So lately I’ve been ploughing my way through an introduction to Marx and Engels’ Communist Manifesto. It’s an introduction to the philosophy and beliefs that informed the Manifesto, with Marx’s adoption and then rejection of earlier ideas by philosophers like Hegel. Eventually when I’m finished with that I’ll get to read the Manifesto itself, which may or may not be the satisfying pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. We’ll see.
What I’ve been enjoying about it is that reading philosophy is kind of like food for the mind – well, sort of. It’s not a great simile, because philosophy is satisfying and sustaining even if you don’t really like (or fully understand!) the views you’re reading. For instance, for my taste a lot of philosophy is far too concerned with religion for my tastes; religion is very orthogonal to my particular world outlook, I’m far more interested in political economy, for instance, and these two issues just weren’t orthogonal for writers of that era.
Even so though, it’s mentally nourished me in that it’s made me realise that we each bring our particular baggage with us – we interpret the world around us entirely in terms of what we know. Marx and his contemporaries lived in an era (and location) of (Protestant) Christian domination, and their world-view is unavoidably slanted by their immersion in that environment. Personally, my world view is contaminated by my training, and my knowledge – I’m a physical scientist right down to the bones of me.
So I find some of the ideas of “spirit” and “essence” and “being” utterly alienating in the work – their attempts to understand Man will always seem to me to be fundamentally flawed. I understand Man as being nothing more than a complicated assemblage of physical, chemical and biological components, working in accordance with natural laws: Conservation of Energy, Conservation of Mass, Causality, Evolution, etc. and that we are best understood as being essentially a complex and chaotic system that can be best understood through scientific and statistical methods. There’s no need for some awkward dualist notion of a separate “Mind” or “Soul” that’s in some way external from the body, what appears to be a mind is just the internal perception of a chaotic electrochemical process. What frees us from rigid determinism is not some inherent freedom of a “Soul” from natural law, but just plain old quantum uncertainty – you can’t perfectly predict the future because you can’t know the initial conditions.
That’s my bias, and it’s what gives me dissatisfaction with Marx.
For all his claims to being “scientific” there’s no robust theory, no testable predictions, just blind philosophical assertions. Certainly no mathematics!
Anyways, like I said, I haven’t actually gotten into the meat of the Manifesto yet; maybe I’ll be pleasantly surprised. Either way, it’s an refreshing just to get mentally engaged with such things.