Herr Dühring says that what exists is existence, and all that exists is existence, and, furthermore, existence is what exists. This, he claims, disposes of God. Exactly how it does that is left as an exercise for the reader. But, in any case, we now have a unity, which we created by bringing it together in our thoughts.
Engels mentions that analysis (the separating of elements) is just as important as synthesis in thinking. “Secondly, without making blunders thought can bring together into a unity only those elements of consciousness in which or in whose real prototypes this unity already existed before. If I include a shoe-brush in the unity mammals, this does not help it to get mammary glands.” Or, as Lincoln would have said, to include a dog’s tail in the unity of legs does not make it one.
“To attempt to prove the reality of any product of thought by the identity of thinking and being was indeed one of the most absurd delirious fantasies of — a Hegel.” This is a reference to Hegel as an idealist–as someone who believed thought primary to matter.
I want to make a point here. Idealist thought, except in the most extreme and blatant cases (for example, in mysticism) disguises itself. That is, if I were to ask, “Can there be a thought before there is a brain to think it,” most people would answer no. Yet to many of them, when attempting to understand history, or current events, the question of what people think is not only highlighted above all else, but is utterly divorced from the key question, “what conditions led them to think that?” If they make any attempt to answer that at all, it is usually in form of referring to prejudices or ideas picked up from society, or from parents. But if this were as determinate as these people believe, not only would no one ever think differently from his parents, but society would never have changed from whatever arbitrary point you want to start at. But society does change, and, however haltingly, imperfectly, and contradictorily (is that a word? I’m making it a word), thoughts change with it. If you recall from the previous installment, this lack of connectedness with historical processes is one of the hallmarks of subjectivists, schematists, empiricists &c. In other words, of those incapable of grasping processes in their complexity and interconnectedness and movement.
In my judgement, American Individualism cannot be understood apart from the circumstances of capitalist development in the United States. Post-modernism cannot be understood apart from the defeats of the revolutions in Europe and the subsequent demoralization of sections of the intelligentsia. Identity politics cannot be understood apart from the achievement of upper-middle-class income and security among the “radicals” of the 60’s. Marxism cannot be understood apart from the mass proletarian uprisings of the 19th century. And so on. To do so, in my opinion, is to fall into exactly the error of Herr Dürhing, or Hegel, though not in such a drastic and obvious way. (Note: I really ought not to lump Dühring and Hegel together like that, however; in spite of his idealism, Hegel was a genius who made great contributions to human understanding; Dühring, not so much).
I mentioned earlier something about St. Thomas Aquinas and his pure logic proof of the existence of God. Engels quotes it here: “This runs: when we think of God, we conceive him as the sum total of all perfections. But the sum total of all perfections includes above all existence, since a non-existent being is necessarily imperfect. We must therefore include existence among the perfections of God. Hence God must exist.” The flaw, of course, is that at no point in this process have we examined God; we have only examined the idea of God. Hence, if we have proven anything, we have proven that the idea of God exists, which was never in doubt.
“The real unity of the world consists in its materiality, and this is proved not by a few juggled phrases, but by a long and wearisome development of philosophy and natural science.”
I had to dive into that sentence a bit and flounder around, but when I emerged and examined what was in my teeth, it was this: “The unity of the world” means “what is common about everything that exists.” Where to Dühring this was being (which got us nowhere; that which exists, exists), to Engels it is it’s materiality. This may not be a huge advance, but it is at least something to start with: We have the assertion that everything that exists is matter (and energy as a form of matter, and the laws determining the movement of matter), and that that which is not matter, does not exist. But he makes no attempt to prove it by thought, which would be contradictory and futile; rather, for proof, he refers us to the entire history of the development of human knowledge. That is where the proof is; not in argument.
Let me run with that a bit. Materialism, like any other form of thought, did not spring full-blown from the mind of Feurbach, or any of the earlier materialists–it emerged as part of the process of understanding the world, and then fed into that process; just as did the natural sciences. Our conclusion of the materiality of the world does not come from a thought experiment, but as part of the sum-total of all that human society has learned and accomplished. Or, to put it another way: the cars that drive over the Brooklyn Bridge every day not only prove the truth of our knowledge of engineering, but also prove the materiality of the world. Not “proof” in the sense of a conviction in the head of an individual, but proof in the social sense of permitting further conclusions and deeper knowledge and acting with greater confidence and expanding our (society’s) ability to do. In this sense, proof is social and active instead of individual and passive; and material, not ideological. All of which is me, not Engels; but he got me going, so blame him.