The Role of Historical Determinism in Marx's Philosophy

Dissertation, St. John's University (New York) (1990)

Many commentators of Marx have interpreted his social philosophy and theory of history to be teleological or historicist. This interpretation is based on an unsystematic reading of Marx's writings, a reading which does not make a distinction between different stages of Marx's intellectual development and between different modes of discourse in his writings, a reading which is largely based on certain statements in various works of Marx regardless of their contexts. ;A systematic reading of Marx's writings would show that neither his theory of modern society nor his general theory of historical materialism presuppose a philosophy of history in the traditional sense. On the contrary, a concept of history may be found in Marx's works that is neither teleological/determinist nor voluntarist. This idea of history is not always rendered explicitly and coherently by Marx in his writings. It is the task of Marx's readers to explicate and reconstruct this conception even despite the words of Marx himself which do occasionally mislead the reader. ;Marx's theory of history makes the minimal claim that human history must primarily be understood in terms of different modes of production and transitional processes from one mode to another. There is no unilinear, predetermined order of the succession of the modes of production, as the orthodox version of the theory suggests. But there are structural limits to the possible changes that a mode of production can undergo. ;Historical materialism may be considered as a position between voluntarism and determinism; a position which excludes both empiricism and rationalism. It is against empiricism in so far as it regards different aspects of a social-historical phenomena somehow in relation to each other as a more or less unified whole. It does not reduce a historical event to the intentions of those who participate in it. It distinguishes the outward appearance from the essence of things and tries to explain the former in terms of the latter. But historical materialism is also critical of the aprioristic approach of rationalistic systems. Thus history becomes a succession of individual events which can only be grasped if any appeal to the ultimate meaning is avoided. There is, therefore, no single key to the complex phenomena that can be referred to by the term "history."
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