Productivity and History

(Student Guide to World Philosophy)

Marx’s strategy of situating types of property relations within larger and more comprehensive types of productive relations (first used in 1844), when combined with the judgment that humanity’s productive activity is the most central aspect of human experience, suggests a larger project still: redoing Hegel’s and Feuerbach’s accounts of the historical development of humankind toward full self and mutual recognition on the basis of these presuppositions. Against Hegel, Marx stresses that successive types of consciousness do not unfold out of their own conceptual resources, but rather on the basis of changes in humanity’s socially mediated interchange with the environment. Marx believed that Hegel had at one point grasped this in Die Phänomenologie des Geistes (1807; The Phenomenology of Spirit, 1868; also known as The Phenomenology of Mind, 1910), when he spoke of the slave’s sense of self-identification as superior to the master’s because the former’s transformative interaction with nature gives a solidly achieved sense of self, while the latter is subject to the shifting tides of honor and opinion in an elitist world cut off from its productive roots. However, these ideas were soon buried, and Hegel constructs his history as the history of consciousness moving on its own steam toward “theoretical” self-appropriation. Against Feuerbach, Marx stresses that the progressive taking back of alienated human properties from...

(The entire section is 572 words.)