Karl Marx, Anthropologist

By Thomas C. Patterson | Go to book overview

3

Human Natural Beings

Marx was a materialist. In 1837, during his second year at the University of Berlin, he wrote to his father mentioning his struggle to understand Hegel's system of philosophy and, more importantly, describing his efforts to bring together art and science, which were divorced from one another in the university (Marx 1837/1975: 18). While many writers have focused on Marx's intellectual debt to Hegel, fewer have examined his connections with traditions of materialist thought. His attempt to bring the arts and sciences together in a single system involved studies in natural science, history, and the romantic philosophy of Friedrich Schelling (1755–1854) who sought the common basis of nature and self. Two years later, Marx (1839/1975) took extensive notes on the non-deterministic materialism of Epicurus (341–271 bc) and the school he established. Briefly, the Epicureans believed that life rose up from the earth rather than descending from the heavens; claimed that there were more worlds than this one and that the present one will change; noted the emergence and finite duration of living forms; denied the influence of distant, divine powers; stressed the importance of contingency or chance as opposed to necessity or teleology; argued that mind and body were united; and emphasized that men and women were active agents in the acquisition of knowledge and that they were capable of forging their own happiness (Foster 2000: 21–65). Marx's doctoral dissertation, which he completed in 1841, dealt with the differences between ancient Greek philosophies of nature (Marx 1840–1/1975). In his view, the Epicureans who had influenced early Enlightenment writers—like Francis Bacon, Thomas Hobbes, and Isaac Newton—were also the key that would unlock understanding of the present. Marx thought of Epicurus as “the greatest representative of Greek Enlightenment” (Marx 1840–1/1975: 73).

As we saw in the last chapter, Marx was concerned with questions about the emergence and development of human natural beings, their creation of human and natural history, and their metabolism with nature. These were important issues in his materialist account of history. He framed his argument in terms of changes in human corporeal organization, ensembles of social relations, and activities and practices that varied because of the different metabolisms that existed between human social individuals and the particular natural and social worlds (environments) in which they lived. He saw these changes in non-teleological, historical terms. Parts of his theoretical perspective were already supported by empirical evidence while other parts were suppositions based on the limited evidence available. This combination

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Karl Marx, Anthropologist
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Preface ix
  • Chronology xi
  • Introduction 1
  • 1: The Enlightenment and Anthropology 9
  • 2: Marx's Anthropology 39
  • 3: Human Natural Beings 65
  • 4: History, Culture, and Social Formation 91
  • 5: Capitalism and the Anthropology of the Modern World 117
  • 6: Anthropology for the Twenty-First Century 145
  • Notes 173
  • Bibliography 181
  • Index 219
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