Date: Fri Dec 01 2006 - 08:31:14 EST
A review from the marxistphilosophy group by Ralph Dumain. Do you agree with his observations? / In solidarity, Jerry ================================================================= THE FIRST WRITINGS OF KARL MARX, ed. Paul Schafer. Brooklyn: Ig Publishing, 2006. 223 pp. I recently acquired a copy of this pocket-sized paperback. I don't know whether it's a fluke or a defect in the whole print run, but there are several blank pages in my copy. Note that Marx's work reprinted here comes almost wholly from vol. 1 of Marx Engels Collected Works (MECW), the only prior edition containing all the extant material from Marx's dissertation. If you don't have this volume already and don't plan to buy it, you could consider this paperback edition, assuming you can find a nondefective copy. If you already own MECW vol. 1, be advised that the only new material in the book is the editor's introduction, translations of several letters, and the select bibliography. Marx's writings include: Letter from Marx to his Father (Nov. 1837) Marx's Doctoral Dissertation: Difference Between the Democritean and Epicurean Philosophy of Nature Notebooks on Epicurean Philosophy (Selections) Recommendatory Reference on the Dissertation of Karl Marx Letters from Marx (1841) Letters to Marx (1836-37) This edition contains the all-important notes to chapter 4 (147-152), sometimes published separately, but omitted from some other editions of the dissertation. You can also consult a different translation on my web site: Philosophy after Its Completion http://www.autodidactproject.org/other/marxdis1.html Schafer has selected from the notebooks on Epicurean philosophy extracts from notebooks 1, 2, 4, 6. He includes nothing from notebook 7, whereas I found at least one significant passage in it: Marx's Notebooks on Epicurean Philosophy (Extracts on Total Philosophy, Praxis, Historiography) http://www.autodidactproject.org/quote/marx-epicurean1.html In addition there is some business-related correspondence on Marx's dissertation, and two letters from dad Heinrich scolding son Marx on his irresponsibility. Whether the editor's 60-page introduction justifies the purchase of the book I couldn't tell you, but given the comparatively little analysis of the youngest Marx, it might be worth your while. I've never studied the main body of the dissertation in adequate detail, so I'm not the best judge. I find Marx's Hegelian take on Democritus and Epicurus very peculiar. At the end of section 4 of the introduction, Schafer concludes: ---------- [quote] Though the topic of Marx's doctoral dissertation may at first glance seem obscure and its conclusions irrelevant to the ideas of even the so- called "early Marx" of the 1844 Paris Manuscripts, it should now be clear that this is far from the case. The substantive core of the dissertation-- what we have called its dialectical atomism--provides an original demonstration of the immanent rationality of the natural world. It demonstrates that atoms, the so-called building blocks of reality, are properly understood not as a form of undifferentiated matter, but as a negative self-relation that unfurls and realizes its substantive being i n a dynamic series of atomic forms. The essential role of negation in the determination of the atom's being is nicely illustrated by the Epicurean conception of atomic motion. The swerving atom negates the simple linear motion attributed to it by Democritus and his followers, thereby allowing for the unpredictable collision and combination with other atoms that gives rise to the natural world. If this account is correct, then it follows that the fate of atoms is determined not by some pre-ordained natural order or external agency, but by the swerve that is an expression of their own being. For Marx this idea was charged with significance, for it demonstrates that atoms embody the kind of self-sufficiency that necessarily underlies human consciousness and free will. Ultimately, as we know from his later writings, Marx was not interested in atoms or the nature of consciousness but in human action and the social forms that determine its context. Yet by demonstrating the logical thread linking nature and consciousness, he prepared the way for a naturalistic theory of human action. Moreover, in considering the atom dialectically, that is, in the light of its inherent negations (not the void, not the other atom, etc.), Marx set up a pattern that he would follow for the rest of his life. Though he may have dropped all interest in overtly philosophical topics like "being" and "consciousness," he did not drop the manner of philosophy that attempts to understand the truth of things by thinking through and resolving their contradictions. In essence, the dialectical approach is just as characteristic of the magnum opus Capital as it is of the doctoral dissertation. [endquote 54-5] ------------- I don't find any of this very believable. Schafer turns to the aforementioned footnote on theory and practice. -------------------- [quote] In order to fully grasp this early conception of philosophical praxis, it Will be necessary to draw forth some of the implications of Marx's critical interpretation of the Epicurean philosophy of nature. The dialectical analysis of the relation of matter and consciousness forms the necessary background for comprehending the relation of man and nature, and for understanding the proper role of human action in the world. With this background in hand, we can turn to the details of Marx's newly-formed reconciliation of theory and praxis. As we have seen, Marx's analysis of the atom prepares the way for a dialectical re-consideration of nature as a whole. It suggests that the physical universe should be understood as the necessary manifestation of the atom's inner logic, and, consequently, that the logical forms characteristic of atomic being are present in some form in every kind of being. Indeed, this dialectical atomism demonstrates that what is implicit in our simplest conceptions of the atom becomes explicit by the time our thoughts arrive at the highest reaches of nature. For example, the abstract individuality of swerving atoms becomes concrete and universal in the form of heavenly bodies whose motion establishes the natural order of all bodies. But if we turn this grand formulation around, we see that these meteors (as Epicurus calls them) are nothing more than fully realized atoms. [endquote 59] ------------------------------------------ More on the atom. Then: ---------- [quote] We are now in a better position to comment on the relation of man and nature expressed in Marx's doctoral dissertation. We can say with confidence that Marx did not consider nature and self-conscious reason to be distinct from each other, but rather to be dialectically related. The divine--what Hegel calls the Idea--is not beyond nature, but is embodied in it; nor is it beyond human consciousness, for human consciousness is itself ideal. The logical form of consciousness, therefore, is the form of nature. Ultimately, even the highest sphere of nature, the heavens themselves, must have the same structure as self-conscious reason, a point which becomes clear in the final chapter of the dissertation where Marx considers the Epicurean theory of meteors. This is not to say, however, that human being can be reduced to natural being, or vice versa. Though they share the form of self-conscious reason and, as such, are dialectically linked, man and nature are not identical, for their unity is charged with negation. Nonetheless, there is an undeniable parallel between what Lucretius calls lex atomi, the law of the atom, and lex hominis, the law of the human; both are defined as self-relating, material being. To extrapolate, we may say that to be fully human means not only to exist, to have immediate, material being, but also to be conscious of one's existence. Thus, to exist as a genuinely free individual involves some minimal recognition of one's material determination. Yet implied in such recognition is both an acceptance of one's natural immediacy, and a rejection of the limits imposed by the burden of such immediacy. To be self-consciously human is to be both for and against nature. In this sense, the individual human being is like the atom: it becomes actual only when it frees itself from relative determination and relates itself to itself. Marx puts it as follows: "Thus man ceases to be a product of nature only when the other being to which he relates himself is not a different existence but is itself an individualm human being, even if it is not yet spirit [Geist]." In other words, in order for humanity to realize the truth of its inner being, it must free itself from determination by external, relative being (as in the declination of the atom), and realize itself as its own proper object (as in the repulsion of the atom). At a very basic level then--what Marx will call abstract individuality--human beings realize the concept of their being and become free only when their relative being and the raw instincts associated with "the power of desire and of mere nature" have been crushed. Only when such dependence on mere nature has been negated and transcended do human beings arrive on the doorstep of self-consciousness, for it is only then that they are freed to determine themselves in relation to other human beings. Though such self-consciousness is still abstract--it lacks qualitative and historical determination--it nonetheless contains the seed of full spiritual actualization. Recognition of the negativity implied in the relation of man to nature is the first step toward a new conception of the activity of philosophy because it redefines the concept of human autonomy. According to the initial position of the youthful Marx, it is impossible to fully understand what it means to be human without grasping the dialectical relation of man to nature. In its most basic sense, this means that to exist as a free individual is to recognize both one's material determination in and through nature, and one's formal determination against nature. To be human, in other words, is both to be natural, possessing immediate, material being, and to break away from such material determination in the act of free, self-conscious determination. This second, explicitly negative moment is of special interest, for it is here that we see the origins of Marx's conception of human praxis as a form of activity directed against the external world. In order to realize itself concretely, human self-consciousness must be active in the creation of a world where free interaction between individuals is possible. just as the atom attains to self-sufficiency only when it declines from the straight line and repels others from itself, human consciousness must be active and critically present in the world in order to gain autonomy and, thereby, to experience genuine freedom. [endquote 62-5] ------------------------------------- If you understand this, please explain it to me. Schafer concludes his commentary with an analysis of the relation of philosophy and praxis in aforementioned famous footnote. At 01:11 PM 7/27/2006 -0400, Ralph Dumain wrote: >THE FIRST WRITINGS OF KARL MARX >ed. Paul Schafer >Paperback: 200 pages Publisher: Ig Publishing (July 1, 2006) Language: >English ISBN: 0977197220 > >The First Writings of Karl Marx is the only single volume English language >edition of Marx's earliest work, his doctoral dissertation. This edition >includes the rarely published full text of Marx's dissertation, >accompanied by a handful of his letters from the same period (1837- 43), >and selections from the philosophical notebooks he prepared in advance of >the dissertation. These materials comprise the earliest period of Marx's >intellectual life, and offer a detailed portrait of the genesis of his >philosophical worldview. Despite their youthfulness, these writings are >lit with ambition, and contain the seeds of Marx's mature system of >historical materialism. > >------------------------ > >I'll be interested in seeing this new edition when it comes out. In fact, >it has been published in English before. But . . . . one must beware that >sections are missing in some cases. Hopefully this new publication will >correct the problem. The only complete English edition is the Marx Engels >Collected Works, vol. 1. There is also ACTIVITY IN MARX'S PHILOSOPHY >(Norman Livergood)--I think I'm remembering this right--but it omits >crucial footnotes. (Some of Marx's original text is lost, and so there >are footnotes without corresponding main text.) The Marxists Internet >Archive did not do a thorough job of inputting Marx's works, hence one >finds omissions there too. So hopefully this new edition will fill the void.
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