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Philosophy 224. Karl Marx Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy and The German Ideology. Karl Marx (1818-1883). Marx ' s life spanned the bulk of the 19th century. Originally interested in the law, he shifted his attention to philosophy, in which he received the doctorate.

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Philosophy 224

Philosophy 224

Karl Marx

Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy and The German Ideology

Karl marx 1818 1883
Karl Marx (1818-1883)

  • Marx's life spanned the bulk of the 19th century.

  • Originally interested in the law, he shifted his attention to philosophy, in which he received the doctorate.

  • He spent the bulk of his career as a journalist, moving around Europe as his political activities and writings led to his expulsion from a number of different cities and countries.

  • The focus of his work was on economics and politics.

An anti dualist
An Anti-Dualist

  • As becomes clear in the brief selection from the Contribution, Marx’s perspective on human nature is fundamentally anti-dualist.

  • This anti-dualism is a product of Marx’s metaphysical and ontological commitments, which go by the label of Historical Materialism.

    • There are two aspects of this view: 1)metaphysical materialism (everything is matter, everything is caused by material processes); 2)the economic structures of society condition the ideas and forms of life exhibited by its citizens.

  • Thus, unlike Descartes, for whom our being as minds is independent of (and ultimately more significant than) our being as bodies, for Marx, human beings are fundamentally material creatures determined by material forces.

    • “It is not the consciousness of men that determines their being, but, on the contrary, their social being that determines their consciousness” (140).

Production is the key
Production is the Key

  • This helps us understand why Marx believes that the traditional starting point of economics and political theory is faulty.

  • Rather than start with human beings defined as consciousness, or spirit, we have to begin with, “…the physical organization of these individuals and their consequent relation to the rest of nature” (141), the recognition that life determines consciousness (146).

    • The alternative view (that consciousness determines life) is the “Ideology” which Marx is targeting)

  • Though we can, looking back, identify a number of features that distinguish humans from animals, what marks this difference is that humans produce, make things, determine the shape of their lives by producing the goods by and through which they live (141-2).

Homo faber
Homo Faber

  • On the basis of this analysis, Marx offers a very different theory of human nature than that of Descartes.

  • The key to his account is the recognition that in labor (working) human beings make the material they work with part of themselves, transforming nature into an extension of themselves.

  • Labor is thus a form of self-knowledge. You come to know yourself by experiencing the results of your own labor. In experiencing the product of your labor, you are aware of both it and yourself.

  • Writ large, this self-identification in objectification is history revealing himself to us, not only through the material results of our work, but through all of our creations: art, law, religion, technology, society itself. In all of these endeavors, we externalize ourselves and in the process become more self-consciously human.

The starting point
The Starting Point

  • For Marx, the only adequate starting point for a concept of history is the actual, concrete existence of living individuals.

  • What this means, as the account of human beings as Homo Faber suggests, is that history starts with the “material conditions determining their production,”“both with what they produce and with how they produce”(142).

  • This is true for individual history and that of nations, which can be distinguished, one from the other on the way in which labor is divided in them.

A genealogy of human existence
A genealogy of Human Existence

  • When Marx examines the history of the development of human social forms, he finds that there is an intimate connection between the division of labor and property.

  • In the Ideology, we get a developmental account of this connection, from “tribal ownership”through “communal”and "feudal"up to (implicitly) the form that ownership takes in the modern era: “capitalist.”

  • He insists that, “we have to grasp the essential connection between private property, greed, and the separation of labor, capital and landed property…"

  • What we find in this connection the key concept of Marx’s diagnosis: estrangement or alienation

The pin factory
The Pin Factory

  • Marx completely reconceives the significance of the example that was first employed by Adam Smith: the pin factory.

    • The factory only functions as a source of profit if the pin makers are paid less than the real value of their wages.

      • The excess value of their work is collected by the capitalist in the form of profit.

    • This profit is maximized the more the workers are stripped (alienated) of their labor (through division of labor, mechanization, etc.)

  • It's truth is that it assumes the standpoint of the capitalist, forgetting the effects of the division of labor on the worker.

  • In the factory, the process of becoming self-consciously human by way of externalization through labor has been undermined.

Estrangement pt 1
Estrangement Pt. 1

  • This undermining takes four distinct forms:

    • Product Alienation: because they have no stake in what they produce, workers no longer experience the product of their work as themselves. The product of their labor doesn’tbelong to them, but to the capitalist. All the workers have are their wages.

    • Self Alienation: because they do not organize their own productive activity, the workers’relationship to their work, the actual activity they engage in, is now also one of alienation. They experience it as an alienation from themselves. They no longer express themselves in their work; they lose themselves in it.

Estrangement pt 2
Estrangement Pt. 2

  • Species Alienation: By “species being,” Marx means our existence as a human being, considered in the aspects in which it differs from the existence of other animals. A unique character of human beings is that they are capable of working to produce things that aren’tneeded for survival (e.g. art, which is produced for the sake of beauty). Working for wages is work that's necessary for survival -- and so workers lose what's distinctively human about themselves and thus become alienated from themselves as human beings.

  • Social Alienation: because, as a result of the other three forms of alienation, workers are all in competition with each other, they are alienated from each other. Love and trust are replaced by bargaining and exchange. Human beings cease to recognize in each other their common human nature; they see others as instruments for furthering their own egoistic interests.

Against private property
Against Private Property

  • Marx's assumption that humans are Homo Faber together with his analysis of the inevitable alienation resulting from private ownership of the means of production, serve as a basis from which Marx criticizes private ownership of property.

  • Private property is not only the source of this alienation, it is also the necessary consequence of alienated labor, of the external relation of the workers to nature and to themselves.

The prescription
The Prescription

  • Private property sets up a negative feedback situation. The only property owned by workers is what they buy with their wages, so they don't own anything that they’ve had a direct hand in producing. However, the need for further possessions generates the need for more wages, and thus more alienated labor.

  • This results in increasing greed: “Man becomes ever poorer as man, his need for money becomes ever greater if he wants to overpower hostile being.”

  • His strategy for curing alienation was radical: to eliminate labor within the capitalist system, the wage system, and private property, i.e., to institute communism.

The upshot
The Upshot

  • The significance of Marx’s genealogy is to lay the groundwork for an account of consciousness which grounds it in specific forms of material existence.

  • What might be labeled “capitalist consciousness”is not a “natural”condition, but the result of a certain ordering of material conditions, including the forms of work specified and required by private ownership of the means of production.

  • This “order”has the effect of limiting human ideas and understanding, in effect blinding us to other possibilities.

  • The point of this “ideology critique”is to open the possibility of recognizing other forms of consciousness, “Communism differs from all previous movements in that it overturns the basis of all earlier relations of production and intercourse, and for the first time consciously treats all natural premises as the creatures of hitherto existing men…”