Thesis XII

James Farmelant farmelantj at
Thu Jun 25 09:48:36 PDT 1998

On Thu, 25 Jun 1998 08:56:05 -0500 (CDT) Carrol Cox <cbcox at> writes:

>It seems to me that the eleventh thesis is most illuminating if it is
>as an epistemological rather than an "ethical" or pragmatic statment.
>Talking to himself as he struggles to work out his understanding of
>relations, he aims at dissoloving those "mysteries which mislead
>theory to
>mysticism," and his preliminary conclusion can be paraphrased as an
>assertion that knowledge always emerges from practice, rather than (in
>first or last instance) practice from knowledge. It seems to me that
>writing this thesis, would have deeply repudiated Ezra Pound's
>slogan of "ideas into action"; action into ideas and therefore a
>continuing critique of both practice and theory.
>If one begins in the isolated human mind, and then asks how can I (we)
>know the world, the result is epistemology and mysticism. Marx is
>that it is possible to ask that question, because wherever we find
>ourselves (even when "we" were homo habilis or homo erectus), we are
>always already involved in a complex of social relations of which we
>always already have (corrigible) knowledge, our task being not to
>if knowledge is possible or "real" (which is given to us by our
>existence as social animals) but of explaining how that knowledge
>and correcting it.

One of the admirable things about Carrol's explication of Marx's eleventh thesis is that it makes apparent the affinities between Marx's treatment of epistemology and John Dewey's pragmatism. In fact Dewey developed a critique of epistemology that was very similar to Marx's. Like Marx Dewey believed that the so-called problems of how knowledge of the external world, of other minds, etc. which have long bedeviled epistemologists arise when we take the perspective of the isolated subject who is trying to deduce the world from discrete bits of sense-data. Dewey showed (as Marx had done before him) how when we abandon this perspective these problems are not so much as solved as dissolved because the assumptions which underlie these problems are themselves untenable. Indeed, Dewey like Marx realized that these assumptions reflected the perspective of societies rooted in a division between mental and physical labor.

It should not be too surprising that both Marx and Dewey should have arrived at similar treatments of epistemology. Both thinkers began their intellectual careers as Hegelians and the Hegelianisms of both thinkers evolved in the direction of naturalism.

Jim Farmelant

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