Marx and the Two Enlightenments

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Marx and the Two Enlightenments

ABSTRACT: The claim to rationality is disputed by two rival enlightenments, which collided in the dispute between Plato, Socrates and the Sophists, and which Marx united critically. He criticizes the capitalist system immanently as restrictive of production, and its market as not a case of freedom or equality (justice). However, Marx is most concerned with ontological injustice, coerced alienation of the human into being a commodity. He retains Promethean Enlightenment values however: technology, creativity, democracy, which should be economic, participatory and international. Marx criticized Hegel’s rationalization, idealization, ‘transfiguration and glorification’ of private property and the market. But he retains key elements of the idealist notion of human nature: that human is a ‘universal, therefore free being.’ The proletariat, with no other class to exploit, is therefore the philosophical ‘universal class.’ Freedom is class emancipation, justice is common ownership. There is an unwarranted skepticism about the rationality of such values and ideals. Rawls for instance misrepresents them by putting them in the same category as wants or preferences. Ideals, values, and enlightenments can and should be rationally argued over, in dialogue.

The Sophistic and the Platonic Enlightenments

The claim to rationality is disputed by two rival enlightenments. They collided in the dispute between Plato’s Socrates and the Sophists. On the one side was a secular, Promethean, in principle a-moral enlightenment in the technology of means to the ends of individual survival, pleasure and power, with an instrumental view of politics. On the other was a religiously oriented enlightenment about the diale...

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...rom will. Ideal differences, even the hardest cases such as those over the justice of the caste-system, are differences within the spiritual. Ideals and values such as nobility—or enlightenment—make claims to truth and goodness which must be verified not more geometrico, but by theoretical and practical reasoning, in dialogue. Otherwise they will be decided by war, or by the continuation of war in the economic or political market, contrary to their nature.

It should no longer be possible after Auschwicz to seriously consider arguments for relativism and ‘anti-perfectionism’ which depend for their validity on considering genocide as a possible human value. Inheritors of ‘the’ Enlightenment should not use such a Hobbesian concept of rationality against ‘perfectionist’ theories of rationality, of which Marx’s—as an inheritor of both enlightenments—was undoubtedly one.
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