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Matter is a philosophical category simply indicating everything that exists outside of Consciousness.


The concept of Matter originates with the ancient Greek atomists, most famously Democritus. Matter was conceived as an identical substance underlying all forms, different forms arising from different modes of movement and interaction between identical atoms. It was only with the emergence of modern philosophical materialism with Ludwig Feuerbach (1804-1872) that the philosophical concept of matter acquired the scientific definition which it has in CHAT. In recent decades, a great deal of resistance has emerged to the recognition of a dichotomy between the philosophical concepts of matter and consciousness, often taking the form of an identification of thoughts with neuronal activity.


Matter is a philosophical category simply indicating everything that exists outside of consciousness. In philosophy, and in the foundations of CHAT, the concept of ‘matter’ does not concern such distinctions as that between waves and particles, between processes and things or social base and superstructure, but simply the distinction between consciousness and the world outside of consciousness which is ’reflected’ in consciousness. It seems counter-intuitive that a materialist psychology defines matter in terms of consciousness but in fact, these two terms are meaningful only in contrast to one another.

Everything we know about the material world passes through our consciousness, but it remains the case that scientific knowledge of consciousness is possible only by studying the material processes which underlie consciousness: human physiology and human behaviour – interactions with other people, Nature and Artefacts – and their development. Thinking is undoubtedly a material process, but consciousness, the ‘material of thinking’ is an appearance which must be rationally distinguished from the matter reflected in appearance. As Evald Ilyenkov put it:

Here, then, is the question: take your thought, your consciousness of the world, and the world itself, the complex and intricate world which only appears to be simple, the world which you see around you, in which you live, act and carry out your work – whether you write treatises on philosophy or physics, sculpt statues out of stone, or produce steel in a blast furnace – what is the relationship between them? ...
These concepts are matter and consciousness (psyche, the ideal, spirit, soul, will, etc. etc.). ‘Consciousness’ ... is the most general concept which can only be defined by clearly contrasting it with the most general concept of ‘matter’, moreover as something secondary, produced and derived. (Ilyenkov, 2009, p. 302)

Further, he says:

The question about the relationship of consciousness to the brain is a question which is resolved scientifically and with full concreteness not at all by philosophy, but only by the joint efforts of psychology and the physiology of the brain. ...
In philosophy discussion is, was and shall be precisely about the relationship of consciousness to the material, objective world of natural and socio-historical phenomena, existing outside the thinking brain. This is the very question which will be answered by no variety of psychophysiology, no matter how refined it is. For the simple reason that it has never studied this question. (Ilyenkov, 2009, p. 305)

See LSVCW, v. 3, pp. 310–332.



Ilyenkov, E. V. (2009). Leninist Dialectics and the Metaphysics of Positivism, in The Ideal in Human Activity,

Vygotsky, L. S. (1929). Historical Meaning of the Crisis in Psychology, chapter 13, LSVCW, v. 3, pp. 310–332.

-- AndyBlunden - 12 Nov 2013


Topic revision: r6 - 21 Nov 2013, AndyBlunden

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