Hieroglyphs, Theory of

The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Hieroglyphs, Theory of


a term used by Lenin in his Materialism and Empiriocriticism (ch. 4, sec. 6) to designate the epistemological assertion that sensations are conventional signs (symbols, hieroglyphs) for things and have nothing in common with things or their qualities.

The term hieroglyph itself was introduced by G. V. Plekhanov in 1892, who in so doing made a certain concession in the direction of the agnostic interpretation of sensations. Later, in 1905, Plekhanov acknowledged that he had failed to express himself exactly (see Izbr. filos. proizv., vol. 1, 1956, pp. 480–481, 501). The “theory of hieroglyphs” was developed by the German physiologist H. Helmholtz on the basis of the so-called law of specific nerve energies, which had been formulated by the German physiologist J. Müller. (According to this law, the specific quality of sensations is determined by the unique structure of the sense organs, each of which forms a closed system.)

Lenin’s critique of the “theory of hieroglyphs” was presented from the standpoint of the theory of reflection. Lenin showed that sensations are a subjective image of the objective world, an image that presupposes both the reality of what is represented and the similarity between the image and the representation. This theory, then, excludes the understanding of sensations as exact copies of the qualities of things, as well as the notion that they are merely conventional signs for them.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.