One last try to be kind to lj readers:
This chapter is less vital for us than it was for Engels. Because Herr Dühring erected his entire theory on the foundation of his philosophy, it was necessary to thoroughly demolish that foundation, so that his whole edifice, from pompous facade of attitude, to opaque windows into the natural world, to misplaced grotesques of logic, would collapse of its own weight like, um, like this metaphor. For us, looking for positive knowledge rather than the destruction of another’s theory, its importance is sensibly reduced.
However, we are getting into stuff that I find personally fascinating, and that provides a wonderful opportunity to explore the method of Marxism, so I’m going to take a bit of time with it.
The initial paragraph in which Dühring is summarized lost me entirely; I was considerably relieved to realize there wouldn’t be a test on it. But one thing I did get was that, to Herr Dühring, the “science of the principles of nature” and “the science of mankind” are separate and distinct things. When he says they divide themselves in this way “quite naturally” it means he is taking that division as a given, as a premise. But it strikes me as a leap, and an invalid one at that. I’m pretty sure Engels will come back to this at some point.
If human beings are part of nature, and human beings are naturally social, then human society is also part of nature. This means the notion of a whole separate class of laws for human society as distinct from nature makes no sense. Of course, to have particular laws for social movement is as reasonable as particular laws for the movement of planets–or the particular laws for the movement of smelt at mating season. But that’s no reason to make them an entirely different type of law. Does that make sense?
“Logical schemata can only relate to forms of thought; but what we are dealing with here is solely forms of being, of the external world, and these forms can never be created and derived by thought out of itself, but only from the external world.”
Yeah, well, I could follow this better if I understood what was meant by “forms of thought.” And, for that matter, “forms of being.” I’m not at all clear on what Engels means by either of those terms. Maybe an example? I’ll keep going and hope for the best.
“the principles are not the starting-point of the investigation, but its final result; they are not applied to nature and human history, but abstracted from them.”
A brief moment to cuddle with a single word, because we’d better be on good terms with it before we go further: the verb “to abstract.” To abstract b from a means that b is a naturally occurring part of a, one aspect of it, and that we are choosing, with our minds, to consider only that part. If I have a dozen eggs, there are several aspects to them: the color, the hardness of the shell, the weight, the number. If I say, “Let us consider the number of eggs in a typical egg carton,” I am abstracting the number from the notion of a carton of eggs. Thus, if we abstract the natural laws from our investigation of nature, we are, in our minds, removing, or perhaps separating for consideration something actually there–at least, if we have studied those laws correctly. If we abstract passive-aggressive behavior from the motion of molecules, or the activity of God from the origin of species, we’ve probably fucked up somewhere along the way.
So, getting back to that quote, yeah, I feel better, at least for now. This is something we hit on before: We learn the laws of the motion of matter by studying nature; we don’t start with those laws and ask nature to kindly adapt itself to our opinions. Which is just as well; nature is often stubborn and refuses to cooperate in such ventures.
“But if the further question is raised what thought and consciousness really are and where they come from, it becomes apparent that they are products of the human brain and that man himself is a product of nature, which has developed in and along with its environment; hence it is self-evident that the products of the human brain, being in the last analysis also products of nature, do not contradict the rest of nature’s interconnections but are in correspondence with them.”
I’ve had nothing but good thoughts about materialism since this morning. It’s mother beautiful materialism. Uh, sorry. What I mean is that, to a materialist, Man is part of and a product of nature; the development of the human brain can be understood from the point of view of evolution; the ideas in the human brain, therefore, are also a part of nature. The idea of creating special laws for thought in contradiction to the laws of nature must be false. At least, that’s what I get from it.
“Later on we shall see that Herr Dühring is forced more than once to endow nature surreptitiously with conscious activity, with what in plain language is called God.”
Just in passing, I remember the first time I read that, and went, “Holy fuck. Yeah. Nature endowed with consciousness. That’s what God is.” Epiphany! There’s nothing I enjoy more than a good epiphany.
Further down, Engels discusses the absurd notion that humanity can someday know everything. For one thing, if everything is constantly changing, there is no way to keep up with all of those changes.
“Each mental image of the world system is and remains in actual fact limited, objectively by the historical conditions and subjectively by the physical and mental constitution of its originator.”
Okay, I think that’s clear enough. We went over some of that same ground in the previous chapter. An individual’s knowledge is limited by his time and place, and by his own particular skills and talents.
Let’s stop there for now.