translated by Pedro Sette Câmara


Ever since the fall of the USSR, the agenda of the world’s left has been restricted to the demands of homosexuals, pro-abortion militants, feminists, pedophiles and black racists such as Louis Farrakhan. Such demands may look modest next to the overtly promethean revolutionary goals of the old communist movement, but the truth is that the more concessions these groups obtain from an infinitely compliant society, their cries become more enraged, their ambitions wider, their exigencies more profound and frightful. In the end, the new left wishes to turn humanity upside down, to an extent which if Marx himself were to be faced with the audacity of these proposals, he would turn away horrified as a conservative catholic.

Homosexuals, as an example, who began moaning for the right of not being arrested for the private practice of sodomy between adults, now groan in defense of nothing else than pedophilia, demanding that it is not only tolerated by the rest, but taught in schools. There is, in the USA, a “Man-Boy Love Association”, and nobody dares to accuse its members of being apologists of crime. Everybody knows that whoever does it will be running the risk of getting beaten, arrested, or at least smashed under the feet of the homosexual media lobby, which is probably the most terrible defamatory machine that humanity has known since the end of the activities of the Komintern and of the Propaganda Department of the III Reich.

Black activists began claiming the opportunity to have equal access to the rights and benefits of Western Civilization which the whites had. Now that they have obtained it, they demand that this Civilization be overtly condemned at schools, and that everybody praises African cultures which despised human life and which took arms to preserve slavery when England began to restrain the trade of black slaves. And today the oppressive control of the black pride is so authoritarian that, in the USA, namely the land of the free press, no great newspaper dared to publish one statistic from the Justice Department – which was freely imparted in other parts of the world – showing that the rate of murders of whites by blacks has been growing immensely, either in proportion or in absolute figures, since the advent of the civil rights laws of the Johnson government; laws which, thanks to the perverse inclination of the human heart, specially when worked up by Machiavellian opportunists, ended up producing among its beneficiaries rather resentment than gratitude.

Ecologists, who began by screaming alerts in favour of the endangered species, now demand from the government the prohibition to kill even species which are in ceaseless quantitative growth – like the coyotes whose apocalyptic breeding is threatening the flocks of lambs in the North-American state of Utah to extinction. At the same pace, films of ecological ideology, which began as Arcadian idylls of cows and lions, now portray as a supreme moral standard the bloody destruction of mankind by wolves and leopards – the latter having risen to the condition of vindicating angels acting in the service of some justice divinity from the dark, the technopop counterfeit of the Biblical Jehovah.

As to the feminists, who began demanding simply the right to vote, nothing is more revealing about the nature of their present ambitions than this statement by one of Lorena Bobbit’s friends: “Cutting off her husband’s penis and calling an ambulance to help him just after that, Lorena has become a symbol of the ideal woman of our time.” Non raggionam di lor, ma guarda e passa.

Any adult who, aware of the grotesque absurdity of these right-claiming discourses, restricts himself to laughing at them as mere harmless extravagancies, is only laughing at his own sons’ disgrace, who will be condemned to live in a world where these delirious fancies will be the Law and will have at their side the massive police force of the State to enforce them. A preview of the moral criteria which will guide the life of the future State was already given by President Clinton, who, having granted refuge to all homosexuals who may feel bothered in their native countries, denied the very same right to the Chinese mothers who refuse to abort their babies and to the Chinese doctors who refuse to perform the abortions imposed by the government: our children will live under the guard of a State in which the fantasies of the most frivolous eroticism will be protected by the Law and moral conscience will be repressed as a straying of behaviour.

At this point, every laugh is no more than the superficial expression of something that is, actually, a deep convulsion of fear. Everywhere, relying on a more and more ferocious and insane rhetoric of hate, and on the more and more devastating and global support of the world’s great assets and on millionaire media, along with the complicity of more and more cynical authorities, these movements spread an atmosphere of fear and obsessive self-repression, where the mere thought of being unpleasant to them is enough to fill a person’s mind with the most ominous presentiments.

This atmosphere is unmistakably fascist, and its spread becomes easier as it bases itself more and more on a falsely alarmist discourse directed at the threat of the rebirth of right-wing nationalist regimes which were extinguished fifty years ago – a rebirth that is more strongly denounced as imminent the more one can be sure that the present conditions of global economy make it totally impossible: the dead horse is flogged so that the kick of the living horse be accepted as a demonstration of tenderness.


The Garden of Afflictions, Chapter VI, §16-17

Translated by Pedro Sette Câmara

§16. Epicurus and Marx

Epicurus inverts, as seen on § 10, the logical relationship between practice and theory. If normally theory is the logical basis of practice and if the latter is the exemplification of the first in the level of facts, in Epicureanism practice is what produces the psychological conditions which will make the theory believable, and the theoretical discourse will be nothing but the discursive element of practice, the translation into speech of the belief produced by habit. The Epicurean theory does not describe the perceived world, but its practice alters, by way of exercises, the perception of the world so that it becomes similar to the theory. The point is not to understand the world, but to transform it.

It is likely that the reader will have recognised the last sentence: it is Karl Marx’s 11th Thesis on Feuerbach. Everything leads us to believe that the time Marx devoted to the study of the philosophy of Epicurus – the subject of his doctoral thesis – has left on the final version of Marxism much deeper traces than what is generally supposed by scholars and the mature Karl Marx would like to let show. The Marxist symbiosis of theory and practice does not come from Hegel – it is actually an Epicurean inheritance. However, what happens is that this symbiosis, abolishing the normal distance between the plane of action and that of speculation, suppresses, in both Marxist and Epicurean Philosophy, the difference between the actual and the possible, precipitating us into a hallucinatory crisis where the theoretical detachment which is the foundation of the very notion of objective truth1 disappears. The desire, the impetus, the ambition – either of the individual soul or of the revolutionary masses – becomes the sole foundation of a world vision in which theory has no purpose, except as a rhetoric stimulant of practical action, or, once any given action has been taken, to endorse whatever resulted from it. Even if the effects of any such action are quite different from what had been expected, there will not be enough critical detachment to appreciate them, and they will not only be accepted but also celebrated as normal and desirable: theory here has no independent value, being reduced to an a posteriorirationalisation, to a praise of the irrevocable facts. The capacity of the world’s left to justify the worst atrocities of the communism regime in the name of a humanitarian utopia – and, after the end of communism in the USSR, to go on preaching socialist ideals as if there were no intrinsic relationship between them and what happened in the Soviet inferno – is a morbid inheritance that came from Epicureanism through Marx. It is no surprise that the outcome of the evolution of a century of Marxist thought was Antonio Gramsci, the theorist of “absolute historicism”, who clearly states what in Marx was only implicit and insinuated: the elimination of the concept of objective truth and the submission of every cognitive activity to the goals and criteria of the revolutionary praxis; the absorption of logic on rhetoric, and of science on ideological propaganda2. It is also understandable that in another parallel line of this evolution, leading to Reich and Marcuse, erotic desire and not the force of objective economic causes be the true engine of progress and revolution. These developments disclose to the light of day tendencies which were already latent as traces from his Epicurean origins. The fact that they have risen again through the evolution of Marxism shows that Marx knew how to tread them down, but not how to overcome them. In vain, Marxist thinkers like Lukács or Horkheimer, who were more in tune with the classical traditions of the West and anxious to include Marx in the Canon, protested against the invasion of irrationalism which, mainly from the 60’s on, ended up contaminating all of the world’s left: as Dr. Freud would say, the rejected past returns with double the strength3.

Marxism and Epicureanism seem to go in opposite directions: the latter flees from the world in order to remain shut up in the garden with the elected ones, whereas the first reaches out to the collective action which will transform the world. But the difference is rather one of scale than of nature: in both cases, we are talking about enveloping human beings in an all-absorbing and hypnotic praxis, which will forever safeguard them from the temptation of objectivity, leaving no space for theoretical detachment and imprisoning all intellectual energies in a closed circuit of rhetorical self-persuasion. The point is to neutralise human intelligence, to make it run after utopian goals which, by way of an infernal dialectics that transfigures every defeat in a sign of close victory, will absorb it the more completely as the actual achievements fall short of the dreamed finalities. Only this can explain the phenomenon of thousands of intellectuals who have refused, through a whole century, to see the evils of communism, or, after the fall of the Berlin Wall, to acknowledge any relationship between these evils and the socialist ideal. Truly, is it not the effect of a peculiar scotoma that leftist intellectuals see in any movement of the right, however small, the signs of nazi-fascist insurrection and, on the other hand, that they believe the socialist ideal to have immaculately emerged from the Gulag? Is it not strangely morbid that the ideology which reduces the actions of individuals to the mere expression of deep ideological biases explains the sixty million victims of Stalin as the result of one man’s accidental evilness, with no root at all in the ideology he professed? That the intransigent defenders of the concept of society as a substantial whole, as an organic block in which ideology and practice are inherently bounded, explain the crimes of the Soviet government as accidental deviations completely alien to Marxist ideology? Is it not something really sick the obstinacy in keeping Karl Marx’s figure – or Lenin’s – free from any contamination with the crimes of the Soviet dictatorship, when even Christ himself was held responsible for the cruelties of the Inquisition? Is it not odd that, after all that was revealed about the communist tyranny, socialism still be a respectable ideal, whereas crimes on a much lesser scale have been enough to blood-stain forever the image of Italian and Spanish fascism, or of Latin-American dictatorships? Finally, is it not an intellectual anomaly that the philosophy which most emphasised the social and historical rooting of abstract concepts – condemning as “metaphysics” any acknowledgement of non-historical or supra-historical evidence – now try to present socialism as an essence most pure, uncontaminated by one whole century of communist experiment? How to explain the obstinate blindness of philosophers, of intellectuals, of artists, among which can be found some of the most remarkable people of this century, if not through the amazing illusionist power that is inherent to the very root of Marxism, through its almost diabolical ability to transfigure the appearance of things, leading people to see things different from what they are?

Marx had, personally, a tremendous sense of drama, of pretending, of prestidigitation; this has been established by his biographers accurately enough4. But that alone cannot endow his philosophy with such power to elude consciousness. However, once we point that the first interest of the young Marx was on the prince of philosophical illusionists, and, following that, we find in both Epicurus and Marx the premeditated and hallucinating confusion of theory in practice and practice in theory to be identical, then we realise the inexhaustible virulence of the Epicurean heritage, resisting through the millennia and reviving at every new cyclical effort to establish somewhere the kingdom of imposture.

§17. Comments on the “11th Thesis on Feuerbach”

Antes que te derribe, olmo del Duero,
con su hacha el leñador, y el carpintero
te convierta en melena de campaña,
lanza de carro o yugo de carreta;
antes que rojo en el hogar, mañana,
ardas de alguna mísera caseta,
al borde de un camino;
antes que te descuaje un torbellino
y tronche el soplo de las sierras blancas;
antes que el río hasta la mar te empuje
por valles y barrancas,
olmo, quiero anotar en mi cartera
la gracia de tu rama verdecida.
Mi corazón espera
también, hacia la luz y hacia la vida,
otro milagro de la primavera.

ANTONIO MACHADO, “A un olmo seco”

I can give a more detailed explanation and a more “technical” grounding to what has been said on the latter §. Should the reader skip directly to §18, he shall not miss the argument’s thread, but will deprive himself of a more rigorous – and boring – demonstration.

On “11th Thesis on Feuerbach”5, Marx says that:

“The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways; the point is to change it.”

1. To whom is this summons directed? If Marx is reporting himself, in this thesis, to the traditional concepts of theoria and praxis, we must admit that, truly, philosophers have always busied themselves with the interpretation of the world, with the making of theories, because they thought it to be their specific job, that which distinguished them from other men, who in their turn were involved with praxis and had no interest on theoria, or on the contemplation of truth. In adopting the attitude which was contrary to that of most men, philosophers were a dialectic counterweight of praxis: contemplative life opposed itself to active life. Well, if non-philosophers have always been busy transforming the world while the philosopher was contemplating and interpreting it, what sense would it make in summoning them to a praxis in which they have been involved by immemorial habit, and which they never thought of abandoning? Such cannot be the meaning of Marx’s thesis. His summons is not directed to men in general, taken indiscriminately, much less to the men of praxis, but specifically to philosophers. They were the ones who have been busy only with the interpretation of the world. Therefore, it is them who must be summoned to a change of attitude. The 11thThesis on Feuerbach proposes, essentially, a change in the attitude of the philosopher as such. It is not the establishment of a new praxis, but a new kind of theoria, which, in its turn, consists of praxis.

2. In order to understand in what consists this change, we have to understand the former attitude. In what consists the interpretative attitude which Marx opposes to the transforming attitude? Since theoria and praxis are classical concepts of Greek philosophy, we must turn ourselves to it. (It is true that the term praxis has, in Marxism, a different and specific meaning, but that makes no difference, for if the Greek philosophers Marx had in mind made theoria, as opposed to praxis, we cannot presume they possibly had in mind the Marxist understanding of the word praxis, but rather the Greek understanding.)

In Greek philosophy, the word theoria had a precise meaning. It was related to the notions of logos (“reason” or “language”), of eidos (“idea” or “essence”), of ón (“patency”, “unveiling”, “disclosing of the occult truth”.)

The theoretical man, the philosopher, did not spend his time with contemplation in the general sense, with looking in the sense that other men could, them too, contemplate and look. As an example, all men contemplated theatre shows, the beauty of human beings and of the landscape etc. The common man’s contemplation could have amusement, aesthetic, utilitarian or whatever purposes. But not the philosopher’s. It was a very specific kind of contemplation, one that had a specific motivation and a specific goal, which made it a precisely philosophical contemplation and nothing else. The philosopher would contemplate things in order to grasp their essence (eidos), making patent (aletheia) their true being (ón); after that, the philosopher stated (logos) what this thing was, making patent (aletheia) the true being (ón) which was hidden.

To put it in another way, to the philosopher, phenomena were signs which he deciphered in search of the meaning or essence. From sign to meaning, the interpretative key was reason or logos. Through reason, the philosopher could jump from a level to another: from the level of unstable, deceiving phenomena to the level of essences, of true being. This level was considered to be superior, for it comprised and surpassed the world of phenomena (it contains all manifest phenomena, plus numberless non-manifest essences or possibilities), besides being stable, immutable, and eternal. This attitude became more defined and self-conscious from the time of Platonism, but it was already the attitude of the Eleatic philosophers. It is an attitude based altogether on the belief that all facts and all beings are phenomena – “appearances” – of something: they are exteriorisations or exemplifications of essences or possibilities eternally contained in the Divine Intelligence. The Greek Philosopher contemplated things, therefore, sub specie æternitatis, that is, in the category of eternity, under the light of eternity; he looked for their eternal meaning above their transitory and phenomenic appearance. This contemplation therefore bestowed on things a superior dignity and reality and a superior ontological consistence. As regards the ends of this analysis, the difference between Platonism and Aristotelism is of lesser importance. For Plato, essences constituted a separated and transcendent world; for Aristotle, the intelligible core was immanent to the sensible world; however, in both cases there is a passage from immediate phenomena to a more permanent and deep layer.

The interpretation (hermeneia) of appearances consisted on this rise on the ontological level, from the phenomenic being up to the essential being. The term hermeneia derives from the name of the god Hermes, or Mercury, the god psicopompo, that is, “guide of the souls”, whose duty was taking them up and down through the worlds or planes of reality, from the sensible to the intelligible, from the particular, transitory and apparent to the universal and stable. On this consisted, basically, the interpretative attitude of the Greek philosopher.

3. What is the essential difference between the contemplating or interpretative attitude and the transforming attitude, that is, what is the essential difference between theoria and praxis?

3.1. Theoria, in elevating the object to the level of its idea, essence, or archetype, catches the set of possibilities of which this object is the particular and concrete manifestation. As a case in point, the archetype of “horse”, the possibility of “horse”, can manifest itself through black, speckled, Arab, percherons or quarter horses, in horses we may ride for our sport and horses that help us doing some work. It can manifest itself in prosaic cart horses or in famous, almost-personalised horses like that of Alexander the Great. It can manifest itself in mythical beings which “participate in horsehood”, like Pegasus or the unicorn, each one bearing in its own turn a set of symbolic intentions and significations. Finally, reason, upon investigating the being of the object, elevates the latter up to its ultimate nucleus of possibilities, rescuing it from its empirical accidentality, and restoring, so to speak, its “eternal” sense. The “practical” consequence that comes from it is portentous. In knowing an archetype, I not only know what the something is, both actually and empirically, but everything that it can be, all the latency of possibilities it can manifest and is insinuated behind its particular manifestation, located in space and time.

Praxis, on the contrary, transforms the object, that is, it actualises one of the possibilities, causing all the others to be immediately excluded. Let us take an example – say, a tree. If I investigate the object “tree” in order to attain to its archetype, I become conscious of what “tree” is, of what it could be, of what it can mean to me and to others, I can look at it on different planes of reality etc. But, if I transform the tree in a chair, it no longer can be transformed in table or in wardrobe, much less in a tree. From chair, it can only be transformed in an old chair, and after that, in trash.

3.2 The philosopher, therefore, takes the immediate sensible appearance as a sign or as a symbol of a being. To the praxisman, however, the appearance of things is always the raw material for the desired transformations. Theoretical investigation considers a being in the set of possibilities that contain it, explaining and integrating it in the total sense of reality. Praxis, on the other hand, limits its possibilities by irrevocably actualising one of them. For theoria, a being is above all its form in the Aristotelian sense, that is, that which makes it what it is; whereas for praxis a being is above all matter, that is, that which allows it to become something which it is not. This opposition must not be mistaken for that of the “static” and the “dynamic”, because internal dynamic is part of the form – e.g. the form of a seed is the complete plant which the seed is able to become. To put it more correctly, we can say that theoria is concerned with what a being is in itself and by itself, and praxis is concerned with what it is not, in the secondary being, and sometimes in the false being or parody of being that can be produced from it. It was on this perspective that the Hindu doctrines denied that action could bring any knowledge of any kind. Action produces only transformation, a flow of impressions, illusion, which we can leave only through posterior reflexive detachment, through theoretical and critical “denial” of the consummated action: the philosophic soul, a latent potency in homo sapiens, only is actualised as a reflection over the delusions of the homo faber6.

3.3 Should praxis require any theory, such theory will not consider the nature of a being, and will not attempt to make an investigation of what place a being occupies in the total body of reality, but rather only in what it can be transformed in the next moment, not by its own internal dynamic, but by force of human intervention. Such theory will not be a theory of the object, but a theory of the action the object may suffer. It is not a theory of being, but a theory of praxis. Since praxis is always human action, then every object will always be considered under only one category: the category of passion, that is, of the transforming actions it may suffer. The point is no more to understand what is a horse or a tree, or their place in reality, but rather what I can do, within my own personal range of interests, with the tree or the horse, independently of what they are. I can, as case in point, burn the tree or eat the horse: if theory respected the ontological and even physical integrity of the object, praxis begins by denying it, that is, by not admitting that the object is what it is and by demanding that it be transformed in something else: it does not interpret, but it transforms.

3.4 It should be evident that the case here is not to condemn praxis over some utopian contemplative life, but only to restore the sense of a hierarchy of values that seems to be inherent to the structure of any sane human individual. The transforming praxis concerns essentially the means: since every transformation is intended to produce some result or end, the object submitted to it is always and necessarily a means and only a means. It is a means or an instrument the land which man works, and so are means and instruments the sheep he feeds and kills and the tree he throws down. Work is a means and an instrument, as well as capital. Whatever is a means or an instrument is worth nothing by itself but only by something else: the means or instrument is an intermediary, a transition or a passage, something that will be left at a certain point and surrender its place to the ends. Man’s universal tendency to save effort testifies to the subjection of the means to the ends.

Inversely, something which is an end, something that is worth in itself, cannot be the object of transforming praxis, but of contemplation and love. As Miguel de Unamuno used to say, “the car is useful because I can use it to go to the house of my beloved; but what’s the usefulness of my beloved?”. I may, of course, lower her to a means or an instrument of my pleasure, but on that case I no longer have any love for her, but for pleasure in itself7. The loved object, if it is truly loved, is not a means, but an end. We do not desire to change it, to transform it or to use it for some other purpose, but we desire rather to enjoy its presence without causing it any alteration, without changing it in the slightest detail8. On the contrary, in contemplating and in loving it is us who transform ourselves: “The lover is transformed in his beloved”, in the famous verse by Luís de Camões.

Therefore, there are some aspects of reality which can only be known through praxis and others through theoria. But praxisacts necessarily by denying the object, by reducing it to a mere means and instrument, and theoria by the affirmation of its plenitude and of its worth as an end. It becomes evident, then, that:

3.4.1 There is a different dosage of theoria and praxis for the knowledge of the various kinds of beings: whatever is to me a means and an instrument can only be known by use; that which is an end and worth in itself can only be known by me as long as I contemplate it, love it, and defend its ontological integrity against any attempt to transform it in something else. Van Gogh knew brushes and ink as he used them, and on their use they were finished. But I know Van Gogh’s pictures as they are kept intact for my contemplation.

3.4.2 In the realm of physical beings, there is no pure praxisnor pure contemplation. There are only doses of them, according to the scale of the ends’ worth and to the opportunity of the means. Only the supreme end can be the object of pure contemplation. Only the utterly insignificant object, without any ontological consistence and worth of itself can be submitted to pure praxis. Both of these limits are metaphysical, and never reached within the world of physical experience.

3.4.3 However, there is a clear hierarchical distinction: contemplation, being the objective and finality, has a primacy over praxis, which, all in all, has no purpose but to cast away the obstacles that separate us from contemplative enjoyment. Man does not transform what pleases him, but what does not please him: he gives himself up in contemplation for his own joy, and in praxis because of necessity (even though there is, of course, a fun and contemplative element in praxis that makes work pleasing in itself and that grants it worth that is independent from its practical usefulness.)

3.4.4. From all that is above said we conclude that to put praxisas a foundation and supreme value of human knowledge is to bring in the reign of means in spite of the ends; it is to invert the meaning of every human action and to deny the ontological consistence of reality. It is to consider reality in its totality – including man and his History, as well as the set of individual actions made by human beings – as an immense instrument without any finality. It is to transform the universe in a banana-straightening machine.

Here are in Marx the roots of the “nietzscheization” of the left, in which many theoreticians, aroused in scandal, will see a betrayal of Marxism. The philosophy of praxis contains, in its core, the denial of the sense of reality, and the praise of absurdity, which may not be explicit but remains nonetheless potent. It is obviously an unconscious Epicurean heritage, rescued after the world crisis of Marxism, when the left’s intellectuals went on a mass indulging on a pseudo-heroism of nonsense, exalting themselves for continuing to defend social ideals which, in a senseless world, can only consist in a Nietszschean affirmation of the will to power, or in a gratuitous and arbitrary clinamen which some, for pedantism or for fun, oppose to the gratuitous and arbitrary clinamen of the atoms9. The tough materialist wants to be a Clint Eastwood of philosophy, brave over his horse, looking with indifference to the random movements of the atoms in the prairie and showing contempt for the weak who need a meaning for life. The lonely knight in the desert of absurd synthesises Marx, Nietzsche and Epicurus.

3.5.There is a curious parallelism between the notions of ‘object of theory’ and ‘object of praxis’ on one side, and, on the other side, between ‘use value’ and ‘exchange value’. The ‘use value’ of an object is, in a certain way, a property, a quality inherent to it, something that is part of its ontological consistence, whereas the ‘exchange value’ is an accident, as Marx himself points out: it depends on historical circumstances which have nothing to do with the nature of the object. One of the moral reproaches Marxism makes to capitalism is that the exchange value ends up devouring the use value until it disappears, until it makes all objects exist only as ‘merchandise’, as in the famous boutade of Bertolt Brecht: “I don’t know what it is. I only know the price”. It is the same as saying that capitalism absorbs the category of substance in the category of passion. Whether capitalism really does it or this is just rhetoric figure, an exaggeration, is something worth investigating. Nonetheless, in Karl Marx’s philosophy such an inversion is obvious, and in this case the reproach Marx makes to capitalism loses objective consistency, being reduced to a mere projection: Marx reproaches capitalism for something that is not necessarily in capitalism, but on his own subconscious mental patterns.

3.6 Being a theory of action and not of the object, praxis will not acknowledge on the object any aspect other than that of its immediate ‘transformability’. Even without knowing what a tree is, I can use the wood to make a table or a bookshelf. Praxis will, finally, deny the world and phenomena an ontological consistence of their own, one that man is able to know: it will liquefy all individual essences in raw material for more praxis and that will result in a new and much more radical type of subjective idealism, for the objective world is nothing but the stage for praxis. Theory will say nothing of the objects as they are, but only as they can be under hammer and forge.

It would be interesting to investigate how such a thing could be conciliated with the alleged “materialism” of Marxism, for Marxism reveals itself rather a subjective idealism, in the strict and almost ‘Fichtean’ sense, with the only difference that its subject is not the human individual, but the whole of historical mankind, before whose praxis the natural universe – ‘matter’ – loses all substantiality and is reduced to mere raw material of human action, lowering nature to the status of ancilla industriæ. It is this characteristic of collective subjective idealism that grants Marxism its tremendous illusionist powerto drunken and pervert, of which men of great intelligence sometimes are contaminated.

However, when I consider how small is the extension of the material universe reached by human action (which amounts to part of the Earth’s surface), and how infinite is the extension of celestial worlds which we cannot transform but only contemplate, I ask myself if the theory of praxis isn’t just a monstrous, universalising amplification of a phenomenon that’s local and terrestrial – collectively subjective – and if before the magnitude of the cosmos the ‘theoretical’ attitude isn’t the wiser.

From the theory of praxis comes yet the idea – which today is almost a dogma – that science arises a posteriori from a rationalisation of technique, that is, of action: man does not generate science by means of contemplation, but by means of the manipulation of objects and of transforming them in something else. Then we lack an explanation for the fact that in almost every civilisation one of the first sciences to develop and reach perfection is no other than astronomy, in which the objects are too far away to be able to be ‘transformed’, and for that reason man can only contemplate. (A fanatic practicist could raise the objection that astronomy developed for the purposes of sea-travelling, but that would be nonsense because we can find a very complex astronomy among people who were not sailors, like the Mayas). This chronological and structural priority of Astronomy is highlighted by Plato10, who sees the explanation for the origin of all sciences in the contemplation of the regularity and rationality of the celestial bodies’ movement. The Marxist explanation, in its turn, can only stay afoot by means of a gross falsification of the chronological order. In order for it to gain any verisimilitude in the eyes of man, it was first necessary that the bourgeois society reduced to a slave of technique and of practical utility an intellectual activity in which for millennia those who practised it had seen an end in itself. The practicist interpretation of the origin and meaning of science is but a gross projection the bourgeois makes of his own criteria and values upon the mentality of other times, which became unintelligible to him11.


  1. The suppression of objective knowledge is not, in Marx’s writings, a declared goal, but an inevitable consequence of the Marxist understanding of nature. Nature, according to Marx, exists only as either History’s background or as flexible and submissive matter to be shaped by human action. Back
  2. On this, the reader should see my books The New Age and the Cultural Revolution. Fritjof Capra & Antonio Gramsci, Chapters II and III, and The Collective Imbecile: Brazilian Stupidities of Today, Chapters II to V. Back
  3. On the irrationalist contamination of Marxism through the course of its evolution (and not at its very root, as in this essay), see Merquior, José Guilherme. Trad. Raul de Sá Barbosa. O Marxismo Ocidental. Rio de Janeiro: Nova Fronteira, 1987, and also Bloom, Allan. The Decline of Western Culture etc etc.. Merquior shows that the romantic and irrational elements were strong even in Lukács’ thought. Mark Löwy argues in the same line, but with a positive emphasis, in Romantismo e Messianismo. Ensaios sobre Lukács e Benjamin. Trad. Myrian Veras Baptista and Magdalena Pizante Baptista. São Paulo: Edusp/Perspectiva, 1990. Back
  4. See Edmund Wilson, To the Finland Station, e Paul Johnson, Intellectuals. Back
  5. “Die Philosophen haben die Welt nur verschieden interpretiert, es kommt darauf an sie zu verändern” — a sentence from the manuscript reproduced in fac-simile in The German Ideology. Trad. S. Ryazanskaya. Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1964. The verb verändernderives from the root ander = “other””, and so the most exact translation would be “to alter it, to cause an alteration, to change it”. But any alteration, once it concerns not a simple property or an accident of the given substance, is rather a substitution; and, since the real world cannot be actually substituted by another, this substitution can only take place in the realm of the collective imagination by means of a sudden change or rotation of the perceptive outlook – a snapping, according to Conway and Siegelman. Hence the Marxist’s invulnerability against rational arguments. He not only thinksdifferently from the non-Marxist: he perceives the world under different categories, just a like the hysteric to whom imagining is feeling. See The New Age and the Cultural Revolution, Chapter III, item 3. However, this doesn’t mean that an open recant from Marxism guarantees immediate freedom from its spell, just like to become conscious of a neurosis does not mean to be cured. Marxisme pas mort: it subsists like a complex in the unconscious of those who have rejected it without making a deep criticism. In my essay “The Moral Superiority of the Left, or: The Tail and the Dog”, which can be found in The Collective Imbecile, I begin a psychoanalytic investigation of the residual Marxism that lingers in our intellectuals. Back
  6. See Éric Weil. “Introduction”. Logique de la Philosophie, 2e éd. Paris: Vrin, 1967. Back
  7. Subjugation, manipulation and the use of human beings (or animals) aiming erotic pleasure – such is the very definition of libertinism (Marquis de Sade, Choderlos de Laclos et caterva), in which, however, some professionals of blindness like Mr. Adauto Novaes – heir to the fainted flame of Motta Pessanha – consider as having a character of liberation. See Adauto Novaes, “Why so much libertinism?”, the opening text of the symposium Libertinos/Libertários. Rio de Janeiro: Funarta, 1995 – an educating example of how the pretentious cult of smaller authors can coexist in the same brain with a deep ignorance of the History of Philosophy, as well as of History tout court. Back
  8. See Olavo de Carvalho. Da Contemplação Amorosa. Capítulos de uma Autobiografia Interior (classroom text), Rio de Janeiro, IAL, 1995. Back
  9. The high rate of pretentious intellectuals and rich æstheticists who align themselves with the left – a phenomenon that is universally known – must not, therefore, be just a coincidence, and much less a contradiction, but rather a perfect expression of what Marxism is all about: to fight for a “society that’s not unjust” is the ethical dilettantism of those who believe in ethics but as an arbitrary convention, ideological myth or tactical procedure. Hence the vain inversion which, dismissing the obedience to explicit moral values, praises as being almost saintly the man who acts well after an ethics he does not believe in, affirming in practice what he denies in theory: the accidental and dilettante goodness of the immoralist seems to be shrouded by divine grace, which is denied to those who simply and humanly do what seems to be right according to a moral rule. Hence also the ease with which these people make up so-called “ethical” justifications for the crimes and perversities committed in the name of their “ideal”, for it has the esthetical perfection of an arbitrary form conceived by the mind, one which remains uncontaminated by the exigences of the moral conscience, attentive to game of pretexts and acts. Concerning aestheticism as a source of political doctrines, I refer the reader to the great and unjustly forgotten essay on Machiavelli by Otto Maria Carpeaux, in A Cinza do Purgatório. Rio de Janeiro: Casa do Estudante do Brasil, 1942. On aestheticism as the dominant ideology of the educated classes in Brazil, see the equally noteworthy and not less forgotten book by Mário Vieira de Mello, Desenvolvimento e Cultura. O Problema do Esteticismo no Brasil. São Paulo: Nacional, 1958. Back
  10. Timeu, 47c. Back
  11. On the purely contemplative sense of intellectual activity in the Middle Ages, see the most valuable thesis by Antonio Donato Paulo Rosa, A Educação segundo a Filosofia Perene (Education according to Perennial Philosophy), presented to the College of Education of the University of São Paulo in 1993 (manuscript). On the burgeois inability – either liberal or socialist – to understand it, see Kenneth Minogue. Trad. Jorge Eira Garcia Vieira. O Conceito de Universidade. Brasília: UnB, 1981. Back


Descartes Colloquium, Brazilian Academy of Philosophy
Faculdade da Cidade, Rio de Janeiro, May 9th 1996

Translated by Pedro Sette Câmara

“La verdad es lo que es
y sigue siendo verdad
aunque se diga al revés.”

(The truth is what is and does
continue being the truth
even though one says it is not)

Antonio Machado

Descartes assures us that the sequence in the Meditationswhich takes him from the questioning of the outer world to the discovery of the Cogito axiom isn’t just a logical model, a hypothetical articulation of thinkable thoughts, but rather an actual experience, a narrative of thoughts which were thought. But, how trustworthy might have been his self-observation? Can we take the faithfulness of what he reported for granted? Furthermore, can we take for granted the paradigmatic universality of that sequence of thoughts, admitting it will happen in equal or similar fashion, with similar or equal results, to anyone who undertakes the reexamination of the architecture of one’s beliefs from its very foundations? Is it possible for a man to have a similar experience, or, on the contrary, it was Descartes who, in fact, had an entirely different experience, allowing himself to be deceived and taking as a description what is purely an invention?

The possibility of doubting our sensations, our imaginations and our thoughts is something anyone can testify. The possibility of putting the whole set of our representations on hold, reducing the “world” to a vanishing hypothesis, is also sure.

But, after performing all these operations, Descartes assures us of having found, at last, the certainty of doubt: doubt is a thought, and in the instant I doubt, I cannot doubt that I am thinking the doubt. The self-confidence in the metaphysical solidity of the thinking ego comes forth as a powerful psychological compensation for the lack of confidence in the reality of the “world”.

Even though very keen to describe the thoughts which precede the state of doubt, Descartes is oddly evasive when it comes to the state of doubt itself. Actually, he doesn’t describe it: he only affirms it, and, jumping immediately from description to deduction, he begins to draw the logical consequences which the verification of this state imposes on him.

Let us do what Descartes did not. Let us try to stop the impulse of consequentialist automatism, and keep ourselves for a moment at the description of the state of doubt.

In the first place, it is not a state — a static position in which a man may rest unchangeably, just as he gets sad or in contemplation, still or lying down. It is rather an alternation between a “no” and a “yes”, an impossibility of resting at one of the terms of an alternative without the other coming to dispute the primacy. For either “no”, or “yes”, once accepted as definitive terms, would immediately eliminate doubt, which consists of antagonistic coexistence and of nothing else. But this antagonism isn’t static: it is mobile. The doubtful mind goes endlessly from on term to the other, without reaching a support point where to rest and “be”. And, since each of the terms is the other’s denial, the mind would not be able to rest at any of them without, for an instant, denying the other: precisely at that instant, the mind is not in doubt – it is either affirming or denying, it is affirming one thing and denying the other, even though it may not be able to persevere in the affirmation or in the denial without thinking of a thousand reasons to abandon either. And, in the instant of affirmation or denial, doubt suppresses itself as such and fights for its establishment as affirmation or denial; but it fails, and it is of this failure that doubt is made of. What follows is an inevitable conclusion: a doubt that does not doubt itself, a doubt that, suspending the alternation, imposes itself as a “state” and thus remains, is impossible. In taking doubt as a “state”, omitting that it is an alternation between two antagonistic instants, Descartes reifies it and takes it as a certainty: “I cannot doubt that I doubt in the instant I doubt”, a sentence Descartes takes as an expression of the most conspicuous obviousness, is actually the expression of logical nonsense and of psychological impossibility. What would be more correct to say is that, in doubting, I doubt about everything, doubt itself included. Doubt is not a state: it is the succession and coexistence of antagonistic states, it is a not being able to be.2

What leads Descartes into error is the fact that he takes doubt for denial, or, better yet, for hypothetical denial. I can, actually, make up a hypothetical denial and repeat it indefinitely. I can even amplify it – hypothetically, of course – to a point where it embraces what I consider to be the whole extension of my knowledge. But I cannot “doubt” about my own knowledge without, at the same time, restating it, in the sense that this is the only way through which one is able to alternate its affirmations and denials in the vicious circle of doubt.

Set forth in these terms, the cogito axiom is no more than a new and more obscure enunciation of the old argument of Socrates against the skeptical: it is impossible to deny without affirming the denial, thus without affirming something. But, from this point of view, the Cartesian discovery is reduced to very little: far from having given a new foundation, critical or negative, to the world of knowledge, he makes nothing but demonstrating again, through the crooked path of a false psychological self-description, the logical primacy of affirmation over denial. However, the acknowledgement of this primacy is, simultaneously, the denial of doubt as a founding act. The discovery of Descartes is a non-discovery, it is the discovery of the impossibility of discovering anything through a way defined, more than any other thing, by an intolerable self-contradiction.3

But, with that, I have solely demonstrated that doubt, as such, cannot serve as a critical basis. I did not expose yet the bases which, in their turn, make doubt possible. And this is the decisive point, for if there is something “behind” doubt, it is this something, and not doubt, which constitutes the firm support point Descartes looked for, and which he naïvely believed to have found in the acknowledgement of doubt.

Descartes says that doubt is a certainty in the instant it is thought. But that is false: what is a certainty is the later reflection which affirms the reality of the experience of doubt. In the very instant of doubt, what happens is, as we have seen, an alternation between affirmation and denial, and hence the impossibility of affirming any state, if by state we understand, as one should, the coincidence of a factual judgement and the feeling which grants its negative or positive value, as in sadness, hurry, anger, hope etc. Doubt is not a state, for the simple reason that in it the feeling, which can be of anxiety, of hope, of curiosity, etc., does not coincide with a specific judgement, but emerges precisely from the impossibility of affirming or denying a judgement. It is rather a moment of suspension between states, an agitated void that contains the germs of various possible states – at least two – and never settles upon any of them without its own suppression. Therefore man never “is” in doubt: he simply passes by it, precisely as a transition between states. It is only when doubt is no longer a present experience and becomes the object of reflection that arises this certainty, purely retrospective and narrative: “I could not, up to this moment, establish myself in affirmation or denial.” Thus, there is not only a logical distinction but an actual separation between doubt as a present experience and doubt as an object o recollection and reflection – and it is the latter that is certain and indubitable4, not the first, even though Descartes takes one for the other and forwards to us as a direct intuitive evidence what is actually the object of later reflection. It is only this reflection that, in giving it a name, can endow with the oneness of a “state” that which is actually a succession of states which mutually suppress each other, or the coexistence of purely potential states, each of them being able to actualise itself only at the cost of the others’ exclusion. Endowing the void of alternation with the positive consistence of a “state”, Descartes at the same time transforms doubt into mere hypothetical denial, taking then as an actual psychological state what is rather simply the logical concept of a possible state.

To make things even worse, in the reflective affirmation of the reality of doubt are contained, as premises, two beliefs: one in the continuity of conscience between doubt and reflection, and other in the knowledge of the distinction between truth and falsehood.

1o Anyone who reflects about doubt is aware of still being “the same” who had the doubt; and if the act of doubting is formally distinct from the act of reflection, the conscious ego, in reflecting, knows he is the subject of two distinct acts – logically distinct and temporally distinct -, taking us to the conclusion that this ego is logically and temporally anterior to both acts and independent from them: it is not the act of doubting that founds the certainty about the ego, but, on the contrary, the certainty about the continuity of the ego is the sole guarantee that doubt was really experienced. For doubt, if it did not receive from later reflection the name that endows it with the apparent oneness of a state, would end up reducing itself to the mere succession of non-related affirmations and denials, successive hallucinations of schizophrenically plural subject, deprived of the empire of himself and dissolved in the atomistic flow of his states. In order to become the object of reflection, doubt is endowed with the artificial oneness of a name; and if just after that the mind forgets that this mind is a mere ens rationis and takes it for a substantial unity, then we are faced with a case of reflexive self-hypnosis in which a name produces magically, a posteriori, the reality of its object.

2o Being formally distinct, the two acts are empirically distinct as well, that is, distinct in time: first I doubt (that is, I come and go between successive affirmations and denials), then I reflect that I doubted (that is, I unify under the name “doubt” this multitude of antagonistic experiences). But the oneness of the ego, implied on this very reflection, and hence in the certainty of the doubt, is that continuity in time denominated memoryand recollection: memory, a premise for reflection, is logically and temporally anterior to reflection. Far from being able to base our confidence on memory, it is doubt who depends on it to have a logical foundation and to become possible in the realm of psychological facts.

But, if doubt depends on the guarantee it receives from the ego and from memory, then it has no founding capability. It is a founded thing, a secondary and derived certainty, it is the work of a more profound and unquestionable agent.

3o However, doubt implies something else. How is it possible to doubt? The possibility of doubt rests entirely over our ability to conceive things in a way different from the way they present themselves in a given moment. Doubt rests over supposition; it requires and implies the ability to suppose. Once things have presented themselves to the subject in one certain way, and not another, this second and supposed way can present itself to conscience only as a work of the subject himself, as an offspring of imagination or as a conjecture. In order to know he’s doubting, it is necessary for the subject to know that he supposed something and to thus acknowledge himself as the subject of not only two acts, as we have just seen, but of three: the act of doubting, the act of reflecting about doubt and, before both acts, the act of supposing or imagining. Imagination is, in addition to the continuity of the ego and to memory, the third requirement and the third basis for the possibility of doubt.

4o But, should the subject never notice any difference between things as they present themselves to him and things the way he imagines them, the subject would never be able to know that he supposed, since there would be no distinction between to suppose and to perceive. Therefore, the awareness of this difference is also a requirement and a basis for the possibility of doubt. To doubt, I need to distinguish, in my representation, what’s given and what’s construed, what’s received and what’s invented, that which I get already finished and that which I do and propose. Consequently, here is the assumption of the difference between the objective and the subjective, and, thus, the belief in the objectivity of the objective and in the subjectivity of the subjective.

5o Yet, should the subject confuse these two domains, believing that he supposed what was perceived and that he perceived what he supposed, he would have lost the continuity of conscience and of memory, which is, as we have seen, a condition for the possibility of doubt. Therefore, the doubt about the reality of the world cannot present itself as a mere choice between two possibilities of equal value sprang from the same origin, but always as a choice between something given and something supposed, between the perceived and the invented.

6o It is not possible to doubt about the reality of the world without knowing first that this doubt, and the supposition which serves as its basis, are but pure inventions of the subject himself, and this invention is formally and temporally distinct from the act of perceiving and from the perceived content. Doubt is a supposition that an invented world is more valid than the received world, a supposition based, in its turn, in the conscience to invent, to suppose and to pretend. The doubt about the reality of the world is always and necessarily an act of pretending, and the more the pretender works to take this doubt seriously, to make it more and more verisimilar, the more the glow of the performance will attest to the difference between the verisimilar and the true, as in a play, we applaud the actor exactly because we know that he is not the character.

7o But this conscience of pretending would be impossible if it were not founded, in its turn, on the conscience of the difference between to think and to be, to imagine and to act. For, once it is implied the conscience of the difference between to supposing and perceiving, parallel to the conscience the ego has of its own actions, there wouldn’t be a way to deny that the thinking ego is conscious of the difference between the supposed action and the effective action, once the effective action is not just thought, but physically perceived, exactly like the beings from the physical world. I cannot, therefore, doubt about the beings of the physical world without, in the same act, doubt about the physical acts I see myself performing, like the movements of my hands and legs. But, at the same time, I cannot doubt about them without questioning, in the same instant, the continuity and the oneness of the ego, which is, in spite of it, a premise for the act of doubting about just any thing. Here is another reason for which doubt, being dubious in its own nature, would not be able to establish itself if not by doubting about itself, that is, being aware that it is founded on a supposition and on deliberate pretending. Here is also why doubt is something so rare and demanding: it implies a movements that contradicts itself, that questions the very conditions which make it possible.5

8o Finally, doubt is only possible when it is known that something, either in what is perceived or in what is supposed, is not adequate, when it does not meet a fundamental requirement of truthfulness. But how could the doubting subject demand truthfulness of his suppositions if he did not have any idea about truthfulness? This demand would be inconceivable without an idea of truth, even as a mere imaginary object of desire. The desire for bases presumes in the subject at least the possibility of imagining that his knowledge can be even more reliable than he actually feels at a given moment, that is, truth as an ideal and the option for truth. But, at the same time, we saw that the subject did not know this truth just as an abstract ideal, but that he already was aware of at least one actual difference between truth and falsehood: the difference between what is given and what is supposed, followed by the true awareness that what was received was not supposed and what was supposed was not received.

Thus, doubt erects itself upon a whole building of perceptions and presumptions: far from being first logically, it is a very elaborate and sophisticated product of a knowledge machine. Far from having a founding power, it is no more than a more or less accidental and secondary manifestation of a system of certainties.

However, if things are as such, if the primacy of methodical doubt is only the primacy of a mistake, then are under suspicion, similarly, the Kantian primacy of the critique problem, the positivist dogma of the impossibility to have a valid metaphysical certainty, and many other belief which today’s man takes, in spite of his own will, as obvious and blatant truths. But this is a subject for future addresses, which will be presented in other opportunities. Thank you.


  1. First part – abridged – of the essay “To Doubt about Doubt and to Criticise Criticism: Preliminaries for a Return to Dogmatic Metaphysics”, distributed among the students of the Permanent Seminar on Philosophy and the Humanities in March 1996. 
  2. When I talk about “succession and coexistence”, it seems that I utter a monumental nonsense. But the yes and the no of which doubt is made are coexistent in one aspect, and successive in another. Logically coexistent as terms of a contradiction, they are psychologically successive, that is, they enter the stage of conscience in a cyclical, alternating mode: one enters, the other leaves, as day and night coexist in the sky and succeed each other in a certain point on Earth. 
  3. A first version of this analysis of Cartesian doubt can be found in my book Universality and Abstraction and Other Studies (São Paulo: Speculum, 1983), under the title “The Cartesian cogito on the light of spiritual psychology.” 
  4. “Certain and indubitable” or “uncertain and doubtful” are predicates which do not apply to a fact as such, but to the judgements we make about it. 
  5. It is a deviation of the human mental apparatus, a painful movement that suppresses itself, and which rare men are able to endure for much time without great risk to their psychological integrity. The possibility of taking this risk and overcome it rests on the existence of a so solid, so deeply rooted body of beliefs, that a man may grant himself the luxury of leaving it for a mental trip, sure to find it again when he comes back. This possibility, in its turn, can only be accomplished in the highly differentiated urban societies and cultures, where the thinking individual is given space for flights of imagination which will affect in nothing his conduct as a citizen or as an honourable subject attends to his duties; where he is given, more than that, free space to think one thing and do another, to cultivate the defensive hypocrisy which is notably absent among the primitives, and that, for good or bad, is a solid protection of the individual conscience against the tyranny of collective discourse. Hence the peaceful coexistence between the revolutionary audacity of Cartesian doubt and the conservatism of the “provisory morals” that make it possible. 

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