Summary Of Essay Thirteen -- Lenin's Disappearing Definition Of Matter
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In this Essay it is argued that Lenin's philosophical ideas (in MEC, and elsewhere) actually undermine materialism, they in no way support it. One of the main problems lies with Lenin's determination to base human knowledge on "images" -- and later, even worse, on Hegel's theories. This seems about as sensible as trying to build a skyscraper at first on sand, and then on quicksand. As if to compound this strategic error, Lenin's entire approach is supported by very few (but nonetheless fatally weak) arguments, accompanied by scant evidence, topped off with a surfeit of repetitive bluster and misrepresentation. I have counted no fewer than 36 places in MEC alone where Lenin keeps on saying things like this:
"[I]t is the sole categorical...recognition of nature's existence outside the mind...that distinguishes dialectical materialism from relativist agnosticism and idealism." [Lenin (1972), p.314]
over and over again. [References in Essay Thirteen.]
If repetition won arguments, parrots would be formidable thinkers.
[MEC = Materialism and Empirio-Criticism, i.e., Lenin (1972).]
However, in one of the few arguments in the whole of MEC that Lenin managed to string together he claimed that images imply the existence of the thing imaged. [Lenin (1972), p.69.] This argument is worse than useless, for if it were valid we would all believe in the existence of Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy.
Nevertheless, even if Lenin were correct, no image (in Lenin's sense of that word --, i.e., a sort of 'mental' copy of objects and processes in the external world, albeit later enhanced by practice) -- could possibly correspond with its 'intended' object. This is because images are confined to partial and perspectivally limited 'views' of their 'intended' target. In that case it is not possible to form an image of the whole object viewed from every angle all at once. So at best, even if an image could correspond with its 'intended' target, it would only match a partial view of that object from that angle (that is, it would correspond with how that object would look when seen from that angle), but it would not correspond with the object itself.
So, the images to which Lenin refers could only correspond with views of objects from some angle or other, which would make his theory a rather limited form of Phenomenalism -- since his images would correspond with perspectivally-limited (or possible) views of objects, not those objects themselves.
And even if Lenin's "image" analogy were re-jigged (so that it now applied to an all-round scientific description of an object or process), not only would the "copy" metaphor have to be abandoned, the word "objective" would have to go, too.
This is because, in an objective world there are no "views" of objects for images to correspond with. Clearly, in such a world there are no viewers to have any views at all, and no specially privileged angles from which to 'view' them. The objective world, so we are told, is supposed to be that which exists independently of mind. Hence, in such a world there are no 'views' for Lenin's "images" to match.
Of course, it could be argued that the images Lenin had in mind actually correspond with how an object (or processes) would look to a viewer if he or she looked at it from that angle. No doubt this is so; but in that case, such images would correspond to possible views of objects (but made by whom?), not those objects themselves. And if there are only views, what becomes of objects? Given Lenin's account, it seems that there could only be images of views of objects -- or, as seems plain, just images of images, and no objects.
Ironically, Lenin's 'theory', which was cobbled-together partly in order to counter various Idealist attempts to spirit matter away, in the end actually manages to accomplish what his theoretical enemies had all along wanted: make matter vanish. In Lenin's universe there are now only partial images of images.
Bringing science in here would be of little assistance; every object and process in nature is -- according to physical scientists --, a set of scalar, vector, or tensor fields, spruced-up with a few probability density distributions, situated in at least four dimensions. Now, no humanly-formed 'image' could correspond with that bowl of mathematical spaghetti.
In such a universe, each image-former would at best have images of perspectivally-limited views of knotted heaps of 'mathematical pasta'. And even if such images could be formed, no human would be able to do this without first ascending into a higher dimension, and probably a considerably higher plane of consciousness (which one supposes only Gerry Healy ever to have attained). And with that the objectivity of DM would collapse, since it clearly requires the existence of an Ideal Observer, who is everywhere and nowhere all at once.
Interconnection Strikes Back
Furthermore, if DM-theorists are correct in believing that everything in nature is interconnected with everything else, then yet another idea of theirs (i.e., that matter is independent of mind, in the sense that (1) the vast bulk of matter in the universe is unaffected by our knowledge of it, and that (2) matter existed before there were any minds) will have to be abandoned. While it might be possible to base the independence of mind and matter successfully on the connectivity of all things in nature, this cannot be done on the basis of their interconnectivity. Why this is so will now be explained.
If all things are interconnected then the material processes in, say, a scientist's central nervous system from which 'emerges' the thought that the Sun is approximately 93 million miles from earth must itself be connected with the material facts that make this thought true -- or it would not be true, but false.
So, the fact that the Sun is approximately 93 million miles from earth is connected with and causes the processes from which 'emerges' the thought that the Sun is roughly that distance from the earth (or at least the material process involved cause this). So far so good.
However, if everything in nature is interconnected then the reverse is also true: the thought that the Sun is approximately 93 million miles from earth is interconnected with and causes the material facts that make it true that the Sun is approximately 93 million miles from earth. In other words there is at least one 'mental state' that is interconnected with and thus causes a remote material state of the universe. And if there is one, there are many; indeed, there is at least one for each true thought about nature.
There seem to be only two ways to avoid this Idealist conclusion: (1) the doctrine that everything in nature is interconnected must be abandoned, or (2) the link between interconnectivity and causation must be broken.
If the first escape route is chosen, much of classical DM would collapse, but if the second option is selected, the interconnectivity of nature would have to be recast in a non-causal (perhaps a non-physical) terms. But how might that be done without the whole thing turning into full-blown Idealism, with mystical and magical 'influences' permeating nature at every turn? The conveniently opaque word "mediation" and the openly misleading phrase "internal relation" are perhaps a little too obscure to rescue this beleaguered 'theory' -- unless, of course, one or both are interpreted as synonyms for "causation" again.
Anyway, their deployment here would confirm the suspicion that in order to cover the gaping wounds in their theory, the only sticking plasters available to DM-theorists come in the form of yet more linguistic fixes.
[That would of course turn at least this part of DM into a form of Ideal conventionalism.]
The precise nature of materialism is also examined, which is an issue that all DM-apologists duck to a greater or lesser extent. Oddly enough for avowed materialists, DM-theorists since Engels's day believe that matter is an abstraction. [But abstracted from what we are never told.]
This risks DM being liable to prosecution under the Metaphysical Trade Descriptions Act, for on this view it is not even a materialist theory.
It prompts, for example, the question: To what in nature does this particular abstraction correspond? What is there in nature that answers to this DM-abstraction? Indeed, if matter is not concrete, what has the concept been abstracted from?
In fact, the DM-'definition' of matter is almost identical to that put about by Bishop Berkeley.
With mystical friends like this, who needs friends?
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© Rosa Lichtenstein 2016
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