On Practice: Abridged

Date: 01 May 2022

Author: Comrade Duck

Tags: Asia-Pacific, Philosophy

Marxist Theory of Knowledge and the Stages of Cognition

The Marxist Theory of Knowledge is the understanding that there are two stages to cognition - the action or process of acquiring knowledge. Stage One: where information is gathered via our sensations, such as, sight, smell, touch, etc

"This is called the perceptual stage of cognition, namely, the stage of sense perceptions and impressions... [In stage one], man cannot as yet form concepts, which are deeper, or draw logical conclusions."

"…the perceptual stage of knowledge needs to be developed to the rational stage…"

Stage Two: where this information is theorized and thought about. These two stages form a sort of cycle, repeating one into the other until stopped - either reaching correct or incorrect/incomplete understanding.

"…Perceptions and impressions in the course of practice are repeated many times; then a sudden change (leap) takes place in the brain in the process of cognition, and concepts are formed. Concepts are no longer… the separate aspects and the external relations of things; they grasp… the totality and the internal relations of things."

"…rational knowledge (stage two) [is dependent] upon perceptual knowledge (stage one)."

These stages are not a straight line, but instead better understood as a spiral. Starting from stage one: through practice - the process in which a humans, i.e., material beings, act upon the material world - we are able to sense the material world. We then progress to stage two: where we begin to think about what it is we sensed; we can even theorize and generalize about the particular thing. It is from these thoughts and theories we must engage in practice once again, back to stage one of cognition, to know if we are correct in our understanding. We can refer to this as stage one+. Stage one+ is different from the original stage one because it is an elevated form; we posses knowledge that we didn't originally have, and our practice will be reflective of this. Stage one+ then gives way to stage two+. From elevated practice we gain elevated thoughts and theories - perhaps a deeper understanding to what we previously thought, or maybe a different theory entirely! This development of understanding - elevating our understanding through the stages of cognition - repeats until we approach correct understanding or prematurely ends, resulting in incorrect/incomplete understanding.

Never advancing beyond stage one of cognition would make us no more than plants - we would never think or theorize, only sense what is happening around us. Without the ability to think we would not be able to make meaningful changes to the world; only to blindly react.

If we lose ourselves within stage two, we eventually find our thoughts no longer correlating to reality. We start to produce "solutions" that are nothing more than ramblings of a madman, incompatible to our world. The stereotype that philosophers have their heads in the clouds and are disconnected from the real world finds its origin by a majority of them being perpetually stuck in stage two.

Practice and Theory

Practice is the foundation to carrying out the Marxist Theory of Knowledge. When we want to learn something new like playing guitar, we must actually play a guitar. No matter the amount of theory we absorb (videos, articles, instruction) we will never be able to play guitar until we actually attempt to play.

"In feudal society it was impossible to know the laws of capitalist society in advance because capitalism had not yet emerged, the relevant practice was lacking."

Second-hand knowledge, what we call theory, should also be rooted in practice. This second-hand knowledge is incredibly powerful and allows us to avoid mistakes committed by others and have a clearer, quicker path towards our own correct understanding. Instead of learning guitar with zero instruction or from a source with zero experience on the matter, it is better to have instruction from a source (video, article, teacher) that already has an deep understanding through their own practice. Utilizing second-hand knowledge is using other people's experiences going through the stages of cognition to our benefit.

"…Knowledge consists only of two parts, that which comes from direct experience and that which comes from indirect experience. Moreover, what is indirect experience for me is direct experience for other people. Consequently, considered as a whole, knowledge of any kind is inseparable from direct experience."

From our own practice and the theories of others, it is important to reflect and to come up with our own ways to make our efforts more efficient and higher quality - take it to the next level. In the example of learning the guitar, we must analyze what, why, and how we are playing incorrectly and then theorize what, why, and how we can improve our playing. 

Ultimately, it is the unison of practice and theory - with primary consideration given to practice - that progresses our knowledge and the state of our world.

"If you want to know the taste of a pear, you must [eat it] yourself. If you want to know the structure and properties of the atom, you must make physical and chemical experiments to change the state of the atom. If you want to know the theory and methods of revolution, you must take part in revolution."


Mao Zedong, On Practice