Karl Heinrich Marx (1818 - 1883)
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
When Marx began to formulate his ideas in the late 1830s the philosophy
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
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
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.
The Communist Manifesto Marx states:
"The development of Modern
Industry, therefore, cuts from under its
feet the very foundation on which the bourgeoisie
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,
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.