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Philosophy 302: Ethics
Frederick Engels, "Science of Natural Processes"

Abstract:  Four important discoveries in the sciences have unified all aspects of the universe in terms of a deterministic materialism.

1. Explain the significance of the discovery of the transformation of energy in terms of the classical "mind-body" problem.  In Engels's terms, what are the two kinds of "motions" that are now understandable as mechanistic materialism? How, then, are mental qualities to be explained?

2. Why was the discovery by Schwann and Schleiden that the biological cell is the basis of all living things such revolutionary theory?

3. What is the unifying role of Darwin's theory of evolution in the philosophy of mechanistic materialism?

4. Prior to Wöhler's discovery, scientists thought that organic molecules could only be synthesized by living organisms. Explain Engels's argument that when Friedrich Wöhler accidentally created the organic compound urea by heating the inorganic compound ammonium cyanate, vitalism was disproved.

5. Engels is claiming that scientific law applies with equal measure to nature and society. Explain whether or not the free choice of human beings would be possible if all life processes are subject to deterministic scientific laws.


1. Explain the significance of the discovery of the transformation of energy in terms of the classical "mind-body" problem.  In Engels's terms, what are the two kinds of "motions" that are now understandable as mechanistic materialism? How, then, are mental qualities to be explained?

From the boring of cannons, it was noticed that a specific amount of motion produced a specific amount of heat through friction.  In fact, the energy of motion explains a number of forces: mechanical, force, heat, radiation, electricity, and magnetism and establishes a "mechanical equivalent of heat." Heat was once thought to be a subjective quality.  Now subjective or mental qualities are explainable in terms of forms of energy.

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2. Why was the discovery by Schwann and Schleiden that the biological cell is the basis of all living things such revolutionary theory?

Almost all organisms arise and develop in cellular form.  The so-called miracle of life now is seen in terms of cellular laws of development

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3. What is the unifying role of Darwin's theory of evolution in the philosophy of mechanistic materialism?

The variety of all living things and their adaptive features is now explainable with a few principles according to the theory of evolution.  The development of the human brain itself is now, itself, explainable and reducible to these principles.

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4. Prior to Wöhler's discovery, scientists thought that organic molecules could only be synthesized by living organisms. Explain Engels's argument that when Friedrich Wöhler accidentally created the organic compound urea by heating the inorganic compound ammonium cyanate, vitalism was disproved.

Chemistry is now beginning to account for the origin of life itself according to chemical principles. With Wöhler's discovery of the synthesis of an organic compound comes the expectation that the distinction between the living and the non-living is not a mystery or a miracle.

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5. Engels is claiming that scientific law applies with equal measure to nature and society. Explain whether or not the free choice of human beings would be possible if all life processes are subject to deterministic scientific laws.

 It would seem that if all life processes were subject to deterministic scientific laws, free choice, in terms of any standard definition of the term, would be logically impossible. Since scientific determinism is the doctrine that all events, including mental events, are caused, the event "choice" itself would not be uncaused. To say that a choice is both caused and uncaused is contradictory.


Recommended Sources

Cosmology Today.:  A series of accessible articles by scientists on the present and future state of science including present concerns of "a theory of everything" 

Marxists Internet ArchiveMarxist Writers and History. Comprehensive reference and sources for the philosophy of Marxism—useful for many online sources not available elsewhere.

Paper Topics

1. Is free will  compatible with the strictest determinism?  Q.v., something like Philippa Foot, "Free Will as Involving Determinism, The Philosophical Review, LXVI (1957), 439-450. 

2. Explain and clarify the distinction between metaphysical and empirical determinism. Q.v., something like Austin Farrer, The Freedom of the Will, ch. 8-9.

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