kevin john geiger
geigerk at ucsu.colorado.edu
Tue Aug 29 00:23:06 MDT 1995
On Tue, 22 Aug 1995, HANS DESPAIN wrote:
> On August 17 Kevin John Geiger wrote that "Marx denied that there was a
> 'human nature'". This is surely an (Althusserian) overstatement. If it
> is meant to say that Marx, like any careful theorist, could not precisely
> say what is the human essence, perhaps we agree. However, if this means
> that human beings do not have a nature in an Althusserian or
> Structuralist sense we must disagree.
I, as others have, must confess that I am a political light-weight and have
been away from the computer due to a move. Now that I have some free time I
thought I would try to clarify my statement and perhaps add a little to it. I
must also confess that in my limited Marxian schooling I am not familiar with
an Althusserian sense of human nature. I am not certain of my own
conception of human nature let alone an Althusserian one! If you can,
please elaborate on Althusserian theory.
I can, however, compare how Marx viewed humans in relation to the beliefs
other traditional philosophers of Western civilization had of humanity. By
saying Marx denied human nature I was attempting to assert that Marx started
his view of human nature from a completely different point than other earlier
philosophers. Granted, he built on a lot of Feuerbach, Hegel and Kant.
Marx, though, embarked on a path of analysis using philosophical anthropology
and the context of society to derive a theory of humanity.
Think of what human nature means to each of us as an individual. To most
I would guess it suggests one defining or inescapble characteristic that sets
humans aside from other beings. Well for Marx, unlike others before him, he
didn't say there was one trait. Instead, Marx looked at the social
conditions (which are individually unique), tried to group them into
class categories and then developed this own theory of human nature, or
species being, from that piece (class). So, where others would say
religion, or thinking, or producing was the human nature, Marx, I
believe, thought it was the social condition each individual was exposed
to. In this sense Marx denied that there was a universal human nature
because for each individual the social conditions of their existence were
unique, or not the defining or inescapble characteristics of humans as a
whole. For Marx, and for quite a number of nurture psychologists after
him, the social environment of the individual shapes that person most
intensely but it was not and could not be a shared characteristic of
> It seems to me that Marxists must retain a (Marxian) notion of human
> nature for any "faith" or believe in full human emancipation.
This last point deserves more elaboration from you. One thing I often
hear when I advocate a socialist notion of human nature is that it isn't
practical, people don't behave nicely...etc. It is precisely this denial
of the possibility of something better that makes me so upset
with our existing social framework. How do others counter the "It isn't
possible because people aren't nice" attack?
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