What is the most misunderstood thing about materialism


that philosophical view which - in opposition to idealism - asserts matter as the primary and determining factor in relation to the spirit or the idea. Since its inception, philosophy has had to ask itself this fundamental question, whether matter is more substantial than spirit or whether it is more substantial than matter, and since then philosophers have repeatedly given preference to one or the other direction. Such designs are not very convincing, which try to reduce one of the two moments linearly to the other or helplessly stop at a dualism of both and only try to prove some kind of interaction between the two. More appropriate are those conceptions that have sought to explain a dialectical relationship between the two moments, whereby the priority of one of the two over the other must be shown, or, to put it another way, based on the dualism of material and spiritual that is given to every direct experience When solving this problem, the central question emerges as how what is considered to be primary determines the other as its other. As an example, we would first like to point out that overcoming the problem that was attempted at the end of the 18th century in the context of German idealism and that found its conclusion in the objective idealism of Hegel and, as a reaction to it, in the dialectical M. von Marx and Engels.

(1) The transcendental philosophy, which goes back to Kant's Copernican turn in epistemology - according to which the objects of knowledge have to submit to the knowledge-constitutive conditions of the knowing subject and not the other way around - and formulated by himself in the most differentiated form is faced with the task of every act of knowledge First to bridge the constitutive gap between subject and object, i.e. to give an answer to how the subject (mind, consciousness) assures itself of its object (material object). The young Schelling then abandons this endeavor and exposes in his natural philosophy as a complementary question how matter is potentiated up through the various stages of the natural process to spirit (and thus to the possibility of self-knowledge), if you will, so how the object arrives at its subject. While Kant ultimately got stuck in dualism, at least with regard to his theoretical philosophy, Schelling's undertaking can later be deciphered as a significant step in the context of dialectical materialism. In contrast to both complementary approaches, Hegel finally succeeds in finding a solution to the problem that is satisfactory in accordance with the definition of the task and, in terms of the degree of systematic stringency, also in the following unsurpassed solution. Knowing that starting with the given subject-object split can at best escalate this gap, but never overcome it in a satisfactory way, Hegel constructs from the outset an identical subject-object as the subject of that dialectical process, in the course of which the absolute idea that is initially in itself alone alienated itself into nature and history, in order to then come to the realization in the process of the constitution of self-consciousness in the forms of absolute spirit that it was itself in the changing forms of logic, nature and history, who has gone through this path and now recognizes itself in the process of reflection as this identical subject-object. In the system of such a dialectical idealism, Hegel was able to answer the fundamental question of philosophy in a convincing way in favor of a primacy of spirit over material ("so that everything that is called matter, as much as it suggests independence to the idea, is recognized as something that is dependent on spirit «[encyclopedia § 389, addition]) and at the same time set the standard for a materialistic solution to the problem, which, in its dialectical configuration, is now also indicated, both from its own undialectical prehistory and from the - in their opinion - idealistic distortion of the relationship between matter and spirit had to emancipate and depose.

(2) As for this "prehistory" of the dialectical M. or, from a different perspective, the history of the M., it has often been divided into the two main groups of a "metaphysical" and a "classical" M. metaphysical essentially belongs to antiquity and the classical has its central place in the French Enlightenment of the 18th century, but already started in the succession of the Cartesian philosophy and especially in the 19th century to the so-called "scientific" M. mutated. However, it remains questionable whether the metaphysical M., which is supposed to subsume the pre-Socratic, Ionian natural philosophy in particular, can be addressed as M. in the real sense in this regard, although the atomic theory of Democritus is a prime example of reducing the existing variety of phenomena to a uniform one appears to be material substance. It should be remembered, however, that neither the four primordial elements nor the atoms of Democritus and also not the "indeterminate" of Anaximander should denote what is purely material, separated from all spiritual elements, as otherwise also the more immaterial, such as the "being" of Parmenides, Heraclitsus "Logos" or the "nous" of Anaxagoras should not yet be misunderstood as pure spirit. The still far-reaching undifferentiation into purely material and purely spiritual that is addressed thereby becomes clear when one - not without referring to Aristotle beforehand - in which matter is also not thought of as pure matter, but always as formed matter subject to form - places it in the horizon of classical M., who owes its concept of matter to the Cartesian demixing of the world substance in res extensa and res cogitans, which determined the entire epoch of modern times. Only this fundamental subject-object split, with which Descartes proves himself to be a pure dualist and for a long time blocks the mind-matter problem from being dealt with dialectically, expresses the secret of the success of modern natural science, which became historically powerful in the 17th century, by the object that cleanses nature of all spiritual, even mysterious, potencies and reduces it to the properties of expansion and movement. In this way, nature becomes pure, atomized matter, which submits without residue to the mental, especially mathematical, access of the subject and has to submit to its claim to control. Although Descartes is not one of the materialists (after preliminary work by Gassendi and Hobbes the French Diderot, Lamettrie and d'Holbach belong to the core of the classical M.), he nevertheless prepared the ground for them and laid the foundation for the subsequent mechanistic M. who claims to explain not only inanimate nature, but also organic, even human beings and the state, according to the model of the clock on wheels, whereby a gradation should consist solely of the degree of complexity. In this context, the so-called Laplace demon has achieved fame, of which its author believed that all future lies before him, provided he only - one day - has the appropriate computing capacity available for the energy and momentum of the moving atoms which the world here seems to have been brought back to the corresponding calculation.

(3) The mechanistic view of the world, which has been taken to extremes here, has not withstood the growing theoretical requirements in the course of scientific research, both in physics (thermodynamic statistics, electrodynamics) and, in particular, in biology, as the regression of complex organismic or even consciousness-controlled ones has arisen Life processes on an interaction of material corpuscles proceeding according to mechanical laws as too deficient. It is not least this background that - in addition to the other determinants of socio-economic conditions such as the legacy of classical German idealism - the differentiation of the dialectical M. in the second half of the 19th century by Marx (Marx's theory, work, Alienation) and especially then by Engels assigns his special status. The essential novelty, which should be emphasized in this context, is the transfer to social conditions, whereas the classic M. - despite all further promises - could only claim his successes and thus his justification in relation to nature. In a decidedly opposite position to the idealistic "aberrations" of their time in general and to Hegel's idealistic dialectic in particular, as well as in a critical inheritance from Feuerbach's anthropological M., Marx and Engels propagate a conception of history based on "the real production process, namely of proceeding from the material production of immediate life and to understand the form of intercourse associated with this mode of production and generated by it ... in its various stages as the basis of the whole of history and ... all the various theoretical products and forms of consciousness, religion, To explain philosophy, morality, etc. from it and to follow their process of creation from them, where then of course the matter can also be represented in its totality and ... interaction ... "(MEW 3, p. 37 f.). What is remarkable about this passage in the text is that the relationship between (material) being and consciousness is not presented as a one-sided dependence of consciousness on being (this one-sided presentation is always related to the context of a fight against the idealistic perspective), but as a dialectical relationship, in to which material being has primacy over consciousness, but where on the other hand it is conceded that consciousness can have a transformative effect on material living conditions, be it in the knowledge of this mediation or in an alienated form in which consciousness appears to be autonomous . The material living conditions are further developed and driven forward by social work, the concept of which Marx subordinated to the dialectical structure and dynamics adopted from Hegel. Engels then went beyond Marx (Dialectics of nature) to identify this dialectical scheme as a universal law, in such a way that the central category of history, i.e. social work, is no longer to be conceived dialectically, but rather this itself, and beyond that, which precedes it and makes it possible, also already the Natural process as such is subject to a dialectical progression. Even if Engels is assumed to have the praiseworthy intention of getting back to the strand of the classic M. in order to free him from the excessive ambitions of the mechanism, the result of this undertaking must be judged as highly problematic insofar as he, rather than avoiding the pitfalls of mechanistic thinking, it has promoted its universalization. Therefore it is not too surprising that in canonized, orthodox Marxism a universal ideology was made from this foundation, which not only had to take on legitimation functions, but also according to which science and research were organized in "real socialism". - Completely contrary to this orthodox version of the dialectical M. is the project of an undogmatic reconstruction of the materialistic dialectic, which has set itself the task of preparing the dialectical core structure of Marx's theory in the context of its philosophical prehistory from the complete Marxist work, whereby the "vulgar Marxist" mechanization of dialectics introduced by Engels is to be avoided. The focus is on the realization that the social work or practice of people, which Marx placed at the center of his historical materialistic perspective, on the one hand is encroached on by the still more fundamental natural process with regard to this practice, that is, both are in a dialectical mediation relationship, on the other hand knowledge and theoretical exposition not only of this relationship in the form of a dialectical-materialistic theory is itself founded as intellectual work in this social practice and understands itself as a dialectical element of this practice, which in turn encroaches on it.


  • E. Bloch: The problem of materialism, its history and substance. Frankfurt 1972
  • W. Schmied-Kowarzik: To the reconstruction of the materialistic dialectic. In society. Contributions to Marx's theory 11. Frankfurt 1978.