Karl Heinrich Marx (1818 - 1883)

Karl Marx Karl Heinrich Marx was born on May 5, 1818 in the German Rhineland at Trier of Jewish heritage.

Marx's family converted to Christianity so that his father could pursue a practice in law which was illegal to Jews in Prussia's anti-Jewish environment.

Marx himself became a law student at the University of Bonn when he was 17 years old.

Interestingly, because he was rambunctious and unruly, his father insisted that he transfer to the University of Berlin where he then took up philosophy.

While there, he wrote his doctoral thesis on the comparison of views of Democritus and Epicurus. Unfortunately, when he was unable to procure the academic job in philosophy that he had hoped for, he switched to journalism.

By this time he had already fallen in with a group of radical thinkers and began writing fervently about social and political issues.

Marx's work, along with that of Friedrich Engels, had a profound influence on political events in Russia and Eastern Europe in the twentieth century. Two of his most influential works were The Communist Manifesto and Das Kapital.

When Marx began to formulate his ideas in the late 1830s the philosophy of Hegel was dominant at the University of Berlin.

Being influenced by him, Marx borrowed from Hegel the notion of 'dialectic', however he rejected his idealism and his notion of truth unfolding towards the Absolute. Instead he put forth his own notion - one of atheistic 'dialectical materialism'. 

Where Hegel believed in the necessary progress of Mind towards greater self-consciousness, Marx believed in the necessary development of human material life. He felt that humans come to full self-realization in the process of transforming the world in their own image through the efforts of labor. Marx's focus was on material and physical reality rather than on a spiritual one.

In dialectical materialism the three-sided conflict is between the economic classes. The landowners created by feudalism were opposed by the rise of the middle classes forcing a 'synthesis' - a new economic class, that of the industrial employers of capitalism.

However, the new 'thesis' of capitalism generates the antithetical force of the working class or proletariat, which in turn, according to Marx’s vision, forms the inevitable dialectical outcome of socialism.

For Marx, socialism is the most efficient means of obtaining that which human beings strive for, namely the goods required for survival. It is the most efficient way to ensure productivity and the most natural outcome of the economic conditions operating on the human being.

In his work Das Kapital Marx developed his economic theory. He put forth that capitalism carries within itself its own seeds of destruction. He argued that capitalists make their profits by obtaining a surplus from their workers, but that since capital is always increasing, the ratio of labor to capital gradually decreases.

This means that eventually the rate of profit must fall and that capitalism will therefore end. Needless to say, economists have been very critical of this theory since it has neither been scientifically tested nor substantiated by events.

In The Communist Manifesto Marx states:

"The development of Modern Industry, therefore, cuts from under its feet the very foundation on which the bourgeoisie produces and appropriates products. What the bourgeoisie, therefore, produces, above all, are its own grave-diggers. Its fall and the victory of the proletariat are equally inevitable."

From an epistemological point of view, and contrary to the empiricist tradition emanating from Locke, for Marx, the mind does not exist as a passive subject in an external world.

Along with Kant, Marx considered the mind as being actively engaged with objects of knowledge. Unlike Kant, however, he held that the subject and object of experience are in a continual process of adaptation. In view of this, we must take our experience in practical ways so as to make it most useful to our survival.

Today, Karl Marx is less know as a philosopher than as a revolutionary communist whose works inspired the foundation of many communist regimes. He did, however, believe that philosophy ought to be utilized and practiced in order to change the world.

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