Marxism and Morality; Neo-Kantianism

james daly irldaly at
Sat Jan 20 14:17:29 MST 2001

Marxism and Morality; Neo-Kantianism

The question of Neo-Kantianism is part of that of Marxism and morality.
(See Tom Bottomore and Patrick Goode editors, *Austro-Marxism*. In general I
recommend Bottomore's *Dictionary of Marxist Thought)*. The Austro-Marxists
disastrously and incorrectly interpreted  Marx's thought as a (Kautskyan,
Plekhanovite) mechanistic science after the bourgeois positivist and
Neo-Kantian model, and accepted the ultraliberal Max Weber's dictat
(directed against socialist economists) that science must be value-free, and
totally divorced from politics (i.e. ... it must be liberal). Obligingly,
they explicitly denied that there were any values in Marxism, and were then
left looking around for a theoretical justification for their politics,
which they improbably sought for in the individualist ethics of Kant.  (I
agree with John Landon on the importance of Colletti's *From Rousseau to
Lenin*). As Allen Wood has recognised, Marx did not believe science was
value-free. But although Wood was one of the first to recognise the
Aristotelian dimension in Marx, nevertheless, with his theory that Marx is
"immoralist", Wood does not see that Marx had -- like Hegel -- an
Aristotelian approach to human values, seeing the natural human goal as the
development of the human potentiality.  Therefore to a great extent the
quarter century of empiricist debate, magisterially summarised and in some
regards concluded by Norman Geras in *New Left Review*, over (what I now
consider to be) Wood's outlandish theory, has been a wild goose chase.

But that is also because Marx's view of human nature was not only
Aristotelian, explicitly (against the social contract theories or
"Robinson(Crusoe)ades" of Hobbes, Locke and Rousseau -- and by implication
Rawls) endorsing Aristotle's view of human nature as naturally political; it
was also Feuerbachian -- endorsing Feuerbach's humanism, his view of human
nature as naturally communal. One of the most important things Marx wrote
was the Feuerbachian "Supposing we had produced in a human manner: I would
have realised that I am confirmed both in your thought and in your love"
(Notes on James Mill, in Penguin *Early Writings*, p 278). That expressed
his basic value, and what he also believed was the basic value of the
proletariat, which he called the "universal class", because of its position
in history as the last class, the class of direct producers which had no
other class to exploit.  (In his last years he was considering whether the
Russian rural commune could fulfill the same role).  Someone who has
appreciated the significance of this for Marx (and of its loss and denial in
the alienation which is the bourgeois mode of production) is Erich Fromm
(e.g. in *Marx's Concept of Man*).

Roy Bhaskar's realist theory of science devastatingly criticises the
empiricist and positivist model which was popularised by Karl Popper.  I
think his theory fits with the Aristotelian element (the discovery of the
essence behind the appearance) which is finally being discovered in Marx:
see Scott Meikle, *Essentialism in the Thought of Karl Marx*; George
McCarthy editor, *Marx and Aristotle*.  Marx avoided what Lukács called "the
bourgeois antinomies", the Cartesian dichotomy between mind and nature,
which leads to the gross materialism of utilitarianism and the abstract
legalism of Kant, and in general to the false dichotomy between fact and
value, is and ought; the true solution to that Humean empiricist
pseudo-problem lies in the concept of the "nature" or essence of a thing,
its idea -- which points to its ideal, the fulfilment of its *telos*.

I have been working on this theme for some time; results can be seen in
James Daly,* Marx: Justice and Dialectic*, London, Greenwich Exchange, 1996;
and *Deals and Ideals: Two Concepts of Enlightenment*, London, Greenwich
Exchange, 2000.  The Greenwich Exchange web site is;
e-mail address greenx01 at

A paper "Marx And The Two Enlightenments" contributed to the Twentieth World
Congress of Philosophy in Boston, August 1998 can be seen at

A paper "Relativism, Universality, Natural Law and Marx" contributed to a
(Bhaskarian) Political Realism conference in Orebro University, Sweden, 1999
  can be seen at

I would be grateful for criticisms of any of the above views.

Special happy new year to Gary!

james daly
83 Andersonstown Rd
bt11 9ah

Get Your Private, Free E-mail from MSN Hotmail at

More information about the Marxism mailing list