Through Charles Mathewes, Ph.D., University of Virginia
Following the “Young Hegelians” who immediately succeeded Hegel and forming part of their team of argumentators and debaters, Marx came to understand Hegel’s work as offering a new philosophical view of how to understand the world and how to understand the world and how to understand it. guide human action within it. But, in a very fundamental way, Marx understands the world “materially” – that human history is shaped by material conditions of existence.
Marx and religion
Marx came to see or believe that religion was nothing but alienated human desire. But that does not mean that Marx did not appreciate his power; far from there. He believed that religion had been the most powerful reality in human history precisely because it had been the consequence and the structure of how humans viewed the problem of evil.
But as history progressed, things changed in Marx’s day, and history changed precisely because humans realized their own power and their own abilities to change the world and themselves. This is what motivates Marx’s famous statement: “Until now, philosophers have only interpreted the world. The point, however, is to change it.
This is a transcript of the video series Why evil exists. Watch it now, on Wondrium.
For Marx, the crucial fact of history and its processes is that it is the elaboration of the specific being of humanity; the still unknown human nature whose dialectical self-deployment is the motor of history itself. The important difference between Hegel and Marx, then, is that for Hegel, history is fundamentally a story told about someone else; it is about God coming to maturation and self-realization. For Marx, it is about the self-realization of humanity.
In a way, it is a return to the optimism of the will of the Enlightenment; the idea that in the end, pure human effort is the only thing that will save us. But it is also the fact that the force, the human will, is in fact powerful enough to do this salvation; and not just hypothetically powerful enough, but inevitably powerful enough. Even more than Hegel, Marx believed he understood quite concretely how human history would reach its peak in the next century, and what the end of history would actually look like.
Learn more about Hegel’s view of history.
The life of Marx
Marx was a 19th century German thinker who spent much of his adult life in exile in London. He himself felt the pain of the social ills his work spoke of and his work struggled so fiercely and so deeply to overcome.
The details of his life are relatively straightforward: he was born in 1818 in Trier, in the German states of Rhineland, the states of the Palatinate, and he died in 1883 in London. He and his wife Jenny had seven children, but only three lived to adulthood: one died at eight, two at one, and one to two days old, before he even had a name. Such experiences would give you a taste of the ills of early industrialized society.
With Marx we have the story of someone whose very family bears the cost of their own struggles to understand what was happening in their time. Much of his income in his life came from two sources. One was his friend, Friedrich Engels, who had some money from his wealthy industrialist family. Marx was also a very good, successful journalist. He was one of the most important journalists of the 1850s, 60s and 70s and he made a lot of money that way.
A practical response to evil
Karl Marx is not a theoretical innovator in thinking about evil; rather, he is an exemplary figure for a practical answer. He was Hegelian in imagining that solving the problem of evil is a fundamental dimension of the goal of human history; a crucial aspect of what history intends to be. But he differs from Hegel in some very important points. More immediately – and this is important enough – contrary to Hegel’s view, this was a “materialist” understanding of human history.
People talk about “materialism” all the time these days; Marx means something very central by this. He means that it is not ideas, but material circumstances that determine human thought and action; that is, ideas come from material conditions, from a cultural place, and not the other way around. It was printing, Marx emphasized, that allowed the dissemination of Martin Luther’s ideas and their fertilization of minds throughout Europe.
Learn more about Martin Luther’s view of evil.
The importance of material conditions
This is not a categorical claim that no one can think beyond their material conditions or that everyone is constrained by their immediate environment to be able to think only of thoughts that are only acceptable to people in this environment. It is not meant to be a binding doctrine, but simply a statement that thought is never totally free from our material conditions, from the facts of how we live our lives. Without the right material conditions, Marx believed, people cannot think of the new thoughts that revolutionize these material conditions themselves.
A thinker like Isaac Newton needed a certain background, a certain culture of education and a certain wealth to acquire the education which enabled him to generate the thoughts which first led to the calculation, then at the Principia, its mathematical modeling. of the physical basis of reality. Then this model of the physical basis of reality had to be transformed into a structure that others could understand and appreciate; and then it had to be published; and there had to be people who could understand and read it.
All of these things are not just ideas, they are material realities. It is quite possible for people to have big thoughts but not have the means to express them or have people who could receive them. Our thoughts are not completely free; they are shaped, formed, by what we have learned, by what we can imagine and by what others can receive from us.
Common questions about Karl Marx and the material conditions of human history
Marx believed that religion had been the most powerful reality in human history precisely because it had been the consequence and structure of how humans thought the problem of evil.
The important difference between Hegel and Marx is that for Hegel, history is fundamentally a story told about someone else; it is about God coming to maturation and self-realization. For Marx, it is about the self-realization of humanity.
Marx believes that material circumstances and not ideas determine human thought and action, ideas come from material conditions, of a cultural place, and not the other way around.