MIA: Encyclopedia of Marxism: Glossary of People
Mikhail Lomonosov, father of Russian science
Authors: Pavel Yudin and Mark Rosenthal;
First published: 1954 in A Short Philosophical Dictionary, fifth edition;
Translated:by Anton P.
Lomonosov, Mikhail Vasilyevich (1711-1765)
Lomonosov was a great Russian scientist, poet, founder of materialistic philosophy and natural science in Russia. The son of a peasant-Pomor from the village of Denisovka, near Kholmogory, Arkhangelsk province. Lomonosov from an early age passionately strived for knowledge. In 1730 he left for Moscow and, having overcome many difficulties associated with his peasant origin, entered the Slavic-Greek-Latin Academy there. In 1735 he was sent to the Academy of Sciences in St. Petersburg, and after a while abroad, from where he returned in 1741. The Academy of Sciences with its foreign dominance did not recognize Lomonosov as a scientist for a long time. Only in 1745 he was approved as professor of chemistry.
The materialist tradition in the development of advanced Russian philosophy and science originates from Lomonosov. Lomonosov’s scientific activity was distinguished by its versatility. Lomonosov’s achievements in the field of chemistry and physics are especially significant. Lomonosov’s great scientific feat is the discovery of the law of conservation of matter and motion as a universal natural law and its theoretical and experimental substantiation. Already in his first natural-scientific works, Lomonosov comes to the conclusion about the constancy of matter and motion. Lomonosov gave a detailed substantiation of the law he discovered in 1748: “All changes occurring in nature occur in such a way that as much as is added to what is added, the same amount is subtracted from the other. So, as much substance as is added to one body, the same amount is taken away from another ... This law of nature is so universal that it also extends to the rules of motion.” Later, Lomonosov substantiated this law in the work “Discourse on the hardness and fluidity of bodies” and in other works. The law of conservation of matter is rightfully called the Lomonosov Law. Lomonosov proved this law experimentally by weighing substances before and after a chemical reaction. Lomonosov’s position on the conservation of motion was confirmed in the concrete form of the law of conservation of energy after almost a hundred years. Thus, Lomonosov has priority in discovering the universal law of conservation of matter and motion, which lies at the foundation of modern natural science, especially physics and chemistry. Justifying the proposition about the non-destructibility and non-creation of matter and motion, Lomonosov thereby defended the indissolubility of matter and motion. The law of conservation of matter and motion Lomonosov came to the motion of particles of matter.
Lomonosov is the founder of chemical atomistics, revealing the atomic-molecular structure of matter. He believed that “corpuscles” (molecules) are composed of the smallest particles – “elements” (atoms). “Corpuscles,” wrote Lomonosov, “are homogeneous if they consist of the same number of the same elements connected in the same way ... dissimilar when their elements are different and connected in different ways or in different numbers; the infinite variety of bodies depends on it.” Lomonosov’s understanding of heat as a mechanical motion of “corpuscles” is based on the law of conservation of motion. In Reflections on the Elastic Force of Air, Lomonosov developed the theory of the structure of air on the basis of molecular-kinetic concepts that played a huge role in the further development of science. Lomonosov resolutely fought against anti-scientific views, which in the 18th century. dominated in natural science, for example, against the metaphysical concept of “caloric.”
In Reflections on the Cause of Heat and Cold, Lomonosov wrote that “there is a sufficient basis for heat in motion. And since motion cannot occur without matter, it is necessary that a sufficient basis for heat lies in the motion of some matter.” Lomonosov expresses ingenious ideas that various natural phenomena are caused by different forms of motion of matter. Lomonosov laid the foundation for a completely new science – physical chemistry, linking physical theories and research methods with the solution of chemical problems. Lomonosov paid considerable attention to the development of the mining and metallurgical business. In the field of geology, he first put forward the idea of development.
He investigated the wealth of the subsoil of Russia, found out the conditions of navigation along the Northern Sea Route. A supporter of the heliocentric theory in astronomy, the multitude of worlds and the infinity of the universe, Lomonosov was the first to discover the air atmosphere around Venus and, in opposition to the teachings of the church, admitted the possibility of life on other planets. He basically correctly explained the causes of climate change on earth, the presence in the North in the frozen layers of the earth of the remains of animals and plants that are not characteristic of the conditions of the North. Lomonosov predicted that at high air densities, deviations from the Boyle-Mariotte law should be found. Lomonosov was the first to introduce in chemistry the method of quantitative (weight) reception as a systematic method of research, and invented a number of instruments for use in navigation, meteorology, geodesy, physics, chemistry, etc.
Lomonosov solved the main question of philosophy materialistically. With his research, he made a breach in the metaphysical worldview that prevailed at the time; on a number of issues Lomonosov pursued the idea of development. At the same time, due to the limited knowledge of that time, he considered mainly mechanical laws and properties of nature. He considered the main properties of matter to be extension, force of inertia, impenetrability, mechanical motion. Lomonosov contrasted the materialistic view of atoms to the idealistic monadology of Leibniz, which he sharply criticized. Rejecting Leibniz’s spiritual monads, Lomonosov called corpuscles “physical monads.”
Lomonosov’s views contain elements of dialectics. He already considers the world around us as constantly changing and developing. In his work “On the Layers of the Earth,” he talks about the changes and evolutionary development of the plant and animal kingdoms, puts forward a bold theory about the plant origin of peat, coal, oil, amber, an evolutionary theory of the origin of soils. Lomonosov considered motion as “eternally” existing. In his work “On the heaviness of bodies and on the eternity of the primary movement,” he writes: “... the primary movement can never have a beginning, but must last forever.”
Lomonosov developed a materialistic theory of knowledge. He proceeded from the fact that the source of knowledge is the external world, which affects the human senses. He was a staunch opponent of the Cartesian idealist theory of “innate ideas” and Locke’s “inner experience.” Lomonosov spoke in favor of combining experimental data with theoretical conclusions. He condemned those who divorced cognition by reason from sensory perceptions, who metaphysically opposed synthesis to analysis. In the theory of knowledge, Lomonosov assigned a large place to experience, understanding the latter in a narrow sense, in the sense of a scientific experiment and sensory perception of objective reality. Lomonosov sharply criticized the idealist theory of the so-called “secondary qualities,” arguing that “secondary qualities” exist as objectively as primary ones.
“With Lomonosov,” wrote Belinsky, “our literature begins.” Lomonosov was the founder of Russian grammar. Thanks to Lomonosov, a new grammar based on living Russian speech came to replace the dead, scholastic schemes of the old grammar. As a poet, Lomonosov performed primarily with poems in which he called for the development of the arts and sciences in Russia, for the spread of Enlightenment among the Russian people.
For a number of years, Lomonosov waged a stubborn struggle for the creation of domestic science, he did a lot for the development of natural science in Russia, for combining advanced science with practical tasks. Lomonosov was the first Russian scientist to receive the title of Academician. He was the founder of Moscow University (1755) and advocated the transformation of the Academy of Sciences. Lomonosov fought against the clergy, sharply castigating the ignorance of the priests. As a historian, as a patriot, he fought against the distortions of Russian history and against the dominance of the reactionary “German party” in the Academy of Sciences. Lomonosov loved his people dearly; he believed in the great future of the Russian people. The last edition of Selected Philosophical Works of M. V. Lomonosov was published in 1950.