How Thought Develops

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The very beginnings of human thought, mind in its immediate and primitive stage, is sense perception: primitive man, through his senses, begins by registering and memorising the data immediately provided by his environment, without understanding the true nature, causal relationships, and laws which underlie them. From observation and experience, gradually the human mind proceeds to make a number of generalisations of a more or less abstract character. This process involves a long and laborious journey lasting several millions of years, extremely slow at first, but rapidly gathering momentum in the last ten thousand years. Yet despite the colossal strives made by thought and science, ordinary thinking remains on quite a primitive level.

When we first consider any subject, we first form a notion of the whole, without grasping all the concrete content and detailed interconnections. It is merely a general outline and a bare abstraction. Thus, the Ionic philosophers and even Buddhism intuitively grasped the universe as a constantly changing dialectical whole. But this initial notion lacks all definition and concreteness. It is necessary to go further and provide the general picture with a definite expression, analysing and specifying the precise relations of its content. It has to be analysed and quantified. Without this, science in general is impossible. This is the difference between crude, immediate, undeveloped thought and science as such.

At the dawn of human consciousness, men and women did not clearly distinguish themselves from nature, just as a new-born baby does not distinguish itself from its mother. Gradually, over a long period, humans learned to distinguish, to cognize the world, by detecting focal points in the bewildering web of natural phenomena surrounding them, to observe, compare, generalise, and draw conclusions. In this way, over countless millennia, a series of important generalisations were built up from experience, which gradually came to crystallise into the familiar forms of thought which, because we are so familiar with them, we take for granted.

Common, everyday thought relies heavily on sense perception, immediate experience, appearances, and that peculiar hybrid of experience and superficial thinking called "common sense." These things are normally sufficient to carry us through life. But they are insufficient to arrive at a scientific understanding, and, at a certain point, break down and become useless even for practical purposes. It is necessary to go beyond the immediate experience of sense perception, and to grasp the general processes, laws and hidden relations which lie beyond frequently deceptive appearance.

Ordinary human thought prefers to cling to what is concrete and familiar. It is easier to accept what is apparently fixed and well known rather than new ideas which challenge what is familiar and customary. Routine, tradition, custom and social convention represent a powerful force in society, akin to the force of inertia in mechanics. In normal periods most people are reluctant to question the society in which they live, its morality, ideology and property forms. All kind of prejudices, political ideas, "scientific" orthodoxy are accepted uncritically, until some profound change in people’s life force them to question what is.

Social and intellectual conformism is the commonest form of self deception. Familiar ideas are taken to be correct just because they are familiar. Thus, the notion that private property, money and the bourgeois family are eternal and unchanging features of life has sunk deeply into the popular consciousness, although it bares no relation whatsoever to the truth. Dialectics is the direct opposite of this superficial and commonplace way of thinking. Precisely because it challenges familiar ideas, it frequently arouses fierce opposition. How is it possible, to challenge the law of identity, which states what seems obvious, that "A equals A"? This so-called law is the logical reflection of a popular prejudice, that everything is what it is, and nothing else; that nothing changes. Dialectics, on the contrary, sets out from the opposite point of view, that everything changes, comes into being and passes away.

The empiricist thinker, who claims to take things "as they are," imagines himself to be very practical and concrete. But, in reality, things are not always what they seem to be, and frequently turn out to be their opposite. This kind of immediate sensuous knowledge is the lowest kind of knowledge, like that of a baby. A really scientific understanding of reality requires us to break down the information provided by sense perception in order to get at the true nature of the things under consideration. A deeper analysis always reveals the contradictory tendencies which underlie even the most apparently fixed, solid, and immutable things, which eventually will lead to them being transform into their opposites. It is precisely these contradictions which are the source of all life, movement and development throughout nature. In order to get a real understanding, it is necessary to take things, not just as they are, but also as they have been, and as they necessarily will become.

For simple everyday purposes, formal logic and "common sense" is sufficient. But beyond certain limits it no longer applies. At this point dialectics become absolutely essential. Unlike formal logic, which cannot grasp contradictions and seeks to eliminate them, dialectics represents the logic of contradiction, which is a fundamental aspect of nature and thought. By a process of analysis, dialectics reveals these contradictions and shows how they are resolved. However, new contradictions always appear, thus giving rise to a never-ending spiral of development. This process can be seen in the entire development of science and philosophy, which takes place through contradictions. This is not an accident. It reflects the nature of human knowledge as an infinite process in which the solution of one problem immediately give rise to new ones, which are in turn resolved, and so on ad infinitum.

If we set out from the most elementary form of knowledge at the level of sense-experience, the limitations of formal logic and "common sense" very soon become clear. The mind simply registers the facts as we find them. At first sight, the truths of sense perception seem to be simple and self evident. They can be confidently relied upon but on closer examination, things are not so simple. What appears to be solid and reliable turns out not to be so. The ground begins to shift beneath our feet.

Sense-certainty sets out from the "here" and the "now." Of this Hegel says: "Sense-certainty itself has thus to be asked: What is the This? If we take it in the two-fold form of its existence, as the Now and as the Here, the dialectic it has in it will take a form as intelligible as the This itself. To the question, What is the Now? we reply, for example, the Now is night-time. To test the truth of this certainty of sense, a simple experiment is all we need: write that truth down. A truth cannot lose anything by being written down, and just as little by our preserving and keeping it. If we look again at the truth we have written down, look at it now, at this noon-time, we shall have to say it has turned stale and become out of date." (Op. cit., p. 151.)

This comment of Hegel recalls the famous paradoxes of Zeno in relation to motion. For example, if we wish to fix the position of an arrow flying, to say where it is now, the moment that we point to it, it has already passed, and therefore the "now" is not something that is, but something that has been. Thus, what initially appear to be true, turns out to be false. The reason is to be found in the contradictory nature of movement itself. Movement is a process, not a collection of separate points. Similarly, time consists of an infinite number of "nows," all taken together. Likewise the "here" turns out to be not a single "here," but a before and a behind, and an above and a below, and a right and a left. What is here, as a tree, the next minute is here as a house, or something else.

 

Theory of Knowledge

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As we have seen, the fundamental problem of philosophy is the relation between thought and being. What is the relation between consciousness (knowledge) and the objective world? Kant claimed that there was an unbridgeable gap between the thinking subject and the unknowable Thing-in-Itself. Hegel poses the question differently. The process of thinking is the unity of subject and object. Thought is not a barrier separating man from the objective world, but, on the contrary, is a process linking ("mediating") the two. Taking as its starting point the reality immediately given in sense perception, human thought does not merely passively accept, as Locke imagined, but sets to work, transforming this information, breaking it down into its component parts, and putting it together again. Man uses rational thought to go beyond immediate reality. Dialectical thought, in analysing a given phenomenon, divides it into its component parts and demonstrates those contradictory features and tendencies which give it life and movement.

Scientific knowledge does not consist of a mere catalogue of particular items. If we say "all animals," that is not yet zoology. Above and beyond the facts, it is necessary to discover laws and objectives processes. It is necessary to uncover the objective relations between things, and explain the transitions between one state and the other. The history of science, like that of philosophy, is a permanent process of affirmation and negation, a ceaseless process and development, in which one idea negates another, and, in its turn, is negated in a never-ending process of deepening man’s knowledge of himself and the universe. A similar phenomenon may be seen in the mental development of the infant.

Hegel’s great merit was to show the dialectical character of the development of human thought, from its embryonic phase, passing through a whole series of stages, and finally arriving at the highest stage of reason, the Notion. In Hegelian language, it is the process from being "in itself" to being "in and for itself," that is to say, from undeveloped, implicit being to developed and explicit being. The human embryo, is, potentially, a human being, but it is not a human being in and for itself. In order to realise its full potential, a whole period of development is necessary, in which infancy, adolescent and middle age constitute necessary stages. The thought of a child evidently has an immature character. But even a correct idea expressed by a youth does not have the same weight as the same idea expressed by an old person, who has experienced life, and consequently has a deeper understanding of what these words actually mean.

In Hegel, the real development of human beings is presented in a mystical form, as the development of spirit. As an idealist, Hegel had no real conception of the development of society, although there are some brilliant anticipations of historical materialism in his writings. Thought appears here as an expression of the Absolute Idea, a mystical concept about which the only thing we learn, as Engels ironically put it, is that he tells us absolutely nothing about it. In reality, thought is the product of the human brain and nervous system, inseparable from the human body, which, in turn, depends upon food, which, in turn, presupposes human society and productive relations.

Thought is a product of matter that thinks, the highest achievement of nature. Inanimate matter possesses the potential to produce life. Even the lowest forms of life posses sensibility, irritability, which has the potential to produce, in higher animals a nervous system, and a brain. Hegel’s "self consciousness" is merely a fantastic way of expressing the historical process by which real human beings gradually become conscious of themselves and the world in which they live. This does not come about easily or automatically, any more than the individual human being automatically acquires consciousness in the transition from infancy to adulthood. In both cases, the process takes place through a prolonged and often traumatic series of stages. The development of human thought, as reflected in the history of philosophy and science, and of culture in general, reveals itself as a contradictory process, in which one stage supersedes another, and, in its turn, is superseded. It is not a straight line, but one that is continuously interrupted, with periods of stagnation, faltering and even reversals, which, however, merely prepares the ground for new advances.

 

Hegel Today

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Hegel was a genius who was far ahead of his time. Unfortunately, the level of the natural sciences at the beginning of the 19th century did not furnish enough information to allow him to apply his revolutionary new method to full effect, although he had some brilliant insights, as Ilya Prigogine has pointed out. Engels applied this method to science in The Dialectics of Nature, a masterpiece of dialectical writing. But in our own time, science has furnished a wealth of material which shows the correctness of Hegel’s fundamental ideas. It is a tragedy that the 20th century lacked a Hegel to provide the necessary insights into these great discoveries.

Nowadays, many scientists adopt a contemptuous attitude towards philosophy, which they regard as superfluous to their requirements. They consider that the actual progress made by science places them far above philosophy. In reality, however, they are far below philosophy at its most primitive level. It is said that nature abhors a vacuum. In the absence of a consistent and worked-out philosophy, they fall pray to all kind of prejudices and false ideas which they unconsciously imbibe from the prevailing tendencies and mood in society in which they live. This flotsam and jetsam, together with a few confused recollections of bad philosophy they picked up at university, provide the sum total of the intellectual baggage of many supposedly educated persons, including scientists. As Hegel humorously observed, these are "held to be a good substitute for real philosophy, much in the way that chicory is lauded as a substitute for coffee." (Phenomenology, p. 126.)

For most of this century, Hegel has been sadly neglected. The dominant school of Western philosophy, logical positivism, which was born partly as a reaction against Hegelianism, has treated Hegel rather as extreme Protestants treat the Pope of Rome. In turn, the views of this philosophical sect has influenced many scientists. One of the very few modern scientists in the West who has been prepared to give Hegel his due is the Belgian Ilya Prigogine, who has developed the theory of chaos and complexity, a line of thinking which has much in common with dialectics. It is a very simple matter to dismiss Hegel (or Engels) because their writings on science were necessarily limited by the actual state of science of the day. What is remarkable, however, is how advanced Hegel’s views on science actually were.

In their book Order out of Chaos, Prigogine and Stengers point out that Hegel rejected the mechanistic method of classical Newtonian physics, at a time when Newton’s ideas were universally sacrosanct:

"The Hegelian philosophy of nature," write Prigogine and Stengers, "systematically incorporates all that is denied by Newtonian science. In particular, it rests on the qualitative difference between the simple behaviour described by mechanics and the behaviour of more complex entities such as living beings. It denies the possibility of reducing those levels, rejecting the idea that differences are merely apparent and that nature is basically homogeneous and simple. It affirms the existence of a hierarchy, each level of which presupposes the preceding ones." (Op. cit., p. 89.)

Prigogine and Stengers refer to the unjust neglect from which Hegel has suffered, precisely at a time when his criticisms of Newtonian mechanism had been shown to be correct:

"In a sense Hegel’s system provides a consistent philosophic response to the crucial problems of time and complexity. However, for generations of scientists it represented the epitome of abhorrence and contempt. In a few years, the intrinsic difficulties of Hegel’s philosophy of nature were aggravated by the obsolescence of the scientific background on which his system was based, for Hegel, of course, based his rejection of the Newtonian system on the scientific conceptions of his time. And it was precisely those conceptions that were to fall into oblivion with astonishing speed. It is difficult to imagine a less opportune time than the beginning of the nineteenth century for seeking experimental and theoretical support for an alternative to classical science. Although this time was characterised by a remarkable extension of the experimental scope of science and by a proliferation of theories that seemed to contradict Newtonian science, most of those theories had to be given up only a few years after their appearance." (Ibid., p. 90.)

There are only a couple of things that need to be added to this. Firstly, what was valuable in Hegel’s philosophy was not his system, but the dialectical method. Part of the reason why Hegel’s writings are obscure is precisely that he tried to force the dialectic—which he developed brilliantly—into the straitjacket of an arbitrary idealist philosophical system. When it did not fit, he resorted to all manner of subterfuges and peculiar modes of reasoning which make the whole thing extremely convoluted and obscure.

However, we are firmly convinced that the main reason for the shameful conspiracy against Hegel has nothing to do with the obscurity of his style. That did not worry the university professors a hundred years ago. Moreover, the obscurity of Hegel is nothing compared to the senseless linguistic meanderings of the logical positivists, who are held up as models of "coherent thought," though nobody quite knows why. No, the real reason why Hegel became converted into a non-person is because it was realised that his dialectical philosophy was the point of departure for the revolutionary ideas of Marx and Engels. Poor old Hegel, conservative that he was in real life, has been tried in his absence and found guilty by association.

The fear of Hegel’s ideas is neither accidental nor mistaken. Even in the 19th century, the danger posed by the dialectic was clear to some. James Stirling, a prominent English "Hegelian" wrote in 1867:

"This dialectic, it appears to me, has led to much that is equivocal both in Hegel and in others, and may become a pest yet." (Note to Schwegler’s History of Philosophy, p. 415.)

Even during his lifetime, the revolutionary implications of Hegel’s philosophy began to disturb the Prussian authorities. The defeat of the French in 1815 ushered in a period of reaction all over Europe. The so-called Carlsbad decrees of 1819 subjected the universities in all areas under Prussian jurisdiction to inquisitorial control. The slightest non-conformity was looked upon as subversion. A stifling atmosphere of petty provincialism prevailed in the lands of the "cabbage Junkers," as Marx later ironically called the Prussian feudal aristocrats.

In Berlin, where Hegel taught at the university, spiteful rumours were put in circulation by Hegel’s enemies that his ideas were un-Christian, or even downright atheism. From then on he was a marked man. Attacked by both Rationalists and Evangelicals, Hegel defended himself vigorously, pointing out that "all speculative philosophy on religion may be carried to atheism; all depends on who carries it; the particular piety of our times, and the malevolence of demagogues who will not let us want carriers." (Hegel, Logic, p. xxxix.)

Such was the atmosphere of persecution that Hegel even considered moving to Belgium, as Marx later did. In 1827 he wrote a letter to his wife commenting that he had looked at the universities of Liege and Louvain with the feeling that they might one day provide him a resting-place, "when the parsons in Berlin make the Kupfergraben completely intolerable for him." (ibid.) "The Roman Curia," he added, "would be a more honourable opponent than the miserable cabals of a miserable boiling of parsons in Berlin." (ibid.) It is ironical that at the end of his life, the conservative and religious Hegel should be regarded as a dangerous radical. Yet there was more than a grain of truth behind the suspicions of the reactionaries. Hidden within the philosophy of Hegel was the germ of a revolutionary idea, which would transform the world. This, in itself, constitutes the most remarkable example of a dialectical contradiction!

In his History of Philosophy Hegel revealed the hidden dialectical relationship between different schools of thought, showing how different theories revealed different aspects of the truth, which do not so much contradict, as complement and complete one another. In the Encyclopaedia of the Philosophical Sciences, Hegel likewise attempts to show the whole of science as an integrally collective whole. It is not merely a collection of sciences or a dictionary of philosophical knowledge but science presented as a dialectically interrelated totality. This is a very modern conception.

Hegel did not set out to deny or demolish previous philosophy, but to summarise all previous schools of thought, and arrive at a dialectical synthesis. But in so doing, he pushed philosophy to its limits. Beyond this point, it was impossible to develop philosophy, without transforming it into something different. It is possible to say that, since Hegel, nothing new has really been said on the main philosophical questions. Subsequent schools of philosophy, which purport to be new and original merely rehash old ideas, invariably in a more superficial and unsatisfactory manner. The only real revolution in philosophy since Hegel was the one effected by Marx and Engels, which passes beyond the limits of philosophy as a merely intellectual exercise, and carries it into the realm of practice and the struggle to change society.

Hegel says in The History of Philosophy that "the being of mind is its act, and its act is to be aware of itself." But in Hegel, thinking is not merely a contemplative activity. The highest form of thought, reason, does not merely accept the given facts, but works upon them and transform them. The contradiction between thought and being, between "subject" and "object," is overcome in Hegel through the process of knowledge itself, which penetrates ever deeper into the objective world. From a materialist point of view, however, thinking is not a isolated activity, but is inseparable from human existence in general. Mankind develops thought through concrete, sensuous activity, not merely intellectual activity. By transforming the material world through labour, man and women also transforms themselves, and, in so doing, develop and extend the horizon of their thinking. In embryo, the elements of this dialectical conception is already present in Hegel. What Marx did was to strip it of its idealist disguise, and expresses it in a clear and scientific manner.

 

Hegel’s "Voyage of Discovery"

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Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel was born in Stuttgart in 1770. In his youth he was a follower, and then a collaborator of Schelling, whose radical views gained him a certain notoriety, until he made his peace with the Prussian authorities in later life. But Hegel soon moved on from his early efforts. Hegel’s original contribution to philosophy begins in 1807 with the publication of The Phenomenology of Mind. The period under consideration was one of storm and stress. France had erupted in revolution when he was a nineteen year old student. The French Revolution, and the Napoleonic wars set an indelible stamp on the entire epoch. In Hegel’s own words, the "composition of the book was concluded at mid-night before the battle of Jena."

This work, which Hegel describes as his "Voyage of discovery" was received with coldness and dissatisfaction by those who had previously been his teachers and friends. The Phenomenology traces the development of thought through all its phases, proceeding from the lowest, most general, and abstract to the highest form which he calls the Notion. Each form of knowledge is examined within his own conditions and limits, bringing out its dialectical relation to other forms of thought. The importance of philosophy is that it alone must consider and justify its own conceptions, unlike mathematics, which proceeds from given axioms which are accepted uncritically. Philosophy presupposes nothing, not even itself.

For the modern reader, the writings of Hegel present considerable difficulties. "Abstract and abstruse," Engels called them. This is certainly true of The Phenomenology. At times, one has the impression that Hegel is being deliberately obscure, that he is challenging the reader to penetrate the complex and difficult edifice of dialectical thought. A large part of the difficulty, in fact, stems from the fact that Hegel was an idealist, and that, therefore, the dialectic appears here in a mystified form. The Phenomenology is a good example of this.

Here historical development appears in a idealistic fashion, as the development of self conscience mind (or spirit). Nevertheless, it is possible to read Hegel, as Marx did, from a materialist point of view, bringing out the rational kernel of his thought. In The Phenomenology "self consciousness" reveals its activity in many ways, through sensation and perception, as well as through ideas. In all this, it is possible to perceive the dim outline of real processes that take place in nature, society, and the human mind. In contrast with previous idealist philosophies, Hegel displayed a lively interest in the facts of nature, human nature, and human history. Behind his abstract presentation, there lies a wealth of knowledge of all aspects of history, philosophy and contemporary science. Marx described him as "the most encyclopaedic mind of the day."

Behind the "abstract and abstruse" language, once the idealist mystification is stripped away, we see before us a full-fledged revolution in human thought. The Russian radical democrat Herzen referred to the Hegelian dialectic as "the algebra of revolution." In an algebraic equation it is necessary to fill in the missing quantities. This was later achieved by Marx and Engels, who rescued the rational kernel of Hegel’s philosophy after his death, and, by placing it on a materialist basis, gave it a scientific character. Commenting on Hegel’s philosophy, Engels writes:

"This new German philosophy terminated in the Hegelian system. In this system—and this is its great merit—the whole world, natural, historical, intellectual, is for the first time represented as a process, i.e., as in constant motion, change, transformation, development; and the attempt was made to show internal interconnections in this motion and development. From this point of view the history of mankind no longer appeared as a wild whirl of senseless deeds of violence, all equally condemnable at the judgement-seat of mature philosophic reason and best forgotten as quickly as possible, but as the process of evolution of humanity itself. It was now the task of the intellect to follow the gradual march of this process through all its devious ways, and to trace out the inner logic running through all its apparently contingent phenomena." (Engels, Anti-D¸hring, p. 29.)

 

A SQUALID VILLAGE

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Strange that the wealthiest class in the wealthiest country in the world should so long have been content to inhabit a squalid village!

I'm not going to compare London, as Englishmen often do, with Paris or Vienna. I won't do two great towns that gross injustice. And, indeed, comparison here is quite out of the question. You don't compare Oxford with Little Peddlington, or Edinburgh with Thrums, and then ask which is the handsomest. Things must be alike in kind before you can begin to compare them. And London and Paris are not alike in kind. One is a city, and a noble city; the other is a village, and a squalid village.

No; I will not even take a humbler standard of comparison, and look at London side by side with Brussels, Antwerp, Munich, Turin. Each of those is a city, and a fine city in its way; but each of them is small. Still, even by their side, London is again but a squalid village. I insist upon that point, because, misled by their ancient familiarity with London, most Englishmen have had their senses and understandings so blunted on this issue, that they really don't know what is meant by a town, or a fine town, when they see one. And don't suppose it's because London is in Britain and these other towns out of it that I make these remarks: for Bath is a fine town, Edinburgh is a fine town, even Glasgow and Newcastle are towns, while London is still a straggling, sprawling, invertebrate, inchoate, overgrown village. I am as free, I hope, from anti-patriotic as from patriotic prejudice. The High Street in Oxford, Milsom Street in Bath, Princes Street in Edinburgh, those are all fine streets that would attract attention even in France or Germany. But the Strand, Piccadilly, Regent Street, Oxford Street—good Lord, deliver us!

One more caveat as to my meaning. When I cite among real towns Brussels, Antwerp, and Munich, I am not thinking of the treasures of art those beautiful places contain; that is another and altogether higher question. Towns supreme in this respect often lag far behind others of less importance—lag behind in those external features and that general architectural effectiveness which rightly entitle us to say in a broad sense, "This is a fine city." Florence, for example, contains more treasures of art in a small space than any other town of Europe; yet Florence, though undoubtedly a town, and even a fine town, is not to be compared in this respect, I do not say with Venice or Brussels, but even with Munich or Milan. On the other hand, London contains far more treasures of art in its way than Boston, Massachusetts; but Boston is a handsome, well-built, regular town, while London—well, I will spare you the further repetition of the trite truism that London is a squalid village. In one word, the point I am seeking to bring out here is that a town, as a town, is handsome or otherwise, not in virtue of the works of art or antiquity it contains, but in virtue of its ground-plan, its architecture, its external and visible decorations and places—the Louvre, the Boulevards, the Champs Elysées, the Place de l'Opéra.

Now London has no ground-plan. It has no street architecture. It has no decorations, though it has many uglifications. It is frankly and simply and ostentatiously hideous. And being wholly wanting in a system of any sort—in organic parts, in idea, in views, in vistas—it is only a village, and a painfully uninteresting one.

Most Englishmen see London before they see any other great town. They become so familiarised with it that their sense of comparison is dulled and blunted. I had the good fortune to have seen many other great towns before I ever saw London: and I shall never forget my first sense of surprise at its unmitigated ugliness.

Get on top of an omnibus—I don't say in Paris, from the Palais Royal to the Arc de Triomphe, but in Brussels, from the Gare du Nord to the Palais de Justice—and what do you see? From end to end one unbroken succession of noble and open prospects. I'm not thinking now of the Grande Place in the old town, with its magnificent collection of mediæval buildings; the Great Fire effectively deprived us of our one sole chance of such an element of beauty in modern London. I confine myself on purpose to the parts of Brussels which are purely recent, and might have been imitated at a distance in London, if there had been any public spirit or any public body in England to imitate them. (But unhappily there was neither.) Recall to mind as you read the strikingly handsome street view that greets you as you emerge from the Northern Station down the great central Boulevards to the Gare du Midi—all built within our own memory. Then think of the prospects that gradually unfold themselves as you rise on the hill; the fine vista north towards Sainte Marie de Schaarbeck; the beautiful Rue Royale, bounded by that charming Parc; the unequalled stretch of the Rue de la Régence, starting from the Place Royale with Godfrey of Bouillon, and ending with the imposing mass of the Palais de Justice. It is to me a matter for mingled surprise and humiliation that so many Englishmen can look year after year at that glorious street—perhaps the finest in the world—and yet never think to themselves, "Mightn't we faintly imitate some small part of this in our wealthy, ugly, uncompromising London?"

I always say to Americans who come to Europe: "When you go to England, don't see our towns, but see our country. Our country is something unequalled in the world: while our towns!—well, anyway, keep away from London!"

With the solitary and not very brilliant exception of the Embankment, there isn't a street in London where one could take a stranger to admire the architecture. Compare that record with the new Boulevards in Antwerp, where almost every house is worth serious study: or with the Ring at Cologne (to keep close home all the time), where one can see whole rows of German Renaissance houses of extraordinary interest. What street in London can be mentioned in this respect side by side with Commonwealth Avenue or Beacon Street in Boston; with Euclid Avenue in Cleveland, Ohio; with the upper end of Fifth Avenue, New York; nay, even with the new Via Roma at Genoa? Why is it that we English can't get on the King's Road at Brighton anything faintly approaching that splendid sea front on the Digue at Ostend, or those coquettish white villas that line the Promenade des Anglais at Nice? The blight of London seems to lie over all Southern England.

Paris looks like the capital of a world-wide empire. London, looks like a shapeless neglected suburb, allowed to grow up by accident anyhow. And that's just the plain truth of it. 'Tis a fortuitous concourse of hap-hazard houses.

"But we are improving somewhat. The County Council is opening out a few new thoroughfares piecemeal." Oh yes, in an illogical, unsystematic, English patchwork fashion, we are driving a badly-designed, unimpressive new street or two, with no expansive sense of imperial greatness, through the hopelessly congested and most squalid quarters. But that is all. No grand, systematic, reconstructive plan, no rising to the height of the occasion and the Empire! You tinker away at a Shaftesbury Avenue. Parochial, all of it. And there you get the real secret of our futile attempts at making a town out of our squalid village. The fault lies all at the door of the old Corporation, and of the people who made and still make the old Corporation possible. For centuries, indeed, there was really no London, not even a village; there was only a scratch collection of contiguous villages. The consequence was that here, at the centre of national life, the English people grew wholly unaccustomed to the bare idea of a town, and managed everything piecemeal, on the petty scale of a country vestry. The vestryman intelligence has now overrun the land; and if the London County Council ever succeeds at last in making the congeries of villages into—I do not say a city, for that is almost past praying for, but something analogous to a second-rate Continental town, it will only be after long lapse of time and violent struggles with the vestryman level of intellect and feeling.

London had many great disadvantages to start with. She lay in a dull and marshy bottom, with no building stone at hand, and therefore she was forecondemned by her very position to the curse of brick and stucco, when Bath, Oxford, Edinburgh, were all built out of their own quarries. Then fire destroyed all her mediæval architecture, leaving her only Westminster Abbey to suggest the greatness of her losses. But brick-earth and fire have been as nothing in their way by the side of the evil wrought by Gog and Magog. When five hundred trembling ghosts of naked Lord Mayors have to answer for their follies and their sins hereafter, I confidently expect the first question in the appalling indictment will be, "Why did you allow the richest nation on earth to house its metropolis in a squalid village?"

We have a Moloch in England to whom we sacrifice much. And his hateful name is Vested Interest.

 

Hegel’s Revolution in Philosophy

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"For the rest it is not difficult to see that our epoch is a birth-time, and a period of transition. The spirit of man has broken with the old order of things hitherto prevailing, and with the old ways of thinking, and is in the mind to let them sink into the depths of the past and to set about its own transformation. It is indeed never at rest, but carried along the stream of progress ever onward. But it is here as in the case of the birth of a child; after a long period of nutrition in silence, the continuity of the gradual growth in size, of quantitative change, is suddenly cut short by the first breath drawn—there is a break in the process, a qualitative change—and the child is born. In like manner the spirit of the time, growing slowly and quietly ripe for the new form it is to assume, disintegrates one fragment after another of the structure of its previous world. That it is tottering to its fall is indicated only by symptoms here and there. Frivolity and again ennui, which are spreading in the established order of things, the undefined foreboding of something unknown—all these betoken that there is something else approaching. The gradual crumbling to pieces, which did not alter the general look and aspect of the whole, is interrupted by the sunrise, which, in a flash and at a single stroke, brings into view the form and structure of the new world." (Hegel, The Phenomenology of Mind, p. 75.)

 

MERE AMATEURS

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"He was a mere amateur; but still, he did some good work in science."

Increasingly of late years I have heard these condescending words uttered, in the fatherland of Bacon, of Newton, of Darwin, when some Bates or Spottiswoode has been gathered to his fathers. It was not so once. Time was when all English science was the work of amateurs—and very well indeed the amateurs did it. I don't think anybody who does me the honour to cognise my humble individuality at all will ever be likely to mistake me for a laudator temporis acti. On the contrary, so far as I can see, the past seems generally to have been such a distinct failure all along the line that the one lesson we have to learn from it is, to go and do otherwise. I am one on that point with Shelley and Rousseau. But it does not follow, because most old things are bad, that all new things and rising things are necessarily and indisputably in their own nature excellent. Novelties, too, may be retrograde. And even our great-grandfathers occasionally blundered upon something good in which we should do well to imitate them. The amateurishness of old English science was one of these good things now in course of abolition by the fashionable process of Germanisation.

Don't imagine it was only for France that 1870 was fatal. The sad successes of that deadly year sent a wave of triumphant Teutonism over the face of Europe.

I suppose it is natural to man to worship success; but ever since 1870 it is certainly the fact that if you wish to gain respect and consideration for any proposed change of system you must say, "They do it so in Germany." In education and science this is especially the case. Pedants always admire pedants. And Germany having shown herself to be easily first of European States in her pedant-manufacturing machinery, all the assembled dominies of all the rest of the world exclaimed with one voice, "Go to! Let us Germanise our educational system!"

Now, the German is an excellent workman in his way. Patient, laborious, conscientious, he has all the highest qualities of the ideal brick-maker. He produces the best bricks, and you can generally depend upon him to turn out both honest and workmanlike articles. But he is not an architect. For the architectonic faculty in its highest developments you must come to England. And he is not a teacher or expounder. For the expository faculty in its purest form, the faculty that enables men to flash forth clearly and distinctly before the eyes of others the facts and principles they know and perceive themselves, you must go to France. Oh, dear, yes; we may well be proud of England. Remember, I have already disclaimed more than once in these papers the vulgar error of patriotism. But freedom from that narrow vice does not imply inability to recognise the good qualities of one's own race as well as the bad ones. And the Englishman, left to himself and his own native methods, used to cut a very respectable figure indeed in the domain of science. No other nation has produced a Newton or a Darwin. The Englishman's way was to get up an interest in a subject first; and then, working back from the part of it that specially appealed to his own tastes, to make himself master of the entire field of inquiry. This natural and thoroughly individualistic English method enabled him to arrive at new results in a way impossible to the pedantically educated German—nay, even to the lucidly and systematically educated Frenchman. It was the plan to develop "mere amateurs," I admit; but it was also the plan to develop discoverers and revolutionisers of science. For the man most likely to advance knowledge is not the man who knows in an encyclopædic rote-work fashion the whole circle of the sciences, but the man who takes a fresh interest for its own sake in some particular branch of inquiry.

Darwin was a "mere amateur." He worked at things for the love of them. So were Murchison, Lyell, Benjamin Franklin, Herschel. So were or are Bates, Herbert Spencer, Alfred Russel Wallace. "Mere amateurs!" every man of them.

In an evil hour, however, our pastors and masters in conclave assembled said to one another, "Come now, let us Teutonise English scientific education." And straightway they Teutonised it. And there began to arise in England a new brood of patent machine-made scientists—excellent men in their way, authorities on the Arachnida, knowing all about everything that could be taught in the schools, but lacking somehow the supreme grace of the old English originality. They are first-rate specialists, I allow; and I don't deny that a civilised country has all need of specialists. Nay, I even admit that the day of the specialist has only just begun. He will yet go far; he will impose himself and his yoke upon us. But don't let us therefore make the grand mistake of concluding that our fine old English birthright in science—the birthright that gave us our Newtons, our Cavendishes, our Darwins, our Lyells—was all folly and error. Don't let us spoil ourselves in order to become mere second-hand Germans. Let us recognise the fact that each nation has a work of its own to do in the world; and that as star from star, so one nation differeth from another in glory. Let each of us thank the goodness and the grace that on his birth have smiled, that he was born of English breed, and not a German child.

"Don't you think," a military gentleman once said to me, "the Germans are wonderful organisers?" "No," I answered, "I don't; but I think they're excellent drill-sergeants."

There are people who drop German authorities upon you as if a Teutonic name were guarantee enough for anything. They say, "Hausberger asserts," or "According to Schimmelpenninck." This is pure fetichism. Believe me, your man of science isn't necessarily any the better because he comes to you with the label, "Made in Germany." The German instinct is the instinct of Frederick William of Prussia—the instinct of drilling. Very thorough and efficient men in their way it turns out; men versed in all the lore of their chosen subject. If they are also men of transcendent ability (as often happens), they can give us a comprehensive view of their own chosen field such as few Englishmen (except Sir Archibald Geikie, and he's a Scot) can equal. If I wanted to select a learned man for a special Government post—British Museum, and so forth—I dare say I should often be compelled to admit, as Government often admits, that the best man then and there obtainable is the German. But if I wanted to train Herbert Spencers and Faradays, I would certainly not send them to Bonn or to Berlin. John Stuart Mill was an English Scotchman, educated and stuffed by his able father on the German system; and how much of spontaneity, of vividness, of verve, we all of us feel John Stuart Mill lost by it! One often wonders to what great, to what still greater, things that lofty brain might not have attained, if only James Mill would have given it a chance to develop itself naturally!

Our English gift is originality. Our English keynote is individuality. Let us cling to those precious heirlooms of our Celtic ancestry, and refuse to be Teutonised. Let us discard the lessons of the Potsdam grenadiers. Let us write on the pediment of our educational temple, "No German need apply." Let us disclaim that silly phrase "A mere amateur." Let us return to the simple faith in direct observation that made English science supreme in Europe.

And may the Lord gi'e us Britons a guid conceit o' oorsel's!

 

The "Antimonies"

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The most interesting part of the Critique of Pure Reason is known as the antimonies. In these, Kant shows the contradictions that exist in thought. Thus, starting with the laws of formal logic, and applying them to the world of experience, Kant precedes to show the contradictions which arise. Kant takes this as proof of the unknownability of the Thing-in-Itself, instead of seeing that the contradictions are objective, and present in the phenomena themselves.

The fundamental problem here is: How do the forms of logic relate to the real world? The categories of formal logic tell us absolutely nothing about the real world. It was the task of science to discover the laws of the real world through observation and experiment. However, the picture of the world was never complete, since science would inevitably discover new fields all the time, and would have to constantly readjust its theories and propositions. This is the real process. However, Kant drew entirely different conclusions.

Not until Hegel was the reason for these contradictions explained. The problem arises from the nature of formal logic itself, which takes opposites to be mutually exclusive. For example, the logical category of identity presupposes its opposite—difference. When we say that something is, we think we have identified it. However, it only has identity in comparison to other things. John is John, because he is not Peter, Paul, etc. Thus, identity presupposes difference, and has no meaning in isolation. In general, things have no meaning unless taken together with their opposites. Life cannot be understood without death. North and South, right and left, male and female, good and bad, can only have meaning in relation to their opposites. The unity of opposites is a fundamental fact of existence.

Hegel later explained that pure, undifferentiated being is the same as nothing. If we merely confine ourselves to the assertion that a thing is, without explaining its concrete properties, internal contradictions, motion and change, and manifold relations, we do not really grasp the truth about it. Without further concretisation, simple being turns out to be an empty abstraction. This particular contradiction ("antimony") can only be resolved by understanding that being and not being are not mutually exclusive, but are combined in the process of becoming.

Similarly, the polar opposites cause and effect have to be united as interaction. If we attempt to isolate a particular cause and effect, immediately land ourselves in a contradiction, since there are always an infinite number of causes which precede the given case; in fact, behind each isolated fact is the whole history of the universe. Similarly, if we attempt to understand a particular fact as a cause, we will enter into an endless chain of phenomena, following it in time, into infinity.

How to solve this contradiction? If we keep within the rules of formal logic, the only solution to Kant’s antimonies, is to deny the validity of exactly one half of its categories, recognising only the other half. The mediaeval Schoolmen, for example, declared that chance (accident) to be a purely subjective concept, a product of ignorance of the causes. Everything in the universe was absolutely determined, in fact, preordained from the beginning to the end by the Supreme Being. Likewise, Identity was proclaimed to be absolute, and Contradiction rigorously prohibited by the traditional logic.

Kant points out in the section on the antimonies that contradiction is not just a trick of sophists, but is inevitable. The antimonies, where he gives two sets of proofs for two contrary propositions, are "not mere sophistries—are not fallacious, but grounded on the nature of reason..." (Ibid, p. 304). For example, in cosmology, which he was deeply interested in, such questions as whether the universe has a beginning or not.

"Unfortunately for speculation—but perhaps fortunately for the practical interests of humanity—reason, in the midst of her highest anticipations, finds herself hemmed in by a press of opposite and contradictory conclusions, from which neither her honour nor her safety will permit her to draw back. Nor can she regard these conflicting trains of reasoning with indifference as mere passages at arms, still less can she command peace; for in the subject of the conflict she has a deep interest. There is no other course left open to her, than to reflect with herself upon the origin of this disunion in reason—whether it may not arise from a mere misunderstanding. After such an inquiry, arrogant claims would have to be given up on both sides; but the sovereignty of reason over understanding and sense would be based upon a sure foundation." (Ibid, p. 282.)

The real resolution is the never-ending process of deepening knowledge:

"For it (reason) can give no answer to our question respecting the conditions of its synthesis—except such as must be supplemented by another question, and so on to infinity. According to it, we must rise from a given beginning to one still higher; every part conducts us to a still smaller one; every event is preceded by another event which is its cause; and the conditions of existence rest always upon other and still higher conditions, and find neither end nor basis in some self-subsistent thing as the primal being." (Ibid, p. 284.)

Every answer only gives rise to a new question, and so on ad infinitum. There are no final answers. No end to the process. Therefore, dialectical thought is undogmatic and open-ended. The solution to the supposedly "unsolvable" problems is given by the never-ending process of the history of science and human thought in general. The only way of resolving the contradictions in thought was by a complete overhaul of logic, breaking down the old rigid schemas, which did not and could not faithfully reflect the reality of a moving, changing, living, contradictory world. Hegel hailed Kant for reintroducing the notion of contradiction into logic.

"And to offer the idea that the contradiction introduced into the world of Reason by the categories of Understanding is inevitable and essential was one of the most important steps in the progress of Modern Philosophy." (Hegel, Logic, p. 77). However, having posed the question, Kant was unable or unwilling to provide the answer. "But the more important the issue thus raised, the more trivial was the solution." (ibid).

Kant did not achieve this revolution. But his great merit was to point the way forward. Kant gave philosophy a new lease of life, by subjecting the old forms of thought to a thorough criticism, revealing their inherently unsatisfactory and contradictory nature The Critique of Pure Reason showed that contradictions were inherent in thinking. In so doing, Kant reintroduced dialectics into philosophy. Hitherto, dialectics was regarded as a purely subjective method of reasoning. Kant showed that dialectics was neither arbitrary nor subjective, but an entirely valid method of reasoning.

Revolutionary though it was for its time, Kant’s philosophy cannot be regarded as a satisfactory solution to the problems posed by it. More than anything, Kant’s dialectic resembles the old Socratic dialectic of discussion. There is some merit in this. The struggle between opposed conceptions, in which due weight is given to the arguments of the other side, and arguments are put forward for and against in a rigorous way, can lead to a general increase in awareness of the questions involved. Yet there is something unsatisfactory about it; a kind of agnosticism; the superficial idea that "the truth is never all on one side," and so forth.

Kant’s antimonies are only four in number. It was left to Hegel to point out that, in fact everything contains an "antimony" (contradiction):

"That true and positive meaning of the antimonies is this: that every actual thing involves a coexistence of opposed elements. Consequently to know, or, in other words, to comprehend an object is equivalent to being conscious of it as a concrete unity of opposed determinations." (Ibid, p. 78.)

Kant’s merit was to submit the traditional forms of logic to a thoroughgoing criticism. His defect lay in his subjectivist position on the theory of knowledge. This was the source of his main weaknesses— ambiguity, inconsistency and agnosticism. In failing to make a clean break with the traditional logic, while exposing its limitations, Kant landed himself in all kinds of insoluble contradictions (antimonies), which he left unresolved. The problem of the relation between subject and object (thought and being) was only finally resolved by Marx and Engels, who pointed out that, ultimately, all the problems of philosophy are resolved in practice:

"Social life is essentially practical. All mysteries which mislead theory to mysticism find their rational solution in human practice and in the comprehension of this practice." (MESW,Theses on Feuerbach, no. 8, Vol. 1, p. 15.)

 

THE MONOPOLIST INSTINCTS

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In the first of these after-dinner causeries I ventured humbly to remark that Patriotism was a vulgar vice of which I had never been guilty. That innocent indiscretion of mine aroused at the moment some unfavourable comment. I confess I was sorry for it. But I passed it by at the time, lest I should speak too hastily and lose my temper. I recur to the subject now, at the hour of the cigarette, when man can discourse most genially of his bitterest enemy. And Monopoly is mine. Its very name is hateful.

I don't often say what I think. At least, not much of it. I don't often get the chance. And, besides, being a timid and a modest man, I'm afraid to. But just this once, I'm going to "try it on." Object to my opinions as you will. But still, let me express them. Strike—but hear me!

Has it ever occurred to you that one object of reading is to learn things you never thought of before, and would never think of now, unless you were told them?

Patriotism is one of the Monopolist Instincts. And the Monopolist Instincts are the greatest enemies of the social life in humanity. They are what we have got in the end to outlive. The test of a man's place in the scale of being is how far he has outlived them. They are surviving relics of the ape and tiger. But we must let the ape and tiger die. We must begin to be human.

I will take Patriotism first, because it is the most specious of them all, and has still a self-satisfied way of masquerading as a virtue. But after all what is Patriotism? "My country, right or wrong; and just because it is my country." It is nothing more than a wider form of selfishness. Often enough, indeed, it is even a narrow one. It means, "My business interests against the business interests of other people; and let the taxes of my fellow-citizens pay to support them." At other times it is pure Jingoism. It means, "My country against other countries! My army and navy against other fighters! My right to annex unoccupied territory over the equal right of all other people! My power to oppress all weaker nationalities, all inferior races!" It never means anything good. For if a cause is just, like Ireland's, or once Italy's, then 'tis the good man's duty to espouse it with warmth, be it his own or another's. And if a cause be bad, then 'tis the good man's duty to oppose it tooth and nail, irrespective of your "Patriotism." True, a good man will feel more sensitively anxious that justice should be done by the particular State of which he happens himself to be a member than by any other, because he is partly responsible for the corporate action; but then, people who feel deeply this joint moral responsibility of all the citizens are not praised as patriots but reviled as unpatriotic. To urge that our own country should strive with all its might to be better, higher, purer, nobler, juster than other countries around it—the only kind of Patriotism worth a brass farthing in a righteous man's eyes—is accounted by most men both wicked and foolish.

Patriotism, then, is the collective or national form of the Monopolist Instincts. And like all those Instincts, it is a relic of savagery, which the Man of the Future is now engaged in out-living.

Property is the next form. That, on the very face of it, is a viler and more sordid one. For Patriotism at least can lay claim to some expansiveness beyond mere individual interest; whereas property stops dead short at the narrowest limits. It is not "Us against the world!" but "Me against my fellow-citizens!" It is the final result of the industrial war in its most hideous avatar. Look how it scars the fair face of our England with its anti-social notice-boards, "Trespassers will be prosecuted!" It says, in effect, "This is my land. God made it; but I have acquired it and tabooed it. The grass on it grows green; but only for me. The mountains rise beautiful; no foot of man, save mine and my gamekeepers', shall tread them. The waterfalls gleam fresh and cool in the glen: avaunt there, you non-possessors; you shall never see them! All this is my own. And I choose to monopolise it."

Or is it the capitalist? "I will add field to field," he says, in despite of his own scripture; "I will join railway to railway. I will juggle into my own hands all the instruments for the production of wealth that I can lay hold of; and I will use them for myself against the producer and the consumer. I will enrich myself by 'corners' on the necessaries of life; I will make food dear for the poor, that I myself may roll in needless luxury. I will monopolise whatever I can seize, and the people may eat straw." That temper, too, humanity must outlive. And those who can't outlive it of themselves, or be warned in time, must be taught by stern lessons that their race has outstripped them.

As for slavery, 'tis now gone. That was the vilest of them all. It was the naked assertion of the Monopolist platform: "You live, not for yourself, but wholly and solely for me. I disregard your life entirely, and use you as my chattel." It died at last of the moral indignation of humanity. It died when a Southern court of so-called justice formulated in plain words the underlying principle of its hateful creed: "A black man has no rights which a white man is bound to respect." That finally finished it. We no longer allow every man to "wallop his own nigger." And though the last relics of it die hard in Queensland, South Africa, Demerara, we have at least the satisfaction of knowing that one Monopolist Instinct out of the group is pretty well bred out of us.

Except as regards women! There, it lingers still. The Man says even now to himself:—"This woman is mine. If she ventures to have a heart or a will of her own, woe betide her! I have tabooed her for life; let any other man touch her, let her look at any other man—and—knife, revolver, or law court, they shall both of them answer for it!" There you have in all its natural ugliness another Monopolist Instinct—the deepest-seated of all, the vilest, the most barbaric. She is not yours: she is her own: unhand her! The Turk takes his offending slave, sews her up in a sack, and flings her into the Bosphorus. The Christian Englishman drags her shame before an open court, and divorces her with contumely. Her shame, I say, in the common phrase, because though to me it is no shame that any human being should follow the dictates of his or her own heart, it is a shame to the woman in the eyes of the world, and a life of disgrace she must live thenceforward. All this is Monopoly and essentially slavery. As man lives down the Ape and Tiger stage, he will learn to say, rather: "Be mine while you can; but the day you cease to feel you can be mine willingly, don't disgrace your own body by yielding it up where your soul feels loathing; don't consent to be the mother of children by a father you despise or dislike or are tired of. Let us kiss and part. Go where you will; and my good will go with you!" Till the man can say that with a sincere heart, why, to borrow a phrase from George Meredith, he may have passed Seraglio Point, but he hasn't rounded Cape Turk yet.

You find that a hard saying, do you? You kick against freedom for wife or daughter? Well, yes, no doubt; you are still a Monopolist. But, believe me, the earnest and solemn expression of a profound belief never yet did harm to any one. I look forward to the time when women shall be as free in every way as men, not by levelling down, but by levelling up; not, as some would have us think, by enslaving the men, but by elevating, emancipating, unshackling the women.

There is a charming little ditty in Louis Stevenson's "Child's Garden of Verse," which always seems to me to sum up admirably the Monopolist attitude. Here it is. Look well at it:—

"When I am grown to man's estate I shall be very proud and great, And tell the other girls and boys, Not to meddle with my toys."

That is the way of the Monopolist. It catches him in the very act. He says to all the world: "Hands off! My property! Don't walk on my grass! Don't trespass in my park! Beware of my gunboats! No trifling with my women! I am the king of the castle. You meddle with me at your peril."

"Ours!" not "Mine!" is the watchword of the future.

 

THE ROMANCE OF THE CLASH OF RACES

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The world has expanded faster in the last thirty years than in any previous age since "the spacious days of great Elizabeth." And with its expansion, of course, our ideas have widened. I believe Europe is now in the midst of just such an outburst of thought and invention as that which followed the discovery of America, and of the new route to India by the Cape of Good Hope. But I don't want to insist too strongly upon that point, because I know a great many of my contemporaries are deeply hurt by the base and spiteful suggestion that they and their fellows are really quite as good as any fish that ever came out of the sea before them. I only desire now to call attention for a moment to one curious result entailed by this widening of the world upon our literary productivity—a result which, though obvious enough when one comes to look at it, seems to me hitherto to have strangely escaped deliberate notice.

In one word, the point of which I speak is the comparative cosmopolitanisation of letters, and especially the introduction into literary art of the phenomena due to the Clash of Races.

This Clash itself is the one picturesque and novel feature of our otherwise somewhat prosaic and machine-made epoch; and, therefore, it has been eagerly seized upon, with one accord, by all the chief purveyors of recent literature, and especially of fiction. They have espied in it, with technical instinct, the best chance for obtaining that fresh interest which is essential to the success of a work of art. We were all getting somewhat tired, it must be confessed, of the old places and the old themes. The insipid loves of Anthony Trollope's blameless young people were beginning to pall upon us. The jaded palate of the Anglo-Celtic race pined for something hot, with a touch of fresh spice in it. It demanded curried fowl and Jamaica peppers. Hence, on the one hand, the sudden vogue of the novelists of the younger countries—Tolstoi and Tourgenieff, Ibsen and Bjornson, Mary Wilkins and Howells —who transplanted us at once into fresh scenes, new people: hence, on the other hand, the tendency on the part of our own latest writers—the Stevensons, the Hall Caines, the Marion Crawfords, the Rider Haggards—to go far afield among the lower races or the later civilisations for the themes of their romances.

Alas, alas, I see breakers before me! Must I pause for a moment in the flowing current of a paragraph to explain, as in an aside, that I include Marion Crawford of set purpose among "our own" late writers, while I count Mary Wilkins and Howells as Transatlantic aliens? Experience teaches me that I must; else shall I have that annoying animalcule, the microscopic critic, coming down upon me in print with his petty objection that "Mr. Crawford is an American." Go to, oh, blind one! And Whistler also, I suppose, and Sargent, and, perhaps, Ashmead Bartlett! What! have you read "Sarracinesca" and not learnt that its author is European to the core? 'Twas for such as you that the Irishman invented his brilliant retort: "And if I was born in a stable would I be a horse?"

Not merely, however, do our younger writers go into strange and novel places for the scenes of their stories; the important point to notice in the present connection is that, consciously or unconsciously to themselves, they have perceived the mighty influence of this Clash of Races, and have chosen the relations of the civilised people with their savage allies, or enemies, or subjects, as the chief theme of their handicraft. 'Tis a momentous theme, for it encloses in itself half the problems of the future. The old battles are now well-nigh fought out; but new ones are looming ahead for us. The cosmopolitanisation of the world is introducing into our midst strange elements of discord. A conglomerate of unwelded ethnical elements usurps the stage of history. America and South Africa have already their negro question; California and Australia have already their Chinese question; Russia is fast getting her Asiatic, her Mahommedan question. Even France, the most narrowly European in interest of European countries, has yet her Algeria, her Tunis, her Tonquin. Spain has Cuba and the Philippines. Holland has Java. Germany is burdening herself with the unborn troubles of a Hinterland. And as for England, she staggers on still under the increasing load of India, Hong Kong, Singapore, South Africa, the West Indies, Fiji, New Guinea, North Borneo—all of them rife with endless race-questions, all pregnant with difficulties.

Who can be surprised that amid this seething turmoil of colours, instincts, creeds, and languages, art should have fastened upon the race-problems as her great theme for the moment? And she has fastened upon them everywhere. France herself has not been able to avoid the contagion. Pierre Loti is the most typical French representative of this vagabond spirit; and the question of the peoples naturally envisages itself to his mind in true Gallic fashion in the "Mariage de Loti" and in "Madame Chrysanthème." He sees it through a halo of vague sexual sentimentalism. In England, it was Rider Haggard from the Cape who first set the mode visibly; and nothing is more noteworthy in all his work than the fact that the interest mainly centres in the picturesque juxtaposition and contrast of civilisation and savagery. Once the cue was given, what more natural than that young Rudyard Kipling, fresh home from India, brimming over with genius and with knowledge of two concurrent streams of life that flow on side by side yet never mingle, should take up his parable in due course, and storm us all by assault with his light field artillery? Then Robert Louis Stevenson, born a wandering Scot, with roving Scandinavian and fiery Celtic blood in his veins, must needs settle down, like a Viking that he is, in far Samoa, there to charm and thrill us by turns with the romance of Polynesia. The example was catching. Almost without knowing it, other writers have turned for subjects to similar fields. "Dr. Isaacs," "Paul Patoff," "By Proxy," were upon us. Even Hall Caine himself, in some ways a most insular type of genius, was forced in "The Scapegoat" to carry us off from Cumberland and Man to Morocco. Sir Edwin Arnold inflicts upon us the tragedies of Japan. I have been watching this tendency long myself with the interested eye of a dealer engaged in the trade, and therefore anxious to keep pace with every changing breath of popular favour: and I notice a constant increase from year to year in the number of short stories in magazines and newspapers dealing with the romance of the inferior races. I notice, also, that such stories are increasingly successful with the public. This shows that, whether the public knows it or not itself, the question of race is interesting it more and more. It is gradually growing to understand the magnitude of the change that has come over civilisation by the inclusion of Asia, Africa, and Australasia within its circle. Even the Queen is learning Hindustani.

There is a famous passage in Green's "Short History of the English People" which describes in part that strange outburst of national expansion under Elizabeth, when Raleigh, Drake, and Frobisher scoured the distant seas, and when at home "England became a nest of singing birds," with Shakespeare, Spenser, Fletcher, and Marlow. "The old sober notions of thrift," says the picturesque historian, "melted before the strange revolutions of fortune wrought by the New World. Gallants gambled away a fortune at a sitting, and sailed off to make a fresh one in the Indies." (Read rather to-day at Kimberley, Johannesburg, Vancouver.) "Visions of galleons loaded to the brim with pearls and diamonds and ingots of silver, dreams of El Dorados where all was of gold, threw a haze of prodigality and profusion over the imagination of the meanest seaman. The wonders, too, of the New World kindled a burst of extravagant fancy in the Old. The strange medley of past and present which distinguishes its masques and feastings only reflected the medley of men's thoughts.... A 'wild man' from the Indies chanted the Queen's praises at Kenilworth, and Echo answered him. Elizabeth turned from the greetings of sibyls and giants to deliver the enchanted lady from her tyrant, 'Sans Pitie.' Shepherdesses welcomed her with carols of the spring, while Ceres and Bacchus poured their corn and grapes at her feet." Oh, gilded youth of the Gaiety, mutato nomine de te Fabula narratur. Yours, yours is this glory!

For our own age, too, is a second Elizabethan. It blossoms out daily into such flowers of fancy as never bloomed before, save then, on British soil. When men tell you nowadays we have "no great writers left," believe not the silly parrot cry. Nay, rather, laugh it down for them. We move in the midst of one of the mightiest epochs earth has ever seen, an epoch which will live in history hereafter side by side with the Athens of Pericles, the Rome of Augustus, the Florence of Lorenzo, the England of Elizabeth. Don't throw away your birthright by ignoring the fact. Live up to your privileges. Gaze around you and know. Be a conscious partaker in one of the great ages of humanity.


 

The Forms of Logic

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The most important aspect of the Critique of Pure Reason is Kant’s criticism of logic:

"That Logic has advanced in this sure course, even from the earliest times, is apparent from the fact that, since Aristotle, it has been unable to advance a step, and thus to all appearance has reached its completion." (Kant, Critique of Pure Reason, p. 8).

An important part of Kant’s inquiry concerns the nature of thought-forms in general, and particularly the the forms of logic. Where do they come from? What do they represent? How far do they reflect the truth? It was to Kant’s credit that he asked these questions, although he did not provide an adequate answer, being content to leave that to his successors. This question really goes to the heart of the fundamental question of all philosophy—the relation between thought and being, between mind and matter. Like Hegel, Kant had a very poor opinion of formal logic, a "specious art...which gives to all our cognitions the form of understanding." (Critique, p.68) Kant was the first one to distinguish between Understanding (Verstand) and Reason (Vernunf). Understanding is the lowest form of rational thinking. It takes things as they are, and merely registers the bare fact of existence. This is the basis of formal logic, and also "common sense" which takes things to be just as they seem.

The process of thinking does not stop at the level of understanding, that is, the mere registering of facts. Reason goes beyond what is immediately given to our eyes and ears, breaks it down into its constituent parts, and puts it together again. This is the role of the Dialectic. Up until Kant, the art of dialectics had been virtually forgotten. It was regarded as mere trickery and sophism, the "logic of illusion". It was Kant’s great achievement to restore dialectics to its rightful place in philosophy, as a higher form of logic.

Kant attempts to put human knowledge on a sound basis, by insisting that it must be based upon experience. However, this is insufficient. Initially in the process of cognition, we are confronted with a confused mass of data, with no logical thread or necessary connection. This would not be generally thought of as real knowledge, still less scientific knowledge. We expect something more. In order to make sense of the information provided by the senses, it is necessary for reason to be active, not merely passive:

"They (the natural scientists) learned that reason only perceives that which it produces after its own design; that it must not be content to follow, as it were, in the leading-strings of nature, but must proceed in advance with principles of judgment according to unvarying laws, and compel nature to reply to its questions. For accidental observations, made according to no preconceived plan, cannot be united under a necessary law. But it is this that reason seeks for and requires. It is only the principles of reason which can give to concordant phenomena the validity of laws, and it is only when experiment is directed by these rational principles that it can have any real utility. Reason must approach nature with the view, indeed, of receiving information from it, not, however, in the character of a pupil, who listens to all that his master chooses to tell him, but in that of a judge, who compels the witnesses to reply to those questions which he himself thinks fit to propose." (Kant, Critique of Pure Reason, pp. 10-11.)

There is an important difference between the way that Kant and Aristotle understood the laws of logic. For Aristotle, these were laws of things, whereas, for the idealist Kant, they are laws of thought only. The nub of the matter is that, for Kant, the Law of Identity, for example cannot be found in the objects themselves. It is merely applied to them by consciousness. Thus, for Kant, logic is only a convenient method for ordering and classifying things, whereas dialectics derives its laws from the real world, and applies them back again. This mistaken conception of Kant has been carried over into modern logic and mathematics, where it is often asserted that laws, theorems, etc., are only formal ideas which are used for the sake of convenience, but which have no real relation to the objective world.

 

THE ROLE OF PROPHET

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One great English thinker and artist once tried the rash experiment of being true to himself—of saying out boldly, without fear or reserve, the highest and noblest and best that was in him. He gave us the most exquisite lyrics in the English language; he moulded the thought of our first youth as no other poet has ever yet moulded it; he became the spiritual father of the richest souls in two succeeding generations of Englishmen. And what reward did he get for it? He was expelled from his university. He was hounded out of his country. He was deprived of his own children. He was denied the common appeal to the law and courts of justice. He was drowned, an exile, in a distant sea, and burned in solitude on a foreign shore. And after his death he was vilified and calumniated by wretched penny-a-liners, or (worse insult still) apologised for, with half-hearted shrugs, by lukewarm advocates. The purest in life and the most unselfish in purpose of all mankind, he was persecuted alive with the utmost rancour of hate, and pursued when dead with the vilest shafts of malignity. He never even knew in his scattered grave the good he was to do to later groups of thinkers.

It was a noble example, of course; but not, you will admit, an alluring one for others to follow.

"Be true to yourself," say the copy-book moralists, "and you may be sure the result will at last be justified." No doubt; but in how many centuries? And what sort of life will you lead yourself, meanwhile, for your allotted space of threescore years and ten, unless haply hanged, or burned, or imprisoned before it? What the copy-book moralists mean is merely this—that sooner or later your principles will triumph, which may or may not be the case according to the nature of the principles. But even suppose they do, are you to ignore yourself in the interim—you, a human being with emotions, sensations, domestic affections, and, in the majority of instances, wife and children on whom to expend them? Why should it be calmly taken for granted by the world that if you have some new and true thing to tell humanity (which humanity, of course, will toss back in your face with contumely and violence) you are bound to blurt it out, with childish unreserve, regardless of consequences to yourself and to those who depend upon you? Why demand of genius or exceptional ability a gratuitous sacrifice which you would deprecate as wrong and unjust to others in the ordinary citizen? For the genius, too, is a man, and has his feelings.

The fact is, society considers that in certain instances it has a right to expect the thinker will martyrise himself on its account, while it stands serenely by and heaps faggots on the pile, with every mark of contempt and loathing. But society is mistaken. No man is bound to martyrise himself; in a great many cases a man is bound to do the exact opposite. He has given hostages to Fortune, and his first duty is to the hostages. "We ask you for bread," his children may well say, "and you give us a noble moral lesson. We ask you for clothing, and you supply us with a beautiful poetical fancy." This is not according to bargain. Wife and children have a first mortgage on a man's activities; society has only a right to contingent remainders.

A great many sensible men who had truths of deep import to deliver to the world must have recognised these facts in all times and places, and must have held their tongues accordingly. Instead of speaking out the truths that were in them, they must have kept their peace, or have confined themselves severely to the ordinary platitudes of their age and nation. Why ruin yourself by announcing what you feel and believe, when all the reward you will get for it in the end will be social ostracism, if not even the rack, the stake, or the pillory? The Shelleys and Rousseaus there's no holding, of course; they will run right into it; but the Goethes—oh, no, they keep their secret. Indeed, I hold it as probable that the vast majority of men far in advance of their times have always held their tongues consistently, save for mere common babble, on Lord Chesterfield's principle that "Wise men never say."

The rôle of prophet is thus a thankless and difficult one. Nor is it quite certainly of real use to the community. For the prophet is generally too much ahead of his times. He discounts the future at a ruinous rate, and he takes the consequences. If you happen ever to have read the Old Testament you must have noticed that the prophets had generally a hard time of it.

The leader is a very different stamp of person. He stands well abreast of his contemporaries, and just half a pace in front of them; and he has power to persuade even the inertia of humanity into taking that one half-step in advance he himself has already made bold to adventure. His post is honoured, respected, remunerated. But the prophet gets no thanks, and perhaps does mankind no benefit. He sees too quick. And there can be very little good indeed in so seeing. If one of us had been an astronomer, and had discovered the laws of Kepler, Newton, and Laplace in the thirteenth century, I think he would have been wise to keep the discovery to himself for a few hundred years or so. Otherwise, he would have been burned for his trouble. Galileo, long after, tried part of the experiment a decade or so too soon, and got no good by it. But in moral and social matters the danger is far graver. I would say to every aspiring youth who sees some political or economical or ethical truth quite clearly: "Keep it dark! Don't mention it! Nobody will listen to you; and you, who are probably a person of superior insight and higher moral aims than the mass, will only destroy your own influence for good by premature declarations. The world will very likely come round of itself to your views in the end; but if you tell them too soon, you will suffer for it in person, and will very likely do nothing to help on the revolution in thought that you contemplate. For thought that is too abruptly ahead of the mass never influences humanity."

"But sometimes the truth will out in spite of one!" Ah, yes, that's the worst of it. Do as I say, not as I do. If possible, repress it.

It is a noble and beautiful thing to be a martyr, especially if you are a martyr in the cause of truth, and not, as is often the case, of some debasing and degrading superstition. But nobody has a right to demand of you that you should be a martyr. And some people have often a right to demand that you should resolutely refuse the martyr's crown on the ground that you have contracted prior obligations, inconsistent with the purely personal luxury of martyrdom. 'Tis a luxury for a few. It befits only the bachelor, the unattached, and the economically spareworthy.

"These be pessimistic pronouncements," you say. Well, no, not exactly. For, after all, we must never shut our eyes to the actual; and in the world as it is, meliorism, not optimism, is the true opposite of pessimism. Optimist and pessimist are both alike in a sense, seeing they are both conservative; they sit down contented—the first with the smug contentment that says "All's well; I have enough; why this fuss about others?" the second with the contentment of blank despair that says, "All's hopeless; all's wrong; why try uselessly to mend it?" The meliorist attitude, on the contrary, is rather to say, "Much is wrong; much painful; what can we do to improve it?" And from this point of view there is something we can all do to make martyrdom less inevitable in the end, for the man who has a thought, a discovery, an idea, to tell us. Such men are rare, and their thought, when they produce it, is sure to be unpalatable. For, if it were otherwise, it would be thought of our own type—familiar, banal, commonplace, unoriginal. It would encounter no resistance, as it thrilled on its way through our brain, from established errors. What the genius and the prophet are there for is just that—to make us listen to unwelcome truths, to compel us to hear, to drive awkward facts straight home with sledge-hammer force to the unwilling hearts and brains of us. Not what you want to hear, or what I want to hear, is good and useful for us; but what we don't want to hear, what we can't bear to think, what we hate to believe, what we fight tooth and nail against. The man who makes us listen to that is the seer and the prophet; he comes upon us like Shelley, or Whitman, or Ibsen, and plumps down horrid truths that half surprise, half disgust us. He shakes us out of our lethargy. To such give ear, though they say what shocks you. Weigh well their hateful ideas. Avoid the vulgar vice of sneering and carping at them. Learn to examine their nude thought without shrinking, and examine it all the more carefully when it most repels you. Naked verity is an acquired taste; it is never beautiful at first sight to the unaccustomed vision. Remember that no question is finally settled; that no question is wholly above consideration; that what you cherish as holiest is most probably wrong; and that in social and moral matters especially (where men have been longest ruled by pure superstitions) new and startling forms of thought have the highest a priori probability in their favour. Dismiss your idols. Give every opinion its fair chance of success—especially when it seems to you both wicked and ridiculous, recollecting that it is better to let five hundred crude guesses run loose about the world unclad, than to crush one fledgling truth in its callow condition. To the Greeks, foolishness: to the Jews, a stumbling-block. If you can't be one of the prophets yourself, you can at least abstain from helping to stone them.

Dear me! These reflections to-day are anything but post-prandial. The gnocchi and the olives must certainly have disagreed with me. But perhaps it may some of it be "wrote sarcastic." I have heard tell there is a thing called irony.

 

The Thing-in-Itself

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All human knowledge (cognition) is the product of two factors—the cognising subject and the cognised object. The raw material of knowledge is provided by the external object (the physical world), whereas the subject (the thinking mind) gives form and meaning to the information of the senses. Kant, unlike Berkeley, accepts the existence of an external world, without which there would be no possibility of knowledge, or experience. Nevertheless, Kant denies that it is possible to know things as they are in "themselves." We can only know appearances. His fundamental mistake was not to see the relation between appearance and essence. It it wrong to think that we can only know "appearances." When I know the property of the thing, I know the thing itself. There is nothing else to know; no "beyond," no Thing-in-Itself.

Now it had been the conviction of every age that the only way of getting to know a thing was precisely by taking the material given to us by our senses, and analysing it by means of reflection. This, and nothing else, is the process of cognition. Here, for the first time, we are confronted with the assertion that there is some kind of difference between what we can see and experience and the "real" nature of things. This is a most peculiar notion, and one which runs counter to all human experience. It therefore demands a very clear justification. But the fact is that Kant does not justify it at all. He merely asserts it in a dogmatic manner, which is the opposite of what he set out to do.

"It marks the diseased state of the age," remarks Hegel, "when we see it adopting the despairing creed that our knowledge is only subjective, and that beyond this subjective we cannot go." (Hegel, Logic, p. 35.) Hegel, like Kant, was an idealist, but he was an objective idealist, who never denied that it was possible to know the real world. Such objective idealism is far superior, with all its faults, to the complete confusionism which comes from subjective idealism. It is therefore not surprising that in the "diseased state" of our own age, it is Kant, not Hegel who has found most favour with philosophers and scientists, who wish to convince us that we cannot really assert that the physical world exists, or that we cannot know what happened before the "big bang" (and must not ask), or that the behaviour of sub-atomic particles depends exclusively on whether we are present to observe them.

Against this, we agree a hundred times with Hegel when he says that "everything we know both of outward and inward nature, in one word, the objective world, is in its own self the same as it is in thought, and that to think is to bring out the truth of our object, be it what it may. The business of philosophy is only to bring into explicit consciousness what the world in all ages has believed about thought. Philosophy therefore advances nothing new; and our present discussion has led us to a conclusion which agrees with the natural belief of mankind." (Hegel, Logic, p. 35.)

Evidently, at any given moment in time, we cannot know everything about a phenomenon. Truth is as infinite as the universe itself. But the entire history of human thought is characterised by a constant movement from ignorance to knowledge. What we do not know today, we will discover tomorrow. Therefore, it is a serious mistake to confuse what is not known with what cannot be known. Kant’s Thing-in-Itself is merely a way of indicating our present limitations. It is not a mystery, but a problem to be solved. What is today a Thing-in-Itself will tomorrow be a Thing-for-Us. This is the message of the whole history of thought in general, and science in particular.

In reality, the Thing-in-Itself is an empty abstraction. If we take away all the properties of an object which are knowable, we are left with precisely nothing. As J. N. Findlay, echoing Hegel, correctly observes: "The Thing-in-Itself, which Kant holds to be unknowable is really the most completely knowable of all abstractions; it is what we get when we deliberately leave out all empirical content and every vestige of categorical structure." (Foreword to Hegel’s Logic, p. xii.) There is a fundamental difference between what is not known and what is unknowable. Kant here slides into agnosticism, the impotent doctrine that says that there are certain things which cannot be known, and therefore, that there are certain questions which cannot be asked. Findlay is harsh but not unjust when he concludes that "Kant, in short, is in a permanent philosophical muddle, and never knows where he has got to nor where he is going." (Ibid., p. xiv.) The notion of the unknowable Thing-in-Itself is undoubtedly the weakest part of Kant’s philosophy, and for that very reason is practically the only bit which has been taken over by the modern philosophers and scientists.

The source of Kant’s error was to regard appearance and essence as two mutually exclusive things. Thought, instead of being seen as as a bridge uniting the thinking subject with the world, is conceived of as a barrier, something standing between the subject and the object. Kant conceives of thought as an instrument which we use to understand the world. This is an unsatisfactory formulation, as Hegel explains:

"A main line of argument in the Critical (i.e., Kantian) Philosophy bids us pause before proceeding to inquire into God or into the true being of things, and tells us first of all to examine the faculty of cognition and see whether it is equal to such an effort. We ought, says Kant, to become acquainted with the instrument, before we undertake the work for which it is to be employed; for if the instrument be insufficient, all our trouble will be spent in vain. The plausibility of this suggestion has won for it general assent and admiration; the result of which has been to withdraw cognition from an interest in its objects and absorption in the study of them, and to direct it back upon itself; and so turn it to a question of form." (Hegel, Logic, p. 14)

Hegel points out that thought is not an "instrument", like a tool which can be examined before commencing a job. We would be faced with the paradox that the "tool" would have to examine itself, since thought can only be examined by thinking. To seek to know before we know is like the conduct of a man who refuses to go into the water until he has learnt how to swim. Men and women thought long before logic was ever conceived. In point of fact, the forms of thought, including logic, are the product of a very long period of human development, both mental and practical. The objects of the physical world are immediately given to us in sense-perception. But the matter does not stop there. The understanding gets to work on the information given to it by the senses. It is analysed, broken down into its parts. This is known as mediation in philosophy.

Marx’s son-in-law, the French socialist Paul Lafargue, very wittily explains the practical consequences of the theory of the Thing-in-Itself:

"The workingman who eats sausage and receives a hundred sous a day knows very well that he is robbed by the employer and is nourished by pork meat, that the employer is a robber and that the sausage is pleasant to the taste and nourishing to the body. Not at all, say the bourgeois sophists, whether they are called Pyrrho, Hume or Kant. His opinion is personal, an entirely subjective opinion; he might with equal reason maintain that the employer is his benefactor and that the sausage consists of chopped leather, for he cannot know things-in-themselves.

"The question is not properly put, that is the whole trouble...In order to know an object, man must first verify whether his senses deceive him or not...The chemists have gone deeper—they have penetrated into bodies, they have analysed them, decomposed them into their elements, and then performed the reverse procedure, they have recomposed them from their elements. And from the moment that man is able to produce things for his own use from these elements, he may, as Engels says, assert that he knows the things-in-themselves. The God of the Christians, if he existed and if he had created the world, could do no more." (Paul Lafargue, Le MatŽrialisme de Marx et l’IdŽalisme de Kant, in Le Socialiste, February 25, 1900.)

Despite his undoubted genius, Kant did a disservice to philosophy and science by implicitly placing a limit on human knowledge. The theory of the unknowable, that part of Kant’s philosophy which should have been allowed to quietly sink without trace, is precisely the one thing of Kant which has been taken over in the 20th century by those, like Heisenberg, who wish to introduce mysticism into science. While Kant attempted a critique of the forms of logic (this was his great merit), he displayed a certain inconsistency, for example, in accepting the law of contradiction. This led him into new problems.

 

Kant’s Theory of Knowledge

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The relation of subject-object was a central question in philosophy for centuries. To simplify things, the mechanical materialists laid all the stress on the object (material reality, nature), leaving no role for the thinking subject, which was portrayed as a passive receptacle (tabula rasa), whereas the idealists laid all the stress on the subject (mind, the Idea, etc.).

Kant asks what we can know, and how we can know it. This is one of the central questions of philosophy—the theory of knowledge or cognition ("epistemology"). We derive the greater part of our knowledge from observing the real world. From an early age, we see things, we listen, we touch, and so on. Gradually, we build up a picture of the world in which we live. This kind of knowledge is the knowledge of sense-perception. For empiricists like Locke, there is no other kind. Here Kant disagrees. In getting to know the world, the mind is not merely an empty vessel, which can be filled with any content (Locke described it as a tabula rasa—a blank slate). For Kant, the act of cognition is not passive, but active. We do not simply make a list of the things we see, but consciously select, order and interpret them. For this, the mind has its own method and rules. There are forms of thought wh_ch we apply, consciously or unconsciously, when we attempt to understand the information provided by our senses ("sense data").

Kant argues that there are two kinds of knowledge. While most knowledge is derived from experience, part of our knowledge is a priori, and not derived from experience. In Kant’s opinion, we can only know what is given to us in sense experience. However, the things in themselves, which cause our sensations, cannot be known. Here, Kant is skating on thin ice. Although he denied it, these views seem to be similar to the subjective idealism of Hume and Berkeley. Kant changed some of his formulations in the second edition, precisely to avoid this conclusion. In the first edition, he implied that the thinking subject might be the same thing as the object which it perceives. Later, he changed this, maintaining that things outside ourselves certainly exist, but they manifest themselves to us only in appearance, not as they are in themselves.

According to Kant, there are some ideas which are not derived from sense-perception. This shows the difference between the philosophy of Kant and that of Locke, who held that all knowledge whatsoever came from the senses. By contrast, Kant claimed that some knowledge was inborn, namely, the knowledge of space and time. If we make abstraction from all physical aspects of phenomena, he says, we are left with just two things—time and space. Now time and space, together with motion, are the most general and fundamental properties of matter. The only way that it is possible to understand them is in relation to material things. But Kant was an idealist. He insisted that the notions of time and space were inborn. They did not come from experience, but were what he called a priori (from the Latin meaning "from the beginning").

To support his idea that space and time are a priori phenomena, Kant uses a very peculiar mode of reasoning. He maintains that, whereas it is impossible to think of objects without time, it is quite possible to think of time without objects; the same in relation to space. In point of fact, space and time are inseparable from matter, and it is impossible to conceive of them as "things in themselves."

Kant states that it is possible to imagine space with nothing in it, but impossible to imagine no space. But this is not so. Space without matter is just as much an empty abstraction as matter without space. In point of fact, time, space and motion are the mode of existence of matter, and can be conceived of in no other way. Kant’s idea that time and space are outside the range of sense-experience has been refuted by the discoveries of non-Euclidian geometry.

In Anti D¸hring, Engels shows that the whole concept of a priori knowledge is false. All ideas are ultimately derived from reality, even the axioms of mathematics. It is true that, if we leave aside all the material qualities of a thing, all that is left is space and time. However, these are now empty abstractions. They cannot stand on their own, any more than there can be fruit, without apples, pears, oranges etc.; or humanity, without human beings, and so on. The only difference is that the idea of fruit, or humanity, are abstractions of a particular kind of matter, whereas time and space are the most general features, or, more correctly, the mode of existence, of matter in general.