Philosophy Faculty Publications


Tensions from Technology in Marx's Communist Society

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Journal of Value Inquiry


In the popular stereotype, technology is equated with machinery and machines are understood in utilitarian terms as means which people use to accomplish their previously selected ends. For Marx, however, the relation between persons and technology is more intimate and complex than this. Marx understands technology as a mode of human labor which develops in the context of our interactions with nature. We are a part of nature; in fact, Marx calls nature "man's inorganic body" which we use and reshape to meet our needs and further our projects.1 In so doing we change both nature and ourselves, increasing our knowledge and developing our skills and abilities.2 These are embodied in tools and machinery which then further our use and control of nature and at the the same time continue to shape human culture and understanding. Marx expresses the intimate relation between persons and technology in writing, "We see how the history of industry and the established objective existence of industry are the open book of man's essential powers.''3

Marx anticipates that technology, although a source of alienation under capitalism, will have a central and positive role in the communist society by giving people the free time they need to cultivate their talents and develop as free, social individuals. However, technology and the flourishing of creative, social individuality may not be as complementary as Marx imagined. In this paper I will give Marx's analysis of the development of technology and then argue that, given his understanding of technology, a deep tension will persist in the communist society between the structures required by advanced technological production and those which enable people to develop as free, creative, social individuals.

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