The Metaphysics of Marxism

workshop in Ligerz, Sunday, October 25 (evening) – Tuesday, October 27 (evening), 2020
Boris Hennig (by zoom, perhaps)
Philipp Blum

As part of the Swiss Doctoral Programme in Philosophy, we are organising a small and informal workshop in beautiful Ligerz.

The main strands of political philosophy — marxism, liberalism, authoritarianism — are built on metaphysical views, for instance about human nature or the purpose of social institutions. These metaphysical foundations, sometimes taken to be part of ‘social philosophy’, remain relatively underexplored. Understanding them will not just help us to make sense of and to better understand general political views, but may also shed light on the question to what extent such views are cognitive, rationally criticisable and subject to theoretical scrutiny.
For example, in what way does the marxist theory of capitalist appropriation of surplus value rely on views about human nature, what implications do liberal conceptions of value creation have for free will, how does authoritarianism relate to debates about the nature of property? Marxism often presents itself as materialist and anti-metaphysical. In general, however, the explicit rejection of metaphysics comes with metaphysical commitments of its own. In particular, it is important to ask what “materialism" amounts to in this case, given that Marx, in the Feuerbach Theses, urges his fellow materialists to question their conception of matter. Marxism comes with its own teleology, and with its own conception of the human life form. That is, Marx does not simply opt for one of the four Aristotelian causes, i.e. matter. Rather, he urges us to also rethink the formal and final cause of humanity. More specifically, Marx operates with the notion of a generic essence of humanity (“Gattungswesen”). This concept has roots in Hegel and Moses Hess, among others, which might be worthwhile to explore. As for Hegel, one might further explore how Marx transforms Hegel’s development of spirit into a development of matter; and what matter is if it can undergo such a Hegelian development. Also, when Marx and Engels says that being determines consciousness, what does “determination” mean?

If you are interested in participating, send a short abstract in pdf format to Philipp Blum. Participants will have costs of simple accommodation and of food covered

Participation. Participants should arrive by Sunday evening and stay at least until Tuesday evening. They should commit to have a first draft / extended abstract of their paper or discussion contribution ready a week before the start of the conference, read at least some of those of the others in advance and make an effort at reading some of the other material suggested by the other participants. They should commit to staying in Ligerz for the whole duration of the conference, except of course for the joint excursions to the regions' vineyards and the shores of the lake of Biel/Bienne.

Covid-19. For information about the Covid-19 situation in Switzerland and how it affects the Ligerz conferences, please see here.

Location. The conference takes place in the beautifully located bilingual village of Ligerz / Gléresse, on the shores of the lake of Biel/Bienne (also bilingual):

Talks and meals are at the Aarbergerhaus, where a beamer and facilities to print out handouts are available. Participants stay at the so-called "Louis Haus", where there's also a small bar for late-night drinks. When you get out of the train arriving either from Neuchâtel or from Biel/Bienne, and you face the mountain and the church (turning your back to the lake), the Aarbergerhaus is to your right (in the direction of Biel/Bienne), about 150 m along the main road. You reach it after passing by the hotel "Kreuz" and by going through a garden door located at your left (facing Biel/Bienne), just before there is a street for cars on your right going over a small bridge (in the direction of the lake). Please come there when you arrive. (The Louis-Haus, in contrast, is to your left, about 50m through the pedestrian street, on your right just before the fountain).

Reading material. It would be good if as much as possible of the reading material could be made available to participants in advance (via a dropbox folder, for which I will send participants an invitation). This includes (i) abstracts / drafts; (ii) background reading, e.g. articles by others specifically discussed or older texts not easily available.

Travel. Ligerz is mid-way between Biel/Bienne and Neuchâtel and reachable by train in 1h43 from Zurich Airport, in 1h50 from Geneva Airport and in 1h55 from Basel EuroAirport. Check the Swiss railways website for timetables.