Historical materialism argues that knowledge proceeds on the basis of the way objects and relationships are perceived. Such 'perception' is dependent upon social relationships based on productive relationships.
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The core of historical materialist of scientific knowledge relates knowledge production to class interests. This is summarisd by Marx's statement that all 'hitherto existing history is the history of class conflict'. For some commentators such as Lukacs historical materialism is synonomous the theory of the proletarian revolution. A second important element of historical materialism is praxis conscious practical action.
One of Marx's basic tenets is that history is made by people but people have no control over the history they make. The result is that humanity is alienated from the history it creates.
Ideology serves to legitimate the product of history; the social structures and the underlying relations of production. See Tetley's summary notes Dialectical materialism Introduction Dialectical materialism refers to a particular development of historical materiallsm that owes a lot to the work of Marx. However, it is an area of contention as to whether Marx can be regarded as a dialectical materialist. It has been claimed that Marx never used the term dialectical materialism, nor did he espouse a dialectical materialist position nor did he adopt a dialectical materialst approach.
The assertion of Marx's role in developing dialectical materialism yet not being a dialectical materialist has lead to a confusion over the usage, referents and meaning of the term 'dialectical materialism'. This is resolved by outlining two versions of dialectical materialsm; Marx's dialectical materialism and, post-Marx, Marxist realist materialism. Marx's dialectical materialism Marx's historical materialism is clearly dialectical.
This has lead to the view that Marx developed dialectical materialism. Certainly, Marx lays down the basis of a materialist epistemology and dialectical methodology that relates part to whole both synchronically and diachronically. It is arguable that Marx actually goes beyond historical materialism in his analysis of the interrelationship between superstructure and infrastructure.
It is Marx's analysis of the mediating role of ideology as grounded in the relations of production and contingent upon praxis rather than being false consciousness that transforms his historical materialism into dialectical materialism. However, this is not to say that Marx's dialectical materialism is the same as the mechanical version Marxist realist materialism which emerged after Marx's death and which Lenin was critical of in his development of Marxism which became referred to as Marxist Leninism.
Marxist realist materialism Marxist realist materialism is the general name for the large number of variants of dialectical materialism that have occurred since Marx. The particular features of each variant have been influenced by practical revolutionary and post-revolutionary situations. The central features of post-Marx dialectical thinking reflect the usual materialist and Marxist concerns but go further than Marx in incorporating a dialectical thesis about the physical world.
The development of Marxist realist materialism or Post-Marx dialectical materialism owes a lot initially to Engels and is also sometimes referred to as Engelian dialectical materialism. Marxist realist materialism claims that the material world exists independently of consciousness, however, the converse is not true. The material world is knowable through consciousness because consciousness reflects material reality and the test of truth is practice. The core of Marxist realist materialism is the recognition that thought and matter, subject and object are opposed and also united, i.
Marxist realist materialism not only argues that matter is primary or fundamental, but proposes an Engelian dialectical analysis of the physical world of matter. Dialectical materialism suggests matter is subject to laws but that these are not mechanistic, but are dialectical. The dialectical process is often reduced to the Hegelian dialectic triad of 'thesis, antithesis, synthesis'.
This, however, possibly makes the dialectical materialist approach overly mechanistic. The laws posited by dialectical materialists, however, draw heavily from Hegel.
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They are the law of the interpenetration of opposites i. This aspect of dialectical materialism most clearly distinguishes it from historical materiallsm or Marx's dialectical materialism. See Sayer's analysis of materialism, realism and reflection theory. Sayers defines materialism as:.
A form of realism in which consciousness is not independent of matter and all reality is material. As a term in intellectual history and philosophy, materialism is most often understood as a name for the belief that the immediate physical world is the most important or, at an extreme, the only one that exists. A materialist, accordingly, is one who forswears any belief in a spiritual or otherworldly existence, and thus materialism is commonly opposed to various forms of spiritualism.
It is also, though less often, opposed to philosophies that give mind priority over or significant autonomy from matter; in its insistence that mental states are explicable by physical means, materialism opposes all a priori theories of cognition and all suggestions that minds are something qualitatively different from matter. Materialist beliefs have a long and rich history in Western thought, dating back to the pre- Socratic thinkers of the C5 and C6 BCE and attaining, according to most commentators, mature expression in the Latin works of Epicurus and especially Lucretius, whose long poem De rerum natura 50 BCE expounded the theory that the universe is made up of imperceptibly tiny bits of fundamental matter.
Contemporary readers might be forgiven, then, if they understand materialism as something having to do with an unhealthy obsession with money. Likewise, it is quite possible, after hearing appeals for money from ostensibly charitable religious organizations, to imagine that there must be some connection between denouncing and accruing material wealth. Similarly, theorists of material culture focus on the physical artifacts and built environments of human societies, as a corrective to scholarly disciplines whose understanding of alien or ancient cultures is based largely on the interpretation of texts.
Difference between Materialism and Idealism
It is not the consciousness of men that determines their being, but on the contrary their social being that determines their consciousness. It remains unclear to what extent a materialist approach to history — be it Marxist or non-Marxist — can claim an explanatory power on a par with the disciplines of the physical sciences. Among eC20 philosophical schools, logical positivism claimed the closest allegiance to a scientific sense of materialism, and held on that basis that meaningful statements are only those which can be verified against the world of empirical fact.
The degree to which this proposition is accepted today is, appropriately enough, a function of the degree to which philosophy aspires to the condition of material science. The view that 'material conditions' usually economic and technological factors have the central role in determining social change. The idea that the way in which people provide for their material needs determines or, in general, conditions the relations that people have with each other, their social institutions and prevalent ideas. Furthermore, that the material conditions change over time because of dynamics immanent within them, and that history is a record of the changes in the material conditions of a group's life and of the correlative changes in social relations, institutions and prevalent ideas.
Materialist critique of absolutism. From a materialist point of view absolutism the thesis that there are absolute truths is impossible in the real world see realism. Absolutism involves an assertion that there are truths, this may be done on three broad levels: a. On the first; such a position is disqualified from materialist knowledge as it precludes any necessity for any engagement with the real world. On the second; such elements of material knowledge can only be 'relative', the mediation of experience is culturally and historically specific.
On the third; theoretical structures clearly effect the 'logic' of empirical validation the theory-laden nature of observation on the one hand, and the deductive 'logic' of an 'abstract' analysis is clearly a function of either the theoretical framework, or the assertion of the truth value of premises, or both, on the other. In both cases the cultural specificity of the theory makes the analysis relative.
It would thus appear that material knowledge is necessarily relative knowledge. Indeed, if the opposite of absolute is relative, then this is the case. But, there is nothing 'wrong' with this. The problem is the absurdity of absolutism. It is the product of our evolution just as surely as birds evolved the capacity for flight and dolphins became capable of echolocation. By contrast, idealist philosophies are derived from God-based religious presumptions that give disembodied, intangible deities the power to create and manipulate the material world.
Usually it is some all-knowing, transcendent, creative-destructive entity. We encounter examples of idealist thinking all the time. But there is no evidence that these uncontrollable forces are governed by some cosmic consciousness that transcends the material universe. Nevertheless, some form of religious-philosophical idealism permeates the thinking of most people in every society in the world? I think there is a strong materialist case to be made for the proposition that humans are inclined to favor idealist interpretations of the world. We grow up immersed in a complex social ecology of family, community, and society.
Figuring out what people want or expect from us is extremely important. We will not fare well if we fail to grasp the intentions of our parents, siblings, teachers, bosses, friends and foes—as well as the larger institutions that impact our lives. We all grow up trying to discern and respond to the intentions of the influential people in our lives.
No matter what culture we grow up in, as humans we are trained from infancy to look for the intentions behind the actions, events, and patterns we notice in the world around us. As a preschool teacher I noticed children imbuing consciousness and intent into events with no intent or consciousness behind them. A little girl once told me it was raining because the clouds were sad, and a boy said bees are mean because they sting you. Of course, we adults do the same thing. We imagine visages of the Virgin Mary or Jesus in pieces of toast and tree bark formations.
Psychologists recognize the harm that comes from extreme pathological apophenia. They diagnose those who imagine malignant intentions in the random events of everyday life as paranoid schizophrenics. However, they carefully avoid labeling religion as a culturally constructed, socially accepted form of collective apophenia.
Apophenia is so prevalent it is embedded in everyday language. We say: the sky was angry; the heat was punishing; fate smiled upon you; god willing. Every culture projects non-existent purpose upon unintentional phenomenon. And, when a strange social subgroup adopts its own unusual brand of apophenia, the dominant cultural apophenia labels them a cult or crazy conspiracy theorists.
While the faithful of any religion have little trouble recognizing apophenia in the false gods and fake idols of other religions, they adamantly refuse to recognize apophenia in the imaginary gods whose fictional ears they pray to so fervently themselves. In contrast to philosophical idealism of all varieties, materialism adopts a critical, scientific approach to understanding the world. It tries to investigate and carefully distinguish between unintentional, unconscious events, patterns, and forces and those with some conscious motive behind them.
Materialism requires constant questioning and testing of accepted assumptions and theories in the light of new information and experience. Materialists think idealist, pseudo-explanations short-circuit the search for genuine knowledge about the forces at work in our world.