Marx’s Critique of Hegel (and money, suffering, and March Marxism)

Karl-Marx-007
March is “Marxism Month” here on Ausomeawestin, and while the last entry was on the alienation caused by capitalism, today’s entry will endeavor to show that Marx’s philosophy on the alienating power of money has roots in his critique of Hegelianism. Specifically, it will be shown that in rejecting Hegel’s conclusions Marx develops a different model of reality, which is used to explain the suffering caused by money.

Hegel
With the risk of doing disservice to Hegel, let us briefly note that Hegel posited that as consciousness develops it becomes

Essential reading for gluttons for punishment...

Essential reading for gluttons for punishment…

aware of itself as consciousness (self-consciousness) in a process of mediation that negates the objects of experience as other than consciousness. Hegel reasons that this entails that consciousness begins as a unity of consciousness and the objects of consciousness, or what he calls Subject and Substance, respectively. This unity disintegrates after mediation or alienation, and it is the return to the unity of Subject and Substance that concerns Hegel. By contrast, Marx is less concerned with consciousness than material persons and objects and their interactions, leading to attentiveness to Hegel’s ‘alienation’, but which Marx terms ‘estrangement’.

Marx’s Critique of Hegel
Marx is skeptical of the outcome of Hegel’s dialectic as revealing that consciousness is the substance of reality. He argues that Hegel mistakes an action of consciousness as evidence that all that is real is consciousness when noting, “and what is posited, instead of confirming itself, is but confirmation of the act of positing which for a moment but only for a moment, fixes its energy as the product, and seems to give it the character of an independent, real substance” (The Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844, 180). Here Marx is arguing that the process of consciousness that Hegel postulates does not prove that Substance is Subject, but rather that it proves that consciousness is activity. In other words, Marx charges that Hegel’s dialectic only shows that consciousness is activity, and not that consciousness is the substance of reality. As such, Marx doubts that the ultimate substance of reality is consciousness, thereby rejecting Hegel’s Idealism.

Representing Marx flipping Hegel's philosophy. But also, Marx bullied Hegel and stole his lunch money.

Representing Marx flipping Hegel’s philosophy. But also, Marx bullied Hegel and stole his lunch money.

Taking this point further, Marx proposes that the subject is not revealed in Hegel’s process of positing itself, but rather the subject is revealed in its interaction with objects. The subject is essentially an object that understands the kind of object that it is through its interaction with other objects. Marx propounds that a subjective object acts by instinct, and yet this instinctive activity is determined by external objects because the identity of the subjective object depends on how it interacts with other objects. His thinking is that a subjective object needs to possess object R in order to manifest power S, such that S obtains only if R is present. Thus, the actions of the subjective object depend on other objects, leading to what Marx calls ‘suffering’. Marx considers this suffering because the subjective object is estranged from its own powers. The powers of the subjective object depend on external objects, meaning that the powers of the external object are themselves externalized, and given that these powers are the instinct of the subjective object, it follows that the instinct for action of the subjective object is external to it. Thus, the instinctive activity of the subjective object is externalized in objects, such that the subjective object experiences estrangement of itself.

Money and Suffering
In modern political economies the majority of non-human objects that we interact with are objects that we purchase. This fact leads Marx to reason that in capitalist economies the purchasing power of money is power in the way of the subjective object’s instinctive activity. We just saw that the powers of the subjective object are dependent on other objects, but given that the subjective object must purchase these objects it is evident that the instinctive activity of the subjective object is dependent on money. More precisely, as the powers of the subjective object are dependent on external objects such that these powers are externalized in those objects, and these external objects are dependent on the subjective object using the purchasing power of money, the power of the subjective object is externalized in money. Given that the powers of the subjective object are its instinctive activity, and this is externalized in money, it follows that the instinct of the subjective object is estranged from the subjective object in and by money. For this reason Marx declares, “Money is the alienated ability of mankind” (The Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844, 168).

Conclusion:
Karl Marx critiques G.W.F. Hegel’s Idealist postulations while making ample use of Hegel’s thoughts on alienation, as what Marx calls estrangement. It has been shown that Marx holds that subjective objects know the kind of objects that they are by how they interact with other objects because their essential powers are revealed only in relation to certain objects. In this way the instinctive activity of the subjective object is dependent on objects, such that the subjective object suffers because its instinct is externalized in objects in its dependence on them. It is for this reason that the subjective object is estranged from its own instinct.

Moreover, given that the obtaining of objects depends on the purchasing power of money it follows that the instinctive activity of the subjective object is limited by its money. As the instinct of the subjective object is externalized in objects because of its dependence on them, and the procurement of these objects is dependent on the possession of money, it must be the case that the instinct of the subjective object is externalized in money. Therefore, as the instinct of the subjective object is externalized in other objects and money, the subjective object suffers in its estrangement of its own instinct in external objects and money.

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  1. #1 by guymax on March 7, 2014 - 7:16 am

    Nice post. I calculate that ten Marx’s would make one Hegel. 🙂

    • #2 by ausomeawestin on March 12, 2014 - 6:18 pm

      Thanks for the kind words. But I must ask, as per your calculation, who would be the synthesis to Hegel’s thesis and Marx’s antithesis?

      • #3 by guymax on March 13, 2014 - 4:58 am

        Hmm. I don’t see Marx and Hegel being related as thesis and antithesis, but as uninteresting and interesting. Or, as sociologist vs. philosopher. That’s just me though. I’m off my patch with Marx.

      • #4 by ausomeawestin on March 14, 2014 - 7:16 pm

        Fair enough. I’ll admit that I think Marx’s most important contributions were to economic theory, being the last classical theorist before the rise of the neo-classical school. I’m not familiar with his sociological work, though I know his name is trumpeted by conflict theorists.

  2. #5 by bloggingisaresponsibility on March 7, 2014 - 7:59 am

    Like the image and the humor :).

    The path from Hegel to Marx is a weird one.

    • #6 by ausomeawestin on March 12, 2014 - 6:29 pm

      Thanks!

      And yes 19th century philosophy is a peculiar period indeed.

  1. Marx’s Critique of Hegel pt II (and alienation, substance, and human nature) | ausomeawestin
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