Practical Cognition

Theories of Knowledge (Karl Marx)
In his early years of writing, Karl Marx’s ideas were similar to American
Pragmatism, especially his ideas about epistemology. He defines truth in a
pragmatic fashion and explains cognition in terms of practical needs of the
human being. While some of his ideas were not followed to their logical
conclusion, nor made sense, the fundamentals of his epistemology contain
valuable ideas which can be viewed as furthering pragmatism as a respectable
philosophy. His theory of cognition states that cognition is a biological
function of the human which is used as a tool for his survival.

Marx defines truth in a pragmatic way. The truth value of a judgement is due to
the usefulness of accepting or rejecting the judgement. A statement is true if
accepting it makes a positive difference or has a helpful influence and it is
false if accepting it causes difficulty or dissatisfaction. The meaning of a
statement is the practical result of accepting the statement. In general, then,
the truth or falsity of a statement is relative, not only to the individual
accepting or rejecting the statement, but also to the circumstances in which
that person finds himself. Truth is relative, but Marx is not an extreme
relativist (no one to be taken seriously is) because there is a constraint to
how relative the truth can be; Humans are making the truth judgements, and
humans have a common element, viz . their needs, which do not vary greatly
between people.

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Humans are in contact with nature at a fundamental level. The human
understanding of nature is a consequence of the fact that nature confronts
humans when they try to fulfill their needs. This is the case with any organism,
and each species reacts according to the tools of that species. One of the human
tools is the intellect, and it works through the cognition of the perception of
elements of nature. Cognition occurs as the organizing of sensory data into
categories. Without the ability to make generalizations, man would not be able
to think. Moreover, the human capacity to think is exactly the same as making
abstractions about experience. There is nothing more to descriptions of the
world than those abstractions. Details about the world are described only in
terms of generalizations, for if there were a word for a specific detail unique
to only one event, then that word would be nothing but a name -an abbreviation
for the term, the specific detail x , unique to only this one event, y .

The assimilation of the external world, which is at first
biological, subsequently social and therefore human, occurs as an
organization of the raw material of nature in an effort to
satisfy needs; cognition, which is a factor in the assimilation,
cannot evade this universal determinism. To ask how an observer
would see a world whose essence was pure thinking and
consciousness of which was defined exclusively by a disinterested
cognitive effort, is to ask a barren question, for all
consciousness is actually born of practical needs, and the act of
cognition itself is a tool designed to satisfy these needs.(1)
A world which is independent of what humans might think, which is what the
logical positivists seek to know, is useless to humans, and impossible for a
human to comprehend. Even to say, It is impossible for a human to comprehend the
world in its pure form, words the problem incorrectly because the very meaning
of comprehend contradicts anything which is not artificially broken into

According to Marx, the world seems to be naturally divided into species and
genera, not because the world divides them as such, but because man is at odds
with his environment at a fundamental level and the categories into which his
world is divided are a natural result of his effort to survive.

We do not have concepts that are not useful to our survival, or do not help us
in our endeavors, though such concepts could easily fit in our intellectual
capacity. We could ostensibly make the general dichotomy of objects that either
ding or thud when hit regardless of whether such a dichotomy is useful. We do
not have a word for such a dichotomy. The point is that “natural” distinctions
are still artificially applied by the human intellect upon the world which has
no such distinctions inherently, but those distinctions seem natural because
they helped humans survive and succeed in their efforts. Marx’s theory of
knowledge is a form of pragmatism which includes elements of Darwinism that
explain how certain types of categorizing became prevalent.

Category: Philosophy