When we define the subject matter of Marxist philosophy, we ascertain the range of problems which it studies and discover how it differs from other sciences.
The subject matter of philosophy changed constantly throughout the long centuries of its development. At first philosophy embraced all the knowledge that had been accumulated: knowledge of the world as a whole, of its individual objects and phenomena—the Earth, man, animals, minerals, etc. Then, as production developed and more and more knowledge was accumulated, mechanics, physics, chemistry, geology, history and other so-called concrete sciences separated from it one by one. And today there are scores of sciences which study the most diverse spheres of reality.
What does Marxist philosophy study?
The core of the subject matter of Marxist philosophy is the solution of the fundamental question of philosophy: the relation of consciousness to being. We already know that all philosophical systems must answer this question, but only Marxist philosophy has furnished a completely scientific, correct and consistent answer to it.
The philosophy of Marxism is dialectical materialism. It is materialist because in solving the fundamental question of philosophy it proceeds from the premise that matter, being is primary and consciousness is secondary. It recognises the materiality and knowability of the world, and examines the world as it really is. Marxist philosophy is dialectical because it examines the material world in constant motion, development and regeneration.
On the basis of a correct solution of the fundamental question of philosophy, dialectical materialism discloses and studies the more general laws of the development of the material world.
We know that concrete sciences also study the laws of the development of the material world, but each is concerned with a definite area of reality: physics studies heat, electricity, magnetism and other physical phenomena; chemistry studies the chemical transformation of substances; biology studies the processes occurring in plants and animals, etc. The laws of these sciences define development only in the given sphere of reality and cannot explain its other fields. Take the laws of classical mechanics, for example. They merely disclose the essence of mechanical motion, ie., simple displacement of bodies in space, and cannot explain chemical, biological or other processes. Although the laws of mechanics operate in all the above processes, they have no independent significance in them and are subordinated to other laws disclosing the essence of these processes (in chemical processes—the laws of chemistry, in biological processes—the laws of biology, etc.).
As distinct from the concrete sciences, dialectical materialism studies the general laws regulating all spheres of reality. Thus, all inorganic and organic objects, the phenomena of social life and consciousness develop on the basis of the law of unity and conflict of opposites, the law of the passage of quantitative into qualitative changes, and the law of negation of the negation. These laws of materialist dialectics will be examined in detail in other chapters.
Dialectical materialism also studies the laws governing the process of cognition which are a reflection of the laws of the objective world. By equipping man with a knowledge of the laws of nature, society and thought, dialectical materialism shows people how to cognise the world and also how to bring about its revolutionary transformation.
Consequently, dialectical materialism is a science which on the basis of a materialist solution of the fundamental question of philosophy discloses the more general, dialectical laws of the development of the material world and the ways for its cognition and revolutionary transformation.
There were philosophers prior to Marx who also endeavoured to discover the more general laws of development and give a complete picture of the world, and many of them achieved a certain measure of success. Yet they were unable to draw a true scientific picture of the world either owing to their idealistic views, or the narrowness of the methaphysical method. Their main drawback, however, was that they all stood aloof from the revolutionary struggle and the interests of the working people.
Marx and Engels, thanks to their active participation in the revolutionary struggle of the working class, their selfless service to the people and profound knowledge of the outstanding achievements of science and philosophy, were able to disclose these general laws and discover the dialectical materialist essence of reality.
It is important to note that they discovered the dialectical-materialist nature of social development as well. They created historical materialism, the only existing scientific theory of social development, a method of the cognition and revolutionary transformation of society. Historical materialism is a science which studies the more general laws of social development and is a component part of Marxist-Leninist philosophy.