Marx's Attempt to Leave Philosophy

By Daniel Brudney | Go to book overview

6 The 1844 Marx III: The Problem of Justification

IN CHAPTER 4 I argued that, for Marx, what I called the human self-realization activity is the activity involved in necessary labor. In Chapter 5 I discussed the communal relationships resulting from (what Marx thinks of as) proper exercise of that activity. We can now see that, for Marx, the correct description of the human self-realization activity has an important social component. That activity involves more than the physical actions of plowing fields, felling trees, and so on. It must be engaged in with certain ends and beliefs, and when it truly functions as the human self-realization activity, it is carried on in a social context in which those engaged in it correctly believe that the products of their activity will be consumed by agents who have certain beliefs about their (the producers') ends in engaging in the activity. 1

The claim that a particular activity is the human self-realization activity is a strong normative claim. If it is true, then agents who wish to lead a life in accordance with their nature as human beings--agents who wish to realize their specifically human nature (that is, to lead the good fife for human beings)--should engage in that activity. And any society that systematically prevents the proper exercise of that activity is a bad society.

Of course the 1844 Marx thinks capitalism is a bad society, and he thinks a significant part of its badness is that it prevents the proper exercise of the human self-realization activity. In this chapter, however, my focus is not Marx's polemic against capitalism. It is whether he can justify his conception of human nature in general, and especially his conception of the human self-realization activity. I argue that, given his own premises, there is a problem, under capitalism, in doing so.

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