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4 - German Idealism and Marx

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  05 December 2013

Douglas Moggach
University of Ottawa
Nicholas Boyle
University of Cambridge
Liz Disley
University of Cambridge
John Walker
Birkbeck College, University of London
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The concept of labour provides a key to understanding Marx's complex relations to his German Idealist precursors. Through it, he appropriates and transforms the Idealist concept of spontaneity, develops his critique of heteronomy and alienation under capitalism, and envisages the attainment of genuine autonomy in socialism. We can thus connect Marx with Hegel, but also more broadly to German thought since Kant, indeed since Leibniz.

The Left Hegelian programme

In the works of Kant, Fichte, Schiller and Hegel, the effects of the European Enlightenment and indigenous theoretical traditions stemming from Leibniz were distilled into a philosophical revolution, elaborating new conceptions of theoretical and practical reason and of reason's legislative authority in morality and politics. The essence of this revolution was an engagement with modern society: an extended reflection on individuality, autonomy and freedom. The fundamental issue of German Idealism is not to impugn the external world, but to ask how we can rationally and freely relate to it, and act in it. A resolute yet critical modernism imbues German Idealism with its particular characteristics: for all its inner divergences, it is a practical idealistic approach, a brilliant vindication of freedom. It develops ideas of practical reason as the capacity to be self-legislating and autonomous, and it stresses the self-causing, spontaneous quality of human action. The world as it appears to the senses is not metaphysically unreal or illusory, but derivative; German Idealism directs our attention to the formative activity which underlies the objects of experience, and to processes of subjective self-shaping.

The Impact of Idealism
The Legacy of Post-Kantian German Thought
, pp. 82 - 107
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2013

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