[Marxism] Loren R. Graham's *Science, Philosophy, and Human Behavior in the Soviet Union*

Jim Farmelant farmelantj at juno.com
Fri Feb 20 05:36:37 MST 2004

Just the other day, I picked up in a used-book store
a copy of Professor Loren R. Graham's book,
*Science, Philosophy, and Human Behavior in the Soviet Union*.
This 1987 book is a revision of his earlier 1972
book, *Science and Philosophy in the Soviet Union*.
To the earlier book, Graham added on some new
chapters, revised earlier chapters, while deleting
some old material.  This work while the earlier
one owes much to research that he was able
to do within the Soviet Union.

Loren Graham's  book on science and
philosophy in the former Soviet Union is noteworthy for
the scope of its coverage of work done in the natural
sciences and the philosophy of science there.  
Professor Graham provides an almost encyclopedic
coverage of many different scientific disciplines including 
physics (with discussions on relativity, quantum mechanics
and cosmology), biology (encompassing genetics, 
physiology, evolutionary biology),
psychology, computer science and cybernetics.

He relates Soviet debates in those different disciplines
to arguments over dialectical materialism.  He points
out while a lot of Soviet writing on Marxism and dialectical
materialism was pure hackery, a lot of highly talented
scientists, philosophers, and other scholars in the
Soviet Union took dialectical materialism quite seriously
and they wrote some significant works on the  philosophy
of science from a dialectical materialist perspective.

While in Stalin's time, it was almost mandatory for
scientists to include in their writings genuflections
to Marx, Lenin, and Comrade Stalin to
ensure state support for their work, this was
generally not true after Stalin's time and it
was quite possible for scientists to go about
their work without bothering themselves over
Marxism or dialectical materialism, just as
most Western scientists don't like to bother
themselves over philosophical issues.
Nevertheless, Graham points out many
eminent scientists and scholars continued
to write on dialectical materialism and
attempt to show that system of thought
could help to illuminate issues in their
own disciplines.  In other words they
continued to take dialectical materialism
seriously as a philosophy even when
it was not mandatory for them to bother
with it as a means for winning support
for their work.  

Graham in discussing the Soviet dialectical
materialists of the 1970s and 1980s
distinguishes between two schools or
tendencies: the "ontologists" and the
"epistemologists."  The latter was a
tendency that emerged in the post-Stalin
era which attempted to draw clear distinctions
between scientific issues and philosophical
issues.  In effect, they were attempting to
elaborate Marxist and dialectical materialist
defenses of the autonomy of scientific
disciplines in order to curb the sort of
state interference and censorship that
was characteristic of the Stalin era.
These philosophers and scientists 
argued that the proper concern of the
philosophy of science was with issues
of epistemology, logic, scientific
methodology, and cognition.  In their
view, it was not the place for dialectical
materialism as a world view to pronounce
on scientific issues like what was the best
theory of the origins of the cosmos, or
what was the best theory of heredity.
Those were issues that were best left
to researchers in the appropriate disciplines,
rather than to dialectical materialist philosophers.
The attempt to link Marxism to specific theories
concerning these issues was in their view
bad both for science and for Marxism.

The "epistemologists" seem to have been
more open to influences from the West.
Thus, the philosopher Engels Matveevich
Chudinov (yes, he was named after
Marx's sidekick), attempted in his writings
to work out a sophisticated Marxist
epistemology which would take into
account the work of such Western philosophers
as Rescher, Popper, Kuhn, Lakatos, Russell,
Carnap, Quine and Godel amongst others.

Igor Naletov's work *Alternatives to Positivism*
(Naletov is not mentioned at all by Graham)
seems to have been written from a similar

The "ontologists" clung to a more traditional
understanding of dialectical materialism in
which diamat was seen as "the most general
science of nature and society."  For these
dialectical materialists, the dialectics of nature
was thought to be of critical importance.  They
argued that there were dialectical laws that
could be seen as operating at all levels of
the organization of matter in the inorganic
and organic nature that is studied by chemists,
physicists, and biologists.  And these dialectical
laws can also be seen as operating at the
levels of the human psyche and human society.

In this book, Professor Graham delineates the
shifts in the influence of these two schools within
the former Soviet Union during the 1960s, 1970s
and 1980s.  As he saw it, for a number of years,
the "epidemiologists" were gaining influence
within Soviet academic circles, especially as
older philosophers and scientists from the
Stalin era began to retire or die off. however,
by the early 1980s the "ontologists" began to
regain some lost ground with the emergence
of a new generation of scholars who sought
to breathe new life into more traditional forms
of diamat.  Graham points out that the "ontologists"
benefited from the fact that their formulations
of dialectical materialism were closer to the
simplified formulations that were taught in
most Soviet schools and institutions of higher
education.  He suggests that by the mid-1980s
the debate between the "epistemologists" and
the "ontologists" was winding down.

Loren Graham is  a professor of the history of
science, at MIT (http://web.mit.edu/lrg/www/graham.htm)
and is the author of many other books on science
and technology in the former Soviet Union
including his 1993 book *The Ghost of the
Executed Engineer* about the Soviet engineer.
Peter Palchinsky, who executed under Stalin

Jim F.

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