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Terms for Marx: From G.W.F. Hegel

Barbara Goodrich, Ph.D.

Dialogue (contrasted with linear thinking, e.g. mathematical deduction):

a way of thinking of things as proceeding from an interaction of some kind, e.g. between speakers, social forces, opposing aspects of something.

Hegel's dialectic:

a pattern of dialogue or interaction, found in growth and development, involving steps (or "moments") of conflict and reconciliation. 

There are three steps: 1. the thesis, 2. its opposing antithesis, and 3. the synthesis which transcends but unites them.  

Each synthesis can serve as a thesis for a further round of dialectic. 

Consciousness or mind or spirit: Geist:

The German Geist also means "mind," "spirit" in the sense of "spirit of the times" or the Holy Spirit of the Christian trinity,& "soul."        (Etymologically, it's related to the English "ghost," but without the connotation of being dead or haunting.)
According to Hegel, there's a trans-individual "Geist" or "spirit" which evolves as human society evolves in a world-historical dialectic.
(Marx: Hegel has got it reversed; spirit doesn't inform matter; material conditions allow for the evolving "spirit"! Hegel is on his head,& we need to turn him right side up!)

Self-consciousness or self-awareness: Selbstgewusstsein:

In the German, this has the connotation of self-assurance, so it's the opposite of the English "self-consciousness," which connotes hesitation or timidity.  In the German, self-knowledge is empowering.   This fleshes out Hegel's notion that as humans come to know themselves, and come to be able to take their own selves and lives as "objects" of thought, they thereby become more free, more able to visualize choices and act towards goals!   (For those of you familiar with Descartes, this is also very different from Descartes' abstract, armchair self-reflection, in which he as a  "thinking thing" believes that he has full access to reflecting on the contents of his mind – in complete denial of anything like a subconscious thought or wish, or anything like the background assumptions of our "Gestalt."  Note that Sartre came out of the Cartesian tradition here, not the Hegelian tradition.)

Universal: Allgemein:

Hegel doesn't use this in an abstract, Platonic sense.  There are mystical overtones here in Hegel, but there's also, with both Hegel and Marx, a rich sociological set of connotations in the German word Allgemein: "general," "public," "common" as in "common good," "universalistic" in the sense of using an impersonal standard of behavior.   Humans are helping nature to evolve an Allgemein aspect by evolving a sense of the public sphere, a sense of justice from a disinterested point of view.   (Incidentally, this emphasis on the public sphere is not in opposition to individualism, as you may occasionally hear incompletely educated people say.  Instead, Hegel and Marx would argue that a full sense of the unique individual is only possible within the context of a society.   People who grow up in the absence of other humans, e.g. "feral children," are tragically not able to actualize much of their potential, and are usually rather stunted as individuals.) A good article on Hegel's Allgemein can be found in a 1980s sociology journal, of all places: Peter Knapp, "Hegel's Universal in Marx, Durkheim, and Weber: The Role of Hegelian Ideas in the Origin of Sociology," Sociological Forum, Vol. 1, No. 4, pp. 586-609, 1986.  This is on JSTOR.

"Species being," or "species life" or "species character": Gattungswesen:

Feuerbach, Hegel, and Marx would have agreed that there is something that could be called, roughly, human nature.  (For those of you who've read Sartre, notice that this is very different from Sartre's philosophy.  Feuerbach, Hegel, and Marx do think that people can have an "essence," not just an existence.  Sartre disagrees.)  For these thinkers, humans do have certain potentialities, e.g., humans are by nature curious and creative.  Some of these potentialities, e.g. to take an ethical attitude and be held ethically responsible, may even be unique to humans.   These potentialities are given by nature, by biology.   We can, however, get alienated from them, from our own essences, which makes us very unhappy.   (Analogous to a dog whose potential for playing has never been allowed to be actualized.)   These thinkers also held that all humans have these potentialities (or at least all roughly normal humans, perhaps not someone who through some tragedy of birth is severely mentally handicapped).

Among these human potentialities is, perhaps paradoxically, the potentiality of human nature to mold itself.  (This is within certain limits, of course; we can't make ourselves capable of flying like a bird, or capable of understanding quantum theory at the age of 6.)   We can sculpt ourselves to some extent, both at the level of the individual, and at the level of society, via the culture, the economy, and so on.  And these two levels interact: Each individual's nature is influenced by the society he/she grows up in, and each society is likewise influenced by the actions of its component members.      

Nature as humanity's "inorganic body"

For Hegel and Marx, humanity is unique in that it is nature's self-awareness.  They both regard Homo sapiens as one natural species.   (Contrast this to, say, Descartes and Sartre, who seem to view humans as minds stuck temporarily into an alien and opposing material, nature.)  On the other hand, Hegel and Marx do regard the human capacity for self-awareness and for appreciation of beauty, including of natural beauty, as something that is inherently valuable, not only from the point of view of humans, but also from the point of view of nature as a whole.  Humans are the way that nature can appreciate itself and the way that the universe can achieve self-consciousness.   In this sense, humans "complete" the rest of nature.   Sometimes Marx will thus refer to the rest of nature as humanity's "inorganic body," though I think a phrase such as "trans-organism" would have been a little clearer.    (To a modern environmentalist, Hegel and Marx still seem mired in the old anthropocentric worldview, and they are.  However, they were quite advanced for their eras in being sympathetic to the rest of nature.)

From Ludwig Feuerbach:

Fetishism, as in fetishism of commodities:

Think "fetish" as in the term's original meaning, a religious figurine.   (Not a sexual obsession with some object, such as shoes.)  Feuerbach had claimed that the religious intuition is actually humanity's recognition of its own nature. Projecting these sacred qualities out onto a separate deity was, he claimed, a kind of idolatry.  The idol-maker, after all, carves out a little figure with great artistic creativity, putting much of his energy and thought into it.  Then, bizarrely, he sets down his own creation and worships it, and prays to it!   He acts as if it were more powerful than himself, even though he is its creator.  He doesn't give himself credit, but alienates this creativity from himself.

Marx applies this to economics as well, and argues that workers who create commodities, which are then controlled and sold by employers, are similar to the idol-maker.  And everyone, bosses, consumers, etc., treat the worker-creators as if they had less value than their own products!

"Estrangement"/"alienation" (can be translated into English as either):

Is now used to refer to any "making strange" of some aspect of oneself, any introduction of a split into the individual's experiential integrity.
Used by Marx to refer to alienation from one's own labor, so that one's product is experienced as an outside, alien force, as well as alienation from others, etc..


in a good sense: expressing one's nature in the real world, taking the merely subjective potential and actualizing it, e.g. "congealed labor."
(The term can also be used in the bad sense of treating someone as if he/she were merely an object, as in R.D. Laing.)

From Marx's own economics and political theory:


A kind of creativity.  The human-altered environment can be seen as creative labor energy plus human imagination, and, equally important, human hands to actualize that imagination.   (Philosophers and other theorists all too often forget about the hands.)   Marx had a very high respect for technological advances, which he thought would make a decent quality of life possible for everyone.  Marx also thought that in the right circumstances, most people would enjoy most kinds of work, in the way that children enjoy being active in play, and enjoy, in the right circumstances, learning.   

Means of production (a.k.a. "instruments"/"tools" of production):

E.g. machinery, factories, large-scale farms, natural resources.  

(One definition of one kind of socialism is for the means of production not to be owned privately, but owned by the people who work at it, e.g. factory workers owning a factory, or owned by a local government.  Other property could still be owned privately, e.g. property that is used personally, such as one's own home – but no rental properties, which would be a kind of means of production.)

Different historical epochs differ not so much in what they make, but in how they make what they make.
Means of production plus human laborers = "forces of production")

Mode of production (a.k.a. "relations of production"):

Reciprocal relations that are established among people as they produce. There are roughly 5 kinds according to Marx: those of tribal societies, slave societies, feudal societies, capitalist societies, & socialist societies.

Conditions of material life:

3 elements:
(a) geographical situation & natural resources,
(b) population density, &
(c) mode of production.

"Abstract" versus "concrete" individual:

Real 3-d individual with a past and a body, versus "pure consciousness"!   Marx thinks Hegel is still in danger of sliding into talk of "consciousness," rather than real people with histories, ethnic identities, genders, habits, expectations, desires, goals, fears.

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