The Marxist theory of knowledge: how do we know things?


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How do we acquire knowledge? This central question in philosophy has confounded thinkers for millennia. On the one hand you have the idealists, who argue that truth exists a priori of the material world and finds its reflection in our minds – ultimately implying that knowledge comes from outside of nature – from a higher being.

Then there are the bourgeois materialists, whose main theory of knowledge (empiricism) states we can only know the content of our senses, making it impossible to talk with confidence about generalisation, causation – or even the existence of material reality outside of our own, direct experience.

Marxists argue that knowledge comes from the world, and it is by generalising our experience of the particular (e.g. burning ourselves) that we can form abstractions that let us comprehend the general (e.g. fire is hot). Thus, practice and concrete experience are the basis of knowledge. Meanwhile, passing our experiences on to one another allows us to develop human society, production, science and technique to ever-higher levels of complexity, thus deepening our knowledge of the world.

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