Marx's understanding of nature, social forms, and practical standards

Dissertation, The New School (2007)
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Abstract

This dissertation explains Karl Marx’s understanding of nature, human action, and a materialist standard of practical action. Marx’s understands natural processes as not identical with human action. There are two types of human action for Marx: material action and social action. Material action can use natural processes. Social action does not directly use natural processes, but social action can promote how material action uses natural processes. The difference between natural processes, material action, and social action is important for Marx since it: maintains the independent reality of nature, maintains the development of material accomplishments as separate from social forms, and demonstrates the transitory status of social forms. This difference between material action and social action allows Marx to criticize certain social forms while praising the productive possibilities of the current level of technical development. A practical standard is developed using Marx’s understanding of nature and human action. This practical standard is based on humans’ necessary relationship to natural processes. Beneficial outcomes according to humans’ material abilities and their existence as natural beings is established by application of the practical standard. The materialist standard of practical action can be understood as an ethical theory that is not based on traditional ethical criteria.

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