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Reviewed by:
  • Marx's Attempt to Leave Philosophy
  • Omar Dahbour
Daniel Brudney . Marx's Attempt to Leave Philosophy. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1998. Pp. xviii + 425. Cloth, $45.00.

In the introduction to this book, Daniel Brudney writes, "The humanist Marx has been in the shadows. I think it time he was brought into the light" (13). The way Brudney chooses to do this is by examining Marx's writings of 1844-46, along with some of Feuerbach and Bauer's works, for their critique of philosophy. Brudney argues that Marx's early texts are the most intrinsically interesting, in that they contain Marx's explicit antiphilosophical claims (163). Brudney asks three questions about these claims: [1] how different was Marx's critique of philosophy from that of other Young Hegelians, particularly Feuerbach and Bauer? [2] Why was Marx so committed to "leaving philosophy"? and [3] Was he successful in justifying his critique of capitalism nonphilosophically?

For this reader, the most compelling part of the book was Brudney's treatment of the first question, in which he gives Feuerbach's "antiphilosophy" a sympathetic yet critical treatment. While Brudney claims that Feuerbach ultimately can substantiate neither his critique of Christian faith nor that of speculative philosophy (73), Feuerbach's work is still of interest for his ambitious, if failed, attempt to do so. Furthermore, Marx's later antiphilosophy, Brudney ultimately concludes, is much more indebted to Feuerbach than Marx cares to admit.

The treatment of Marx's early work is aimed at examining the reasons for the hostility to philosophy that infuses virtually all of Marx's texts. After carefully distinguishing between the conceptions of human nature in Marx's 1844-45 manuscripts and in the German Ideology, Brudney concludes that Marx was pessimistic about providing a philosophically compelling argument for the central importance of labor (218). Much more likely, in Marx's view, was a case made on the basis of facts, practice, or experience.

But Brudney argues that this will not doóthat philosophy is required because [End Page 135] Marx's conception of labor is irreducibly normative. This is what he calls the "justification problem": how can claims about the alienation of labor, e.g., be derived from facts of the matter without some further (philosophical) interpretation of these facts? In the German Ideology, the problem is compounded: how can social critics attack the "ruling ideas" of capitalism, when they live within the society in which these ideas dominate?

So far, so good: Brudney makes his case for the necessity of a normative critique of capitalist society. While Marx was genuinely antiphilosophical, this was to his detrimentóit robbed him of the ability to justify his critique. But Brudney claims that, consequently, what Marx needed was "moral philosophy." This is where the problems with his argument become manifest. Despite an exhaustively detailed treatment of Marx's early texts, Brudney paints with a very broad brush when he employs the terms "philosophy" and "moral philosophy." What exactly do they mean? Brudney refuses to specify or limit Marx's critique to what Marx very probably thought of as most essentially philosophicalónamely, Hegelianism.

To limit Marx's criticisms of philosophy in this way might imply that Marx was simply wielding a different kind of philosophical apparatus, one that was, in the particular intellectual world of 1840s Germany, "antiphilosophical." Specifically, Brudney wants to avoid the conclusion that Marx was a materialist, only opposed to idealism, not to "philosophy" as such. Yet, this reader cannot escape the sense that what Brudney really is comparing Marx (and Feuerbach) to the philosophy, not of the 1840s, but of the 1990s.

This is especially the case in his discussion of Marx's rejection of "morality." By "morality" Brudney seems to mean some sort of rule-governed theory of moral conduct (e.g., Kantianism). But Marx's rejection of this sort of moral theory certainly need not mean his rejection of ethics of any kind. Brudney fails to adequately confront interpretations of Marx that suggest he was influenced by earlier, particularly Aristotelian, philosophy in his criticisms of German idealism (see, e.g., Carol Gould's Marx's Social Ontology or the writers in George McCarthy [ed...


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