Dr. Wren throws off his chains but still feels a little overdressed.

There is so much to say about Karl Marx's conception of human nature that it seems almost impossible even to begin. I have a few thoughts of my own that I'll put on this page later, but for now let me just make a programmatic announcement. We have one class (!) to discuss this chapter, and I would like to spend the second half of the class analyzing several pages of the so-called Paris Manuscripts, also called the 1844 Manuscripts. These pages, which have to do with the nature human alienation, are probably the part of Marx's work that is most directly relevant to our course.

Because we'll devote so much time to Marx's own text, I must ask everyone to come to class (on the 30th of October) thoroughly familiar with Palmer's Chapter 8. We'll have a lot of ground to cover in very little time!

Don't forget to take this chapter's assessment quiz, and of course to revisit that pile of dirty laundry...





Supplemental Reading: "The alienation of labor," from Karl Marx, Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844 (Hooker translation).

A personal note about the Supplemental Reading: The 1844 Manuscripts had been translated into English just a few years before I began studying philosophy, and had a terrific impact on my generation of philosophers because they revealed a side of Marx that his later works such as Das Kapital had suppressed (due in large part to the way hard-line Communist Party intellectuals had presented those works). The concept of "alienation" was something humanists like myself could relate to, even though we were woefully ignorant of economic theory. Since then Marx scholars have translated and analyzed another set of writings which constitute a bridge between the early humanistic Marx and the later economic Marx (I'm thinking primarily of his Grundrisse, written around 1859 but not translated into English until 1971.) If you're interested in going deeper into Marxian theory, I think you should look at some of the many discussions of that period of his life. Contact me and I will give you some bibliographical references.


(The following introductory remarks were written by my college roommate, who has since become a leading authority on Marx's thought. It was my privilege to witness his own intellectual awakening to Marx's thought, and as a result to come to see for myself how important Marx is for all of us.)

Marx's now widely known Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts, written in Paris in 1844, were never intended for publication. Here he developed his first detailed analysis of the processes of estrangement and alienation characteristic of bourgeois society and capitalist production. Beginning with the presuppositions of the political economists, Marx examined first the alienated condition of the laborers as seen in (1) their relation to the product of their activity; (2) the process of labor itself; (3) the relation of the laborer to nature; (4) the relation of man to man; and (5) their relation to the human potential for freedom and creation. The basis of this condition Marx located in the private property relationship characterized by the reduction of human activity to wage labor as merely one commodity among others. That is, this represents the nearly total dehumanization of the laborer.

In response to this negation of the potentialities of humanity, Marx examines Communism as a proposed solution to this alienation, distinguishing carefully between "vulgar" Communism (determined by the abstract negation of private property and thus still under its sway) and positive Communism, the "real appropriation of human nature through and for man." He discusses the historical basis of Communism and envisions positive Communism as being quite other than a merely utopian dream. It is, rather, to be realized in history through the revolutionary action of the proletariat.

He also examines the foundation of the capitalist process of production in the division of labor and in the social process of exchange characterized and facilitated by money, the (im)moral implications of which Marx sees in what he terms its "fetish" character. This is to claim that in bourgeois society the traditional values have all been debased and replaced by the simple lust for money.

By Frederic L. Bender, editor of Karl Marx: The Essential Writings. Westview Press, 1986 (pp. 67-68).