In the process of acquiring knowledge and in their practical activities people set themselves definite goals and tasks. But to set a goal or to formulate a task does not mean that it will be accomplished. It is very important to find the right road to the goal and effective methods for fulfilling the task. The road to the attainment of a goal, the aggregate of definite principles and ways of theoretical study and practical activity make up the method.
No practical or scientific problem can be solved without a method. If, for example, we want to ascertain the chemical composition of a substance, we have to master the method of chemical analysis in the first place, i.e., to learn how to test this substance with appropriate chemical reagents, decompose it, determine the chemical properties of its constituents, etc. If we have to smelt a metal, we must learn the technology of smelting, i.e., to master the practical methods elaborated by people in the process of metallurgical production. Specific methods are just as necessary in studying physical, biological and other phenomena. That explains why people devote so much time and effort to devising and mastering methods of practical and theoretical work.
A method is not a mechanical sum of different ways of research chosen by people at random without consideration for the phenomena being studied. The method itself is largely determined by the nature of these phenomena and their intrinsic laws. Hence each field of science or practical activity devises its own methods. The methods of physics, for example, differ from the methods of chemistry, the latter differ from the methods of biology, and so on.
By generalising the achievements of different sciences and mankind’s practical activity, scientific philosophy has evolved its own method of knowledge—materialist dialectics. This method differs from the methods of concrete sciences in that it provides a key to understanding absolutely all fields of nature, society and thought, a key to 19understanding the world as a whole, and not only to understanding individual spheres of reality.
The word “dialectics” is of ancient Greek origin. Initially it meant the ability to conduct disputes and bring out the truth by disclosing and resolving contradictions in the arguments of the opponents. Later it was applied as a method of cognising reality. Drawing on scientific achievements and society’s practical experience, at different stages of history, dialectics maintains that the world is an endless process of movement, regeneration, the demise of the old and the birth of the new. “For it (dialectical philosophy) nothing is absolute…,” Engels wrote. “It reveals the transitory character of everything and in everything; nothing can endure before it except the uninterrupted process of becoming and passing away, of endless ascendancy from the lower to the higher.” [19•* Furthermore, dialectics views the internal contradictions inherent in objects and phenomena as the source of motion and development.
By explaining the process of development, the struggle of the new against the old and the inevitability of the victory of the new, dialectics helps the progressive people to combat the obsolete social order and reactionary class forces. In our day dialectics is a powerful instrument in the hands of the working class and its Marxist parties for the cognition and revolutionary transformation of the world.
Metaphysics is a method which is the antithesis of materialist dialectics.
The metaphysical approach to phenomena originated first in natural science, and in the 17th-18th centuries became current in philosophy, too. At the time metaphysics denied the development and the rise of the new, and understood motion as a simple displacement of bodies in space.
Since in our age of enormous social change and the scientific and technical revolution it is no longer possible to deny development as such, contemporary metaphysics has turned to misinterpreting the essence of development. Now it interprets development only as a qualitative increase or decrease, as simple repetition of what already exists, does not recognise the emergence of the new, and negates internal contradictions as the source of development.
Contemporary metaphysics which does not recognise the progressive nature of development, the struggle between the new and the old and the inevitability of the victory of the new, expresses the interests of the reactionary forces which use it to fight against everything progressive. For example, it is employed by the revisionists who renounce the class struggle, the socialist revolution and the dictatorship of the proletariat and preach social peace between the exploiters and the exploited and the idea of the peaceful development of capitalism into socialism. Metaphysics is also the theoretical basis of dogmatism whose proponents turn a blind eye to the profound social changes taking place in the world and endeavour to solve vital contemporary problems without taking into account the continuously changing historical conditions.
Everyday life, science and practice prove the truth of dialectics. Its vitality is conclusively demonstrated by the contemporary development of society. The building of developed socialist society and progress in communist construction in the USSR, the formation of a powerful world system of socialism and the steady growth of the forces of peace, democracy, national liberation and socialism convincingly attest to the triumph of the principles of Marxist dialectics.