In his early years of writing, Karl Marx’s ideas were similar to American Pragmatism, especially his ideas about epistemology. He defines truth in a pragmatic fashion and explains cognition in terms of practical needs of the human being. While some of his ideas were not followed to their logical conclusion, nor made sense, the fundamentals of his epistemology contain valuable ideas which can be viewed as furthering pragmatism as a respectable philosophy. His theory of cognition states that cognition is a biological function of the human which is used as a tool for his survival.
Marx defines truth in a pragmatic way. The truth value of a judgment is due to the usefulness of accepting or rejecting the judgment. A statement is true if accepting it makes a positive difference or has a helpful influence and it is false if accepting it causes difficulty or dissatisfaction. The meaning of a statement is the practical result of accepting the statement. In general, then, the truth or falsity of a statement is relative, not only to the individual accepting or rejecting the statement, but also to the circumstances in which that person finds
himself. Truth is relative, but Marx is not an extreme relativist (no one to be taken seriously is) because there is a constraint to how relative the truth can be; Humans are making the truth judgments, and humans have a common element, their needs, which do not vary greatly between people.
Humans are in contact with nature at a fundamental level. The human understanding of nature is a consequence of the fact that nature confronts humans when they try to fulfill their needs. This is the case with any organism, and each species reacts according to the tools of that species. One of the human tools is the intellect, and it works through the cognition of the perception of elements of nature. Cognition occurs as the organizing of sensory data into categories. Without the ability to make generalizations, man would not be able to think. Moreover, the human
capacity to think is exactly the same as making abstractions about experience. There is nothing more to descriptions of the world than those abstractions. Details about the world are described only in terms of generalizations, for if there were a word for a specific detail unique to
only one event, then that word would be nothing but a name -an abbreviation for the term, the specific detail x , unique to only this one event, y.
“The assimilation of the external world, which is at first
biological, subsequently social and therefore human, occurs as an
organization of the raw material of nature in an effort to
satisfy needs; cognition, which is a factor in the assimilation,
cannot evade this universal determinism. To ask how an observer
would see a world whose essence was pure thinking and
consciousness of which was defined exclusively by a disinterested
cognitive effort, is to ask a barren question, for all
consciousness is actually born of practical needs, and the act of
cognition itself is a tool designed to satisfy these needs.”(1)
A world which is independent of what humans might think, which is what the logical positivists seek to know, is useless to humans, and impossible for a human to comprehend. Even to say, It is impossible for a human to comprehend the world in its pure form, words the problem incorrectly because the very meaning of comprehend contradicts anything which is not artificially broken into abstractions.
According to Marx, the world seems to be naturally divided into species and genera, not because the world divides them as such, but because man is at odds with his environment at a fundamental level and the categories into which his world is divided are a natural result of his effort to survive.
We do not have concepts that are not useful to our survival, or do not help us in our endeavors, though such concepts could easily fit in our intellectual capacity. We could ostensibly make the general dichotomy of objects that either ding or thud when hit regardless of whether such a dichotomy is useful. We do not have a word for such a dichotomy. The point is that “natural” distinctions are still artificially applied by the human intellect upon the world which has no such distinctions inherently, but those distinctions seem natural because they helped humans survive and succeed in their efforts. Marx’s theory of knowledge is a form of pragmatism which includes elements of Darwinism that explain how certain types of categorizing became prevalent.