Sunday, January 17, 2010


ANTI-DÜHRING: Part One: Philosophy -- World Schematism
[Engels and Philosophy 2]

Thomas Riggins

There are eleven chapters in Part One of Anti-Dühring which deal with the topic of philosophy. This posting deals with chapters four, five and six.

Engels opens chapter four [World Schematism] with a couple of "oracular passages' from Dühring which amounts to about two pages of the latter's philosophical mumbo-jumbo which Engels translates for us. Dühring is trying to say that he begins by thinking about "being" and uses his thoughts to deduce the world since there can be nothing beyond his thoughts. Engels, shows that this belief in the "identity of thinking and being" is simply lifted from Hegel.

What is comical about Dühring is how he tries to prove the NON-EXISTENCE of God with this idea. He thinks Thought and Being form a unity (an identity of substance). He then uses the ONTOLOGICAL ARGUMENT to prove there is no God (this argument is usually used with the opposite intention.) The God version is like this: When we think of God we think of a Being that is Perfect. Existence is a perfection. Therefore when we think of a Perfect Being we are forced to think it must exist (otherwise we are not really thinking of a perfect being), therefore God exists.

Dühring's version: When I think of Being I think of one idea, i.e., of a Unity, therefore there is no God. This is because all the things having being are parts of the unified world of experience. God as a separate being would make two things, not a Unity. There is no problem for a pantheist-- God = Nature = the Material World, no problem. Religious people won't go for this since God is just anothet word for the universe-- who will answer prayers, etc.

Well, Engels believes in the unity of Being, i.e., of the material world, but he doesn't think it can be proved by Dühring's idealistic speculations. Engels says the unity of the world isn't due to its being, its existence, but it does have to exist before it can be a unity. Also note that beyond what we can observe being is "an open question." We can't discover world unity without "a long and wearisome development of philosophy and natural science."

Engels spends the rest of the chapter showing that Dühring, who is trying to deduce the world we live in from the first abstract notions of Being (unity), as against Nothingness, and the emergence of Becoming, has done no more than produce an inferior pilfering of Hegel's Logic, Part I, the doctrine of Being. And while Dühring speaks of the "delirious fantasies" of Hegel, he himself has taken all his ideas from him. Engels really resents Dühring for calling Marx more or less "ridiculous" for following Hegel in saying "quantity is transformed into quality." This from a man who stole almost all his ideas from Hegel.

Well, enough of this: on to the next chapter: Five-- "Natural Philosophy. Time and Space".
The first thing to keep in mind is that physics today is very different from the 1870s and 80s. There is no point in turning to Engels for a physics lesson. All I want to do is contrast Engels attitudes towards science with those of Dühring.

Dühring claims to answered all the questions regarding the nature of space and time . To this absurd claim Engels counters by pointing that he has only lifted his ideas from Kant's CRITIQUE OF PURE REASON (first part, Second Division, Book II, Chapter II, Section II: The First Antinomy of Pure Reason). There Kant says, "The world has a beginning in time, and with regard to space is also limited." Dühring rephrases this in his organ jargon and calls it (his great discovery) "The Law of Definite Number." As Aquinas with Aristotle, Dühring borrows what he likes from Kant and junks the rest.

The rest of this chapter deals with Dühring's views on the nature of infininity and the science of mechanics as well as the nature of motion and rest. We need not bother ourselves with these speculations. Engels real point is to show that Dühring's views are borrowed from others and his treatment of the topics is not only derivitive but incoherent.

Don't forget, Engels wants to discredit Dühring's reputation as a great philosopher because he has joined the German socialist movement and is seeking to become a leader by down playing Marx. Engels' real targets are his views on economy and political science. By showing that he is a boob in philosophy and natural science it is more likely we will agree on his boobishness in these latter areas as well.

Let us move on to chapter six,"Natural Philosophy. Cosmogony, Physics, Chemistry."

Again we are dealing with outdated science, nevertheless Engels makes some general observations that are of interest. As far as Dühring is concerned he is out to lunch when it comes to understanding science. Even thoughthis chapter is dedicated to refuting his views we can just ignore him and concentrate on those things of general interest brought up by Engels.

Engels mentions that Kant's Nebular Hypothesis, that the all the celestial bodies were made out of rotating nebular clouds of dust and particles, "was the greatest advance made by astronomy since Copernicus." Engels thinks this so because Kant's theory for the first time allowed people to see that nature had a history. Thed stars and planets were not eternal fixtures of the heavens but had an historical development just as every thing else in nature. [While Kant certainly popularized the Nebular Hypothesis, some version of which is still taught in Astronomy today, it was actually the Swedish mystic theologian and scientist Emanuel Swedenborg (1688-1772) who first put forth the Nebular Hypothesis.]

Dühring dismisses Kant and has his own theory which Engels shows is completely unscientific. Dühring claims only matter "is the bearer of all reality." The old materialists spoke of matter AND motion. You can't just start with only matter because then you can't explain where motion comes from. The Marxist solution is summed up by saying, "MOTION IS THE MODE OF EXISTENCE OF MATTER." Engels has old fashoned physics in mind when he talks about the conservation of motion, etc., but his views can easeily be updated to a more modern vocabulary. Today science speaks of the conservation of energy, momentum, and angular momentum and that these three cannot be created or destroyed.

This chapter has a few more pages where Engels rags on Dühring's views on chemistry and some other topics but since the science here is outmoded we can pass on. Chapter seven begins Engel's discussion of the organic world and that is where the next section of this exposition will pick up.
[Engels 4]