Modalities of Oppression, Part 3 – Beyond Marxism

I’ve written a couple of posts recently about my own attempts to comprehend (in very abstract terms) the relations among different forms of oppression, and how quite different sorts of processes form a single whole. I finished the second with some inconclusive comments about Marxism, which remains the paradigmatic reference point for a historical theory of how communism will triumph. I also posted recently about socialist feminism, liberal feminism, and radical feminism, though again somewhat inconclusively.

What I to do now is become fractionally more conclusive, by directly considering the key claims of ‘Marxism’ and offering the beginnings of a broader theory that would seek to expand it while remaining materialist, in particular in the direction of radical feminism as opposed to socialist feminism.

This will involve my own understanding of Marxism and of materialism; I’ve studied the subject a little, but many others have studied it more. Marxism is often caricatured (and also often affirmed without much in the way of argument) so bear this in mind.

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Capitalist Philosophy of Mind, Part 3 – Communist Philosophy of Mind?

If my last two posts were right in discerning the movements of concrete social forces – feudal religion and bourgeois science, at first individual, then systemic – behind changing currents of consensus in the philosophy of mind, what does this imply about philosophy of mind under different circumstances? And what does it mean for people actually working in that field?

It might be imagined that if first religion and then science created a certain philosophy based on a certain class society, a classless society will have neither religion nor science. But this is only half true. For both of these terms, as for many others, one must distinguish two things: a reasonable, inescapable and important element of the human condition, and then a narrow and distorted worldview based on misconstruing that element and requiring all other elements to be subordinate to it.

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Capitalist Philosophy of Mind, Part 2: Descartes and the Class Struggle

In my last post I ran through the history of Western philosophy of mind. Now I want to look at how the philosophical developments mirror the social developments over the same period.

Now for each position there are positive arguments and there are negative arguments, and typically they have all been argued by someone. But what’s interesting is how some arguments, but not others, are able to win widespread support.

For example, there is a certain argument that goes something like this: “science in general, in particular physics, is bound to look for explanations of every event that happens, and we have no reason not to expect it to find them eventually. Thus for every event a physical explanation will be found, hence all the world is physical in nature, and no facts about it are irreducible to physical facts.”

This argument has been made in one form or another at many points in history. But the acceptance it’s won has varied. Prior to the scientific revolution, doctrines of this sort (like Ancient Greek atomism) were fairly minor phenomena. At the time of Early Modern philosophy, i.e. in the middle of the rise of science, the argument was strong enough to make full-on ‘materialism’ (in the metaphysical sense) a fashionable doctrine among many people. But it didn’t win majority assent until the 20th (maybe 19th) centuries.

And at this late stage, up to the present day, the argument does not even need to be made: it is now common-sense, the natural assumption. Almost all work is done within a ‘physicalist’ framework – either as an enthusiastic endorsement or a cautious criticism.

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Capitalist Philosophy of Mind: Part 1 – Philosophical History

While I wouldn’t call myself a ‘Marxist’, I do identify with the idea of ‘historical materialism’, a term that has been used for Marx’n’Engels’ approach to society. I’m also very interested in philosophy, and so in this post I want to give a historical materialist account of the history of philosophy of mind.

What is ‘historical materialism’? It’s the belief that society forms an inter-connected whole, so that each part reciprocally influences other parts, and moreover that in this web, the dominant influence is had by ‘material’ factors: people’s concrete lived experience. For example, the forms of artistic expression that are widespread in a society will reflect the conditions in which most people live, albeit in complex ways.

This is sometimes mischaracterised as ‘economic determinism’, which is wrong on two counts. Firstly, it’s not (on my understanding) deterministic because it doesn’t claim that each individual’s actions must be the result of their material conditions – merely that the overally statistical averages will.

Secondly, it’s not (on my understanding) purely economic, since things beyond ‘economics’ narrowly-conceived can fall within ‘material conditions’: technology, sexual relations, climate, etc.

So with that hopefully a little cleared up, I want to talk about applying this to philosophy, in particular to dualism/materialism/physicalism in philosophy of mind. (As I use them, metaphysical ‘materialism’ is a different idea to sociological ‘historical materialism’, just as both are different from ‘materialism’ as a graspy, avaricious personality). This first post just runs over the major movements in the history of the subject in recent centuries.

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