from Philosophy, I judged that one could have built nothing solid on foundations so far from firm. And neither the honour nor the promised gain was sufficient to persuade me to cultivate them, for, thanks be to God, I did not find myself in a condition which obliged me to make a merchandise of science for the improvement of my fortune; and, although I did not pretend to scorn all glory like the Cynics, I yet had very small esteem for what I could not hope to acquire, excepting through fictitious titles. And, finally, as to false doctrines, I thought that I already knew well enough what they were worth to be subject to deception neither by the promises of an alchemist, the predictions of an astrologer, the impostures of a magician, the artifices or the empty boastings of any of those who make a profession of knowing that of which they are ignorant. [Discourse on Method, Rene Descartes, 1632]

Moreover, Descartes asserted that experience cannot provide valid knowledge without the aid of understanding which cannot in principle be attained through reliance on sense perception:

... even the philosophers in the Schools hold it as a maxim that there is nothing in the understanding which has not first of all been in the senses,.... while neither our imagination nor our senses can ever assure us of anything, if our understanding does not intervene.

To establish that foundation of certainty upon which knowledge could begin to be built, Descartes asked himself what he knew for certain. From this enquiry he was led to his famous maxim "I think, therefore I am". That is, I must absolutely doubt everything that is given to me by sense perception and every argument of Reason which calls upon prior principles, but as I think on this, I at least know that someone is thinking.

Descartes approach considered on the one side Mind, and on the other matter. Confronted with the mystery as to how the mind, which was utterly without extension or any corporeal form, could apprehend the objective world, which had extension and other physical properties, Descartes was led to conclude that there existed a special organ somewhere in the skull, which connected mind with matter!

Descartes' somewhat idiosyncratic solution to the problem of the correspondence of mind and matter, is typical of his speculations on Nature - filled with brilliant insights, but lacking the very solid basis which he sought through the rigorous application of Reason. Descartes himself contributed brilliantly to the future of natural science through his invention of Cartesian Geometry, in which spatial forms are identified with algebraic formulae - the single most important tool for theoretical representation of the material world in almost all branches of natural science ever since.

Descartes is thus described as a Dualist because he begins with a dichotomy between consciousness and matter, as two essentially different substances, whose correspondence must then be brought about "externally". Experience shows that consciousness corresponds to the objective world - and not just the consciousness of immediate sense perception, but Reason itself. But how is this possible?

Descartes is a Materialist because he does not doubt the independent existence of the material world outside of consciousness, and accepts that this material world is given in sense perception. However, as a Rationalist, Descartes holds that the world beyond senses is knowable only through the activity of Reason. While Descartes pays his respects to the accumulated knowledge of his Age, his method is very much one which appeals to the reasoning activity of the individual thinker.

Bacon, on the other hand, calls for a whole program of collective accumulation of knowledge. Clearly Bacon lays the emphasis upon Experience as the source of knowledge, and he does not question the capacity of Reason to arrive at truth through analysis of the data of experience, provided only that there is a patient, systematic and critical analysis of that material. For this reason he is known as an Empiricist.

Thus, this period of the beginning of materialism at the beginning of the seventeenth century, is characterised by the contradiction between Rationalism and Empiricism. Galileo, Bacon and Descartes have laid the basis in materialist philosophy for the revolution in natural science, industry and social development.

Spinoza, Hobbes and Locke

Descartes' Discourse on Method had been published in 1637 at Leiden in the Dutch Republic, where there was a measure of religious freedom. The young Jew, Benedicto Spinoza was 5 years old at this time, born in Leiden from parents who had fled to the Republic to escape religious persecution. By the age of 27, Spinoza had been expelled from the Jewish community for his heresy.

Spinoza had worked over Descartes' system, rendering it into the form of "geometrical" axioms and theorems, and then developed his own system which overcame Descartes' dualism. For Spinoza, God did not create the world (far less intervene in it), God is Nature. Nature is composed of substances which have attributes; Thought and extension are not two different substances, but attributes of one and the same substance. The conscious person manifests God in their thought and actions, their free will being that of Nature or God.

By this device, Spinoza has done away with Descartes' dualism; his "geometric" exposition attempts to set for philosophy a foundation as rational and exact as that of geometry. However, despite Spinoza's solution of the problem of Free Will, Spinoza's Universe is totally determined, the is no Chance. Furthermore, while Spinoza has brilliantly resolved the problem of dualism, he has not provided any real method for the elaboration of knowledge. His system of axioms, like Descartes' supposedly "clear and distinct ideas given immediately to Reason:

If any one should say, then, that he has a clear and distinct, that is a true, idea of substance, and should nevertheless doubt whether such substance existed, he would indeed be like one who should say that he had a true idea and yet should wonder whether it were false (as will be manifest to any one who regards it carefully); or if any one should say that substance was created, he would state at the same time that a false idea had been made true, than which it is difficult to conceive anything more absurd. And therefore it must necessarily be acknowledged that the existence of substance, like its essence, is an eternal truth. [Ethics, Spinoza, 1677]

And Spinoza's "clear and distinct, that is true" axioms are put forth boldly from line-one of his Ethics, and made the basis of a series of theorems, lemmas and corollaries building up an entire system. But to the reader, they may as well have been pulled out of his back-pocket. Spinoza's Rational, Materialist, Monism had little influence until the mid-eighteenth century when he was one of many sources underlying the blossoming of "classical German philosophy". Subsequently however, figures such as Goethe, Haeckel and Einstein embraced Spinoza's materialist monism.

Meanwhile in England, Thomas Hobbes set about working Bacon's doctrine of Experience into a philosophical system. Hobbes narrows the concept of experience as the source of knowledge:

Concerning the Thoughts of man, .. they are every one a Representation or Appearance of some quality, or other Attribute of a body without us; which is commonly called an Object. Which Object worketh on the Eyes, Ears, and other parts of mans body; and by diversity of working, produceth diversity of Apparences.

The Origin of them all, is that which we call SENSE; (For there is no conception in a mans mind, which hath not at first, totally, or by parts, been begotten upon the organs of Sense.) The rest are derived from that origin.

To know the natural cause of Sense, is not very necessary to the business now in hand; ... Nevertheless, ...

The cause of Sense, is the External Body, or Object, which presseth the organ proper to each Sense, either immediately, as in the Taste and Touch; or mediately, as in Seeing, Hearing, and Smelling: which pressure, by the mediation of Nerves, and other strings, and membranes of the body, continued inwards to the Brain, and Heart, causeth there a resistance, or counter-pressure, or endeavour of the heart, to deliver itself: which endeavour because Outward, seemeth to be some matter without. And this seeming, or fancy, is that which men call Sense; ... All which qualities called Sensible, are in the object that causeth them, but so many several motions of the matter, by which it presseth our organs diversly. Neither in us that are pressed, are they any thing else, but divers motions; (for motion, produceth nothing but motion.) But their appearance to us is Fancy, the same waking, that dreaming.

And as pressing, rubbing, or striking the Eye, makes us fancy a light; ... [etc] and very object seem invested with the fancy it begets in us; Yet still the object is one thing, the image or fancy is another. So that Sense in all cases, is nothing else but original fancy, caused (as I have said) by the pressure, that is, by the motion, of externall things upon our Eyes, Ears, and other organs thereunto ordained. [Leviathan, Hobbes, 1650]

This line of reasoning is taken further by John Locke, who counters Descartes' Dualism, and in particular his assertion that Reason is not given by Experience, but is innate. Locke equates sense impressions with "ideas" - "ideas of sense". "Ideas of reflection", he says, are the mind's reflection upon its own activity, going so far as to say that the mind is a tabula rasa - a blank sheet of paper, upon which Nature writes:

Let us then suppose the mind to be, as we say, white paper, void of all characters without any ideas; how comes it to be furnished? Whence comes it by that vast store, which the busy and boundless fancy of man has painted on it with an almost endless variety? Whence has it all the materials of reason and knowledge? To this I answer, in one word, From experience: in that all our knowledge is founded, and from that it ultimately derives itself.

Our observation, employed either about external sensible objects, or about the internal operations of our minds, perceived and reflected on by ourselves is that which supplies our understandings with all the materials of thinking. These two are the fountains of knowledge, from whence all the ideas we have, or can naturally have, do spring.[An Essay concerning Human Understanding, John Locke, 1689]

Neither Hobbes nor Locke question the existence of the external world: it is objects that act on the senses, generating ideas; nor do they doubt the adequacy of the knowledge so given.

In this period therefore, both the British Empirical school and the European Rationalists wrestled with the contradiction between dualism and monism.

Berkeley and Newton

George Berkeley, the Irish Bishop, was an avowed conservative and enemy of Materialism, and his contribution to materialism is that he took empiricism to "it's logical conclusion", as we say. Descartes showed that the object itself cannot be equated to our image formed of it by sense perception. Berkeley points out that, if all we have is "ideas of sensation" and "ideas of reflection", then we have no knowledge of anything outside consciousness at all, only knowledge of our sensations!

It is evident to any one who takes a survey of the objects of human knowledge, that they are either ideas actually imprinted on the senses; or else such as are perceived by attending to the passions and operations of the mind; or lastly, ideas formed by help of memory and imagination - either compounding, dividing, or barely representing those originally perceived in the aforesaid ways. ...

But, besides all that endless variety of ideas or objects of knowledge, there is likewise something which knows or perceives them; and exercises divers operations, as willing, imagining, remembering, about them. This perceiving, active being is what I call MIND, SPIRIT, SOUL, or MYSELF....

That neither our thoughts, nor passions, nor ideas formed by the imagination, exist without the mind, is what everybody will allow --And to me it is no less evident that the various SENSATIONS, or ideas imprinted on the sense, however blended or combined together ...

It is indeed an opinion strangely prevailing amongst men, that houses, mountains, rivers, and in a word all sensible objects, have an existence, natural or real, distinct from their being perceived by the understanding. But, with how great an assurance and acquiescence soever this principle may be entertained in the world, yet whoever shall find in his heart to call it in question may, if I mistake not, perceive it to involve a manifest contradiction. For, what are the forementioned objects but the things we perceive by sense? and what do we perceive besides our own ideas or sensations? and is it not plainly repugnant that any one of these, or any combination of them, should exist unperceived? [Of the Principles of Human Knowledge, George Berkeley, 1710]

And this total impasse, British Empiricism has never overcome: "Matter" is an "abstract idea", of which we can have no knowledge, just like the psychologists who call themselves "Behavioural Scientists", because they can have no knowledge of someone else's consciousness, but more of this later....

Roughly contemporary with Berkeley was Sir Isaac Newton. Newton followed the advice of Galileo and Bacon and made good use of the Rational tools provided by Descartes, and by systematic analysis of the data of planned experiment and the judicious use of definitions, axioms and formal logical deduction, and, in the case of his discovery of the Calculus not bothering too much if the exigencies of formal logical proof got in the way of a useful line of analysis, erected a mechanical explanation of the Universe which is absolutely stunning in its scope and power. Those who came after must truly have felt that there was nothing more to do but work out the details!

Newton brought within a single law the motion of simple day-to-day objects on Earth and the motion of the Heavens, which were found to be simply "falling" around their epicentre, prevented from falling into the Sun only by the initial impetus which must have been imparted an indefinite time long ago in the past by God.

Indeed, Newton pushed God, not out of existence altogether, but back to the "boundary conditions" of the Universe, with the task simply of decreeing the Laws of Nature and setting the whole thing in motion, and we humans to watch in wonder and admiration ... and understand.

Berkeley the subjective idealist (he later gravitated to an objective idealist position, having the Universal Mind of God holding the world in existence) took the internal contradiction within empiricism to its absurd conclusion; Newton took its strength to its consummate completion in a rounded out mechanical view of the Universe, consigning God to the role of "pressing the Start button", and "the observer" is reduced to the role of a reference point in time-space; for Berkeley, the world exists only in the mind of the observer.

Here the contradiction is between subjectivism and objectivism.

The French Enlightenment and Hume

This leap in scientific knowledge, accompanied by a crisis in the science of knowledge, is reflected in the philosophy of the Enlightenment. The wonderful flourishing of philosophy in pre-Revolutionary France laid the basis for the overthrow of Monarchy and all the crap of ages - Voltaire, Rousseau, Condillac, d'Alembert, Condorcet, Montesquieu, Gassendi, Fontonelle, Buffon, d'Holbach, Helvetius and Diderot.

Many different views were to be found: D'Alembert was a sensationalist, Diderot a mechanical materialist, Rousseau a sceptic; some were Deists, some Atheists. All agreed that the advancement of science was inimical to oppression. The contradictions inherited from the previous period were not resolved, but the material for a way out of the impasse was accumulated. Above all, what was achieved by the Enlightenment was the beginning of an understanding of knowledge, personality, consciousness as a social product: inequality was the result of private property, feudalistic beliefs the result of feudalistic upbringing, Nature played upon the senses, and society played upon the person, people are formed by nature and society.

What is this egg? An unperceiving mass, before the germ is introduced into it; and after the germ is introduced, what is it then? still only an unperceiving mass, for this germ itself is only a crude inert fluid. How will this mass develop into a different organisation, to sensitiveness, to life? By means of heat. And what will produce the heat? Motion. What will be the successive effects of this motion?

Instead of answering me, sit down and let's watch them from moment to moment. First there's a dot that quivers, a little thread that grows longer and takes on colour; tissue is formed; a beak, tiny wings, eyes, feet appear; a yellowish material unwinds and produces intestines; it is an animal. This animal moves, struggles, cries out; I hear its cries through the shell; it becomes covered with down; it sees. The weight of its head, shaking about, brings its beak constantly up against the inner wall of its prison; now the wall is broken; it comes out, it walks about, flies, grows angry, runs away,-comes near again, complains, suffers, loves, desires, enjoys; it has the same affections as yourself, it performs the same actions. Are you going to assert with Descartes that it is a purely imitative machine? Little children will laugh at you, and philosophers will retort that if this be a machine then you, too, are a machine. If you admit that between the animal and yourself the difference is merely one of organisation, you will be showing good sense and reason, you will be honest; but from this there will be drawn the conclusion that refutes you; namely that, from inert matter, organised in a certain way, and impregnated with other inert matter, and given heat and motion, there results the faculty of sensation, life, memory, consciousness, passion and thought. You have only two courses left to take: either to imagine within the inert mass of the egg a hidden element that awaited the egg's development before revealing its presence, or to assume that this invisible element crept in through the shell at a definite moment in the development. But what is this element? Did it occupy space or did it not? How did it come, or did it escape without moving? What was it doing there or elsewhere? Was it created at the instant it was needed? Was it already in existence? Was it waiting for a home? If it was homogeneous it was material; if heterogeneous, one cannot account for its -previous inertia nor its activity in the developed animal. Just listen to yourself, and you will be sorry for yourself; if you will perceive that, in order to avoid making a simple supposition that explains everything, namely the faculty of sensation as a general property of matter or a product of its organisation, you are giving up common sense and plunging headlong into an abyss of mysteries, contradictions and absurdities. [Conversation between Diderot and D'Alembert, Diderot, 1769]

In Britain, David Hume responded to Berkeley's challenge with a good British compromise: "Well, we can't know for absolute certain that the Sun will rise tomorrow, just because it always has before, but we can be sure enough for practical purposes":

All reasonings concerning matter of fact seem to be founded on the relation of cause and effect. By means of that relation alone we can go beyond the evidence of our memory and senses. ... The hearing of an articulate voice and rational discourse in the dark assures us of the presence of some person. Why? Because these are the effects of the human make and fabric, and closely connected with it. If we anatomise all the other reasonings of this nature, we shall find that they are founded on the relation of cause and effect, and that this relation is either near or remote, direct or collateral. ....

I shall venture to affirm, as a general proposition, which admits of no exception, that the knowledge of this relation is not, in any instance, attained by reasonings a priori, but arises entirely from experience, when we find that any particular objects are constantly conjoined with each other. Let an object be presented to a man of ever so strong natural reason and abilities; if that object be entirely new to him, he will not be able, by the most accurate examination of its sensible qualities, to discover any of its causes or effects. ...

Who will assert that he can give the ultimate reason, why milk or bread is proper nourishment for a man, not for a lion or a tiger? But ... We fancy, that were we brought on a sudden into this world, we could at first have inferred that one billiard ball would communicate motion to another upon impulse, and that we needed not to have waited for the event, in order to pronounce with certainty concerning it. Such is the influence of custom, that, where it is strongest, it not only covers our natural ignorance but even conceals itself, and seems not to take place, merely because it is found in the highest degree.

... In vain, therefore, should we pretend to determine any single event, or infer any cause or effect, without the assistance of observation and experience.

Hence we may discover the reason why no philosopher, who is rational and modest, has ever pretended to assign the ultimate cause of any natural operation, or to show distinctly the action of that power, which produces any single effect in the universe. It is confessed, that the utmost effort of human reason is to reduce the principles, productive of natural phenomena, to a greater simplicity, and to resolve the many particular effects into a few general causes, by means of reasonings from analogy, experience, and observation. But as to the causes of these general causes, we should in vain attempt their discovery, nor shall we ever be able to satisfy ourselves, by any particular explication of them. These ultimate springs and principles are totally shut up from human curiosity and enquiry. [An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, David Hume, 1772]

Hume is a Sceptic; he demonstrates that while experience may teach us what to expect, it cannot give us necessity. Reason can give us necessity, but there is precious little known to Reason other than what is first given by experience. But the important thing is that he directs attention not just to the content of knowledge but its form. But Hume does not know where do draw the line; knowledge is always relative, but for Hume the world remained fundamentally unknowable. Maybe the Sun won't rise tomorrow - who can say?

Diderot on the other hand, is absolutely confident that organic matter arose from inorganic matter, and thinking matter from organic matter, and continues to do so every moment, and that if we don't yet understand exactly how that happens, then every day we get closer and closer to understanding it - and his life work, the compilation of the Encyclopaedia, and his writings written to be read by the common people, he was putting it into practice.

Diderot is an out-and-out materialist, but his materialism is the mechanical materialism of Newton; there is no scepticism there at all, his materialism is uncritical, Dogmatic. The further development of materialism, required the resolution of the struggle between dogmatism and scepticism.


The philosophical world into which Immanuel Kant entered was one riven by apparently irresolvable contradictions. The proponents of the opposing views hardly spoke the same philosophical language and their views seemed irreconcilable.

Kant set himself the task of creating a science of philosophy which would allow these contradictions to be overcome. In particular he addressed himself to the scepticism of Hume:

The celebrated David Hume was one of those geographers of human reason who imagine that they have given a sufficient answer to all such questions by declaring them to lie beyond the horizon of human reason - a horizon which, however, Hume was unable to determine. His attention especially was directed to the principle of causality; and he remarked with perfect justice that the truth of this principle, and even the objective validity of the conception of a cause, was based upon no clear insight, that is, upon no a priori knowledge. Hence he concluded that this law does not derive its authority from its universality and necessity, but merely from its general applicability in the course of experience, and a kind of subjective necessity thence arising, which he termed habit. From the inability of reason to establish this principle as a necessary law for the acquisition of all experience, he inferred the nullity of all the attempts of reason to pass the region of the empirical.

This procedure of subjecting the facts of reason to examination, and, if necessary, to disapproval, may be termed the censorship of reason. This censorship must inevitably lead us to doubt regarding all transcendent employment of principles. But this is only the second step in our inquiry. The first step in regard to the subjects of pure reason, and which marks the infancy of that faculty, is dogmatic. The second, which we have just mentioned, is sceptical, and it gives evidence that our judgement has been improved by experience. But a third step, such as can be taken only by fully matured judgment, based on assured principles of proved universality, is now necessary, namely to subject to examination, not the facts of reason, but reason itself, in the whole extent of its powers, and as regards its aptitude for pure a priori modes of knowledge. This is not the censorship but the criticism of reason, whereby not its present bounds but its determinate and necessary limits, not its ignorance in regard to all possible questions of a certain kind, are demonstrated from principles, and not merely arrived at by way of conjecture. [Kant, Critique of Pure Reason, Method, I, 2]

Following a path which is reminiscent of that of Descartes, Kant attempts to establish those synthetic Judgements (i.e. truths which are not implicit in a given concept, which could be established by analysis], which are given to Reason a priori. These included the nature of time-space, and in the light of subsequent entirely unpredictable developments in physics, it must be agreed that little remains today of Kant's "synthetic a priori judgements".

Kant also demonstrated that strict adherence to formal logic led to antinomies - self-contradictions: whether we are or are not to think the world limited in space and time; whether matter must be conceived either as endlessly divisible, or as consisting of atoms; the antithesis of freedom and necessity: whether everything in the world must be supposed subject to the condition of causality, or if we can also assume free beings; whether the world as a whole has a cause or it is uncaused. But, as Hegel later remarked in his commentary on Kant: Antinomies "appear in all objects of every kind, in all conceptions, notions, and Ideas". But for Kant: Logic is a pure intuition and "contains the absolutely necessary rules of thought without which there can be no employment whatsoever of the understanding". Thus, for Kant, the "world beyond sensation", the world "in-itself" remained inaccessible to Reason. Science could have as content only Appearances. Thus, the Critical Philosophy re-established Scepticism.

Kant's achievement is enormous: he establishes a system of categories and concepts of philosophy which was the basis for the stunning development of Classical German Philosophy and later Marxism over the 50 years following the Critique of Pure Reason, and it remains the point of reference for all schools of philosophy which pretend to the status of science, up to the present.

However, it has to be said that Kant failed in his project to provide the basis to overcome the contradictions plaguing philosophy, and in fact produced a philosophy which was riven by contradictions itself. In fact, it must be marked as an achievement of Kant that he proved that contradiction is inherent in thought.

However, Kant's main contribution is that he focused attention not on the formal rules for joining concepts logical propositions, but upon the categories of Logic, upon the fact that in forming a concept, Reason operated with categories, and these categories had to be subject to investigation. Kant identified a series of "original pure concepts of synthesis that the understanding contains within itself a priori", viz.,: Unity, plurality and totality; reality, negation and limitation; inherence or subsistence, causality or dependence and community; possibility or impossibility, existence or non-existence and necessity or contingency.

It would go way beyond the scope of a paragraph or two, to do justice to a critique of Kant's philosophy. Likewise, the usual study of Fichte and Schelling, who lie between Kant and Hegel in the rapid unfolding of classical German philosophy, cannot be attempted here.

Suffice it to say, that in focusing attention on the critique of Reason, Kant set the direction and provided invaluable tools for the resolution of the crisis of philosophy which he attempted, but he did not himself achieve this resolution.

This brings us to consideration of Hegel and the further revolution in philosophy which came after him, which is the subject of earlier chapters.

It is worth noting, though, that Hegel wrote the Science of Logic in 1812-1816, and died before Charles Lyell demonstrated the development of the Earth's crust and Darwin published the Origin of Species (in 1859), let alone the discovery of the wave-particle nature of matter at the beginning of this century which demonstrated the validity of Hegel's dialectics at the most fundamental level of Nature and Gödel and Turing demonstrated the fundamental limitations of formal logic.


It would go far beyond the scope of extremely brief and schematic sketch of the history of materialist philosophy to mention the natural scientific, technical and social developments that have accompanied the above philosophical genesis. But philosophical materialism, positive science, the forces of production and the social relations of production can only develop in definite relationship to one another.

Further, like society and industry, knowledge develops according to necessary laws which among other things means that scientific understanding of psychology, history and society can only come after a protracted development of geometry, mechanics, physics, chemistry, biology, etc., and it can only be at a certain point in the development of science and industry that a scientific view of the development of human history is possible.

Such a scientific view of human history and society is only possible on the basis of an exhaustive study of all facets of human life, a consistent search for the roots of social, political and ideological change in the conditions of material life, and a ruthlessly critical, dialectical and consciously historical and creative handling of concepts.

This task goes beyond the competence of the professional logician, since having established the theoretical framework for the comprehension of theory and practice, the criticism of concepts requires revolutionary-practical activity.

The foundations of such a standpoint were laid by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, and is brilliantly summarised in Marx's Preface to The Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy.

My inquiry led me to the conclusion that neither legal relations nor political forms could be comprehended whether by themselves or on the basis of a so-called general development of the human mind, but that on the contrary they originate in the material conditions of life, the totality of which Hegel, following the example of English and French thinkers of the eighteenth century, embraces within the term "civil society"; that the anatomy of this civil society, however, has to be sought in political economy. The study of this, which I began in Paris, I continued in Brussels, where I moved owing to an expulsion order issued by M. Guizot. The general conclusion at which I arrived and which, once reached, became the guiding principle of my studies can be summarised as follows. In the social production of their existence, men inevitably enter into definite relations, which are independent of their will, namely relations of production appropriate to a given stage in the development of their material forces of production. The totality of these relations of production constitutes the economic structure of society, the real foundation, on which arises a legal and political superstructure and to which correspond definite forms of social consciousness. The mode of production of material life conditions the general process of social, political and intellectual life. It is not the consciousness of men that determines their existence, but their social existence that determines their consciousness. At a certain stage of development, the material productive forces of society come into conflict with the existing relations of production or -- this merely expresses the same thing in legal terms -- with the property relations within the framework of which they have operated hitherto.

From forms of development of the productive forces these relations turn into their fetters. Then begins an era of social revolution. The changes in the economic foundation lead sooner or later to the transformation of the whole immense superstructure. In studying such transformations it is always necessary to distinguish between the material transformation of the economic conditions of production, which can be determined with the precision of natural science, and the legal, political, religious, artistic or philosophic -- in short, ideological forms in which men become conscious of this conflict and fight it out.

Just as one does not judge an individual by what he thinks about himself, so one cannot judge such a period of transformation by its consciousness, but, on the contrary, this consciousness must be explained from the contradictions of material life, from the conflict existing between the social forces of production and the relations of production. No social order is ever destroyed before all the productive forces for which it is sufficient have been developed, and new superior relations of production never replace older ones before the material conditions for their existence have matured within the framework of the old society. Mankind thus inevitably sets itself only such tasks as it is able to solve, since closer examination will always show that the problem itself arises only when the material conditions for its solution are already present or at least in the course of formation. In broad outline, the Asiatic, ancient, feudal and modern bourgeois modes of production may be designated as epochs marking progress in the economic development of society. The bourgeois mode of production is the last antagonistic form of the social process of production -- antagonistic not in the sense of individual antagonism but of an antagonism that emanates from the individuals' social conditions of existence -- but the productive forces developing within bourgeois society create also the material conditions for a solution of this antagonism. The prehistory of human society accordingly closes with this social formation. [Critique of political Economy]