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Marx and Morality

Wills, Vanessa (2012) Marx and Morality. Doctoral Dissertation, University of Pittsburgh. (Unpublished)

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Several influential interpretations of Marx claim his theory of social change is amoral, that Marx had only an incoherent moral conception, or that Marx had moral commitments early in his career but abandoned them, perhaps at the writing of The German Ideology but certainly before Capital. I argue that none of these is correct.

Morality, for Marx, is thoroughly historical: it is produced through human activity; whether particular actions or social arrangements are moral or immoral varies at different historical stages; and its realization in human practice and the closure of the gap between "is" and "ought" would lead to the abolition of morality as the theorization of that gap.

Marx determines what society would be best for human beings and which existing forces and historical processes could realize it. He morally evaluates social systems, theories, and human actions with respect to whether they promote or inhibit the increase of human beings' rational control over their own environment and social development, and the historical emergence of "rich individuals".

Famously, Marx refers to morality as "ideology". Interpreters of Marx have assumed that ideology is always reactionary or misleading. However, ideology plays an important role in the development of revolutionary consciousness. Ideology can serve as a bulwark of reaction; however, Marx shows that the proletariat must develop its own ideology to theorize social contradictions and determine how they can be overcome to allow for a conscious, democratic, and rational control over human beings' social existence.

In the first chapter of my dissertation, I provide a detailed overview of Marx's moral theory and its basis in his conception of human nature and alienation. The remainder of the dissertation follows the development of Marx's moral thought chronologically, starting with Marx's early works including The Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844 and The German Ideology, continuing with the period including works such as The Communist Manifesto and On the Poverty of Philosophy, and ending with Marx's late work including the Grundrisse and Capital. I conclude by drawing together the study's main themes and suggesting avenues for further research.


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Item Type: University of Pittsburgh ETD
Status: Unpublished
CreatorsEmailPitt UsernameORCID
ETD Committee:
TitleMemberEmail AddressPitt UsernameORCID
Committee ChairThompson, Michaelmthompso@pitt.eduMTHOMPSO
Committee MemberMachamer, Peterpkmach@pitt.eduPKMACH
Committee MemberMcDowell, Johnjmcdowel@pitt.eduJMCDOWEL
Committee MemberShelby,
Date: 1 February 2012
Date Type: Publication
Defense Date: 26 August 2011
Approval Date: 1 February 2012
Submission Date: 7 December 2011
Access Restriction: No restriction; Release the ETD for access worldwide immediately.
Number of Pages: 269
Institution: University of Pittsburgh
Schools and Programs: Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences > Philosophy
Degree: PhD - Doctor of Philosophy
Thesis Type: Doctoral Dissertation
Refereed: Yes
Uncontrolled Keywords: Marx, morality, moral philosophy, political philosophy, alienation, human nature, history of modern philosophy, Engels, Marxism
Date Deposited: 01 Feb 2012 15:42
Last Modified: 15 Nov 2016 13:55


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