Week 8: Marx


This week we have three texts: one by Engels, and two short ones by Marx. The Engels text, although written later, appears first in your reader because it provides a helpful account of Marx’s relation to Hegel. Marx’s letter to Ruge (1843) and ‘Theses on Feuerbach’ (1845) were written early in his career. Marx and Engels published the ‘Communist Manifesto’ in 1848 and Marx published Capital in 1867.

In the seminar this week we will focus on analysing the ‘Theses on Feuerbach’, so read these a little more closely beforehand.

Reading Questions

Engels, ‘Ludwig Feuerbach and the end of classical German philosophy’

1.(1-2) How does Engels characterize the revolutionary and conservative elements of Hegel’s philosophy? Do you think it is possible to distinguish between both elements, as Engels does?

I think it is possible to distinguish between the revolutionary and conservative sides of Hegel’s philosophy precisely because Engel’s text demonstrates this possibility rather clearly. The conservative side of Hegel’s thought is described as traditionally systematic philosophy in that it has to provide an account of an absolute truth. This is seen as dogmatic, enforcing a necessity of nobility, and smothering the revolutionary side of Hegel that is his dialectical method. A method that shows philosophical systems to be perishable and that the human mind contains an imperishable desire to overcome contradictions but if these contradictions are overcome we arrive at a so-called absolute truth which in turn is a contradiction because it implies the end of history, yet in fact history has to continue.

2.(3) What does Engels take to be the task of philosophy after Hegel?

Engels confidently asserts this task as, ‘the task that a singular philosopher should accomplish that which can only be accomplished by the entire human race in its progressive development’. Here Here Engels!

Marx, Letter to Ruge

3.(207) ‘Hitherto philosophers have left the keys to all riddles lying in their desks, and the stupid, uninitiated world had only to wait around for the roasted pigeons of absolute science to fly into its open mouth’. What is Marx’s criticism of Hegelian philosophy in this paragraph?

Marx is not being so kind to his former teacher and in other words I think he is basically saying that Hegelian philosophy is too idealistically ideal, and that it makes a claim that it has the potential answer to all riddles which Marx does not fully agree with.

4.(209) What is a ‘reform of consciousness’? What effects should it have? How does Marx intend his journalism to bring about this reform?

A reform of consciousness would be in Marx’s wording,

‘The reform of consciousness consists entirely in making the world aware of its
own consciousness, in arousing it from its dream of itself, in explaining its own
actions to it. Like Feuerbach’s critique of religion, our whole aim can only be
to translate religious and political problems into their self-conscious human form.[ Marx. 1845. Theses on Feuerbach.]’

This reform then should show the world that it has long since dreamed of something that it could possess in reality if it was more concious of it (freedom?). Marx then suggests that through the publishing of the political journal Deutsch-Französische Jahrbücher wishes to complete past thought (enlightenment?) and the completion of its own work. Marx sums up these aims, ‘the self-clarification (critical philosophy) of the struggles and wishes of the age.’

Marx, Theses on Feuerbach

  1. (Theses 4-7) What does Marx agree with in Feuerbach’s philosophy? In what ways does Feuerbach not go far enough?

Marx agrees with Feuerbach on certain points: a) the desire for sensuous objects Objekte to be differentiated from thought-objects. b) Feuerbach’s start with self-estrangement Selbstentfremdung, ‘of the duplication of the world into a religious, imaginary world, and a secular one.’ c) the lack of satisfaction with abstract thinking, in favour of sensuous contemplation Anschauung. Marx believes that Feuerbach did not conceive of human activity itself as objective gegenständliche, furthermore this means he saw the theoretical attitude as the only genuine human attitude. This is evident in his limiting of practice to a form of Jewish appearance Erscheinungsform. Marx at the end of paragraph 4 really describes what he would have wanted Feuerbach to resolve and that is the contradiction inherent in the transformation from the religious world into a secular basis which also seems to flea from itself into the clouds. This involves the removal of the contradiction implicit between the religious and the secular is the revolutionary act. Correcting his peer, Marx sees the change of the essence of religion into the human essence as being dumbed down by Feuerbach and isolates the individual, thus missing that the religious sentiment is also a social product.

‘once the earthly family is discovered to be the secret of the holy family, the
former must itself be annihilated theoretically and practically.’

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