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Chapter Nine - The First Phase: Seminal Ideation, c.1860– 1870: The Focus upon Definition and Hypothesis

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  02 March 2021

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Summary

Philosophy of History

Karl Marx (1818– 1883)

In 1857, Marx, always a forerunner of sociological perspectives, addressed his theory of historical materialism from a highly individual perspective. He writes:

Individuals producing in society—therefore socially determined production by individuals—is naturally he starting point. The single, isolated hunter and fisherman, with whom Smith and Ricardo begin, belongs to the imaginative fancies of eighteenth century Robinsonades [Utopias on the lines of Defoe's Robinson Crusoe], which certainly do not, as cultural historians believe, express simply a reaction to over-refinement and a return to a misconceived natural life. As little as Rousseau's Contrat social, whereby naturally independent subjects are brought into association and relationship by contract, is (it) based upon such naturalism. This is (not) illusion, the purely aesthetic illusion of small and great Robinsonades. It is, on the contrary, the anticipation of “bourgeois society,” which, since the sixteenth century, has been preparing itself for, and, in the eighteenth has made giant strides towards, maturity. In this freely competitive society the individual appears as released from the natural ties, etc. which, in earlier epochs of history made him an appendage of a distinct, limited human conglomerate. For the prophets of the eighteenth century, on whose shoulders Smith and Ricardo still firmly stand, this eighteenth-century individual—the product, on the one hand, of the breaking of feudal social patterns and, on the other, of the new productive powers developed since the sixteenth century—hovers as an ideal of past existence. Not as a historical result but as the starting point of history. Because as Natural Man, conformable to their idea of human nature, not as arising historically but as determined by nature. This illusion has occurred in each successive epoch up till now.

The further back in history we go, the more does the individual, and thus also the productive individual, appear as dependent, as part of a greater whole: first still quite naturally in the family, and. Expanding thence, in the tribe; later in the various forms of community resulting from opposition between and amalgamation of tribes. Not until the eighteenth century, in “bourgeois society,” do various forms of association in society appear to the individual simply as a means to private ends, as external necessity.

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The Metahistory of Western Knowledge in the Modern Era
Four Evolving Metaparadigms, 1648 to Present
, pp. 149 - 166
Publisher: Anthem Press
Print publication year: 2021

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