[SydPhil] Douglas A. Moggach on German Idealism and Marx at UWS Philosophy Seminars

Dimitris Vardoulakis D.Vardoulakis at uws.edu.au
Tue Oct 23 11:13:12 AEDT 2012

Philosophy Seminars 2012
Research Centre for Writing and Society and Philosophy @ UWS

Douglas A. Moggach
Research Chair in Political Thought, University of Ottawa

TITLE: German Idealism and Marx

TIME: October 31, 2-4pm
PLACE: UWS Bankstown Campus, 3.G.55

ABSTRACT: My task is to examine the philosophical relations between the thought of Karl Marx and the German Idealist tradition, primarily Hegel, but also Kant and Fichte, with reference as well to the foundational importance of Leibniz. The paper will explore ideas of labour and freedom in Marx, relative to his German Idealist background. The study will be historical, tracing filiations and influences in the manifold receptions of idealism, but will also indicate areas of contemporary relevance.

Marx's conception of labour takes up elements of the German idealist tradition, especially ideas of spontaneity and self-formation deriving from Leibniz' critique of mechanistic materialism. These ideas are further developed under the influence of Kantian practical reason, with its stress on autonomy. Following Fichte, Marx links spontaneity and autonomy with labour, and interrogates the concrete conditions for the practice of autonomy. Following Hegel, and the reception of Hegel by his leftist students, Marx seeks to uncover the dynamics and inner contradictions definitive of the modern world, with its specific notions of subjectivity, civil society, and state, and to produce an account of its determinate negations. Marx's relations with the Hegelian School will be traced through the problematic of post-Kantian perfectionism in its various forms. Marx's writings on politics and philosophy in the Vormärz period of the 1840's (the initial but not the exclusive focus of this study) possess a thematic unity, combining a philosophical anthropology and a perfectionist ethic with a critique of the modern state. Marx's later writings undertake what has been called a second appropriation of Hegel in the logic of Capital. My argument will be that the shift to naturalistic and scientistic accounts of history and agency in Engels and later official Marxism, where the idealist heritage is bowdlerized or explicitly rejected, was to a limited extent prefigured in the ethical theory of the young Marx himself, insofar as his perfectionism entailed a problematic synthesis of Kantian with Aristotelian elements. The latter tended to naturalise the subject, by subsuming it under predetermined ends (even if these are conceived as historical rather than as permanently fixed), thus undermining the Kantian sense of free self-determining spontaneous action. This is not to equate Aristotelian eudaimonia with subsequent naturalistic accounts, but to argue that Marx's incomplete assimilation of Kant left open a theoretical space to be filled by heterogeneous ideas. The task is not to trace all these divergences, but to focus on the express or contested idealist heritage in selected Marxist currents. The subsequent retrieval by the Frankfurt School of certain Kantian elements in Marx remains partial and problematic, insofar as the concept of spontaneity is undertheorised; or it is divorced from its intimate connection with labour, which is central to Marx's own project. Here I will draw on my previous work on Marx and Habermas, as well as more recent work on Feuerbach, who shares some of Marx's problematic relations to idealism.

BIO: Douglas Moggach holds the Research Chair in Political Thought at the University of Ottawa. He is the recipient of a Canada Council Killam Research Fellowship. Among his publications are The New Hegelians (Cambridge, 2006); Reason, Universality, and History (with Manfred Buhr, Ottawa, 2004); The Philosophy and Politics of Bruno Bauer (Cambridge, 2003); Bruno Bauer: Über die Prinzipien des Schönen. De pulchri principiis (with Winfried Schultze, Berlin, 1996); and (with Paul Leduc Browne), The Social Question and the Democratic Revolution: Marx and the Legacy of 1848 (Ottawa, 2000). He is currently working on the Hegelian school, republican thought, and the history of aesthetics.
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