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MARX by Peter Singer


A Very Short Introduction

by Peter Singer

Pub Date: May 19th, 1980
ISBN: 0192854054
Publisher: Hill and Wang/Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Confronted with the difficult task of trying to say something both introductory and meaningful about the prolific and world-shaking Karl Marx, philosopher Peter Singer (Monash Univ., Australia) has opted for a minimum of biography and a concentration on the "status" of Marx's writings. Focusing on the economic and historical theories of Marx, Singer notes that the claim for their scientific status rests largely with Marx himself-and he was using a notion of science which is not that of contemporary natural or social science: there is no room for "testing" in his theories, outside of history itself. By "science," Singer shows, Marx meant a more general idea about systematic knowledge, as had his mentor, Hegel. While the predictions Marx made based on the application of Hegel's ideas to history and economics have failed, Singer thinks it would be wrong to simply reject Marx's views as we would those of a scientist in the same position. Instead, Singer views Marx as preeminently a philosopher whose central concern is freedom, and whose great strength lies in his critique of the individualist notion of freedom prevalent in the English-speaking world. While Singer points out that Marx's own optimistic hopes for a collective propensity for freedom have thus far proved illusory, the hope nevertheless remains. More pointed than David McClellan's "Modern Masters" Marx, and more concerned with ideas, Singer's introduction manages to squeeze an argument into and around the exposition whereas McClellan attempts an impossible neutrality. Given the constraints imposed by the format, he has done a first-rate job.