PHIL 41150: Political Philosophy
Dr. Robert Lane
Lecture Notes: Wednesday April 2, 2003

[3.] Private Property and Alienation.[1]


[3.1.] Historical Context. Marx wrote during the upheaval brought by the Industrial Revolution:

         technologies like the steam engine

         unpleasant work environments like coal mines and factories

         child labor

         12 to 14 hour work days

         widening gap b/w those few who own the means of production and the many labors who have no stake in what they produce


[3.2.] Labor as a Source of Self-Knowledge.


Marx's view of labor derives from Hegel's description of master-slave consciousness:

         By combining your labor with material things, you make those things part of yourself -- you are transforming raw natural resources into an extension of yourself; in some sense, you come to know yourself (better, or more deeply) by experiencing the results of your own labor (Melchert's example: if you pick up a stick from the forest and spend hours carving it into a statue.) The product of your labor is an objectification of your labor, something you can look at and say "I did that"-- in experiencing it, you are aware of both it and yourself.

         Man's history is a history of his revealing himself to himself in this way, not only through the material results of his physical labor, but through all of his creations: art, law, religion, technology, society itself. In all of these endeavors, man externalizes himself and becomes more self-consciously human.


[3.3.] Four Forms of Alienation.


In the industrial age, this process of becoming self-consciously human by way of externalization has been undermined, in four distinct ways.


I. the worker is alienated from the product of his work

Because he has no stake in what he produces, the worker no longer experiences the product of his work as an extension of himself. He's become alienated from the product of that activity -- it doesn't belong to him, but to the owner. All the worker has are his wages (which, again, are only enough to get by on).


All these consequences result from the fact that the worker is related to the product of his labor as to an alien object. For on this premise it is clear that the more the worker spends himself, the more powerful becomes the alien world of objects which he creates over and against himself, the poorer he himself -- his inner world -- becomes, the less belongs to him as his own. ... the worker puts his life into the object; but now his life no longer belongs to him but to the object. Hence, the greater this activity, the greater is the worker's lack of objects. Whatever the product of his labor is, he is not. Therefore, the greater the product, the less is he himself. The alienation of the worker in his product means not only that his labor becomes an object, an external existence, but that it exists outside him, independently, as something alien to him, and that it becomes a power on its own confronting him. It means that the life which he has conferred on the object confronts him as something hostile and alien. (EPM 108; Cahn p.833)


II. the worker is alienated from his work

His relationship to his labor (his work, the actual activity he's engaged in) is now also one of alienation -- he experiences it as an alienation from himself. He's no longer expressing himself in his work; he's losing himself in it. [Melchert: think of any mindless job you've ever had, e.g. working on an assembly line, performing the same task over and over again] This amounts to involuntary, coerced, forced labor.


...labor is external to the worker, i.e., it does not belong to his essential being; ... in his work, therefore, he does not affirm himself, but denies himself, does not feel content but unhappy, does not develop freely his physical and mental energy but mortifies his body and ruins his mind. The worker therefore only feels himself outside his work, and in his work feels outside himself. He is at home when he is not working, and when he is working he is not at home. His labor is therefore not voluntary, but coerced; it is forced labor. It is therefore not the satisfaction of a need; it is merely a means to satisfy needs external to it. Its alien character emerges clearly in the fact that as soon as no physical or other compulsion exists, labor is shunned like the plague. (EPM 110-111, Cahn p.834)


Owing to the extensive use of machinery and to division of labor, the work of the proletarians has lost all individual character and, consequently, all charm for the workman. He becomes an appendage of the machine, and it is only the simplest, most monotonous, and most easily acquired knack that is required of him. (CM, Cahn p.852)


[1] This section draws on Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844; textbook includes a MS called "Estranged Labor"). This section is informed by the section on Marx in Melchert's The Great Conversation. Page references to "EPM" are to The Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844, edited by Dirk J. Struik (New York, NY: International Publishers, 1964).

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