Man as the Object of Cognition
in Arts Subjects

L. I. Novikova

The heightening of the world scientific community's interest in man and his inherent essential powers is explained by the mounting role of the human factor today. On this soil there has been a revival of hermeneutics of a Diltheian flavour in Western philosophical literature. The Club of Rome made allowances for 'man' in its global projects of the world. Contemporary 'Marxologists', while criticising Marxism for a 'loss of man', undertake 'rescue measures' to 'consolidate' and 'supplement' it by humanism. Pluralism, which (in its ideologists' opinion) provides an unprogrammed interpretation of human existence, is declared a leading principle of social philosophy. To all these trends Marxism opposes the materialist monism of its philosophical orientation, which is the methodological foundation for a humanist understanding of man's life-world, as well as for explaining the patterns of history.

By bringing out the role of social practice in the development of history, i.e., of the history of man as a social and, in that sense, human being, Marxism thereby brought humanist knowledge into the stream of the social sciences.

Marx, Engels, and Lenin differentiated between the social-philosophical, historical, and humanist approaches to social science on the methodological plane, and at the same time resolutely insisted on their unity. The fundamental task of social philosophy and the cognitive procedure corresponding to it is to reduce the whole diversity of the single, seemingly unique facts and events of human history to a single objective basis. Reduction is understood here as substantiation of the interaction of complex social, historical processes by disclosing their subordination to fundamental laws of social development. On the plane of formal logic it can be taken as an explanation of a nomological type. Lenin, stressing the cognitive value of the principle of reduction so productively employed by Marx, wrote:

People make their own history, but what determines the motives of people, of the mass of people, i.e., what gives rise to the clash of conflicting ideas [137/138] and strivings? What is the sum total of all these clashes in the mass of human societies? What are the objective conditions of production of material life that form the basis of all of man's historical activity? What is the law of development of these conditions? To all these Marx drew attention and indicated the way to a scientific study of history as a single process which, with all its immense variety and contradictoriness, is governed by definite laws. [1]

In that connection the materialist conception of history is naturally not just its reduction to the dialectic of the productive forces and relations of production. It is also a singling out of the whole ensemble of social relations from their dialectic, taking into account the inner interaction and mediations, i.e., explanation of the whole richness of history. It is, finally, understanding of the motives of individuals' behaviour, sense of values, and life dispositions, proceeding from the significant context of the ensemble of social relations that form man's life‑world, bearing in mind that man himself is not only the object but also the subject of these relations.

It has become a commonplace in Western philosophy to accuse Marxism of losing man as a result of reducing social relations to material and, ultimately, production relations. The accusation has no basis whatever. When defining the essence of man as an ensemble of social relations Marxism quite realises that human subjectivity is by no means reducible just to them, because, having suggested that the human personality is determined by existing social relations, we do not stress man's role as a subject of social relations capable of, and actually introducing, innovations in them. The richness of the human personality is not exhausted by objectified results of activity that can become the subject of objective social‑science knowledge. It is also latent in the creative powers and capabilities of man himself, which are manifested not only in practical activity but also as free play, creating a world of intellectual values (in intercourse with others) full of meanings, values, and senses that reproduce and anticipate existing social relations, elevating them to ideals. In this connection Lenin wrote:

The idea of determinism, which postulates that human acts are necessitated and rejects the absurd tale about free will, in no way destroys man's reason or conscience, or appraisal of his actions. Quite the contrary, only the determinist view makes a strict and correct appraisal possible instead of attributing everything you please to free will. Similarly, the idea of historical necessity does not in the least undermine the role of the individual in history: all history is made up of the actions of individuals, who are undoubtedly active figures. [2]

Marxism thus sees the uniqueness of the human personality in overcoming its natural and social limitations through its active [138/139] involvement in comprehensive social relations and the development on that basis of man's essential powers, unrelated to any previously given scale whatsoever. It is the development of these essential powers capable of going beyond existing relations, and stimulating their improvement, that is the limitless source of innovations, and, in the last analysis, of social progress.

The social sciences have the job of understanding not only objective laws but also the aspect of their development through innovations introduced by human subjectivity, the aspect of the 'result' of qualitatively new regularities and patterns in the course of the revolutionary transforming activity of people armed with consciously advanced aims, and also by motives of behaviour not always clear to them. The methods of social philosophy analysis are inadequate, of course, as regards single objects, and in particular for bringing out separate individuals' motives and the motives of their conscious activity and aspirations. But Marxism has never regarded them as a 'universal master‑key' for explaining all the phenomena of society's life. The methods of reduction (substantiation) and deduction (explanation) supplement and compensate the individualised methods of arts subjects and the social sciences when these aspects of the functioning and development of social, historical reality are being investigated.

Marx's main sphere of scientific interests was concentrated on the general theory of the course of history and the political economy of capitalism. But, while consistently guided by the idea of the socio‑economic determination of the behaviour of individuals belonging to certain classes of society, he stressed that this did not exhaust the whole fullness and value in itself of living phenomena that were realised 'only with this realm of necessity as (their) basis'. [3] In accordance with that methodological principle he widely employed 'individualised' methods and techniques of analysis of the humanities proper, even in his exclusively theoretical works like Theories of Surplus‑Value, and Capital. In works like The Civil War in France and The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte, individualised methods played a decisive role in determining the reasons for the success of the coup d'état carried out by an 'unknown adventurist', the 'most dull-witted man in France', completely lacking in personal principle. [4] Application of these methods to the leaders of the republican regime as to members of various circles of the bourgeois class enabled Marx to bring out their personal responsibility for the fall of the republic and for France's national shame connected with Louis Bonaparte's coup. The notion of personality that [139/140] Marx started with here presumed that man is objectively responsible for his convictions and the consequences of acting on them, as well as subjectively responsible for his convictions. He not only applied this method to the leaders of the Second Republic, and the leaders of the opposition but also to the various groups and cliques of the class of the bourgeoisie that they headed, and to the bourgeois class as a whole. As a result the concept of class was given a face, and consequently responsibility to history.

From the standpoint of Marxism, humanitarian knowledge can be taken, in the social sciences, as an orientation of it on an empathic explanation of the behaviour of individuals and social groups, starting from their natural tenacities and tempers and objective circumstances. The subject‑matter of these disciplines is, according to philosophic tradition, man in his social connections, the wholeness of which is disclosed as the world of man objectified in culture. As we see, the Marxian approach does not contradict the general philosophical intention but gives it an objective basis.

Knowledge of man became an object of philosophical reflection only during the Renaissance; since then philosophical thought has repeatedly turned to determination of its specific qualities.

When A. M. Batkin was analysing the sources of Italian humanism he distinguished the forming of a new type (style) of philosophising, viz., humanist thought (studia humanitatis) which, in the understanding of its founders, meant approximately the following (as he interpreted it): 'zealous study of everything that constitutes the wholeness of the human spirit'. Literature is an objectified expression of it, or the spirit itself coded in words. Understanding of it calls for profound concentration of the humanist's thought, which is thus included in a single, continuous process of development of the mind. As Batkin stresses, humanists included two basic thoughts inter alia in the very concept humanitas: 'learning', which presupposed universality of knowledge through assimilation of literature (literae), [5] and 'virtue', which enabled man to rise through learning above others and himself.

That line in the Humanities, orientated on treatment of man in his cultural, linguistic context, was fundamentally developed, and is being broadly developed in various versions at the present time. But the limitation of this on the whole very productive line is that it is locked in its special subject‑matter and does not rise to the level of universal generalisation. In short, it itself has [140/141] to become the object of methodological analysis so as to explicate its specifics.

Man's cognition has a multilevel character. It is realised at the level of ordinary, everyday consciousness, in the sphere of various extrascientific forms of social consciousness (mythological, moral, [6] aesthetic), and attains its definiteness at the level of philosophical reflection. A specific feature of cognition in arts subjects is to be seen in the organic connection of these levels.

The primary, direct form of this cognition is ordinary consciousness which provides a direct orientation of the social individual's activity during the practical making of decisions. This 'switched‑in' character of ordinary consciousness in practical activity is attained through its flexibility and unspecialised character, which distinguishes it from theoretical activity. When man tries to achieve the aims he has set himself, he in fact meditates, on the basis of past experience, on the circumstances that could promote or prevent success. He has to learn to allow for the possible effect of other participants in the events, by putting himself in their place and stepping into the role of the other person, and to sketch out a scenario of sorts of behaviour that might, in his opinion, lead to success. By being already 'involved' in the events, he learns 'on the hop', while being successful or failing. But ordinary consciousness, however adequate in domestic use, proves narrow and limited when transferred to the sphere of scientific cognition.

This orientation of cognition in arts subjects on ordinary consciousness has received very distinct expression in phenomenology and Weber's interpretive sociology closely associated with it, which claims to be a true reflection of man's 'life‑world'. In contrast to the scientistic conception of man and culture of, say, the Baden School, or of structural anthropology, which takes the world of man as predestinated and, as it were, resistant to investigation, interpretive sociology starts from a 'natural maxim' of the unity of man and his life‑world, i.e., the world of his sensations, aspirations, desires, doubts, beliefs, and convictions. The 'life-world', according to interpretive sociology, is a sphere of directly experienced pre-reflex reality in which the researcher is immersed as an empirical Ego. But having adopted a cognitive stance he concentrates attention and interest on his experiences of the life‑world. The actual experience acquires meaning through a reflex, itself becomes a fact of the life‑world. The spokesmen of interpretive sociology, however, realise that introspection is not a reliable means of knowledge of man and of his identity with himself, because it is not a lived experience ('here [141/142] and now') that is grasped at in the autoreflex but the past, snatched from the stream of experiences and prepared. They therefore pay attention mainly to problems of understanding the 'other', alter ego. The existence of the other, like the existence of my life‑world, stems from the natural set‑up. What is more, my 'self‑dependence' or 'independence', becomes the real existence of my Ego only through the other. Understanding therefore includes a capacity for empathy with the other's life‑world, for singling out some fragment in the intentional act, and includes interpretation of this fragment in the context of the meanings of the 'other'. Only on that basis is it in context of the meanings of my life‑world. Interpretive sociology calculates on overcoming solipsism in that way and substantiating the intersubjectivity of the life‑world.

The problem of understanding as understanding, primarily, of the 'other', and of my own Ego only through the other, embraces a real element of cognition in arts subjects. But it is important to note that it had been brought out clearly by Marx long before 'interpretive sociology'. Since man

comes into the world neither with a looking glass in his hand, nor as a Fichtian philosopher, to whom 'I am I' is sufficient, man first sees and recognises himself in other men. Peter only establishes his own identity as a man by first comparing himself with Paul as being of like kind. [7]

In contrast to 'interpretive sociology' which reduces understanding to the communication 'I‑other', Marx saw in the 'other', i.e., 'Paul', a member of the human race in the whole complexity of his social relations. 'Peter' therefore recognises his own essence and existence through 'Paul', because he enters the world of man, the world of human culture, together with 'Paul'. The limitation of interpretive sociology and of the phenomenology that it is close to, lies in ontologisation of the mode of cognition. Within this conception understanding as a mode of cognising the world of man through the 'natural set‑up', i.e., ordinary consciousness, is converted into the foundation of this world. The world itself proves to be constructed on the 'I‑other' model, i.e., is a kind of epistemological 'robinsonade'. [8]

Man, being involved in practical activity, cannot be in an objective relation to it because he himself is at once not only the subject but also the object of social action. He therefore tends to ascribe to reality his inclinations, needs, and expectations, i.e., to mythologise it in a certain sense. This opinion does not, by any means, denigrate the role of ordinary consciousness in arts subject cognition as a direct form of the link between consciousness and man's life‑world. But the notion of ordinary consciousness [142/143] itself requires explanation from the standpoint of scientific theory. Interpretive sociology tries to raise ordinary consciousness to the rank of a meta‑theory of social science cognition; as a result ordinary consciousness loses its directness and is mystified in a certain sense.

Forms of social consciousness specially orientated on the human mind, above all art, prove to be a means of catching the pulsing of the human spirit that is constantly altering under the impact of circumstances. Although, as G. O. Vinokur has correctly noted,

the experiencing personality as a thing and a poetical theme as a thing are frankly incommensurate things. . . yet their foundation remains common all the same! . . . The real is transformed in poetry, but the transformation itself would not be if there were not something to be transformed. That means, in practice, that the interpretation of a poetic image . . . necessarily presupposes understanding of the meaning of the real object that is symbolically transformed in it. [9]

Art addressed directly to man reproduces his life‑world as regulated and consummated around man, as his value environment. As M. M. Bakhtin puts it:

aesthetic activity gathers the world, dispersed in thought, and condenses it into a legitimate, self‑sufficient image, finds an emotional equivalent for the transient world that enlivens and enriches it. . . finds a value position from which all the transient acquires weight and gets significance and a stable determinacy. [10]

In contrast to ordinary consciousness, immersed in the life-world, the artist is concerned with some degree of involvement (non‑involvement) that enables him to pass from the world of objective reality to his co‑being represented by the work of art.

The stance of participant helps the artist to grasp and represent the position of man (himself‑‑'the other') in the world, his autoreflex in regard to his own position in the world, the reaction of 'others' to this position, and the reaction of these 'others' to his self‑evaluation. But the artist can only tie up such different projections of the world into an integral whole by passing to a stance of non‑participation, by appearing in relation to the world as its impartial judge and transformer, passing judgment on the event recorded by him or erecting it into an ideal.

In a work of art myth, image, idea, and value are synthesised into an artistically whole world. The basis of its aesthetic value is the polysemy and dynamic character of the image, and the high degree of freedom when various planes and perspectives co‑exist and throw light on one another. The limitedness of the cognitive activity of the artistic image is often seen in this feature, [143/144] by analogy with a concept, but when it is examined in comparison with a system of arts cognition rather than with a concept, it then turns out that the diversity of the properties of man himself, as an object of this cognition, the dynamic character of his intellectual states and qualities of his disposition, and the dependence of aesthetic judgment on the subject's cognitive orientation correspond to the polysemy of the image and its throbbing indeterminacy. Art yields us knowledge not only of the object of the artistic representation but also of its subject. Even when the subject is anonymous, when it starts from an orientation on objective reproduction of events, it reproduces a system of functioning values, in one way or another, and the existence of social structures, in the style of the work. Because of that a work of art proves accessible to the direct perception of contemporaries. But in order to convert understanding of art into cognition it is necessary to explicate it by the methods of artistic criticism, artistic and scientific interpretation, and philosophical, aesthetic reflection. A brilliant example of such explication is provided by the German literary critic Erich Auerbach in his book with the characteristic title Mimesis. Through a fine, stylistic analysis of the text (it is quite enough, moreover, Auerbach claimed, to take a representative extract from it), he showed the conditioned character of a change of style that had tendencies to stability by a change of non‑artistic, ultimately social relations. By analysing an excerpt from the works of the fourth century B. C. Roman historian Ammianus Marcellinus about the revolt of the plebs in Rome, and comparing it with the style of Tacitus' description of the revolt of the German legions (Ist century B. C.), Auerbach demonstrated how new social 'material'

begins more and more to master the stylistic intention and a style aspiring to a reserved nobility of character is forced to adapt itself to the content, so that the choice of words and the syntax in which the gloomy realism of the content presses hard on the unrealistic, will for preserving style in a contradictory way, begin to alter and become inharmonious, overcharged, and shrill. [11]

Scientific arts cognition is orientated on explaining the unique sense and social significance of the results of human activity. This task can be transformed and refined; from the social significance of the existing situation to a unique sense of events or creations of the human mind, and from that to their potential social significance. It functions as a necessary aspect of all social sciences, which, while studying the laws of social development, cannot ignore the real subjects of a historical action. [12] [144/145]

It is also inherent, in a certain sense, in the natural sciences because, as Michael Polanyi justly remarked,

into every act of knowing there enters a passionate contribution of the person knowing what is known and . . . this coefficient is no more imperfection but a vital component of his knowledge. [13]

But arts cognition finds concentrated expression in the subdivision of the humanitarian disciplines of cultural studies. On those grounds a methodological definition of its cognitive status and the methods of research adequate to it (whose development enriches the cognitive stocks and reserves of the social and natural sciences) seems more productive. Today the development of the Humanities depends in turn on the generalising methods and means of the exact sciences and is inconceivable without them.

It would in fact simply he naive to deny the significance of structural and functional methods of research and of mathematical models in linguistics, textual studies, ethnography, and art criticism, and even in poetics. Academician D. S. Likhachev, to whom we owe much in the discovery, understanding, and explanation of the texts of Old Russian literature, who has a fine feeling for the specific character of ideographic methods of research, and who has himself broadly employed them, insists on the need to integrate the specific methods of research of the Humanities and the generalising and even 'exact' methods traditional for natural science. But these methods by no means exhaust the specific content of the subject. In Likhachev's view, if we arrange all the disciplines of art studies and criticism in the form of a rose with those in the centre that deal with the most general matters and the interpretation of literature, we will find that the further a discipline is from the centre the more exact it is. The 'rose' of disciplines of literary studies has a certain stiff periphery and a less stiff core; when, however, we pull all the 'soft' petals off, he says, the 'stiff' ones lose the sense of their existence. We come up against a similar situation in history and ethnography, where there is also interpretation of events along with analysis of structures.

Arts cognition always deals with the results of human activity and self‑expression, objectified in cultural values and texts that are also the direct object of scientific cognition by the Humanities. According to M. M. Bakhtin, a text is the primary value and starting point of any social science discipline. When man is studied without a text and independently of it, we are no longer dealing with the Humanities. [145/146]

As the direct object of cognition a text is speech objectified in external symbolic form, organised in accordance with the requirements of the language's general grammar, the functional-genre purpose of the text, and the stylistics of the cultural and historical context of the period. [14] In that connection, of course, the external objectified form of expression of the motivated sphere of people's behaviour cannot be fully adequate to it. Thought and all inner life are potentially richer than language. At the same time every original text, according to Bakhtin's profound remark, always contains an author's revelation not predetermined by empirical necessity, the sense of which can only be discovered in the general context of the culture. Cognition in the Humanities also has to do with this opposition. By context, here, we mean the established system of meanings, values, and style of thinking of the culture within which the text was drawn up and functioned. In its content, the context is a more or less adequate reflection of the social relations and social structures.

Two situations are differentiated in scientific cognition: (1) when the text and context are in a single time‑space continuum; (2) when the text is taken out of the context of the culture in which its significance and sense were formed, and is included in another space‑time continuum, to which the investigator belongs.

An identical understanding of a text within the limits of a homogeneous culture is determined by the rules of syntax and the semantic meanings common to its language, which form a stable system of value orientations and style of thinking by deep mental and linguistic structures that reproduce the universal structure of social practice with more or less isomorphism. The understanding of a text takes the form of a dialogue. 'The word wants to be heard, answered, and again to answer the reply and so on ad infinitum. It enters into a dialogue that has no semantic end.' [15] Ordinary understanding of a text that does not go beyond the given culture occurs at an intuitive, automatic level, and is limited as a rule by self‑evident meanings and senses. The task of scientific cognition in the Humanities is to decipher and reconstruct the hidden deep meanings and senses, tasks that are complicated by the new senses and meanings generated in this dynamic process.

The play of senses arising in this way in a text and the sliding between structural ranks and orders of various kind give a text greater semantic possibilities than those a language taken by itself provides. [16]

This puts the researcher in a special position, requires him to get out of the dialogue while remaining within it. Hermeneutics [146/147] envisages such a cognitive procedure; it was developed and is broadly represented in modern art studies in the techniques of 'estrangement' (Brecht), 'distancing' (Shklovsky). In sociology the technique of involved observation corresponds to it. Use of these techniques makes it possible to break out of the hermeneutic circle and give objective knowledge about the content of a text and a comprehensible explanation of its sense‑forming motifs.

Situations of the second type, characteristic of historiography, call for special cognitive procedures, among which a reconstruction and interpretation of a text reciprocally passing into one another have decisive importance. Any text of a foreign culture is presented to the researcher as a fragment of it, many of whose links with the context are lost or incomprehensible. And sometimes the context itself is lost, i.e., understanding of the culture as a whole. In any case, however, the existence of the text already gives grounds for suggesting the existence of a cultural context of which it is a fragment, or of other fragments of it. A paramount task of the Humanities is to reconstruct a text, which presupposes restoration of its structure and sense in the context of the culture that gave rise to it and their transformation in accordance with the stereotypes of the apprehension of contemporary culture, because it is only possible to understand them on such a basis. In this connection the deciphering of a text of a foreign culture also takes the form of a kind of dialogue, in which the investigator interrogates the text, as it were, puts his questions to it, and seeks the answers to them by way of correlating the text and context, or other texts of the culture and selecting senses corresponding to the text from the several alternatives arising. Understanding is thereby deepened, and new senses are generated corresponding to a contemporary, more developed state of the culture. The researcher proves, in a certain sense, to be an informed direct participant in the cultural dialogue, since he possesses, in addition to the unknown structures and senses of the studied text, isomorphic structures and senses of his culture that serve as the basis for a comparative analysis, and is equipped with understanding of the problem as a whole. All this provides objective grounds for a scientifically substantiated reconstruction of the text. But that is only a preliminary cognitive task whose essence is a comprehensible explanation of the text through interpretation of it.

In logic and mathematics, i.e., in systems of a closed type, by interpretation is meant adducing sense to the symbols of a formal system. The Soviet scholar S. V. Krymsky treats scientific [147/148] interpretation, in particular, as a logical operation, counterposed to abstraction, i.e., as a concretising, the cognitive function of which boils down to interpreting an abstract formal theory through an isomorphic depicting of a scheme functioning in it (terms and the relations of the terms) in the object‑field of another, more concrete and meaningful theory that can function as a model of the initial theoretical system. There is a great temptation to transfer this definition to other texts of culture because of its simplicity. But then we immediately come up against a number of difficulties. (1) The initial culture text cannot by any means be treated as formal and closed. It is discovered in the context of a culture, sending roots and senses, on the one hand deep down into tradition, and into the future, on the other. It is always a message, a word, directed to a future reader or hearer. (2) A simpler, more concrete 'theory' (or subject‑field) by no means emerges as interpretive, nor does the contemporary culture which is also provided with senses and discoveries as regards both the past and the future. Finally, the interpreter is far from indifferent to the content of the interpretation. He experiences subjective biases, supported (as it seems to him) by real understanding of the text in which he is immersed. But these difficulties are not insuperable for scientific knowledge.

The interpretation of a text in the Humanities is built up on the basis of research programmes and under the influence of paradigms of scientific cognition accepted by the scientific community. But its cognitive value depends on the scholar's personal knowledge and capacity to penetrate into the context of a foreign culture, and on his capacity for productive imagination or synthetic judgment, i.e., to see the whole (context of the culture) in the fragment (text), which in turn becomes the explanatory basis of the fragment (text). The foreignness of the text poses him a problem situation similar to the principle of 'estrangement'. He can therefore see more in it than its contemporaries, in particular its 'strangeness', 'otherness' compared with texts of his own culture. As a result of the problem (purposeful) clash of texts of different cultures, there thus arises not only a reconstruction of the structure and sense of the initial text but also the forming of new senses of it that make it possible to put it into the context of contemporary culture, enriching the world of man. This effect of cognition in the Humanities has been described by Bakhtin as growth of sense.

An example of the reconstruction and humanist interpretation of a text is N. Konrad's translation into Russian of the classic mediaeval text of Japanese culture Isa Monogatari, his [148/149] scholarly commentaries on it, and interpretation of it. [17] He emphasises that only deep study of the culture of the Heian period, to which the studied text belonged, and comparison of it with the similar period of European culture with its characteristic texts of polite, refined literature, enabled him to understand this extremely complicated work of Japanese classical literature and make a translation of it comprehensible to the Russian reader. And that, in turn, served as a more profound explanation of the historical period itself. In contrast to art, whose images have independent value, the idea of productive imagination must, in the social sciences and Humanities, be brought out in a system of theoretical concepts and descriptions, starting from general objective laws, in order to acquire scientific significance.

In history a historical source (document, the testimony of participants in events and their estimate of same, memoirs, etc.) functions as a 'text', and the current state of the subject as the context, including the fullness of its knowledge about the social and cultural medium in which the source originated and functioned, and also the general methodological level of historical studies which serves as a precondition for understanding and interpreting (comprehensible explanation) of the new source. In the definition of the eminent Soviet mediaevalist A. I. Neusykhin, historical cognition 'is man's thinking about social man of the past in terms of that past and of the present to which the understanding subject belongs'. [18] Historical explanation naturally thus retains a 'trace' of knowledge of the arts and history on the part both of the object and the subject. A historical event cannot be fragmented; it is genetically prepared and conditioned by the past and tends to the future. As the outstanding Russian historian Klyuchevsky noted in his time, we find out about ourselves by studying our forebears. Without knowledge of history we would have to acknowledge ourselves fortuities who do not know how and why we have come into the world, how and for what we live, how and for what we should aspire. The researcher immerses himself in this historical stream. The subject of knowledge therefore becomes a co‑participant, as it were, of the event itself even when it has already occurred. The historian cannot be indifferent to the event he is analysing. It is not a matter of modernising history but of an objective and epistemological time link—of the present with the past and the future. The historian knows more about what happened than his contemporaries did, because he knows how it ended up and what trace it left in the general chain of events. He can therefore, [149/150] with every right, assume the role of judge of the past. And if he understands (and he must understand this) that the fate of the present was laid down in the past, he must also realise that the future depends, in a certain sense, on his interpretation of the link of the past with the present, and that he is responsible to history for the future.

True, objective knowledge, which furthermore, acquires an objectified form of being (in theories, publications, calculations, schemes, etc.) that gives it a universal, instrumental character, is undoubtedly a productive result of scientific knowledge, including knowledge in the arts subjects. That gave Karl Popper grounds to relate it to a 'third world', the world of the objectified mind, independent of subjective knowledge. Objectified knowledge, according to him, has its own laws of functioning similar to biological laws. The Soviet scholar B. A. Lektorsky, noting the productivity of the idea of objective and objectified knowledge as a special subject of science studies, stressed that objectified knowledge, at the methodological level of research, has sense, as regards its origin, content, and mode of functioning, only when it is included in human cognitive activity. Knowledge, even computer knowledge, cannot exist 'in itself', quite unrelated to people's cognitive activity. Its use is always potential, of course, but it is important that there is always this possibility. It is necessary, furthermore, to remember that cognising people themselves are also not shut in 'on themselves' but are in constant touch with each other, forming a scientific community that has temporal as well as spatial extent (a scientific school). ‘Cognition and knowledge exist only while activity of a special kind of a collective subject is kept up, which also means the activity of the individual subjects forming the latter.’ [19] The scientist's personal knowledge has a substantial role in this dialectical process: a qualitative leap takes place precisely at that level, beyond the established bounds of objectified knowledge. The 'biological', and in general the naturalistic approach, Lektorsky remarks, yields nothing when this culminating moment in the development of knowledge is being investigated. In it epistemology, especially as based on natural science, has to appeal to the specifics, techniques, and methods of research of arts subjects.

One of the special methods of this research, which acquired scientific and social recognition, is the biographical one. The reconstruction of the biography of a great thinker, politician, or scientist helps fix the very moment when a new idea or principle arose and to explain the grounds and conditions for [150/151] its objectification in the form of intellectual values or in people's practical activity. Unlike hermeneutics of a Dilthey hue, which claims to discover the real 'self‑dependence' of an individual lost in the schemata of world history, and in contrast to psychoanalysis, which sets scientific biography the task of exposing the libidinal, secret sense of man, the biographical method, when based on a Marxian methodology, is orientated on an empathic explanation of the social significance of the life of a specific individual, starting from the social and cultural context.

Biography brings out clearly the subjective character of the socio‑political process and the active personal sense of human cognition. E. Y. Soloviev has shown this in regard to social-philosophy cognition from the biographies of a number of outstanding thinkers, and demonstrated it in the biography of Luther.

The need for scientific biography [he wrote] arises when research in the history of philosophy faces the task of posing the reverse problem of some conception (system) in which one is forced to come back to the very discussion and reasoning from the final formula in which the philosophical discussion was cast, i.e., to the dramatic, questing, individual thought, making mistakes and correcting itself. [20]

The role of personal knowledge, visibly manifested in scientific biography, retains its importance in actual cognition. Personal knowledge and cognition are based, of course, on objective knowledge and operate by formal models. But a true researcher-discoverer boldly introduces them into the context of his life experience, and not just to explain its separate fragments; he seeks objective supports in experience itself for deepening his knowledge and 'detection' in the reality itself of true new knowledge, for which corresponding models have not yet been developed. The new view that thereby arises, is not yet knowledge, Polanyi remarks.

It is less than knowledge, for it is a guess; but it is more than knowledge, for it is foreknowledge of things yet unknown and at present perhaps inconceivable. [21]

A most important result of scientific cognition is undoubtedly growth of the body of objectivised knowledge, the formalism of which may be employed in practical activity, but it would be a gross error to limit its value to that. A very important sphere of its realisation is its emergence into the process of communication in culture, which makes a general rise of people's intellectual and creative potential possible.

Each new generation relies, in its actual activity, on a system of values and ideas developed by its forerunners. And although [151/152] its activity, especially cognitive activity, is governed by the existing world of culture, it is not confined to it and is born anew in the course of universal labour, which animates the 'materialised' products of people's preceding activity by its flame, and fires the creative capacities of individuals, translating them into actual reality. And the more the people who are drawn into this process, the more universal is the character acquired by its combined result as regards both the product and the subject. Although at first,

the development of the capacities of the human species [Marx wrote] takes place at the cost of the majority of human individuals and even classes, in the end it breaks through this contradiction and coincides with the development of the individual. [22]

When we are investigating the transition of the individual's unalienated essential powers to the system of universal labour, the knowledge of arts subjects and that of social philosophy supplement each other.


1  V. I. Lenin. Karl Marx. Collected Works, Vol. 21, Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1980, p. 57.

2  V. I. Lenin. What the 'Friends of the People' Are and How They Fight the Social Democrats. Collected Works, Vol. 1, Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1977, p. 159.

3  Karl Marx. Capital, Vol. III, Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1974, p. 820.

4  See, for example: Karl Marx. The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte. In: Karl Marx, Frederick Engels. Collected Works, Vol. II, Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1978.

5  A. M. Bakhtin. Italyanskie gumanisty: stil' zhizni, stil myshleniya (The Italian Humanists: Life Style and Style of Thinking), Nauka, Moscow, 1978, p. 6.

6  The problem of the cognitive potential of mythological and moral consciousness is a disputable one and therefore calls for independent consideration.

7  Karl Marx. Capital, Vol. I. Translated by Samuel Moore and Edward Aveling, Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1978, p. 59.

8  Translator's note: 'robinsonade' is a term coined by Karl Marx for the Robinson Crusoe stories the old economists had a passion for. See Karl Marx. Das Capital, Vol. I, Dietz Verlag, Berlin, 1977, p. 90.

9  G. O. Vinokur. Biografiya i kul'tura (Biography and Culture), The State Academy of Arts, Moscow, 1928, pp. 76‑77.

10  M. M. Bakhtin. Estetika slovesnogo tvorchestva (The Aesthetics of Verbal Creation), Iskusstvo, Moscow, 1979, p. 186.

11  Erich Auerbach. Mimesis, A. Fracke Ag. Verlag, Berne, 1946, p. 62.

12  We have seen this in the example of political economy (Capital) and political science (Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte).

13  Michael Polanyi. Personal Knowledge, The University Press, Chicago, Ill, 1958, p. VIII.


14  Products of people's material activity that have definite social significance (correspondence of aim) and retain traces of exclusively human, including 'disinterested' thoughts, can serve as a text. For archaeologists, for instance, the technique and motifs of the ornamentation of pottery are such 'texts'; not only can the way of life of a people be constructed ('read') from them but also its emotions and beliefs.

15   M. M. Bakhtin. Op. cit., p. 306.

16  Y. M. Lotman. The Text in a Text. Trudy po znakovym sistemam. Vol. 14. Uchenye zapiski Tartuskogo universiteta, No. 567 (Tartu, 1981), p. 8.

17  N. I. Konrad. Isa monogatari. Perevod, vstupitel'naya stat'ya i kommentarii (Isa Monogatari. Translation, Introduction, and Commentaries), Nauka, Moscow, 1979.

18  Neusykhin, A. I. Problemy evropeiskogo feodalizma (Problems of European Feudalism), Nauka, Moscow, 1974, p. 518.

19  V. A. Lektorsky. Sub'ekt. Ob'ekt. Poznanie (Subject. Object. Knowing), Nauka, Moscow, 1980, p. 285.

20  E. Y. Soloviev. Biographical Analysis as a Form of Research in the History of Philosophy. Voprosy filosofii, 1981, 9: 128. See also: Idem. Nepobezhdennyi eretik. Martin Luter i ego vremya (Unvanquished Heretic. Martin Luther and His Time), Molodaya gvardiya, Moscow, 1984.

21  Michael Polanyi. Op. cit., p. 135.

22  Karl Marx. Theories of Surplus‑Value, Part III, Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1978, p. 118.

SOURCE: Novikova, L. I. “Man as the Object of Cognition in Arts Subjects,” in The Philosophical Conception of Man, I. S. (Irina Sergeevna) Kulikova & V. V. (Vladimir Vlasovich) Mshvenieradze, compilers; translated by H. Campbell Creighton (Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1988), pp. 137-153. (Contributions to the 18th World Congress of Philosophy, 1988, Brighton, England.)

Subject, Object, Cognition (Excerpts)
by V. A. Lektorsky

"Cognition in the Context of Culture"
by Vladislav Lektorsky

Mikhail Bakhtin on slum naturalism

Salvaging Soviet Philosophy (1)


Subject, Object, Cognition
by V. A. Lektorsky
at Marxists Internet Archive &

"The Dialectic of Subject and Object and some Problems of the Methodology of Science"
by V. A. Lektorsky
at Marxists Internet Archive &

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MIKHAIL VORONTSOV: A Metaphysical Portrait in the Landscape (1998)
by M. I. Mikeshin, translated by Penelope Kemp

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