Electronic Theses and Dissertations





Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



Committee Chair

Thomas Nenon

Committee Member

Remy Debes

Committee Member

Stephan Blatti

Committee Member

Somogy Varga


Renewed interest in radical politics has emerged in the wake of the recent economic crisis, the Arab Spring, the Occupy! movement, and the struggle against economic austerity. This is not exactly a boon for Marxist revolutionaries, however. Major gaps remain in the philosophical underpinnings for any Marxist political program. This project investigates one of those gaps: the relationship of Marxism to the ethical. To illustrate this, I turn to the early thinking of the Marxist philosopher György Lukács. In two 1919 essays, Lukács first rejected the view that socialist values can be suspended to accomplish socialist ends only to then embrace the Bolshevik program. His dilemma, I contend, actually emerges from a deep tension in Marxist philosophy itself. To trace its origin, I look to the political thought of Hegel and his historicist criticism of Utilitarian and Kantian ethics. For Marx, in turn, to historicize an ethical system is to liquidate its moral force. From 1845 forward, he maintained that the “mode of production” for a given epoch is the sole material ground and horizon for the ethical. Marx seems to undercut the very possibility of his own critical project. I then review recent attempts by philosophers to make sense of this dilemma. Three positions emerge: Marx is incoherent; he commits to an underlying “ethics of freedom;” and a Marxist ethics of virtue. Rather than immediately adopting any of these positions, I will work via negativa through the concepts of “alienation” and “exploitation” and conclude that neither capture Marx's mature criticism of capitalism. Finally, I return to Lukács and his analysis of the concept of the “fetish of the commodity form” and the process of “reification” whereby relations between subjects and objects become inverted. This, I argue, is central social pathology of capitalist society. Further, given the relativization of the ethical by historical materialism, I will argue that the “actuality of the revolution,” the Marxist commitment to category of “totality,” in addition to the “standpoint of the proletariat” produce an ethics of virtue founded upon solidarity. This ethic, it too bounded by the epoch of class struggle, must itself be eventually overcome.


Data is provided by the student.

Library Comment

dissertation or thesis originally submitted to the local University of Memphis Electronic Theses & dissertation (ETD) Repository.