Unism and Materialism
The several thousand years of the development of reflexive activity, and specifically, analytical reflection, knew a whole range of quite different philosophies. In every historical epoch, people discussed the universal foundations of their life and activity, but the focus of discussion, the principal questions to answer changed from one culture to another, from one historical period to the next, following the main directions of economic and social development.
In a class society, the dominant problems of philosophy reflect the arrangement of social forces at each stage of social development, and philosophical argument reproduces the forms of class struggle. In XIX and XX centuries, with capitalism seizing the leading role on the global scale, the opposition and mutual dependence of bourgeoisie and proletariat has split philosophers in two major philosophical parties, materialism and idealism, and this ideological distinction will stay until a new socio-economic formation brings in a different balance of economic and social forces, and hence the new key points in reflection.
One of the characteristic feature of capitalism is that it completes the development of class society, bringing it to the level, where the fundamental principles of its organization find an explicit and unequivocal expression, and its inherent contradictions manifest themselves as well observable cultural trends. The same features are present in all class societies, but in an implicit manner, as a syncretic contribution to other phenomena. In particular, materialism and idealism do not emerge from nothing, they have a history as long as the history of philosophy. In every epoch, there were those, whose philosophizing would justify the existing economic and social inequality, advocating the preservation of classes, castes, ethnic and other barriers, the right of the few to deprive the majority of what the ruling classes enjoy in excess. But there were also those, who declared the equal right of everybody to whole of the culture, hence standing against any elitism, for elimination of all kinds of cultural discrimination; they insisted that all people were equally necessary in the world, equally important and valuable, and that everybody should be able to live and feel the human way. The former would inevitably come to the blind reverence for the authoritative word, regardless of the merits or demerits of the thought. On the contrary, the latter would only esteem consistency and adequacy, with no authority allowed to suppress ideas better responding to natural challenges and human needs. The first position admits the existence of something beyond human understanding and control that governs people's fortune and fate. The opposite view denies any supernatural influences and says that everybody can and will master all kinds of phenomena, including the motion of one's soul.
No philosopher was free from vacillation, doubts, transition from one idea to another. Materialists may sometimes behave like staunch idealists, while some idealists may speak quite materialistic and eventually break with idealism… But the changes in one's individual position does not deny the very presence of two antagonistic ideological stands, which can confront each other within the same person lacerated by contradictory interests. This is how life in a class society feels; it is rarely possible to associate a name with a single philosophic school, as one can hold different interests in each particular situation.
However, as long as one keeps in the domain of philosophy, all individual philosophies represent the same hierarchy of ideas, and the apparent conflicts only express some aspects of the whole. Universal drive for integrity distinguishes a philosopher from a political profiteer and reveals a common core in all philosophies of all times. This is how the opposition of philosophical materialism and idealism is treated in unism.
The fundamental principle of integrity leads to the comprehension of the unique, all-comprising and holistic world in three mutually opposite and complementary aspects: as matter, as reflection, and as substance. No part of the world can be entirely separated from the rest, so that every individual thing represents the whole world and hence reveals the same hierarchy. The material aspect of a thing is known as its material, while the ideal (reflective) aspect is conveyed by the category of form. In other words, from the viewpoint of conscious activity, we indicate what is needed to make the thing, and how it should be arranged to produce that very thing.
Any activity can be pictured as transformation of some object by the conscious subject into some product. The subjects is said to mediate the transition from one thing (object) to another thing (product); the distinctive feature of conscious activity as compared with inorganic existence and life is the universality of such mediation, the ability of the subject to connect any things at all, thus restoring the integrity of the world. That is why the whole world can be virtually represented by some activity, in which the universal object (nature) is transformed by universal subject (spirit) into universal product (culture). That is, in its full development, the world will manifest itself as either nature, or spirit, or culture; this is yet another dimension of the world's hierarchy.
The two triads, matter → reflection → substance and nature → spirit → culture, are interrelated but not identical. This is the source of problems in traditional materialism identifying the categories "material" and "objective", as well as "ideal" and "subjective". Basically, such association is valid in many cases; but in more complicated matters it may be delusive. Any object is a thing in its relation to the subject, while it may remain uninvolved in this particular activity in some other respects. Due to universality of subjective mediation, there is nothing that cannot eventually be assimilated by the subject. In this limit, the object coincides with an individual thing; but in this case the whole thing is also a part of the subject, as well as a product of activity. Paradoxically, objectivity means the presence of the subject, and subjectivity implies an object as its nature.
Further, like any other thing, an object has both material and ideal sides. The presence of the subject in the object makes both its material and its form hierarchical, containing both objective and subjective levels. That is, "material" does not necessarily mean "objective", and the material of a thing involved in conscious activity has a subjective component. A star on itself and the same star as an object of study are different. An electron involved in conscious activity has many culturally induced properties that remain unknown to another electron outside the current interests of the humanity. The physiology of the human brain does not make it an organ of consciousness, though the formation consciousness certainly requires something as complex as the brain.
Finally, even without recourse to conscious activity, the distinction of the material and ideal aspects is not trivial, since the world is hierarchically organized, with higher-level things taking lower-level things for their material only arranging them in some higher-level form. The ideal side of a lower-level thing becomes a part of the higher-level material; conversely, the higher-level form provides a kind of background for the lower level, changing the properties of the lower-level material. For instance, a living cell will differently develop in a laboratory culture and inside an organism. In atomic scattering, the experimental setup will determine the asymptotic conditions for the microscopic systems involved thus significantly influencing their behavior. The human brain supports consciousness only in the context of some culture; in natural conditions, it will develop some other patterns of functioning.
The first historical form of materialism does not distinguish the properties of things from things themselves; for such a "vulgar" materialist, everything is matter, and there is nothing else. The exaggeration of the material side of the world leads to the idea of nature as something external, absolutely independent of human activity, so that all we need is to discover natural laws established once and for ever. The essentially static character of nature is a logical consequence of neglecting reflection. Any philosophizing about such indifferent world will necessarily take the form of metaphysics, an abstract speculation for no real reasons. That is why vulgar materialism is also called metaphysical. The formal character of metaphysical philosophy makes it resemble science, and that is why materialistically thinking scientists often get stuck on this lowest level, being unable to digest dialectical and diathetical logic. Metaphysical materialism is therefore expansively called "natural-scientific". However, too vague formulations and the absence of well-delimited application area in metaphysics drives many scientists to despising any philosophy at all and denial of its relevance to real (admittedly scientific) problems. As a result, scientists come to philosophical idealism in hope to find a remedy for the metaphysics of vulgar materialism.
As a primitive, syncretic form of philosophy, vulgar materialism lies in the basis of people's everyday philosophizing and it is very common under certain social conditions. Thus, a typical bourgeois cannot think of a work of art, or a scientific discovery, otherwise than in terms of investment and possible profit; similarly, a hungry person can hardly appreciate fine cookery, until the pains of hunger get discharged. The ruling classes intentionally support and cultivate this kind of materialism, to divert the public attention from any serious consideration of the inherent problems of the capitalist system. As a result, for the philosophizing bourgeois, the very word "materialism" only refers to vulgar, metaphysical materialism; the existence of advanced and more consistent varieties of philosophical materialism (such as dialectical materialism) is simply being hushed up.
While metaphysical materialism exaggerates the material aspect of things, philosophical idealism is basically identifying the world with reflection. On the syncretic level, the world is indeed identical to reflection, which, in this case, is undistinguishable from matter, and there is no difference how the only existing thing will be called. Consistently unfolding the hierarchy of reflection one will obtain exactly the same philosophy as that derived from the category of matter. That is why the writings of some idealists can be more materialistic than the restricted reasoning of vulgar materialism. However, in general, philosophical idealism does not much care for consistency; its social function is different.
For primitive minds, it looks like magic, that the same material can take so many different shapes, and the same shape can be cast in different materials. The question about the source of the observable mutability of the world was one of the first philosophical questions at all. Since, on the dawn of humanity, primitive people became aware of their ability to produce certain kinds of changes, the obvious answer was that any change should be attributed to somebody's activity; thus the world became inhabited by myriads of fantastic creatures animating the early human's reality. In this animistic hierarchy, some creatures were much like ordinary people, producing changes of a comparable scale. Much more powerful phantoms were deemed to be responsible for the catastrophic natural events beyond human tractability. As the people's picture of the world gained more integrity, the topmost level of the supernatural hierarchy were allotted to the most powerful agents, gods. The whole world could then be readily explained by the divine activity and hence be entirely derived from reflection.
Metaphysical materialism is basically homogeneous; on the contrary, idealism is divided into numerous schools and trends, which fight each other as if they did not share to the same ideological position. This makes philosophical idealism an ideal tool for brainwashing, since the real contradiction of the class society get easily slurred over in the noise of stagy antagonism. For instance, in the most general scheme of activity,
object → subject → product,
the subject mediates the transition from the object to the product. This means that subjectivity has at least two complementary aspects related to consumption and production respectively. Subjectively, this inherent duality of the subject takes the form of sensitivity and will, the only two manifestations of subjectivity known by primitive people: "I feel" and "I want" ; later, the ability of thought adds yet another dimension to philosophical controversy. Any aspect of subjectivity can be exaggerated, opposed to the other sides of the same, and made yet another philosophical fashion distorting the world in its own peculiar manner. Still, there is a fundamental distinction that deserves a separate consideration.
All kinds of idealism start with turning conscious activity inside out, substituting the practical assimilation of the world, producing new objects from other objects and hence changing matter, O → S → O, with mere reflection, S → O → S. The first historical form of idealism, objective idealism, still retains the object as the mechanism of reflection. However, putting the object to the position of universal mediation, one cannot avoid its interpretation as a kind of subject. Thus, the Ancient tradition treated this scheme in the ontological sense and emphasized the objective existence of ideas, while modern idealists prefer to exaggerate the role of language as the universal mediation of communication, reducing philosophy to the analysis if texts.
The hierarchy S → O → S can be folded in apparently immediate self-reflection, S → S. In reality, such folding assumes inner reorganization of both the subject and the link, lifting objective mediation in their inner hierarchy. A flat interpretation of this scheme forgets (or intentionally suppresses) the inherent objectivity and comes to the philosophical stand known as subjective idealism. For the advocates of this philosophy, we do not perceive but ourselves and do not produce but ourselves. For an honest and consistent idealist, the world does not exist at all—or, which is the same, coincides with the self of the philosopher. Such a conviction is known as solipsism. Any thought of the others, or outer things, would violate the integrity of this solitary world and thus push the solipsist out of philosophy. This indeed happens when, for instance, the philosopher gets hungry. But most idealists have hardly ever been acquainted with real hunger and need; they prefer to ignore the questions about consistency and integrity and consequently move away from philosophy, from wisdom. Philosophizing becomes mere play on words, which is deliberately used by the ruling circles to compromise the very idea of philosophy, to scare the masses away.
Still, philosophical idealism is not entirely nonsense. It is rooted in some real features of conscious reflection, which thus get at least a twisted expression. In certain cultural conditions, there can be no other way. Similarly, in the arts, progressive views took sometimes mystical or perverted forms, and in science, drastically new theories were primarily developed in the old language. It is only in the hands of the exploiter classes that idealistic philosophy becomes a means of oppression. The reactionary role of such philosophies is especially dangerous in social revolutions, when the inherent inconsistency of idealism objectively helps to break the unity of revolutionary forces.
An early attempt to overcome the antagonism of materialism and idealism was trying to develop philosophy from the category of substance (Spinoza). However, abstracting the world's substantiality from the material and ideal levels is bound to get lost in artificial problems; in a class society, it can only hide ideological conflicts without actually removing them.
The promising direction to true synthesis was first outlined in idealism by Hegel, and later materialistically reinterpreted by Marx and Engels to formulate a consistent philosophy of dialectical materialism, eliminating the narrowness of the traditional metaphysics. In the beginning of the XX century, the fundamental role of reflection as the primary mode of the world's self-reproduction was explicitly indicated (Lenin). Unfortunately, these ideas received practically no continuation in the conditions of fierce political struggle, which are much more favorable for ideological controversy rather than integrative efforts. Additionally, the new logic required for this new philosophy was too different from the common rationality, and it still waits for a comprehensible explanation.
In unism, both the material and the ideal are the aspects of the same reality that cannot be isolated from each other; any distinction in the world is only temporary, it must always be compensated by a unifying trend. Moreover, the integrity of the world is understood as its hierarchical organization, so that the difference of the material and the ideal can only be relative, depending on the level of hierarchy. Lower-level reflection is a kind of higher-level matter; any matter necessarily incorporates reflection. That is, the duality of matter and reflection is only meaningful for individual things, and not for the world in general. The world is unique, and subjectivity entirely belongs to this only world, along with anything else; this is a reformulation of the principle of the primacy of matter. But everything in the world is a result and a kind of refection; this supersedes philosophical idealism.
From the viewpoint of hierarchical integrity, philosophy is to indicate the material basis and reflective character of any natural phenomenon, including the objective development of the culture and as objective hierarchy of subjectivity. It is not enough, to demonstrate the material substrate of a thing or event; we also need to comprehend why this material takes this particular form. The relative independence of form from material leads to a separate line of development, with its specific regularities.
For example, the basic idea of the so called historical materialism is that social development depends on the type of economy, and the whole of culture is a superstructure built on the current mode of production and economic relations. In this line, one can distinguish a few fundamental stages (levels) of historical development, socio-economic formations; the history of any culture must follow this "standard" sequence. However, this does not mean that all cultures will develop in the same way. Puzzled by the huge historical diversity, many philosophers deny the very existence of universal stages in cultural development, thus shifting from scientific materialism to all kinds of idealistic doctrines. Considering the ideal aspect of historical development as the necessary complement of economic development allows to retain the materialistic idea of objectively necessary levels, extending it to developing spirituality, which will also show a sequence of distinct stages, historical formations. The whole of the culture will, therefore, be the unity of the current socio-economic formation and historical formation, that is, a cultural formation. This approach explains the diversity of real cultures without picturing it as random and arbitrary. In particular, the interplay of the economic and reflective history results in the inner hierarchies of both socio-economic and historical formations. Thus, each objective stage of economic development unfolds itself in a sequence of "sub-stages", and the detailed structure of economic development may differ from one culture to another. As all hierarchies can be folded without any loss of inner complexity, local cultures may pass some socio-economic formations in the folded form, as if entirely "skipping" them. The hierarchical approach also indicates that any formation is saturated by the traces of other formations, which adds to the apparent diversity of real cultures.
The same method will also work in "natural" sciences. Being a part of human culture, scientific objectivity depends on subjective choice, which, however, does not make science arbitrary. The object of any study can only be defined within a definite mode of reflection, which, in particular, warns against extrapolating scientific results beyond the range of their applicability. Any time physicists speak of "observer" they mean the ideal aspects of physical reality rather than direct interference of human being or the presence of consciousness in inanimate world. For instance, all classical mechanics is based on the ideas of space and time, while the observer is represented by a frame of reference, which does not need to be bound to any conscious being, though its very construction mimics certain modes of human activity. Space and time are not material, but they are the fundamental forms of physical motion. From the philosophical standpoint, the reflectivity of the material and the ideal would result in a hierarchy of spatial and temporal relations; in particular, space and time must, in general, depend on moving matter and conversely, they can determine the properties of matter on some level of hierarchy. Today, such views have become commonplace; modern science is already approaching the thought about inapplicability of the notions of space and time to the world as a whole. But unism suggest yet another picture of the world, indicating that the same hierarchy can unfold itself differently in different respects. That is, the same world could "simultaneously" develop multiple hierarchical structures, while we observe only one of them; still, the integrity of the world and the universality of subjective mediation imply the necessity of including such "parallel" worlds in practical activity, one way or another.
Philosophy is not science, and it does not describe or predict anything. Still, one can be certain that future science will discover new kinds of matter and new forms of its organization, which are beyond our present imagination. The pretensions of some theoreticians to deciding the fate of the world are nothing but ridiculous. The practical assimilation of the world will eventually change it up to physical reorganization, probably lifting the very idea of a physical law in some wider approach, regardless of whether the humanity will remain in the Universe.