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Context: KarlMarx, OnHistoricism

Quora Answer : What did Karl Marx think about human nature?

May 29, 2018

Marx, following Hegel, believe that human nature is historical.

Ie. that it changes over time.

This wasn't simply a naive conceit.

The reason that many European thinkers came to believe this in the late 18th through 19th century, from Hegel, to Marx and on to Nietzsche, is that Europe was discovering a lot more about the ancient world than had previously been known.

Anglo-Saxon philosophers like Locke and Hume and the founding fathers of the US, spent their time thinking about the behaviour of European immigrants to North America. A shift in space and circumstances, but not much in time. They largely thought of human nature as constant. What all men had in common.

But in Europe at the end of the 18th century / beginning of the 19th ... Greece had recently been liberated from the Ottomans and could now be visited and researched. Napoleon invaded Egypt and the French started archaeological digs to discover more about ancient Egyptian culture. The first systematic archaeological research in history. The first museums were founded. German philologists were advancing the study of ancient languages and thought.

What became increasingly obvious to European scholars was how different the thinking and values and behaviour of the ancients was to their own norms.

Their concern was to understand and explain why and how the human mindset changed.

Think of all those Germanic words we use to talk about changing mindset : zeitgeist (spirit of the times), weltanschauung (world-view), Wille zur Macht (will-to-power), \xc3\x9cbermensch (superman). This is where those words come from. For Hegel change was due to a dialectic logic unfolding, with different tribes as standard-bearers of the current zeitgeist. For Marx the struggle for ideas was embodied in the struggle between economic systems. For Nietzsche individual "supermen" forced new ideas on the rest of the population through sheer force of will, energy and courage.

Meanwhile, Darwin produced a model of nature itself where everything is changing through ongoing competition for survival.

Marx is not an exception to the concerns of his times. Like the other German philosophers (and many French and even some English) thinkers of the 19th century he finds it obvious that human nature changes throughout history.

But Marx is in London and has a front-seat watching the bleeding edge of capitalism. What Marx says that's original is that its this economic innovation which in turn changes the human mind-set. When you change the rules for how someone gets food and drink and shelter and material comfort, the mindset of those who must play by the rules, adapts itself to them. To see those rules as inevitable, and eternal.

It's kind of ironic, all those people who wag their finger at Marx and say "ha ha. what an idiot, didn't he realize that human nature makes it impossible for us not to be selfishly in favour of capitalism". They're illustrating exactly what Marx predicted capitalism would do to them.

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