Marx Historical Materialism

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Marx’s Historical Materialism—a very short summary (with thanks to G. A. Cohen’s interpretive work)

Philosophy 166

1. The productive forces tend to develop throughout history. (The productive forces are the means available for transforming nature to satisfy human wants. Raw materials, tools, labor power, technological knowledge about how to produce goods with various inputs, are all examples of productive forces.) 2. The nature of the productive relations of a given society is explained by the level of development of its productive forces (to a far greater extent then the reverse). (The productive relations are relations involving people and control of productive forces. Examples: The capitalist hires workers. The boss owns the factory. The serfs born on a feudal manor are required by enforced custom to remain there and work sometimes for the benefit of the lord of the manor. As Marx states in the 1859 “Preface to the Critique of Political Economy,” “The sum total of these relations of production [in a given society] constitutes the economic structure of society.” The explanatory relation involved here is functional explanation. Example: An anthropologist might claim that the fact that the practice of rain dance rituals fosters or is functional for social cohesion explains the presence of rain dance rituals in a given society. To complete a functional explanation, the anthropologist needs to cite a causal mechanism the leads from being functional to being established in society. The anthropologist might observe that a social elite that desires social cohesion might see that rain dance rituals would foster social cohesion and act deliberately to install the practice. An auxiliary cause might be that what promotes social cohesion tends to make ordinary people happy and ordinary people, seeing (perhaps dimly) that rain dance rituals are linked to their happiness in this way, support the continuance of the practice. Here there are two cases to consider. In a...
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