Karl Marx: Existence and Social Consciousness Essay

Words: 2560
Pages: 11

A paper written for Classical Sociology, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore


“It is not the consciousness of men that determines their being, but, on the contrary, their social being that determines their consciousness” – Karl Marx

The above notion by Karl Marx is the base of all his succeeding works; it is Marx’s concept of Man and how he critiqued the existing dominant ideology of German thought, and relates his argument to societal change and history – specifically the relations of production. In order to explain what Marx meant by the proposed notion, I will have to explain Marx’s concept of Man, and how an activity (labour) was a primordial means for Man to gain self-realization, which laid the grounds
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Feuerbach argues in contrast to Hegel that God is nothing else than Man, and it is Man who constructs this imaginary transcendental being. Using Hegel’s idea of Homo laborans and flipping his dialectic (which ignored real individuals, Marx located it in the material realm), Marx criticized Feuerbach for ignoring labour and the modification of natural conditions (Nature) of human existence into social conditions, and also ignoring nature as a practical human activity (praxis); Marx’s ninth thesis on Feuerbach (McLellan 1977: 156-8, Hamilton 1974: 23-4). Feuerbach’s “species-being” was based on single, isolated individuals whom Marx criticised with his sixth thesis, stating that human nature is a unity of social relations (Marx 1977: 156-8). Marx however acknowledged Feuerbach’s subject-thought predicate and resolved Feuerbach’s naturalism using the theory of praxis and the Hegelian dialectic – thesis-antithesis-synthesis – that the activity itself links Man to Nature: “Productive life is, however, species-life. It is life creating life; life activity that resides the whole character of a species, its species-character, and free, conscious activity is the species-character of human beings. Life itself appears only as a means of life” (1844 Manuscripts) (Zhang 1994: 16-7). Marx concretely defines this “free conscious activity” of human nature as labour: the life-activity of the worker (Man), resulting in the manifestation of his own life; fulfilling Man’s