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The meaning of Marx's statement, "The philosophers have only interpreted the world in various ways; the point, however, is to change it."

Summary:

Marx's statement means that while philosophers have historically focused on understanding and interpreting the world, the real goal should be to actively change it. He emphasizes the importance of practical action over mere theoretical contemplation.

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What is the meaning of Marx's statement, "The philosophers have only interpreted the world in various ways; the point, however, is to change it."?

In this statement, Karl Marx puts forth the essential ideals of his philosophy: it is not enough to simply study and analyze the world as it is; instead, one must make deliberate attempts to change the world in substantial ways. Marx was commenting on the tendency of philosophers to only expand on ideas already put forth by their predecessors; instead of trying to put out new ideas, they would remain stuck in their ruts of rethinking old ideas. Marx intended for philosophy to become a rapidly changing field, with new ideas that changed the way that people viewed others, themselves, and the world. With this change, people would be able to see the underlying dishonesty of existing cultural systems and take steps to alter them; Marx's own philosophy drew on prior work, but created an entirely new system of class-warfare and revolution that has persisted in cultural thought to this day.

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What does Marx's statement—"Philosophers have interpreted the world, the point is to change it"—mean in relation to literature?

Marx's point is that philosophy has not been used to practical ends. Though philosophers produce abstract ideas about the world, people do not adapt these abstractions into making practical changes in the world. In other words, philosophy is entirely abstract—with little connection to one's everyday life.

If this statement were applied to literature, it would mean that writers take on the abstract elements of life rather than address the practicalities of life. The question is whether writers, rather than basing their works on abstractions or larger themes, should instead turn to addressing ways people can change reality. Good literature, it could be argued, accomplishes both these ends. It deals with the larger conditions of human existence through examining the ways people live and poses ideas about how people can change.

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What does Marx's statement—"Philosophers have interpreted the world, the point is to change it"—mean in relation to literature?

Marx's brief essay "Theses on Feuerbach" ends with the words:

The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways; the point is to change it.

Marx's point is that ever since Plato, philosophers have written about the best way to govern a state and similar practical questions, but they have contented themselves with reaching a theoretical conclusion. Moreover, even the theoretical conclusions of such philosophers as Feuerbach are flawed because they insist on viewing "man" as an abstraction rather than as the product of a particular form of society. Marx therefore wants to correct this theoretical error with a healthy dose of praxis as succinctly as possible, writing:

All social life is essentially practical. All mysteries which lead theory to mysticism find their rational solution in human practice and in the comprehension of this practice.

This done, he ends his analysis with a remark which renders further words superfluous. Once philosophers have their theory right and are thinking in terms of changing the structure of society rather than the individual then they can begin, as Nietzsche was later to put it, "to philosophize with a hammer."

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What does Marx's statement—"Philosophers have interpreted the world, the point is to change it"—mean in relation to literature?

The point of Marx's Theses on Feuerbach is to attack the divide between the contemplative and the active in philosophy. Philosophy had privileged the contemplative since the time of the Greek philosophers Socrates and Plato, who believed that the ideal world of the mind was superior to the imperfect and, to them, shadowy material world.

In Theses on Feuerbach, Marx sets the idea of the superiority of the contemplative over the active on its head. To Marx, the value of philosophy comes in "praxis," or putting philosophical ideas into practical use. Marx did not want to simply talk about changing the political and economic systems, he wanted to do it, which is the message conveyed in the quote cited about changing the world.

A Marxist theory of literature, therefore, would model the change in the world in a way such that people could enact—or be—this change. It would help birth the new world order by showing people what it looked like. This is why Marxist literature often depicted the worker in a bold and idealized manner.

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What does Marx's statement—"Philosophers have interpreted the world, the point is to change it"—mean in relation to literature?

The full statement reads: "The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways. The point, however, is to change it." It comes from Marx's 1845 paper "Theses on Feuerbach." The meaning of the statement in literary terms is that most writing in Marx's time tended to repeat the philosophical ideas that came before it; because people tend to agree with their favorite authors, the philosophies used in writing almost always agreed with the original interpretations of philosophers. Because of this, the world rarely changed in any substantial way. Marx believed that writing, both in philosophy and other areas, should present new ideas and new ideals that can be studied and adopted. This would result in substantive changes to the world, and increase the likelihood of Marx's own philosophies being adopted at a wider level.

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What does Marx's statement—"Philosophers have interpreted the world, the point is to change it"—mean in relation to literature?

 Marx believed that history determines consciousness. In other words, the things we think and do are determined by our social and economic institutions. This includes all of culture. Therefore, all of our cultural artifacts, textual and otherwise, are products of history. There are ideological forces working through political and economic structures that condition the roles of classes. This includes the actual conditioning of personalities. People will continue to allow themselves to be oppressed if they think this is their role. This is called “false consciousness.” In order to make a change, the worker (or reader in this context) must become aware to the social forces that influence him/her. He/she must think outside the box of his/her own historical moment. This is very difficult to do, but not impossible.

These social forces also influence writing since writing is a part of culture which is influenced by historical conditions. To spark change, writers can awaken readers to the social forces that influence how they live and how they read. Marx was expressing his theory of historical materialism. All the things we do and all the things we create are produced by our understanding of our role in society and our place in history. If people are influenced to act in certain ways, then writers are influenced to write in certain ways.

If you apply this quote by Marx to the theory of New Historicism, which is indebted to Marx’s theory of historical materialism, then literature plays a big role in the development and/or revolutions of history. New Historicism is the theory that history influences literature but literature can also influence history. A New Historical approach to literature or criticism is as objective as it can be. The goal of this approach is to understand the historical forces that guide society. Another goal of the New Historicist is to understand his/her own biases resulting from historical determination. So, in order to spark change, writers and critics have to be aware of the social forces that determine what they are studying/reading. This means that interpretation does not go far enough. Philosophers must deconstruct the world and be aware of their own influences.

In this context, Marx interprets “interpretation” as “this is how the world works.” Here, interpretation sounds like a justification of the ways of the world. This is hardly revolutionary. To change the world, philosophers have to look for what conditions the world and point out oppression or brainwashing when they see it. Some writers do this. But some writers also just reflect (interpret) the world; these literary texts must also be deconstructed to reveal how they were influenced.

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What does Marx's statement—"Philosophers have interpreted the world, the point is to change it"—mean in relation to literature?

A philosopher looks at the world to describe it.  Understanding the world is useful to changing it, but if you make no efforts to create change, then all you are doing in describing.  Throughout history, there have been many writers who have used literature to both describe and society.  For example, Charles Dickens wrote about poverty and class inequities in Victorian England using sentimental characters and melodramatic plots.  His goal was to describe the world as it really was, and lay bare the ugliness of his society for his readers. 

Dickens did not just write to describe or understand, although those were some of his goals.  He wrote these books to convince people that change was needed.  The characters and plots reached their hearts in ways that cold facts and figures never could.  They remembered the people and stories from the pages of Dickens’s books, and Charles Dickens was actually instrumental in bringing about significant social change, such as the repeal of the Poor Law.

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Given the following quote:  "Philosophers have so far interpreted the world. the point however is to change it."What implications does Marx's statement have for literature?

I think that this quote brings out Marx's idea of praxis that became such a strong part of his thinking and the resultant forces that owe their source to him.  Marx's thought was different than other philosophical tenets of the time period because it was rooted in understanding and action as a result of this comprehension.  Philosophy prior to Marx did not include the dimension of action.  For example, what action can be taken out of Descartes?  One will always think and always doubt.  The resultant action of Cartesian thought is in the subjective and in the internal concsciousness.  For Marx, though, philosophy is only good in terms of the action that is spurned from it.  The trend of philosophy that remained chained to the realm of the subjective  was something that was rebuked with Marxist thought.  It is here where philosophy was moved into the realm of social justice and action. Praxis became the point where thought and action merged into one.  The "interpretation" of philosophers that is alluded to in the quote is moved into action with Marx's thought and his analysis.  In this light, literature and the printed word has to result in some level of social change or solidarity in order to present a transformative vision of art.

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Marx said that "philosophers have so far interpreted the world." what implications does his statement have for literature? Give reasons?

The rest of that quote is “the point is to change it.” Marx was a philosopher of history and the forces that change motivate historical shifts. His philosophies of historical materialism and dialectical materialism illustrate how class structures and economics largely comprise the actual physical doings of life; what he would call the Base. The Superstructure are the thoughts, ideas, religion, politics, etc. that arise from the way we go through life. If philosophers have so far only ‘interpreted the world’ the implication is that their interpretations are rarely practical or practicable; this conjures the stereotypical philosopher who sits solitary and just asks “why?” about everything. Marx was all about actually changing not just the way we think about things but the actual ways we function in daily life and that includes everything from economics to social interaction. In fact, he would say that the only way to change the way we think about things is to FIRST change the way we do things. So, his philosophy was about changing actual living conditions en route to changing how we interpret the world. Literature is a material production which has ideological power. If the point of the world is to change the actual function, then it would stand to reason that Marx would encourage literature, as a produced commodity, to be a part of that change.

This literature would certainly promote social awareness and socialist qualities of living such as sharing wealth/profit. But more to the heart of Marx’s thought, this literature would be affordable to everyone; certainly those who make it. The literature itself would include an awareness of history and the social forces that govern daily life. This is not to say that all literature in a Marxist state would have to be socialist propaganda. But that general awareness of social and historical forces would certainly have a larger role in certain genres of literature. The actual production, business of literature would also have to adhere to this ‘changing the world – not just changing the way we think about the world” ethos. So, in the literature business, there would be no corrupt CEO’s, agents, etc. Authors and publishing companies would probably have a more communal, profit-sharing structure. Remember that, for Marx, the way we do things is the only way to change how we think about things. So, with regards to literature, even the physical and socioeconomics of the production itself, would have to change; not just the content. This may sound like a drastic, dialectical way of going about things, but for a simple example, consider an author under Capitalism and an author under Marxism. One under Capitalism may be motivated by notoriety, profit and self-interest; and there is productive value and healthy competition in all that, but downsides. One under Marxism may be motivated by historical consciousness, profit as a means of making a living and social as well as self interest. Both systems seem to be direct opposites but it’s not quite that simple. Both systems have pros and cons.

But getting back to your point, for Marxist literature itself: its content and its actual production would adhere to social change in democratizing the means of production (spreading the wealth) and that philosophy about interpreting the world would change following this change in content and method/motivations of actual production of literature and every other commodity.

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