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Materialism in Ancient Greek Philosophy and in the Writings of the Young Marx

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What is the young Marx's attitude towards questions of psychology? More precisely, what is his attitude towards the human mind and its relationship to the body? To deal adequately with this issue requires a consideration of the relationship between Marx and Feuerbach. It also requires some discussion of the thought of Aristotle. For the views of Feuerbach and the young Marx are (in some respects) not at all original. Rather, they represent a continuation of a long tradition which derives ultimately from ancient Greek philosophy, and especially from the philosophy of Aristotle. As is well known, Aristotle's thought with respect to questions of psychology are mostly presented, by way of a critique of the doctrines of the other philosophers of his day, in his De Anima. W.H. Walsh has made the perceptive observation that Aristotle's views might be seen as an attempt to develop a third approach which avoids the pitfalls usually associated with the idealism of Plato, on the one hand, and the materialism of Democritus on the other. It might be argued that there is an analogy between the situation in which Aristotle found himself in relation to the idealists and materialists of his own day and that which confronted Marx in the very early 1840s. For, like Aristotle, Marx also might be seen as attempting to develop such a third approach. The difference is simply that, in the case of Marx, the idealism in question is that of Hegel rather than that of Plato, and the materialism is the ‘mechanical materialism’ of the eighteenth century rather than that of Democritus. This obvious parallel might well explain why Marx took such a great interest in Aristotle's De Anima both during and shortly after doing the preparatory work for his doctoral dissertation – the subject matter of which, of course, is precisely the materialist philosophy of the ancient Greek atomists Democritus and Epicurus.


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