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Marxism and Ethics (Suny Series in Radical Social and Political Theory)
 
 

Marxism and Ethics (Suny Series in Radical Social and Political Theory) [Kindle Edition]

Paul Blackledge
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)

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Product Description

Accessible introduction to key thinkers of Marxist theory and the debate on the nature of Marxist ethics.



Marxism and Ethics is a comprehensive and highly readable introduction to the rich and complex history of Marxist ethical theory as it has evolved over the last century and a half. Paul Blackledge argues that Marx’s ethics of freedom underpin his revolutionary critique of capitalism. Marx’s conception of agency, he argues, is best understood through the lens of Hegel’s synthesis of Kantian and Aristotelian ethical concepts. Marx’s rejection of moralism is not, as suggested in crude materialist readings of his work, a dismissal of the free, purposive, subjective dimension of action. Freedom, for Marx, is both the essence and the goal of the socialist movement against alienation, and freedom’s concrete modern form is the movement for real democracy against the capitalist separation of economics and politics. At the same time, Marxism and Ethics is also a distinctive contribution to, and critique of, contemporary political philosophy, one that fashions a powerful synthesis of the strongest elements of the Marxist tradition. Drawing on Alasdair MacIntyre’s early contributions to British New Left debates on socialist humanism, Blackledge develops an alternative ethical theory for the Marxist tradition, one that avoids the inadequacies of approaches framed by Kant on the one hand and utilitarianism on the other.



“…in this major new study … [Blackledge] moves beyond what has become the well-worn ground of the dispute within Marxism between ethical nihilism and universalism and takes the debate onto more substantial and promising new ground.” — International Socialism



“This book provides impressive evidence of the intellectual and moral strengths of contemporary Marxism. Paul Blackledge has provided the best history so far written of Marxism’s engagement with ethics. He enables us to understand Marx’s own moral concerns better than Marx himself did. And he has made an incisive contribution to contemporary moral debate. Critics of Marx and Marxism, including sympathetic critics such as myself, will have to take this book very seriously.” — Alasdair MacIntyre, author of After Virtue: A Study in Moral Theory, Third Edition



Paul Blackledge is Professor of Political Theory at Leeds Metropolitan University. He is the author of Perry Anderson, Marxism, and the New Left and Reflections on the Marxist Theory of History, and the coeditor (with Graeme Kirkpatrick) of Historical Materialism and Social Evolution.

Product details

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 427 KB
  • Print Length: 250 pages
  • Publisher: State University of New York Press (24 Feb 2012)
  • Sold by: Amazon Media EU S.à r.l.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B007D2X9P6
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
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  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #508,148 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This important book sets out to derive a moral framework for Marxism from the work of Marx himself and Marxist thinkers. Addressing what has been called the ethical deficit in Marxism, it seeks to provide an ethical justification for the struggle for a socialist society. It is engagingly written and very enjoyable to read. As well as presenting an enlightening account of debates within moral and political philosophy, it offers a vision of how the human good that might be realised within a socialist society can be nurtured from within the womb of capitalism. I thoroughly recommend it to anyone seeking a novel analysis of the inadequacies of modern moral philosophy and a clearer view of the ethical challenges that face Marxists and socialists.

The first chapter presents a critique of dominant theories of morality and ethics. As exemplified by Kant, this consists of an attempt to ground a code of conduct in the unique facility of human beings for rationality or Reason. Blackledge argues, however, that Reason has produced different conceptions of what is right and wrong and cannot escape from the spectre of relativism (or ‘emotivism’ as Blackledge sometimes calls it)- the idea that what is right is what is right for me.

According to Blackledge, who is following Alistair McIntrye here, Kant’s approach reflected the emergent capitalist system of his time. Human beings were regarded as isolated entities who come together with competing desires. Blackledge uses the philosophy of Hegel, Aristotle and McIntyre to argue, in contrast, that humanity is intrinsically social and that it is through social existence that human beings fulfil their natural destiny. Human beings want to live as part of a group, and human nature can only be developed in association with others.
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Amazon.com: 5.0 out of 5 stars  2 reviews
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Review 6 Feb 2013
By CB - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Not only is this one of the best books on Marxism that I've read, it's also one of the best books on ethics. Blackledge, a political theorist at Leeds, has consolidated everything written on Marxism and ethics since Marx. Just to a list a few of the many names and sources cited: Lukacs, Lenin, Bernard Williams, Marcuse, Adorno, Alasdair Macintyre, Kant, Kautsky, Luxemburg, Mill, Hume, Che, Stalin, Sartre, Trotsky, Merleu Ponty, etc.

Blackledge has several goals in this book. The first is to show that Marx is not a nihilist, and that he did have a moral theory, albeit it's not a completely formalized theory like Kant, or Mill, where you just plug in a set standard (e.g., greatest happiness principle, or the categorical imperative). Marx's morality was one that was in the process of becoming, alongside the actually revolutionary movements of anti-capitalist. Thus, Blackledge is able to apply moral weight to Marx's criticisms of capitalism, something many Marxists either ignore doing, or fail to do.

After reestablishing Marx as a moral theorist, Blackledge moves on to discussing the history of Marxian ethics, from the second international hitherto. This is where many of the names mentioned above make an appearance, and Blackledge respectfully points to pros and cons of each theorist. Aside from Marx, Blackledge has one other theorist that he holds in high regard: Alasdair Macintyre. I think he may have been his phd student, and Blackledge has published other books on Macintyre. Macintyre offered ethical solutions to the cold war problems of Marxism, but as he aged he no longer saw the proletariat as the necessary agent for revolution, and thus left Marxism behind. Although he remains sympathetic to Marxism, and its critiques, he no longer thinks it works in practice.

It is only at this point that the book gets curt and thin. Blackledge contest that Macintyre is wrong according to some sociological works, and the writings of SWP chairman Alex Callinicos (a laudable thinker in his own right). Thus, if Macintyre's arguments about the proletariat as the revolutionary class are wrong, then we can retain his youthful ethics. And Blackledge suggest we do so. But in order to get a clear grasp of what Macintyre's youthful positions are, one would have to read Blackledge's other book: Macintyre's Engagement with Marxism.

Overall, Blackledge has presented a fantastic and well thought out work, that is a necessary addition to the debate over Marxian ethics, and ethics in general.
5.0 out of 5 stars Comprehensive and enjoyable overview of ethics in the Marxist tradition 5 Mar 2014
By Dr Joanna Moncrieff - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
This important book sets out to derive a moral framework for Marxism from the work of Marx himself and Marxist thinkers. Addressing what has been called the ethical deficit in Marxism, it seeks to provide an ethical justification for the struggle for a socialist society. It is engagingly written and very enjoyable to read. As well as presenting an enlightening account of debates within moral and political philosophy, it offers a vision of how the human good that might be realised within a socialist society can be nurtured from within the womb of capitalism. I thoroughly recommend it to anyone seeking a novel analysis of the inadequacies of modern moral philosophy and a clearer view of the ethical challenges that face Marxists and socialists.
The first chapter presents a critique of dominant theories of morality and ethics. As exemplified by Kant, this consists of an attempt to ground a code of conduct in the unique facility of human beings for rationality or Reason. Blackledge argues, however, that Reason has produced different conceptions of what is right and wrong and cannot escape from the spectre of relativism (or ‘emotivism’ as Blackledge sometimes calls it)- the idea that what is right is what is right for me.
According to Blackledge, who is following Alistair McIntrye here, Kant’s approach reflected the emergent capitalist system of his time. Human beings were regarded as isolated entities who come together with competing desires. Blackledge uses the philosophy of Hegel, Aristotle and McIntyre to argue, in contrast, that humanity is intrinsically social and that it is through social existence that human beings fulfil their natural destiny. Human beings want to live as part of a group, and human nature can only be developed in association with others.
Blackledge then proceeds to provide a detailed analysis of Marx’s work to show that he can be viewed as having a similar conception of the nature of ethics. Marx believed that the bourgeois, liberal revolutions had introduced progressive values of freedom and equality with which to challenge the old feudal order, but that these values necessarily remain limited and underdeveloped in capitalist society (where they consist of little more than property rights and equality before the law).
Since capitalism alienates people from their potential, the full social nature of human beings can only manifest itself in a new form of society- communism. Although Marx was generally not prescriptive about the nature of this new society, it would famously be based on the ‘needs’ principle. Only when each was provided for according to need, would every human being be able to flourish to their maximal potential. The values of solidarity and cooperation that this new society will embody start to be realised in the struggle of working class communities against capitalist exploitation. Thus ethics becomes politics, and the question of how to live becomes the question of what sort of society we wish to inhabit, and how we can bring that society into being.
The book then proceeds to trace the history of Marxist thinkers and their approach to ethics, providing illuminating sketches of the philosophy of Kautsky, Luckas, the Frankfurt school and more recent writers including Rawls, Callinicos and Zizek, to name just a few. Blackledge discusses the turn towards a scientistic or positivist version of Marxism by influential members of the second International, who maintained that Marxism is the scientific exposition of the inevitable movement of history. This view, which is what Marxism still means to many, had no place for agency. The morality of capitalism or any other system was irrelevant; history would decide. This view culminated politically in Stalinism, and theoretically in the work of French philosopher, Louis Althusser.
Reclaiming Marxism from this fatalistic turn, Lenin and Luckacs returned to Hegel’s dialectic of subject and object; of how the material world is itself a product of human agency. Subsequently, a renewed interest in the free acting individual in the late 20th century, led many Marxists to forge an accommodation with Liberalism, some to the extent that most traces of Marxism fell away.
This informative romp through Marxist thinkers converges again on McIntyre, whose early work pointed to the potential of working class communities to produce an ethics that united needs and desires - what we want with what we ought to do. In line with the thesis that ethics becomes politics, the book concludes with a discussion about how a better society is to be brought about.
Marxism and Ethics presents a refreshing view on modern moral philosophy and the impasse between the desire for a universalist position, and the need to understand ethics as a constantly contested product of particular historical conditions. Whether it succeeds in resolving this tension is another question, but it certainly brings the issues into clearer focus.
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