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Marx's Epistemology

Marx's Epistemology

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Bush House

Bush House, South East Wing, Room 1.08

30 Aldwych, King's College London

London

WC2B 4LL

United Kingdom

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Research Workshop on Marx's Epistemology

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*This is an in-person event held at Bush House (South East Wing) Room 1.08 at King's College London, from 4-6pm.

What was Marx’s epistemology? His materialism seems to have prevented him from offering a clear answer, but one can begin to reconstruct his theory of knowledge by asking what he thought the proletariat of his day already knew; what he thought it had yet to learn; and the means by which this learning was to take place. After reconstructing Marx’s apparent positions on these issues, two hypotheses follow.

First, Marx’s epistemology left his followers unable to grapple with the force of ideas that are not held across a society or a class homogeneously; and are not, therefore, functionally responsive to the needs of a society or a class, but stem from the mutually communicated, often conflicting thoughts of heterogeneous individuals. Second and relatedly, Marx’s epistemology was too optimistic, as shown by the failure of most proletarians, historically, to hold the revolutionary ideas they would have held had they known what Marx assumed they would learn. This had immense consequences for the movement Marx began. It fell to his followers either to find ways to supplement the proletariat’s deficient knowledge (e.g., through a vanguard party of intellectuals or a hegemonic anticapitalist culture); or to reconfigure Marxism so as to avoid the need for such measures (e.g., by shifting the agent of revolution from the proletariat to other, more putatively knowledgeable oppressed groups). These stratagems suffered, however, from the epistemological inattention, and the naïve view of knowledge, that went with Marx’s materialism. Even Marxists who came, in the twentieth century, to reject materialism were left with an epistemological void that, to an underappreciated extent, shapes twenty-first century post-Marxist thought.

About the Speaker:

Dr. Jeffrey Friedman is the Editor of the academic journal Critical Review and a Visiting Scholar at Harvard University's Committee on Degrees in Social Studies. He is the author of numerous books, most recently Power Without Knowledge: A Critique of Technocracy (2019) by Oxford University Press. 

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Location

Bush House

Bush House, South East Wing, Room 1.08

30 Aldwych, King's College London

London

WC2B 4LL

United Kingdom

View Map

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