Value of Knowledge Reference

Classical Epistemology
From the Copernican Revolution (1600) to the 1848 Revolution in Germany.

Copernicus and Galileo

Copernicus was commissioned by the Pope to investigate possible improvements in methods of constructing the calendar, but his report had revolutionary implications. Galileo fought for his life defending Copernicus’ system and in presenting his view of a material world existing independently of human consciousness which can be understood through theories which reflect the actual movement of bodies verified by observations accumulated over generations. He does not reject the knowledge of his predecessors, but on the contrary calls upon them in his defence, including Thomas Aquinas in arguing against the literal interpretation of the Bible. Galileo relies upon the unstoppable progress of industry and enquiry to prove the validity of building theoretical knowledge on the basis of logical analysis and observation, as against the right of the Church to determine theoretical knowledge as a matter of dogma.

Galileo’s epistemology is impressively sophisticated and balanced in relation to the developments of the subsequent 200 years. What is the essence of what he has to say? It is the separation of ethics from knowledge (of nature, history, etc), of the separation of science from the legitimate domain of the Church; he claimed the right of the people to investigate profane matters, questions which were capable of falsification in experience or reason, while the Holy Fathers could confine themselves to determining what was necessary to gain access to eternal life and avoid damnation. Bacon also achieved this same separation in England, claiming that the way to perceive God’s Will was to observe his Works.

As I said, Galileo was a very sophisticated thinker, and in many ways centuries ahead of his time. In the course of defending philosophical materialism against the Church, he even goes so far as refuting the “economy of thought” argument which would appear in natural scientific philosophy three hundred years later. He made important statements on all sorts of matters both natural-scientific and philosophical — but the Essence of what he said was the liberation of the knowledge from Scripture, from Ethics. He held that making of this or that proposition about nature could not be sinful, but only objectively true or false.

It should be noted that Galileo did not call into question the right of the Church to rule within its own domain, but that matters which can be demonstrated as true or false in Nature cannot be the subject of Scripture. He was forced to recant, but the Inquisition could not prevent Galileo’s triumph. They could not prevent Galileo’s triumph, simply because people were out there with lenses and mechanical devices, investigating nature and demonstrating the falsity of conventional wisdom, and no Ecclesiastical decree was going to stop them. Capitalist industry and commerce was on the march. Galileo’s declaration of the right of free enquiry was the parallel of the rising bourgeoisie’s right to organise labour in whatever way made sense at the time, irrespective of the rights and obligations of feudal social organisation. [See Feuerbach on materialism.]

Descartes and Bacon

Descartes and Bacon both propose the wholesale rejection of the legacy of supposed knowledge from the past and to start from the beginning in order to build an adequate knowledge of the world. However, they place emphasis on opposite sides. This is the period of struggle between Rationalism and Empiricism. This polarity is the first of a series of polarities manifested in the classical history of epistemology. Each dichotomy remains unresolved till the mid-19th century, but within a single generation is overtaken by a new dichotomy which, so to speak, takes centre stage.

The difference in emphasis on experience or reason remains a contrast between the British and Continental lines of development ever after. The British bourgeoisie made the political revolution as early as 1640, whereas it is not until 1789 in France that the bourgeoisie gained political control of their country, and the German bourgeoisie did not gain political power till after World War I.

The rise of Empiricism is often linked to the successful Industrial Revolution first accomplished in Britain. However, empiricism was already thoroughly imbued in the population by the time of the beginning of the Industrial Revolution in the second half of the 18th century.

The capital accumulated mainly on the basis of slavery and plunder during the period prior to the 17th century, the century which gave birth to the rise of bourgeois philosophy as opposed to theology, was either merchant or usurer capital. This primitive accumulation depended overwhelmingly on robbery of the Americas and the East Indies, in particular the slave trade, and the nations engaged in this plunder were, in more or less chronological order Spain, Portugal, Holland, France and England (Marx, Capital I, XXXI). By the time England is at it, a combination of colonisation, national debt, taxation and protectionism — all depending on the brute force of the State — is arrived at to hasten to birth of the economic power of capitalism within feudal society. With the commercial capital accumulated by the most bestial rape of the colonies, there would be no capitalism in Europe.

Even before the English Revolution, the British bourgeoisie was busy ripping off Crown and communal land and bleeding State coffers. The concentration of land in the hands of large landowners allowed both the improvement of agricultural productivity and the creation of a mass of landless proletarians. The transformation of the peasantry into agricultural labourers also created a home market for manufactured products such as linen and yarn which would have formerly been produced by subsistence methods by the peasants themselves.

During the period from 1640 to 1760, the British bourgeoisie succeeded in removing all internal barriers to trade and found within their own territory an abundant home market for agricultural produce and small-scale industrial products. The French however found it impossible to create a home market or to break down the network of restrictions on internal trade maintained by the French nobility.

Although the Industrial Revolution is still 100 years away in the time of Bacon, what distinguishes England from the Continent is the presence of both an industrial and agricultural bourgeoisie.

What Bacon and Descartes have in common is the radical separation of subject and object in knowledge. In Bacon this not brought out, but is implicit in the conception of Nature as the object of experiment and investigation by the human subject, quite uncritical in the sense of later generations of both English and Continental philosophy. For Descartes, the dualism is quite explicit: the problem is how on Earth to explain that Mind is capable of corresponding to the material world though it be of totally different substance with no apparent point of contact.

The first act of epistemology is thus the rupture of subject and object. But this begs the question of the priority to be given to the subject (Reason) or the Object (sensuous perception) is the act of knowledge. I feel compelled to surmise that it is the conditions of accumulation of value in the home market that give rise to the birth of empiricist philosophy. Artisans were active in all the towns of the time, and in Holland and Italy for example, the trades were highly developed long before the time of Bacon. So it is not at all feasible to suppose that this early “technological” activity formed the basis of empiricist philosophy, which was after all the product not of artisans, but of bourgeois or even aristocratic gentlemen.

There is no doubt at all that the development of science furthered the economic and social interests of the bourgeoisie. The question is: why did this take two different, opposite forms in England and France? George Novack, in his “Empiricism and its Evolution”, seems to believe that empiricism is the natural and only ideology for the development of industry and science and therefore capitalism, and for that matter, goes so far as to impute a Pragmatist position to Bacon, and deems Pragmatism to be the very doorway to dialectical materialism. This just won’t do. Descartes is quite explicit, and moreover correct, in his criticism of Empiricism, and hostility to Empiricism (and Pragmatism) continues among French philosophers right up to the present day. France has given the world its greatest mathematicians, not just Descartes but Lagrange, Poisson, Galois, Lefevbre, ... the list goes on and on, and apart from Sir Isaac Newton one must wait till the 20th century to find an English mathematician (Russell, Whitehead, Keynes) and then mediocre ones. The French are not lacking in experimental scientists (Lavoisier for example) but without a doubt Britain is the home of experimental science (Bacon himself, Boyle, Harvey, Gilbert, Hooke, ...)

Britain emerged as the pre-eminent capitalist power long before its competitors had even gained control of their own home market and achieved State power, and by means of the home market, the increase in agricultural and manufacturing productivity mainly by concentration of trades in a single workshop and enclosure of peasant lands, and thereby the creation of an industrial and agricultural proletariat.

How was science to advance in France? chiefly in the heads of the aristocracy. Capital was being accumulated solely by the subjugation of other human beings. In Discourse on Method, Descartes clearly foresees the mastery of Nature by the use of machinery, but mastery of Nature is the extension of a mastery achieved by superior military logistics and organisation, superior leadership and military science.

For Bacon, the mastery of Nature follows from the mobilisation of masses of investigators, observers and collectors, funded and working to a plan it is true, but it is a direct sensuous action upon Nature that he envisages — the employment of people upon nature. Thus, the opposite theories of Nature reflect opposite means of the accumulation of value.

Spinoza and Hobbes-Locke

The first act of epistemology is the separation of subject and object. The next generation — Descartes’ admirer Spinoza in Europe, and Bacon’s pupil Hobbes and his successor Locke in England — had to wrestle with this separation of a subject and object which did not “know each other”. This is the period concerned with the dichotomy of dualism and monism.

In the Dutch Republic, the finance capital of the world enjoying its “Golden Age” based on plundering of the East Indies, the son of Portuguese Jewish refugees, Benedict Spinoza proposes a monist solution of Descartes’ rationalism.

Meanwhile, in Revolutionary England, the Royalist Thomas Hobbes continues the evolution of empiricism by a consideration of how the action of matter on the sense organs generates thought in the mind; this line of development is continued by John Locke, who provides the newly ruling English bourgeoisie with the most fully worked out philosophy of the time, based on the epistemology of empiricism.

At this time, Spinoza’s profound materialism leads to a kind of dead-end however. His main work which is clearly an attempt to correct Descartes’ dualism and formulate a materialist and monist epistemology, is entitled Ethics. And indeed, though answering a question of knowledge, the answer is more ethical than an epistemological. God did not create Nature, Nature is God. [Spinoza’s rational materialism finds further development in Leibnitz’s objective idealism and is to some extent revived by Goethe in the Enlightenment. Monism does not become a dominant feature of epistemology until Hegel. The bourgeoisie of the dominant capitalist powers remain dualists.]

In Bacon, dualism is not explicit, but it is made explicit in Hobbes and Locke. Locke holds: “All ideas come from sensation or reflection. — Let us then suppose the mind to be, as we say, white paper [tabula rasa], void of all characters without any ideas; how comes it to be furnished?” In fact it appears that ideas do not just come from sensations, but the distinction between sensations and ideas has disappeared altogether; ideas are but reflexes.

Nature is given in the form of sensation and ideas are these sensations plus further sensations derived from the contemplation of other ideas. Sensation is at this time identified as the connecting medium between Nature and consciousness. The objective existence of the material world is not questioned, nor is the validity of the impressions made by Nature upon the senses deemed in any way problematic. The material world is held to be given in sensation and knowable. However, the Mind has become a passive organ of Nature. Thus the dualism inherent in Bacon is only overcome by the denial of an active Reason altogether.

The principle mode of accumulation in Britain at this time was the removal of peasants from their means of subsistence, so that the entire product of their labour could be appropriated for the market, alongside the concentration of unorganised proletarians — peasants driven from their land altogether — to carry out their traditional handicrafts as employees, for the market rather than for immediate consumption.

Hobbes: “The value or worth of a man, is as of all other things, his price — that is to say, so much as would be given for the use of his power” [Leviathan].

Locke: “The universal consent of mankind gave to silver, on account of its qualities which made it suitable for money, an imaginary value”

The bourgeoisie of this time were not involved in revolutionising technology. They simply separated the workpeople from the means of subsistence so that their labour could be prolonged and the product placed on the market to render a profit. Nature and the workers who laboured upon Nature simply produced a profit by the very act of conversion of their labour into value. “Nature”, i.e. the labouring people, gives up its value like water into a sponge. This view of value corresponded to the view of knowledge accumulated by simple receipt of sensations from Nature.

This mode of accumulation was not possible on the Continent: the French bourgeoisie continued to rely on forcible appropriation of the products of labour from the colonial people.

Newton-Leibnitz and Berkeley

The next generation in this line of development is the incomparable Sir Isaac Newton in Britain, the peculiarly British mathematician who unlocked the key to “Nature’s laws”, his nemesis in Switzerland, the brilliant Gottfried Leibniz, a continental mathematician and statesman of the first order, and the champion of clerical reaction, the Irish Bishop George Berkeley.

Leibniz continues the Rationalist and monistic line of development which only later bears fruit in Germany, but I do not see that his contribution is the essential one in this period. He restores God-the-Creator as opposed to Spinoza’s God-as-Nature, transforming man from the agent of God’s Will to being a creation of God who is in turn “capable of knowing the system of the universe, and of imitating some features of it by means of artificial models, each spirit being like a small divinity in its own sphere”.

Newton’s epistemology is rich, complex and very problematic, and has been the subject of endless analysis. Newton the man was an alchemist and exegist (interpreter of the Bible) as well as physicist. But the realisation that Newton was not the idealisation nineteenth century British historians made of him, must not lead away from understanding what was the essence of Newton’s contribution, which may indeed bear a stronger relationship to that idealisation than it does to the actual man.

The essence of this period is the opposite ways in which Berkeley and Newton deal with the subject-object relationship developed by empiricism.

Newton died a generation before the application of his discoveries finds direct economic application in the Industrial Revolution, but already the need to increase the power and productivity of labour and the need for a science which can be applied to the levers of production has become clear — and Newton’s contemporary Bishop Berkeley knew the social implications of this method! It is well-known and oft-repeated that Newton’s physics was meeting a need of capitalist exploitation, but this is not the point of interest, because Newton did not set out to produce plans for engines, he aimed to discover and give voice to the Laws of Nature, and the point of interest is the mentality with which he set about that task, how that mentality allowed him to succeed, and what was the social basis of this mentality.

The problem that the British bourgeoisie faced at this time was that further expansion of value could not be achieved by simple extension of the working day and the concentration of labour. The working day had already been extended as much as it could and workers responded to increased wages only by working shorter hours. The countryside had already been denuded of workers and agricultural productivity had reached the limit which could be reached without industrialisation. From 1688, the British bourgeoisie had removed all significant barriers to trade, and the rapid expansion of markets resulting from the increased of Europe and the expansion of trade with the Americas and Asia, there was an unmeetable demand for the products of manufacture.

It was therefore necessary to increase the rate of surplus value by reducing the necessary labour time. Marx refers to this as the movement from the accumulation of Absolute surplus value to Relative surplus value. The bourgeoisie could no longer stand outside the labour process and Nature and “soak up” the surplus value created, it was necessary to mentally grasp and control the production process itself.

In Newton’s physics, the thinker steps outside of the process, but leaves a proxy of the subject in the object itself, places the body of the subject into Nature while removing the Mind of the subject outside of Nature.

Newton pushes God to the “boundary conditions” of the world which acts according to laws which are entirely open to rational-empirical elaboration, and beyond that — the internal causes of phenomena — “it doesn’t matter”.

I think there are two elements in particular which gave Newton’s method such all-conquering power, the differential calculus and the method of measurement relative to a frame of reference, a hypothetical “observer” which did away with concepts of absolute time and space, replaced with a world which is “relative to the observer”. Linked to this “theory of relativity”, was the equation of properties of all observed matter with absolute properties of all matter, and the rendering of forces and properties (the properties of the various chemical elements, the origin of forces of attraction and repulsion observed, etc.) as outside the scope of science.

The differential calculus comes from regarding magnitudes as essentially “elastic”. It is one thing to say that the space traversed, s, is proportional to the time elapsed, t, and the velocity v, i.e. s = v * t, but quite another when you say that v = ds/dt. Newton discovered that Nature works by differentials (or relatives), not absolutes. The Subject has disappeared into the Object.

Newton is simply continuing Bacon’s project, but whereas Bacon was obliged to put the value of the entire intellectual product of the past at zero, and place priority on the accumulation of the primary material for reasoning, Newton bases his method on systematic and exclusive induction upon accumulated data. The emphasis is on unification of the mass of data in simple differential formulae.

For Newton value lies in Nature, and Man is able to appropriate Nature. What he has no use for, has no value.

Berkeley, on the other hand, proves that if all that is given to consciousness is sensation, then “logically” there is no sense in the concept of knowing of anything beyond sensation. Berkeley creates a huge historic crisis from which not only British, but also Continental philosophy will never recover. Berkeley rejects the value of knowledge absolutely — science is impossible. Whereas for Newton, God was relegated to the role of Maker and Prime Mover and like Bacon, we are left to learn His Will by the study of His works, for Berkeley, Nature is not at all given in sensation. On the contrary, a thing exists only by virtue of its being perceived, if not by me, then in the eye of God — the Object exists only by virtue of the Subject.

As Marx remarks in his Mathematical Manuscripts, Newton’s “proof” of the calculus is purely empirical, not a logical proof at all; the proof would have to be left to later generations, Newton was too busy applying the discovery to unravelling the puzzles of Nature.

Hume and the Enlightenment

This is the period of conflict between dogmatism and scepticism. In Europe, the approach of the French Revolution, in Britain the peak of the Industrial Revolution.

The Scot, David Hume proposes a good British compromise to overcome the embarrassment of Berkeley: despite the fact that, as Berkeley has “proved”, we cannot know necessity, science gives a knowledge of expectations which is good enough for practical purposes. But more than that: Hume expresses the scepticism of the British industrialist in relation to theory. Theory cannot be trusted, only experience will tell. “It may look great on the drawing board, but will it work in practice?” As has many times been pointed out, this is probably the only possible view for the class which was to make the first industrial revolution.

Hume is writing at the height of the Industrial Revolution in Britain. His scepticism is in some measure a reaction against the dogmatism of the mechanistic followers of Newton and in part an attempt to reconcile Berkeley’s clerical and reactionary subjective idealism with the requirements of everyday life and with science. Hume ends in “embarrassment” because it can’t be done. Berkeley has shown that Empiricism logically leads to scepticism, and all Hume can do is expunge the extreme clericalism and solipsism, but in essence Hume has made no advance on Berkeley.

Hume is the founder of Utilitarianism in Ethics, declaring that the satisfaction of human needs is the sole criterion of morality. Thus, the industrialist who produces such a mass of products for consumption is the most moral person of all.

Hume — Value & Knowledge

Propositions which are either intuitively or demonstratively certain are discoverable by the mere operation of thought, without dependence on what is anywhere existent in the universe. Though there never were a circle or triangle in nature, the truths demonstrated by Euclid would for ever retain their certainty and evidence.

There are things which are valuable irrespective of any labour which has been expended in their production. Though the air is given to us without any expenditure of effort, it forever retains its value.

What is the nature of that evidence which assures us of any real existence and matter of fact, beyond the present testimony of our senses, or the records of our memory?

What value is there in any object which does not meet a human need, or contribute to their satisfaction?

All reasonings concerning matter of fact seem to be founded on the relation of cause and effect.

All reasonings concerning human needs seem to be founded on “ought to”

By means of that relation alone we can go beyond the evidence of our memory and senses.

By means of such moral imperatives alone can we go beyond the satisfaction of human needs.

The value of the ought is not derived from any human need, but arises entirely from the requirements of labour.

Knowledge of cause-and-effect is not, in any instance, attained by reasonings a priori, but arises entirely from experience.

[Left-hand column From An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, 1772 by David Hume]

The Enlightenment in France is the period leading up to the French Revolution. It was a movement of unparalleled intellectual ferment and creativity whose figures include Rousseau, d’Holbach, Diderot, Voltaire, Condillac, d’Alembert, Condorcet, Montesquieu, Helvetius and others. Many different philosophical tendencies and currents were to be found among the ranks of these intellectual rebels. Although some were Deists (including Rousseau and Voltaire), the overwhelming trend amongst them was materialist, with a strong adherence to the promotion of science and above all the determination to elaborate a scientific view of society and to understand the social form and content of knowledge. In addition to the major influence of the Rationalism of earlier French philosophers, there was a considerable interest in the Empiricist philosophy of the British where Feudalism had so successfully been done away with and an Industrial Revolution was under way. Among the “sensationalists” included d’Holbach, Helvetius, Condillac, Condorcet, d’Alembert, Voltaire. Montesquieu remained a Rationalist, but with Rousseau pioneered the conception of knowledge as a social product.

Diderot is the purest expression of the conviction that science is inherently revolutionary. His whole life is taken up with collecting and disseminating knowledge and dodging the police and censors who continue to try to suppress the dissemination of knowledge. Diderot also typifies the conviction that there is no limit to human knowledge, and the capacity of human beings to “conquer” Nature — a kind of revolutionary dogmatism. Diderot however did not adhere to the “sensationalist” view of the identity between conception and object, but anticipated a materialist theory of the psyche to understand how people are able to reflect nature in theoretical conceptions. Diderot dealt with the Dogmatic spirit of the Enlightenment by adopting the dialogue as his form of exposition: the various dogmatic currents arising from the Enlightenment are given voice, but Diderot does not attempt to systematise them, but rather tends towards the development of an open-ended philosophy in the which the various currents contest one another and are not finally resolved.

The Enlightenment is enormously rich in tendencies and shades of opinion, but the great historic intellectual product of this movement is the discovery that knowledge is a social product, and not just knowledge, but also personality, mortality, health, justice, etc., etc. What were hitherto abstract or natural entities, became for the thinkers of the Enlightenment, social products. And this is the essential content of the controversy between Scepticism and Dogmatism: Is value given by Nature or is it a social product?

It is this same period which gives birth to the great tradition of British political economy, when Adam Smith elaborates the labour theory of value in The Wealth of Nations in 1776.

And no wonder. Formerly it appeared that value was purely and simply product, material. The struggle of the British bourgeoisie to accumulate value by increasing the productivity of labour drew attention to the fact that value was alienated labour, not just appropriated matter. Rousseau’s discovery of the social origin of knowledge coincides with Adam Smith’s discovery of the social origin of value, which in turn coincides with the real application of science to the creation of value in the industrial revolution.


Kant lived in the Prussia of Frederick the Great, an absolutist monarch who raised Prussia to the status of a European power in which the arts and sciences flourished, but where political life was virtually totally absent. A contemporary of Goethe, the great composer, scientist and philosopher, Kant was in his earlier years also absorbed with scientific problems and developed important ideas of the evolution of the Solar System, Galaxies, and the retardation of the rotation of the Earth by the tides.

During this period he tended towards empiricism and was influenced by the Scepticism of David Hume. While his contemporaries in France were preparing a Great Revolution, in Germany the was no prospect of political activity, although the Arts and Sciences were flourishing. It is said that the German Idealists worked out in philosophy what was being played out in politics in France and economics in England.

In his Critical philosophy, Kant attempts to establish a system of concepts and categories in order to resolve the struggle between the multifarious tendencies, particularly scepticism and dogmatism.

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. Thus scepticism is a resting place for reason, in which it may reflect on its dogmatic wanderings and gain some knowledge of the region in which it happens to be, that it may pursue its way with greater certainty; but it cannot be its permanent dwelling-place. It must take up its abode only in the region of complete certitude, whether this relates to the cognition of objects themselves, or to the limits which bound all our cognition. [Critique of Pure Reason, 1787, II, II]

He proposes that there are certain principles given a priori and that on the basis of these we can have a knowledge of all possible objects of perception. Knowledge must, however, be confined to propositions about what is given in experience. Any attempt to introduce into thinking objects which are “beyond sensation”, metaphysical entities such as “value”, must lead to antinomies and error. Kant is thus able to reconcile empiricism and rationalism on the basis of these a priori notions which, with the passage of time, have become much less convincing. All subsequent attempts to build a theory of knowledge which depends on such a priori “knowledge” have ended in failure (such as Russell & Whitehead’s Logicism). The Essence of Kant’s theory of knowledge is the rejection of scepticism simultaneously with the rejection of an empirical basis for universal knowledge. He failed to reconcile these opposites, but in at least one sense he correctly posed the problem.

Likewise, in Ethics, Kant asserted both the categorical imperative and the self-value of each individual, but here also he failed to resolve the essential implicit contradiction in such an Ethic.

In the last decade of the 18th Century, ushered in by the American War of Independence (1776 — 83) and the French Revolution (1789), Georgian Britain has entered the period of proliferation of coal and steel mills (1780 onwards) while the conditions of the working class have reached an all-time low with the hulks overflowing; France is attempting to implement The Social Contract, but robbery, fraud and corruption predominate. The Kingdom of Reason is taking shape as Hell on Earth. Conditions did not even begin to improve until the first of the British Factory Acts in 1833.

For the first time now, the bourgeoisie is squarely confronted with the fact that there are limits to exploitation, that unbridled exploitation of labour leads to the destruction of humanity. Classical German Philosophy anticipated the course of bourgeois society. Its idealistic form reflected a content which pointed the future of social developments in Britain and France and the rest of Europe.

Kant — Value & Knowledge

I present below a synopsis of the essential argument of the Critique of Pure Reason using Kant’s own words, and side-by-side with this I propose an application of the same essential propositions to political economy:

All our knowledge begins with experience.

All value begins from labour

It does not follow that it all arises out of experience.

It does not follow that labour is the sole source of value

A priori knowledge, is not knowledge independent of this or that experience, but absolutely independent of all experience.

A priori (natural) value is not value independent of a particular act of production, but value absolutely independent of all labour.

Pure a priori principles are indispensable for the possibility of experience.

Natural human needs are indispensable for the possibility of labour.

In all theoretical sciences of reason, synthetic a priori judgments are contained as principles.

All value-producing industries are directed to the satisfaction of specific human needs.

Human reason is driven on by an inward need, to questions such as cannot be answered by any empirical employment of reason.

Production is driven on by an inward need, to a point where it no longer meets any human need.

Reason is a sphere, the radius of which may be found from the curvature of its surface — that is, the nature of a priori synthetical propositions — and, consequently, its circumference and extent,

Although at any given time human beings suffer, human labour is capable of meeting all human needs — but there can be no value in that of which meets no human need.

Beyond the sphere of experience there are no objects which it can cognise.

That which cannot be produced by labour, human beings have no need of.

[Left-hand column From Critique of Pure Reason, 1787 by Immanuel Kant]

This reading indicates several “transliterations": value = knowledge, labour = experience, a priori = natural (human), a priori principles = human needs, science = industry, human reason = production, question = need, and from this transliteration, follows the equation of the Kant’s metaphysical thing-in-itself with that for which there is no human need.

As is known, Kant’s Critique arrives at certain contradictions, the resolution of which is the motive force of classical German philosophy and leads to Hegel. In my view, foremost among these contradictions is Kant’s re-assertion (with Descartes) that human beings have innate capacities, albeit awakened by experience, but absolutely independent of experience; it is this assertion that is necessary to overcome the absolute scepticism of the final product of British Empiricism, (Berkeley &) Hume. However, these “a priori principles” are fictions. Man does not stand apart from Nature, and nor is humanity just a product of Nature, gifted with Reason. It is necessary to comprehend the origin of this intelligence, and only by understanding its origin can the dualism which Kant wished to overcome be transcended.

Correspondingly, human needs are not natural needs, but needs themselves products of human social practice. Until human needs are understood equally as human products, epistemology is trapped in dualism.


Hegel overcomes the problems of Kant’s system by revolutionising Logic. According to Hegel, Kant considers the question of knowledge solely from the point of view of the subject-object relation, and in so doing places the entire content of cognition on the side of the subject, leaving nothing to the object. Instead of seeing appearance as a barrier between subject and object, Hegel conceives of the subject and object as a single entity. Kant, he says, like all those who have gone before, first define the object and subject as separate, push them together, and then prove that their only genuine existence is as separate. For Hegel Appearance is a stage in the process of self-distinction of object into subject. Thus Hegel deals once for all with both the dualist-monist and the rationalist-empiricist problems. The abstractions of sense-perception are just as much abstractions as those of conceptual thought; but in either form, the abstractions have a content.

Rather than holding that contradiction is a defect of thought, which cannot pertain to the world outside of thought, Hegel declares that contradiction is a property of the world and thought only grasps and reflects thought through being itself contradictory. This requires a radical revision of the concept of Logic, which instead of avoiding contradiction, has contradiction as its motive force.

Whereas for Kant, human needs, and thus human senses and experience, are givens, and the drive of Reason to go beyond the objects of possible experience the ask questions which cannot be answered by Reason, is a malady which must be cured, Hegel recognises that these human needs are themselves a human product. The production of such needs is explicable only by the fact of consciousness of limitation and that consciousness itself creates the contradiction which drives to overcome it, creating in its wake new human needs.

However, for Hegel, like Kant a professional philosopher, this drive is situated in the labour process, but in an extra-terrestrial spiritual force, not arising from the world, but governing it from above.

Hegel — Value & Knowledge

The Thing-in-itself expresses the object when we leave out of sight all that consciousness makes of it, ... what is left is total emptiness.

The thing-in-itself expresses the world when we leave out of sight all that labour makes of it ...Nature, untouched by labour, has no value.

Kant says that the thoughts are defective, as not being exactly fitted to the sensations. But as to the actual content of the thought, no question is raised.

Kant says that value-production is defective, as not meeting human needs. But as to the actual content of value-production, no question is raised.

the dogma has been advanced that “Reason, and not the World, is the seat of contradiction”.

the dogma has been advanced that Value-production (the mode of production) and not the labour process (the forces of production) is the seat of contradiction.

The things of nature, and human needs, are limited only to the extent that they are not aware of their limit, or to such an extent as their quality is a limit from our point of view.

The things of nature are limited only to such extent as they are not aware of their universal limit, or to such extent as their quality is a limit from our point of view, and not from their own.

No one knows or even feels that anything is a limit or a defect until he is at the same time above and beyond it.

No one knows, or even feels, that anything is a limit or defect, until he is at the same time above and beyond it.

Hegel has thus unlocked the key to the dynamic of bourgeois production. That consumption is equally production, and production consumption. That human beings produce not only their objects of their desires, but also their desires, they produce themselves. But, their own powers appear to them, as they do to Hegel, as alien things, as natural things, things governing them as if from above.

Hegel: “The notion of value contemplates the valuable article as a mere symbol; the article counts not for what it is, but for what it is worth”. [Philosophy of Right]

According to Hiroshi Uchida, Marx’s Grundrisse corresponds to Hegel’s Logic:

  1. The Introduction corresponds to the Doctrine of the Notion.
  2. The Chapter on Money corresponds to the Doctrine of Being.
  3. The Chapter on Capital corresponds to the Doctrine of Essence.


The whole mystery of Classical Philosophy, as well as the earlier feudal ideology, arises on the basis of the social division of labour which has placed with the non-producing classes the role of production of ideas and spiritual culture generally. Thus, the professional philosopher is forever trying to put back together what has been originally sundered. To say this is not to say that philosophy is defective, for the world has given us no other way; the passage to genuine human-natural consciousness is by way of alienated consciousness.

Feuerbach was a radical of a new kind: in 1830, at the age of 26, shortly before the death of Hegel, he was removed from his University post for atheism, and with the publication of The Essence of Christianity in 1841, was the first to “break the spell” of Hegelian Idealism, and inspired the young Marx and Engels. He moved to the countryside and lived quietly after his philosophy of the future, based on love, failed to meet support, but joined the German Social Democratic Party in 1870, two years before his death.

Feuerbach’s insight that the real subject of religion, and of Hegel’s Idealist philosophy, was earthly social relations and human needs, was the key which enabled Marx to turn the Hegelian dialectic on to its feet. Marx formulated his views through a simultaneous critique of both Hegel and Feuerbach’s contemplative “anthropological” materialism.

Although Feuerbach reads like more of an Hegelian than we are today accustomed to, the essential content of his work is the rejection of Hegel’s idealism and the explication of the earthly basis of ideology, but he does not take the Hegelian dialectic forward. That is Marx’s role.