On Materialism

TEACHER: Si Fu, name the basic questions of philosophy
SI FU: Are things external to us, self-sufficient, independent of us, or are things in us, dependent on us, non-existent without us?
TEACHER: What opinion is the correct one?
SI FU: There has been no decision about it….
TEACHER: Why has the question remained unresolved?
SI FU: The Congress which was to have made the decision took place two hundred years ago at Mi Sant monastery, which lies on the bank of the Yellow River. The question was: Is the Yellow River real or does it exist only in people’s heads? But during the congress the snow thawed in the mountains and swept away the Mi Sang monastery with all the participants in the congress. So the proof that things exist externally to us, Self-sufficiently, independently of us was not furnished.
– Brecht 1

Abandoning the study of John Stuart Mill only for that of Lachelier, the less Mme de Cambremer believed in the reality of the external world, the more desperately she sought to establish herself, before she died, in a good positionin it.
– Proust 2

1. Introduction

Marx called himself a ‘materialist’ and Engels dubbed the account of society and history which he regarded as sharing with Marx, ‘historical materialism’ (or ‘the materialist conception of history’). What does this commitment to ‘materialism’ come to? The aim of this paper is to outline an answer to that question.



1. Turandot, Scene 4a (Gesammelte Werke, Suhrkamp ed., 5: 2211f).
2. Cities of the Plain, Part II (Remembrance of Things Past, 8: 96f).

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