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Book Dialectical Materialism

Book Dialectical Materialism

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The theory of knowledge and creativity is an important department of philosophy. It arose

historically with philosophy, as its core, around which everything else was built. This department of

philosophy considers a wide range of problems: the relationship between knowledge and reality, its

sources and driving forces, its forms and levels, the principles and laws of cognitive activity, and

the trends of its development. Philosophy analyses the criteria of the authenticity of knowledge, its

veracity, and also the causes of error, the problems of the practical application of knowledge.

As selective reflection of the world cognition expresses the highest creative aspirations of

human reason and constitutes the crown of human achievement. Throughout the millennia of its

development humanity has travelled a long road, from the primitive and limited, to an increasingly

profound and comprehensive understanding of the essence of existence. This difficult path has led

us to the discovery of innumerable facts, properties and laws of nature, of social life and man

himself, to the building of an extremely complex and almost unencompassable scientific picture of

the world, to the highly sophisticated sphere of art, to the achievements of modern technology.

Humanity has always striven to acquire new knowledge. The process of mastering the secrets

of existence continues unceasingly and its vector is oriented on the infinite vistas of the future. The

pace and scale of cognitive activity are constantly increasing. Every day is marked by intellectual

advances in a constant quest, which ever more widely and vividly illuminates the remote horizons

of the as yet invisible. We are deluged with new discoveries.

The path travelled by science convinces us that the possibilities of human cognition are

limitless. Our reason perceives the laws of the universe in order to bring them under man's control,

in order to refashion the world in the interests of man and society. Human knowledge is a highly

complex system, a social memory whose wealth is passed on from generation to generation by

means of social heredity.

Cognition coincided with the rise of man. But it was some time before man began to think

about what knowledge actually was. The conscious posing of this problem and the attempt to solve

it was the beginning of philosophy in the true sense of the word. All philosophers in some way or

another analyse the problem of the theory of knowledge and some have reduced the subject of

philosophy entirely to this problem.


In the philosophy of the ancient world the basic problems of epistemology were developed by

defining types, such as "knowledge" and "opinion", "truth" and "error". Opinion was opposed to

knowledge as a subjective notion of the world, while knowledge was its objective investigation.

Heraclitus saw the highest goal of cognition in "studying the universal", understanding what was

hidden in the universe, the "logos", the universal law. Discussion of the problem of dividing

knowledge into types proceeded from the relationship and opposition between ordinary

consciousness and standards of theoretical thought, with its techniques of proof, disproof, and so on.

To sum up, knowledge is the result of the process of cognition of reality, tested by socio-

historical practice and authenticated by logic, the true reflection of reality in human consciousness

in the form of representations, concepts, statements and theory. Knowledge has varying degrees of

accuracy, reflecting the dialectics of relative and absolute truth. In its genesis and mode of

functioning, knowledge is basically a social phenomenon. It is fixed, embodied in the form of the

symbols of the natural and artificial languages.

The relationship of knowledge to reality takes place on many planes and is indirect in

character. It develops both phylogenetically, in the history of human culture, and ontogenetically, in

the process of the development of the personality. Elementary knowledge, conditioned by biological

laws, is inherent in animals, whom it serves as a necessary condition for their existence and the

performance of behaviour acts. Knowledge may be pre-scientific or everyday, artistic (as a specific

form of aesthetic assimilation of reality) and scientific (empirical and theoretical). Ordinary

everyday knowledge, based on common sense and ordinary consciousness, is an important orienting

basis for people's everyday behaviour. The bulk of daily practice is based upon it. This form of

knowledge develops and is enriched as scientific knowledge progresses. At the same time scientific

knowledge itself absorbs the experience of everyday knowledge. Scientific knowledge may be

defined as the comprehension of facts in the system of concepts of a given science and it becomes

part of theory, which forms the highest level of scientific knowledge. Since it is a generalisation of

authentic facts scientific knowledge detects what is necessary and law-governed behind the

accidental, what is general, behind the individual and the particular. Forecasting is carried out on

this basis. Human thought constantly moves from ignorance to knowledge, from the superficial to

more profound, essential and all-embracing knowledge, which is a necessary factor in the

transforming activity of human beings and the human race in general.

Pre-Marxist philosophy contained no understanding of the fact that without socio-cultural

factors there could not have been a human picture of the world at all. Marxism is distinguished by

its socio-historical approach to cognition. The basic principle of the theory of knowledge of

dialectical materialism is the principle of reflection. The knower, the cognising subject is not an

isolated individual but an individual as part of social life, using socially evolved forms of cognitive

activity, such as language, categories of logic, and so on. By developing the theory of the activity of

the subject and thus overcoming the contemplativeness of metaphysical materialism, Marxism


showed that objective reality can be known only to the extent that a person masters it in the forms

of his practical activity and the cognitive activity that is derived therefrom.

Any notion of the world always bears traces of some kind of social development. Even

sensuous notions are by no means the same in all ages. They have a certain structure according to

the type of social development that went on when they were acquired. Objects on which cognition

is concentrated are mostly the products of previous activity; they could not be understood,

considered or assimilated outside the historical context.

The knowability of the world. Are there any limits to the power of human reason and hence to

human power over the universe? At the dawn of its development philosophy, in effect, proclaimed

the principle of the knowability of the world. But not everyone agreed with this view.

Some philosophers expressed and still express doubts as to the authenticity of human

knowledge, and prefer to remain sceptical or even completely deny the possibility of knowing the

world, thus adopting the position of agnosticism. Scepticism acknowledges the existence of an

external world and seeks a knowledge of things. But when confronted with the universal relativity

of knowledge, it is so beset by doubt that it retreats to the position of "withholding judgement".

Agnosticism is a philosophical theory that denies the possibility of man's achieving authentic

knowledge of the objective world. Some agnostics, while recognising the objective existence of the

world, deny its knowability, others regard the very fact of the world's objective, existence as

something unknowable. They maintain that knowledge is subjective by its very nature and that we

are in principle unable to reach beyond the boundaries of our own consciousness and cannot know

whether anything else except the phenomena of consciousness exists. From the standpoint of

agnosticism the question of how a thing is reflected by us differs fundamentally from the question

of how it exists in itself. A person moved by the desire for knowledge, says, "I do not know what

this is but I hope to find out". The agnostic, on the other hand, says, "I do not know what this is and

I shall never know". Most consistent and conscious materialists defend and seek to prove the

principle of the knowability of the world, but some fall back on agnosticism. Agnosticism is closely

connected with the idealist view. Some idealists recognise the knowability of the world, which they

infer from the ideal essence of things. For example, Hegel's recognition of the knowability of the

world stems directly from his principle of the identity of being and thinking. In contrast to

agnosticism, Hegel believes that the hidden essence of the universe cannot resist the audacity of

cognition; it must reveal itself and unfold its riches and the profundity of its nature and allow

knowledge to enjoy both.

The classical exponent of agnosticism is Kant, who divorced the content of consciousness

from its actual foundation. In his view a phenomenon occurs as a result of the interaction between

the "thing-in-itself" and the subject, the knower. The "phenomenon" must therefore be considered


from two aspects: its relationship to the "thing-in-itself" and its relationship to the subject. Kant

maintained that when we consider an object perceived by the external senses only as a phenomenon,

we thereby acknowledge that it is based on the thing-in-itself, although we do not know its

properties. We know only that which is manifest to us. And everything that is manifest to us is

refracted through consciousness and emotions. We see everything through the prism of our senses

and our reason, and therefore cannot know essence as it is, independent of us. An unbridgeable gap

lies between the world of things-in-themselves and that of phenomena that can be known.

According to Kant, one cannot compare what is in the consciousness with what is outside it. A

person may compare only what he knows with what he knows. This implies that we move endlessly

in a world of our own consciousness and never come into contact with the actual objects of the

objective world. Hence the conclusion that it is impossible to discover anything that does not

already exist in thought. The external world, according to the agnostics, is like a traveller. It knocks

at the door of the temple of reason, awakens it to activity and then withdraws without revealing its

identity, leaving reason to guess what kind of person knocked at its door. So we see that the source

of agnosticism lies in the absolute opposition of reason to the external world.

Most characteristic of the 20th century is the agnosticism of neopositivism, which tells us that

philosophy cannot provide objective knowledge but must be confined to the analysis of language.

Another source of agnosticism is relativism, that is to say, the absolutising of the variability,

the fluidity of things and consciousness. The relativists proceed from the pessimistic principle that

everything in the world is transient, that scientific truth reflects our knowledge of objects only at a

given moment; what was true yesterday is error today. Every new generation gives its own

interpretation of the cultural heritage of the past. The process of cognition is foredoomed to a

random pursuit of eternally elusive truth. Relativism works on the assumption that the content of

knowledge is not determined by the object of cognition but is constantly transformed by the process

of cognition, thus becoming subjective. Absolutising the relative in knowledge, the relativists

regard the history of science as movement from one error to another. But if everything is relative,

then this assertion, which can have meaning only in relation to the absolute, is also relative.

Treating all human knowledge as relative and void of any particle of the absolute amounts

essentially to acknowledgement of complete arbitrariness in cognition, which then becomes a

continuous flux, in which nothing is stable or authentic and all distinctions between truth and

falsehood are erased. But if we cannot believe any of scientific propositions, we have nothing left to

guide us in life and in practice. The metaphysical thinker has a tendency to reason as follows: if we

speak of truth, it must be absolute truth, and if it is not absolute it is not truth. The relativists, on the

other hand, usually argue that the history of science records many cases when propositions once

recognised as true were later dis proved and, conversely, propositions believed to be false

eventually emerged as true in the course of the further development of science. Admittedly, the path

of scientific cognition does not proceed in a straight line; it may often swerve in unexpected


directions. But this does not prove that all our knowledge is nonsense. It is not enough to assert that

scientific truths change. We must remember that this process of change moves in a certain direction,

proceeding ever deeper into the essence of things. The historical transformation of the content of

knowledge on the road to its maximum fullness is regarded by agnostics as "proof" of its

independence of the object of cognition. The relativist substitutes for the true proposition

"knowledge contains an element of the relative" the false assertion that "all human knowledge is


Dialectics recognises the variability of the world and the flexibility of concepts, their

"fluidity", their transmutations. But its premises are the actually existing processes of the

development of objects and their reflection in concepts; it does not absolutise the variability of

things or their reflection. It does not deny their relative stability and qualitative determinacy

Variability and stability, both in things and their reflection, form a real contradiction. Whereas

absolutising the element of stability leads to metaphysics and dogmatism, absolutising the element

of variability leads to relativism. Relativism undermines belief in scientific truth, and when belief in

truth in general collapses it brings down belief in science and even in life. Dialectics embraces the

elements of relativism, negation and scepticism but cannot be reduced to relativism. It sees

relativity not as negation of the objectivity of truth but as evidence of the fact that cognition is

historically conditioned in its approach to objective truth.

Knowledge is historically limited, but in every relative truth there is some objective content,

which is intransient. The Intransient elements of past knowledge form a part of new knowledge.

Scientific systems collapse but they do not disappear without a trace; more perfect theories are built

on top of them. One of the forms in which relativism manifests itself is conventionalism, which

maintains that the concepts of science are formally accepted postulates, and that the question of

whether they correspond to reality may be discarded as irrelevant to science.

The history of science is the history of omnipotent cognition, which renounces both the

absolutising of achieved scientific truths and their sceptical denial.

Agnostics also resort to the following arguments. One cannot know the parts without knowing

the whole. The whole is infinite and, as such, unknowable. Therefore its parts are also unknowable.

Pascal, for example, believed that man would understand the life of his body only when he had

studied everything it needed, and for this man would have to study the whole universe. But the

universe was infinite and could not be known. Empiricists have always maintained that we can

know only the finite and that the infinite is unknowable. But by getting to know the finite, the

transient, we in so doing begin to know the infinite.

The knowability of the world does indeed imply a profound paradox. The world, the universe

is boundless and inexhaustible and our knowledge of it at every given level of the development of


science is inevitably limited and always will be. Nevertheless, the universe is knowable and

agnosticism evaporates in the light of more complete knowledge. This comprehensibility of the

world, which some people regard as the most incomprehensible thing of all, is not a figment, but the

result of the whole preceding history of science, technology, and practice, which demonstrates that

as a matter of principle there is nothing "classified" in the universe. All knowledge is opposed by

unknown but knowable reality. There is nothing hidden that cannot be revealed, nothing secret that

cannot be discovered. Humanity is capable of getting to know the whole universe because there is

no limit to the development of its organs of cognition or of action. But humanity is limited by the

historical framework and by the abilities of each individual. These limitations are overcome by the

subsequent development of science and practice. All the preceding practice of humankind, the

history of the develop ment of cognition itself convincingly show that there is no limit to

knowledge. When it plunges into the waves of existence, reason will never hit the "bottom" of the

universe. Knowledge of the world has its beginning but no end.

Let us recall some of the stages in the triumphant march of human reason. For example, the

mathematicians, beginning with Euclid, evolved a geometry that was perfectly true on the terrestrial

scale; the physicists, beginning with Archimedes, revealed with increasing precision the laws of

terrestrial mechanics. The astronomers, beginning with Hipparchus, penetrated ever deeper into the

regions of the visible heavens. The biologists, beginning with Aristotle, delved ever deeper into the

secrets of life. Copernicus, Galileo, Newton and Darwin evolved great theories that led to

fundamental changes in the human view of the universe and exerted a tremendous influence on all

aspects of human culture and modes of thought. The greatest discovery of 19th-century biology was

the discovery of the living cell; in chemistry the palm belongs to Mendeleyev's periodic system of

the chemical elements. On the threshold of the 20th century X-rays and radioactivity were

discovered. A turning-point in the history of natural science was Einstein's theory of relativity.

Recent decades of our century have been marked by the discovery of a new world of elementary

particles of matter and the emergence of cybernetics. The successes of natural science and

technology have made it possible to launch artificial satellites of the Earth, the Moon and Venus, to

put artificial planets in orbit, and to send man into outer space. The list of the great achievements of

human reason probing ever deeper into the secrets of nature and society, and of reason itself, could

be extended still further. This undoubtedly proves the powers of human reason and science's ability

to continue to multiply its discoveries and provide humanity with knowledge of new things and

their properties whose existence we do not today even suspect. The advances of science are a

constant reproach to agnosticism. Auguste Comte, the founder of positivism, declared that humanity

would never know the chemical composition of the Sun. But the ink was scarcely dry on the paper

where these sceptical words had been written when spectral analysis revealed the Sun's

composition. Some supporters of Machism boldly averred that the atom was a chimera, a mere

figment of a sick imagination. But as most people know, atomic theory is now the basis of all

contemporary natural science. The same thing has happened with the "unknowability" of the dark

side of the Moon.


In the enormous world of astronomy and the tiny world of the atom man has discovered

secrets that were thought to be undiscoverable. Under the pressure of advancing science the

agnostics have been compelled to yield one position after another.

We should not forget, however, that the knowability of the world does not mean that it is

known. What we now know is a mere drop from the ocean of the unknown. While rejecting

agnosticism, we also reject the absolutising of the results of scientific cognition and also the

absolutising of the possibilities of cognition, an absolutising that ignores the real conditions of

cognitive activity. Science is incompatible with immoderate claims to absolute knowledge, claims

which would set a limit to its development.

Man has got to know a great deal. But cognition also reveals our abysmal ignorance. Reality

extends beyond the frontiers of any knowledge. It is always more "cunning" than any theories and

infinitely richer. Any tendency to categorical and final statements on all questions is bad form in

philosophical thinking. There is so much mystery in the world that we are obliged to be modest and

reasonably cautious in our judgements. The true scientist knows too much to share an immoderate

optimism and he regards the "super-optimists" with the kind of melancholy that grown-ups feel

when watching children's frolics. We know for sure only comparatively simple things. Human

beings are always 'standing on the shore". Before them lies the majestic, infinite, unencompassable

ocean of what is knowable but not yet known, dotted with only a few inshore islands of the known.

And we are always trying to see further through its enveloping mists.

We live in a world where far more is unknown than known. And by the very logic of things

we are destined to stand forever confronted by an unknown that moves further and further away

from us.

The volume of our knowledge is incomparable with what we have yet to discover; but in

content and depth we are getting to know reality with a great degree of accuracy. Reason must more

often put us under the protection of doubt. Doubt is an essential component of developing science.

There can be no cognition without a problem, no problem without doubt. Human reason may be

compared to a lamp. The brighter the flame, the deeper the shadow of doubt. Legend tells us that

one day Zeno, when asked why he doubted everything, drew two unequal circles and, pointing first

to the larger, and then to the smaller, said that this large circle was his knowledge, and the smaller

that of his pupil. Everything outside those circles was the sphere of the unknown. His contact with

the unknown, he went on, was therefore greater than his pupil's, so he was bound to doubt more

than his pupil. "Subject everything to doubt" is a maxim adopted by every creatively thinking



Scepticism within reasonable limits is beneficial; but cheap scepticism is like blind

fanaticism. They are both equally often encountered in narrow-minded people. Denial of the

knowability of the world leads to pessimism about science and to repudiation of its values. And this

opens the door to various forms of reaction against reason and science. When attempting to explain

any phenomenon it is absurd to assume that it is inexplicable. A person must believe that the

incomprehensible can be comprehended; otherwise there is no point in thinking about it.

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