Comment on materialism and idealism

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Jose Maria Sison posted this short philosophical commentary on his website on 13 April 2020. We are reposting it as part of PRISM’s special focus on questions of Marxist philosophy and current debates in the philosophical field, especially those that have major impacts on the broad anti-imperialist struggles and practical movements of the toiling masses.

A comment on dialectical materialism, idealism and mechanical materialism

By Jose Maria Sison

Dialectical materialism is a precise expression for the Marxist materialist philosophy as opposed to both idealism (objective and subjective) and to mechanical materialism. Materialist dialectics takes into account the materiality of the universe as well as the contradictory factors in the balances and transformations within nature and society and in the interactions of society and nature.

The dialectical materialist adopts the materialist and scientific outlook and the mode of cognition and practice that gives due attention to the dialectical or interactive relation of human consciousness and material reality, especially in the process of social transformation, and debunks the supernatural as well as the subjectivist as the sole or main determinant of reality and the transformation of social reality.

Dialectical materialism seeks to comprehend both the natural and social sciences, study how materialist dialectics (with its laws of contradiction) applies in any field of scientific knowledge and understand scientific knowledge as both products of social practice and being consequential to social reality and social transformation. Dialectical materialists are ever obliged and ready to learn from social investigation as well as scientific experiment.

Dialectical materialism is ever interested in and enlightened by the entire range of natural sciences. It appreciates the basic laws of motion in various types of natural phenomena as an explanation and confirmation of the materiality of the universe. In the dialectical materialist explanation of Mao, a piece of stone cannot take the place of the egg and bring forth a chicken, no matter the amount of temperature applied and no matter how much praying by the objective idealist and wishing by the subjective idealist.

The fundamental principles of dialectical materialism as laid down and clarified by Marx and Engels, benefited from the rise of humanism against divinism during the Renaissance and the rise of scientific and rational thought from the 16th century onwards. Philosophy became increasingly shorn of the superfluous Platonistic, idealistic and divinistic categories among the most advanced thinkers. It became clear that matter is the object of scientific investigation.

Dialectical materialists appreciate Newtonian physics as a great scientific advance in its own time and remains useful in building houses and bridges and in making and operating electro-mechanical processes. But it rejects mechanical materialism and sheer empiricism as much as it rejects objective idealism as philosophy and as the basis of or guide to social science. Thus, dialectical materialists have put forward materialist dialectics as the interaction of human consciousness and material reality.

Dialectical materialists appreciate the advance of scientific knowledge, such as the epochal one from Newtonian to Einsteinian physics. The latter gives us a more intimate knowledge of the atom, the materiality of energy and the realm of astral physics. Pertinent to quantum physics, Einstein demonstrated that the photons in a wave of light strike and disturb the electrons of a targeted object in photography.

Quantum physics verifies that particles are in waves and that the particle and wave are two sides of the same physical phenomenon, in the same way as matter and energy as well as photon and light. It debunks the attempt of some idealist scientists and philosophers to spiritualize the wave and make the particles subordinate to it and make these less essential or less important.

There is double absurdity in the statement that “scientific developments, especially in quantum physics, are increasingly in relative correspondence with the spiritual belief systems of what Engels called primitive communist societies. There is an attempt to misrepresent Engels as having been an idealist and as having asserted the scientific validity of spiritual belief systems where in fact he saw through such unscientific belief systems as reflections of social practice and the given level of speculation in primitive communal societies.

The great Mao made no rupture from dialectical materialism when he answered the question, Where do correct ideas come from? His answer is a brilliant summation and amounts to an enrichment or development of Marxist philosophy, particularly in the epistemology of dialectical materialism. He declares and explains that the source of knowledge is social practice, consisting of production, class struggle and scientific experiment.

The three terms are well sequenced historically: primitive and more advanced societies exist and develop on the basis of production as human activity, class struggle impels and propels the maintenance and change of class-divided societies and scientific experiment enables the scientific and technological development that leads to social development.

In our time the application of quantum physics has generated information technology to accelerate production, communications and distribution of goods to favor the monopoly bourgeoisie and its financial oligarchy, especially during the decades of the neoliberal policy regime. But the adoption of higher technology has made more frequent and worse the economic crisis (the crisis of overproduction) and the financial crisis (the abuse of credit) of the capitalist system.

Consequently the deepening and worsening of the crisis of the world capitalist system has generated among the proletariat and people the outrage and desire for revolution. The recurrent rounds of crisis have become the opportunity for building the mass movement and revolutionary forces. And the higher technology for maximizing profit and accelerating the private accumulation of capital provides the tools for arousing , organizing and mobilizing the masses at a faster rate than ever and eventually for building socialism at new and higher technical and cultural level.

Dialectical materialists always seek to learn from the laws of natural science in order to shed light on the materiality of the objective conditions and subjective factors interacting in social reality and social transformation. And in the realm of social science, they learn best and most from the impact on and consequences of the advances in science and technology to society. But they never seek to replace with any notion of dialectical materialism any scientific law or process discovered and proven in the process of scientific experiment or technological innovation. ###

Originally posted on the website.

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