Thursday, September 22, 2005

The Proper Study of Man

"The urkas...played cards for each other's eyes...."*

What happens to the atheist mind and the man thereof? What is the objective value of a man in an objective universe? In other words, what difference does it make if we kill people? What the hell are they worth if all people are is more stuff? What makes a man objectively more valuable than a chicken, the latter being edible? For a system, man is important in relation to other men if his labour value contributes to the economic system, and in Marxist terms of reference to Capital, if he contributes a surplus value to the owner of the means of production, i.e. if he provides a profit to his employer. This is also true in terms of his social life, to his family, and even to himself: if he makes cash, he's OK. If he makes lots of cash, he's really OK. If he's a bum, he's not worth the paper his soul is printed on.

We today in the West are caught in the middle of a post-Marxist Left socialism that recognizes men as worth something objectively economically, and also with the Romantic idea, the pre-Marxist idea that man is worth something in himself, as a man even if he's a bum. But, of course, there are problems with these points.

Atheism leaves us with man as objectively worth nothing more than a chicken, perhaps even less; and Romance leaves man as worth nothing as a living man unless he dies for the greater glory of God, country, and family (family-as-value-in-itself.) So, what is the value of Man? How can we point to Man and say: "Man is of value?" Where's the proof for atheists that man is worth anything at all beyond his use as fertilizer, if that-- objectively even that? And where is the proof to the fascist Romantic that man is worth anything outside the worth of his contribution to the authentic collective?

Prove to me, an atheist, that there is any objective value. If you cannot, then there is no value in Man, and he is only useful to me as a provider for me, if I care. If my attitude is that I don't care even for my own life, then there's not even a use for another in terms of my own existence. Everything is nothing of value, not existence of anything at all. If man is self-justifying, then, fallible in object, man is nothing but self-referential proof of nothing at all. Man has no value, and there is nothing higher to ask for a second, higher opinion. I decide, and within myself I decide man is nothing of worth. So what? You, objective man in an objective universe, have no higher authority than I to argue better. Religious man, taking second place to God, is second at best, nothing of intrinsic worth outside his relation to God, that God being my God, not yours. If my God is inclusive, if I say my God deems everyman worthy-in-himself for the very reason that he is a creature of God, then I still have to prove my argument in opposition to the Islamic God who claims your existence as a non-Muslim is not worthy of continuation. And if I can convince the Muslim that everyman is a valid being in his own right, I still have to argue that his worth is independent of God if I'm to argue that man is innately worthwhile as a thing-in-itself, something I might find hard to do. What is the worth of Man?

Today, in the West, man is worthy of life as a man-in-himself by virtue of positive law. Man is deemed worthy of living his life because man has decided that man is worthy of life. That worth by convention is based on mere attitude. By God, friend, that's a slender thread. What is the worth of Man?

If man is not law-abiding, not employed in something valuable, not strong, rich, or handsom, how do we say that he is of worth in a Godless universe? And if he has a different God, what worth is his life? If God decides his life is not worth-while, what is he worth? What if we simply don't like the way the man is? What if the man doesn't want to live? What worth is man?

Our slight sympathy for fascism tends toward the values of life of Man in himself, but that argument from fascism is too thin to stand on for more than a sentence to two. We need more.

We stand on the conventions of law positive. We try to appeal to law natural, and without success. Man is wotrh less than chicken at dinner time.

In the material world, what worth is Man?

If man is of worth only in relation to another, that other giving him validity as being, then what do we make of man in relation to the man who has no concern for others, not even for himself? The fascist Romantic thesis has to wait. For today we can look at some of the prevailing ideas of our time as we see them handed down by Marx. But what does he claim is the worth of Man? We see the proof of his practice in the works of Stalin. We are left angry:

Karl Marx, Theses on Feuerbach

1.) The chief defect of all hitherto existing materialism – that of Feuerbach included – is that the thing, reality, sensuousness, is conceived only in the form of the object or of contemplation, but not as sensuous human activity, practice, not subjectively. Hence, in contradistinction to materialism, the active side was developed abstractly by idealism – which, of course, does not know real, sensuous activity as such.

Feuerbach wants sensuous objects, really distinct from the thought objects, but he does not conceive human activity itself as objective activity. Hence, in The Essence of Christianity, he regards the theoretical attitude as the only genuinely human attitude, while practice is conceived and fixed only in its dirty-judaical manifestation. Hence he does not grasp the significance of "revolutionary", of "practical-critical", activity.

2) The question whether objective truth can be attributed to human thinking is not a question of theory but is a practical question. Man must prove the truth — i.e. the reality and power, the this-sidedness of his thinking in practice. The dispute over the reality or non-reality of thinking that is isolated from practice is a purely scholastic question.

3.) The materialist doctrine concerning the changing of circumstances and upbringing forgets that circumstances are changed by men and that it is essential to educate the educator himself. This doctrine must, therefore, divide society into two parts, one of which is superior to society.

The coincidence of the changing of circumstances and of human activity or self-changing can be conceived and rationally understood only as revolutionary practice.

4.) Feuerbach starts out from the fact of religious self-alienation, of the duplication of the world into a religious world and a secular one. His work consists in resolving the religious world into its secular basis.

But that the secular basis detaches itself from itself and establishes itself as an independent realm in the clouds can only be explained by the cleavages and self-contradictions within this secular basis. The latter must, therefore, in itself be both understood in its contradiction and revolutionized in practice. Thus, for instance, after the earthly family is discovered to be the secret of the holy family, the former must then itself be destroyed in theory and in practice.

5.)Feuerbach, not satisfied with abstract thinking, wants contemplation; but he does not conceive sensuousness as practical, human-sensuous activity.

6.) Feuerbach resolves the religious essence into the human essence. But the human essence is no abstraction inherent in each single individual.

In its reality it is the ensemble of the social relations.

Feuerbach, who does not enter upon a criticism of this real essence, is consequently compelled:

  1. To abstract from the historical process and to fix the religious sentiment as something by itself and to presuppose an abstract – isolated – human individual.
  2. Essence, therefore, can be comprehended only as "genus", as an internal, dumb generality which naturally unites the many individuals.
7.)Feuerbach, consequently, does not see that the "religious sentiment" is itself a social product, and that the abstract individual whom he analyses belongs to a particular form of society.

8.) All social life is essentially practical. All mysteries which lead theory to mysticism find their rational solution in human practice and in the comprehension of this practice.

9.) The highest point reached by contemplative materialism, that is, materialism which does not comprehend sensuousness as practical activity, is contemplation of single individuals and of civil society.

10.)The standpoint of the old materialism is civil society; the standpoint of the new is human society, or social humanity.

11.)The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways; the point is to change it.

Written: by Marx in the Spring of 1845, but slightly edited by Engels;
First Published: As an Appendix to Engels' Ludwig Feuerbach and the End of Classical German Philosophy, 1886;
Source: Marx/Engels Selected Works, Volume One, p. 13 – 15;
Publisher: Progress Publishers, Moscow, USSR, 1969 ;
Translated: W. Lough from the German;
Transcription/Markup: Zodiac/Brian Basgen;
Copyleft: Marx/Engels Internet Archive ( 1995, 1999, 2002. Permission is granted to copy and/or distribute this document under the terms of the Creative Commons ShareAlike License;
Proofread: by Andy Blunden February 2005

For Feuerbach's works on the Internet, please turn to the following link:

*Martin Amis, Koba the Dread. Toronto: Alfred A. Knopf; 2002: p.69.

And what, gentle reader, is the worth of Man?


Ravid'sa said...

You say: "prove to me man has any objective value". Even a pet, an animal, has worth, if only to someone who loves it. Love changes everything, if worth is your yardstick. You speak of objective worth, as if you have no subjective nature. Are you kidding yourself, or just in so much pain in some way, you'd rather not consider where your subjective nature fits in these considerations?

These declarations about "man" as some general archetype don't fly. We humans may be in some way a collective, a community, a totality, but we are also individuals. You too. I wonder: have you no love in your life? Seems so.

Remarkably much of what you express become somehow hollow when the subjective is included. At least to me. If you exclude the subjective, these ideas you express are all mental. They have no "heart". Now some people have trouble acknowledging their subjective sides. In some cases this denial of the subjective even suggests some sort of mental illness -- ie, the brain is not working correctly. Even more remarkably, including the subjective doesn't require God, nor does it provide an argument that there must be some sort of God or soul. But it does include a fundamental aspect of every man, and perhaps in some way, every creature.

Worth is really a convention. We agree with someone else about worth. There always has to be someone else involved for worth to be an issue. And most all of us know what worthlessness feels like. It seems the idea of God was invented because people were not always able to find for themselves a sense of worth in their relationships with people around them. God, an imagined "other" onto which we are free to project any sort of desirable quality, then becomes a reference against which we can measure our worth, if we have no other reference. For many it helps, sometimes for their whole life. This of course has nothing to do with objective reality. That is, God does not have to exist for this imagined God to help us. Santa makes us feel good when we are children. This scenario seems like the situation for many people today. Of course the political mind has jumped on this idea called God and usurped it for its own ends. But that is a different matter, even if it has reduced the value of the God-idea for us.

And none of this makes atheism any less accurate a description of us and our situation.

dag said...

I'm not here to interfere with whatever dialogue goes on. I do appreciate your comments, and I'm sure others will as well.