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Ernesto Rodriguez

Philosophy 12: Ethics

Summer 2004


Midterm Question


What does Marx mean when he says, "morality is essentially ideology?" Furthermore, what is his criticism of Bentham's and Mill's utilitarianism? Next compare Marx to Hobbes. What is Marx's view of human nature and an ideal society and compare this to Hobbes's view of human nature and an ideal society. Who do you agree with and why?


Marx argued that all ideas of morality were misguided, ignorant of the true forces that govern them. He accused those thinkers before him of being oblivious to the underlying forces that shaped their views of ethics. He argued that morality is based on ideology, and ideology is ultimately determined by the ruling social class. Thus, the concept of morality is created by the ruling class, according to their own beliefs and in their best interests. By this logic, there can be no absolute idea of morality, only different interpretations established in different societies by their respective ruling classes. By this logic, right is defined as what is favorable for the ruling class; and consequentially, Wrong is defined as what is unfavorable for the ruling class. So if morals are determined by a particular ruling class for a particular society, then there cannot be an absolute concept of morality.


Marx denounces Utilitarianism as merely another incarnation of the bourgeoisie’s exploitation of the proletariat. His criticism is that Utilitarianism seeks to consolidate all relationships between people into one great relationship of usefulness, and that idea is more or less same as that of the bourgeoisie. Marx contends that the Utilitarian model does not account for the economic factor, and once that factor is introduced this model serves as nothing more than “a mere apologia for the existing state of affairs” (199).


Marx’s view of human nature incorporates and revolves around labor, the way in which we organize ourselves to produce the things we need in order to subsist. He sees labor as being integral to our nature, as he states, “by producing their means of subsistence men are indirectly producing their actual material life” (191). His ideal society is founded on this idea, and on the principle that without a hierarchy of social classes, morals are no longer needed and cease to exist. Marx was of the persuasion that morals stem from class struggles, with the ideas of right and wrong directly dependent on the interest of the bourgeoisie and the proletariat.