V. I. Lenin on Idealism & the Spiral of Knowledge

Dialectics as living, many-sided knowledge (with the number of sides eternally increasing), with an infinite number of shades of every approach and approximation to reality (with a philosophical system growing into a whole out of each shade)—here we have an immeasurably rich content as compared with "metaphysical" materialism, the fundamental misfortune of which is its inability to apply dialectics to the Bildertheorie, to the process and development of knowledge.

Philosophical idealism is only nonsense from the standpoint of crude, simple, metaphysical materialism. From the standpoint of dialectical materialism, on the other hand, philosophical idealism is a one-sided, exaggerated uberschwengliches (Dietzgen) development (inflation, distension) of one of the features, aspects, facets of knowledge into an absolute, divorced from matter, from nature, apotheosized. Idealism is clerical obscurantism. But philosophical idealism is ("more correctly" and "in addition") a road to clerical obscurantism through one of the shades of the infinitely complex knowledge (dialectical) of man.

Human knowledge is not (or does not follow) a straight line, but a curve, which endlessly approximates a series of circles, a spiral. Any fragment, segment, section of this curve can be transformed (transformed one-sidedly) into an independent, complete straight line, which then (if one does not see the wood for the trees) leads into the quagmire, into clerical obscurantism (where it is anchored by the class interests of the ruling classes). Rectilinearity and one-sidedness, woodenness and petrification, subjectivism and subjective blindness—voila the epistemological roots of idealism. And clerical obscurantism (=philosophical idealism), of course, has epistemological roots, it is not groundless; it is a sterile flower undoubtedly, but a sterile flower that grows on the living tree of living, fertile, genuine, powerful, omnipotent, objective, absolute human knowledge."


SOURCE: "On the Question of Dialectics" (1915), in: Collected Works, vol. 38 (Philosophical Notebooks); Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1981; pp. 357-36; concluding paragraphs.


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