Karl Marx (1818-1883) "The Production of Consciousness" from The German Ideology

(One sentence summary) Our material activity as producers gives rise to our mental life and our "nature."

(200 word, 90 second summary) In this passage from "The German Ideology," the "young Marx" (i.e., the Marx who wrote more like a humanist than a political/economic revolutionary) lays out ideas for the study of society that are contrary to dominant ideas of his time — Hegelian idealism. Hegel wrote about ideas, abstractions like justice, morality, or truth, and "derived" things like the state, institutions, and the individual. Marx, in part reflecting the intellectual rise of science (he is writing in the 1840s), wants to ground all thinking in empirical, material reality. Start, he says, from the physical/biological reality of humans — there is no abstract human apart from real embodied existence — living in the natural world. Then we recognize that the fundamental "human difference" is that humans produce things. And, what and how we produce completely conditions our lives. We are used to this idea — we think in terms of hunter-gatherers vs. agriculture, for example, because the mode of subsistence determines the cultural and social; in the contemporary world we think in terms like blue collar vs. white. Producers find themselves in groups interacting. Social and political structures emerge from this. Our material existence produces our consciousness, not the other way round.