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Salient. Victoria University Student Newspaper. Volume 37, Number 1. 6th March 1974

(i) Marxist Knowledge

(i) Marxist Knowledge

Dear Sir,

In a letter published in "Salient" on September 19, Peter Wilson states that the Marxist theory of knowledge "asserts that things can only be known in the degree to which they are changed or altered," a statement which invoked in me some unease.

Peter quotes by way of example: "To know the taste of a pear one must change the pear by biting it." But I ask him whether it is necessary to change the pear in order to know its colour, or even its smell?

I have found that the dilemma is well resolved by Mao Tsetung ("Four Essays on Philosophy", p 134, the essay "Where do correct ideas come from?") Knowledge has essentially two aspects: perceptual, that is the information or knowledge accummulated by observation of the real world by means of our five sense organs, and conceptual, or theoretical knowledge.

"The leap to conceptual knowledge, i.e., to ideas, occurs when sufficient perceptual knowledge is accumulated." But we cannot yet say that the idea is correct. It must be tested in practice, i.e., that conceptual knowledge must be compared with a new selection of perceptual knowledge.

"Often a correct idea can be arrived at only after many repetitions of the process leading from matter to consciousness and then back to matter. Such is the Marxist theory of knowledge." (p 135)

The next sentence seems singularly appropriate: "Among our comrades there are many who do not yet understand this theory of knowledge. When asked the source of their ideas, opinions, policies, methods, plans and conclusions, eloquent speeches and long articles, they consider the question strange and cannot answer it."

I present this to you as a fraternal criticism, in the hope that it will aid in the process of understanding and transforming this present society.

Yours fraternally,

John Christie.