DEFINITIONS AND BIOGRAPHICAL NOTES

Elementary Principles of Philosophy
by Georges Politzer

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AGNOSTICS. Name in philosophy given to those who claim that the truth is inaccessible to the human mind.


ALCHEMY. Name given to the chemistry of the Middle Ages. It was an art akin to magic, more than a science, and consisted in the search for a remedy to cure all ills (a panacea) and in the transmutation of metals into gold by means of the “philosopher’s stone.”


ANALYSIS. Mental process which consists in splitting up a thing or an idea into its elements.


ANATOMY. Science which studies the structure of living beings and the relations between the different organs of which they are composed.


ANAXIMENES OF MILETUS (6th century B.C.). Philosopher of the Ionian School. He succeeded his teacher Anaximander and had Anaxagoras and Diogenes of Apollonia as followers. He held that air is the basic principle of all things.


ARISTOTLE (384-322 B.C.). Along with Plato, the greatest philosopher of antiquity. Taught in Athens, from where he had to flee a year before his death in order to escape being persecuted for impiety. As both Plato’s follower and rival, Aristotle tries to give a realistic basis to the idealistic philosophy of the former, through the systematic observation of the perceptible world, but, like Plato, takes as his starting point the concept of “Idea.” Every being—or substance—consists of two principles: matter and form. Matter is a crude, inert and amorphous mass; in order for it to become such and such a thing, “this” or “that,” a form must be applied to it. Form equals idea, and is active and specific. It is what gives matter its qualities. The supreme form, comprising all others, is God. In this way Aristotle, by rejecting Democritus’ mechanical concept, introduces finalism: it is God who organized the universe. Aristotle was the founder of logic as the theory of correct reasoning. The idea of development is the central idea of his system. Cosmic development, organic development, the development of forms of the State are all conceived of as the evolution from the imperfect to the perfect, from the general to the specific. Engels calls him the most universal mind of all the Greek philosophers, the one who had already analyzed the most essential forms of dialectical thought.

In the Middle Ages, the followers of this great scholar and logician preserved only the formal and abstract aspect of his teachings. Since they were unable to rethink Aristotelianism in the light of scientific progress, they converted it into a hardened and sterile system, which became the foundation of scholasticism.


ATOM. In chemistry and physics, the name for one of the smallest material particles of an element which can enter into combination.

In ancient materialist philosophy, this word designated the smallest element of matter which was absolutely indivisible, the primary element which, by combination and agglomeration, comprised all of nature.


BACON, Francis of Verulam (1561-1626). Famous English philosopher. Member of the House of Commons in 1593, Bacon was appointed learned counsel in 1604; in 1613, attorney general; in 1617, lord keeper and in 1618 lord chancellor. Sentenced in 1624 by the Parliament to prison and to disqualification from office for corruption, he was released within two days and returned to private life.

Francis Bacon is the author of a large number of scientific and philosophical works, among which special mention should be made of Novum Organum (1620), in which he advocated a logic based on experience in contrast to the old metaphysics based on a priori ideas.

Francis Bacon is one of the founders of modern philosophy and scientific method.


BERKELEY, George (1685-1753). English philosopher, bishop, and, for a while, unlucky missionary in America. His clerical activities (as Protestant minister in Catholic Ireland, annexed and colonized by force in the beginning of the 18th century), on behalf of the victorious English nation, were of a quite reactionary nature. Along with speculations of a spiritual order, he indulged as well in more material speculations (for example, regarding the utility of the famous workers’ houses and child-labor), as witnessed by his work, An Essay Towards Preventing the Ruin of Great Britain (1720), composed on the occasion of the collapse of the South Sea Company which had been a speculative adventure. Lenin described his philosophy in depth. A discussion of the same can be found in Part One, chapter 2 of the present book. His economic concepts (in The Querist), in particular those on money, were examined in depth by Marx in his Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy. Works: An Essay Towards a New Theory of Vision (1707), A Treatise Concerning the Principle of Human Knowledge (1710), and Three Dialogues between Hylas and Philonous (1712), a popular exposé of the preceding work.


BRANLY, Edouard (1846-1940). French physicist. In 1873 discovered the properties of copper oxides in “rectifying” alternative currents. In 1888, he established the first radio communications by discovering the properties of a tube filled with iron filings. Thanks to his “coherer” the radio was created. In 1898, he explained before the Academy of Science the application of his discovery to ships in distress.


CARTESIANISM. Name given to the philosophy of Descartes.


COPERNICUS (1473-1543). Famous Polish astronomer. Author of the work entitled Six Books on the Revolutions of the Celestial Orbs, in which he proves the rotation of the earth on its axis and its revolution around the sun.


D’ALEMBERT, Jean le Rond (1717-1783). One of the most typical representatives of the Enlightenment in France and a great mathematician, d’Alembert made considerable efforts to establish the principles of mechanics. With Diderot he published the Encyclopedia or Classified Dictionary of Sciences, Arts and Trades. This great work, which was fiercely fought by the Monarchy and widely distributed, and finally forbidden by the reactionary Conseil d’Etat, is the major achievement of the French Enlightenment (33 volumes, 1751-1777). He wrote the introduction, the “Discours préliminaire” to this Encyclopedia. From a philosophical point of view he was a skeptic, believing that neither matter nor spirit is knowable in its essence, and the world may be entirely different from how it appears to our senses. Principal works: Sketches on Literature, History and Philosophy (1753) and Elements of Philosophy (1758).


DARWIN, Charles Robert (1809-1882). Famous English naturalist, the most important theoretician of evolution in the natural sciences in the last century. He gave a decisive formulation of the theory of transformism, which had previously been foreseen by Lamarck, Goethe, etc., thus opening up new paths to science. Darwin founded his theory of evolution on the hypothesis of natural selection, i.e., the selection in the struggle for existence which causes the best adapted to survive. He began with experiments on artificial animal breeding. But where is the hand of the breeder in blind nature? To answer this question, Darwin utilized Malthus, An Essay on the Principle of Population (1798) to the extent that the latter took the disproportion between population growth and the possibility of increasing the means of subsistence as his starting point. Although modern biology has examined a great many new phenomena and has thereby modified and completed those factors too generally used by Darwin, the fundamental concept of the theory of evolution is nevertheless still firmly grounded in modern thought. On this Engels writes in the Evolution of Socialism, “Darwin dealt the greatest blow to the metaphysical concept of nature by proving that all existing organic nature: plants, animals as well as man, is the product of a process of evolution which has been going on for millions of years.” In his speech over Marx’s grave, Engels (1883) pointed out the relations between Marx and Darwin in the following terms: “Just as Darwin discovered the law of development of organic nature, so Marx discovered the law of development of human history.” (P.S. Foner, ed., When Karl Marx Died, Comments in 1883, New York: International Publishers, 1973, p. 39.) In 1860, Marx had already written in a letter to Engels with regard to Darwin’s principal work, On the Origin of the Species (1859), which had just been published: “Although developed clumsily in the English manner, this book contains, from the point of view of natural science, the foundation which conforms to our point of view.” He makes similar remarks in a letter to Lassalle, “Darwin’s work is considerable and suits me as a foundation, from the point of view of natural science, for class struggle in history…. Despite all his faults, not only is he the first to strike a fatal blow to ‘theology’ in natural science, but he empirically establishes the rational meaning of the latter….”


DEDUCTION. Reasoning which begins with a proposition or a fact and proceeds to state the consequences which follow from it—or which concludes from the general to the specific.


DEMOCRITUS (ca. 460-370 B.C.). Greek philosopher, and the greatest materialist of antiquity. According to him, only Atoms and Void exist. Atoms are extremely small, indivisible primitive elements which differ in shape, magnitude and position and which are in perpetual motion. Objects are derived from the organization of atoms. Democritus holds that the soul is material and is composed, like anything else, of atoms (albeit finer). Moreover, for him, the qualities of things (their color, odor, etc.) are purely subjective and derive from illusions of the senses. The real, objective world does not contain such qualities, and the task of reason must be to abstract these qualities in order to discover the atoms themselves.

The contradiction which can be observed in Democritus’ thought regarding the subjective character of “qualities” provided by the senses raises the problem of knowledge in dialectical materialism in its primary and elementary form. His theory of atoms is a brilliant prediction of modern atomic theory.


DESCARTES, René (1596-1650). French dualistic philosopher (i.e., one who contrasts spirit and matter metaphysically). He fought scholasticism and created analytic geometry. His dualism commits the material and perceptible world to physics or, more exactly, to mathematical mechanics, and the spiritual and rational soul to metaphysics. For this reason he is a materialist in practice and an idealist in theory. This dualism has made him the father of all bourgeois philosophy of modern times, both in his mechano-materialist tendency as well as in his metaphysical-spiritual tendency. Resolving, in order to demolish scholasticism and to discover truth, to begin by “methodically” doubting everything, rejecting, as a rationalist, sensual experience as misleading, and proclaiming the mathematical method as a model for all of science, Descartes finds in the proposition: “I think, therefore I am” the ideal for all obvious truths. Through a series of deductions, he concludes the existence of a soul as spiritual substance and of God. And it is upon the existence of God that he bases the existence of the material world. But, at the same time, for Descartes matter is identical to extension. He thus proclaims the liberation of natural science from any transcendental theology. Essentially, what is progressive in his philosophy is that he advocates a scientific method whereby all objects are broken down into their simplest constituent parts. Although he isolates objects, as Engels says, on the basis of this mathematical-mechanistic analysis, and dislocates their relations metaphysically, Descartes nonetheless provides the necessary premises for their dialectical synthesis. He attributed the greatest importance to his “new method” for the technical and industrial development of his time. In reality, this method, like his entire philosophical thought in general (in which animals are considered to be robots!) is the characteristic philosophy of the manufacturing period. Nevertheless, it represents an extremely precious and valuable rationalistic legacy. Among his works: Discourse on Method (1637), Meditations (1641), Principles of Philosophy (1644), Treatise on Passions (1649), and Treatise on Man (posthumous).


DIALECTICS. The word “dialectics” originally meant the art or science of debate. For Plato, dialectics is, firstly, the art of extracting all the positive and negative consequences contained in an idea or principle. Secondly, it is the rational movement of the mind which ascends by successive stages, from perceptible data to ideas, the eternal and immutable principles of things, and, finally, to the primary idea of all, the idea of the Good. Since for Plato ideas are the only reality worthy of the name, dialectics or the science of ideas comprises science itself.

For Hegel dialectics is the movement of ideas through the successive stages of thesis, antithesis and synthesis until the absolute idea is attained.

For Marx and Marxists, dialectics is no longer the movement of ideas, but rather the movement of things themselves through contradictions, of which the movement of the mind is but the conscious reflection. An extensive study of Marxist dialectics can be found in the fourth part of the present work.


DIDEROT, Denis (1713-1784). The most eminent thinker among the materialists of the French Enlightenment, he is the leader and soul of the Encyclopedists. During a quarter of a century, he published, along with d’Alembert, the famous Encyclopedia called “the Holy Alliance against fanaticism and tyranny.” The publication of this undertaking, persecuted by the State and the Jesuits, demanded a sustained moral effort, an unflagging will-power, the greatest obstinacy and absolute devotion. Engels wrote, “If anyone has enthusiastically dedicated his entire life to truth and to the right—in the best sense of the word—it was Diderot.” He wrote on the most diverse topics, on natural science and mathematics, history and society, the economy and the State, law and morals, art and literature. Raised in strict Catholicism, Diderot developed with remarkable logic, evolving from deism to militant materialism and atheism, and finally embodying the highest goals of the revolutionary bourgeois philosophy of the French Age of Enlightenment. He exerted the most profound and long-lasting influence on the society of his time. But his thought was not restricted to the narrow limits of vulgar materialism. A number of glimmers of dialectical thought are to be found in his works. Already in his Philosophic Thoughts (the Hague, 1746), which were burned by the public hangman by order of the Parliament, and in his Wandering of a Skeptic (1747), confiscated before publication, he vigorously attacks the Church. His atheistic work, An Essay on Blindness (London, 1749), cost him a year in prison. Diderot is justly considered a precursor of Lamarck and Darwin, for he already maintains, clearly and resolutely, the idea of the evolution of organisms and of the initial existence of a “primitive being” from which, by progressive transformations, the later diversity of the animal and plant kingdoms derived. Just as there is an individual evolution, there is also, according to Diderot, an evolution of species. Logically pursuing the idea of evolution, Diderot finally demands the recognition of the evolution of all inanimate matter. In this work, Thoughts on the Interpretation of Nature (1754), in order to explain psychic phenomena, he imagines the hypothesis of atoms endowed with sensation, which already exist in animals and which bring about thought in man. All natural acts are signs of a substance which comprises all of being, in which the unity of forces in perpetual transformations and reciprocal action is apparent. Among his most daring and clever materialist writings should be noted: A Conversation between d’Alembert and Diderot (1769) and D’Alembert’s Dream (1769), which are at the same time complete literary masterpieces. Diderot was, moreover, an eminent dramatist and a master of prose. In his struggle for reforms in art and the theater, he advocates naturalism, the uncamouflaged representation of living, concrete reality. Diderot composed, moreover, numerous witty novels and short stories (he was, by the way, Marx’s favorite author) whose importance can be seen in the fact that men such as Lessing, Schiller and Goethe not only admired them but translated many of them into German as well. His most famous work is Rameau’s Nephew (1762) which Engels calls a “masterpiece of dialectics.”


DÜHRING, Eugen (1833-1921). German philosopher and economist, for a while assistant lecturer of philosophy and political economy at the University of Berlin. Shortly afterwards becoming completely blind, Dühring, until his death, lived as a writer first in Berlin and later in Nowawes. The most notable representative of bourgeois socialism, he saw the “natural efforts of the individual mind” as the basis for the social order, preached the theory of the increasing participation of the workers in the social product and expected the salvation of the future to come from the reconciliation of class antagonisms. He considered himself to be a reformer of humanity. Dühring gave many lectures before large crowds on a variety of topics, but was soon deprived of his lectureship following his vehement public attacks on the professors of Berlin. Between 1870 and 1880, he had a great deal of followers in the social democracy. In many works, Dühring developed a special socio-political system, which he had constructed with the help of a number of “final and absolute truths” which he thought he had discov-ered. He was an enemy of Christianity and an ardent anti-semite. Despite himself, he indirectly served scientific communism; indeed, his fiery attacks on Marx and Lassalle and his “philosophy of reality,” stamped with megalo-mania, were to provoke the rejoinder of Engels’ famous classical work, Herr Eugen Dühring’s Revolution in Science (Anti-Dühring), a work which soon became the philosophical guide for the new revolutionary generation of workers. In this work, Engels tore into shreds Dühring’s entire system of platitudes and, with a master’s hand, gave a complete and clear account of dialectical materialism for the first time.


ELEATICS. Philosophers of Elea, a city founded by the Greeks in southern Italy. Opposed to Heraclitus and the School of Miletus (see THALES), the Eleatics maintain the immutability of Being. The most famous of them is Zeno (ca. 500 B.C.).


ENCYCLOPEDIA. Generally speaking, a work containing a summary of all human knowledge. In French literary history, the Encyclopedia was the great work published in the 18th century, in which all human knowledge was, for the first time, presented from the point of view of the revolutionary bourgeoisie. Besides the influence which the Encyclopedia exerted, by its vigorous denunciation of the injustices of the feudal monarchy, the three areas in which it makes a decisive contribution are (mechanistic) materialism, atheism and technological advances.


ENGELS, Frederick (1820-1895). Karl Marx’s dearest friend and inseparable comrade in arms, co-founder of dialectical materialism and scientific socialism and co-author with Marx of the Communist Manifesto; one of the founders of the Communist League and the International Association of Workingmen or First International. After Marx’s death (1883), he became the recognized spiritual leader and the greatest authority of the international workers’ movement. His principal merit lies in his exposition and development of dialectical materialism. Among his theoretical works primary importance should be assigned to his philosophical pamphlets. These are masterpieces whose influence on proletarian thought has been long-lasting and whose importance continues to grow. In them Engels demonstrates with an incomparable mastery and clarity the dialectical relations between philosophy and social class struggles and between philosophy and the development of productive forces and the parallel progress of the natural sciences. Thus he leads the reader along ever-new paths to the truth that the philosophy which truly liberates all of humanity can only be that of dialectical materialism, for only it is capable of preserving theoretical thought from the Scylla and Charybdis of idealism and vulgar, mechanistic materialism and of assuring the victory of a consistent materialist theory of knowledge. His fundamental works are: Anti-Dühring, a polemical work composed in a style like Lessing’s, full of freshness, spunk and fighting vigor, a remarkably rich defense of the materialist concept of the world; and Ludwig Feuerbach and the Outcome of Classical German Philosophy, a brilliant essay on the development of philosophy from Hegel to Marx. A less-known work, but one which possesses all the qualities which make it, along with Anti-Dühring, the essential weapon of Marxists in the struggle against new idealistic systems of philosophy is Dialectics of Nature, a collection of articles and fragments written between 1873 and 1892. Even if in some areas it has become obsolete due to recent scientific discoveries, it constitutes an inexhaustible resource for all those who are interested in the struggle for dialectical materialism and for its correct interpretation and who are convinced of the necessity of harmoniously incorporating into Marxism the results of modern natural science. Among his important theoretical and methodological works, let us mention: The Condition of the Working Class in England (1845), the Communist Manifesto (1848)—written in collaboration with Marx, the Bourgeois Democratic Revolution in Germany (1850-1852)—containing “The Peasant War,” “Revolution and Counter-revolution in Germany” and “The Campaign for the Constitution of the Reich”; Socialism: Utopian and Scientific (1880), The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State (1884), The Housing Question (1872), Contribution to the History of Primitive Christianity (reprinted in the collection Marx-Engels: On Religion), Engels on Capital and The Critique of the Erfurt Program (1891).

The study of Engels’ correspondence is equally indispensable: above all, the Karl Marx-Frederick Engels Correspondence. (See Karl Marx, Frederick Engels, Collected Works, New York: International Publishers, 1975-1976.)


EPICURUS (341-270 B.C.). Greek philosopher. Taught philosophy in Athens. Of his work, which is said to have filled 300 volumes, only a few letters remain which contain a summary of his doctrine, as well as a collection of sayings.

Epicurus taught that the world is composed of an infinite number of atoms which meet, unite and dissociate by virtue of a causality whose starting point is an accident due to chance. There may be gods but, according to Epicurus, they are not concerned with our world. Man is therefore free and does not have to fear death. Thus liberated from fear and error, he must turn away from fragile and fleeting goods and seek the long-lasting Good which moderate pleasures can provide.


FEUERBACH, Ludwig (1804-1872). German materialist philosopher, son of a once-famous criminologist Paul-Anselme Feuerbach. Was obliged to give up his academic career because of his philosophical ideas and so lived in the countryside in straitened circumstances. From left-wing Hegelianism he evolved to materialism. “Thought came from being, not being from thought.” Man is the product of nature; religion is the mythical reflection of human nature. “In man’s God, you can recognize man and in man you can also recognize his God; the two things are identical.” It is not God who created man, but man who created God in his image. Feuerbach’s philosophy provided the intermediary link between Hegel’s and Marx’s philosophy. Although somewhere he wrote with scorn of the French materialism of the 18th century, nevertheless, Feuerbach was in fact the restorer of 18th century materialism, with all its great merits and all its faults with its noble, proud and revolutionary hatred for all “theology” and its tendency towards idealism when explaining social acts and phenomena.

Marx and Engels, who were for a time Feuerbach’s followers, soon denounced the insufficiencies of his materialism. They created dialectical materialism which goes further than Feuerbach, and at the same time assimilated the valuable parts of his thought.


GALILEO (1564-1642). Mathematician, physicist, astronomer, and founder of experimental science in Italy. He discovered the law of the uniform duration of the swinging of a pendulum and demonstrated that bodies of different weights fall at the same speed in a vacuum. In astronomy, he accepted the Copernican system, constructed a new astronomical telescope and made discoveries which confirmed Copernicus’ system. Hence, he held that the sun is the center of the world and that the earth revolves about the sun. Prosecuted by the Inquisition, he was forced to recant and, after his retraction, pro-nounced the famous words “And yet it turns!”


HEGEL, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich (1770-1831). The most important German idealistic philosopher. Especially important for his dialectical method, which he conceived of from an idealistic position, but which was basically correct. Hegel was an objective idealist. According to him, the primary principle of reality is the absolute Idea, which first reveals itself in nature and then becomes spirit and knowledge. This becoming of the Idea comprises a logical-dialectical development of which real history is but the expression. Hence, it is pure thought which creates the world and its history; the world is but the manifestation of the Idea. As Feuerbach showed, this Idea is nothing but the Christian God in an abstract and logical wrapping. Marx and Engels turned Hegel’s dialectics right side up and “set it back on its feet” by giving it a materialist content and thus converting it into a truly revolutionary theoretical weapon.


HEGELIANS. (Young) After Hegel’s death, his followers split into two hostile factions, according to the interpretation which they gave to his doctrine. Those who abided literally by this doctrine comprised the Hegelian right. They defended the Prussian State. Those who rejected Hegel’s idealistic and conservative conclusions, grounding themselves on his very method, comprised the Hegelian left or the “young Hegelians.” They attacked all forms of reaction. Included among them were: Arnold Ruge, Strauss, Bruno Bauer, Feuerbach, Stirner, Koeppen, Karl Marx, Frederick Engels, et al.


HELVETIUS, Claude Adrien (1715-1771). Born in Paris, farmer-general, writer and philosopher; one of the great materialists of the 18th century. Major works: On the Mind (1758), which was burnt by order of the Parliament; and On Man (1772). An enemy of feudalism and theology, Helvetius advocates “legislation” based on the harmony of individual and social interests, but to reform society he relies on education.


HERACLITUS (544-475 B.C.). Also called “the obscure.” Heraclitus lived in the commercial city of Ephesus in Asia Minor, and was one of the most eminent dialecticians of antiquity. According to him, becoming is the fundamental law of the universe; struggle and the interpenetration of opposites, the unity of being and non-being—such is the essence of the world. In this instability of everything, in the continual change of all being, Heraclitus saw the most general law of the universe. Everything flows, nothing is constant. As a result, “We cannot jump into the same river twice.” The universe is strife and peace, summer and winter, flux and rest, surplus and famine, etc. Contradiction, the dominant principle of the world, is, according to Heraclitus, inherent in all things, so that everything is an interpretation of opposites.


HOLBACH, Paul Henry Dietrich, baron d’ (1723-1789). French materialist. Arriving in Paris at the age of 12, he studied in France, which had become his true fatherland, and then at Leiden. Along with Diderot, Holbach took one of the most active parts in the composition of the Encyclopedia. In it he wrote articles and reviews about natural science. At his dinner parties the best brains of France of the period were brought together. It was there that the revolutionary ideology of the Third Estate took shape, and there that the principles of the philosophy which was later to be called the French materialism of the 18th century were formulated in a narrow circle of friends. In his works mechanistic materialism was most systematically and completely expressed. Holbach stands against dualism, the splitting of the world into matter and spirit. Man is but the necessary product of nature. Nature is matter in motion. Matter is what acts directly or indirectly on our senses. Spiritualistic and theological systems are only man’s cerebral lucubrations, the fruit of his ignorance and the conscious trickery of the majority by those who benefit from doing so, especially the Church. His System of Nature (1770) had, in its time, an extraordinary revolutionary impact.


HUME, David (1711-1776). Scottish philosopher. Skeptic and agnostic in philosophy and active politician, he composed essays on socioeconomic problems and was an original historian. His philosophy represents the culmination of the direction of thought peculiar to the English bourgeoisie, which begins with Locke’s experimental philosophy and then turns to Berkeley’s subjectivism and finally favors, in all fundamental questions, agnosticism, i.e., the theory which maintains the impossibility of true knowledge. Hume is not satisfied, as is Berkeley, with denying the existence of matter. Rather he extends his skepticism to the causal relations of things, by maintaining that relations of causality have no objective reality and are maintained simply out of subjective habit. Man observes the regular repetition of a series of phenomena and concludes from this and for no other reason that one thing is these of the other. I observe, says Hume, that each time the white marble hits the red marble, the latter is set in motion. I express this constancy by saying: the shock of the white marble is the cause of the motion of the red marble. But what assures me that this is a case of necessary and objective causality and not simply a personal illusion? Who can guarantee me that tomorrow the shock of the white marble will again move the red marble and will again be the cause of its motion? Hence, Hume refuses to recognize any guarantee for the relation of causality which is, however, central to the explanation and knowledge of the world. Thus for him the exterior world is, in the last analysis, only a hypothesis, a “belief.” It is to “refute” Hume that Kant will develop his “critical” doctrine. His theory of money, which Marx analyzes in the Critique of Political Economy, is an application to economic relations of his mystifying bourgeois concept, in which the superficial appearance of things always replaces the essential, fundamental processes. Major philosophical works: A Treatise of Human Nature (1739-1740), and An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding (1748).



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INDUCTION. Type of reasoning which consists in drawing a general conclusion from a body of specific facts of similar meaning—or which concludes from the specific to the general.


KANT, Emmanuel (1724-1804). Famous German philosopher. Taught philosophy his entire life at the University of Koeningsberg. In 1755, published his Universal Natural History and Theories of the Heavens, a work which paved the way for Laplace’s theory on the formation of heavenly bodies. In 1781, wrote the Critique of Pure Reason and in 1787, Perpetual Peace. His agnosticism claims that it is impossible to know things as they are “in themselves” but only as they appear to us (phenomena=appearances, in the etymological sense).

Kant sympathetically welcomed the French Revolution. He was a liberal, but abided by established laws. In religion, he is a rationalist, but he respects positive religions. In philosophy, he attacks dog-matism, but rejects skepticism. In ethics, he rejects any external law only to submit himself to an internal law which is more severe than any he rejects. Boldness in matters of speculation but respect for order in practical matters, such is the character of his mind. In short, a typical bourgeois liberal.


LA METTRIE, Julien Offroy de (1709-1751). French doctor and philosopher. The publishing of his clearly materialist work, Natural History of the Soul, having caused him to lose his position as military doctor, he went to the court of Frederick II, whose favorite court-reader he was to become.

La Mettrie wrote many works in which he applied the Cartesian theory of the automatism of animals to men, explaining sensations, mental images and judgments by a mere mechanical functioning of the nervous system. Let us cite his Man the Machine (1748).


LENIN, Vladimir Ilyich. Lenin was born April 22 (10 Old Style), 1870, in Simbirsk (now Ulyanovsk), Russia. His father, Ilya Nikolayevich Ulyanov, was an inspector of the public schools of Simbirsk Province. In his student years Lenin came into conflict with the authorities for his activities in Marxist circles.

In 1895 Lenin united the Marxist workers’ study circles of St. Petersburg into the “League of Struggle for the Emancipation of the Working Class” which represented the embryo of the revolutionary proletarian party in Russia. At the Second Congress of the Russian Social-Democratic Labor Party which took place in July 1903, Lenin, having exposed and isolated the opportunist trend of economism, made possible the victory of revolutionary Marxism and united around himself the group known as the “Bolsheviks” (from bolshinstvo-majority).In the struggle with the Mensheviks (from menshinstvo-minority) at and after the Congress he worked out the organizational foundations of the Bolshevik Party, a party of a new type.

Lenin’s book, Materialism and Empirio-Criticism, which appeared in 1909, made an immense contribution to the task of forming a party of social revolution conceived along new lines. In this book Lenin defended the theoretical foundations of the Marxist party—dialectical and historical materialism—in the struggle against revisionists, defeatists, and falsifiers, and developed further the philosophy of Marxism, incorporating the results of developments in science since the days of Engels. During World War I, in addition to his other activities, Lenin worked strenuously to develop further the philosophical foundations of Marxism. His philosophical notes, abstracts, and fragments of this period represent an important source of material for Marxist philosophy. These appear in Philosophical Notebooks.

In April 1917, Lenin returned to Russia from exile and immediately began preparing the Bolshevik Party for the proletarian revolution which came in November. During the summer he completed his cele-brated work, State and Revolution, in which he developed further the teachings of Marx and Engels on the dictatorship of the proletariat. With the establishment of the Soviet Republic, Lenin threw his full energies into organizing the new socialist state, winning the support of the peasantry for the new order, and conducting a successful struggle against the forces of counter-revolution and foreign intervention. In 1919, as a result of many years of work, the Third Communist International was established, reviving the best traditions of the revolutionary struggles of the working class.

At the conclusion of the Civil War, Lenin organized and directed the work of reconstructing the Soviet national economy, effected the transition from war communism to the “New Economic Policy” (N.E.P.) and carried on a struggle against the Trotskyites, Bukharinites, and other enemies of Bolshevism who were undermining the unity and sapping the fighting strength of the Party. The difficult conditions of Lenin’s life in the days of tsarism, his inhumanly strenuous practical and theoretical work, together with the serious wound he received from a would-be assassin in 1918, overtaxed the strength of the great leader and shortened his life. He died on January 21, 1924.

Lenin’s role in the development of Marxism was so great that ever since his time scientific socialism is referred to as Marxism-Leninism.


LEUCIPPUS (5th century B.C.). Materialist philosopher, student of Zeno and teacher of Democritus, developed the theory of atoms.


LOCKE, John (1632-1704). English philosopher, representative of empiricism, which asserts that experience is the only foundation for all knowledge. In his Essay Concerning Human Understanding (1690), Locke resorts to the principle of experience for the solution of the problem of knowledge, denying the existence of innate ideas and deriving all mental images from two sources: external senses and internal senses. To the extent that Locke explains external sensations by the influence of things on us, and that he even formulates the then audacious hypothesis that matter (if God so willed) could think, he speaks from a materialist standpoint. But to the extent that he remains attached to the ideas of the soul and of God—which, according to him, belong to the sphere of faith—he is a dualist (dividing the world into matter and spirit) and inaugurates the development of English theism. Characteristic of his theory of knowledge is the “atomization” of human understanding, i.e., he reduces the mind to a summation, a “mosaic” of sensations. This mosaic of the consciousness comprises nothing other than the mirror-image of the atomized bourgeois world. In his sociopolitical ideas Locke resolutely defended the interests of the bourgeoisie; as a theoretician of liberalism, he advocated a constitutional monarchy, the tolerance of atheism, etc. Major works: An Essay Concerning Human Understanding (1690) and A Letter Concerning Toleration (1685-1704).


LUCRETIUS, Titus Lucretius Carus (ca. 95-51 B.C.). Famous Latin poet born in Rome. A student of Epicurus, he glorifies the materialist ideas of his teacher in his poems. Major work: On the Nature of Things.


MARX, Karl Heinrich (1818-1883). One of the greatest geniuses of the 19th century, immortal founder of scientific communism, of the theory and practice of class struggle, and modern revolutionary of the international proletariat. To him the communist ideal owes its theory and its scientific program. Marx’s system rests on the principles of dialectical materialism. Through his masterly analyses of concrete problems, be it a question of discovering the internal laws of capitalism or of explaining periods and events determined by the history of humanity, Marx demonstrated the superiority of materialist dialectics as a theoretical method for research into the historical relations of the past, for knowledge of the true motor forces of social evolution in the present, as well as for the determination of tendencies towards development in the future. His brilliant criticism of bourgeois society was both destructive and constructive: destructive in that it proclaimed the death of the bourgeoisie, and constructive in that it announced the victory of the proletariat. His dialectics is at the same time a research method and a guideline for human action. His materialist dialectics extends not only to the knowledge of the laws of human history, but also to the knowledge of natural history. Whence his adherence to the revolution in natural science provoked by Charles Darwin’s doctrine of evolution. The method of thought and action which comprises Marxism is the proletariat’s most precious weapon in its struggle for emancipation and for the advent of a total humanism.

Let us cite Marx’s most important works in chronological order:

    Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844 (1844);

    The Holy Family (1844);

    The German Ideology (with Friedrich Engels) (1845-1846);

    The Poverty of Philosophy (1847);

    The Communist Manifesto (with Friedrich Engels) (1847);

    Wage-Labor and Capital (1847);

    Class Struggles in France, 1848-1850 (1850);

    The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte (1851-1852);

    A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy (1859);

    Herr Vogt (1860);

    Value, Price and Profit (1865);

    Capital, Volume One (1867);

Posthumously Published

    Capital, Volume Two (1893);

    Capital, Volume Three (1894);

    Critique of the Gotha Programme (1875);

    Theories of Surplus Value (1863)

These last three are often considered to comprise Volume Four of Capital

Some additional works by Marx to be read and studied are Pre-Capitalist Formations, On Colonialism, The Civil War in the United States, Letters to Americans, and a single volume Selected Works. Also see the collection of articles on Marx by Lenin, The Teachings of Karl Marx.


MECHANICS. Science of movements and forces.


METAPHYSICS. System of more or less fantastic and religious ideas and theses which attempts to explain the world by supernatural and immaterial principles—most often by God. Method of thought which isolates things and objects under study from each other and refuses to consider them in their perpetual mobility. In contrast to dialectics (see Part Three of the present work).


MOLIERE, Jean-Baptiste Poquelin, alias (1622-1673). The greatest French comic author. His theater dramatizes all the social stations of his time: peasants, merchants, bourgeois, doctors, city-dwellers and courtesans. While the comic element of his plays may be of a quite different nature in his farces (The Doctor In Spite Of Himself or The Cheats of Scapin) and in his other comedies on morals and character (The Miser, Le Misanthrope), it always derives from the representation of human folly and moral deformity. Molière always defends common sense by appealing to the common sense of the audience. He knows how to provoke laughter and thought simultaneously. By dealing with ever-real problems, in a usually conversational language, spiced with a popular or local flavor, he is prodigiously natural. The subject-matter of his plays is always the reality of man such as it reveals itself through the absurdities of his contemporaries. His work is of considerable proportions.


MYSTICISM. Philosophical and religious attitude in which perfection (in knowledge and in morality) consists of a sort of contemplation which mysteriously unites man with God. Mysticism may also signify a mental disposition towards preferring the obscure and mysterious. Opposed to rationalism.


MYTHOLOGY. Fabulous and legendary history of the gods in ancient or primitive peoples. By extension: any system of myths.


NOMINALISM. Philosophical doctrine which holds that general concepts, types and species exist only in name. Only the individual exists. A concept or type exists only for the intellect.


ORTHODOXY. Conformity of an opinion to an accepted religious faith. By extension, used to designate conformity to the original and exact concept of a philosophical or scientific theory, etc.


PALEONTOLOGY. Science dealing with fossils, i.e., animals or vegetables which have been preserved in the form of remains or imprints in geological strata.


PASTEUR, Louis (1822-1895). Born in Dôle, France. Famous chemist and biologist who, through his numerous scientific and utilitarian discoveries, contributed to the progress of science in the fight against contagious diseases.


PHLOGISTIC. Principle or fluid imagined by early chemists to explain the phenomenon of combustion or fire.


PHYSIOLOGY. Science which studies organic life functions.


PLATO (427-348 B.C.). Greek philosopher and the greatest idealist thinker of antiquity. According to Plato, things which we perceive do not comprise true reality; they are but appearances, reflections or copies. True reality belongs only to Ideas, the primitive models of perceptible things, suspended in an intellectual sky, immutable and eternal, etc. Hence, there are as many Ideas as things: an Idea for table, an Idea for chair, etc. It should be clearly understood that, for Plato, these Ideas are not just mere representations in us, but real beings, leading a life independently of us. For Plato, knowledge is possible only because we “remember” Ideas which we perceived in an earlier existence, before our physical birth: this is the theory of “recollection.” In addition, Plato developed elements of dialectics, but in both an idealistic and verbal manner. In its socio-political theses, Platonic idealism is the ideology of the ruling classes of an ancient society founded on slave-labor, in a period in which its decadence was accelerated by the development of a commercial and usurious economy. Plato explains his ideal of the State in a work entitled The Republic, in which he calls for the joint possession of goods for the dominant fraction of the aristocrats, which comprises the greatest aberration of the socialist utopias of antiquity. His main works are in dialogue form: Kriton, The Apology, Phaedo, Timaeus, Phaedrus, Gorgias, The Banquet, Theaetetus, The Republic, The Laws, etc.


PORT-ROYAL (Abbey of). Founded in 1204. Famous Jansenist abbey near Chevreuse, France. Owes its celebrity to the fight between Jansenists and Jesuits under Louis XVI, and to the Treatise on Logic, of Aristotelian tendencies, which was written there. Was destroyed in 1710 by order of the King.


PROUDHON, Pierre-Joseph (1809-1865). French writer and economist. Classical representative of petit-bourgeois socialism. The son of poor peasants, Proudhon worked as a proof-reader in Paris, Marseilles and other cities. He directed a printing press for a while in Besançon.

Proudhon wrote What Is Property?, published in 1840, which contains the famous sentence “Property is theft”, and System of Economic Contradictions or the Philosophy of Poverty, published in 1846, to which Marx replied in Poverty of Philosophy. He also wrote, On the Political Power of the Working Classes (1851), which had a profound influence on the French socialist workers, movement. All told he is a petit-bourgeois utopian, none of whose arguments could hold up against Marx’s criticism and to whom the reaction often claimed allegiance. Following the revolution of 1848, Proudhon was named as a member of the Constituent Assembly. At the time of the coup d’état of December 2, 1851, he trusted Louis-Napoléon to ensure the triumph of social justice.



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RATIONALISM. System based on reason, in contrast to systems based on religious revelation. The name rationalism is also given to the system whereby reason is at the origin of ideas, in contrast to empiricism, which maintains that we can only know the data of experience. Finally, this word also signifies a method of thought which trusts in reason and rejects mysticism. For us, rationalism is especially the method of scientific thought which obliges us to rely on reason alone and to avoid everything which depends on an uncontrolled imagination, speculative fantasy and “faith.” It should be noted that only with the help of dialectics can rationalism be fruitful and “modern.”


SENSUALISM. Philosophical system according to which all ideas are directly derived from sensations.


SPIRITUALISM. Philosophical doctrine whereby spirit exists as a reality from matter which it animates and directs, and which often sees in God a superior spirit on which all the laws of nature depend. Variant and consequence of idealism.


TELEOLOGY. Hypothesis according to which all beings in nature have an end (telos in Greek=end), a particular goal, usually willed by God or by Providence. The most elaborate form of this explanation was provided by Bernardin de Saint-Pierre (18th century), who held that if an apple hangs from the branch of a tree, it is so that man can grab it easily; that if a pumpkin grows on the ground and not on a tree, it is so that passersby will not risk getting knocked down, etc. This hypothesis is still maintained today in a less caricatural form by some biologists.


THALES. One of the major thinkers of the School of Miletus, in Asia Minor (6th century B.C.). The School of Miletus was the first materialist school in ancient Greece. The philosophers of Miletus tried to explain how everything is derived from air, fire or water.


THEOLOGY. “Science” (!) of God, study of religious dogmas and texts.


THOMAS AQUINAS, Saint (1227-1274). Theologian and philosopher of the Middle Ages. Received the title of Doctor of the Church. His principal works are a Summa contra gentiles (On the Truth of the Catholic Faith) and Summa theologiae. The first explains and defends Catholic doctrine and attempts to demonstrate that faith and reason are never opposed. The second, which the Church places alongside holy books, is divided into three parts: 1. A Treatise on God, 2. A Theory of Man’s Faculties, 3. A Treatise on Jesus Christ, Redemption and the Sacraments. Thomism is the theological and philosophical doctrine of Saint Thomas of Aquinas, and is still quite widespread among Catholic philosophers. This doctrine is extremely scholastic and basically reactionary.



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