The turn to ethics and the critique of capitalism
Kelvin Knight: Alasdair MacIntyre, Marx, and the Critique of Capitalism / Bob Cannon: Towards an Ethical Critique of Capitalism / Paul Reynolds: Marxist Theory and the Ethical Turn
Alasdair MacIntyre, Marx, and the Critique of Capitalismby Kelvin Knight
Alasdair MacIntyre does not theorize society as a totality, but he does endorse Marx’s attribution to the capitalist mode of production of workers’ exploitation and of their alienation from their own activity. Under capitalism, workers’ goals and reasons for action are entirely separate from the reasons for which they are employed, so that their free life is compartmentalized from their work. MacIntyre also endorses the Marxist critique of ideology. Aristotle may be right that people act in pursuit of what they consider good, but this does not preclude the fact that people can be actively misled by false theories of their good which deny truly human potentialities and powers. That people may erroneously identify their own good with the accumulation of external goods was recognized by Aristotle, but what Marx added was that this can be an error of a society, and of its legitimating ideology, and not simply of individuals’ inadequate will or reason.
Towards an Ethical Critique of Capitalismby Bob Cannon
This paper is written in response to recent attempts to add an ethical dimension to Marx’s critique of capitalism borrowed from the writings of Alasdair MacIntyre (Harman 2009, Blackledge 2008, Knight 2007). While I agree that Marx’s critique of capitalism is insufficiently normative, MacIntyre’s moral theory is the last place we should look to correct this deficiency. Whereas Marx’s critique of capitalism rests upon the modern norm of self-constitution, MacIntyre argues that permitting social agents to construct their own values results in moral catastrophe. In opposition to a modern (discursive, democratic and secular) conception of morality, MacIntyre upholds a naturalistic, authoritarian and ultimately theological one, which derives its legitimacy not from the uncoerced agreement of those to whom it applies but a pre-modern combination of God, tradition and nature (including human nature). In this respect, MacIntyre stands opposed to the ethical thrust of Marx’s condemnation of capitalism as fetishistic. What renders capitalism invalid, immoral and unjust for Marx is not its departure from a pre-modern conception of value (a la religion), but its perpetuation of the latter’s 'metaphysical subtleties and theological niceties' in an economic guise. The pre-modern derivation of ‘ought’ (values) from ‘is’ (facts) that MacIntyre reaffirms (citing Aristotle, Aquinas and Catholicism) assumes a world in which human beings do not determine their own social values. Whereas, it is precisely the capacity of capitalism to impose its (self-valorizing) values on human beings in the manner of independent and external facts that renders it anachronistic, irrational and unethical for Marx.
Marxist Theory and the Ethical Turnby Paul Reynolds
What’s at stake in insisting that Marx should be read as an ethical thinker and Marxism as an ethical critique? In sketching out a response to that question, I want to concentrate on two important reasons for identifying Marx and Marxism as ethically centred. The first is to argue a corrective to those who misunderstand Marx’s political economy and his early condemnations of German idealism in opposition to ethical thinking and misconceive the relationship between science and ethics in Marxist philosophy and politics. The second addresses the ‘cultural turn’ in contemporary social theory, with its assertion of ethics as the last grand narrative, and argues that it is critical for Marxists not to relinquish the ethical ground to post-Marxism, but rather retrieve a materialist and historically informed understanding of ethics that provides a critical foil to contemporary democratic theory, theories of difference and social justice and post-modern critiques of modern theorising. Both converge in understanding that Marxism has an ethical core and is neither theoretically diminished nor critically weakened by understanding the dialectic of ethical thinking and materialist/historical method as core to its critical and analytical strength.