Theories of Knowledge:
A Dialectical, Historical Critique

Howard L. Parsons

In English, as in other languages, the forms of the word "know" have a range of meanings, some of the primary ones of which may be signified as follows:

(1) To perceive directly, to sense, to "see" (both with eye and mind). To say that I know that this is a desk before me means that I perceive it directly, have a visual image of it. Let us call this perceptual knowledge.

(2) To perceive indirectly, by memory, anticipation, or inference based on previous perception. I know that there is a door behind me insofar as I remember and anticipate it, insofar as my present seeing of desk and floor and ceiling, coupled with memories of the connectedness of desk, floor, ceiling, and door, lead me to infer it. Let us call this inferential knowledge.

(3) To appraise, to judge or know the value of a thing. This kind of knowledge pertains to the value or desired feature of a thing; the verb "to value" means to have knowledge, prospective or immediate or retrospective, of the valued feature of a thing, as the verb "to perceive" means to have knowledge of the perceptual feature of a thing.

(4) To grasp, to be in contact with, to have at one's finger tips. Such knowledge comes by touching and exploring things with the hands or other parts of the body and by muscular movement. It is knowledge by direct acquaintance, as are seeing, hearing, and smelling. Let us call it manipulatory knowledge.

(5) To take in, to feel completed or satisfied, to feel certain, to realize or to feel realized. Let us call this consummatory knowledge.

(6) To engage in interaction with things, so that perception, inference, manipulation, and consummation interact and progressively unite to create knowledge. Let us call this dialectical knowledge.

Most theories of knowledge build themselves up by selecting one or more of these first four forms of knowledge as their base and by neglecting or subordinating the others. Empiricism bases itself on perception, rationalism on inference, pragmatism on manipulation, mysticism on consummation. Such theories are not pure and disinterested descriptions, in spite of their disclaimers to the contrary. They are decisions to define and confine knowledge in a certain form as demanded by personal and social conditions and to direct knowledge toward certain values. The theory of dialectical knowledge begins with a conscious awareness of this limitation in the other theories of [1/2] knowledge and a conscious recognition that all theories of knowledge side with certain interests and groups in society. At the same time it holds that all instances of knowledge and of theories of knowledge reflect objective as well as subjective conditions and that an adequate account of each kind of knowledge would not only expose the personal and social roots of the various forms of knowledge but would also reveal its place in the total dialectical process of knowledge. In what follows, therefore, we shall analyze and criticize these partial theories of knowledge from a dialectical perspective.

George Herbert Mead described the act of an organism, beginning with an impulse and terminating in its satisfaction, as consisting of three phases—the perceptual, manipulatory, and consummatory. [1] First the organism perceives the object(s) and features of the environment relevant to its impulse or need; then it acts upon these objects in appropriate ways; and finally it experiences the qualities of the object(s) associated with the fulfillment of its impulse. Charles Morris has pointed out that these three phases of the act are correlated with the requirements of action (obtaining information, action on object by specific behavior, and selection of objects for preferential behavior), with the dimensions of signification (designative, prescriptive, and appraisive); and with the dimensions of value (detachment, dominance, dependence). [2]

Both these accounts, however, are incomplete, and we propose to revise them accordingly:

Stages of Action

Action Requirements

Dimensions of Signifying


Dimensions of Value

Body Instruments



Readiness to respond to object




Specialized organs (stomach, etc.) and whole organism



Selection of objects for preferential behavior

Prospective appraisive

Anticipated reinforcing
properties of object




Obtaining information


Stimulus properties
of object


Eyes, ears, and other sense receptors


Ordering information


Order of sign‑responses


Cerebral cortex



Action on object by subject


Act as instrument


Skeletal-muscular system; hand



Being acted on by object


Effect of object


Specialized organs and whole organism



Storage of information




Consider a primitive situation. (The trouble with most theories of knowledge is that they begin with refined situations—Descartes began with his religious doubts and Wittgenstein with his bourgeois melancholia. We can learn more if we look at the behavior of an animal, a peasant, or a child.) Consider, then, a primitive situation, e.g., a man motivated by a primary or unlearned need such as hunger. Such a need in the very young infant or in the adult normally is accompanied by an increased perceptual alertness to the environment and initial exploratory movements toward that environment. (These develop into later stages of the act.) If in that situation signs are produced to signify what is going on, they are gestures or sounds that indicate an organism dependent on, subject to, the deprivation in the organism and the environment. The typically passive "I am hungry" in English and other languages shows this state. The deprivation is situational. A baby's cry of hunger, an initial reflex which is consequent upon hunger pangs and which quickly becomes a learned sign aimed at relief, signifies a demand felt in its body, as well as a lack in the environment, and the baby's preparedness to respond to the environment in a certain general kind of way, i.e., to seek food.

A need is not only a state of deprivation conveying its quality as information to the organism; it is also a drive outward to obtain satisfaction and relief. A need is valuation in the relation of organism to environment: the organism drives toward the environment seeking to discover those objects or features of objects that will satisfy its needs (or, over and beyond its primary needs, its secondary learned drives or "interests"). The action of the organism is continuously preferential. It strives toward certain values—in the case of [3/4] hunger, toward certain kinds of food—and away from other values. Here perception, inference, and action come to the aid of the needful organism—or, in biological terms, here the sense receptors, nervous system, and somatic locomotive structures of skeleton and musculature serve the function of serving the needs of the digestive, assimilative viscera. Thus the values toward which it strives are progressively defined in perception, inference, and manipulation. If signs are used to guide this search for and selection of objects of preferential behavior, they are appraisive signs which signify the anticipated reinforcing properties of objects. They reveal that the organism is still dependent on those objects but is on its way to detaching them in perception and controlling them in action.

It should be noted that the organism does not passively wait for the environment to supply the material for its need but that it makes a valuational demand on the environment. It does not wait for the appropriate stimulus but its own need‑initiated activity strives to call out and select the stimulus required. Thus the perceptual phase of the act is implicit in the emergence of need; impulse generates and sustains the working of perception. The organism scans the environment for the appropriate kinds of properties or objects that will elicit a need‑directing and need‑fulfilling response. Inference is implicit in perception, for, through innate Gestalt patterns and conditioning, perceptions become linked in space and time—the sound of the mother means milk, the milk means satisfaction, etc.—and the organism learns to combine these meanings in orders of inference.

In perception and inference, the organism, though continuing to remain dependent on need and environment, becomes to a degree detached from them. It begins to initiate action (preferential, perceptual, inferential, manipulatory) which separates organism from the environment. It begins to select and integrate stimuli as a means of ultimately eating and sustaining its own independent existence in a world of other existences. It ceases to be merely a receptive and needful subject undergoing the influences of objects. It becomes an active, detached agent determining things. The signs used in the perceptual stage are designative: they signify the observable properties of objects. The signs of inference signify how these sign‑responses are linked together in space and time. They connect past, present, and future actions and thus provide a bridge to the anticipated satisfaction. In the case of the hungry infant and adult man such signs are always instrumental to the satisfaction of the primary need of hunger. When survival needs are satisfied, man may of course seek perceptual information, inferential order, action, and values independently of the satisfaction of such needs. But in such cases the search for knowledge is never "neutral" or "disinterested" but is determined by some new value‑drive.

The distance receptors (eyes, ears, and nose) locate the object in space and [4/5] time; perception, however, leaves man detached from the object, and what he normally requires is a more intimate relation with it. Hence he moves toward it, comes into contact with it by means of his hands, moves it, experiences its contact qualities of texture, mass, and size, and begins to control it. At this stage dominance is the principal dimension of value. The signs used in relation to this stage of action are signs prescribing a certain course of action to be taken by the needful subject. Such signs, like the action which they signify, are instrumental to securing control over the object of such kind and degree that it is transformed from an object preferred, perceived, and inferred to an object satisfying a need. The manipulatory phase of the act is a transition from such distant, anticipatory knowing through the knowing of contact to the knowing of fulfillment. It is the transition from dependence and detachment through dominance to a new form of dependence. For in the initial stage of a needful dependence on the environment the organism depends on the environment in two ways—its need is a function of an immediate lack in the environment in relation to it, and its need is also required to move out into the environment to find its relief there. In the final stage of consummation, however, the organism enjoys what has been supplied through its action and that of the environment. It has passed from anticipated value to realized value. Thus its signs do not appraise the value‑properties of the object in prospect but rather express the value as qualities or relations immediately experienced and enjoyed. Such signs are expressive not of lack but of a fulfillment, not of a dependence whose lack is to be overcome but of a dependence within which satisfaction has been realized.

In the process of knowing, therefore, the knowing subject and the known object evolve in relation to one another and pass through definite stages in their mutual creation of one another. Knowing in the full sense is a field defined by the activity of a needful subject upon an object that eventually "meets" or "fills" that need by successively appropriate responses. Subject and object are mutually dependent, dominant, and detached, but these relations undergo shifts from the first through the last stages of the knowing act. We have observed how the subject is at first dependent on the object through its deprivation: to be deprived means to lack something that the environment might provide and thus to be dependent on it. In order to satisfy its need the subject remains dependent on the object insofar as it must accommodate its actions to the object's position and features. And in the final, consummatory stage, it reveals its dependence on the object even if it destroys it. Reciprocally, the object is dependent on the subject for its definition in the knowing relation, and this definition advances through various stages of the knowing process.

Though one theory of knowledge common in the West pictures the object as passive and the subject as active, the fact is that the object in its relation [5/6] to a progressively knowing subject continuously exercises influence or dominance over the subject through its qualities revealed in the preferential, perceptual, inferential, and manipulatory activities of the subject. The subject in turn, as it moves from vague awareness to perceptual and manipulatory action upon the environmental object and finally to a consummatory experience, exercises various kinds of dominance over the object.

Through this dynamic relation of subject and object, also, both retain their independence or detachment, though the detachment of the subject like its dominance and dependence is of a different kind from that of the object. That is, the subject is a needful being driven to deal with the object in such ways as will fulfill its need. In the end, of course, it may destroy the object if it eats and digest it, for example, or if it uses it as raw material for making another product (a tree for lumber) or for creating energy (coal into electrical power).

Where the knowing relation is between one human being and another, the dialectical relation is still more complicated. What happens when a knowing subject attempts to treat another knowing subject as an object is much more complex than the relation between a man and a piece of food, as Sartre has pointed out. [3] It is significant that in English the meaning that most clearly conveys the dialectical sense of "to know" is that of sexual intercourse—a person‑to‑person relation in which the interactional character of knowing is most vividly disclosed. In the present account, however, I have omitted such considerations in order to streamline what is said.

Theories of knowledge frequently pick out one or two of these phases of the total knowing process and accentuate them as knowledge. They thus simultaneously reveal some things about knowing and omit other things. Such theories are themselves functions of personal and social conditions which limit knowledge as well as theories about knowledge. Let us look at some of these theories.

Mysticism, as a theory which holds that knowing transcends sense perception and reason, emphasizes the immediacy of the consummatory experience. It brushes aside as preliminary or unimportant the prior stages of need, preference, perception, inference, and manipulation. It disdains the dialectical struggle of knowledge. It maintains that man can and does intuitively and directly know the object—or more accurately, "realize" it, since the mystic believes that the subject becomes identical with the object and becomes fulfilled or realized through this absorption and identification. The language of mysticism expresses this identity.

There was a child went forth every day,
And the first object he look'd upon, that object
he became. [4]


In the words of the Svetasvatra Upanishad,

Thou art the fire,
Thou art the sun,
Thou art the air,
Thou art the moon . . . [5]

Where the object of mystical knowledge is the totality of being, then the language from a strictly and traditionally logical point of view may appear contradictory:

That while It [God] possesses all the positive
attributes of the universe. . . ., yet in a stricter
sense It does not possess them . . . . [6]

Zen uses “the sound of one hand clapping.” [7] This contradictoriness not only expresses the multiplicity of the world; it also breaks down in perception and thought the pre‑established orderliness that interferes with the pristine insight desired. [8]

The advocates of mysticism point toward the knowledge that precedes, subtends, and follows the perception and conceptions learned through the symbols of culture. They indicate the limitations and rigidities of such modes of knowing. They are anti‑utilitarian and anti‑theoretical. Though they frequently refer to a "transcendental" or "supersensible" realm, the fact is that they want to return to those neuro‑muscular‑glandular responses of the body that yield directly the unstructured qualities of things—the flow of qualities that arise when the bio‑chemical‑electrical processes of the human body interact with the processes external to it. Since at this level the nervous system including the brain does not distinguish stimulus from response or subject from object, it may be literally affirmed that the knower is identical with what is known—the quality as felt is indiscriminable from the quality of events, for there is no way of drawing a sharp line between the processes affecting the body from the outside and the processes going on inside the body. The vaunted mystical "ecstasy"—"standing outside" the ordinary self—is explainable if we understand that the body ceases to be dominated by the learned structures of perceptual and conceptual responses that define its mind and personality and opens itself to the flow of processes and qualities from within the body and beyond it. The mystical knowledge of this sublinguistic reality is "ineffable" in the sense that it originates independently of the filter of linguistic meanings and also in the sense that no experienced quality can be translated into language without loss.

Mysticism is sometimes allied with intuitionism, which holds that knowledge [7/8] is possible which is sudden and immediate, without the intervention of reason or action. Often such intuitive knowledge is identified with the knowledge of self‑evident, innate ideas or principles, as in Descartes. Yet for the mystic there is no traffic with discursive ideas (the mystical "thing" is "ineffable"), no meeting of subject and object, no concern with demonstration. There is simply a realization of what is already present, a remembrance or a return to a being or self‑knowledge. For Eckhart, for example, God is the pure soul, empty of all sensations and thought, and is "born" when man withdraws from all activities of the soul. [9] To realize the quality of God is to realize the quality of one's own soul. And here "to realize" means to be as well as to know. Such knowledge, like intuitive knowledge, requires no empirical or rational proof; it is self‑evident.

Mysticism obliquely expresses truths about certain aspects of man's knowing situation. First, it must be understood that the mystic's need is not a need whose continuance would lead to death, like the needs for food, liquid, bodily safety, etc. It is not a need, moreover, which on the face of it requires dominant action upon the environment. It is a need for a feeling of qualitative unity, of inner peace, of freedom from conflict and anxiety. The need for the mystical way arises chiefly in persons whose creature needs have been met, who are dissatisfied with the established ways of perceiving and thinking about the world, and who seek a unitary and "happy" way of living. Mysticism frequently emerges among such persons as a reaction against the dry, stiff orthodoxy of traditional religion. (Large numbers of hungry and cold people may have a disposition toward the mystical way as an escape from their troubles; but their hunger and their coldness will prevent them from sustaining a systematic pursuit of mystical bliss. This pursuit is reserved for the privileged classes, though the need may remain among the whole population.)

Whereas such religions or other institutions of culture prescribe certain kinds of thoughts and actions as solutions to man's problems, mystics propose to redefine the problem itself: man's problem lies within rather than without. The mystical solution to the problem of this need, therefore is not the preferential action of conscious perception, inference, and manipulation, but just the opposite—the attitude of turning inward. The mystic rejects the paths of dominance over the environment and of detached thought as instrumental to that dominance. His attitude is one of receptivity to qualities immediately felt and lying below the level of intentional sensations, images, and ideas. His rejection of external activity and thought leads him to the "emptiness" so commonly spoken of in mystical literature. His affirmation of receptivity leads him to a dependence on the processes below consciousness—mistakenly identified by him in the past as "transcendental". Here there is a sense of qualitative unity, of freedom from the constrictions, repressions, [8/9] and conflicts of cultural conditions, of positive joy and peace.

The truth obliquely expressed by mysticism is that man is dependent, sublinguistic, and unitary.

In the first stage of man's knowing situation, man is a dependent creature subject to the deprivation within himself and the possibilities of the environment for relief. As a needful being, man is a nullity preparatory to being filled. The mystic magnifies this state of dependence and emptiness. But for him the way to fulfill his need is not the arduous path of interaction with objects but the path of cultivating dependence à outrance and falling back upon the resources within. Often the "One" of the mystic is referred to as lying "beyond" in some supernatural metaphysical sense; but what is meant behaviorally is that the solution to the mystical problem lies beyond the domain of percepts and symbolic meanings. Thus the mystic moves from the dependence of need to the dependence in fulfillment. Man needs to find a feeling of unity. Where shall he seek? Not in the external world of dominance but in the internal world where he is dependent on a power that cannot be commanded or controlled but can be submitted to. What is that? The mystics variously call it Soul, Light, Divinity, etc. We call it the unity of biological process prior to all acculturation. There is a "wisdom of the body" built up over the billions of years of evolutionary life. Every cell possessed the power to distinguish the identity and difference, the relative proportions, of the two situations. [10] Summated in tissues, organs, and systematic connections, such cells in massed billions maintain an inner homeostatic balance and adjust the body by instinct and reflex to the environing world. If our conscious life of sensations, images, and ideas runs contrary to those processes, we are unhappy; if we are guided by those sublinguistic propulsions, if we depend on them as the principal propulsions of our life, then we may be happy. Such propulsions include the basic biological urges like hunger and thirst as well as the drive to create inclusive orders as manifested in play, art, science, and technology. The mystic who recovers this primordial and self‑evident knowledge is apt to use a language expressive of his dependence and his sense of consummatory quality in which the divisions within the self have been dissolved.

In their accounts, however, the mystics usually speak as if this unitary, intuitive, sublinguistic knowledge—"an elemental form of the body" [11] were a final stage of knowledge and as if nothing more remained to be done by man; or as if the deeds inspired by mystical love will be necessarily right. [12] But the truth is that this consummatory sense of power conferred by the vividness and immediacy of bodily feeling is only the first stage in the quest for knowledge that leads man through a number of stages in his exchange with the world. The mystic confuses his feeling of confidence with the feeling of success; he confuses partial knowledge—the immediate knowledge of [9/10] funded quality—with the totality of knowledge; he confuses one step with the whole dialectical process.

Mystics have been both reactionary and progressive in their social attitudes and consequences. Plotinus (204‑270) whose life saw the rise and fan of thirteen Roman emperors, was in flight from imperial decay: the dark world of chaotic, evil matter must be put behind in favor of the soul's contemplation of the eternal One. The Platonic tradition (through the Timaeus) and Neo‑Platonic thought provided the ideology for post‑Roman and feudal society; and with its revival in the 12th and 13th centuries via Arabian commentators, and translations of Proclus, mysticism took on new life. But under new conditions and in the hands of Meister Eckhart (c. 1260‑1327) it took a radical turn. Eckhart criticized the orthodoxy of empty formulas and actions; for that he substituted the inner power of man. Unlike Plotinus, he did not stress the distance of God from man or man's fall; he repeatedly affirmed the presence of God in man and the power of man to become the "virgin wife" of God and bear Jesus within. [13] He replaced passivity and complacency with an active will; God as external, with God as internal; good works, with love. It is true that much of his protest was indirect and symbolic: "aristocracy" became the aristocracy of the soul, "poverty" was transformed into spiritual humility, and creativity was interpreted as fructification of man's virgin soul. Nonetheless, the Church detected the scent of heresy there and condemned the teachings of Eckhart. Eckhart did not maintain the sharp distinction between God and man and hence between priest and man, as required by the Church. He reflected the new spirit of religious liberty in the land, a spirit that expressed itself in the secular piety of church-building, charitable works, cooperative communities like the Brothers of the Common Life, and ecstatic groups striving to convert the world to evangelical poverty. [14] All of these movements represented a disaffection of the common people and the petite bourgeoisie with the ruling order—a "detachment," as Eckhart put it, [15] from all ownership of ideas and hence from all ties to an economic and social order that was rapidly breaking up and giving way to a new one. That new order was early capitalism. With his positive appraisal of man's power, sensitivity, freedom, and divinity, Eckhart was the unconscious herald of that new order. Like growing numbers of serfs, small landholders, merchants, burghers, artisans, clergy, and monks, he found the rules of feudal life binding. Eckhart's "birth of God" in the soul of man expressed a new springtide of hope in men. This springtide found its full secular voice in Petrarch, who was [23] when Eckhart died, and in the subsequent Italian Risorgimento.

The German mystics, like the Italian humanists, spoke in the voice of their own native language—an act that was in itself a break with the feudal Church. Men sought new ideologies as alternatives to the static, superstitious [10/11] ideology of the Church. Nominalism and extreme Platonic realism, moderate philosophies like those of Thomas Aquinas, humanism and naturalism, and mysticisms all vied for the loyalties of men. From the close of the 11th century  to the middle of the 16th century, mystical and apocalyptic views were common among the uneducated masses [16]; and in the 12th and 14th centuries the wage‑earning weavers in Flanders and Florence, subjected to the uncertainties of an international market, turned to communism and mysticism. [17] The mysticism of the friars and monks was a reflection of this general mood, seeking certainty in a time of change.

As a theory of knowledge and of reality, mysticism is false. It absolutizes a moment in man's interaction with the world—the sense of qualitative unity. It statically identifies that moment with reality and with knowledge. It destroys the distinction between man and the world and obliterates the dialectic between them. Mysticism is the practice and ideology of men bent on escape from their conflicts and struggles in the real world. It is a flight of the attention from continuous intercourse with things, events, and people to concentration on a single quality or experience. It is a flight of fantasy insofar as it elaborates a theory in defense of this flight in practice. In the Western Christian Church heretical movements have often been associated with mysticism because it represented a counter‑movement against abstract and verbal orthodoxy. But it remained an alienated protest against the ruling form of alienation, a religious answer to a religious mistake. That mistake, especially in Western supernaturalism but also in various forms and mysticism, is the division and falsification of reality in thought. Things and events are interpreted as static, fixed, and isolated from one another, with no real interpenetration, conflict, development, or qualitative change. Such an interpretation serves the interest of the ruling class, which wishes to keep things and classes as they are, and to avoid conflict, change, and development into a new kind of class society or into a classless society. Mysticism perpetuates this mistake by emphasis on an experience which presumes to absorb and transform (aufheben) all parts and conflicts into a final and unified whole. But the mistake of mysticism is that while the world is felt to be unified, it goes on, in separated processes that interact and change without ceasing, outside the skin of the mystic.

The mystic, like other religious mentalities who believe the world can be transcended permanently, fears the isolation of his self and strives to overcome it not by action or contemplation but by passive absorption into an "inclusive" reality. He is fearful of the autonomous activity of the self and its interaction with the world and others. So he engages in a flight from the "empirical" self into the "real" self in which the problem of self in conflict with others is solved by an eternal harmony. The mystic is a tender‑minded person desirous of reducing everything to the eternal "Now‑moment," in [11/12] Eckhart's word. [18]

Thus Eckhart's mysticism, like all radical mysticisms, had its conservative side. Eckhart desired to go backward, both in history and in the development of the individual person, to the more primitive stage of action, the stage of dependence on nature and man and the enjoyment of this state of dependence. Such a life of mystical ecstasy and enjoyment is possible for a child or for a monk or nun or bourgeois who does not have to work or to worry about where his next meal is coming from. In the middle ages it was possible also for the wandering bands of the "Free Spirit" [19] who intensely believed in the super‑reality of the spiritual world and got their meals by begging or plundering or waiting on the grace of the Lord to provide.

For most people, however, the demands of the hungry stomach and the cold or tired body were imperative and irresistible. Drawn off the land to the new medieval towns by a forcible separation from their means of production, men sought work either by means of their own craft tools (the guilds emerged) or through labor for others. Weaving industries developed in Flanders and Italy. Merchants separated from manufacturers. By the 17th century trade dominated, only to be displaced by the great advance in capitalistic industry in the 19th century. This long movement from feudalism to capitalism was a shift from a pervasive orientation of receptivity and dependence to one of activity and dominance. The perceptual, inferential, and manipulatory phases of the act came to the fore and were greatly elaborated. "Science" as it developed in western Europe and America—the spirit of the "Renaissance"—was in fact the exploitation of nature through observation, reason, and manipulative action carried to a high degree under the dominance of a ruling capitalist class. Thomas Aquinas (c. 1225‑1274) more than Eckhart prepared the minds of men for this new world, for he acknowledged the existence and activities of the particular things of nature. Yet Thomas in his theory of knowledge relied primarily on revelation and reason.

The empirical‑rational theory associated with modern science had its origins in the formative period of the urban revolution that challenged and eventually replaced European feudalism. This challenge reflected itself in various movements of thought, each expressive of a particular stage in the rise and decline of the feudalist system. Between the fall of the Roman Empire and the rise of feudalism in the 9th century, other‑worldly theologies like those of Augustine, Pseudo-Dionysius, and Boethius dominated the thought of European men. In this world-view, a supernatural God reigns over the world with perfect and total power, and man, dependent on God, could know and obey him only through faith in the revelation conveyed to him by the Church.

The first ideological challenge to this came in a form already alive in the tradition of Christianity, namely, mysticism. For Augustine himself had [12/13] asserted the possibility of the individual's direct experience of God. In the 9th century John Scotus Eriugena revived this Neo‑Platonic strain, asserting that man, created by God and fallen into flesh, may return to God and become spiritually identified with him once more. Eriugena also affirmed the essential identity of reason and revelation. In both his mysticism and his rationalism, he revealed the emotional and intellectual germs of a new society whose philosophy would find its culmination four centuries later in Thomas Aquinas.

After Eriugena, in the llth century, a signal social change began to occur. Merchant colonies had grown to sizeable towns in Northern Italy, Provence, and Flanders. Such conditions, dislocating the peasant from his previously stable relations, produced a luxuriant growth of dissident philosophies both those within the Church and those outside, such as the views of the heretical Cathari, Waldensians, and adepts of the Free Spirit. Heretofore most men had questioned the authority of the Church. Now it was openly challenged by its own thinkers. [20] Roscellinus (c. 1050‑1122) asserted that universals exist only in our minds—a view that implicitly deprived the Church of authority and threw it back upon the individual. Ironically some who undertook to combat this individualism, such as William of Champeaux and Alan of Lille, went themselves in the direction of pantheism—which is simply individualism writ large and cosmically sanctioned. But the mood of men was increasingly naturalistic and secular, and the new emphasis on concrete, individualized experience got support from the new artisans of the cities, the artists, and the merchants dealing with particular customers and monetary problems. The assertion that particulars possess an individuality in their own right was taken up, in moderated form, by Abelard in the 12th century and Thomas Aquinas in the 13th. A contemporary of Thomas, Roger Bacon, with his phrase, "experimental science," by which he meant both experiment and mathematics, adumbrated the essential features of 16th century science. Later in the same century Duns Scotus interpreted individuals as "contractions" of their species essence—a step in the direction of the rationalism of the Renaissance which fused reason and nature. But in Occam, who argued in the 14th century that individuals alone are real and who dispensed with universals save as convenient fictions, empiricism reached its zenith, to be equaled in its severity only in Hume and logical positivism. Such nominalism proceeded apace with nascent capitalism struggling against the "universals" of a feudal order which, in spite of Thomas Aquinas' noble efforts to save it, threatened to engulf the individual and his power to manipulate and change things.

This development among the nominalists also paralleled the increasingly bold claims of the mystics. Both turned away from dry formulas and dialectics to "experience." Both insisted on seeing for themselves and knowing by [13/14] themselves. Both made the individual primary in their theories of reality and knowledge. Of course mysticism had been a continuous strand in the practice of Christianity since its beginning. But it had been passive and contained; the mystic at most dared to assert that finite man might know infinite God—never that he might become God. But Eckhart, bridging the 13th and 14th centuries, reversed the whole relation of man to God. Traditional theology held that man is board by and in God. Eckhart flatly stated that God is born in man (as Christ) and that thus man becomes God. Eckhart's identification of God with man's deepest soul had its counterpart in the view of his contemporary, Duns Scotus, that each individual man is the contraction of the universal of humanity. By thus transforming God, the feudal object, into a subject, and by identifying that subject with man, this mysticism undermined the oppression of pre‑feudal and feudal dualism. Against the heteronomy of feudalism, its own radical autonomy—more active and affirmative than the subservient mysticism with the Church—opened the way for both rationalism and empiricism.

Along with nominalism (empiricism) and mysticism, rationalism also expressed the discontent of men with the authoritarianism of the Church. It signified the shift of men from an agrarian to an urban and technological society, from social relations determined by kinship and tradition to social relations determined by self‑direction and performance. Of course this shift was long in occurring and is still occurring in parts of the western world. It is ordinarily accompanied by the use of "reason," that is, an attack upon traditional religion with its esoteric claims and an appeal to a more general standard. For the supernaturalistic, authoritarian, élitist claims of that religion it substitutes a more general standard, namely, reliance on innate truths known to all in the society plus recourse to the rules of logic in deducing from these truths a coherent body of truths. In the 9th century, at the dawn of feudalism, Eriugena gave to reason equal power with revelation. As feudal society developed and generated within itself the seeds of capitalism, reason as a secular (social, demonstrative) method came into increasing use. It became, in fact, under the medieval scholastics, the primary method of secular proof, supplemented by the method of faith and revelation. (Thomas Aquinas argued that while God could be proved by reason, most men did not have ability, time, or interest to follow the arguments and so had to rely on revelation.) [21] Rationalism functioned as the defender of the faith, fighting off skepticism, nominalism, empiricism, and mysticism.

This alliance of reason with faith was well established. As a method which provides premises or conclusions independently of sense experience, reason had been used by Christianity since the first century. As a priori, reason has been a handmaiden of faith. Against the challenge of empirical and mathematical science from the 16th century onward, theologians more and [14/15] more associated the "reason" of nature with the "reason" of God. Bruno, Descartes, Leibniz, Berkeley, Kant, Hegel—all of them rationalists—became the great defenders of religion.

But reason, as we now know, is a method which is not required in its own nature to be tied to any particular set of premises. It is a matter of indifferent to reason as logical procedure whether it begins with theistic, atheistic, or agnostic premises. Premises come from man interacting with the conditions of his environment. Such conditions change as the form of the society changes. Thus "reason" changes and produces different conclusions.

The chief change from feudalism to capitalism was the shift from an other-worldly to a this-worldly perspective. "Experience" defined the new orientation. When Roger Bacon (c. 1214-1294), who realized the importance of mathematics in understanding the world, insisted that all knowledge must be grounded on and tested by experience and deliberate experiment, he anticipated the whole new era of secular science and capitalism. His emphasis on "experience"—influenced by the growing technology of the time—introduced a challenge and an alternative to the premises of traditional rationalism. Let us reason, he said—but let us reason about what we observe in nature. As men turned more and more to nature, they tended to fuse reason with it, either by means of mysticism or mathematics or both. Leonardo da Vinci viewed the universe as the rational design of God which man's timid might trace. We find the same idea exemplified in Paracelsus, Bruno, Campanella, and others. Among such thinkers rationalism was a bridge between the old religious faith and the new discovery of experience. But the capitalists did not require a belief in God, and in time the ideologists who reflected secularism also found that their "reason" might be detached from the feudal premise of God and simply become an instrument in understanding and controlling the course of nature. Occam's belief that the motion of bodies requires no external cause was echoed in Galileo's physics; and if nature is autonomous, so must be the rational forms which characterize it. Thus as at first God was made coterminous or identified with nature (by his "reason"), for an increasing number of thinkers God was separated from nature or eliminated entirely. The early materialists and empiricists, like Bacon, Hobbes, and Gassendi, paid only passing notice to the Deity. By the time when 18th century French materialism had arrived, atheism had become explicit. The epistemic pattern for this philosophy had been formulated by Occam in the 14th century: only those propositions are true which describe the sensible or which constitute inferences logically drawn from sensible propositions. This pattern has received its fullest exemplification in the activity of capitalistic science.

As capitalism grew, feudalism shrank, and secularism waxed while religion waned. The timid mysticism, submissiveness, and contemplation of the feudal [15/16] era lost relevancy. Under capitalism men were compelled to confront things in their immediate perceptual qualities—preferably, those seemingly stable and "primary" qualities of size, shape, solidity, etc. which a merchant and manufacturer could count on not changing from place to place and time to time. A capitalist had to know not only the qualities of things but also their order required for his effective transactions with them. So a merchant

recorded his transactions in the marketplace, kept track of the stock on hand, noted the comings and goings of ships, followed the reports and letters of far‑flung agents, calculated the risks on future investments, and eventually in insurance reduced to predictable regularity the chances of death, fire, and physical accidents. [22]

To perceive the qualities of things and to know the orders that they followed, so that one might predict, control, and profit from that perception and knowledge—such was the key to the capitalist conquest of the world, and such became the method of science in the service of capitalists.

The technological and proto‑scientific developments in the middle ages [23] are indicators of a new economy in the making. The principle of the compass had been known since antiquity, but it did not come into use in the Mediterranean West until the 12th century, with the revival of navigation. A glass industry, operating in Venice as early as the 11th century, furnished a new wealthy class with objects d'art and eventually with lenses (which led to Galileo and modern astronomy) and spectacles. The demand for spectacles was greatly accelerated by the use of the movable metal type for printing along with the development of the paper trade. Gutenberg's genius (coupled with paper, which had been used chiefly for the keeping of records) consisted in his skills in artistic design, engraving, metallurgy, mechanics, and chemistry. [24] Perhaps no other invention was so influential in secularizing men, in loosening the power of an esoteric clergy and aristocracy and making accessible to others the power of ideas and their communication. Printing quickly became a profitable business; but the perceptual and orderly qualities of the printed page also pleased the businessman's imagination. Mystical medieval symbols disappeared; all was down in black and white; printed letters were a neat and unambiguous algebra, like the columns of figures in a ledger. Without printing, too, there would have been no revival of science, for it was not until after 1535, when the Greek scientific classics were translated and printed and studied, that this revival began. [25]

The growing awareness of, and need for, a secular order, an order of things in time and space, found expression in the mechanical clocks first fashioned in the 13th century. "Eternity" is a mystical concept, something better left to feeling. But clocks enable one to see and hear and tell the time, to regulate [16/17] one's daily and weekly and monthly and yearly activities by measuring them against the spatial‑temporal order of the clock. By thus capturing the flow of time and subjecting to his own ordering, man made a machine to which lie in turn subjected himself and others. The clock was harbinger and symbol of a whole new world of mechanism which man would create and subject himself to. Its philosophy was one of mechanistic materialism, and the paradigm of this mechanism was the regular and ruthless clock. Modern industry would be impossible without the "time clock," which keeps workers on the job and measures their value.

The alchemy of the middle ages contained the materials and instruments and techniques for much of modern chemistry—metals, alkalis, soap, acids, pigments, mordants, alcohol, gunpowder, the furnace, the still, the balances. In spite of their mystical theories, alchemists learned from practice. But alchemy could not be liberated from rules of thumb and guesswork until it evolved theories whose claim to explain a set of phenomena could be tried out and confirmed or disconfirmed by observation. This is the same test that the capitalist insists on: he does not mind how the results are reached, so long as the goods desired are delivered. An example is the development of gunpowder and firearms by the political leaders of Europe. Before 1300 Byzantine and Moslem armies employed mechanisms for hurling incendiaries. Leonardo da Vinci, one of the first of Europe's modern scientists, was put to work as a military engineer by Caesar Borgia and Ludovic Sforza and made numerous proposals for battering rams, catapults, cannons, bombs, projectiles, armored cars, poison gas, and the like. [26] These princes required someone to solve their military problems, and the talents of engineers like Leonardo da Vinci supplied their need.

Of the moderns, Leonardo was among the first to learn that the way to master the order of things was the way of mathematics. Leonardo was born in 1452. But he was preceded by generations of men who took a lively interest both in mechanical and technological problems and in applied mathematics. Among these latter were the members of the merchant class. Buying and selling increasing quantities of goods, they found themselves forced to learn to use mathematics—in the first instance, merely to count ("itemize") the pieces of goods and the pieces of money which passed through their hands. At the close of the 12th century a money economy was revived among Italian merchants, with bills of exchange, banks, and loans at interest. [27] All this required the keeping of books and the training of men in mathematics. Up to that time the universities had paid little attention to mathematics; until the 17th century it was considered useless except in such activities as mechanics and the construction of fortifications. [28] The publication of the Liber abaci by Leonardo of Pisa in 1202, a book that put forward the simpler Arabic (Indian) notation in which the value of a digit depends on its [17/18] place in a series, facilitated the development of mathematics, as did the universal adoption of Arabic figures. And the advances in arithmetic techniques was in turn influenced by the book‑keeping methods of the Italian merchants. [29]

The increasing interest in and reliance on machines in the towns also created a demand for more accurate methods of measuring and recording. Thus the men concerned with designing and improving such machines—the "engineers"—sought to develop instruments of measurement. Galileo, whose experiments with falling bodies employed a new water clock, devised the hydrostatic balance and the first thermometer. In the 17th century Torricelli invented the barometer and Gilles Personne de Roberval the static balance. Balances were useful of course not only in the commercial economy but also in scientific and technological work. They were the most direct kind of applied mathematics. As the bankers wished to measure and record the motions of goods and monies, so Galileo sought to study the motions of bodies and by measurement and record to discern their universal laws. The search for the universal laws in economics did not occur until the 18th century.

While Moslem, Greek, and other scientists had long since cultivated habits of carefully observing and recording things and events, the new merchant class of Europe helped to establish these habits, and so to lay the background for the new science. Mathematics was the appropriate instrument for this. Double‑entry bookkeeping, which appeared in Genoa in the late 13th century, the use of positive and negative numbers to signify credits and debits, and the money economy in general predisposed men to a new metaphysics. In this new world men perceived realities as bits which like pieces of money could be combined and dissolved and recombined without end. The permanent in the midst of change was no longer a supernatural God but the hard, touchable, weighable, countable bits of money which obeyed the laws of mathematics in the marketplace. This world‑view reversed the medieval one: it turned material particulars into primary reality and dismissed universals, a priori and ante res, as secondary if not illusory, whereas feudal theology had made God primary and all the rest of the universe secondary. Some men in the Church denounced this reversal—the Schoolmen condemned usury, and Luther saw the tinkling cup of Tetzel's indulgences as the work of the Devil. But the Church was already itself swept up into the metaphysics of money, and its way out was that of Descartes: render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and unto God the things that are God's. The metaphysics of money provided the essential model for the mechanical materialism of the 16th and 17th centuries. Galileo's assertion in Il Saggiatore (1624) that the primary qualities of size, shape, quantity, and motion are essential to physical objects while the secondary qualities of color, taste, sound, and smell belong to the subject, was a translation of the model of business onto the [18/19] world of nature. Material bits move according to preestablished laws. If the businessman can understand these laws of money, he can dominate money and win it to his own ends. If the scientist can understand these laws of matter, lie can dominate matter and turn it to his own ends.

The key to knowing things in their mechanical laws was observation and mathematics. Hume, who in the 18th century spoke for the inheritors of the Galilean tradition, summarized this theory of knowledge:

It we take in hand any volume of divinity or school metaphysics, for instance, let us ask: Does it contain any abstract reasoning concerning quantity or number? No. Does it contain any experimental reasoning concerning matter of fact and existence? No. Commit it then to the flames; for it can contain nothing but sophistry and illusion. [30]

To obtain such knowledge, one must first sense things more fully and accurately; then one must measure, record, and deduce according to the rules of mathematical system. Man's power to see was greatly magnified by Galileo's effective development of the telescope and his invention of the microscope (not systematically used until much later). But scientific knowledge consists not only in seeing but also in discovering relations between what is seen. Galileo's chiefwork was in the science of mechanics, i.e., the study of the action of forces on bodies. He addressed himself to the question of how a body falling on the earth moves, and sought to determine this by the hypothesis that the speed is proportional to the distance traversed, by experimental study of bodies falling (down inclined planes), by recording his observations ions, and by the formulation of the pattern revealed in mathematical terms.

Mechanics, the study of forces acting on bodies, was in fact an old science. It sprang out of the discovery of men that by exerting their own force upon bodies in certain ways (the lever, inclined plane, wheel and axle) they might produce certain desired results. A "machine" is just that—a device of parts organized to transmit and modify force so as to produce some end in view. It is an extended, relatively complex tool, an instrument for controlling and changing things. Galileo depended on skilled mechanics and improved techniques for fashioning the good steel (made possible by the medieval blast furnace) needed for his instruments. [31] But the interest in machines and the creation of large numbers of specialized mechanics dated back to the Middle Ages. The water mill, the trip hammer, the mechanical saw, the windmill, military machines, hoisting apparatus, the lathe, the spinning wheel, the automat, textile industry machines, and many other devices were developed during this period. [32] Thus Galileo's interest in machines and in the mechanical understanding and control of nature, like that of Leonardo da Vinci's in the previous century, sprang out of a long tradition of machine‑making [19/20] ("engineering") that came into its own in the 15th century. [33]

Beginning with terrestrial and celestial mechanics, mechanical materialism transformed alchemy and conquered biology. By the end of the 19th century it reigned over the physical, biological, and social science. [34] This was the century that also witnessed the climactic development of the economic system which generated mechanical materialism, namely, capitalism. Mechanical materialism, like capitalism, had come to be accepted as a dogma by most scientific investigators. They may have held certain religious convictions, carried over from a feudal heritage; but those were peripheral. These investigators believed the universe consists of material pellets organized into small and large machines. (If God were conceived for such a universe, He was conceived as the mechanical designer of such machines.) The objects in such a universe can be known by perception and by a reason which traces the lawful, mechanical actions of those bodies.

As required by capitalism, mechanical materialism reduced man to a thing, a physical machine geared into the larger machine of nature and thus automatically determined by it. For the capitalist and the scientist of capitalism, man was pictured as a machine capable of so much work whose value was measurable by the amount of socially necessary labor time for maintaining and reproducing it. Man was a commodity to be bought and sold. The capitalist and the scientist, however, implicitly stood aloof from such a picture; for as owners and knowers of men they did not consider themselves purposeless automatons and commodities. They were like God, with the freedom of omnipotence and omniscience.

In its account of knowledge mechanical materialism, in accordance with the needs of a technological capitalism driven to order and control nature and society, suppressed and left out of consideration the subject. It omitted the first stage of action, the stage of need and impulse in the person which is the very source and sustaining power of all human activity and knowledge. It omitted the stage of preferential behavior or purpose—the anticipation of value which turns the person to his environment and begins to orient him toward active knowledge of it. It omitted the final stage of consummatory enjoyment. By externalizing everything, by turning everything into an object that acts and reacts, by taking an external object made by man (a machine) and then interpreting the subjective maker in terms of the model of the machine rather than vice versa—mechanical materialism emptied the knower of all real subjective qualities (dismissed as "secondary"). The model was the machine—a machine which could "perceive" or register the elementary primary qualities of size, shape, quantity, and motion, organize them in certain ways, and produce certain desired results. Even in his world of innate ideas, Descartes employed a similar model: break down the objects of knowledge into their simplest possible elements, clear and distinct, and then proceed [20/21] to the more complex. Since pre‑history man's primary problem was to perceive and order the things and events of nature in such ways as to satisfy his survival needs. It was thus natural that tools and then machines came to occupy a greater and greater place in his life and that, in a period when they were developing so rapidly, men should take them as the root metaphor for interpreting not only nature but also man.

The anti‑subjective, anti‑humanistic position of mechanical materialism itself in part a reaction against the excessively mystical and subjective viewpoint regnant in feudalism—was periodically challenged. These various challenges were produced by various causes, but a common cause running through all of them was the conviction that man has the power to determine his environment. This conviction was shared by the capitalists, scientists, and technologists, but did not enter into their philosophy. It represented an unresolved contradiction that periodically erupted. The contradiction was that between a dehumanizing social order and the demands of the human being for freedom and dignity.

Mechanical materialism took hold of men's minds because it served as the mental counterpart of an economy that demanded sensible knowledge of the attributes of specific, individual things as well as a knowledge of how they are connected in a lawful fashion so that men can control them in their own interests. In short, such materialism reflected and reinforced the nascent economy of capitalism. It did not matter that the doctrine ran into a serious contradiction that was mercilessly exposed by Hume: if our firmest knowledge of the world consists in sensations, how can we make any sense literally—of the concept of "law"? What mattered was that the strict, sensuous empiricism of the doctrine ruthlessly stripped away from things the constriction of universals, order, system, and the preordaining hand of God. It handed over to man the power to put things in order, to create. In The Holy Family Marx and Engels called materialism "the native son of Great Britain," and that was because the conditions that called forth the empiricism of Bacon, Hobbes, and Locke were the conditions of mercantile capitalism of the 16th and 17th centuries. Under such capitalism the market of the buying and selling of commodities, of money, and of surplus value required that the items of transaction be precisely identified, counted, and recorded in a system of accurate notation and that they be moved about and transformed in a way instrumentally suited to the end in view for the merchant, trader, and manufacturer. That empiricism was the epistemic theory of the counting-house.

Descartes, often taken to be the first modern philosopher, in fact straddled the two worlds of dying feudalism and nascent capitalism. He proclaimed the objectivity of the quantitative, mathematical world of physical science as well as the subjective world of human thinking. In revolt against the authoritarian [21/22] world of the Church and the "false beliefs" of received opinion, he has resolved—so he tells us in Meditations on the First Philosophy (1641)—"to build anew from the foundation." This foundation is to consist in matters which are "entirely certain and indubitable" to him. This very starting point is the stance of the post‑feudal man discontent with uncritical acceptance of things presented to his senses or thought. He insists on applying the standards of "clearness and distinction" for himself to determine whether apparent events are real and apparent truths are in fact truths. His conclusion first is that the truths of mathematics, treating "only of things that are very simple and very general," are certain and indubitable. It is not of relevance here that Descartes presupposes that all men would so regard such things. What does matter is that he is bent on liberating the truth-telling power of the individual man from his dependence on the Church and tradition. He testifies to the power of the free and almightly Individual, who for him and his contemporaries—not only the scientists but the humanists like Montaigne and Shakespeare—is the paragon of the new age.

It is instructive to trace how Descartes in his argument for mind and the external world so firmly carves out the clear and distinct individual, absolutely separated from others and the natural world, completely autonomous, not even dependent on its natural body. This is the individual of social atomism, the man freed of bondage to the feudal estate and personal allegiances, released from countryside, Church, and fixed status into the city and the new world of mass production, science, and technology, and enabled now in the unhindered interactions of individuals to become one of the "masters and possessors of nature." Descartes asks whether he is his senses, body, figure, etc., and replies that such reflections may be "fictions" produced by himself. For God is not necessary to produce them. "I myself, am I not at least something? But I have already denied that I had senses and body . . . . Am I so dependent on body and senses that I cannot exist without these? . . . of a surety I myself did exist since I persuaded myself of something." Descartes then asks, “But what am I” Without argument, he rejects all the things pertaining to the nature of the body. What of the attributes of the soul—nutrition, walking, sensation? These pertain to the body. Only thinking, he says, "belongs to me; it alone cannot be separated from me . . . . I am not more than a thing which thinks." The self, he adds, is a thing "which also imagines and feels" (perceives light, hears noises, feels heat). But since “one cannot feel without body,” as he has previously said, it remains a puzzle how the data of feeling get over into thinking if body and soul are separate. Like the feudal, religious soul, Descartes’ soul is above and beyond the body; yet it belongs to itself and to no overruling power—it is entirely secular so far as it thinks and thinks for itself. It is a definite thing among other things, with the power of self‑initiation and guidance, like the body. But it is a [22/23] thinking thing, a res cogitans; Descartes is not prepared to say that this spiritual thing is in any way like the things of the extended material world. So he carries a feudalist dualism over into the modern world of the freed individual. We can say in fact that capitalism abandons God and makes man the divine power in charge of all earthly things.

Having established the subjective world, Descartes asks how he can understand the objective world exemplified in the substance of a piece of wax whose attributes of taste, odor, color, sound, figure, etc., are changeable and cannot be grasped by either the senses or the imagination. The answer: by "an intuition of the mind." Whether he perceives the way by a "judgment" from the senses or by an "intuition," the individual's human mind remains superior: "I do not admit in myself anything but mind." Since even bodies are known not by the senses or imagination but by the human understanding only, "there is nothing easier for me to know than my mind." Thus extended bodies like thinking substances are conceived by Descartes to possess inherent properties entirely apart from their relations to other things. But all evidence from the sciences today suggests that properties rise and change and disappear only under specific relational conditions of events. Properties are relational. As the weight, color, etc. of an object depend on their fields of forces, so the properties of a person are functions of his interpersonal and nonhuman environment. Man is "the ensemble of his social [and ecological] relations."

Looking backward from Descartes, we can see that he took the isolated soul of feudalism, dependent on the Church and God, and transformed it into the isolated soul of mechanical science and the capitalist market. The soul sits splendidly above the transactions of the world; it may receive the impressions of the senses, generate and project the judgments of imagination, and guide the body in its action—but it is not continuous with these natural things. (The tough‑minded mechanical materialists like Hobbes saw this problem and tried to overcome the dualism by reducing mind to physiological structures and actions; but in doing so they lost the distinctiveness of human activity.) Thus Descartes articulated for the modern mind, especially modern science under capitalism, its uniqueness and burden. Its uniqueness is that it liberates the human mind from ignorance and submission toward nature and into understanding and control of it. Its burden is that the liberation has sundered the individual human being from his continuity with nonhuman nature and with other human beings and human history. The modern scientist with such a view is a high priest without a God or moral guide—a lonely being stripped of social and ecological ties, but a being often of great and destructive power. Some of the atomic scientists realized that when they witnessed the explosion of the first atomic bomb at Los Alamos on July 14, 1945. When J. Robert Oppenheimer saw the explosion, he thought first of [23/24] the line from the Bhagavad‑Gita: "Now I am become death, the destroyer of worlds."

Thus the individual as freed in Descartes' conception—freed from religious authority—was only ambiguously free. If he accumulated capital and became a capitalist he was free to exploit nature at home and overseas and the labor‑power of the swelling market of "free" laborers displaced from their land and tools in the countryside as well as the labor‑power of the colonies. If he became a scientist, like Descartes or Spinoza, he was free to pursue his studies so long as he did not openly contradict established religious authority—or, if he did, so long as he could find a haven like Holland or Denmark. If he earned his living by the productive use of his hands and tools and the sweat of his brow, he was free, as Marx observed, to sell the commodity of his labor‑power in the market if he could find a buyer. Freedom in all such cases was modern freedom—the freedom of the individual to seek and find a livelihood unimpeded by the restriction of rural feudal structure and urban guild and big property‑holder. The mind freed from religious dogma corresponded to the individual person wandering in this interstitial space—the man once in serfdom or vassalage whose means of production, as Marx put it, have been expropriated from him, the man on his way to the city who will become an urban vagrant, a poor wage‑slave, or, improbably, a small capitalist.

Scientific empiricism and rationalism for the most part became individualistic; as the liberated individual saw himself as free, with the undiscovered world lying before him for appropriation, as pristine as an untouched continent, so he saw the world as individuated, with each object clear and distinct, there for the seeing and the taking. But not all men in this new world were liberated from religious ideology; and most slipped easily into the ideology of capitalism, which attributed the origin of wealth to individual enterprise. Not all were free to accumulate capital or to investigate nature as "masters and possessors" of it; most eventually worked for others under the laws of capitalist society, i.e., the laws of mass behavior rather than spiritual freedom. Scientific knowledge like all labor also was social and cooperative, though it seemed to be individual because the individual no longer submitted his findings to the rule of scripture and ecclesiastical tradition. It was precisely in this cooperation, this fecund interaction, where the self‑contradiction within the system of capital began to germinate a revolution in both economy and knowledge.

In philosophy the challenges to mechanical materialism appeared from both the rational and empirical sides. The tradition of Greek rationalism carried through medieval times unbrokenly into the modern period. Descartes, a contemporary of Galileo, and Spinoza, preserved man's subjectivity by affirming the power of his reason to understand the patterns of nature. Each, [24/25] in different ways, was a spokesman for the optimism of the new bourgeois class of merchants and traders, an optimism that was centered in the isomorphism of man's mind and universe. In the same century Leibniz was optimistic too; but, fifty years later than Descartes, he was more acutely aware of the dualisms plaguing society and philosophy. Accordingly, recalling the medieval principle of the identity of part and whole, he organized all things in a hierarchy of perception and imparted to each thing and thus to man a force and feeling deeper than mere reason. Kant, facing a similar problem, the conflict of the material world with that of man's spirit, saw the inadequacy of both empiricism and traditional rationalism. He likewise emphasized the activity of the human subject in being and knowing. Indirectly, Kant was reacting most strongly against 18th century French industrialism, commercialism and finance and the atheistic and unhumanistic mechanical materialism to which they had given birth.

Trends in empiricism produced a kindred kind of emphasis on the subject. In the 16th century the early Italian empiricists, doubtful of the copy theory of knowledge, were inclined to stress inner perception over outer perception. In the 18th century Hume, critical, like Locke, of the metaphysicists, viewed sensations as subjective data organized by the habits of the human mind. flume's analysis revealed unconsciously that mechanical materialism was simple‑minded and failed to take into consideration the action of man in the acquisition of knowledge. "Why must the causal machine be the model for interpreting the universe?" Hume asked in his Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion. He proposed that vegetation, instinct, and generation might be equally good. [35] All are organismic principles. But biology at that time was poorly developed, and most scientists did not think of man as an organism, that is the product of the evolution of organisms.

One of Hume's criticisms of mechanical materialism, as in Voltaire's Candide, was his observation of the widespread human suffering which it sanctioned. A similar humanistic reaction against that philosophy had been expressed before him by Bishop Berkeley, who had been aroused to doubt the finality of the material world by his reading of the empiricism of Locke and who concluded with an idealistic philosophy. Modern positivism dates from Hume; but it has not always been humanistic, and has sometimes preferred to take an agnostic position as to the existence of the world and human values. But whether these criticisms of mechanical materialism have been empirical, idealistic, or positivistic, they have all indicated a fatal weakness in mechanical materialism. That was the failure to take subjective human activity into account. This weakness in philosophy in turn reflected a corresponding weakness at the base, namely, an economic and social system that failed to take subjective human activity into account, that permitted the exploitation of masses of human subjects by means of material machines [25/26] and relations.

Bishop Berkeley perceived this weakness in empiricism too. His studies in vision demonstrated that qualities like distance and magnitude, which were "primary" for the new physics and the empirical philosophy that followed from it, are not automatic, simple transcriptions from object to subject. They are instead the learned, synthesized results of the perceptual action of the subject. Berkeley drew the conclusion that the external, material world of Galileo and Newton, independent of human perception, is a fiction which in fact has no basis in perception. To be, in short, means to be perceived in some sensory mode. By tracing out the implications of the empiricism in that materialism, he revealed an inner contradiction in it: if we know things through our perception of them, then how can we know (perceive) the material substratum of things? The fact is we cannot, said Berkeley; for the being of a thing is nothing more than our sensory perceptions of it. Yet, while refuting the unexamined objectivism of materialism, Berkeley wished to combat the skepticism encouraged by Locke's views. This he did so by his invocation of the infinite mind of God.

Berkeley's analysis showed that what man most concretely knows is his own activity of perceiving, knowing, willing, etc. Mechanical materialism, for all the success of its counterpart in the world, capitalism, had turned man into a machine for registering, recording, and synthesizing bits of information from the world machine. But this external and material world machine, Berkeley argued, is an invention of the imagination. Berkeley did not extricate mechanical materialism from its difficulty; to establish the external world he invoked God. But he did disclose unconsciously that mechanical materialism, as the philosophy of a rising mercantile capitalism, was in process of creating a world after its own purposes, under the guise of "objectivism." Idealism remained feeble in Britain, which became the dominant industrial and mercantile power. But in Germany, which was backward and pious, it flourished and produced Leibniz, Kant, Fichte, and Hegel who were the spiritual ancestors of Marx. The young Marx understood this, and paid tribute to idealism's emphasis on "activity" in contrast to the static object of materialism. [36] Idealism has insisted that man is not merely an information‑gathering machine, perceiving and inferring; he is also a purposeful, preferential creature who, while receptive to the objects of the world, is a creative subject who transforms his information and shapes it to his interests. Hence idealism drew its support from the humanists of the German Romantic movement of the 18th century—indifferent or hostile to science, but influenced by the idea of evolution—and was associated with work in biology in the 19th century. For idealists were driven to overcome the dualism and alienation that mechanical materialism had concocted between man and nature. [26/27]

Berkeley's critique was significant because it called attention to the role of touch, that is, human action, in the process of vision. Berkeley knew enough about the physics of vision to raise cogent objections to the simple notion that primary qualities like solidity and extension are immediately given. Seeing involves tangible and visual qualities. Are these in the object? How are they united? And are not secondary qualities like color and sound the syntheses of visual, tactual, and locomotor sensations? A simple empiricism and rationalism had served the cause of 16th and 17th century astronomy and mechanics. Painting is a true science, said Leonardo da Vinci, "which is the sole imitator of all the visible works of nature." [37] Like Vesalius, these scientists considered that nature is the "true bible" to read. But in their rejection of authority and their enthusiasm for observation and mathematics, they did not realize the intermediary effects of human preferences, purposes, selection, organization, and instruments on the process and product of knowledge.

But the fiction of neutral, "objective" rational‑empiricism remained the convenient rationale of capitalism and is still alive today. Under feudalism the ruling class had appealed to "the laws of God" for justification of its privileges and wars. Under capitalism the appeal was at first to the laws of God (Luther, Calvin) and then, to supplement them, "the laws of nature." Alexander Pope's doctrine that

All Nature is but art, unknown to thee;
All chance, direction, which thou canst not see, [38]

suited and sanctioned the British manufacturers and traders, with their far-flung markets in the world economy. The scientists of human nature employed the same assumptions and reached the same conclusions. Find and follow the natural laws of society, said the 18th century French and English philosophers, and all will be well. But this "reasonable" attitude of men was essentially a bourgeois attitude that wishes, with observation and reason, to improve the existing system of capitalism.

The dimension of action—motor movement and manipulation of the object—in man's acquisition of knowledge was present in the account of mechanical materialism. The notion of "experiment" called for both a deliberate interference with nature and an observation of the results of such interference. The whole secular revolt against religious authoritarianism and speculation was a turning to man and man's activity in the natural world as a means of knowing both reality and values. The counterpart of scientific experiment was bourgeois work; both work and experiment were taken to be pathways to truth and happiness. Moreover, from the time of Galileo onwards, the scientists would increasingly take the motions of bodies seriously [27/28] and would assume that man by his own actions can know the actions of nature.

But, in general, when the thinkers of this era theorized about knowledge, they did not provide a prominent place for activity in their theories. One reason was that they remained wedded to an inherited, Aristotelian, pictorial, contemplative way of thinking about knowledge. This way of thinking was reinforced by the evolution in visual perspectives and techniques which marked the early Renaissance. Marco Polo travelled to China and Petrarch climbed Mount Ventoux because they wanted to see with their own eyes what the world offered. Italian painting gradually brought individual objects into focus and perspective. The perspectival representation of objects on two-dimensional surfaces greatly advanced science. Men like Galileo, Descartes, and Spinoza were lens‑grinders; they tended to look on the world through fascinated and contemplative eyes. And though men like Leonard da Vinci and Galileo performed many experiments, their goal was a discovery of order which their minds were conceived to be tracing in nature. The method of rational empiricism presupposed that the qualities and forms of the objects to be known are antecedently fixed and determined according to universal causality, and that the activity of knowledge is only a way of disclosing them, as a perspectival painting discloses its object. In this view perceiving and inferring do not contribute anything essential to the thing known. When, beginning with Berkeley and Hume and coming down to Russell and contemporary analysis, this pictorial theory of knowledge was examined, it was found to exhibit numerous difficulties. But it has been very influential.

A second reason for the failure to emphasize action in theories of knowledge was that as mechanical materialism became established and reigned over the bourgeois world since the 17th century, it ceased to be a revolutionary philosophy associated with those intent on changing the economic order of feudalism and became instead a philosophy which sanctioned the scheme of bourgeois society. The "experience" and "reason" of the Italian Renaissance were the experience and reason required or allowed by wealthy Italian princes. They might be turned to esthetic and contemplative ends, as in case of Lorenzo de Medici, or to political ends, as with the despots to whom Machiavelli addressed his work. The "eternal reason" of the 18th century French philosophes, as Engels observed, was nothing more than the idealized understanding of the evolving bourgeois. [39] In our own day the "analysis" of various linguistic and logical philosophers, while claiming to offer finalities, is nothing more than a kept mistress of the imperialistic establishment—a mistress who supposes she is pure because she does not hypocritically strive to be queen of the sciences. Philosophies which concern themselves with action concern themselves with changing the object and, if the change is pushed far enough, with changing nature and society. [28/29]

As a philosophy of a class in revolt against feudalism, mechanical materialism directed itself to changing society; but, once established, it lost its militancy and wished to leave everything as it is. Thus Harrington and Locke in England, Jefferson in the American colonies, and the materialists in France were the spokesmen of a rising bourgeoisie in revolt against the restrictions of a feudal aristocracy. They called for social action and change in accordance with man's "nature." But man's nature was defined in terms of the propertied perspective of their own class. (Locke referred to the natural rights of "lives, liberties, and estates.") [40] They engineered and spoke for a limited revolution.

To discover a more thoroughgoing emphasis on action in knowledge and hence on social change, we must look to those whose interests drove them to seek such change. These we find among the dissidents against both the feudal and capitalist orders—the spokesmen for the lower classes, both peasants and urban wage-earners, who were caught in oppressive situations and wished to escape. In the 14th century Wycliffe, returning to the Gospel as the root of his faith, discovered that Christ did not ordain the Mass, that ecclesiastics did not have possessions, and that Christ is not corporeally the Sacrament. He then went on to deduce certain practices for leaders and members of the Church—that any deacon or priest may preach God's word without papal or episcopal authority, that ownership of property by the Church is sinful, that friars ought to live by their labor, etc. "The people," he said, "can at their own will correct sinful lords." [41] John Ball followed suit, pointing to the labor of common men as the support of their rich rulers and demanding that men share all things in common. The Hussites took up the challenge to the Pope and feudal power. The adepts of the Free Spirit took radical action, plundering the countryside and churches, seizing towns, and acting on their conviction that they had achieved perfection. The Brothers of the Common We undertook to put into practice the Gospel ideal of common labor. In 16th century Germany Thomas Münzer inveighed against rote Biblicism and the soft passive "belief" of men like Luther. For him man could have knowledge of God only through active suffering in battle for a society of spiritual equals. Prior to Münzer, advocates of social change normally began with a secular or mystical conviction and then deduced from it or attached to it certain practices. With Münzer, however, social action that destroyed privilege and created equality defined the essence of knowledge. A similar view was expressed by Winstanley, the Digger, in the 17th century. He opposed the knowledge of tradition and speculation. And though he used the common English word "experience," he meant by it the knowledge that comes through the collective labor of men. During the period of the French Revolution Babeuf carried this accent on action still farther. The original land belongs to all, he says, and the products of man's industry are collective [29/30] property. Need determines what a man should have; a man presumably knows when he is hungry and when he is not. In pursuit of satisfying their needs, can men not observe that a few have appropriated most of the property while most men remain needy? Those few arrogate to themselves education and a greater recompense for mental work; but if the physically strong regulated things, they would have rewarded the arm as much as the head. Thus action is integral to judgment. Moreover, says Babeuf, in order to eradicate the "war" made by the hoarding, thieving few on the many, it is necessary to establish a society with common ownership of property, development of individual talents, and satisfaction of individual needs. This ideal society has been described by philosophers, he concludes; the point, however, is to act to bring it into being. And like many another revolutionary, Babeuf learned that the test of an idea's truth lies in action.

The mechanical materialism of bourgeois society evolved in a way adapted to the evident social successes of capitalism. Applied to social affairs, the Galilean-Newtonian model of atoms moving regularly in empty space took on a distinctive dynamism. Each individual man, autonomous and discrete, was conceived as possessing a drive to fulfill his self‑interest, and this drive was thought to be antecedently harmonized with the drives of all other men. Thus, particularly in the 18th century, mechanical materialism developed a doctrine of progress—a doctrine confidently based on the industrial mercantile advances which the French and English thinkers of the bourgeois class saw all around them. The actions of men in knowledge and in life did not constitute a problem, they were simply the means of working out an order and a goal already inherent in the material universe.

But this philosophy of liberalism, and the economic system which it represented, struck a contradiction. The goal of liberty, equality, and happiness was being frustrated. Increasing numbers of men were becoming miserable, while a few waxed wealthy. At this point a new attitude and philosophy began to develop, critical of liberalism. The critics shared the humanistic goals of the liberals, and accepted the idea of progress. But they appealed for more action and for new kinds of action. While they differed on the kinds of action to be taken, many agreed on a new concept of man and society: that men are not individualized atoms but are collectively creating themselves and their social environment; that all change must therefore be carried out by men acting together; and that action must direct itself toward changing existing society and creating a new one.

An early and definitive representative of this concept was Rousseau. He struck a sympathetic chord among the poor by his description of inequalities as the result of the sciences, arts, and tools of civilization and his description of man as naturally cooperative. But his most powerful idea was that of the general will as the final sovereign in social matters. While Rousseau [30/31] holds that the general will represents a social contract among men and their common  interest, and hence "is always for our own good"—it must be exercised by men through government and, if necessary, through revolutionary action. [42] The German Romantic movement and German idealism put a similar emphasis on voluntary and collective action and on historical movement, progress, and evolution. Utopians like Saint‑Simon, Fourier, and Owen called for a voluntary organization of society. Society was changing rapidly, and it called forth theories and proposals for change. The fulgurating center of these changes was the French Revolution.

In Germany the thinker most affected by the Revolution was Fichte. He became a passionate spokesman for its ideals. But more important, Fichte gave to Kant's moral philosophy a new life. In it he discerned the creative and practical function of man, and he carried this emphasis still farther by making man's will the source of all knowledge. Through man's own voluntary commitment he posits an opposite in the world and then fuses himself with that world. The ego of man is thus the internalizing of the world and the dialectical fusion of subject and object. Man is thus self‑transcending process. In this conception of man as creative praxis, Fichte broke free from the philosophies of mechanical materialism, phenomenalism, dogmatic rationalism, and religious supernaturalism. For Fichte man is not a passive, contemplative, determined knower but a creator who knows only as he creates the world and himself. Man makes of the piecemeal sensory world what he will. The commitment, the purpose, the practice, the creation is all. Fichte's stress on creative practice passed directly into Marx.

The culminating figure in German idealism was Hegel. While Hegel was affected by the French Revolution, the main tendency of his thought was religious and conservative and not radical. Hegel talked about action as the path to knowledge, i.e., the dialectical exchange of subject and object issuing in a transcendent movement that transformed them both. But he eventually transmuted human actions into a historical drama of impersonal forces, and he displaced the dialectical movement of history with his own absolute intellectual system—and with the social system of the German nation. Thus for the petite bourgeoisie of Germany he painted a picture pleasant to believe: a world of men who were struggling to succeed but whose victory was already guaranteed. For Hegel knowledge was essentially the assurance of this bourgeois victory.

These theories pointing to action as the route to knowledge came to fruition in the work of Karl Marx and Frederick Engels. Whereas previous notions of social change were abstract and idealistic, Marx sought to ground the ideals of French socialism and the creative, dialectical, organic activity of German idealism, to put them on a material and historical basis. Making use of the new social science of political economy, with its notions of classes [31/32] and the labor theory of value, he proceeded to demonstrate the linkage of classes with particular historical stages in production, class struggle, surplus value, and the demand for political action from the presently oppressed class of the proletariat in order to achieve its liberation. Marx correctly understood that the class that had the most to gain from concerted political action was the most oppressed one, and that the other sections of the population—the industrial capitalists, the petite bourgeoisie, the landowners, the professional people—had the least to gain. He saw that in accordance with “the economic law of motion” [43] — a phrase with an 18th century flavor—capitalism and its beneficiaries will not alter their path of action. Ideas, which reflect the motions of men and classes, reveal this; the philosophies of capitalism are those that contemplate the existing order with satisfaction.

For the ideologues and beneficiaries of European capitalism, action did not establish any new premises of thought or any new social orders. Science elaborated mechanical materialism, [44] and capitalism extended its empire. But hungry, ill‑housed men are disposed to life‑and‑death action if the belief is accessible that the action might make a difference. The French Revolution had proved to men that action does make a difference. Marx's philosophy of action was a response to their need for a practical guide.

The first full outlines of this philosophy appeared in Marx's Paris writings of the early 1840's. He discerned the defects in both contemplative materialism and non‑sensuous idealism, and proposed a synthesis combining both a sensuous, objective approach and a dialectical, active approach. Materialist dialectics would thus describe the practice of men struggling to change circumstances. It would be "revolutionizing practice" [45] because it would be the action of an oppressed social class, the proletariat, struggling to transform a dehumanized society into a "socialized humanity." [46]

Marx spoke from the perspective of the people of the working class who were struggling to survive by mingling their labor with the given materials of an objective nature and transforming those materials into usable and exchangeable values. The process of such creative labor is a paradigm case of knowledge. It is a single, unitary process wherein man enters into tactile, visual relations with the material, employing memory, anticipation, and inference out of the wealth of previous labor (this is what makes it "skilled," and no labor is or can be "unskilled" entirely), handling and manipulating the material, transforming it in accordance with conceived images and plans and standards, and finally completing the work of transformation in a satisfying product that fulfills not only purpose and expectation but also human need and use.

In his conception of knowledge, Marx includes and transcends both the rationalist and empiricist accounts. Traditional medieval rationalism presupposes an antecedent and a fixed order in things, abstract and in no need of [32/33] the indignity of individual instances and modifications. For some rationalists the order is purely mental or spiritual. But for Marx, the order is independent of the human mind and is moreover moving, coming into being and passing away. It is woven like a texture into the nature of individual things; things, in fact, are defined in their nature by their dialectical relatedness. When creative labor, therefore, takes hold of material things, it must take hold of and transform their lawful and understandable relations. Marx paid tribute to "the active side" of Hegelian rationalism, but agreed with the emphasis of Feuerbachian materialism in coming down to sensuous particulars. But Feuerbachian empiricism was pluralistic, fragmented, and abstract, failing to grasp the role of real material human activity in uniting and dissolving the particular objects in their connections, i.e., the role of labor and the role of revolutionary struggle (which is social labor of the most creative kind). [47] Marx's account of knowledge includes both empirical and rational elements, recognizing both the sensuous and nonsensuous, the particular and the universal, the perceived thing and the causal order, the immediate and the historical, the human and the nonhuman.

But in this comprehensive recognition his theory goes beyond feudal rationalism and capitalist empiricism because it articulates a new view to which neither the settled, authoritarian world of rationalism nor the individualized and alienated world of empiricism is relevant. Its use of the rational element is not to submit to the world or merely to understand it but to change it. Its use of the empirical element is not to divide up the world in order to conquer and profit from it—but, on the contrary, to eradicate class division and create a unity of men and men and of men and nature. Marx's theory of knowledge seeks to describe the rational system of the world—the dynamic transformations of its orders—and to point the way to man's role in guiding those transformations. It designates individual, perceptible things and events, but it takes these to be organic parts of the transformational process, necessary but transitory. It is a materialistic theory—but not in the capitalist way. It is rational but dialectical, passing beyond the rationalism of medievalism and Hegel. It is dialectical materialism—the theory of knowledge of the class whose knowledge aims at neither landowning, serfdom, nor the surplus value of usury, rent, and profit, whose knowledge consists in creative labor. Marx's theory is the outline of a universal theory, for it voices and advocates the knowing activity of a class who will displace all previous classes—a class who requires a theory of knowledge to reflect and advance its practice, whose theory of knowledge must supersede all previous theories because its practice is superseding all previous class practice, and whose knowledge must be the most fully human yet in history because it is in process of becoming the first universal class in history.

University of Bridgeport



1.  The Philosophy of the Act, ed. Charles W. Morris (Chicago: University of Chicago, 1938).

2.  Signification and Significance: A Study of the Relations of Signs and Values (Cambridge: M.I.T., 1964).

3.  Being and Nothingness. An Essay in Phenomenological Ontology, trans. Hazel E. Barnes (New York: Philosophical Library, 1956).

4.  Walt Whitman, "There Was a Child Went Forth".

5.  The Upanishads, trans. Swami Prabhavananda and Frederick Manchester (New York: New American Library of World Literature, 1957), p. 123.

6.  Dionysius the Areopagite on the Divine Names and the Mystical Theology, trans. C.E. Holt, ch. 1; in The Teachings of the Mystics, ed. Walter T. Stace (New York: New American Library of World Literature, 1960), pp. 135‑136.

7.  Daisetz Teitaro Suzuki, Introduction to Zen Buddhism (London: Rider, n.d.), p. 59.

8.  Charles Morris, "Mysticism and Its Language", in R. N. Anshen, ed., Language: An Enquiry into Its Meaning and Function, pp. 179‑187.

9.  Meister Eckhart: A Modern Translation, trans. Raymond Bernard Blakney (New York: Harper and Row, 1941), p. 118.

10.  Walter B. Cannon, The Wisdom of the Body (New York: W.W. Norton, 1932).

11.  Meister Eckhart: A Modern Translation, p. 110.

12.  Ibid., p. 124.

13.  Ibid., p. 208.

14.  Henri Pirenne, A History of Europe, vol. 2, From the Thirteenth Century to the Renaissance and Reformation, trans. Bernard Miall (Garden City: Doubleday, 1956), pp. 117-118.

15.  Meister Eckhart: A Modern Translation, p. 207.

16.  Norman Cohn, The Pursuit of the Millennium (Fairlawn: Essential, 1957), p. xiii.

17.  Henri Pirenne, A History of Europe, vol. 1, From the End of the Roman World in the West to the Beginnings of the Western States, trans. Bernard Miall (Garden City: Doubleday, 1956), pp. 207‑208.

18.  Op. cit., p. 209.

19.  Norman Cohn, pp. 149‑194.

20.  The philosophical challenge to the Church was the ideological accompaniment of the growing economic opposition within. The rise of national powers eventually proved the undoing of the Church.

21.  Thomas Aquinas, Summa Contra Gentiles, Book 1, Ch. 4.

22.  Lewis Mumford, The Condition of Man (New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1944), p. 165.

23.  As described in Charles Singer, A Short History of Scientific Ideas to 1900 (London: Oxford University, 1959), pp. 178‑187.

24.  Victor Strauss, "Printing", Encyclopedia Britannica, vol. 18 (Chicago: William Benton, 1959), p. 501.

25.  Singer, op. cit., p. 182.

26.  The Notebooks of Leonardo da Vinci, ed. Edward McCurdy (New York: George Braziller, 1954), pp. 806‑851.

27.  Henri Pirenne, A History of Europe, vol. 1, p. 192.

28.  Bertrand Gille, "Technological Developments in Europe: 1100 to 1400", in The Evolution of Science: Readings from the History of Mankind, eds. Guy S. Métraux [34/35] and François Crouzet (New York: New American Library of World Literature, 1963), p. 212.

29.  Ibid.

30. David Hume, An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, final paragraph.

31.  Singer, op. cit., pp. 253‑254.

32.  Gille, op. cit.

33.  Ibid., p. 185.

34.  A.N. Whitehead, Science and the Modern World (New York: Macmillan, 1926), p. 213.

35.  David Hume, Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion (New York: Hafner, 1951), Part VII, pp. 49 ff.

36.  Theses on Feuerbach, 1.

37.  The Notebooks of Leonardo da Vinci, p. 854.

38.  Alexander Pope, An Essay on Man, Book 1, 288‑289.

39.  Frederick Engels, Socialism: Utopian and Scientific (New York: International, 1935), p. 34.

40.  John Locke, An Essay Concerning the True Original, Extent, and End of Civil Government, ch. 9.

41.  Documents of the Christian Church, ed. Henry Bettenson (New York: Oxford University, 1947), p. 41.

42.  The Social Contract, Book II.

43.  Karl Marx, Capital, vol. 1, trans. Samuel Moore and Edward Aveling, ed. Frederick Engels (Moscow: Foreign Languages Publishing House, n.d.), p. 10.

44.  Science and the Modern World.

45.  Theses on Feuerbach, III.

46.  Critique of Hegel's Philosophy of the State, 279.

47.  Knowledge of the other person as an "object of knowledge" displays the same general dialectical pattern as knowledge of nonhuman objects. The important difference is that knowledge of the other person is normally reciprocated; and in any case the other whether very young or psychologically defective or sociopathic, cannot be treated as mere passive means or material to one's final purpose without impairment of his humanity and loss in one's knowledge. The other who is known acts back on and so knows the knower, and if conditions are right they know, create, and transform one another. New perceptions, feelings, meanings, and insights are communicated and newly integrated into the personality of each, transforming the persons and the relations between them. Destruction of the parts and structure of the personalities always goes on alongside creation as a necessary accompaniment of it. Of course this is not destruction in the usual physical sense, nor is it always the result of "sharp" or "blunt" criticism. In the process of communicative learning with and from others, in the process of healthy growth, certain perspectives and attitudes are naturally modified and drop away partially or entirely. In communication and work with friends, creation is generally ascendant over destruction, whereas with enemies destruction predominates or is aimed at. Of course sometimes enemies may be won over to the cause of humanization (as in a strike), as friends sometimes defect from it; perceptive tactical judgment will determine when. Always in the class struggle to live, however, it is vital to know one's friends from one's enemies, real and potential, and to make decisions and take actions accordingly.

SOURCE: Parsons, Howard L. "Theories of Knowledge: A Dialectical, Historical Critique," in: Dialectical Perspectives in Philosophy and Social Science, edited by Pasquale N. Russo et al (Amsterdam: B.R. Grüner, 1983), pp. 1-35.

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