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Karl Marx -- Atheist or Satanist? - Cutting Edge

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Karl Marx -- Atheist or Satanist

Plausible though it may sound, Husami’s argument fails to account fortwo related points. First, it cannot explain why Marx never describedcapitalism as unjust, and second, it does not account for the distanceMarx wanted to place between his own scientific socialism, and that ofthe utopian socialists who argued for the injustice ofcapitalism. Hence one cannot avoid the conclusion that the‘official’ view of Marx is that capitalism is notunjust.

Karl Marx -- Atheist or Satanist? - The Cutting Edge

Ziyad Husami, however, argues that Wood is mistaken, ignoring thefact that for Marx ideas undergo a double determination in that theideas of the non-ruling class may be very different from those of theruling class. Of course it is the ideas of the ruling class thatreceive attention and implementation, but this does not mean thatother ideas do not exist. Husami goes as far as to argue that membersof the proletariat under capitalism have an account of justice whichmatches communism. From this privileged standpoint of the proletariat,which is also Marx’s standpoint, capitalism is unjust, and so itfollows that Marx thought capitalism unjust.

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Karl Marx also conceives man as part of nature

Capital Volume 1 begins with an analysis of the idea ofcommodity production. A commodity is defined as a useful externalobject, produced for exchange on a market. Thus two necessaryconditions for commodity production are the existence of a market, inwhich exchange can take place, and a social division of labour, inwhich different people produce different products, without which therewould be no motivation for exchange. Marx suggests that commoditieshave both use-value — a use, in other words — and anexchange-value — initially to be understood as their price. Usevalue can easily be understood, so Marx says, but he insists thatexchange value is a puzzling phenomenon, and relative exchange valuesneed to be explained. Why does a quantity of one commodity exchangefor a given quantity of another commodity? His explanation is in termsof the labour input required to produce the commodity, or rather, thesocially necessary labour, which is labour exerted at the averagelevel of intensity and productivity for that branch of activity withinthe economy. Thus the labour theory of value asserts that the value ofa commodity is determined by the quantity of socially necessary labourtime required to produce it. Marx provides a two stage argument forthe labour theory of value. The first stage is to argue that if twoobjects can be compared in the sense of being put on either side of anequals sign, then there must be a ‘third thing of identicalmagnitude in both of them’ to which they are both reducible. Ascommodities can be exchanged against each other, there must, Marxargues, be a third thing that they have in common. This then motivatesthe second stage, which is a search for the appropriate ‘thirdthing’, which is labour in Marx’s view, as the only plausiblecommon element. Both steps of the argument are, of course, highlycontestable.

It appears to follow from this analysis that as industry becomes moremechanised, using more constant capital and less variable capital, therate of profit ought to fall. For as a proportion less capital will beadvanced on labour, and only labour can create value. InCapital Volume 3 Marx does indeed make the prediction that therate of profit will fall over time, and this is one of the factorswhich leads to the downfall of capitalism. (However, as pointed out byMarx’s able expositor Paul Sweezy in The Theory of CapitalistDevelopment, the analysis is problematic.) A further consequenceof this analysis is a difficulty for the theory that Marx didrecognise, and tried, albeit unsuccessfully, to meet also inCapital Volume 3. It follows from the analysis so far thatlabour intensive industries ought to have a higher rate of profit thanthose which use less labour. Not only is this empirically false, it istheoretically unacceptable. Accordingly, Marx argued that in realeconomic life prices vary in a systematic way from values. Providingthe mathematics to explain this is known as the transformationproblem, and Marx’s own attempt suffers from technicaldifficulties. Although there are known techniques for solving thisproblem now (albeit with unwelcome side consequences), we shouldrecall that the labour theory of value was initially motivated as anintuitively plausible theory of price. But when the connection betweenprice and value is rendered as indirect as it is in the final theory,the intuitive motivation of the theory drains away. A furtherobjection is that Marx’s assertion that only labour can create surplusvalue is unsupported by any argument or analysis, and can be argued tobe merely an artifact of the nature of his presentation. Anycommodity can be picked to play a similar role. Consequently withequal justification one could set out a corn theory of value, arguingthat corn has the unique power of creating more value than itcosts. Formally this would be identical to the labour theory ofvalue. Nevertheless, the claims that somehow labour is responsible forthe creation of value, and that profit is the consequence ofexploitation, remain intuitively powerful, even if they are difficultto establish in detail.

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Many defenders of Marx will argue that the problems stated areproblems for Cohen’s interpretation of Marx, rather than for Marxhimself. It is possible to argue, for example, that Marx did not havea general theory of history, but rather was a social scientistobserving and encouraging the transformation of capitalism intocommunism as a singular event. And it is certainly true that when Marxanalyses a particular historical episode, as he does in the 18thBrumaire of Louis Napoleon, any idea of fitting events into afixed pattern of history seems very far from Marx’s mind. On otherviews Marx did have a general theory of history but it is far moreflexible and less determinate than Cohen insists (Miller). Andfinally, as noted, there are critics who believe that Cohen’sinterpretation is entirely wrong-headed (Sayers).

However, even if the labourtheory of value is considered discredited, there are elements of his theory that remain ofworth. The Cambridge economist Joan Robinson, in An Essay onMarxian Economics, picked out two aspects of particularnote. First, Marx’s refusal to accept that capitalism involves aharmony of interests between worker and capitalist, replacing thiswith a class based analysis of the worker’s struggle for better wagesand conditions of work, versus the capitalist’s drive for ever greaterprofits. Second, Marx’s denial that there is any long-run tendency toequilibrium in the market, and his descriptions of mechanisms whichunderlie the trade-cycle of boom and bust. Both provide a salutarycorrective to aspects of orthodox economic theory.

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Glossary of Terms: Pr - Marxists Internet Archive

Allen Wood has argued that Marx took this approach because his generaltheoretical approach excludes any trans-epochal standpoint from whichone can comment on the justice of an economic system. Even though onecan criticize particular behaviour from within an economic structureas unjust (and theft under capitalism would be an example) it is notpossible to criticise capitalism as a whole. This is a consequence ofMarx’s analysis of the role of ideas of justice from within historicalmaterialism. That is to say, juridical institutions are part of thesuperstructure, and ideas of justice are ideological, and the role ofboth the superstructure and ideology, in the functionalist reading ofhistorical materialism adopted here, is to stabilise the economicstructure. Consequently, to state that something is just undercapitalism is simply a judgement applied to those elements of thesystem that will tend to have the effect of advancingcapitalism. According to Marx, in any society the ruling ideas arethose of the ruling class; the core of the theory of ideology.

Karl Popper: Philosophy of Science

The initial argument that Marx must have thought that capitalism isunjust is based on the observation that Marx argued that allcapitalist profit is ultimately derived from the exploitation of theworker. Capitalism’s dirty secret is that it is not a realm of harmonyand mutual benefit but a system in which one class systematicallyextracts profit from another. How could this fail to be unjust? Yet itis notable that Marx never concludes this, and in Capital hegoes as far as to say that such exchange is ‘by no means aninjustice’.

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Whatever one concludes on the question of whether Marx thoughtcapitalism unjust, it is, nevertheless, obvious that Marx thought thatcapitalism was not the best way for human beings to live. Pointsmade in his early writings remain present throughout his writings, ifno longer connected to an explicit theory of alienation. The workerfinds work a torment, suffers poverty, overwork and lack offulfillment and freedom. People do not relate to each other as humansshould.

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