E. Ilyenkov

Humanism and Science

The reader has become acquainted with various points of view relating to a problem which in one manner or another is of concern to every thoughtful person in our time. The reader has become participant in this discussion. One does not have to be a philosopher to note the essential differences in approaching a resolution of the problem at hand. We will also make an attempt, without pretensions of providing a final answer, to express our own opinion.

Of primary importance is a formulation of the essential aspect of the problem grappled with by each of the authors in this book despite the obvious differences separating them. This is important because it may sometimes seem  that various approaches to the question simply signify discussions concerning various sides or aspects, but not (often opposing) means of resolving one and the same question. This one and the same question must be constantly borne in mind in as concise and sharp a formulation as possible. Only then can it be decided, following the arguments presented by the authors, which path points towards a solution, and which to a dead end. Otherwise we will be left with the impression that each approach contains partial glimpses of the truth and, equally, that each contains biases as well as mistakes. But the truth was never born of a simple summation of "various" aspects or through the unification of differing points of view.

What is in fact this question which so disturbs everyone? Can it be formulated in such a way that each disputant will recognize in it the object of his own reflections? Indeed, to state the question properly is to be well on the way to a solution. Therefore an authentic theoretical argument always begins with the theoretical formulation of the problem.

It is best when agreement on this point is reached front the very beginning—at the very least this agreement must be arrived at. Otherwise the formulation of the topic under dispute will remain insufficiently precisely articulated. The attempt must be made to bring the problem to the level of a contradiction, for every authentic problem, we are taught by the dialectic, must appear before the mind in the form of an intense and unresolved contradiction, in the form of an antinomy.

If for the time being we leave aside the purely theoretical ways of expressing the problem and approach it in a form comprehensible without requiring debilitating definitions and explanations, such an approach will permit us to evaluate each of the theoretical formulations provided.

What is the substance of this real and vital problem troubling each of us, which each of us has recognized to one degree or another and articulated in a more or less clear fashion?

Each of us has been aware almost literally from the time of our childhood of the dissonance between the conclusions of the mind and the dictates of the heart, of the frequent conflict between the voice of the conscience and calculations of our reason. Each of us knows that sometimes "circumstances" provide an act which stands in contradiction to our conscience, to our sense of kindness and of decency; we are familiar with the opposite, when the desire to do a "good deed" is overwhelmed by the force of "circumstances". Sometimes we prefer to submit to these circumstances, at other times we act "unwisely" but "nobly", entertaining no illusions of success. . . .

It is clear that we perceive such a contradiction as dissonance and divarication bringing neither peace of mind nor the tranquil carrying out of one's business. This conflict of motives, between "the mind's reflections coldly noted, the bitter insights of the heart" is not, of course, an insidious invention on the part of advocates of philosophical dualism. It is (whether to better or worse) the stuff of reality, the centre of our lives and thoughts.

Our planet, alas, is poorly prepared to grant happiness, Circumstances as they stand at present on earth are such that one can find no automatic guide to action which will coincide to the last detail with our inbred desire to bring about the well‑being and happiness of all on earth. The very "circumstances" surrounding our actions are contradictory. Often we must do somebody harm in order to do a good deed for another, and vice versa.

Given this situation is it possible to locate a universal principle, a general formula guaranteeing faultless decision‑making?

It is conceivable, of course, to decide once and for all to pursue unwaveringly the "voice of the conscience", the "dictates of the heart" and the "striving for good". One may decide to follow the principles of absolute and uncompromising honesty, ingenuousness and directness, regardless of considerations of other people and other facts and despite the cautions set forth by reason in its account of the pertinent circumstances. One can, on the other hand, rely solely upon reason, upon a sober calculation and estimation of all circumstances, upon the mathematically rigorous mind, placing unwavering trust in this mind—both when its conclusions accord with direct moral intuition and when they run in contrary directions.

Which of these principles is preferable, which is the more correct?

Will one risk the choice between these two, particularly after having read this book from cover to cover? It may be concluded with certainty from the preceding chapters, that each of the suggested solutions contains a certain logic and that each, in its rigorous purity, is abstract to an identical degree. In other words, from a more sophisticated point of view, the risk is unreasonable.

In point of fact the first solution attracts by virtue of its nobility of morals, often celebrated in the great art of the world. Don Quixote, Prince Myshkin in Dostoevsky’s Idiot, Siegfried (Der Ring des Nibelungen). . . . But the position is a martyr's lot. Moreover the martyr here is not only the protagonist, but also the principles themselves. Nobility of sentiment devoid of rationality and refracted through the prism of "circumstances" sometimes emerges as a caricature and sometimes a tragedy. Abstract, that is to say, alien to reason and calculation—noble sentiment inevitably leads to self‑denial and even suicide. One can find moral comfort here, but the truly noble simpleton, as a rule, serves—unbeknownst to himself and unwittingly—as a convenient tool of evil and torment in the web of insidious circumstances.

No less insidious in terms of consequences is the opposite solution. The habit of giving preference to the rigorously mathematical calculation or estimate of all circumstances (when the circumstances are repugnant to the conscience) leads, in the final result, to moral collapse. All is well and good when the calculations are flawless. But since it is in the end impossible to take fully into account all of an endless stream of dialectically interwoven circumstances, sooner or later, the calculating human being is bound to make a miscalculation, in so doing committing a moral transgression, passed by in the process as something inessential.

The dialectical "self‑negation" (that is to say "suicide" of the given principle and its bearer) in a subjective sense, to be sure, endures even worse. For a miscalculation together with a criminal act against the elementary norms of decency leads to a result perceived, among other things, as moral retribution . . . as the collapse, the total crushing of the personality.

Indeed it is one matter—the magnificent internal demise of Don Quixote, and quite another—the suicide, dictated by horror and self‑repugnance, of Smerdyakov (one of the protagonists in Dostoevsky's Brothers Karamazov). The mind, flouting the elementary demands of morality, ends up as a stupid fraud, a fraudulent ignoramus, recognizing this intolerable—both for the "mind" and for the "conscience"—state, to which it has brought itself by virtues of its principles. . . . Trust was placed in an abstract principle, but the trust was betrayed.

Don Quixote—is an easier case. Those "circumstances" which he didn't take into account—and had no desire to include in his calculations—proved to be the stronger. A sad state of affairs, but what can you do? Don Quixote will live on, however, in the grateful memories of all those who sooner or later will in fact remake "circumstances".

Such an outcome is easier, although it is nevertheless not the most pleasant. The outcome for Socrates, the outcome for Giordano Bruno.

There, on the other side we have Smerdyakov, Rudolf Hess, Julius Streicher.

Thus, if there is to be a defeat the first type is preferable, although one-sided and helpless before the crush of circumstances, then at least justified by its nobility of principle.

But both lead to defeat, to demise, to dialectical self-negation. A more optimistic exit must be sought.

*     *     *

From the Marxist point of view a full solution to the problem may be found solely by "making the circumstances humane", organizing the entire network of circumstances so that the problem itself disappears, so that no one ever has to choose between the demands of the "conscience" and the dictates of "reason"—so that circumstances themselves dictate (and the "mind" perceive) activity and deeds, in conformity with the interests of all other people.

The totality of social relations, social "circumstances" organized on the basis of this principle, is called communism. Communism in this sense is the only possible, only conceivable, theoretically valid and complete solution to the problem given formulation in this book. But the relations between science and morality are only one, only a partial expression of the fundamental problem of our age—the communist transformation of all social relations between humans. Only on the basis of a solution to this problem will we find, in the end, a solution to the conflict between impartial science, purged of all "sentiments", and of humanism. There is no other solution. Without the overarching solution our conflict will become more and more acute, the two polar principles will diverge even more widely and fall into sharper cleavage.

The capitalist system has only such a prospect: the exacerba­tion of the problem—antinomy between the demands of humaneness, on the one hand, and cold‑blooded calculation, alien to authentic scientific humanism, on the other hand. The culture of the bourgeois capitalist system divides inexorably along these two lines, both identically catastrophic for the fact of civilization. These two poles are counterposed in long-established and crystallized images.

One is “abstract humanism". Noble. but powerless before the “force of circumstances” and condemned to the fate of a lamb before the slaughter, the intellectuals in the West are inclined to support this pole. At times this position degenerates into flowery phrases and senseless chatter. At other times it instigates one to an aesthetically‑tainted anarchism, to revolt. Sometimes it forces one to lend an ear to the solution offered by the long-range prospects of communism.

The other pole is "scientism" (also quite widespread in the West), that is the decisive rejection  of all humanistic principles, termed as "unscientific sentiments”, as poetry and fiction". Scientism is the humanist emasculation of the scientific spirit, turned into a new God, a new Moloch, to whom, if he so desires, must be sacrificed tens, thousands, millions, and even hundreds of millions of people.

This new absolute spirit—the “scientific spirit" at all costs—has long had its priests. One of them stated with satisfaction, upon hearing the news of the destruction of Hiroshima: "What a magnificent experiment in physics!"

Given the preservation of such a world of "circumstances” organized on the basis of private property and the principle of competition there is no solution.

The only solution, according to Marx and Lenin, is the struggle of all working people (both manual and intellectual labour) for the establishment of those conditions on earth guaranteeing the disappearance of the "cursed problem" itself, of the tragic polarization of spiritual culture into two hostile camps—the dehumanized "scientific spirit" and the humanism of Don Quixote, devoid of a scientific foundation. Specifically we refer to the fight to eliminate the sphere of private property and to establish communism.

*     *     *

The authors of the given book derive their standpoints from this Marxist premise. Not one of them poses the problem in an adolescent fashion: "What is better, scientism or abstract humanism?" or, "What is worse, 'the unreasoning conscience' or the 'unscrupulous mind'?" We all understand that both of them are unacceptable, that is to say "worse".

All of the authors take the stance that high moral standards in human relations (that is to say, humanitarianism) can triumph on the earth only with the aid and support of science, and conversely, that science can develop along the path of universal‑historical discoveries only if it is oriented to the well‑being of all, if it consistently marks its course with the compass of humanitarianism. All of the authors of the present work propose a reasoned morality or, in other words. the moral development of the mind.

All of the authors understand well that the primary task of the socialist system, as noted in the CPSU Programme, consists in the education of people—both scientists and laymen—in the spirit of the harmonious development of both the scientific intellect and the highest moral principles, in the spirit of unity. The combination in each and every human of these two equally important elements of spiritual culture, is a task yet to be completed. How can this task be accomplished more rapidly and conscientiously? How can the vestiges of the antinomy of "mind" and "conscience" left to us as the legacy of the bourgeois‑capitalist order be eliminated more swiftly and completely?

The authors have also tried to come to grips with this problem. In terms of the goal of the argument they are not in disagreement. The differences to be observed concern the means to the end. They may be described as various shadings of an approach to the resolution of a given problem: how can the "reasoning conscience" or "conscientious reason" be more faithfully fostered in each and every human? The alternatives: the humanistically‑oriented scientific judgment or a rationally acting humanism, a humanized scientific spirit or a scientifically infused humanitarianism. These alternatives are, in the end result, one and the same. The authors are in agreement on this point, we find no source of dispute.

But perhaps, given this agreement, there is nothing to hold the reader's interest, no serious disagreement?

Perhaps both groups of writers (and it's not difficult to note that each of them is pulled to one of the two poles, each pole demonstrating the same argument) have drawn the links of their arguments from different premises. Some wish to resolve the task by means of the "humanization of scientific thought", wish to furnish the cold theoretical intellect with a "value orientation". Others, on the contrary, wish to equip humanitarian strivings with the strength of scientific insight and the might of the theoretical intellect, to provide humanitarianism with a "scientific rigging". Both groups accomplish a good deed in the process. He who lacks a scientific background should be provided with the essentials, he who lacks a moral framework, should be encouraged above all in moral relations (not ignoring, of course, a scientific education). In the one instance science must be imparted in a morally "cultivated" soil, in the other—moral principles must be inculcated in a scientifically literate mind. Both poles of the theoretical setting are thus justified, correct and good, but in different respects.

Is not the dispute itself resolved, may it not be said that "what the philosophers are arguing about" in the given instance is a false contradiction?

It would seem so. It would seem that the antinomy has disappeared and turned out to be "a contradiction in different relations". In other words, each side is correct in relation to one object (to that category of people which it had in mind) and incorrect in relation to another. If this be so, the reader may put aside the book in peace and call a halt to the inquiry. The contradiction has proven to be a formal, verbal one. Let those who derive pleasure from this type of problem continue the dispute.

Nevertheless, let us look somewhat more closely at the issue. In the fine print of the given formal contradiction can we not find something more essential?

Thus, the first solution: add a dose of science to humanitarianism.

The second: humanize the sciences, direct them toward humanitarian, noble goals and "values".

Let us try to clarify the premises implicit in each of these propositions, accepted without reflection as given. Will we not find concealed an authentically, rather than merely verbal dialectical contradiction in these premises?

The first solution, stressing the scientific "outfitting" of the human psyche (of both scientists and laymen) proceeds from the tacit presupposition that the majority of people are already sufficiently developed in a moral sense that it remains only to provide them  with the apparatus of scientific notions or “literacy” to implement the previously stated goal.

The second, on the contrary, proposes that in relation to science people (or at least people engaged in the scientific disciplines) have already reached the summit and that if something is found lacking, this something is a clear and indisputable "scale of values", a certain moral (or, strictly speaking, ethical) regulator. Arming the scientist with a scale of "value orientation" we will put everything in order, and science will begin to bring exclusively well‑being and happiness to humankind; catastrophe and harm will be forever excluded. . . .

Is the reader satisfied with such a solution?

We fear each solution has only an extremely limited range of application. Such is the case, for example, with the morally irreproachable, ethically attractive, but unfortunately semi-literate person; and such is the case with the "academician" who has pulled himself up to the moral level of a Hottentot. Are there really such cases? Alas, yes. But, as luck would have it, they are rare birds, just as are all "pure" extremes. The two strategies (and the theories underlying them) mentioned above are perhaps applicable in these cases. Infrequency is not the only point here; these personages themselves are terminal cases. The ambulance of theory arrived on the scene much too late in this case.

The highly refined scientific mind inculcated in a human being with the moral level of the primitive psyche, can hardly be transformed into a human an humane mind (particularly through the inculcation of “value categories”). On the other hand, for the morally proper, good, honest and selfless person lacking a higher education, it is probably too late to encourage a scientific and theoretical intellect of the first order.

A theoretical understanding of the relationship existing between "the scientific spirit" and "morality" cannot be concerned, therefore, with these exclusive situations, nor must it orient itself upon them. A theoretical understanding can be gained only through the analysis of mass phenomena and must be sufficient to resolve instances and problems occurring on a large scale. If this be so, then each of the solutions presented in a schematic fashion above to the problem as a whole, may be judged imperfect.

Of course, one must try to foster in each and every human both of these qualities—to develop his theoretical intellect without forgetting about his moral upbringing, about the encouragement of his humanitarian inclinations. But such a correct practical "solution" does not speak to our point: are these elements of an authentic spiritual culture connected internally, in essence? Perhaps there are various—to be sure, of identical importance—but nevertheless mutually independent and autonomously cultivated means with which an individual can carry on relationships with the world about and with other people.

If this be so, then science is an objective picture of the world absolutely shorn of any and all "sentiments". This picture is both socio‑historical and naturalistic, and must be thoroughly cleansed of the slightest admixture of the "subjectively human". It portrays the world about us as such and teaches us of our own biological structure—demonstrating how the world and life as such contrived independently of our consciousness, will, sympathies and antipathies, desires and strivings. Concerning the question of how to dispose of the world, of the use we make of our scientific and theoretical knowledge of the environment, this, if we pursue the reasoning of such an interpretation of the scientific spirit, is a question of another order. To rephrase it, is a question of the moral "values" we wish to foster in the human being. But "values" interpret not that which is, but that which should be. We are more accurately, in the realm of ideals and dreams, be they elevated or mean, noble or selfish. At any rate, we are dealing with criteria providing a subjective evaluation of purely objective circumstances, things, situations and events which have been described by science.

In its classically clear and consistent form such a relationship between "pure reason" and the "voice of the conscience", as between two equally important but principally heterogeneous modes of perceiving the world of phenomena, is presented in the philosophy of Immanuel Kant.

Science impartially describes that which is; theoretical reason in its "pure" state has neither the right nor the resources to judge whether something is "good" or "bad" from the point of view of the “well‑being of the human species”, of its “self‑perfection”. Precisely for this reason Kant considered that “pure reason” must be supplemented by an absolutely independent and autonomous moral regulator, the "categorical imperative" which can be neither scientifically proven nor refuted. This categorical imperative must be accepted on faith. Without blind faith in this moral regulator "pure" (scientific-theoretical) reason can serve both good and evil with equal ease; of and by itself it is capable of any action and neutral in the struggle between good and evil. In actuality this signifies: a halter of moral restrictions must be fitted to scientific reflection. Such a halter will help to guide science and direct its inquiries.

It is not difficult to observe that for Kant the theoretical solution to the question posed by the relationship between "pure" and "practical" reason, that is to say, between science and the "voice of the conscience"—the "moral regulator"—is given sufficient definition. Kant does not simply argue that the "intellect" (verstand) and the "conscience" (the scientific and moral aspects of the human psyche) are of equal importance, mutually ­complementary, and, in isolation, inadequate modes of orientation to the world on the part of the individual. If Kant had confined himself to this, he would have been uttering trivial bits of worldly wisdom, against which no one would have bothered to object. Each individual (providing of course that he is not an inveterate scoundrel or an impenetrable thickhead) constantly tries to correlate his thoughts and deeds, both with the conclusions of the intellect and the demands of morality. The problem cannot be pinpointed here.

It arises rather when the intellect and morals (science and morality) conflict with an unresolvable antinomy, when they require of the individual diametrically opposite decisions. In such instances Kant grants the right for an unconditional verdict, for a final decision concerning that which is correct or incorrect from a superior point of view—precisely to moral principle. For Kant theoretically this position is founded on the judgment that the intellect (theoretical reason) is fundamentally incapable of taking fully into account the interminable succession of conditions bearing upon the resolution of a task, that the "voice of the conscience" by some miraculous means is in fact capable of grasping in an integral fashion, immediately and without analytical digging into the details, the full picture of this unending sequence. Therefore if reason collides with the voice of the conscience this indicates that the former has left something essential out of account which in the end result, having emerged from the shadows of the unknown, will overturn its calculations.

Therefore the categorical imperative moral principle is placed over science by Kant as an absolutely independent of its considerations, and fully autonomous criterion of a higher truth. In turn the development of science is dependent upon its dictates. This further signifies that science (the intellect) is proclaimed a means of implementing moral ends, a mode for the concretization (embodiment) of moral principles.

This may be concretely presented in the following manner: if "pure reason" (science) has arrived at a state of antinomy, that is to say, if two theories, two schools, or two conceptions emerge, each as logical as its opponent, and each as well founded in terms of the given contemporary state of knowledge as the other, the decision on which is correct and which incorrect will be left not to science (for it is incapable of finding an exit from this unpleasant situation) but rather to ethics. The latter would demonstrate which of the two mutually exclusive theories is to be supported and developed further and which to be prohibited as ill‑intentioned.

The arbiter, furthermore, renders a peremptory judgment and in such disputes between scholars becomes what might be called a priest of morality judging science from without.

Could it be, however, that the problem is solved in precisely the opposite manner? Perhaps science should not be declared the handmaid of ethics (the form of realizing moral strivings); on the contrary, morals should become the means for inculcating scientifically demonstrated principles of behaviour, that is to say, science should be granted the right to guide morality. In such a case morality becomes a form of the psyche derivative of "pure reason". Here morality, both by essence and by origin, is identified with science, only expressed in the language of imperative (rather than declarative) statements.

Let us say that science has established that "human nature" bears specific features. Ethics translates this fact in the following manner: "You are human, therefore you must do this and that". Ethics in such a case would be distinguished from scientific reflection in an exclusively linguistic manner, by the exclusively imperative form of the sentence giving expression to those very same truths established by science. Ethics here will become a form of realization of a scientific approach.

This alternative is also a theoretical one, not a "from that, follows this". It is easy to observe that it stands in direct opposition to the Kantian solution. In the latter ethics directs the development of science, in the former science directs the development of ethics and of morality. At first glance such a solution seems more reasonable than that preferred by Kant. Scientists are more inclined to accept the second alternative. Perhaps we may also rest our case on it?

The advantages of such a solution are indisputable. They represent the advantages held by the scientific spirit over blind faith in the force of moral "values", in the strength of "the good", in the triumph of "mankind's well‑being", as well as other noble but, as a result of their abstractness, ambiguous reference points. Indeed both "the good" and the "well-being of humanity" can be interpreted variously. Here after all begins the very same dialectic that we find in the sphere of “pure reason” . . . .

Nevertheless it seems to us that this solution is not so infallible, despite the fact that it is closer to the truth than are Kant's proposals. One's suspicions are aroused from the fact that this solution represents the mirror opposite of Kant's. They bear the same similarities and differences that we find between a photographic negative and positive. In one scientific thought evolves in the direction suggested by ethics, in the other, morality is constructed and refurbished to correspond with the instructions given "according to science".

The latter would be a wonderful solution, but only under the condition that the notion (science) were an absolute one in terms of infallibility, to repeat, free of error. To put it briefly the scientific notion would have to possess all those qualities of divine perfection ascribed to it by Plato and Hegel respectively. The Hegelian "Absolute Idea" in substance, is nothing but the "deified scientific notion" to which is given all the attributes of God.

Science is a wonderful thing; we hope the reader does not entertain the suspicion that we hold it in disrespect. The "deification of science " (deification of the notion), as any deification, is another matter. It (of course not science itself, but its authorized representatives) begins to imagine itself the creator not only of morals, but also of law, of political systems, of wide‑scale historical events, of cities, temples, statues, in general of all human history. The "deified notion'' begins to look upon history as upon its own work, its own creation; an "empirical world" brought about by its omnipotence and creative power. If we follow this train of thought, historical man in his deeds and affairs realizes, often quite unwittingly, the designs of the "Absolute Idea", that is to say, of the deified (under such a name) logic of scientific‑theoretical reflection.

If the absolute notion proclaims through its priests that man has completed his service to the absolute and that it has decided to create a perfected instrument to embody its will, let us say a "thinking machine", an artificial intellect with capabilities exceeding those of the human brain, then humans will be obliged to submit unconditionally to the command of the absolute and lead themselves to the sacrifice, recognizing their imperfection, fallibility and biologically imposed limitations. Such is the logic of the position we have outlined carried to its conclusion.

It must be added that the Hegelian variant of a deified notion or logical idea was nevertheless more humane than the newest deity on the altar (the worship of the cybernetic‑mathematical notion). With Hegel God-Logos specifically granted men the right to act as instruments of self-cognition and self‑awareness, "objectification" and "de‑objectification". Heinrich Heine came to the conclusion, on the basis of conversations with Hegel himself that his philosophy points to a humanitarian proposition: man is in fact the only God, at on least on earth. Man as a thinking being is the God of this world.

The human guided by logic is the creator of history and its fully­ empowered "steward". He must be handed the reins of government over human affairs. It is precisely he, the dialectically thinking theoretician who from this point on must be the high priest of God—that is, of the self‑impelled Absolute Idea. Hegel's God is the God of the theoretician who believes in the strength of the Idea, that is, of the logical scheme imposed upon the development of science. Still it is a God, with all the ensuing undesirable consequences for mankind.

The more man relinquishes to God, the less he leaves for himself. The more God appropriates, the more is "alienated" from the living human being. Further, the "alienated" (i.e., the deified) reason signifies on the other hand the "alienated" (including the spheres of reason, science—the Idea) man. With the deification of science we have (just as in Hegelian philosophy) a mystified inversion of their actual relations. To be precise: man created and continues to create science, but then it turns out that it is not science that serves the well‑being and happiness of mankind, but quite the opposite. Mankind is being enlisted in the service of science and is becoming the obedient executor and even slave of its despotic design. This is well and good when the design is authentically scientific (veritas in the highest sense of the word). But if this be not the case?

Science, once deified, becomes not only despotic and intolerant, but also quite incapable of self‑criticism. It goes without saying that we refer not to science itself, for in and of itself it is devoid of consciousness and will, but rather to its plenipotentiary, individual and sometimes quite authoritative scientists. Indeed they speak out not of personal conviction, but in the name of science. People respect science, for this reason the blanket phrase "in the name of science" sometimes conceals the true nature of certain ideas parading under this title but in reality having nothing in common with either humanism or with the authentic scientific spirit.

Things are even worse when a morally inferior person begins to lay down the law in the name of science. When Truman ordered the bomb to be dropped on Hiroshima, this was apparently an inadequate measure for one scientist. He suggested that Hiroshima be destroyed even more “scientifically”, namely, by dropping in advance over the city multi-coloured illuminating rockets. The residents of the city would look up at this curious spectacle, and at precisely this time the atom bomb would explode. The result would be mass blindness—for the survivors. Thus the "experiment in physics" would be, in his opinion, the more complete and would more succinctly demonstrate to the world the "strength of American science". And those who designed and built Hitler's mobile gas‑chambers were also, after all, scientists. . . .

Of course to dream of preventing similar applications of science by the “moral enlightenment” of such "scientists", by introducing them to a “value orientation centred on the good” and by the propagation of a "scale of moral values"—such a dream is worthy only of the very naive humanist.

The idolization of science is a solution no better than that offered by Kant. The power of science must be respected, but in no instance deified.

Neither morality nor science can be the "higher value" in the scale of that which is valuable in human civilization. Morality and science have always been and remain today simply means, tools, instruments, designed by Man for his own use, to augment his mastery over nature, to support measures facilitating human happiness. If science and morality instead begin to support the oppression, crippling, disfiguring and even extermination of living human beings, that is to say, if they are transformed not only into an antipode, but also a deadly enemy of humanism, for the Marxist this testifies above all to the inhuman, anti‑humanist nature of that system of relations between people which so perverts the relations between science, morality and the human being. By "the human being" we have in mind the masses of people—a body composed of working people, both in the manual and intellectual spheres of labour—and not an abstract "humankind in general".

Marxism represents a higher form of humanism, precisely because it rejects idolization (or as is also said, "alienation") of any given institutionalized form of human activity including that of science (in other words, activity of a scientific‑theoretical type, professionally isolated from the majority of human beings: logical reflections, transformed into a profession, into the full‑time occupation of a more or less narrow group of individuals—mathematicians and logicians by profession, etc.). This by no means belittles the importance of science or the deep respect accorded to a science founded on the dialectical materialist world outlook, for the latter is the most scientific world view.

This respect excluded the scientistic view on people as "raw material" for scientific research. Scientism is therefore the contemporary form of anti-humanism. From the point of view of Marxism‑Leninism science is in essence (rather than in the distorted and alienated images in which it is often presented in bourgeois society) a form for the realization of humanist goals. Marxist humanism proceeds from the historically matured (and scientifically clarified) requirements for the comprehensive development of the majority (or maximally—all humans without exception) of humans.

This is in fact the substance of communism. From such a point of view science is not a form for the realization of abstract humanist strivings (as with Kant) nor are ethics the form for the realization of the "logical idea" or "notion" (as with Hegel). Both science and ethics (an authentic, humanistically oriented morality or code of morals) represent two forms of consciousness, expressing and realizing one and the same—the concretely and historically understood being of man and of the world of man's life and works. Therefore an authentic science and authentically high level of morality cannot but coincide in their very essence. They cannot stand in juxtaposition.

But what if they coincide only "in essence", but in reality, in the empirical world, often run into conflict with each other?

Here it is by no means admissible to ignore the "moral sentiment" and place one's support wholly behind science regardless of circumstances, as advocates of scientism recommend. Indeed science (not as a whole, that is, not the entirety of scientific knowledge of man and nature, but isolated science, isolated theory) and more precisely, scientists speaking in its name, are capable of erring. If an individual science suddenly advances a conception (with recommendations stemming from this conception) which runs counter to the principles of humanism, then we are fully justified in assuming that in the given instance the ultimate truth may be found in morality, that the given science has gone astray. Here it is useful to submit the infallible Goddess to a critical analysis from the point of view of its own criteria.

Marxist humanism (or, in other words, the Marxist world‑view and logic), locating its reference points in scientific knowledge as a whole has the advantage of being an integral representative of scientific truth in the highest sense. It holds this advantage over any given individual science or theory no matter how marvellously elaborated this science or theory is in a formal sense. Such is the image of truth, accessible for science only in that instance and that sense of the word signifying not a given individual theory but rather the entire scientific-theoretical culture of mankind, the latter understood from a development perspective. In this sense, in this interpretation science and humanism coincide in all their conclusions and formulae. Between an individual science (theory) and humanism a conflict may well arise. To decide this contradiction in favour of the given theory and its "infallible formulae" would be at least incautious. One must initially determine the cause of the conflict.

This is precisely how Frederick Engels depicted the relationship between "scientific accuracy" and "the moral self-consciousness of the mass". He remarked that science could not rely upon arguments derived from morality nor base its propositions on arguments derived from "moral sentiment".

“Marx, therefore, never based his communist demands upon this. . . . But what formally may be economically incorrect may all the same be correct from the point of view of world history. If the moral consciousness of the mass declares an economic fact to be unjust, as it has done in the case of slavery or serf labour, that is a proof that the fact itself has been outlived, that other economic facts have made their appearance, owing to which the former has become unbearable and untenable. Therefore, a very true economic content may be concealed behind the formal economic incorrectness.” [1]

The "moral sentiment of the mass" turns out to be correct in its stance against “strict science” which has not yet succeeded in getting to the heart of the matter precisely because the masses are truly caught in the vise of the contradiction between two categories of stubborn facts. In other words, the "moral sentiment"—humanistically‑oriented consciousness—expresses in the given instance the presence of a real problem which must be resolved both theoretically and practically, the existence of an actual social contradiction, an outlet from which must be sought in a scientific manner.

Therefore it was precisely Karl Marx—a man with a developed morality and sensitivity to arguments stemming from the moral consciousness of the masses—who saw an authentic scientific problem where philistine scientists saw cause only for the elaboration of a formally non‑contradictory scheme of concepts. Spotting an authentic scientific problem means travelling half the distance to its solution. Therefore Marx's Capital, though constructed with a strictly scientific scaffolding, is nevertheless invested with a humanistic core, that is to say, a humanistic formulation of the problem and thrust.

The basic moral inspiration underlying Capital is fully and precisely expressed by the thesis of authentic humanism: Man, the living human being, not money, nor machines, nor products or any form of "wealth", is the highest value and the “creator‑subject” of all "alienated" forms. If we were to divest Capital of this "moral" principle, declaring it unscientific, the scientific logic underlying this work of genius would collapse as a whole. Indeed can one give a purely "logical" basis to the thesis that human labour creates value, while the work of the donkey, although it performs exactly the same labour, creates no new value?

*     *     *

The scientific communism of Marx, Engels and Lenin provides an internal unification for humanism and the scientific spirit which goes to the heart of the matter. This signifies that scientific communism, first of all, finds its reference point in the human being as the highest value; man understood not in an abstract manner but as the actual majority of working people. It finds its orientation in the general and fundamental interests of the working people. Scientific communism, secondly, represents, from beginning to end, a practical and concrete programme for the realization of humanism understood in precisely this sense.

Therefore humanism does not form a special "sub‑system" within Marxism, nor does it represent a separate "scale of values" existing autonomously in relation to the remaining scientific system of concepts.

From this stems as well the Leninist definition of communist ethics and communist morality and its guiding principle: that which serves the building of communist society is moral. We classify as moral that deed, that way of thinking which offers support to this noble cause. Any other understanding of morality and ethics represents without fail a bourgeois lie cleverly masked to one extent or another.

In this connection we note the theoretical untenability of the attempt to create within Marxism a special (autonomous) sub‑system dealing with "moral values". The proposal to supplement scientific communism with a special "scale of moral imperatives", with "humanistic premises" originates as a rule in the West from people who personally sympathize with communism but poorly understand the Marxist‑Leninist solution of the real problem incorporated here.

This problem is particularly acute today because the struggle for authentic humanism, for communism, is precisely a struggle. It is not an easy struggle, not only an ideological struggle, but at times it is even bloody. The latter is carried on against an enemy prepared to carry out the most extreme and inhumane measures. In this struggle the old conflict between the "values of humanism" and the necessity of violating them in the name of this humanism is renewed daily if not hourly. The typical dialectical situation arises in which the authentic humanist (as distinct from the "fair‑weather humanist") is sometimes forced to apply violence against another human. Sometimes circumstances evolve in such a manner that the authentic humanist is compelled to resort to deceit and cunning (for example, during interrogations in fascist torture chambers). Once again this deceit and cunning is applied in the name of humanism, for to tell the truth in such surroundings would be to commit a far more heinous and immoral act than to lie. Here there is no theoretical problem, but merely one of personal stamina, and moral fortitude in the pursuit of high moral principles.

The real and very difficult problem, calling for a clear theoretical solution lies elsewhere. Is it admissible to interpret the formula: "that which serves the victory of communism is moral" to mean that in the name of this great cause "all is permitted", that there are and can be no restrictions of a moral nature imposed here? Or might it be argued that even here not all is "permitted"?

Is there in general a limit beyond which a deviation, forced by extreme circumstances, from the abstract general norms of humaneness in the name of and for the sake of the triumph of a concretely and historically understood humanism is transformed into—in full agreement with the laws of the dialectic—a crime against the very goal for the sake of which the act was undertaken? To speak more to the point, can this fatal limit be determined, for it always exists somewhere or the other? In actuality this border forms the great divide between the authentic communism of Marx, Engels and Lenin and those "left" doctrines which interpret Marxist moral formula as indicating that "all is permitted". It is one matter to understand that violence and murder are inevitable actions summoned by the extreme circumstances accompanying the deadly battle of the classes, actions to which the revolutionary must resort, recognizing fully their inhumanity. It is quite another matter, to look upon these activities a the optimal, the safest and even the only methods of establishing "happiness" on earth. Both Marx and Lenin morally approved violence only in the most extreme circumstances, and then, only on the minimal scale, that which is absolutely necessary.

Lenin wrote that Communists are opposed to violence against men in general and they resort to coercion only when it is imposed upon them by authentic admirers of violence. The only justification for violence is as a means of opposing violence, as violence against the violent, but not as a means of influencing the will of the majority of the working people.

Therefore Communists are never the initiators of actions such as war or the "export of revolution" at the point of the bayonet. Lenin always categorically and consistently opposed “left” ideas of this type. In his understanding the scientific spirit of communism is always inseparably connected with the principle of humaneness in the direct sense of the word.

This also forms the principal difference between Lenin and those doctrinaires who allow themselves the pleasure of cynically counting up the number of human lives "worth" paying for the victory of world communism. . . . As a rule such calculations in today's world are the occupation of people characterized by primitivity both in terms of theory and in their moral profile.

In order to resolve the problem of uniting high moral standards with a maximum of the scientific spirit, the problem must first of all be viewed in all of the acuity and dialectical complexity which it has acquired in the difficult and tumultuous time we live in. A simple algebraic solution will not do. The problem of the relationship between morality and the scientific spirit has been resolved only in the most general fashion by Marxist philosophy. In concrete situations, on the other hand, it will occur again and again in the foreseeable future; each time it will have a new and unexpected twist. Therefore there can be no simple or ready‑made solution for each individual occurrence of the conflict between the "mind" and the "conscience".

There can be no simple prescription or mathematical formula capable of meeting every occasion. If you run into a conflict of this nature, do not assume that in each instance "science" is correct and "conscience" rubbish, or at best a fairy tale for children. The opposite is no closer to the truth, namely that "moral sentiment" is always correct, that science, if it runs into conflict with the former—is the heartless and brutal "devil" of Ivan Karamazov, engendering types like Smerdyakov. Only through a concrete examination of the causes of the conflict itself may we find a dialectical resolution, that is to say, the wisest and the most humane solution. Only thus may we find, to phrase it in current jargon, the "optimal variant" of correspondence between the demands of the intellect and of the conscience.

To be sure finding a concrete, dialectical unity between the principles of mind and conscience in each instance is not an easy matter. Unfortunately there is no magic wand, there is no simple algorithm, either of a "scientific" or a "moral" nature.


[1] Karl Marx, The Poverty of Philosophy, p. 9.

SOURCE: Ilyenkov, E. “Humanism and Science,” in Science and Morality, translated from the Russian (Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1975), pp. 258-277.

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