MARX AND THE ANCIENTS
CLASSICAL ETHICS, SOCIAL JUSTICE, AND NINETEENTH-CENTURY POLITICAL ECONOMY
From his earliest days in the gymnasium to the completion of his
university studies, Karl Marx was steeped in the culture and philosophy of the Ancients. From his earliest interests in Greek and Roman
history and mythology to the completion of his dissertation on the
physics of Epicurus and Democritus, ancient philosophy formed a
central focus of his intellectual life. The purpose of this book is to
examine some of the aspects of these interests with special attention
to the philosophy of Aristotle and Epicurus. It will be shown how the
values and ideals of the Greeks influenced the later development of
his ideas of social justice, participatory democracy, and even his
theory of economics. In fact, it will be argued that a true understanding of Marx's theory of value, his economic crisis theory, and his
critique of political economy ultimately rests on his vision of social
justice grounded in the ideals of the Greek polis. Without an appreciation for Epicurus's theories of happiness and nature or Aristotle's
theory of universal and particular justice, the purpose of Marx's later
analyses of the classical political economy of Ricardo, Smith, and
Malthus would be lost. As unusual as it may sound, Marx's analysis of
Ricardo's Principles of Political Economy and Taxation makes sense only
within the context of Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics. Within this context, too, Marx's ethics and theory of social justice will be closely
In the past few years, the topic of Marx and ethics has been a
popular one in North America. New works have produced a flood of
analyses over whether Marx has a theory of ethics or a theory of
social justice. One problem with many of them is that these questions
have been asked within a cultural vacuum. Though they have been
characterized by close exegetical scholarship, they have failed to investigate the philosophical contexts and traditions on which the
development of Marx's ideas were based. This has resulted in a study
of Marx's words, but a loss of the underlying spirit that gives them
meaning and relevance. This work will examine the deep structures
and traditions on which his ideas were founded, through an examination of the classical ethics of Greek philosophy and the German
Enlightenment. Karl Marx was caught between the two worlds of the
Ancients and Moderns as he tried to integrate his critique of the
structures and values of modern political economy with the ideals
and norms of the Ancients. In the Grundrisse and Capital he analyzed
the development of the structures of modern political economy, the
workplace, the crisis of the economic system, and the institutional
forms of liberalism. But what interested him in particular was the
dialectic between these structures of industrial capitalism, and the
formation of modern consciousness—the very possibilities of rationality, self-consciousness, and freedom within modern society.
Beginning with his Ph.D. dissertation on the Epicurean philosophy
of nature and its critique of Democritus and Aristotle and extending
into his later historical writings, Marx incorporates the ethical ideals
and values of Greek social life into his understanding and evaluation
of modern industrial society. Marx stood midway between the modernization of the workplace and the formation of new class institutions
and forms of abstract labor, on the one hand, and the classical
demands for equality, community, and social justice, on the other.
These latter values were, in turn, not simply accepted as given, but
were integrated and transformed by the ideals of individual freedom
and the protection of human rights stimulated by eighteenth-century
political philosophy and the French Revolution.
A closer investigation into the Ancients will unlock some of the
secrets of Marx's views on materialism, science, ethics, and social
praxis. Certainly an interpretation of these categories will be different
if they are filtered through the classical traditions, rather than
through the mechanical and deterministic materialism of the French
Enlightenment and the ahistorical positivism and science of British
political economy. By integrating Epicurus's materialism and philosophy of nature with Aristotle's critique of ethics as science (episteme)
and his theory of social justice, Marx develops economic theory in an
entirely new direction. The Ancients offer the reader of Marx a
distinctly different picture of his approach than that of the more
ordinary interpretation of reading him through the materialism and
methods of Descartes, Holbach, Hobbes, Locke, Smith, and Ricardo.
By expanding the foundations of Marxism to include the Ancients,
a broader and more fully developed understanding of some very
perplexing issues comes about. Some of these issues include: (1) the
richness of Marx's view of democracy, individual freedom, human
rights, and personal development; (2) a more profound understanding of his critique of liberalism and modernity; (3) an historical and
ethical reading of his law of value that differs greatly from the labor
theory of value of Smith and Ricardo; (4) an integration of science
and ethics (Epicurus); (5) the development of an alternative view of
knowledge based on a critique of science and positivism that develops
from Hume, Kant, and Hegel, but goes back to Epicurus and Aristotle; (6) the application of "theory and practice" as Marx's epistemological response to the "dilemma of objective validity" and his critique
of science, epistemology, and foundationalism; (7) a broadening of
our understanding of Marx's use of "praxis" to include not only
theory, work, and art (Hegel), but also political and ethical activity in
a democratic state (Aristotle); (8) a return to a materialist consensus
theory of truth based on democracy and political economy (Aristotle
and Rousseau); and (9) the reintegration of economics, politics, and
moral philosophy into a social ethics as appeared in the Ancients.
Much of the contemporary U.S. literature on Marx and ethics has
centered around a very narrow definition of moral philosophy by
reducing it to questions about individual moral decision-making. This
corresponds to the prejudices of the modern philosophical and religious traditions. It thereby eliminates from consideration almost
immediately the nonmodern ethical perspectives, which included
both the substantive content and ideals of classical ethics and the
social theory and political economy of its metaethics. Marx—by this
definition—has no moral philosophy, since he relied on a different
perspective than that of the modern traditions. When this is joined to
his critique of bourgeois morality and ideology, there is no place left
for any moral theory. The final blow is administered by the general
acceptance of the interpretations of his later historical materialism
and economic theory as being scientific and positivistic. This precludes the acceptance of nonscientific criteria of evaluation. It is very
difficult to make a case for an ethical theory in his works once these
ideas are established and accepted.
Even among those who are more subtle in their interpretations and
do not reduce Marx to a vulgar materialist, there is still a general
acceptance of a split between his earlier philosophical writings and
his later scientific ones. Critical theorists would prefer to stress the
dialectical and philosophical approach, rather than his economic and
scientific perspective. But this surrenders to modernity more than
Marx himself was willing to accept. A narrow definition of both
morality and science leads to a fundamental error in the study and
evaluation of Marx. By seeing him in the tradition of Aristotle and
Epicurus, morality is joined to social ethics, political economy, and
political philosophy. Fresh air breaks through the rigidity and reined
perspectives of modernity. This new view offers us a substantive
break and transcendence of the morality of modernity, and broadens
the horizons of our understanding of the nature of ethics and the
applicability of classical ethics to the modern context, while at the
same time expanding our appreciation of Marx's own social analysis.
In a previous work on Marx's critique of epistemology and science, I attempted to show that he was incapable and unwilling to apply the metaphysics of modern science to a critique of political economy. By examining three different levels of concept and theory formation in his political economy, the positivistic interpretations of Marx were shown to be inadequate and inappropriate. The methodological, ontological, and temporal dimensions of a critical and historical science as found in Capital reveal a different set of priorities, methods, and purposes then those needed for a positivistic science. In fact, Capital does not have a concept of a predictable future (time), a deterministic and mechanical materialism (ontology), or a copy theory of reality (method), but a method based on historical analysis and dialectical critique. There is no split between his earlier and later works, since there is no split between philosophy and science; in fact, it is philosophy as "critique" which informs us as to the exact nature of Marx's understanding and use of the term "science." While writing his later economic works he was well aware of the epistemological problems associated with the formation and justification of modern science -- what is called the "dilemma of objective validity." This is the problem of relating concepts to reality, theory to history and the philosophical justification of the correspondence between them. What is at stake in social theory is the nature of the relationship between theory and ontology and the finding of a privileged form of discourse, through either empirical reality or deductive concepts, which will allow the justification of truth-claims about our experience and knowledge of the world. The privileged access to truth and its epistemological justification through either empiricism or rationalism was called into question by Hume's critique of science and then Hegel's later critique of the possibility of epistemology itself.
Once the rejection of the positivist reading of Marx is established through a detailed investigation of the epistemology and methods used in Capital and the Grundrisse, the stage is set for the major question. If Marx was not applying a positivistic method in either work, then what was he doing? If Capital was not designed to explain economic crises, predict social breakdowns, or determine the particular costs and profits of commodities, then what was the purpose of his critique of political economy? When the writings of Marx are interpreted within the framework of the 18th- and 19th-century critique of science and foundationalism, then his dialectical method takes on new meaning. When access to truth is blocked due to the rejection of any privileged representation resulting from inductive or deductive logic, both Hegel and Marx turned to the concrete universal and social totality. "The being of a thing is the entire dynamic of its becoming something else and unifying itself with its other. Something can be known only by knowing its development -- history. It is this movement or force which constitutes the reality of an entity." The dialectical method is used to uncover the structures of historical reality, their internal ethical contradictions, and the organic interrelationship among their social institutions.
The later works of Marx are products of his understanding of history and social relations, which establish the material basis for his theory of ethics and social justice. The critique of positivism clears away the hindrances to seeing these works in a new light and the philosophical importance of the Ancients. The latter takes on real importance only when the scientific status of Marx's writings are undermined. When the German critique of positivism is united with the Greek and German theories and ideals of social justice, then ethics is fused with science in a new way that requires a careful exegesis of Marx's later political economy. With the critique of epistemology and science and the search for new methods for the justification of knowledge and truth-claims, the traditional interpretations of the radical differences between Marx's and Aristotle's view of epistemology, praxis, and politics must be re-thought. It is almost a truism in German social theory that Aristotle's view of praxis is antithetical to that of Marx's. This too is open to serious questioning.
With the critique of modern science and the re-incorporation of the Ancients into modern social theory a re-thinking of Marx's theory of value, his views on human rights, democracy and individual freedom, and finally, the relations between politics and epistemology also occurs. The result is that the later economic and historical writings represent a synthesis of an historical critique of political economy within an overall ethical critique of capitalism. Though there is a normative critique throughout the Grundrisse, it was in Capital that ethics was united to the critique of the internal contradictions of the capitalist social system. Rather than being a work on the labor theory of value; rather than being a work on the prediction of economic breakdown; and rather than being a work on a theory of price determination, this work represents an historical analysis and dialectical presentation of the underlying structures of modernity, which are insurmountable barriers to the self-realization of the individual within society.
The purpose of the critical method has never changed from his earlier works. "The criticism of religion ends with the doctrine that man is the highest being for man, hence with the categorical imperative to overthrow all conditions in which man is a degraded, enslaved, neglected, contemptible being." The study of the social relations of production, the application of science and technology to material production, the class organization and nature of alienated work, and the macro-economic features of an economy based on abstract labor and surplus-value which tend toward overproduction, underconsumption, disproportionality, and a falling rate of profit are all part of a general theory of ethics and social justice. The latter lies deep within the structures of his own thought. The critique of political economy supplies Marx with the social component within which the categorical imperative loses its abstraction from social reality and begins to take on a concrete historical form. Marx gives a materialist basis for furthering Hegel's critique of Kantian abstractionism. Morality has meaning for individual action only within the context of social institutions. If these institutions hinder or undermine the possibilities of rational self-conscious action, then morality itself becomes impossible. For Marx the social relations of an oppressive economy hinder the development of individual freedom and rational action.
Though Hegel's critique of Kant is the most immediate form of this perspective, the ethical foundations for both the substance and method of Marx's critique of capitalism lies in the Ancients. The real problem is that Marx never articulates this theory in a traditional philosophical manner. His ethics is also too closely tied to his political economy and social theory to make much sense for contemporary philosophers unaccustomed to viewing them together. The difficulty is increased by the fact that with each new writing in his later period there is a new method being used; even with Capital alone there are seven distinct levels and meanings of "critique": normative critique, immanent critique, fetishism critique, critique of political economy, dialectical critique, historical critique, and critique as crisis theory. They are all interwoven in his theory and they are all based on different methodological and ethical traditions -- some on liberalism, socialism, Aristotelian ethics, etc. The method peculiar to Capital places both social ethics and political economy within the context of the structural contradictions (dialectical method) of capitalism. In this fashion the concept of alienation used in his early writings (normative critique) is joined with his analysis of exploitation in the workplace and the irrationality of a crisis ridden economic system. It begins with the contradiction between the social relations of production and the productive forces and concludes with the crisis of the tendential fall in the rate of profit. The dialectical method transforms the analysis of political economy into a critique of the historical development and social organization of modernity. This is the real transformation which occurs in the law of value.
Marx criticized capitalism because it distorts human development and crushes individual potentialities (Aristotle); its creates a transcendent world of natural laws and economic divinities over which man has no control (Epicurus); it turns historical and human productions (objectification and externalization) into idolatrous objects of blind fate and blinder devotion (Epicurean and Hebrew traditions); it undermines human rationality, moral autonomy, and self-determination (Rousseau and Kant); and it leads to distorted self-development and false consciousness (Hegel). These are some of the threads of the substantive ethics which run throughout Marx's writings. Capital is thus a sociological and logical critique of capitalism based on his unique appropriation of the three major traditions of classical social ethics -- the ideals of the Greek polis, the Hebrew prophets, and late 18th- and early 19th-century German Idealism. The integration of these traditions provides the ethical framework upon which the evaluative and moral critique of capitalism rests. Rather than being a "science" of political economy, the later works provide us with an "ethical critique of capital" with a concomitant moral imperative for social change.
Most clearly the bulk of his writing is not on ethics, but rather on meta-ethics. Much of the substance of his ethical theory assumes these philosophical traditions, while he spends his time and effort on the clarification of the structures of social domination in the economic realm. If an economy cannot realize its own normative ideals of freedom, equality, and social justice; if it cannot result in economic rationality and social prosperity; if the science and technology are utilized as mechanisms for the intensification of the production of surplus-value and further social control, then the system is not rational even by its own standards (immanent critique). This book will analytically break down the different intellectual traditions and their contributions to Marx's ethical theory and in the final chapter re-integrate them into a comprehensive social theory of justice. The book is divided into three main parts detailing the Ancients, Moderns, and their synthesis in Marx's social theory. This synthesis provides us with insights into his post-modern critiques.
OUTLINE OF THE WORK
PART I: THE ANCIENTS: THE ETHICAL AND POLITICAL IDEALS OF THE GREEKS
Chapter One examines Marx's dissertation written at the University of Berlin, but submitted to the University of Jena. It represents the culmination of years of academic study and personal interest in the aesthetics and politics of ancient Greece precipitated by the works of Winckelmann, Goethe, Schiller, Hegel, and Bauer. His dissertation analyses the metaphysical and natural theories of Epicurus and Democritus. Particular emphasis is placed on Epicurus' theory of the atom and meteors, the freedom, non-mechanical, and rational movement of the atom, his distinction between Naturphilosophie and Naturwissenschaften, and his critique of positivism and heavenly bodies. The sense of harmony, rational integration, and beauty, which marked 19th-century German neo-humanism was to remain forever an ideal and political goal of Marx's life. What attracted him to this topic in the first place was Epicurus's integration of science and ethics and his attack on Aristotle's whole system prefiguring Marx's later critique of Hegelian metaphysics. The quest for knowledge was to serve the quest for happiness (ataraxy) and theories which undermined happiness were to be rejected. The natural theories of physics and astronomy were to serve the interests of ethical values and goals.
Chapter Two centers on epistemology, praxis, and the polis. It begins by outlining Aristotle's theory of social justice and its particular forms: distributive, corrective, and reciprocal justice. These different components present the structural foundations of a society within which ethics is defined as living in virtuous community interaction and prudential deliberation. Since it can not be the result of a priori theoretical reasoning, ethics must arise out of the fragility of human experience and happiness in the good life. Because social and political norms can not be determined outside the community, deliberation and political action become the defining characteristics of ethics. Human activity creates the framework within which the world is experienced and norms created and justified. Though working out of an entirely different set of epistemological assumptions, Marx, by responding to the debates surrounding the dilemma of modern science since Hume, comes to a similar conclusion about the nature of objectivity, truth, and social consensus as Aristotle. Questions about the nature of knowledge are transformed into issues of praxis. Theory can not provide the answers to questions raised by itself or epistemology, but instead requires a social foundation for its truths -- economic and political justice, a community of equals, political participation within a democracy, and the development of individual potentials. "Marx with Hegel before him, was profoundly influenced by the classical ideal of the citizen. The classical ideal of political freedom had to do with the freedom to be a full and participating member of the polis."
PART II: THE MODERNS: THE ETHICS OF GERMAN IDEALISM
Chapter Three deals with the rise of German Idealism. The central focus here is on Hegel's critique of Kant's practical reason and categorical imperative. Pressing the move from abstract moral philosophy with its emphasis on the alienated individual, Hegel attempts to re-integrate the individual back into the community and in the process moves from an ethics of Moralität (morality) to Sittlichkeit (social ethics). The ties between Hegel's political philosophy and his vision of the ideals of the Greek polis from his Early Theological Writings and System of Social Life to his later Phenomenology of Spirit and Philosophy of Right are examined. At this point the reader has a vantage point from which he/she may view the full scope of the history of social ethics in these classical traditions with their synthesis of ethics and political economy. In this chapter there is also an analysis of Hegel's reaction to the violent extremes of the French Revolution and the connection in his mind between the Terror and the abstract morality and subjectivism of Kantian moral philosophy. This will also become the basis for Marx's criticism of abstract self-consciousness and morality in general from his dissertation to his later writings.
Marx transforms the modern tradition's questions about moral issues of right and wrong (Kantianism), good and bad (Protestantism and Jansenism), the nature of the good life and material happiness (utilitarianism), along with questions about the nature of knowledge, truth-claims, and the formation of consciousness into inquiries about the structure of modern social institutions, i.e., political economy. That is, the content and form within which moral and epistemological issues are decided, the personality developed, and various claims to truth justified are made within historically specific social relationships. Social class, power relations, property ownership, and the social relations of production become the backdrop within which traditional moral questions are to be answered. Philosophy has raised these questions, but any hope of answering them requires social theory and political economy.
Chapter Four reflects on Marx's more developed and expansive theory of human rights and democracy to show how they incorporate and then radicalize the liberal tradition and its defense of civil rights and individual freedoms. The reasons for his critique of liberalism are clearly outlined and rather then seeing his political theory as a rejection of liberalism, it would be more appropriate to see it as a radicalization (Aufhebung) of the social ideals of the French Revolution within the philosophical parameters set by the classics. What is rejected in liberalism especially is its philosophy of man and the economic imperative to private accumulation and economic alienation which lies at the heart of the modern society. Of special interest is the tracing of the development of his theory of democracy from its early liberal stage in his 1843 critique of Hegel's Philosophy of Right to his later socialist views in his study of the Paris Commune of 1871. Within the context of his theory of democracy, Marx's theory of human rights will be further developed by comparing and analyzing his statements on the subject to the 1793 French Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen. Not enough time has been spent on Marx's distinction between the ethical foundations of the rights of the citizen in the state as opposed to the rights of man in civil society. Generally Marx's defense of the former human rights has been overlooked, while his critique of the latter has been interpreted as a critique of all individual rights and personal freedoms. This comparison will help us in the further clarification of the developments and novelties in Marx's theory of human rights and his transcendence of the ideals of liberal democracy.
The analysis of these ideas of his political philosophy will be tied to his reliance on the Ancients. Also considered will be the reasons for these developments and their relation to his economic theory. This chapter will offer a critique of the whole of liberalism in its various forms including its epistemological and scientific assumptions, its political and social philosophy (natural rights theory and utilitarianism), its psychology of man from the state of nature arguments, and finally, its economic doctrine found in classical political economy. While Marx may accept some of the social institutions and advances of liberalism, having one foot in the ancient traditions means that he can not accept the limited perspective of modern individualism as it is manifested in its psychological, economic, and political forms of alienation. Modern individualism will not lead to self-determination, moral autonomy, and individual development. In fact, it will only insure their failure.
PART III: MARX'S SYNTHESIS OF THE ANCIENT AND MODERN TRADITIONS:
THE POLITICAL ECONOMY OF SOCIAL JUSTICE AND DEMOCRACY
Now that the ethical traditions and their integration into Marx's social theory have been analyzed, I will turn to an investigation of the labor theory of value. This theory provides the historical and structural content to Marx's ethical theory; without it there is no ethics. Arguing against liberal political theory and political economy, Marx radically changes the theory of value from an ontology of labor and price determination to an historical and transcendental law of the development of modern industrial capitalism. It is no longer a political or economic theory, but an historical analysis and evaluation of those institutions and structures which were necessary structural prerequisites for the evolution of modern society. This is just another implication of the meaning of his term "critique of political economy." Marx develops a law of value (Wertgesetz), which is not a law of price determination (Wertrechnung), but an historical and sociological analysis of the social pre-conditions for capital accumulation, profit realization, and continued economic development. Beginning with an analysis of the structures necessary for abstract labor and surplus-value production in the Grundrisse and Volume One of Capital, Marx shows the connection between these man-made historical institutions and the chronic economic crises of modernity in Volume Three of Capital. Throughout this analysis the connections are made between history and ethics, the development of modern social institutions and the failure of species- and self-realization. In his historical structuralism, the law of value is transformed into a social critique, i.e., an ethical condemnation of exploitation, alienation, the lost possibilities of human development, and the irrationalities and barbarism of the "anarchy of production." The original integration of science and ethics, which Marx saw in Epicurus' physics and astronomy, is recapitulated in his own later writings.
Chapter Six, the final chapter, pulls this material together to form a comprehensive theory of ethics and social justice by integrating Marx's theory of the needs of species-being (social eudaimonism), human rights, political and human emancipation, democracy, and the critique of political economy (Chapters Three, Four, and Five) with the substantive ethical ideals of the Ancients (Chapters One and Two). In the last analysis social justice for both the Ancients and Marx deals with the nature of social relationships, the integrity of the community, the development of the communal nature of man, and self-realization. At the turn of the 20th-century the Marburg School of neo-Kantians attempted the synthesis of Kantian ethics and Marxian political economy in order to rectify, what they perceive, as the weaknesses of the asocial and ahistorical moral philosophy of Kant and the historical materialism without ethics of Marx. At the end of the century the "Tucker-Wood Thesis" contends that Marx did not develop a moral theory or a theory of justice, because his scientific methodology and critique of ideology precluded him from doing so.
There are many variations on these themes. Some social philosophers accept the view that Marx does have an ethical critique based on such categories as economic exploitation, freedom, self-realization, etc., but they too conclude that he has no theory of justice. The two sides of the debate over the existence or non-existence of a theory of ethics and social justice are clearly outlined and juxtaposed for an easy comparison. Both sides, as they have appeared till now, are rejected as having a too narrow understanding of the nature of ethics, since they mainly limit Marx's concept to a discussion of the distribution or exchange of social wealth and do not focus on the structure of society as a whole. Nor do they, for the most part, attempt an integration of his perspectives with the classical ethics of German Idealism and the Ancients, with his historical critique and social theory of value, or with his critique of science and positivism. Marx must be re-thought from his materialist epistemology to his materialist ethics.
This chapter will then proceed to define the use of such categories as justice, morality, social ethics, and meta-ethics and show their relation to social theory and political economy. Much of Marx's social theory simply does not make sense within the context of the Anglo-American definitions of morality and justice, because the latter has consistently separated ethics from meta-ethics, morality from political economy. This becomes immediately clear when it is compared to the methods of the classical traditions. These traditions are juxtaposed to the American analytic perspective to see what insights may be gained for a reading of Marx. The analysis begins not with a pre-defined and pre-judged interpretation of morality, but with the actual traditions which laid the foundations for Marx's own analysis. Ethics comes from within Marx's political economy and is not imposed from without. We must see Marx as he dialogues with the Ancients and draws his normative support and critique from them.
The last two sections of this chapter develop the radical implications of the previous studies on epistemology and ethics by summarizing Marx's ethical and meta-ethical theory and its three crucial components: (1) a theory of social justice; (2) a materialist consensus theory of truth based on his ethical epistemology; and (3) a democratic theory of political economy. These ideas are further developed by a comparison of Marx's ethics and theory of democratic consensus with Habermas' theory of ethics and discursive rationality. Habermas, by reducing Marx's dialectical science to positivism, praxis to techne, political activity to instrumental activity, and reflective knowledge (Reflexionswissen) to productive knowledge (Produktionswissen), also misinterprets his views of praxis and political activity, democratic consensus, and the integration of ethics and political economy. He has failed to recognize that there is a rich intellectual tradition of consensus theory based on both materialism and political economy which runs from Aristotle to Marx.
In these sections the main thesis of the work is finally presented in its full form. If the objects of experience are constituted in human activity; if social reality is not an empirical fact or a deduced idea, but the creation of the social organization of reality in history (historical materialism), then there is no privileged access to truth through either empiricism or rationalism. The correspondence between thought and reality is severed and with it an epistemological theory for the justification of truth-claims based on a privileged access to truth. Without a privileged form of discourse then, what are the standards of judgment or criteria of ethical evaluation in Marx's critique of modernity? How are they to be justified? How are they to be applied in practical activity? And what are the epistemological foundations and justifications for Marx's ethics and theory of social justice? The substructure of Marx's later writings corresponds to Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics and Politics as he responds to the crisis of epistemology and science and the dilemma of ethical objectivity arising out of the writings of Hume, Kant, and Hegel. The modern crisis of epistemology and science along with his own ethical ideals drives Marx back to the Greeks. Marx responds to the epistemological critiques of Hume, Kant, and Hegel, on the one hand, and Ricardo's labor theory of value, on the other, by returning to Aristotle for inspiration and guidance.
Aristotle was faced with similar problems in defining the nature of universal ethics, justice, equality, and the correct political order. He too finds the process of determining the normative truth of ethical judgments and political theory and the nature of the future good society impossible to decide scientifically. He reaches the conclusion that ethics and the good life develop from political interaction and public deliberation. Neither Aristotle nor Marx would define justice, happiness, or the good society; neither would outline or describe in any detailed way their social ideals or the institutional frameworks which would give them meaning. Both recognize the impossibility of an a priori determination of truth and critique pure theory isolated from practical activity. And finally, both recognize this dilemma of epistemology and turn to democratic consensus to solve it.
Rejecting the traditional approaches to Marx's view of "theory and praxis," it will be argued that practical activity for both Marx and Aristotle includes both praxis (practical action) and phronesis (political wisdom). Marx's theory of praxis can not be limited to simply an economic category of work. History and political economy give social and ethical content to practical activity and it is through public participation and accumulated political experience that the truth of ethics is finally determined. Aristotle and Marx replace dogmatic epistemology with the polis and universal ethics with political dialogue as the quest for certainty becomes transformed into the search for political wisdom through public deliberation and democratic consensus in the polity. The Ancients have been incorporated into the Moderns. However, neither Aristotle nor Marx have a pure consensus theory of truth, since both have also incorporated into their social ethics theories of happiness and self-realization. The connections between these elements will have to be worked out in the course of the next few chapters. Finally, this final chapter attempts to make a statement regarding Marx's comprehensive theory of ethics and social justice. His theory integrates his philosophy and dialectical science, early and later works, and his views on modernity and the Ancients into one complete picture. The theory may be outlined as follows:
ETHICS: MORAL VALUES AND ABSTRACT IDEALS OF CLASSICAL ETHICS
1. individual freedom and moral autonomy (Epicurus and Kant)
Chapters One and Three
2. self-realization of human possibilities within the community (Aristotle and Hegel) Chapters Two and Three
3. critique of alienation, exploitation, and fetishism (German Idealism)
4. distributive justice, human rights, and self-determination in a
participatory democracy Chapter Four
META-ETHICS: STRUCTURES OF MODERN POLITICAL ECONOMY
1. Analysis of the Past through an historical critique based on the
application of a transcendental logic -- theory of value and abstract
labor -- history of capitalism (Grundrisse)
2. Analysis of the Present potentialities through an immanent critique
based on a dialectical logic -- social contradictions and economic crisis
theory -- logic of capital (Capital)
3. Deliberation about the Future based on a critique of epistemology and a
materialist consensus theory of truth -- ideals can not be determined by
pure theory, but are formed through practical action (praxis) -- theory
of economic democracy and "theory and praxis" (Theses on Feuerbach and
the Civil War in France: The Paris Commune) Chapter Six
Marx's theory is composed of an ethical and meta-ethical component in a manner similar to Aristotle's ethical and political theory. There is a dialectical relationship between the two. This integration of ethics and
political economy expresses the novelty of his analysis of morality and ethics in the 19th century. Ethics provides the substantive moral content of social critique (moral and social philosophy) and the abstract political ideals for a future society (political theory), while meta-ethics provides the analysis of the broader social structures within which these values and ideals can or can not be realized (political economy). The historical and dialectical critiques of meta-ethics shows how a social system built on the law of value and abstract labor and the contradictions between use-value and exchange-value can not possibly realize the ideals of classical ethics and social justice. A social system founded on an historical system of social alienation and economic exploitation, whose future is clouded by economic stagnation, class struggle, and social discontent can not actualize the potentialities inherent in the ideals and technology of liberalism. Meta-ethics is thus the social frame within which the ethical values are made concrete and real. It provides the analysis of the structures of political economy which overcomes Marx's criticism of the abstract metaphysics and subjective morality found in Epicurus, Kant, The French Socialists, and the Left-Hegelians.
Meta-ethics integrates not only the temporal dimensions of the past, present, and future in its analysis of capitalism, but the different types of critical analyses appropriate to each dimension found in Marx's writings; each type is necessitated by the material under investigation, i.e., whether it is the history of capitalism or the logic of capital. From the above outline we can see the balance between modernity and the Ancients is reflected in the relationships between Kant and Hegel and Epicurus and Aristotle -- both pairs express the dialectic between individual freedom and the common good. Their relationships in Marx's thought are mediated by the law of value and the structures of modernity.