Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Philosophical (pre)occupations and the problem of idealism: From ideology to Marx's critique of mental labor
by Fischer, Ariane, Ph.D., The George Washington University, 2010, 512; 3389706
Abstract (Summary)

My dissertation shows that the ideology concept developed by Karl Marx was first and foremost a critique of mental labor in bourgeois society, rather than a philosophy of consciousness, as is commonly assumed. Marx's theory of ideology constituted a pivotal moment in the formation of his critique of political economy insofar as it offered a solution to the problem of idealist metaphysics, discussed among the Left Hegelian philosophers in the late 1830's and early 1840's, by explaining it in terms of its origin in the class structure of capitalist society. I interpret Marx's texts using the approach of the "Cambridge School" of the history of political thought (Quentin Skinner), which has stressed the importance of examining classical texts in terms of their authors' explicit objectives, the polemical function of philosophical language as individual speech acts, and the contextual nature of particular ideas and concepts.

Based on a close study and analysis of one of Marx's so-called "works of the break," my investigation focuses on establishing the original meaning of "ideology" in relation to the Young Hegelian case for the "end of philosophy." While it is generally recognized that The German Ideology, written in 1845/46 by Marx and Engels, is a key text in nineteenth century intellectual history, few attempts have been made to subject this complicated manuscript to a comprehensive analysis. Consequently, the connection between ideology and the capitalist division of labor has not been duly recognized. Most broadly, then, the goal of this dissertation is to reconstruct Marx's effort to fully secularize post-Enlightenment critical philosophy by applying the tools of political economy to the question that animated the intellectual debate at the time: the question of how to come to terms with, and overcome, Hegel's metaphysical idealism.

The significance of my dissertation lies in its contribution to nineteenth-century intellectual history, to the study of critical social theory, and to contemporary discussions of the Marxist tradition. Because exegetical projects have typically converged on just the first hundred pages, one quarter of the complete manuscripts, this section, titled "I. Feuerbach," has gained misleading prominence in readings of The German Ideology. "I Feuerbach" resembles a discourse on method because of its general comments on "the correct manner of approach," but its importance within the work as a whole is questionable due to its fragmented and unfinished state. In order to shift our understanding of The German Ideology toward a better appreciation of Marx's concrete analysis of the typical (because characteristically bourgeois) yet peculiar (because uniquely passive) expressions of the German intelligentsia, I privilege instead the longest part of the manuscript, "III. Saint Max," Marx and Engels's exhaustive settling of accounts with Max Stirner's 1844 book The Ego and Its Own. This book was then the most radical attempt to break with the Left Hegelian critique of religion and prompted Marx to subject his own Feuerbachian assumptions to thorough scrutiny. Revealing Stirner's "Ego" – the singular, separate, fully sovereign individual – to be no alternative to Feuerbach's "Man" but rather another humanist abstraction from the real relations that define people in their particular social situations, Marx took the decisive step to produce a materialist, i.e. economic, account of ideology.

By focusing my inquiry on Marx's response to Stirner, which remained unpublished until 1932, I reread The German Ideology in terms of its specific arguments against the Young Hegelian idealist distortion of particular historical events, social transformations, and contradictions. However, by situating the work squarely within the context of the early nineteenth-century debates over how to successfully "world" Hegel's dialectic, I also recover Marx's particular intervention in these debates. Marx, I show, was able to overcome the idealism of his former friends and allies by grounding the critique of philosophy in a theory of the intricate connection between labor, class, and practice. (Abstract shortened by UMI.)

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Zimmerman, Andrew
Commitee: Caws, Peter, Moschenberg, Dan, Smith, Paul, Weiss, Gail
School: The George Washington University
Department: Human Sciences
School Location: United States -- District of Columbia
Source: DAI-A 71/01, Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: Philosophy, History, Political science
Keywords: German ideology, Historical materialism, Ideology, Intellectual labor, Marx, Karl, Young Hegelians
Publication Number: 3389706
ISBN: 9781109565195
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