Marx’s Materialism

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Phil 600 Syllabus–Fall 2014
"Marx’s Materialism"

This seminar will focus on Marx’s views on materialism and on the very extensive, world-wide literature on this topic. Our studies will include the following topics, among others:

(a) What materialism has been in the history of philosophy;

(b) How Marx came to adopt a version materialism;

(c) The role of dialectics in Marx’s version of materialism;

(d) The role that ideas, ideals and politics play in social change, according to Marx;

(e) Marx’s view that social structures are material;

(f) Marx’s view of the relation of humanity to nature and contemporary ecological thought;

(g) The relationship of Marx’s to Engels’ views on materialism and nature;

(h) Dialectical materialism in Marx and Engels and in later Marxist philosophy;

(i) Idealist interpretations of Marx’s view of nature (Hegelian, Western Marxism, etc)

Instructor Data:

Tom Weston Office in Room AL-442, Phone 594-6218.

Email Web page:
Course Requirements:

The major requirement is a term paper, including a presentation of (some major part of) it to the seminar. There will also be weekly reading assignments, and most weeks will have a reading summary or leading question to be given a written answer in approximately 150 words, due at the beginning of the next class. Students are expected to make a serious attempt to read the assigned work. Understanding it will sometimes have to wait for later. Preparation for and participation in class counts. The approximate percentages for each of these requirements is: Term Paper 60%, Weekly assignments 10%, Presentation to seminar 20%, Preparation and participation 10%

The instructor will prepare a list of acceptable term paper topics in about three weeks. Additional topics may be negotiated. Materials for all these topics are available in English. Students who want to pick a source in another language should consult the instructor. First drafts are mandatory, and will be due at a date in November to be announced later. Final drafts will be due Friday of the last week of classes.
What to buy:

The only book to buy in John Bellamy Foster’s Marx’s Ecology: Materialism and Nature, but there will also be additional packets of readings. These readings will be posted on Blackboard, but students are advised to buy the packets. These will be available at Cal Copy, across the College Ave footbridge, on the right.

Rough Outline:

1. Summary of Marxist political theory

2. Outline of historical materialism, base and superstructure theory, productive forces

determinism, organic relationships and dialectical contradictions

3. Classical materialism, Greek and Roman atomists, Marx’s doctoral thesis, 18th Century French mechanical materialism

4. The working class as a revolutionary agent and the history of Marx’s adoption of

materialism, Feuerbach

5. Materialism and practice and “praxis.” The new materialism. Theses on Feuerbach

6. Marx on matter and nature: Capital, German Ideology, Marx and Darwin

7. Materialist views of freedom and morality, Marx vs. anarchist views

8. Marx and Engels on the dialectics of nature

9. Ecology, capitalism and nature in Marx’s thought

10. Soviet and Chinese dialectical materialism

11. Boyd, Engelskirchen on realism in social science

12. Possibly: Althusser’s “aleatory materialism,” Badiou, Zizek and “restarting” dialectical materialism

Other 20th century works may be added, but will probably be covered only in student presentations.
Accommodation for Disabilities

If you are a student with a disability and believe you will need accommodations for this class, it is your responsibility to contact Student Disability Services at (619) 594-6473. To avoid any delay in the receipt of your accommodations, you should contact Student Disability Services as soon as possible. Please note that accommodations are not retroactive, and that the instructor cannot provide accommodations based upon disability until he has received an accommodation letter from Student Disability Services. Your cooperation is appreciated.

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