Philosopher's Impact on Marx and Engels

Philosopher's Impact on Marx and Engels

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Philosopher's Impact on Marx and Engels

One part of human nature is to want to gain more power. Within this idea there are many parts. First is the need for humans to overcome nature. Another part is gaining more territory. The more land a man has, the more powerful he feels. Lastly, having control over their own lives and the lives of others contributes to whether or not they feel powerful. This concept can be seen in The Communist Manifesto. Marx and Engels are discussing the industrial revolution.

This may seem far from the ideas of humans overcoming nature and gaining more power; however, it is not. The industrial revolution came about because of the need to expand. The reason they needed to expand was because they wanted more power. The power hungriness in humans, however, can often get out of hand. This is shown in the industrial revolution. People, the bourgeoisie to be more specific, became so greedy that it did not matter whom they used to gain more power. This is the situation that Marx and Engels try to rectify. Not only are human’s actions affecting nature through pollution, but they are also affecting society itself. People are living in poverty and filth, and the upper classes are making no advances to stop it. This is what motivated Marx and Engels to publish their thoughts. Marx and Engels were influenced by many philosophers, the most influential, however, was G. W. F. Hegel. Hegel was so influential that in order to analyze the other philosophers one must do so through Hegel’s interaction with them.

Marx especially, shares many of the same views with Hegel although they do differ on certain issues. “Despite Marx’s never-ending attack on Hegel, the Marxian conception of history is Hegelian through and through.”1 Hegel’s philosophy is focused on the criticism of Kant and Fichte, two other German philosophers. Engels once wrote “We German socialists are proud that we trace our descent not only from Saint Simon, Fourier, and Owen, but also from Kant, Fichte, and Hegel.”2 To this list one must also add Ludwig Feuerbach who Engels wrote about later in life. These philosophers had the most influence on Marx and Engels. Their philosophies are all interrelated. In fact many of their works either criticize or build upon one of the others previous works.

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Charles Fourier (1772-1837)

Charles Fourier, who was called a “utopian socialist,”3 by Marx, directed his attention to the proletarians. To Fourier it was the most numerous class as well as the most in need. He was the earliest to realize that industry could produce wealth, but the means of the work were isolating. He came up with the idea of a work unit called a Phalanx. A Phalanx is where “work was distributed on a rational and rotating bases.”4 This is very similar to Marx and Engels. In the Communist Manifesto, they speak of the exploitation of the lower classes and discuss their ideas on how this can be alleviated. Marx and Engels best described the bourgeoisie when they stated, “In one word, for exploitation, veiled by religious and political illusions, naked, shameless, direct, brutal exploitation.”5 This according to both Fourier and Marx should be eliminated. They also gave ways to change society, and this was rare for philosophers.

Immanuel Kant’s influence on Marx is best seen through Hegel’s opinions and reactions to Kant. Hegel once said that “Kant’s philosophy ‘constitutes the basis and point of departure for modern German philosophy.”’6 Hegel, however, did express dissatisfaction with some of Kant’s views. One was Kant’s view of human nature. He agreed with Schiller, another philosopher, that the dissonance of human’s nature was not permanent, but something that could be overcome. He also attacked Kant’s ethical theory. He had two major problems with it. The first was that Kant never went into specifics about what we should do. Secondly Hegel states, “the Kantian position divides man against himself, locks reason into an eternal conflict with desire, and denies the natural side of man any right to satisfaction.”7 There were, however, ideas Hegel shared with Kant. One was man’s duty. Kant saw man’s duty as inevitable. Man could not escape it. Hegel saw duty as a part of freedom. To him, duty was something being done just because it had to be. He did not like the idea of freedom being to do what one pleases. These ideas are similar to Marx's ideas that people share property and have duties that they should do for the good of everyone. These socialist ideas, though similar, were Marx entirely. He was one of the first to actually discuss any plan of action.8

Johann Gottlieb Fichte 1762-1814

One philosopher that modified the ideas of Kant and had an impact on Hegel is J. G. Fichte. Fichte’s modification of Kant’s “balanced perspective on nature and freedom, and his sharp distinction of theoretical and practical philosophy”9 is what influenced Hegel the most. Fitche and Hegel both mocked metaphysical tradition. They, like Marx, did not want to explain knowledge as just receiving information in perception. Hegel and Fichte shared these views, yet in their analyses found themselves with different problems. Fichte took the approach of first looking at freedom by itself and left nature to be considered random. Hegel found himself focusing on being, nature, and history. This, however, caused him to lose sight on how individual freedom and free choice could keep its entire meaning.10 Fichte was different from other philosophers. While most philosophers struggled with trying to find what it was that gave people the intuition of what was right and wrong, Fichte thought the answer was within each person. Fichte believed that it was our conscience that told us what was right and wrong. Were the conditions of the working class at that time were wrong? Marx believed they were because of what his moral conscience told him.

Another philosopher that is very close to Hegel is Ludwig Feuerbach. Feuerbach, however, like Marx is one who does not acknowledge the similarities between himself and Hegel. It is in “Hegel’s dialectic and idealism”11 that both are close to Hegel. Feuerbach’s biggest influence associated to Marx was not directly through one of his philosophies or writings. It was through Hegel’s expansion of Feuerbach’s philosophy of humanity that one finds the ability to relate Marx and Hegel.12

Often times one may not realize how much someone shaped his or her ideas. This is the case with Marx and Hegel. It is not that Marx did not respect Hegel; Marx just was not able to see how the comparison could be made. “Marx respected Hegel for his dialectical logic, the logic of conflict and its overcoming.”13 In fact one of the best examples of this can be found in the Marxian class struggle. In the Communist Manifesto Marx and Engels state, “When, in the course of development, class distinctions have disappeared, and all production has been concentrated in the hands of a vast association of the whole nation. […] Political Power […] is merely the organized power of one class for oppressing another. If the proletariat […] is compelled […] to organize itself as a class, if, by means of a revolution, it makes itself the ruling class, and, as such, sweeps away by force the old conditions of production.”14 Simply stated, when the conditions become too much for one class of people to bear they must rise up and overthrow the source of it. This in itself is conflict and the resolution of it.

Both Hegel and Marx believe there is a weakness within civil society. However, where the weakness has its roots is where they disagree. Hegel says they come from civil society itself, while Marx believes it is from capitalist production that civil society is weakened. This is continued to be the difference between the two in many aspects. Hegel always returns to the civil society, while Marx focuses on industry and capitalism. This is also how they explain the emergence of morality. Marx believes it is through overcoming the effects of capitalism that this occurs where as Hegel again finds his answer in the functions of civil society.15

Society was the motivation for the writing of The Communist Manifesto. Marx and Engels examined the world around them and did not like what they saw. With their own thoughts and the thoughts of others they explained what was wrong, and they also gave a way in which the society could change. Hegel though finding the fault to have been rooted in a different place than Marx, believed it to be rooted contributed greatly to this piece of writing, as did the others. It is through their writing that one can see the injustice and the “other side” of the industrial revolution.


Euler Condillac
Price d'Alembert Voltaire
Diderot Rousseau
Bayes d'Holbach Helvétius
Smith Jefferson
Reid Paine Lessing
Burke Kant
Wollstonecraft Bentham Mendelssohn
Stewart Godwin Schiller
Malthus Paley Fichte
Gauss de Staël Schelling
Laplace Hegel
Lamarck Saint-Simon
Fourier Schopenhauer
Lobachevsky John Austin Comte
Whewell James Mill Proudhon
Bolzano Emerson Feuerbach
De Morgan Fuller Kierkegaard
Boole Thoreau
Riemann Sojourner Truth Marx

Darwin Taylor Engels
Mendel J. S. Mill Lotze
Venn Anthony Bakunin
Cantor Brentano

1. 1 Robert C. Solomon and Kathleen M. Higgins,
eds., The Age of German Idealism (New York: Routledge, 1993), 264.

2 D. Riazanov, Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels (New York: International Publishers,
1927), 45.

3 Charles Fourier, “Modern History Sourcebook.” Theory of Social Organization, 1820, (26 February 2002), 1.

4 Charles Fourier, 1.

5 Carl Marx and Friedrich Engels, Manifesto of the Communist Party, (14
February 2002), section 2, 3.

6 Keith Thomas, ed., German Philosophers, (New York: Oxford University Press, 1997), 119.

7 Keith Thomas, 149.

8 Keith Thomas, 148-149.

9 Karl Ameriks, ed., German Idealism, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000), 5.

10 Karl Ameriks, 6-9.

11 Karl Ameriks, 16.

12 Karl Ameriks, 264.

13 Robert C. Solomon and Kathleen M. Higgins, 264.

14 Carl Marx and Friedrich Engels, section 2, 9.

15 Robert C. Solomon and Kathleen M. Higgins, 280-281.
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