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Socialism: Utopian and Scientific (1880) by Friedrich Engels

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ALB
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To be quite honest I don't think your so-called "democratic theory of knowledge" (where what is true is decided by a popular vote) has anything in common with the views either of Marx or Engels and don't know why you bother to claim that it has.

Anyway, where in this pamphlet does Engels deny that the mind plays an active role in understanding nature, history and society?

LBird
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ALB wrote:

To be quite honest I don't think your so-called "democratic theory of knowledge" (where what is true is decided by a popular vote) has anything in common with the views either of Marx or Engels and don't know why you bother to claim that it has.

Anyway, where in this pamphlet does Engels deny that the mind plays an active role in understanding nature, history and society?

Can't you see the contradictions in what you're saying and asking?

Either Engels denies 'mind plays an active role' and the 'material' tells us what it is (which is what anyone who thinks they don't have a pre-existing theory of the rock at which they look at an individual);

Or Engels agrees 'mind plays an active role' and 'society' tells us what the 'material' is (and so, being 'social', the 'telling' for socialists must be a democratic act, unless one is a Leninist).

I think Engels is confused, and both agrees and denies 'mind's activity', but our question is 'which is correct?'. They can't both be.

Marx clearly argues for an 'active mind' (and unless that is interpreted to mean an 'individual mind', which Marx clearly doesn't do), then the only 'theory of knowledge' open to those who claim to be democrats in all areas of society (as I think that we do) is a 'democratic theory of knowledge'.

The fact that you seem to think that this doesn't have 'anything in common with Marx or Engels' makes me wonder what it is that you think that both Marx and Engels stood for.

You never tell us the answer to the simple question:

If not all humanity, who is the minority who decides 'truth'?

The denial of a 'democratic theory of knowledge' must be a claim for an 'elitist theory of knowledge'.

Unless humans aren't involved at all, that is, and god or matter tell us the 'truth'. This is why 'materialists' are 'idealists', and open to religion.

So, you show me where Engels either 'agrees' or 'denies', and I'll show you where I'm correct.


ALB
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LBird wrote:
Can't you see the contradictions in what you're saying and asking?
No, I can't. All I can see is you wriggling to get out of examining what Engels wrote in this pamphlet and merely asserting what you think he thought.

At the moment we are not arguing about how scientific hypotheses or for that matter any statement about the outside world is formulated. I think we are more or less agreed on that. What we are arguing about is how such hypotheses and statements are validated; how we can say that they are "true". You are arguing that the way to do this is to subject them to a democratic vote. If there is a majority in favour (or even if it's the prevailing public opinion)then that hypothesis or statement is "true". You seem to think that this was implicit in Marx's view (it certainly wasn't explicit) though not in Engels.

Here's what Engels writes about this in the Introduction to 1892 English edition of the pamphlet we are reading (though I'm beginning to suggest that you've not read it):

Quote:
Again, our agnostic admits that all our knowledge is based upon the information imparted to us by our senses. But, he adds, how do we know that our senses give us correct representations of the objects we perceive through them? And he proceeds to inform us that, whenever we speak of objects, or their qualities, of which he cannot know anything for certain, but merely the impressions which they have produced on his senses. Now, this line of reasoning seems undoubtedly hard to beat by mere argumentation. But before there was argumentation, there was action. Im Anfang war die That. [from Goethe's Faust: "In the beginning was the deed."] And human action had solved the difficulty long before human ingenuity invented it. The proof of the pudding is in the eating. From the moment we turn to our own use these objects, according to the qualities we perceive in them, we put to an infallible test the correctness or otherwise of our sense-perception. If these perceptions have been wrong, then our estimate of the use to which an object can be turned must also be wrong, and our attempt must fail. But, if we succeed in accomplishing our aim, if we find that the object does agree with our idea of it, and does answer the purpose we intended it for, then that is proof positive that our perceptions of it and of its qualities, so far, agree with reality outside ourselves.
In other words, the validity, or "truth", of a statement is shown by practice, by testing it against what happens.

Marx says the same thing (in a much more philosophical way) in the notes he wrote in 1845 and which Engels published in 1888 after his death as the Theses on Feuerbach, the second of which make this point:

Quote:
The question whether objective truth can be attributed to human thinking is not a question of theory but is a practical question. Man must prove the truth — i.e. the reality and power, the this-sidedness of his thinking in practice. The dispute over the reality or non-reality of thinking that is isolated from practice is a purely scholastic question.
So, it is possible to attribute an active role to the mind and reject your idiosyncratic view (I think you're the only person to hold it) that the validity of a hypotheses or a proposition is decided by a democratic vote or majority public opinion.

Both Engels and Marx held a different method of validation to yours: that Engels, the down-to-earth popular science writer, called "the proof of the pudding is in the eating" or as Marx, the German philosopher, put it "Man must prove the truth ... of his thinking in practice."

Your method of validation and theirs can lead to different conclusions, in fact to opposite conclusions as we know regarding whether the Sun moves round the Earth or vice versa.

LBird
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ALB wrote:
Anyway, where in this pamphlet does Engels deny that the mind plays an active role in understanding nature, history and society?

I can give you both his acceptance and denial, almost next to each other.

Engels, S U S online, also pamphlet p. 74 wrote:
the final causes of all social changes and political revolutions are to be sought, not in men's brains, not in men's better insights into eternal truth and justice, but in changes in the modes of production
[my bold]

https://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1880/soc-utop/ch03.htm

‘Production’ is a human activity, a conscious activity, and involves ideas.

Engels, S U S online, also pamphlet p. 72 wrote:
…a method found of explaining man's "knowing" by his "being", instead of, as heretofore, his "being" by his "knowing".
[my bold]

https://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1880/soc-utop/ch02.htm

Engels here changes Marx’s famous statement in the Preface that ‘…it is their social being that determines their consciousness’. Marx does not talk of ‘being’ outside of consciousness. For Marx, the two are inseparable parts of an interaction. For Marx, ‘being’ is social.

Engels jumps around throughout his pamphlet between, on the one hand, ‘being’ meaning something outside of ‘ideas’ and, on the other, ‘being’ meaning (like Marx) ‘production’ (or ‘economics’), which is a human activity and therefore involves ‘ideas’.

Engels often reverts to pre-Theses ‘materialism’, which follows the ancient philosophical agenda of the problem of ‘being and consciousness’, represented by the two schools of ‘materialism and idealism’. This is why Engels says above that the issue is the relation between ‘knowing/being’ and ‘being/knowing’. He’s trying to ‘explain a method’ to sort out this ancient issue.

On the contrary, Marx, in his Theses on Feuerbach, transcended the ancient philosophical dichotomy, and united the insight of the idealists, about the ‘active side’ of humanity, with the realism of the materialists, that a ‘real world’ existed outside of the thinking of philosophers. This, of course, is the notion of ‘theory and practice’. That’s why Marx talks of ‘material production’ and ‘social being’, because these are categories that involve humans and their creative and critical ideas and an external world, both in interaction with each other.

My overall advice to any comrades embarking on a reading of Engels’ Socialism: Utopian and Scientific, is to see if they can identify where Engels does this switching around in meaning. Underline in one colour where he uses ‘being’ or ‘material’ where you can see that his concepts exclude ‘ideas’, and in a different colour underline where clearly his ‘being’ or ‘material’ include human activity and ideas.

The only conclusion I can come to (and I’m following others here, since Lukacs and Korsch in the 1920s, and many since like Hook (30s), Lichtheim, Avineri (60s), Carver (70s), Thomas, Ball and Farr (80s)) is that Engels didn’t appreciate the subtle differences in what he was saying, and that this allowed some to ignore where Engels followed Marx (and stressed the essential inclusion of ‘ideas’) and instead concentrate on where Engels reverted to a ‘materialism’ outside of consciousness.

Whilst Communists/Socialists follow Engels on the side of ‘materialism’ they’ll remain stuck in the past. This is the route of the Second International thinkers, like Kautsky and Lenin.

We need to follow Marx’s unified ‘idealism-materialism’. Human ideas are an inescapable part of knowing, and looking to ‘matter’ or the ‘physical’ to tell us what it is (outside of considerations of what we humans think it is, and thus recognise that ‘reality’ is social and historical, and thus changes, and that ‘science’ does not produce ‘The Truth’) is a dead end.

And once we accept ‘ideas’, as Socialists/Communists, we must accept ‘democracy’.

Thus, a ‘democratic theory of knowledge’ and ‘voting what the truth is, at any given point’.


LBird
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ALB wrote:
No, I can't. All I can see is you wriggling to get out of examining what Engels wrote in this pamphlet and merely asserting what you think he thought.

We've cross-posted, ALB, but you're going to have to start reading properly what I'm writing, and stop making false accusations.

Why not attack the ball, for a change, and not the man?

Why not answer my philosophical questions, rather than blaming me for what you don't like reading?


LBird
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ALB wrote:
In other words, the validity, or "truth", of a statement is shown by practice, by testing it against what happens.

Yes, and human practice based on human ideas pre-1600 meant that the truth was that 'the sun goes round the earth', and human practice based on human ideas post-1600 meant that the truth became 'the earth goes round the sun'.

Unless, like the pragmatists, you're going to insist that 'practice' constitutes 'truth'?

No, humans use 'theory and practice', as Marx insisted. Your emphasis on 'practice', without mentioning 'theory', is not Marxist, but is Engelsist.

You want to claim, as a 'materialist' that you now know the final truth, The Truth, that 'the earth goes round the sun'. You have no social of historical concept of 'truth', you wish to follow positivist 19th century science (the basis of 'materialism'), and ignore the role of 'ideas' and criticism in the formation of 'truth'.

'Truth' is social, and must be, in a democratic society that the SPGB claims it is arguing for, a democratic decision.

Any other account of 'truth' is elitist, and better suited to Leninism, and special 'party consciousness', and keeping the class away from things that don't concern them, like 'power' and 'truth'.

You still won't answer these objections to 'materialism', and neither will any other members of the SPGB.sad


LBird
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You seem to think that 'practice' produces only one answer, and this must be the truth.

But Einstein shows that even 'theory and practice' doesn't do this, and can produce competing 'truths' which, given the same 'facts', but different 'theory', produce diferent answers.

That is, the 'theory' plays a role in the answer that practice gives.

You seem to believe, as did the positivists, that a 'practical answer' which can be used is 'the truth'.

But we know that the same 'material conditions' can produce several 'practical answers', given different ideologies (and this applies to physics as much as sociology).

I'm beginning to wonder if anybody at all in the SPGB is actually interested in reading, critically thinking, and discussing these issues, as opposed to repeating the religious positions that they've already learned.

There appears to have been no progress whatsoever, over a 15 month period.sad

You know already 'the truth', and you're all sticking to it.


ALB
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Joined: 22/06/2011

LBird wrote:
The only conclusion I can come to (and I’m following others here, since Lukacs and Korsch in the 1920s, and many since like Hook (30s), Lichtheim, Avineri (60s), Carver (70s), Thomas, Ball and Farr (80s)) is that Engels didn’t appreciate the subtle differences in what he was saying, and that this allowed some to ignore where Engels followed Marx (and stressed the essential inclusion of ‘ideas’) and instead concentrate on where Engels reverted to a ‘materialism’ outside of consciousness.
The difference between "natural being determines consciousness" and "social being determines consciousness" is worth discussing, but I'm still not convinced that when Engels says "being determines consciousness" this is short-hand for "natural being determines consciousness" rather than that "social being" does. In fact, the passage you quote from the pamphlet is from a paragraph where Engels is talking about history , i.e. social being.

In any event, there are Leninists on both sides as Lukacs was nororiously a super-Leninist holding the elitist view that the vanguard party embodied working class consciousness. And of course neither he nor the others you mention thought Marx's test of the validity of a statement was to put it to a democratic vote or to record what the majority public opinion about it was.

But what does you think Marx meant in his 2nd Thesis on Feuerbach?

Quote:
The question whether objective truth can be attributed to human thinking is not a question of theory but is a practical question. Man must prove the truth — i.e. the reality and power, the this-sidedness of his thinking in practice. The dispute over the reality or non-reality of thinking that is isolated from practice is a purely scholastic question.
This definitely does not say that "Man must prove the truth of his thinking by submitting it to a popular referendum".

LBird
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ALB wrote:

But what does you think Marx meant in his 2nd Thesis on Feuerbach?

Quote:
The question whether objective truth can be attributed to human thinking is not a question of theory but is a practical question. Man must prove the truth — i.e. the reality and power, the this-sidedness of his thinking in practice. The dispute over the reality or non-reality of thinking that is isolated from practice is a purely scholastic question.
This definitely does not say that "Man must prove the truth of his thinking by submitting it to a popular referendum".

[my bold]

This is the nub of the issue between us, ALB.

Who or what is 'Man' for Marx?

An individual? A scientist?  Men, excluding women? A group of individuals/scientists/males with a special consciousness, denied to the majority?

No, I think any worker is justified in thinking that Marx, given the context of everything he wrote, by 'Man' meant 'Humanity'.

So, I think that it is entirely justified by Marx's works to read this as:

"The question whether objective truth can be attributed to human thinking is not a question of theory but is a practical question. Humanity must prove the truth — i.e. the reality and power, the this-sidedness of his thinking in practice."

I don't know how 'humanity' thinking, doing and changing 'truth' can be achieved without democracy.

Marx doesn't say 'listen to matter', which in effect Engels does.

Unless one thinks that 'truth', once discovered by 'theory and practice', is a final 'truth', because 'it works', then one must assume that 'thinking in practice' is an on-going social task.

I'm coming to the opinion that what most SPGB members who've posted here (the ones, at least, who have actually got beyond 'individual biological senses' cryingand the induction implied by 'practice and theory' crying) think is that 'materialism' is a 'one-off' bout of 'theory and practice' which determines 'truth'.

If one accepts the method of 'theory and practice', one is jettisoning 'fixed knowledge of nature' or 'knowledge of nature in itself'.

Clearly, if one applies a new theory to the same 'material conditions', and it 'works in practice', then a new 'truth' emerges.

If one thinks that the mere fact that 'something works' is 'proof of final truth', then they are ignoring Marx, and his emphasis on the relationship between 'subject and object'. As 'subject' changes its 'ideas', then the practice upon 'object' produces new 'knowledge'. He say as much when he's talking about 'value' in Capital.

The belief (and it's a religious belief now) that simple 'practice' working is sufficient to stop criticising 'reality' (the old refrain, 'just deal with the real world' of conservative origin) is outdated both in physics and sociology.

The 'real' (or 'material') is not obvious to humans, and the view that the 'real' tells us 'what it is' or that we humans have a method that guarantees this 'knowledge', is 19th century positivism, and Engelsism.


LBird
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If this discussion can't be resolved at the level of 'quotes from the texts' or our conflicting opinions of 'what he really meant', then perhaps a consideration of our politics can help.

If the SPGB claims to agree with 'democracy' in the political arena (as it does), why would it adopt a philosophical basis that argues against democracy in the scientific arena?

This would put the SPGB in the contradictory position (unlike the Leninists, who can argue for 'specialists' in both politics and science, and thus can be consistent) of favouring minorities of elite experts outside of 'politics'.

This requires the SPGB to argue that there is an 'outside of politics' in some arenas of human understanding, like science, for example, where there is a 'truth' not susceptable to debate, criticism and voting: of course, Engels' 'matter' fills this category well. It's 'outside of humans' (as even I and Marx would agree), so it's easy to fall into seeing our 'knowledge' of 'matter' as being 'outside of politics', if one adopts positivist methods. That is, that 'human ideas' are not an integral part of what we 'see'.

I think history is on the side of the argument that I and others have put forward, that if one starts from 'material conditions' (and not 'our interpretation of material conditions') in science, then it soon follows that the same 'successful method' is promptly transferred into politics, too.

Surely everyone can see the political dangers of elitist epistemology? It's suited to bourgeois or Leninist political formations, not a democratic one that we hope to see.

How can workers hope to control production if they can't control knowledge production?

Surely the basis of building for Socialism/Communism in this society is to argue for democracy throughout the one we hope to build? Shouldn't our philosophy and politics now prefigure the ones we hope to employ in the future, when we achieve democratic power?


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