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New Left Review I/191, January-February 1992


Michael Sprinker

The Royal Road: Marxism and the Philosophy of Science

What is a consequent Marxist view of the history and philosophy of science? Reference to the work of Marx and Engels (or even of Lenin) will not yield a satisfactory answer, although certain signposts are evident. For example, there is the famous observation on method in the Introduction to the Grundrisse, which argues that, contrary to the procedures adopted in classical economy, where the starting point for investigation is apparently concrete phenomena from which abstract theoretical descriptions are then derived, ‘the method of rising from the abstract to the concrete is the only way in which thought appropriates the concrete, reproduces it as the concrete in the mind.’ [1] Karl Marx, Grundrisse, trans. Martin Nicolaus, New York 1973, p. 101. Or there are Engels’s late works, pre-eminently Anti-Dühring and Dialectics of Nature, in which the so-called laws of the dialectic are laid out schematically, and of which it is asserted that they constitute ‘the science of the general laws of motion and development of nature, human society and thought’. [2] Friedrich Engels, Anti-Dühring, part i, ch. 13. Or there is Lenin’s critique of positivism in Materialism and Empirio-Criticism, on which the later works of Althusser would depend so heavily for their justification of philosophy’s role in relation to science.

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