MATERIALIM/IDEALISM, IDEALITY, SPINOZA DEBATE

Ralph Dumain rdumain at igc.apc.org
Thu Feb 22 20:32:04 MST 1996


There's so much going on in this discussion group now, after weeks
of unadulterated shit.  Even the threads on Spinoza, materialism,
idealism, are confusing with all the different strands.  All the
participants are engaged in entirely different arguments, which
don't intersect although everybody is supposedly arguing over the
same things.  McInerney doesn't seem to know what he is arguing
over.  So let me pee in the pot for a bit.

1.  Ideality: the way Jukka defines it reminds me of the concept
of the "third world" put forth by Popper and I believe C.S.
Peirce.  Am I wrong?

2.  Ideality: Jukka, you quote Ilyenkov.  Can I take it you are
familiar with the whole soviet literature on ideality?  For the
rest of you, ideality is a major philosophical category in soviet
philosophy, and remember these people are die-hard dialectical
materialists, not idealists.  For example, there is THE PROBLEM OF
THE IDEAL by David Dubrovsky.  There is an overview of soviet
philosophy, CONSCIOUSNESS AND REVOLUTION IN SOVIET PHILOSOPHY by
David Bakhurst.  E.V. Ilyenkov's very interesting essay "The
Concept of the Ideal" can be found in PHILOSOPHY IN THE USSR:
PROBLEMS OF DIALECTICAL MATERIALISM (Progress, 1977), pp. 71-99.
Jukka, is this the same essay you have over there in Finland?

BTW, Ilyenkov wrote some book around 1968 called OF IDEAS AND
IDEALS or somesuch.  Is this book translated into English and how
do I find a copy?

3.  Subjective and objective idealism: The thesis that objective
idealism is progressive while subjective idealism is reactionary
is rather peculiar.  I'm glad somebody in a subjective idealist
culture recognizes the reactionary nature of subjective idealism,
but you've got it all mixed up.  Subjective idealism may be the
way station to intellectual and political reaction, but in fact it
is a philosophy generated by and supportive of bourgeois
democracy.  I can't remember any subjectivist philosophy ever
adopted or enforced by a fascist state.  On the contrary,
objective idealism almost always goes hand in hand with political
reaction.  In ages past, it supported the slave and feudal orders.
In the 20th century, objective idealism = fascism.  I could start
with Mussolini's philosopher Giovanni Gentile and take it from
there.

4.  Objective idealism: if Spinoza and Hegel are objective
idealists, they are rather peculiar ones.  Spinoza confuses me,
but his philosophy is more conducive to radical democracy than
reaction.  Obviously its materialist content has much to do with
this.  Hegel himself is a bundle of contradictions.  In the
context of his time, he was both a progressive philosopher of
bourgeois democracy and a deeply conservative thinker.  Many have
opposed his method to his metaphysics.  While this is a simplistic
way of handling Hegel, it nonetheless points to real
contradictions in Hegel. I think there is basic truth in Engels'
contention that the dialectical method is critical and
revolutionary.  But Hegel's objective idealism, his Geist, is
unequivocally reactionary.  It is the basis of Right Hegelianism.
And if you think Right hegelianism is no more, I suggest you hold
your nose and plug into the hegel mailing list, where a couple of
Hispanic Toms for US imperialism are using Hegel's Weltgeist to
shill for the American empire as we speak.

5.  Idealism/realism: I'm getting sick of certain overeducated
persons saying X is not an idealist, but a realist.  Realists can
be idealists, too.  Philosophical terminology is notoriously
deceptive.  It is typical of bourgeois philosophers to equate
idealism with subjectivism and contrast that to realism.  Somehow
they never bother to break realism down into its two fundamental
possibilities, materialism or objective idealism.

6.  Who is an idealist/materialist: it is important to recognize
that philosophies can embody contradictory properties of all three
essential philosophical types -- materialism, subjective idealism,
and objective idealism.  For example, Descartes embodies all three
elements: subjective idealism (radical skepticism), mechanical
materialism, and objective idealism (God).  Kant is indeed realist
insofar as he recognizes the dang in sich, but for all intents and
purposes he is subjectivist, thanks to his dualism.

7.  What are idealism and materialism: Marxism recognizes some
nuances not always recognized elsewhere: a philosophy can have a
materialist or idealist aspect to it regardless of the ostensible
ontological position assumed.  There is no reason a formally
idealist philosophy could not embody an essentially materialist
way of looking at things.  An ostensibly materialist position
could include a fundamentally idealist methodology or formulation
of the position.  In arguing about Spinoza, Feuerbach, etc.,
please keep this in mind.


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