Value of Knowledge Reference

Perception under the Microscope

The last quarter of the nineteenth century sees revolutions in almost every branch of science, but the period is marked out by theoretical revolutions which have specific significance for understanding the ideological struggle which is going on and how this reflects deep underlying changes in how people lived.

The period is opened with the so-called "Marginal Revolution" in Political Economy made by Jevons, Menger and Walras in 1871. The period is closed with the series of epoch-making discoveries in the first years of the new century and incipient revolutions in social theory on the eve of the First World War and the Russian Revolution:

These revolutions mark the end of an epoch and in essence belong to a new period. The issues of immediate interest are the revolution in political economy, which characterises the period, and the philosophical struggles fought out in the domain of psychology and the physiology and physics of perception beginning in the mid-1870s.

The Revolution in Political Economy

The revolution made in economics at the beginning of the 1870s is two-fold. Firstly, the differential concept which revolutionised mechanics and the physical sciences at the turn of the 18th century is applied to economics in the form of the concept of "margin". Secondly, the concept of value undergoes a 180° shift from being an objective property of a commodity to being a subjective value of the product for buyer. The differential is principally responsible for a quantum leap in the explanatory power of economic science, and simultaneously, the problem of value, of the substratum determining the actions of agents in the market and thus price, is that of the mind, of the value placed upon this or that object by a person. Price is the outcome of the interaction of "marginal" values between suppliers and consumers of the various commodities, including money and the factors of production such as capital and labour, which appear side-by-side in the equation of price.

The dominant philosophical current at this time, certainly amongst those who are conducting the investigations leading to the new science of economics, is the First Positivism of Comte and Mill, in turn resting chiefly on the Sceptical epistemology of Hume and Kant. Mill is himself the major contributor in preparing the subjective conception of value. As value constitutes the metaphysical substratum of the phenomena of price, it is entirely consistent with the trend of this epistemology that economics should seek to abolish this "metaphysics". Science, it was said, ought to confine itself to the data of perception, i.e., price. However, what happens is in fact the replacement of an objective metaphysical entity with a subjective (or mental) metaphysical entity.

The positivists were convinced that a human science was both possible and necessary. While understanding that such a human science would play a central role in the whole body of science, it was clearly believed that the progress of natural science in preceding decades provided a model for the construction of the anticipated human science.

The principle source of mystification inherent in classical epistemology is that socially and historically produced human needs and human labour were conceived of as metaphysical and/or natural entities. It was central, for example, to the political economy of Alfred Marshall, who constituted the peak of the Neo-Classical School: "that wants are given independently of the utility aspects of the processes leading to their satisfaction, i.e., that they are constants in the problem of economic equilibrium. The whole concept has reference to the satisfaction of given wants and not to the explanation of their existence". Scepticism arose from the conception that these human faculties constituted not connections with Nature, but barriers separating consciousness from the objective, natural world. This error is now continued in an inverted way: human labour and social relations are conceived as natural phenomena. Thus economics, which aims to describe the activity of people cooperatively producing themselves in the labour process, is taken to be just another branch of natural science.

The discovery of value as utility - a mental phenomena - as the key to economics, as a branch of science, underlies the struggles taking place over the next 30 years in both psychology and natural science, leading to the predominance of the "Second Positivism".

All the efforts of those concerned in resolving the fundamental problems of the human condition during the last third of the nineteenth century were centred around the problem of sensation and perception, around the subject-object relation in its immediate actuality. Some came from the side of psychology, among whom there were both priests and physiologists; some came from the standpoint of physics.

Psychology & the Analysis of Sensations

The following are synopses of the work of eight figures all active in the detailed analysis made in these years of the process of sense perception. They included the Ethicist Friedrich Nietzsche, the Christian psychologists Franz Brentano and William James, the natural scientists Hermann von Helmholtz, Ernst Mach, Henri Poincaré and Charles Peirce, and psychologist Wilhelm Wundt. Helmholtz, Wundt, Mach and James all conducted important investigations in the physiology of sense-perception; Helmholtz, Poincaré and Peirce were first class natural scientists of their time. The problems of space-time which were eventually resolved by Einstein gradually emerge during this period.


The ending of the American Civil War and the emergence of a new independent economic power in the 1870s, led to the emergence of a new characteristically American current in philosophy in this period, Pragmatism. The American logician Charles Sanders Peirce must be credited as the founder of Pragmatism, though it is the mystic William James who gives Pragmatism its broadest generalisation. Pragmatism is quite contradictory in its tendency; in Peirce's hands it is the means of providing a materialist foundation for a highly rational system of logic, which tends in Peirce's later years to the level of synthesis of a Hegel; in James' hands it shows itself to be a current of Irrationalism. The insistence upon practice as the criterion of truth, which is undoubtedly progressive and rational, is quite explicit in the Operationalism of Percy Bridgman. In this form, Pragmatism is close to the method used by Einstein in the creation of his Theory of Relativity. The weakness of this kind of Pragmatism is that its concept of practice remains utilitarian and individualistic, and the predominantly social content of practice is overlooked; in James, practice is limited to individual, sensuous-mental experience. In its more popular, empiricist development, pragmatism down-plays the subjective content of immediate abstraction, while emphasising the relativity of conceptual abstraction. It is particularly in this form that Pragmatism becomes a form of Irrationalism. In a sense, pragmatism shares the conception of practice as the criterion of truth with Hegel: for Hegel, practice is only the criterion of truth, for pragmatism, practice is the only criterion of truth.

The entry of Pragmatism on to the scene is a progressive development, but it still remains ambiguous and opposite currents fight out their differences within pragmatism.

Perception under the Microscope

The greatest figures of this period achieve an astounding level of brilliance in very diverse fields of science. Helmholtz for example is making epoch making discoveries in physics, mathematics and physiology while determinedly working at countering the legacy of Nature-Philosophy and Kantianism; Poincaré and Peirce are equally brilliant across a range of disciplines and Mach and James are at least comparable in this respect. Such interdisciplinary scholarship is becoming increasingly difficult; bringing together fluency in non-Euclidean geometry with expertise in the laboratory techniques of physiology and familiarity with the finer points of classical epistemology is stretching the talents of even these giants.

Unfortunately, microscopic investigation of the sense-organs is about as likely to unlock the secret of the human condition, as microscopic investigation of a mirror would be likely to reveal the secrets of the world reflected in the mirror, far less the purposes of its construction. But, coming from the grand metaphysical syntheses of German Idealism, this is a path which must be trod. Helmholtz (and Ludwig Boltzmann, who should be mentioned in the same context, but unfortunately bequeathed us only personal letters and highly technical papers and some speeches) was quite deliberate in using positive natural-scientific investigation to debunk Kant's a priori categories, Nature-Philosophy, Vitalism and all forms of religious and mystical intervention in the understanding of nature and the human animal in favour of a thorough-going materialist empiricism.

On the other hand, there is no doubt that the "critical" work of people like Mach and Poincaré contributed to making possible the Relativity Revolution, despite their erring philosophically on the side of excessive relativism and erring methodologically within the terms of their own ideology by adhering to the ether-hypothesis. And all the work of the psycho-physiologists contributed to the ultimate success of Pavlov's work.

A diversity of philosophical currents are doing battle in the domain of microscopic analysis of sense-perception. Dilthey and Marx, who have, in the light of hindsight, far superior explanations of the forms of consciousness, are totally ignored by the mainstream of science and philosophy. The anathema of Marx is comprehensible from the fact that he was a Communist, but Dilthey is a theologian and socially and politically not at all out of place with Wundt, Brentano & Co. During the same period, linguists are approaching the analysis of word-meaning with the same physiological-microscopic method with absolutely barren results. Not only that, Marx's main propagandist, Karl Kautsky, becomes himself an ardent follower of Mach, as do sections of the Bolshevik Party later on.

Why this obsession that knowledge arises from the immediate transaction between the human animal and its natural environment? Granted that this detailed work on the physiology of biological organisms and the perception of space and time was necessary for the progress of science, which all agreed was necessary for the progress of mankind; but why has the social formation of knowledge - which can be found, not only in Hegel, Feuerbach and Marx, and in Dilthey, but even in the founder of Positivism, Auguste Comte - been cast aside and forgotten? Comte said, for example: "The historical portion of my Positive Philosophy has proved an unbroken connection between the development of Activity and that of Speculation; on the combined influence of these depends the development of Affection". His system points in numerous places to the formation of concepts historically - rather dogmatically and sweepingly it is true, but this part of his "positivism" is totally forgotten in the pursuit of microscopic analysis of the instruments of perception. And the greatest brains of Europe are intent on it.

The revolution which marked the beginning of this period, the so-called "marginal revolution", reflected in political-economic terms the ethos of the times, that value is synonymous with price, and is determined in the act of exchange according to the utility of the commodity in the mind of the buyer and the utility of the money in the mind of the seller.

At the same time it is true that what had been worked out theologically in the 15th and 16th centuries and had been worked out speculatively in the whole epoch leading up to Hegel had now to worked out "in detail", naturalistically. The problem of sensation and innate ideas had been hanging around in speculative philosophy for 300 years, now the matter had to be resolved under the scalpel and the microscope.

The further degree of division of labour which was required to work out these details is an irreversible trend which has continued unabated up to the present day. There could not be another Hermann von Helmholtz. In the very act of analysis, the possibility of synthesis has been lost forever. Metaphysical speculation has "Fallen".

The Battle for the Mind

Within this microscopic focus on sense-perception and consciousness, a number of key struggles are being fought out. The content of these struggles only really becomes clear in the outcome in the twentieth century, but the battlelines are clearly drawn.

Introspection vs. Objective observation

Brentano and Wundt both regard the facts of consciousness to be essentially observable only by introspection. Wundt was involved in the physiological study of the phenomena of mind, indeed he studied under Helmholtz, but basing himself on the concept of psycho-physical parallelism, he held that the mind was only directly observable by introspection. Helmholtz on the other hand concentrated on tracing the physiological content of feelings and thoughts. This is an issue which will remain unresolved in psychology for some time. When Brentano talks of "Psychology from an Empirical Standpoint", he is talking about the introverted observation of mental states, not the physiological observation of nervous functions.

Mind as Substance or State of Matter

Brentano and James both believed in Eternal life and saw Spirit as something which inhabited a body, whereas the others mentioned here all adhered to the view of mind as a product of a matter in a specific kind of organisation. It cannot be said that this issue is finally resolved, for Jung is among those who will many years later promote Spirit as substance, but in essence the question is resolved in favour of the materialist position.

The Nature & Origin of A Priori Intuition

All recognise that sense perception is possible only through the use of a priori categories of intuition. Some believe that these have been acquired through evolution and are "hard-wired" in the human organism; others believe these are formed through the process of perception itself, but an investigation of these a priori forms is involved in all the investigations of sensory perception, whether physiological or mental.

However, the central contradiction of this period is around the question of "Metaphysics".


The dominant methodological principle of the positivists of various kinds, from Helmholtz to Mach and Poincaré, is that "metaphysics" must be avoided, in the same manner that "value" had been abolished in political economy. It is the physicists who are most vocal on this point. The irony is that Mach and Poincaré equally as Helmholtz all make their critique of concepts of absolute spaces and time (Poincaré goes so far as to say that the three-dimensionality of space is a human construct, in the sense that a different brain and sense-organs could find space to be 4-dimensional; Helmholtz sought to show that an intuition of that 4-dimensional space could be acquired empirically as effectively as that of 3-D space) on the basis of acceptance of the ether-hypothesis!

The ether was, of course, a "metaphysical" entity par excellence, but it took the genius of Einstein to demonstrate it as such. When Mach says that "Nothing will be changed in the actual facts or in the functional relations, whether we regard all the data as contents of consciousness, or as partially so, or as completely physical", he only admits that he achieves exactly zero by all his exorcism of metaphysics. When he says "naïve realism has a claim to the highest consideration. It has arisen in the process of immeasurable time without the intentional assistance of man. It is a product of nature", he is half-right. Naïve realism could never of course be a "product of Nature", it is a product of human labour!

This over-emphasis on the relativity of perception combined with super-naturalism has a grain of truth within it but it was hugely misleading. The ultra-relativism was not without its opponents. Hermann Helmholtz and Ludwig Boltzmann fought bitterly against it, Boltzmann being driven to despair and ultimate suicide, believing that the cause of science was being irretrievably misled. Dilthey also stood against the tide, but his voice was lost and not heard till after his death. Marx and Engels also of course stood totally outside this spirit of naturalistic relativism, but were beyond the pail.

The great gains of speculative philosophy have been lost. Under the microscope of naturalistic relativism, no-one could see the wood for the trees, but they did get a very close look at the trees.

The Revolution in Physics

The revolution in physics coinciding with the publication of Einstein's five papers in 1905 is the centre of controversy in the theory of knowledge and scientific method for the next fifty years and beyond. Half of all the problems of the theory of knowledge are raised in understanding these discoveries by Einstein which have been the subject of countless books (the other half are those raised by Marx in Capital). In the years after Einstein's papers, the epistemological problems deepened considerably as the contradictions inherent within quantum mechanics manifested themselves, but these contradictions were not fully realised until after World War I. Although Einstein's papers marked the foundation of quantum mechanics as well as the Special Theory of Relativity, it is this latter revolution which is of immediate significance for the development of epistemology at the turn of the century. There are several issues which are particularly significant.

Einstein's hypotheses on which the Special Theory of Relativity rests are:

By 1905, the Michelson-Morley experiment had shown that a ray of light from the Sun light traversed an equal distance across the Earth's surface, in the same time irrespective of whether the distance was East-West or North-South. Lorenz had shown that this result could be reconciled to the existing body of physics and geometry if lengths were assumed to dilate by a factor 1/sqrt(1 - v2/c2) when the length moved at a speed v "through the ether" upon which the light ray was borne. If this unlikely physical behaviour was not to be accepted, then the most likely candidate for modification would be the relatively recently discovered laws of electromagnetism, including the invariant speed of light "through the ether" of c. As the unlikely phenomenon of dilation would affect the measuring standards as well the length of any object being measured, it would never affect normal processes of measurement of length by comparison with other objects or geometry.

Einstein, surprisingly, upheld the laws of electromagnetism as "absolute", but completely re-worked the 2,200-year-old Euclidean geometry by eschewing the concepts of length and elapsed time as properties inhering in objects and events irrespective of a specific interaction between material objects. In lieu of ascribing length and time as "metaphysical" qualities of objects and events, he carried out "thought experiments", depending on an invariant speed of light to convey "signals" from place to place, but allowing for simultaneity of events to be valid only for events which are also in the same place, and in this way constructed a new geometry in which it transpired that the operationally-defined length of an object moving with respect to a reference object differed from the length of the same object measured with respect to a relatively stationery reference object, by the Lorenz transformation 1/sqrt(1 - v2/c2).

So, it is possible to see how Kant was deceived by the universally-held belief that Euclidean geometry gave assured a priori knowledge of the material world (the above dilation is infinitesimal). Further, while Einstein's result was stimulated by an empirical observation (the Michelson-Morley experiment), the observation appears as the outcome of the theory, not its presumption or axiom. Another principle which Einstein had to "let go of" was the principle that "action at a distance" was unthinkable. This allowed the ether-hypothesis to be ignored (rather than contradicted, since no physical consequences followed from the hypothesis) and the laws of electromagnetism simply subject to the same principle of invariance with respect of inertial frames of reference, and operational discipline to which Geometry was subject.

Let us look at some epistemological issues raised by Einstein's Special Theory of Relativity:

Space-Time and Metaphysics

The Second Positivism taught the physicists of the late nineteenth century that they should eschew "metaphysics" and reject the notion of "absolute space-time", but it did not warn them about accepting the notion of a substance called ether, which constituted the medium for transmission of electromagnetic radiation (i.e., light) but lacked physical qualities. Helmholtz, who had been brought up in the Kantian tradition, and determined himself to disprove Kant's notion of a priori synthetic judgments, but failed perhaps to appreciate the critical component of Kant's scepticism.

Einstein, on the other hand, said that:

"[Kant] was misled by the erroneous opinion ... that the Euclidean geometry is necessary to thinking and offers assured (i.e., not dependent upon sensory experience) knowledge concerning objects of 'external' perception. From this easily understandable error he concluded the existence of synthetic judgments a priori, which are produced by the Reason alone, and which, consequently, can lay claim to absolute validity". [Einstein's Reply to Criticisms, 1949]

"I did not grow up in the Kantian tradition, but came to understand the truly valuable which is to be found in his doctrine, alongside of errors which today are quite obvious, only quite late. It is contained in the sentence: 'The real is not given to us, but put to us by way of a riddle'." [Einstein's Reply to Criticisms, 1949]

but Einstein goes on:

"[Hume] created a danger for philosophy in that ... a fateful 'fear of metaphysics' arose which has come to be a malady of contemporary empiricistic philosophising". "This fear seems to me, for example, to be the cause for conceiving of the 'thing' as a 'bundle of qualities', such that the 'qualities' are to be taken from the sensory raw-material. Now the fact that two things are said to be one and the same thing, if they coincide in all qualities, forces one to consider the geometrical relations between things as belonging to their qualities. (Otherwise one is forced to look upon the Eiffel Tower in Paris and that in New York as 'the same thing')". [Remarks on Bertrand Russell's Theory of Knowledge, 1944]

The "anti-metaphysical" prejudice is both disproved and proved by Einstein's success. The metaphysics of empiricism which Mach et al never noticed is exposed by Einstein - "qualities" adhering in objects and an insubstantial ether. Meanwhile a rationalist metaphysics is justified - really existing material interactions not given immediate sensation. Even length and time are re-established as objectively existing within a high-order "metaphysical" entity, Minkowski Space, which differs from the old space, time and matter only in that all must be conceived in combination, rather than separately existing. For Einstein, theory is not derived from the intuitions of sense perception, but by "free creations of the mind".

Despite continued attempts to co-opt Einstein's theory of "relativity" to a world-view of extreme subjectivism, his theory, more accurately of "invariance", is committed to the idea of a natural science based on the premise of an objectively existing material world, whose nature is discovered by means of specific interactions between material objects, connecting human perception with the material world beyond immediate sensation.

The fact is that human thought continuously deals with "metaphysical entities" in the sense of Positivism and confining oneself to the immediate data of the senses does not help at all, because we can only comprehend the impact of the external world upon our senses by means of concepts. What is more, our sense-organs themselves are human products; the images of sensuous representation are as much abstractions - i.e. metaphysical entities - as the more explicitly abstract concepts of theoretical thought.

Einstein understood that the concepts of length and time-interval were not immediately given in sensation and nor were they subjective thought-constructs lacking objective content. These concepts had to be understood in relation to human practice. Hitherto, human practice had not developed to a point where any human action could meaningfully impinge on the conception of a finite speed of light. Consequently, within such a world, it was valid to impute length and simultaneity to objects and events, independently of human perception. However, in a world in which human practice had reached the point of measuring the speed of light (as in the Michelson-Morley experiment), then these concepts were liable to be transcended. Thus a careful examination of the relevant practices and the "metaphysics" which was brought into question by the development of this practice was required. The observed "dilation" of the Lorenz transformation is infinitesimal in relation to human sense organs, but it is not infinitesimal in relation to the enhancement of perception made possible by modern, precise methods of measurement. The series of concepts implicit in the group of theories used to analyse the results of the experiment came in contradiction because the limits of their applicability had been transcended by stretching measurement beyond the normal limits of day-to-day sense perception on which Euclidean Geometry was based.

Niels Bohr later formulated the Correspondence Principle, expressing the first of Einstein's hypotheses mentioned above, that: for speeds much less than the velocity of light, and macro-dimensions of mass and distance, the equations of general and special relativity and quantum mechanics must converge to those of Newtonian physics.

The positivists contributed to Einstein's success - and he frequently acknowledged this - because it directed his attention to criticism of the concepts of classical science:

"All the physicists of last century saw in classical mechanics a firm and final science ... It was Ernst Mach who, in his History of Mechanics, shook this dogmatic faith; this book exercised a profound influence upon me in this regard while I was a student". [Remarks on Bertrand Russell's Theory of Knowledge, 1944]

However he was incorrigibly hostile to the subjectivism and wanton scepticism of the positivists.

Subjectivism and Operationalism

I will let Einstein speak for himself:

"In these days, the subjective and positivist viewpoint dominates in a most excessive manner. The need for conceiving nature as an objective reality is declared to be an obsolete prejudice, and thus a virtue is made of the necessity of quantum theory. Men are just as subject to suggestion as horses, and each epoch is dominated by a fashion, and the majority do not even see the tyrant who dominates them" [Letter to Maurice Solovine]

"What I dislike in this kind of argumentation is the basic positivistic attitude, which from my point of view is untenable, and which seems to me to come to the same thing as Berkeley's principle, esse est percipi". [Einstein's Reply to Criticisms, 1949]

"We cannot logically prove the existence of the external world, any more than you can logically prove that I am talking with you now or that I am here. But you know that I am here and no subjective idealist can persuade you to the contrary". [quoted in Max Planck's Where is Science Going?]

"This more aristocratic illusion concerning the unlimited penetrative power of thought has as its counter-part the more plebeian illusion of naive realism, according to which things 'are' as they are perceived by us through our senses". [Remarks on Bertrand Russell's Theory of Knowledge, 1944]

Rabindrinath Tagore: "This world is a human world - the scientific view of it is also that of the scientific man. Therefore, the world apart from us does not exist; it is a relative world, depending for its reality upon our consciousness".
Einstein: "Even in our everyday life, we feel compelled to ascribe a reality independent of man to the objects we use ... For instance, if nobody is in this house, yet that table remains where it is". [July 14, 1930]

The operational methodology of Einstein's "thought-experiments" have continuously been interpreted in the spirit of extreme subjectivism. They represent of course nothing of the sort. The methodology simply requires the thinker to conceive of the relations between material objects rather than standing "outside" an interaction and relying on imaginary interactions lacking materiality. Einstein makes the following criticism of Operationalism:

"In order to be able to consider a logical system as physical theory it is not necessary to demand that all of its assertions can be independently interpreted and 'tested' 'operationally;' de facto this has never yet been achieved by any theory and can not at all be achieved. In order to be able to consider a theory as a physical theory it is only necessary that it implies empirically testable assertions in general.
This formulation is insofar entirely unprecise as 'testability' is a quality which refers not merely to the assertion itself but also to the co-ordination of concepts, contained in it, with experience. But it is probably hardly necessary for me to enter upon a discussion of this ticklish problem, inasmuch as it is not likely that there exist any essential differences of opinion at this point."

Now it is well-known that Einstein was a socialist, and he was as willing to embrace the "metaphysical" conception of socialism as he was Minkowski Space and as ready to reject the apparent validity of bourgeois common sense in politics as he was to criticise the "illusion of naive realism" in physics. But he was not a pioneer of social theory. It would have to be left to others to understand the social crisis of the day.

Sensuous Representation and Concepts

"Even scholars of audacious spirit and fine instinct can be obstructed in interpretation of facts by philosophical prejudices. The prejudice - which has by no means died out in the meantime - consists in the faith that facts by themselves can and should yield scientific knowledge without free conceptual construction".

"The object of all science, whether natural science or psychology, is to coordinate our experiences and to bring them into a logical system". ... "The only justification for our concepts and system of concepts is that they serve to represent the complex of our experiences". [The Meaning of Relativity, 1955]

"Physics is an attempt conceptually to grasp reality as it is thought independently of its being observed". [Autobiographical Notes from Einstein: Philosopher-Scientist, 1949]

The issues mentioned above in relation to the contradictions which arise when physical theories are extended beyond their domain of applicability were enormously exacerbated by the quantum physics which developed from Einstein and others' discoveries on the discrete character of energy and electromagnetic radiation. The scope of challenge to intuitively derived representational thinking, including formal logic, is greatly increased during the first half of the twentieth century as a result of the mathematics used in quantum mechanics and in the investigation the foundations of mathematics. These issues will be dealt with elsewhere.

The Revolution in Psychology

At around the same time that Einstein was making a revolution in physics, a revolution was also taking place in psychology. This revolution had two opposite sides. Focussing on mental pathology rather than the normal processes of perception, feeling and rationality, Sigmund Freud founded twentieth century materialist psychology. Focussing on the operation of the saliva gland in a dog, Pavlov established the principles of coordination of mind and body.

Freud did not proceed by a method of introspection, nor by physiological dissection nor by means of a priori categories of being. He was as much an opponent of the fashionable positivistic trend as Einstein. Far from doing away with "metaphysical entities" he created at least six new ones: Id, Ego, Super Ego, Consciousness, the Pre-consciousness and the Subconscious. Rather than locating the driving forces for the psyche in immediate sense perception, Freud finds its source in social relations.

Freud had the following to say of Positivism:

"One often has an impression that this nihilism is only a temporary attitude, which will only be kept up until this task has been completed. When once science has been got rid of, some kind of mysticism, or, indeed, the old religious Weltanschauung, can spring up in the space that has been left vacant. According to this anarchistic doctrine, there is no such thing as truth, no assured knowledge of the external world. What we give out as scientific truth is only the product of our own needs and desires, as they are formulated under varying external conditions; that is to say, it is illusion once more. Ultimately we find only what we need to find, and see only what we desire to see. We can do nothing else. And since the criterion of truth, correspondence with an external world, disappears, it is absolutely immaterial what views we accept. All of them are equally true and false. And no one has a right to accuse anyone else of error.

"For a mind which is interested in epistemology, it would be tempting to enquire into the contrivances and sophistries by means of which the anarchists manage to elicit a final product of this kind from science. One would no doubt be brought up against situations like the one involved in the familiar example of the Cretan who says that all Cretans are liars. But I am not desirous, nor am I capable, of going deeper into this. I will merely remark that the anarchistic theory only retains its remarkable air of superiority so long as it is concerned with opinions about abstract things; it breaks down the moment it comes in contact with practical life. Now the behaviour of men is guided by their opinions and knowledge, and the same scientific spirit which speculates about the structure of the atom or the origin of man is concerned in the building of a bridge that will bear its load. If it were really a matter of indifference what we believed, if there were no knowledge which was distinguished from among our opinions by the fact that it corresponds with reality, then we might just as well build our bridges of cardboard as of stone, or inject a tenth of a gram of morphia into a patient instead of a hundredth, or take tear-gas as a narcotic instead of ether. But the intellectual anarchists themselves would strongly repudiate such practical applications of their theory." [Weltanschauung, 1932]

While Freud began with the pathology of the higher functions of civilised European human beings, Pavlov began with the reflexology of one organ (the saliva gland) of a dog. One could have no knowledge of the mental state of a dog, other than by analogy with the mental state of human beings which are known to us by personal experience and by personal and cultural experience in that of other human beings. But one can with scientific precision observe the behaviour of the dog and the physical conditions which engender it. One can surmise as to the state of mind of the dog if you will, but for Pavlov that was neither here nor there.

The very thing which appeared to the Positivists to be immediately given - consciousness - did not even figure in the zoopsychology of Ivan Petrovich Pavlov.

The Theory of Relativity, Quantum Mechanics and the "weird" mathematics with which the physical reality of the microcosm is described, behaviourism and Freudian psychoanalysis - these are the legacies of the revolutions of natural science at the turn of the century. And these revolutions were made not by the Machs, Brentanos, Poincares and Wundts of this world, but by the intelligent advocates of good old fashioned natural scientific materialism who paid attention to the development of human social practice.

What was the basis of the errors of the Second Positivism? - the illusions of laissez faire capitalism and the high level of development of the social division of labour.

The Coming Revolution in Social Theory

If we can say that the Second Positivism was in crisis in these early years of the 20th century, then the means of resolution of the crisis was already in preparation. But generally speaking it was not until after the Great War and the Russian Revolution that the new developments in social theory began to gain public attention and have an impact on the development of ideology. I have in mind the sociology of Emile Durkheim, a positivist who prepared the way for structuralist sociology, Ferdinand de Saussure, he linguist who broke decisively from positivist linguistics and formulated the structuralist doctrine, Wilhelm Dilthey whose works received posthumous recognition and the Lausanne School of political economy which produced on positivist foundations, the mathematical tools for the conception of economic aggregates.

The First World War and the Russian Revolution brought the positivistic method of understanding the human condition into terminal disrepute and created the impetus for a new turn in bourgeois ideology.