Theories of Materialism and Idealism

Topics: Alfred North Whitehead, Karl Marx, Materialism Pages: 8 (2472 words) Published: October 29, 2014

Billy Assimogiorgos

SOCS 2570: Perspectives on Human Nature & Political Thought

Prof: Edward G. Winslow

TA: Marc Weinstein (Thurs 10:30-12:30)

Due: Wednesday, March 19, 2014.

Whitehead vs. Marx: Theories of Materialism and Idealism

Materialism and idealism are two theories that greatly differ but are essentially straightforward to grasp in terms of contrasting and comparing the two. Karl Marx, a nineteenth century German philosopher and socialist saw materialism as a theory in regards to all reality being based on matter. Materialism is based on more of a scientific and factual approach. For example, the idea of a table was developed by humans because of their experience with other tables, not from consciousness. Idealism, is a theory that refers to the mind or the spirit of God being the origin of all material things on Earth. Using the table example, a materialist would argue that social being determines consciousness, whereas an idealist would argue that consciousness determines being. Materialism regards all phenomena even that of the mind, is due to a material agency. Idealism regards ideas as the only reality. The majority of people do not live a life free of materialism. To do so people must be happy with a life free of indulging their bodies and minds with things that pleasure the senses. Very few people are without materialism, which would mean that money and other physical possessions mean very little to them and it is essential that they have to choice to be able to freely choose this without being pushed on by certain societal forces. The most popular form of idealism is the idea that individuals can do anything that set their minds to. For example, one can overcome poverty if they put their mind to it and try really hard. Poverty is not a social phenomenon caused by societal limitations or illness in the family, rather a personal choice. In this paper I will be discussing Karl Marx's history materialism theory, Alfred North Whitehead's scientific materialism theory, and how the two coincide in terms of aspects of human creativity; but also the differences of their notions through an idealistic approach.


Marx's theory of historical materialism is greatly influenced from Hegel's viewpoint of history being composed of opposing forces. Hegel believed that the world is merely made up of appearances, and that true reality is an idealistic view of the world. However, although Marx did side with Hegel in terms of his notion of the world consisting of opposing forces - he did not believe that the world hides these "true realities" that Hegel insisted upon (idealistically). The way Marx analyzes history and it's development over the years, is based upon the means of production and the relationships people enter as they use these means of production (socially). At first, Marx considered the capitalist way of production to be the most revolutionary the world has ever seen due to the fact that the means of production in a capitalistic society change more than the social relationships people enter in this type of society; referred to as relations of production. In capitalistic societies, people sell their "availability to work" as opposed to the goods they are produce. Essentially, the amount of labour going into the products does not mean much in a capitalistic society. The compensation of what is being produced by the labourers is what is most important as the labourers receive money for their capacity to work, in order to survive; these people are called proletarians. And the 'opposition' in this case, are called capitalists; whom are the people that normally own the businesses and own the labour power. Marx, I guess you could say, had an eye opening experience when he realized that over time capitalistic societies would eventually spend less money on labour and invest more into new technological advancements. Keeping this in mind, the rate of profit...

References: Schilpp, Paul Arthur, editor: _The Philosophy of Alfred North White,_ "The Library of Living Philosophers," (LaSalle: Open Court Publishing Company, 1951)
_Process and Reality_ (New York: The Macmillan Company 1929. New York: The Free Press, 1978.)
Marx, Karl: _Das Kapital_. (Capital Volume III, 1894)
Whitehead, Alfred North: _Nature Alive_ (Lecture 1 & 2)
Whitehead, Alfred North, _Modes of Thought,_ (Lectures VII and VIII)
Whitehead, Alfred North, _Adventurs of Ideas._ (Chap. II)
A.H. Johnson, _Whitehead 's Theory of Reality,_ Boston: The Beacon Press, 1952, p.116
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