Human knowledge is founded on instinctive belief. It is this common sense 
belief that leads us to believe in an independent external world. This 
belief creates no difficulty for us. Neither have we any good reason to 
reject it since it simplifies and systematizes our experiences. Every 
principle of simplicity indicates that there are objects other than 
ourselves and our sense-data. They don’t depend on our continued perception 
of them. We start with what we can be certain of --our immediate 
experiences. We may doubt the table’s physical experience but not the 
sense-data that lead us to think there is one. There are grounds for 
thinking that these do indicate the existence of physical objects.

We have no reason for accepting that life is a dream. This is because life 
as dream is more complicated than the common-sense one of external objects 
as source of our sensations. Intuitive knowledge is the basis of our 
knowledge of truths. Intuitive knowledge are beliefs for which we cannot 
give reasons. They are blindingly evident general principles such as the 
inductive principle and general logical principles. We know them 
instinctively or intuitively. These primitive intuitions are a product of 
the evolution through natural selection of the Stone Age human brain. The 
genetic make-up of the human brain hardwires this bundle of intuitions in us

There are two forms of knowledge. Knowledge by acquaintance and knowledge by 
description. Knowledge by acquaintance involves our direct awareness of 
things while knowledge by description is a derivative form of knowledge 
based in instinct. It concerns truths about things. We are acquainted with 
sense-data and memory. Sense-data is that which is given by the senses such 
as colours and sounds.

There is also acquaintance through introspection. For example we are not 
directly acquainted with the table as a physical object. However our 
knowledge of it as a physical object is connected to our acquaintance with 
the sense-data that makes up its appearance. On the basis of our 
acquaintance with these we can formulate a description of the table or other 
objects which applies to only one object. Description makes it possible to 
go beyond private experience giving us knowledge of things we have not 
experienced. It also creates and develops a community of knowledge. Our 
acquaintance with sense-data enables us to infer the existence of physical 
objects and the external world. This is how we transcend our own private 
experience while establishing communal relations.

To draw the relevant inferences there must exist general laws and 
principles. We rely on the principle of induction for predicting future 
events. The inductive principle enables us to extend our knowledge beyond 
the extremely limited sphere of our private experiences. General scientific 
principles depend on the inductive principle. Logical principles such as the 
Laws of Thought have to be accepted for any argument or proof to be 
possible. Again this constitutes one of the epistemic conditions for 
transcending private experience and establishing community. Since knowledge 
is a priori it can be known independently of experience. Mathematical and 
logical principles are examples of it. Experience cannot prove that 
mathematical and logical principles are true. Yet it is experience that 
elicits a priori knowledge through particular experiences. Through 
experience we become aware of these general principles. All applications of 
a priori general propositions involve an empirical element. Human knowledge 
is a combination of the empirical and the a priori. It is this combination 
that creates the conditions for communal knowledge that transcends private 

In my view much of mainstream Marxism tends to ignore this combination and 
over-emphasise the experiential aspect of knowledge lending itself to some 
form of crude empiricism.

Much of the above was inspired by the analytical philosopher, Bertrand 
Russell. Much of his philosophy has been of enormous significance. Even to 
this day much of his philosophy is still underestimated. It was eclipsed, in 
varying degrees, by younger philosophers and by some of his peers such as 
Wittgenstein and probably Carnap. And In Ireland mainstream Marxism is more 
influenced by continental philosophy than it is by analytical philosophy. 
Given that without modern symbolic logic, a product of analytical 
philosophy, there would have been no large scale computer technology in 
existence today we see its significance. The same cannot be said for the 
non-analytical philosophy continental philosophy.

Paddy Hackett


Marxism-Thaxis mailing list
To change your options or unsubscribe go to:

Reply via email to