Remarks on Marx’s Mathematical Manuscripts

I

We will begin with a simple exercise.  With the primary or general thesis that The Accepted View allows mathematics an ancillary rôle in Marxian dialectics and the inferior or secondary thesis that Marx devoted 10 years and 1,000 pages of notes to mathematics, the consequent conclusion is drawn that the Mathematical Manuscripts of Karl Marx necessitate a readjustment in the Accepted (namely by academic, scholarly readers) View.

Mister Robert Heiss, to use an English form of address, is a professor of philosophy at Freiburg university in West Germany.  His naturally partisan publisher states on the jacket of the English translation of his 1963 history of dialectics that Mr Heiss “has written many important works on philosophy and psychology.”  Whether or not we believe a publisher’s blurb, the very fact that an originally German-language philosophy book has been translated into English, and by the mass-market oriented, internationally known Dell Publishing Company, elevates Mr Heiss’s views into the vicinity, at the least, of the Received View.

This history of dialectics, straightforwardly entitled in the original Die Grossen Dialektiker des 19. Jahrhunderts: Hegel  Kierkegaard  Marx, changed in English dress to the more pretentious ‘Hegel  Kierkegaard  Marx : Three Great Philosophers Whose Ideas Changed the Course of Civilization’ — another testimony to the mediocre (equals widespread) level of intelligence of the average intended reader.  We are given to believe in the Foreword that the author considers this a detailed treatment, so intensive scrutiny is warranted.

This present inquiry traces the progress of dialectical thought from Hegel through Kierkegaard to Marx.  In doing this it was indispensable to describe both the personal lives and the ideas of these thinkers.  When compared with the many specialized works on Hegel, Kierkegaard, and Marx, this book cannot presume to do complete justice to these great minds; nevertheless the author hopes to depict, right down to details, a development in modern thought that first made its appearance in the nineteenth century, but which was not fully worked out until the twentieth.

As to the previous work of our author, he has inter alia authored the article “Hegel and Marx” [Symposium, 1949, pp. 169-206] and the book Die Dialektik bei Hegel und Marx [Bremen, 1961].  He treats here in Die Grossen Dialektiker a topic in which he as an academic has specialized.

Mr Heiss devotes some 30 pages of his book to the development, “right down to details,” of the Marxian dialectic from the Hegelian dialectic in Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844.  Two chapters are devoted to themes logically connected to Marx’s thought as a whole.  Chapter 40, the 16th of the chapters in Heiss’s book devoted to Marx, is a grand summary, “The Dialectical Approach in Marx.”  Here then, in extenso, is the Accepted View of Marxian dialectical materialism.

[Insert 1st 2 paragraphs here]

Sentences like the last one always bothered me when I read them in high-school textbooks, perhaps because I am afflicted with a literal approach to literary criticism.  How does one possibly substantiate an allegation about Marx’s “way of thinking”?  Such a statement is a statement about statements about the author’s writings, meta-critical, so to speak.  We can say what Marx — or Napoleon or Cicero or any other dead writer — wrote, and we can infer from that what the writer believed to be true, but any statement we make about his way of thought or his feelings are our interpretations of inferences from the writings themselves.

In the history of science we may describe the discoveries of scientists of former times, and what they did, said, or wrote prior to and at the same time as their discoveries, but we cannot pretend to offer anything but an interpretation of the “way in which the discovery was arrived at,” unless, of course, the scientist is alive to tell us his recollection.  And even that may be an incorrect recollection.

It is of course perfectly proper for Mr Heiss to offer his interpretive structure of Marx’s thought, for his book and his 20 years’ (at least!) study of Marx requires him to provide us with interpretation, one which he is better qualified to provide than I, a comparative neophyte; my point here is only that, where I cannot revise Mr Heiss’s statements regarding what Marx said, I or anyone else is free to think for himself what his writings imply about his way of thought.  To continue, then:

[Insert final 4 paragraphs here]

On the one hand we have Mr Heiss’s conclusion, surely not quoted out of context, that “any dialectic of consciousness . . . was for [Marx] of secondary importance,” and on the other we have Marx laboring for the better part of the last decade of his life, on a dialectical account of differential calculus, a dialectic a fortiori of pure consciousness.  Either the dying man wrote 1000 pages of notes and outlines and composed two original essays for his beloved friend and collaborator on a topic “of secondary importance,” or the Accepted View of Marx’s dialectical materialism requires revision.

In my opinion the first of these propositions is absurd.

About M. Meo

Worked as translator, museum technician, truck lumper, lecture demonstrator, teacher (of English as a Second Language, science, math). Married for 25 years, 2 boys aged 18 & 16 (both on the Grant cross-country team). A couple of scholarly publications in the history of science. Two years in federal penitentiary, 1970/71, for refusing the draft.
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