Friedrich Engels asserted that the great divide in philosophy is between the schools of idealism and materialism, that is those who regard mind as having primacy over nature, and those who regard nature as having primacy over mind. According to philosophical idealists the only things that fully exist are minds and their contents, and the material world does not exist independently of minds. For example, one idealist argument is that to be is to be perceived or to be a perceiver. Idealist philosophy, and that of Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel in particular, dominated German philosophical thinking for much of the 19th century, and had a profound effect on Karl Marx. Marx counted himself a disciple of Hegel while at university, and much of his early writing, such as Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right (1843), Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right: Introduction (1844), Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts (1844), The Holy Family (1844), Theses on Feuerbach (1845), The German Ideology (1846) and The Poverty of Philosophy (1847) contained a critique of idealism and a working out of his own position in relation to idealism.
   To give an example of Marx’s divergence from Hegel, the latter understands history as the development of the idea of freedom, with ideas, thought, consciousness or, as Hegel often puts it, Geist, giving history meaning, purpose and direction. For Hegel it is Geist or mind, the ideal realm, that is the source of the creative impulse or driving force in the world. According to Marx, this approach is fundamentally wrong and ends up imposing abstract concepts and categories on the world. The starting point is the material world and in particular human activity from which ideas and consciousness are derived. Influenced by the critique of Hegelianism provided by Ludwig Feuerbach, Marx sees Hegel as having mystified reality by inverting the real relations between things, for example portraying man as the creation of God, when in fact, according to Feuerbach and Marx, God is the creation of man. On history, Marx develops his theory of historical materialism, or as he referred to it, his materialist conception of history, emphasizing material factors in the development of history, particularly human activity and production.

Historical dictionary of Marxism. . 2014.


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