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 pass through in order to correctly understand anything. Stage One - where we are only gathering information, made up of our perceptions and impressions. Stage Two - where we test our understanding and find out if we are correct or not. These two stages are in a dialectical relationship – one cannot exist without the other, they struggle against each other, and transform into each other.

These stages are not a straight line, but instead better understood as a spiral. Starting from stage one, we gather our first impressions and perceptions. We then progress to stage two, where we then test and observe if our understanding is correct. If we are incorrect, we progress to stage one+. This stage one+ is different from our original stage one because of the information we collected from our testing. We consider the new information observed in stage two when progressing forward, making stage one+ a higher level than before. From here we progress to stage two+ and we repeat this process until our understanding is proven correct.

Stage one is where we observe the world around us, but these observations, impressions, and perceptions only provide a shallow understanding of the world. We cannot remain in stage one forever. Consider our understanding of the sun staying in this initial stage. This way of thinking will almost certainly result in an incorrect idea of what the sun is. Our perception of the sun would lead us to believe it is nothing more than a small bright white circle.

"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 is where we reach a deeper understanding of the world. This is where hypotheses, theories, experiments, and creativity come into play. We are able to provide solutions to our problems by understanding the world more thoroughly and completely. We realize the sun is not a small bright white circle in the sky, but because of deeper scientific understanding and observation, we learn that it is actually much bigger than we initially perceived. That this “small bright circle” is actually a yellow dwarf star many lightyears away from us.

"…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)."

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, teaching advice) we will never be able to play guitar until we actually attempt to play guitar. If we want to ride a bicycle, we will never know what it takes to do so until we actually attempt it ourselves.

"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."

This does not mean that practice is the ONLY thing that matters. Brainstorming, second-hand knowledge, what we call theory, impacts our practice greatly. It is important to reflect upon our practice and to come up with ways to make it more efficient, better quality, a higher level. To take the example of learning the guitar again, if we were to ONLY play without instruction or guidance, it would take us a very long time to reach a high level of playing, but if we brainstorm how to get better or have guidance, then we improve our playing much quicker than if we utilized practice alone. Here we see the importance of theory, evaluating our practice, using second-hand knowledge, and how it can elevate and even accelerate our progress.

"…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."

Ultimately, it is the unison of practice and theory, with the primary consideration to practice, and using that real life practice hand-in-hand with theory that progresses 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