Philosophy Colloquium: “Freedom and Morality in the Thought of Karl Marx”

Posted on 11/7/2011 8:32:23 PM

The Philosophy Department is pleased to announce that Dr. Vanessa Wills (University of Pittsburgh) will be giving a talk entitled “Freedom and Morality in the Thought of Karl Marx” on Friday, November 11, 2011, at 3:30 p.m. in McElhaney 101.

Abstract: Marx speaks, especially in Capital, of the capitalist as “capital personified and endowed with consciousness and a will,” a person who acts in a manner that is to a great extent determined by economic laws that guide the movement of the capital she possesses. He also speaks, in Capital and elsewhere, of the actions of the proletariat understood in terms of what it is as a class and what, by virtue of that nature, it will be compelled to do. Numerous authors have taken this strand in Marx's thought to indicate that he thinks human actions are one-sidedly determined by economic laws that operate beyond their control. Indeed, it has become something like conventional wisdom that Marx subscribes to a crude economic determinism that would make human freedom unintelligible, and thereby rule out or at least render incoherent and unintelligible any genuinely moral content in his later work. I argue that this is incorrect. While he analyzes the ways in which capitalism limits human action, Marx also recognizes that human beings under capitalism have a range of freedom within which they act, and which can be expanded through that action. It is precisely this historically limited yet growing capacity of human beings to intervene consciously into their historical situation that forms a key aspect of his moral philosophy. While economic factors, on Marx's view, play an important role in determining human history, it would be wrong to construe this observation as one that rules out human freedom.