What is Species-Being?—Towards a Full Rehabilitation of the Concept of Alienation


In her book Entfremdung—Zur Aktualität eines sozialphilosophischen Problems, Rahel Jäggi argues that critical theory needs to rehabilitate the concept of alienation. I would strengthen her claim: critical theory must not only recover this concept, it must, unlike Jäggi, construe alienation as bound up with the nature of work under capitalist relations of exchange, hence production. Alienation is first and foremost alienated labour. Recovering a notion of alienation in this strong sense is essential to identifying motives for the kind of social change needed if we are to find just solutions to environmental crisis. In this paper I take first steps towards this. I first provide (across Sections I to III) a reconstruction of Marx’s claim that the human being is a species-being (Gattungswesen) “in that, practically and theoretically, it makes the species, both its own and that of all other things its object.” (MEW 40, S.515) Since this claim derives from the proto-existentialist Feuerbach, I reconstruct (Section III) Heidegger’s notion of existence as a means of making sense of it. On this basis, I then provide a reconstructive interpretation of the notion of species-being (Section IV). This leads on (Section V) to an interpretation of the third and most fundamental of the four ways in which according to Marx workers are alienated under capitalism—alienation from their character as species-beings. Finally, I use this interpretation of alienation from essence (Section VI) in order at least to sketch how alienation in the remaining three ways may be understood, specificially, as three concrete forms in which alienation in the third sense can manifest itself. I conclude with some remarks on the consequences of this interpretation of alienation, in particular, the prospect it intimates for mediating between Heidegger’s fundamental ontology and Marxism in a way which enables one to see how overcoming the suffering involved in alienation could provide a motivation for the kind of social change needed for addressing environmental crisis. As an extra bonus such mediation offers the possibility of a better understanding not just of Marx but also of the tradition of reflection on notions of self to which he belongs. This represents a first step towards saving in particular the young Marx from the charge laid by Habermas and Honneth that he embraces an ‘expressivist’ conception of self.

This is the extended version of a paper held on October 4th., 2016, in the School of Philosophy at the University of New South Wales.


In the Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844 Marx claims that under conditions of capitalist wage labour worker are alienated in a four-fold sense: they are alienated

  1. from the product of work (MEW 40, S.511-514);

  2. from the process of work itself (S.514-515);

  3. from his or her essence as a human being, hence from him- or herself (S.515-517);

  4. from certain other human beings.1(S.517-518)

But what exactly are these four ways in which the wage labourer under capitalism is alienated? Marx barely explains and so the temptation is great to fill in the gaps by assuming that these four ways are simply esoteric labels for exoteric phenomena, such as the physically and psychologically debilitating, and dehumanising conditions of work in nineteenth century capitalism. This, however, empties the concept of alienation of all philosophical content, making it a relatively superficial political and ethical notion whose relevance for the critique of capitalism beyond the nineteenth century is difficult to specify.

One thing, however, is clear: in the Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts Marx thinks of these four forms of alienation as a causal unity of illegitimate suffering. In four ways, four forms or four senses the alienating and alienated character of work under capitalism causes wrongful suffering or at least dissatisfaction such that workers have reason and motive to change their condition.2 Evidently, if one can spell these four ways, forms or senses of alienation out in a manner which clearly shows them to be not identical with the exoteric brutalities of nineteenth century capitalism yet still sources of suffering or dissatisfaction; if further one can show them to have their origin in the nature of work under capitalism as such: then one will have a critique of work under capitalism as such. As will be shown in the next section, it is precisely the role of the concept of alienation to ensure the possibility of such a critique—both in Marx himself and, as I shall argue, in a critical social theory which truly understands the nature of environmental crisis.

Section I: The Significance of the Concept of Alienation for Marx and for Critical Theory

a) The Significance of the Concept of Alienation for Marx

The considerations just outlined point to the role Marx’s notion of alienation plays in his own attempt to develop a critique of capitalism as such and not just of a particularly brutal, nineteenth century form of it. According to Marx, under capitalist relations of exchange wages must as a rule have less exchange value than what those earning them produce since the difference goes to augmenting capital. This is how a distinctively capitalism system of exchange works and production is organised around making exchange work in this fashion. And when exchange does work in this fashion, a large and constantly expanding amount of goods and services are produced. What now, if, notwithstanding the redirection of value to capital, production is so organised that as a rule workers are able to participate in the bounty produced—to afford good food, buy numerous consumer goods, put their kids through private school, etc. Then at least prima facie workers are not suffering, hence not exploited in any morally reprovable sense.3

This possibility shows that, as classical critical theory was well aware, unless one has some account of how capitalism induces alienation in some truly substantial, suffering-inducing sense, then one’s options for social critique are limited. Either one is objecting merely to the poverty, ill health and danger caused by the form of capitalism with which Marx was familiar. In this case one should embrace social democratic reform rather than socialist revolution. Or one is objecting to capitalism as such, for example, on the grounds that capitalist competition must eventually engender such a crisis that workers recognise the long-term unviabilty of the capital/labour relation and overthrow it. If, however, one embraces this option, then, rather than seeking to improve workers’ pay, health and safety in the present, one should wait for and work to encourage ultimate collapse.4 One has a revolutionary critique of capitalism as such rather than a reformist critique of a particular form of capitalism. But one’s critique provides no positive insight into how or indeed whether one should act in the present to ameliorate current ills. Nor does it provide any indication as to what a post-capitalist order would look like, at least not in a way which would assure us that the post-capitalist order will realise the hopes placed in it rather than, Chronos-like, devouring its own children. Marx needs the concept of alienation or some functional equivalent in order to escape this dilemma between being merely reformistically concrete and merely abstractly revolutionary.

b) The Significance of the Concept of Alienation for A Critical Social Theory of Environmental Crisis

The later Marx was occasionally dismissive of efforts to improve the material conditions of workers in the present.5 And throughout his life he had very little to say about what concretely a post-capitalist order would look like. This might be taken as empirical evidence that the later Marx renounced the concept of alienation, just as certain interpretations of Marx allege. I regard such interpretations as wrong but am not concerned to argue this here. Rather, I am concerned with the issue of what use one can make today of the concept of alienation in a critical social theory, specifically, a critical social theory which truly understands the nature and seriousness of environment crisis and responds accordingly.6 In this regard, the potential role of the concept of alienation in helping one to identify ills of capitalism as such, even in the face of significant worker wealth, health and superficial well-being, is crucial. Such reformed capitalism, precisely capital in the twenty-first century, is actually more environmentally destructive than its nineteenth century predecessor. Arguably, too, it is, at least when seen globally, just as unjust, albeit in different and more subtle ways.

What, then, if by elaborating and reconstructing Marx’s initial concept of alienation one could derive a critique of work under capitalism as such which identified forms of wrongful suffering and privation even amidst the plethora of cheap, high-quality goods and services available to at least many workers in the First World and emerging economies? Then one would have a critique of capitalism as such which could be used to convince these workers themselves that, despite the plenty, life is not as good as it could be. And having such an argument is essential. For environmental crisis, which is much more than the problem of climate change with which it is commonly identified, is a causally interacting complex web of numerous problems all ultimately stemming from the fact that those living in the First World are consuming at a level and in a manner which is undermining the ecosystems required to support significant numbers of people satisfactorily. Yet those living in the First World have collectively so much political and economic power that only they can change the level and manner of their consumption. Change cannot be imposed upon the beneficiaries by those who lose out. Since neither appeals to morality nor even prudence will reliably induce the beneficiaries to change their ways, one must provide them with a reason for believing that the reduction and reorganisation of life required of them need not be an unbearable loss. One must show them that there are ways of accomplishing the change needed which provide such alternative benefits that the loss is bearable and the new way of life good in ways in which the old, for all its comforts, was bad. All in all, the idea is this: perhaps a critique of how work is experienced by those who currently benefit from the current order might point to an alternative way of working which embodies such a transformation of life overall that these current beneficiaries would be compensated for the reduction and re-organisation of consumption that sustainability and social justice require.

How, then, to elaborate and reconstruct Marx’s initial concept of alienation in a way which shows work under conditions of capitalist exchange, hence capitalist production, to be detrimental to the worker even when it does not impoverish or injure the worker? This task cannot be completed here but an indispensable first step can be taken. The key lies in the third way or sense in which according to Marx work under capitalism is alienating: under conditions of capitalist production work alienates workers from their essence as humans (and thereby from themselves). What might Marx mean by this? What is the essence of the worker as a human being? How might workers under capitalist relations of production become alienated from this essence in a manner which, at least under certain conditions, constitutes such a form of suffering or at least dissatisfaction that workers have reason and motive to change these relations of production? I speculate what Marx might mean by human essence across sections II, III and IV. In section V I elaborate how under capitalist relations of production work might alienate workers from this essence and in section VI I attempt an interpretation of the remaining three ways or senses in which work under capitalist relations of production alienates.

Section II: Marx’s Concept of Species-Being—Some Historical Clues to Its Interpretation

In the Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts Marx writes,

(D)er Mensch ist nicht nur Naturwesen, sondern er ist menschliches Naturwesen; d.h. für sich selbst seiendes Wesen, darum Gattungswesen, als welches er sich sowohl in seinem Sein als in seinem Wissen bestätigen und betätigen muß.

The human being (der Mensch) is not merely a natural being; it is also a human natural being, that is, a being which exists for itself, hence is a species-being (Gattungswesen), as which it must confirm and conduct (betätigen) itself, both practically and cognitively (sowohl in seinem Sein als in seinem Wissen). (MEW 40, S.579; my translation)

Here, Marx is clearly assuming that the human being is essentially for itself, that is, self-conscious in the sense that it is able to think in the first person. But from this very traditional characterisation he infers that the human being is a so-called species-being (Gattungswesen). What is a species-being? Marx takes the term “species-being” from Ludwig Feuerbach (1804-1872) but Feuerbach uses the term only once in The Essence of Christianity7 and not at all in another major work, Basic Principles of Philosophy in the Future. The term thus plays no significant role in Feuerbach’s thought. Moreover, Marx’s use of it suggests no obvious connection with any claim made or doctrine proposed by Feuerbach. Yet there must be some connection with Feuerbach’s thought since Marx is clearly alluding to Feuerbach in using the term.

One can, I believe, uncover the connection by drawing out the implications of a further conclusion Marx draws. Marx claims that human beings, because they are species-beings, must confirm and conduct themselves as species-beings, both practically and cognitively. This intimates that a species-being does not simply persist in time in the manner of a stone but rather exists as what it is through maintaining or sustaining itself dynamically, hence temporally, as what it is, in the course of interaction with other entities in a common, spatiotemporally structured and causally regular world. Furthermore, this self-maintaining, self-sustaining character, since it involves self-confirmation, must be rational, that is to say, reason-driven hence self-conscious. It must be self-regulation in that sense of the word which is dictated by the meaning of the Latin word regula. The human being is self-consciously self-regulating and only for this reason is the human being something self-conscious in the traditional sense.

In other words, as much as Marx endorses the traditional claim that humans are essentially beings possessed of a temporally structured mental life whose elements they can ascribe to themselves, he also maintains that the character of human beings as self-conscious in this traditional sense is a mere moment of what they essentially are. Primarily, more fundamentally, human beings are entities which are as sustaining themselves across time in interaction with other entities in a shared spatiotemporally structured, causally regular world. Moreover, this self-sustaining interaction with other entities not only results from and is sustained by diverse mental states and experiences, it does so self-consciously. It is no mere cybernetic self-steering of the kind exemplified by insects and autonomous agents in Rodney Brook’s sense.

Evidently, this picture of human being fits well with the Epicurean and Aristotelian sympathies Marx displayed in his dissertation of 1841. For indeed both Epicurus and Aristotle regarded rationality, hence self-consciousness and mindedness, as essentially features of the sentiently organic, that is to say, of the animal. At the same time, the idea of distinctively rational self-maintenance across time intimates a more modern lineage, one extending from Rousseau through Kant and the German Idealists precisely to Feuerbach. Something is a species-being only insofar as it comports itself as a species-being. Or, as one might put it in German, “Etwas ist nur insofern ein Gattungswesen, als es sich als ein Gattungswesen verhält.” The German is instructive. For there is a long tradition of using precisely the reflexive verb Sich Verhalten in order to capture the essentially temporal, rationally self-sustaining character of the self-conscious subject. One finds this use in Heidegger and Kierkegaard, for example. Crucially, however, one also finds it in Feuerbach.8 In The Essence of Christianity Feuerbach writes,

Die Religion, wenigstens die christliche, ist das Verhalten des Menschen zu sich selbst, oder richtiger: zu seinem Wesen, aber das Verhalten zu seinem Wesen als zu einem andern Wesen. (Feuerbach 1846/1973, S.48)

Religion, the Christian religion at least, is the comporting of the human being towards itself, or, more correctly, towards its essence, but a comporting towards [itself and] its essence as towards [another being with] another essence. (my translation and underlining)

Note the use Feuerbach makes here of the reflexive verb Sich Verhalten, more precisely, of the verbal substantive of the verb Sich Verhalten, which I have translated using the verbal substantive of the equally reflexive English verb “to comport oneself”. Feuerbach is clearly using this verbal substantive in order to capture the idea that existence as a religious believer is a matter of regulating one’s behaviour in the light cast by what matters to the believer, namely, the divine. It is, of course, evident from the passage that Feuerbach regards this self-consciously, rationally self-regulating behaviour as misdirected: what believers are really comporting themselves towards is their own essence, or rather, an idealisation of their own essence. Feuerbach maintains this because he believes that what fixes the nature of the divine is in fact the human: God only matters to human beings, hence is a possible object of belief, if God is understood to be something which maximally possesses all the attributes humans value in humans. God is and can only be the idealised human being—see Feuerbach 1846/1973, S.48-49 and 30-31. For this reason he declares religious belief, more accurately, religious existence, to be a matter of comporting oneself towards an idealisation derived from one’s own essence as a human being as if this idealisation were not derivative upon one’s own self-understanding, but in fact more fundamental than this.

Now Marx, presumably under the influence of Feuerbach, uses the verb Sich Verhalten in the same general way, even though he differs radically on the details. In other words, Marx, too, uses the reflexive verb to capture the idea of an entity which regulates its behaviour according to how it itself appears to itself in the light cast by certain standards it has acknowledged both cognitively and affectively. Crucially, he does so in order to characterise species-being:

Der Mensch ist ein Gattungswesen, … indem er sich zu sich selbst als der gegenwärtigen, lebendigen Gattung verhält, indem er sich zu sich als einem universellen, darum freien Wesen verhält. (MEW 40, S.515)

Properly translated,9 this reads as follows:

The human being is a species-being … in that it comports itself to itself as the actual, living species, in that it comports itself to itself as a universal and therefore free being. (MEW 40, S.515; my translation)

This shared general use of the verb Sich Verhalten intimates why Marx can move so easily from a traditional characterisation of human being as a self-conscious subject of intentional states and experiences to a rather more Greek picture of the human being as a sentiently organic being whose specific difference from other sentiently organic entities lies in the distinctive way it gets about the world, namely, by self-consciously thinking. What underpins this move from modern to ancient is a claim already implicit in the Critique of Pure Reason: what the traditional picture of self-conscious subjectivity assumes without question, the capacity, namely, to ascribe the contents of one’s mental life to oneself as one’s own, presupposes that the self-conscious subject is as evaluating its situation in the light of criteria which matter to it, e.g., truth, moral rightness, aesthetic worth and the like. This, thinks Kant, underpins the very possibility of awareness of oneself as one and the same subject across an interval of time, which is in turn a condition of the possibility of ascribing mental contents to oneself as one’s own.

In particular, this more fundamental conception constitutes the core of what Feuerbach, Marx, Kierkegaard and Heidegger, despite individual differences, are getting at which they speak of the human being as something which comports itself towards something, therein existing as what they are. Importantly, all four thinkers engage in structural ambiguity when they use the verb Sich Verhalten in this way. In all four thinkers we find the idea that the self-conscious subject comports itself towards something—precisely what matters to it—, therein existing essentially or universally, i.e., as what it is; and therein existing existentially or individually, i.e., as the particular, potentially unique individual instance of what it is.10 I will explain why there is this ambiguity in next section. For the moment, however, let us just note its presence in Marx. It occurs in his use of the German word Wesen, which means either the kind instantiated by an individual or the individual instance itself.11 Marx uses it to mean both these things. Thus, he writes of “the confirmation of the human being as a conscious species-being, that is, as a being (Wesen = instance), which comports itself to the species as its own essence (Wesen = universal), or to itself as a species-being (Gattungswesen; Wesen = instance).” (MEW 40, S.516-51712) In summary, we may say that in Feuerbach, Kierkegaard, Marx and Heidegger there is an ultimately Kant-derived commitment to the idea that the human being is most originally characterised, not as something with a mental life whose contents it can ascribe to itself as its own, but rather as something which comports itself towards what matters to it, therein existing as what and who it is.13

Just this provides the point of departure for determining, admittedly only reconstructively, what Marx is getting at when he characterises humans as species-beings. Marx does borrow the term ‘species-being’14 from Feuerbach but the idea borrowed is thin. It is merely the idea of something which is as comporting itself to something which matters to it, therein existing as what it is. Marx then fills this formal structure out in his own distinctive way.15

We must therefore determine what distinctive content Marx gives the general idea. Let us look at the crucial passage in which Marx characterises what it is for the human being to be a species-being:

Der Mensch ist ein Gattungswesen, nicht nur [1] indem er praktisch und theoretisch die Gattung, sowohl seine eigne als die der übrigen Dinge, zu seinem Gegenstand macht, sondern—und dies ist nur ein andrer Ausdruck für dieselbe Sache—, sondern auch [2] indem er sich zu sich selbst als der gegenwärtigen, lebendigen Gattung verhält, indem er sich zu sich als einem universellen, darum freien Wesen verhält. (MEW 40, S.515)

The human being is a species-being not only [1] in that, practically and theoretically, it makes the species, both its own and that of all other things [der übrigen Dinge], its object, but also—and this is only another way of expressing the same thing—[2] in that it comports itself to itself as the actual, living species; in that it comports itself to itself as a universal and therefore free being.16

Evidently, there are two claims here, claims which are said to express the same thing in different ways:

  1. “The human being is a species-being … in that it makes the species, both its own and that of all other things its object … ”; and

  2. “The human being is a species-being … in that it comports itself to itself as the actual, living species; in that it comports itself to itself as a universal and therefore free being.”

At first, one might think that at least the first claim is readily intelligible: Marx is claiming that humans are species-beings because they have both a consciousness of their own species and a consciousness of the species, i.e., the kinds, of all other things. But Marx could not mean this. It is obviously false that all human beings have a consciousness, hence a concept, of their species. Many peoples and cultures have had no concept of human being. Thus, many Australian aboriginals, when they first encountered Europeans, regarded them not as human beings like them but as gods. It is even more obviously false that all human beings have a consciousness of the species of all other things. For any group of human beings there are surely kinds of which they have no awareness, no concept, at all. But there is another and perhaps more important reason why this too easy interpretation cannot be right: as Marx understands it, making a species one’s object, whether one’s own or that of something else, is not a purely cognitive affair. In some sense, the species at issue matters. It is, however, patently false that all humans care about or are concerned for all humans or all things.17

Evidently, when Marx speaks of making either one’s own or another entity’s species one’s object, he must mean something more ‘externalist’ than any such ‘internalist’ characterisation in terms of what human beings are actually aware of or concerned about. The notion of making something one’s object cannot be identical with but must in some sense be prior to the notion of being intentionally directed at or related to something. Note, however, the second claim. It is precisely the passage in which Marx uses the reflexive verb Sich Verhalten in what I am taking to be a relatively technical sense. It thus links Marx into a line of thought according to which the self-conscious self is most fundamentally an entity that is what it is in and through comporting itself across time towards something which matters to it, in other words, towards something it both cognitively regards as worthy of guiding its behaviour; and is affectively moved to be guided by in its behaviour.

Now there is surely something nascently existential about this characterisation. This suggests that one might successfully unpack the first claim (and thereby both claims) by appeal to a thinker sometimes called existentialist even though he himself rejected the label. For in Being and Time Heidegger develops what he calls the formal concept of existence into an ontology of Dasein. Particularly Heidegger’s account of everyday Dasein displays many features which would be congenial to Marx. Moreover, Heidegger’s initial characterisation of the formal concept of existence displays structural similarity to the second claim Marx makes about what it to be a species-being. Most importantly, Heidegger avoids Marx’s anthropologistic and even biologistic language; his concept of existence thus provides a way of reconstructing the notion of species-being which avoids the kind of essentialism to which Rahel Jäggi objects. So I will now elaborate what Heidegger means by existence in order then, in the section thereafter, to use this account in identifying a more ‘externalist’, hence more plausible sense in which all human beings might be said to have their species as their object. As we shall see, this readily yields an account of what it could mean for human beings to have the species of all other things as their object.

Section III: Existence as Dasein’s Mode of Being

In § 11 of Being and Time, Heidegger writes,

Dasein ist Seiendes, das sich in (H 53) seinem Sein verstehend zu diesem Sein verhält. (Sein und Zeit, § 12, H 52-H 53)

Dasein is an entity which in its Being comports itself understandingly towards this Being

With this, says Heidegger, the formal concept of existence (Existenz) is indicated (angezeigt). Note that this characterisation does indeed share two structural features with Marx’s use of the reflexive verb Sich Verhalten. Firstly, there is the general idea of self-comportment, that is, of being what one is by rationally behaving as what one is. Secondly, there is a deliberate ambiguity between the universal and the individual: as with the word Wesen in Marx, Heidegger’s word ‘Being’ (Sein) connotes (a) some kind which Dasein is; (b) the individual which Dasein is; and (c) the particular features of this individual itself and its situation or context. There is, however, a third structural feature of Heidegger’s characterisation, one which provides one good reason for thinking that Heidegger might be useful for unpacking Marx: Heidegger uses the term ‘Being’ as a place-holder for whatever Dasein is. It is in fact a formal-ontological notion in Husserl’s sense into which diverse substantive notions can be plugged. This formal-ontological character avoids the anthropologism and biologism lurking in Marx; it thus permits us to use Heidegger simply to sidestep the argument Jäggi brings against essentialism.18

Like Marx, Heidegger believes that, as self-conscious beings, humans are essentially social. Put more accurately because more formal-ontologically, Dasein is always Mitsein, being with other entities like it. The ‘I’ of which modern philosophy makes so much, exists only in a nexus of social interaction in which it acts out diverse social roles and identities. I am a teacher, a colleague, a friend, an environmentalist and so on. These are clearly social kinds of thing to be and as such they are only true of one if, at least as a rule if not always, one understands what it is to be them. This understanding has both a cognitive and a practical dimension to it: on the one hand, one knows that someone of the kind does such and such and one knows that doing this well, i.e., being a good instance of the kind, requires certain attributes.19 On the other, one knows how to do what someone of the kind does, at least to some sufficient degree, such that one can exemplify to some sufficient degree the appropriate attributes. Thus, one is only a teacher if as a rule one knows that a teacher imparts knowledge or skills and that a good teacher is therefore patient, speaks slowly and clearly, plays no favourites, etc. And one is only a teacher if as a rule one is able, to some sufficient degree, to do, hence be these things.

In short, one is only a teacher if one is able to apply what one knows about teaching to the particular case in all its possible uniqueness. Teaching and all other social roles and identities involve capacities of application of what, expressly formulated, would be commonplaces about what the role or identity requires. For this reason, they involve what Heidegger calls circumspection (Umsicht) and regard (Rücksicht). These are two forms of the capacity non-inferentially to recognise what it is rational to do in one’s possibly unique situation, given who and what one is and what one is currently doing; circumspection concerns things (Nicht-Dasein) while regard concerns others (Mitdasein). These forms of sight, as Heidegger calls them, bind diverse skills, capacities and competencies into the unity of a role or identity. In summary, according to Heidegger, the self-conscious subject finds itself from the outset in diverse social roles and identities which cannot be acted out blindly but require creative application to the particular situation of what it knows about what it is in general to be in this role or to possess this identity.

We may now say more precisely what Heidegger is getting when he speaks of Existenz, Dasein’s distinctive mode of being: something exists in this special sense just in case it is of a kind K such that being of kind K requires that as a rule20 one understands, both practically and cognitively, what it is to be K, and successfully applies this understanding in a context.21 When Heidegger speaks of Dasein as comporting itself understandingly towards its Being, he is getting at this notion of being such and such by applying an understanding of what it is to be such and such.22 This is why his use of the term ‘Being’ is ambiguous between the universal and the individual: Dasein is objectively what it is as determining what the individual situation requires of it, this particular individual, given what it is in general to be thus and so. Dasein is as fitting the universal to the individual—to the individual circumstances, i.e., the context, and to itself. Therein it is23 as a teacher, colleague, friend, environmentalist, etc.; it exists.24

Precisely for this reason, Heidegger says, “The ‘essence’ (»Wesen«) of Dasein lies in its existence (Existenz).” (Heidegger 1979, H 42) Note that this is a completely formal, or rather formal-ontological essentialism.25 The formal-ontological character of the concept of existence ensures that it privileges no concrete forms of life, no specific norms and values, as the essence of Dasein, hence of the human.26 Against essentialism in this formal-ontological sense Jäggi’s central argument gets no grip. Yet at first this might seem a problem rather than an advantage. Everything said thus far is consistent with Marx’s position. But its formality makes it hard to see how Heidegger’s notion of Existenz can be used to reconstruct Marx’s vague and seemingly biologistic notion of species-being. For what Heidegger says intimates no relation at all to either the human species or any other species. Given this, how can Dasein’s comporting itself understandingly towards its social role or identity, towards its specific circumstances and towards itself be extensionally identified with the human being’s comporting itself towards itself as the actual, living species, hence as a univeral, free being?

In fact, there is no real problem here. We need only examine the notion of application a little further. What does it involve? Obviously, such application involves and presupposes the various norms and values governing the role or identity at issue. But it also involves more. Dasein has indefinitely many social roles and identities: I am a teacher, a colleague, environmentalist, lover of native plants and many things more. Consequently, I can find myself confronted with the task of mediating between the requirements of different roles or identities and the context in which I am acting. For example, I might have to choose between being a teacher and being an environmental activist—if suddenly during semester a coal company announces the commencement of work on a highly controversial new coal mine and the environmental groups who have been campaigning against it call for a blockade. In this case, I might recognise that, in the face of impending climate change, it is now time to do something about it and so I suspend my social role as teacher and assume the tasks and responsibilities of my identity as environmental activist.

Or, to take another example, one in an important respect more instructive, if someone in the audience of a seminar at which I am presenting suddenly collapsed with all the signs of a heart attack yet I continued speaking, then I would clearly have failed to see something. In particular, I would have failed to see that it is now time to move out of my role as speaker, not into another social role or identity but rather simply to render assistance as best I can. Note that in this case I have not merely failed to understand the context; I have failed to understand the role itself. In general, one only understands a social role or identity when one is able to recognise when it is time—note the essential temporality here—to move into it and to move out of it, into another role or identity, or indeed, as in the case just considered, into none at all. So much is this true that if I regularly displayed the kind of blindness to context illustrated in the case just considered, then you would rightly ask whether I were really—Heidegger would say eigentlich—a self-conscious subject at all.

Clearly, the capacity to mediate between roles and identities and the context is a power of judgement, a kind of Urteilskraft. To this extent it is similar to circumspection and regard. But is it simply identical with either or both? Or is it something more which encompasses both? Circumspection and regard are together the capacity to recognise non-inferentially how the role or identity one is currently acting out is to be acted out—circumspectly in respect of things, regardfully in respect of persons. Consequently, neither is simply identical with recognition whether one is or is not to persist in acting out the role or identity itself. The ‘sight’ now at issue is directed not inwards into the execution of a role or identity but outwards beyond its borders, into the world in which the execution takes place. For its function is precisely to determine to what extent, in view of the current situation, it is now correct to begin with or persist in execution.

But what determines this correctness? As the case of the heart attack shows, this is determined by whether and to what degree those interests one has acknowledged as legitimate, i.e., as deserving consideration, are compromised by acting out, or persisting in acting out, the role or identity at issue. If during a paper someone in the audience suffers a heart attack, it is clear what interests legitimate in this sense are at stake and which have priority. It is thus clear that I must stop speaking in order to render assistance. In addition to internal insight into what successful execution of a role or identity requires, there is external insight into whether the particular context renders it correct to undertake or persist in this execution and we must distinguish between them. This external insight is just as much part of understanding the role or identity, hence of the role or identity itself, as is the internal kind.

Now social roles and identities are only possible insofar as they are as a rule executed both competently and out of commitment to the norms and values underpinning them. Their adequate performance matters to most and not just because some advantage is to be derived from it. Or, as one might also put it, most must mostly act out their roles and identities conscientiously. Were this not so, then the conditions under which it made sense to engage in social interaction at all would be undermined and so social roles and identities would not exist. If, however, this is so, then insight into whether the context renders it correct to undertake or persist in the execution of some social role or identity implicates not merely the capacity but also as a rule the concern to regulate one’s performance in the light of what one acknowledges as the legitimate interests of those potentially affected by it.

All this recalls Aristotle’s notion of phrónesis.27 Phrónesis aims to determine where individual and social sophrosýne lies, that is, an ordering of preferences and interests, both within the individual and across individuals, in which each preference or interest gets its proper due. As such, it presupposes a higher-order preference for achieving such an ordering, for which reason Aristotle insists that one cannot exercise phrónesis without being good, i.e., of good character.28 So, too, with the judgement (Urteilskraft) which mediates between the conduct of a role or identity and the context: it implicates, at least as a rule, not just a capacity but also a concern, to regulate behaviour in the light of the interests one regards as legitimate. Underpinning the very existence of social roles and identities is thus a capacity and concern on the part of most to act out social roles and identities conscientiously and this implicates a capacity and concern to regulate one’s execution of the role or identity in the light of interests one regards as legitimate, both those of others and indeed of oneself.

Three points of clarification need to be made at this point. Firstly, nothing said thus far rules out cases in which individual do not execute their roles or identities conscientiously. Indeed, nothing rules out the possibility of individual who have no higher-order preference or concern at all to regulate their actions in the light of interests they at least in some sense acknowledge to be legitimate—what Hutcheson called pure malice, Kant the purely evil will and we today pyschopathy. In all these cases not phrónesis but mere cleverness (deinotes) is exercised and we must not, says Aristotle, take the latter for the former. But all such cases occur essentially as exceptions to the rule. Secondly, different individuals can have different conceptions of what and whose interests count as legitimate and there is always the possibility of error. Racists, for example, will exclude the interests of those who belong to the racial group they hate. One can therefore be wrong about whose interests are legitimate in the sense of deserving consideration. Even so one is concerned as a rule to regulate behaviour in the light of some interests one acknowledges as legitimate. Thirdly, the kind of judgement (Urteilskraft) at issue here has an implicitly political character. For in principle if not in practice one cannot restrict the class of those whose interests are to be considered merely to those immediately impacted. One may well have to include ever broader circles of potentially affected individuals, some quite distant and unknown to one, for example, the peasants in Mexico who grow the coffee one drinks in Australia. At this point, judgement in the relevant sense has become political, for which reason Aristotle was right to regard phrónesis as the definitive political virtue.29

Section IV: What is it to be a Species-being?

We may now make the move which permits us to use Heidegger in the reconstruction of what Marx might be glimpsing through a glass but darkly when he speaks of humans as species-beings. For if all of the preceding is true, then, simply in virtue of being the finite, limited self-conscious beings they are, human beings are essentially related to a counterfactual ideal condition in which individual and social sophrosýne is reliably and durably realised. At the level of the social, this is a condition in which each comports itself in diverse social roles and identities without detriment to those interests of others which actually are, and not merely acknowledged to be, legitimate. At the level of the individual, it is a condition in which each comports itself in diverse social roles and identities without detriment to those of its own interests which actually are, and not merely acknowledged to be, legitimate. All humans are related to this counterfactual ideal condition simply because of all Dasein it is true that as a rule if not always and in all cases it is concerned to act out its various social roles and identities conscientiously. In this sense, Dasein comports itself not just towards to what and who it factually is but also to what and who it truly, that is to say, eigentlich is.

One can understand more deeply what this comes to, hence why it can be used to reconstruct Marx, if we go back to Kant. In the Critique of Practical Reason Kant writes of what he calls the perfected good (das vollendete Gute).30 This is the unity of justice (Gerechtigkeit) and happiness (Glückseligkeit). That is, it is a condition in which one can act justly without inhibiting the satisfaction of desire and can seek satisfaction of desire without acting unjustly.31 According to Kant any fully rational self-conscious subject would acknowledge a condition of such unity, both within the individual and between individuals, as true happiness, that is, happiness all things considered.32 Evidently, the perfected good is a condition, of both individuals and their interaction, in which there is harmony between desire and right. Both individually and socially, it is a condition of reliably and durably realised sophrosýne.

The perfected good in this Kantian sense is not something of which human beings are necessarily conscious. That is, it need not be the referent of any actual intentional state or experience, nor need it guide any actual behaviour. It is therefore not a goal of action in any ordinary sense, whether individual or collective. Nor is it a hidden goal of which human beings are not in any ordinary manner aware towards which they are nonetheless unconsciously striving.33 In other words, it is nothing like Hegel’s Absolute Idea. Rather, it is, according to Kant, a presupposition of humans’ self-conscious possession of purely local, everyday intentional states and experiences and of their execution of purely local roles and identities since such execution emanates as a rule from a capacity and concern to regulate behaviour in the light of whatever local interests one has factually acknowledged as legitimate. One need therefore only be conscious of and strive to realise perfectly everyday goals, norms and values.

I want now to borrow this Kantian idea. That is, I want now to maintain that this essential orientation towards the perfected good is what Marx is inchoately glimpsing when he speaks of human beings as species-beings which have their own species as their object. Is there then any textual evidence that this is what Marx is glimpsing? The later Marx—note this, the later Marx!—claims that in a future communist society resources will be produced and allocated according to the principle, “From each according to their ability, to each according to their needs.” (MEW 19, S.21)34 The first half of the principle—“From each according to their ability”—states that each member of the future communist society will contribute according to their ability, hence fairly, to the production of resources. A future communist social order will therefore not involve injustice in its production.

The second half of the principle—“to each according to their needs”— distinguishes the communist social order from all others.35 It states that the resources produced will be allocated according to need rather than whatever desert individuals have acquired through their productive contribution. Obviously, the needs to which this half of the principle is referring are tacitly understood to be legitimate. In other words, they are either desires whose satisfaction causes no injustice or desires to whose satisfaction one is positively entitled. So also in its consumption a future communist society will involve no injustice. Moreover, all legitimate desires will be satisfied; there will be no repression of legitimate desire. All in all, a future communist society will be one which satisfies legitimate desire without injustice and satisfies justice without repressing legitimate desire. It must therefore constitute a realisation of the perfected good—that counterfactual ideal condition towards which actual self-conscious human subjects and the totality of interaction in which they move in and out of roles and identities, therein producing and reproducing the means of their material subsistence,36 are inherently oriented.

Before, however, we can definitively assert that this orientation towards the perfected good, both at the individual and the social level, is what Marx is gesturing towards when he describes humans as species-beings, we must clarify one more thing. A species-being not only makes its own species its object but also those of all other things. Marx clearly thinks that these two components of his first claim as to what it is to be a species-being are not even notionally separable from one another. A satisfactory account of what Marx means by species-being must therefore give some account of each component in its unity with the other.

This task is easy, given what has just been imputed to Marx. If both individual human beings and their total social interaction are oriented towards the perfected good in the sense indicated, then actual human beings and their societies have a utopian dimension immanent to them. This utopian dimension does not entail any dangerous political perfectionism because the perfected good determines no substantive form of life. Yet it does set an abstract task of social and individual betterment. This task has wide scope: it will include not merely the self-transformation of individuals and society but also the transformation by individuals and society of their ‘other’, namely, nature. There are two aspects to the second part of this task. Firstly, reliable and durable sophrosýne, both at the individual and the social level, presupposes that human beings are able to meet their legitimate desires sufficiently. It thus requires reduction of scarcity, hence improvement of the means by which human beings appropriate nature. Secondly, however, it also presupposes reliable and durable existence in the world. The perfected good is thus not merely a condition of harmony within the individual and across individuals; it is also a condition of harmony with their ‘other’, i.e., nature. It thus also requires sustainability. For human beings, as species-beings, to make the species of all other things their object is for them to be oriented towards this aspect of the perfected good—towards reduced scarcity combined with enhanced sustainability.37

Section V: The Alienation of Workers from their Species-being, hence from Themselves

Let us now use this account of what it is to be a species-being in order to interpret the third sense in which the capitalist organisation of work alienates workers: the alienation from their essence as species-beings, hence from themselves. This is the most fundamental sense because the other three senses are, as we shall see, merely more specific ways in which alienation in the third sense manifests itself. A first and crucial step towards an adequate interpretation of alienation in this third sense must consist in explaining why Marx speaks of alienation from one’s essence, hence from oneself. So alienation from one’s essence, whatever it is, implicates alienation from oneself. This constitutes a crucial indication as to how one must proceed in order to unpack the whole concept of alienation, in all the four senses of it distinguished by Marx. For the noun phrase ‘alienation from oneself’ occurs as it does in Marx’s formulation of alienation from essence in order to intimate a necessary connection of the technical, philosophical notion he intends with a relatively intelligible and straightforward, pre-philosophical understanding of alienation.

Pre-philosophically, we understand alienation to be precisely a condition of alienation from oneself in the sense that one finds oneself in a condition of such serious dissatisfaction with some aspect or feature of one’s own situation that one has oneself reason and motive to change it or at least to distance oneself from it. Marx must link the philosophical notion of alienation from essence to this pre-philosophical notion. That is, he must show alienation from essence to entail alienation in the ordinary, pre-philosophical sense. Only if he can do this will his account of alienation from essence provide those who putatively suffer from it a reason and motive to overcome it. Evident connection of alienation in the philosophical sense with alienation in the ordinary and in particular motivating sense is thus a condition of adequacy on any interpretation of what Marx means by alienation from essence.

Note that alienation from essence, whatever it is, precisely, cannot itself motivate those sufferering from it to overcome it. It makes no ordinary sense to say that one could suffer because of, or be dissatisfied with, one’s essence, at least not rationally.38 It makes even less sense to speak of having reason or motive to change one’s essence. Alienation from essence can only mean that one instantiates one’s essence under such conditions, in such a way, that one cannot engage fully in the activity definitive of one’s essence. In other and more precise words, alienation from essence must in fact be alienation from the particular way in which one instantiates one’s essence, such that this disparity between essence and existence causes one to be dissatisfied, hence to have reason and motive to overcome the disparity. One instantiates what one essentially is sub-optimally and this one’s particular situation—precisely one’s existence—in some way engenders suffering or at least dissatisfaction, hence provides reason and motive to bring one’s existence at least more into line with that condition which one’s essence determines as optimal.

Yet the disparity between existence and essence which alienation from essence must in some way involve cannot be the sole cause or source of suffering or dissatisfaction. For it also makes no sense to suggest that suffering or dissatisfaction could be caused simply because one realises one’s essence sub-optimally. This would imply that such disparity itself constitute a reason or motive to bring one’s existence at least more into line with one’s essence. And then one would have to indulge in the kind of bad, psychologising metaphysics in which advocates of some oppressed group engage when, for rhetorical purposes, they speak of the group’s yearning for freedom, self-determination, recognition or whatever. Another condition of adequacy on any interpretation of what Marx means by alienation from essence must therefore be that one avoids any attribution or insinuation of a primordial affectively based disposition to bring one’s existence more into line with one’s essence.

Consequently, disparity between existence and essence can only be a part of, that is, a contributing factor in, the concrete condition which causes suffering or at least dissatisfaction and this condition must cause suffering or dissatisfaction in a quite ordinary, pre-philosophically understandable way, through its possessing features which cause suffering or dissatisfaction in beings with such and such quite ordinary affective dispositions. Relatedly, disparity between existence and essence can only be part of the reason provided by this condition for bringing one’s existence at least more into line with one’s essence. Finally, the desire to overcome this disparity must be grounded in ordinary affective dispositions whose attribution to human beings is justifiable quite independently of any philosophical conception of alienation.

So bearing all these considerations and conditions of adequacy in mind, let us now attempt to elaborate an account of workers’ alienation from essence under capitalist relations of exchange, hence production, which meets the conditions of adequacy just outlined and is able to explain why a distinctively philosophical conception of alienation is at all needed. To be a species-being is to exist in Heidegger’s sense. Something exists in this sense just in case it is as comporting itself understandingly towards its own Being, both in the sense of who and what it concretely is and in the sense of its specific situation or context, that environment of other entities with which it must somehow come to terms. Self-comportment towards its own Being, in both the universal and individual senses of the term ‘Being’, is what it is; this is its defining activity.

A species-being is thus a teacher, a colleague, a friend, an environmentalist and the like since precisely these and only these are the kinds of kind one can be only if as a rule one comports oneself understandingly, indeed conscientiously, towards them and the way one realises them. As the neologistic adverb ‘understandingly’ intimates, such self-comportment involves the exercise, internally, of something akin to techné: craft and interpersonal skill, hence craft and interpersonal sight, i.e., circumspection (Umsicht) and regard (Rücksicht), or what Dejours has called practical intelligence.39 Crucially, however, it also involves the exercise, externally, of an everyday kind of phrónesis.40 This latter encompasses all roles and identities, binding them into the situation and thereby into a totality of interaction with fellow species-beings in which all collectively produce and reproduce the means of their material subsistence. Marx variously calls this totality of interaction species-life (Gattungsleben, MEW 40, S.451), species-activity (Gattungstätigkeit, MEW 40, S.446), productive life (das produktive Leben, MEW 40, S.516), and life-activity (Lebenstätigkeit, MEW 40, S.449).

How, then, given this understanding of what the human essence is, might capitalist work alienate workers from their species-being in the sense that it constitutes a sub-optimal realisation of (their particular role in and contribution to) species-activity—sub-optimal realisation causes, given certain independently given, hence independently specifiable desires and interests, dissatisfaction with their lot, even suffering under it? Consider the kind of capitalist production with which Marx was familiar. This was characterised by low wages, long hours and dangerous conditions, hence by poverty, exhaustion, ill-health and bodily injury. These are clearly moral wrongs and they are such not because workers are self-conscious beings who deserve to be treated as ends-in-themselves but because they are sentient beings capable of suffering. After all, animals put to work in nineteenth century capitalism suffered just as much if not more exhaustion, ill-health and bodily injury than workers. They were also often impoverished, at least in the sense of being malnourished and ill-housed.

Notice one important thing, however: although these features of capitalist work in the nineteenth century are morally wrong (because they cause suffering), they do not suffice for alienation from one’s species-being.41 The impoverishing, exhausting and endangering character of work can only alienate to the extent that it inhibits regular and reliable exercise of the activity definitive of the workers as a species-being, namely, circumspect manipulation of things, regardful engagement with others and everyday phrónetic mediation of activity with the context. Clearly, it can do this. Long hours, for example, make it progressively harder to exercise circumspection and regard within the job.42 And they make harder to exercise phrónesis in the mediation between the job and other roles and identities, which impairs the ability to function as father, friend, coach of the local football club, trade unionist, etc. Furthermore, because they are species-beings, workers have as a rule the independently specifiable desire and interest to comport themselves understandingly towards their Being, i.e., to play, in their particular way, their particular part in overall species-activity conscientiously. Consequently, any impairment of their ability to play this part caused by poverty, exhaustion and occupational danger will cause suffering or at least dissatisfaction. Workers are therefore not merely impoverished, exhausted and endangered, they are also, to some degree, alienated from their essence and themselves.

Crucially, however, while any degree of poverty, exhaustion and occupational danger will presumably inhibit species-activity to some extent, it remains conceivable that workers should find some considerable opportunity for the exercise of it. And indeed economic historians have documented how workers, despite poverty, exhaustion and danger which, at least in First World economies, would not be permitted today, were able to exercise species-activity relatively effectively. This capacity was clearly a necessary component of that distinctively nineteenth and early to mid-twentieth century working-class culture which protected individuals, at least to some degree, from the brutalities of work. So this working class culture was also a bulwark against alienation from essence and self.

Precisely this sheds interesting theoretical and indeed political light on contemporary forms of work. These are, at least for many in the First World, no longer characterised by low wages, long hours and dangerous conditions. To some considerable degree poverty, exhaustion and occupational danger have been overcome. But one decisive contributing reason for this improvement is the Taylorist re-organisation of work which, from hesitant beginnings in the last decade of the nineteenth century, spread rapidly throughout all major capitalist economies.43 Frederick Winslow Taylor and others of his generation won social acceptance for the idea that production could be organised ‘scientifically’, i.e., explicitly and systematically organised according to criteria of efficiency. Precisely for this reason, Max Weber described “the Taylor system” as a pioneering accomplishment in the ongoing process of European rationalisation.44 The major re-organisation of work and the workplace which the rise to ideological hegemony of this idea both initiated and sustained was a correspondingly significant increase in productivity which, by the end of the Second World War, had made distinctively consumer capitalism possible.

Now Taylor thought that one could explicitly organise a production process around efficiency and its continuous improvement through hierarchical structures of command-and-control.45 This aspect of Taylorist scientific management is no longer popular because it is seen as unable to respond quickly enough to the demands and challenges of increasingly complex and fast-moving, hence increasingly unregulatable economies. These days, one typically maintains that efficiency is achieved by creating conditions under which individuals effectively compete with one another, whether as business owners, as sub-contractors or as workers in the traditional sense. Nonetheless, the idea first explicitly, even religiously promulgated by Taylor and others like him, namely, that production can be systematically organised around efficiency and its continuous improvement in systematic, testable fashion, remains hegemonic, notwithstanding a different conception of how to implement it. The hegemony of this idea, combined with this conception of how to implement it, has resulted in globally intertwined economies characterised by numerous long, fast-flowing and flexible supply chains which enhance the capacity of enterprises to respond to rapidly changing circumstances46 and to deliver to consumers a wide range of high quality goods and services at low prices.

The original Taylorist push for efficiency contributed to a significant improvement in workers’ material conditions across the first half of the twentieth century. Wages increased significantly, eventually allowing workers to participate significantly in the bounty they produced.47 Hours of work were reduced and a standard working week became the norm, giving workers time to enjoy together the bounty they not only produced but could increasingly afford. Finally, working conditions and social conditions generally improved significantly, permitting workers the healthy, long lives needed in order to enjoy the bounty they produced. With this, the first phase of a distinctively consumer capitalist society emerged, which lasted from 1945 until the late seventies.

By end of the seventies, however, two factors had begun to undermine the tenability of this form of consumer capitalism. On the one hand, the costs of maintaining the public infrastructure of the first phase of consumer capitalism had become large. On the other, growing competition with low wage economies forced governments to minimise taxation and business to insist on increased productivity, i.e., efficiency. Precisely because wages and conditions in advanced capitalist economies have not reverted and indeed could not revert to nineteenth century standards,48 the response to competitive challenge has been to insist all the more on improving the efficiency of the production process, hence of work—to the point where classical Taylorist conceptions of work organisation, more precisely, the patterns and practices of work which had arisen around the implementation of these conceptions, came to be seen as themselves obstacles to efficiency.

In particular, in contrast to the character of work during the first phase of consumer capitalism, work has been made more precarious, as job security is sacrificed to employment flexibility. It has also become more temporally and socially fragmented as work schedules are increasingly tailored to enhance productivity alone and collective time-on and time-off is reduced. Importantly, it has become more demanding, as today’s excellence becomes tomorrow’s average. It becomes more imperious as other dimensions of life—family, friends, community, politics—are increasingly subordinated to it. It has become more unfriendly as workers have less time for socialising and are encouraged to compete with one another. It has become more observed as a punitive culture of accountability and panoptical performance measurement develops. Finally, it has become more institutionally disingenuous as uncodified practices of making oneself and others look good push back against management demands for accountability. All these are consequences of a concerted push to implement by non-Taylorist means the Taylorist goal of efficiency across the entire process of social production and distribution.

There can be no doubt that the negative features of contemporary work—precariousness, temporal and social fragmentation, demandingness and imperiousness, unfriendliness, increasing surveillance and disingenuity—cause suffering or at least dissatisfaction amongst workers. But why? That is, how precisely do they cause suffering or dissatisfaction? Precariousness is the character of work as not allowing one sufficiently to know whether one will remain employed for the foreseeable. It is thus the character of work as not allowing one sufficiently know whether one will remain employed for the foreseeable, hence rationally considerable future. As such, it impedes the ability to plan and organise one’s life. Temporal and social fragmentation similarly impedes. Crucially, it is not, or not just, the character of work as not sufficiently allowing one to satisfy those desires to be with others which arise directly from affection, e.g., love. Rather, it is the character of work as impeding interaction with those one desires to interact with for whatever reason, whether affection or not.

Demandingness and imperiousness concern not restriction of deliberation and action but respect for the worker’s person. Demandingness is the character of work as not sufficiently limiting its demands at work to what is legitimate; imperiousness is its character as not sufficiently limiting its demands on other areas of life to what is legitimate. Both are, of course, constraints on deliberation and action in the world but their sources are different. Precarious and fragmentation arise behind the backs of actors, in the manner of natural obstacles. Demandingness and imperiousness, by contrast, stem from disrespect, in particular, from insufficient acknowledgement of workers as having their own legitimate interests which must be taken into consideration when demands are placed upon them. As such, demandingness and imperiousness thwart the desire possessed at least as a rule by workers that work be undertaken in a fashion which takes into consideration all those interests which workers regard as legitimate—their own, of course, included.

The unfriendliness of work is not, of course, its character as impeding the creation and maintenance of friendships since the modern workplace belongs to the public, not the private sphere. Rather, unfriendliness is the character of work as impeding deliberation and action by creating diffidence in Hobbes’ sense. Diffidence in this sense is uncertainty about the intentions of others, hence unpredictability of their behaviour and such uncertainty makes it harder to determine what behaviour to engage in oneself. Hobbesian diffidence arises in any context in which individuals who must coordinate their actions with those of others, hence must know what these others intend, are forced to compete with one another. Clearly the workplace is such a context.

Finally, the character of work as under constant surveillance by those who manage it also impedes deliberation and action. Such surveillance seeks to make workers’ performance controllable through rendering it transparent, hence open to scrutiny by others. But such transparency can only be accomplished by the application of putatively objective performance measures well-defined in advance. For the more creative kinds of work, however, even satisfactory, much less exceptional performance is seldom genuinely measurable; moreover, exceptional accomplishment often shows itself as such only so retrospectively that measurement of it would be of no use in monitoring the individual who achieves it. Consequently, in all cases of truly creative work, seeking to conform to measures of accomplishment is not the same thing as seeking a satisfactory or an exceptional accomplishment.

Now in many cases the goal of conformity to the measures of accomplishment and the goal of accomplishment itself will coincide extensionally. When, however, this is not the case, workers, since they are as a rule conscientious, will find themselves as a rule in a state of cognitive dissonance in which there is a mismatch between what they know to count institutionally as satisfactory, even exceptional performance and what they believe to be the real merit of what they have done, merit which so to speak falls between the institutional cracks. Crucially, if this kind of mismatch occurs often and systematically, then the worker is left in a state of uncomfortable diremption: either to suffer the fate of the non-conformist or to engage in a kind of bad faith—in that kind of disingenuity already mentioned in which one conforms to measures of performance without really believing in the performance. For the typical worker this is a discomfiting experience.

It is important to notice how this mismatch arises between, on the one hand, actual satisfactory performance of work; and, on the other, what counts as this according to measures of performance imposed as rules upon work: it arises because the measures inhibit acting in ways which realise opportunities for uniquely satisfactory or indeed exceptional accomplishment which are uncovered by circumspection and regard. In other words, the measures get in the way of acting on what the sight which guides the performance of work reveals to be a possibly unique or novel solution to the task at hand. This provides a clue as to how surveillance at work operates to cause suffering or dissatisfaction in the case of uncreative repetitive work, e.g., work on the Fordist assembly line or in Smith’s pin factory. Here the measures of performance are straightforward: one is required to iterate a certain limited set of tasks at a certain rate. The repetitive nature of the work leaves next to no role at all for creative insight—for practical intelligence in Dejours’ sense. Since, however, the exercise of such intelligence is an essential component of the very way humans get around the world, this kind of work requires one so to speak to engage with entities without fully engaging with them. Conscientious engagement worker with the entities one is working on or with is only very minimally required. One can surrender oneself only minimally to the particularities and peculiarities of the task since the task has been designed from the outset to minimise these. In consequence, a concerted effort is required to stick to the task since the task itself cannot draw one into its accomplishment. This is necessarily mentally exhausting for at least the typical worker since, as species-beings, workers are as giving themselves over to the exigencies and requirements of the task before them.

Evidently, the negative features of contemporary work distinguished above all serve, in one way or another, to prevent workers from fully functioning as the species-beings they are. In other words, these features inhibit workers in their comportment towards their own Being in the sense outlined in sections III and IV. And this causes suffering or at least dissatisfaction as a rule since as a rule such self-comportment towards one’s own Being is undertaken properly, that is to say, fully, hence conscientiously. In other, less jargonistic words, typically workers are both able and willing to act out their diverse roles and identities properly, hence to execute them effectively in the light of those interests they regard as legitimate. Contemporary work, however, in the diverse kinds of way just indicated, inhibits this defining activity of them as species-beings. It prevents them from fully or actually (eigentlich) existing in Heidegger’s special sense of the term. And as a rule this matters to them since fully or optimally to be in the mode of Existenz is to be in that intra- and interpersonal fashion which constitutes the perfected good, i.e., living well, hence true happiness.

Section VI: Towards an Interpretation of Alienation from Act, Product and the Other of Work

The account just given of workers’ alienation from their essence as species-being satisfies the requirement that such alienation entail alienation of workers from themselves in the pre-philosophical sense. That is, it is genuinely implicated in the way contemporary work causes workers to suffering, or at least to be dissatisfactied with their lot, such that workers have reason and motive to change the latter. At the same time, the account raises two pressing questions: firstly, how exactly, on this account of alienation from essence, do capitalist relations of exchange, hence production engender it? Secondly, can one develop, on the basis of this account of what one might call the master sense of alienation, plausible interpretations of the three other senses in which according to Marx work under capitalism alienates workers, in particular, alienates them from themselves in the pre-philosophical sense?

It is important to understand the first question correctly: it asks why specifically capitalist relations of exchange, hence production, should cause alienation from essence as this latter is understood here. Clearly, if one’s identification of alienation in capitalist relations of exchange, hence production, is to be a critique of their capitalist character, then alienation in this sense must arise because these relations are capitalist. It is relatively easy to see how this might be so. A necessary feature of distinctively capitalist relations of exchange is that they are a system of exchange organised around the augmentation of capital.49 Practices of exchange organised around enabling individuals, for whatever reason, systematically to augment their capital have proved remarkably successful in stimulating practices of production which bring to market an ever wider range of goods and services at ever lower prices and of ever higher quality.

Note that this casts the original Taylorist and later neo-Taylorist efforts to organise work efficiently in a new and interesting light. For it shows really only to make explicit and implement more consistently the character of capitalist exchange, hence production, as operating to augment capital. All such efforts understand efficiency to be efficiency in producing for distinctively capitalist exchange, hence to be efficiency in maximising choice and quality while minimising price. These would indeed appear to be the only understanding of what efficiency ultimately boils down to which one could formulate as a general rule and systematically operationalise. And certainly the constant improvement of efficiency in this economic sense is required for the augmentation of capital in the competitive market transactions towards which capitalist exchange tends.

At any rate, just this, the character of capitalism as constantly improving the efficiency of relations of production and distribution in the economic sense—of constantly rationalising them in Weber’s sense—enables one to address the second question. For it constitutes the key to understanding alienation in the three other senses in which according to Marx capitalist relations of exchange, hence production, alienate the worker. At the same time it enables us to understand these other three senses as the three concrete forms in which the third and master sense of alienation, alienation from essence, manifests itself.

i. Alienation of the Worker from the Act of Work under Capitalism

De facto we have already begun to elaborate how alienation in the second sense, i.e., alienation from the act or activity of work, is to be understood. In those forms of creative work in which performance measures thwart the full exercise of circumspection and regard; or in those forms of uncreative work in which the exercise of circumspection and regard is reduced to a bare minimum: one encounters a form of alienation from essence which occurs in the very act of work itself. It is thus also alienation from the act or activity of work. Alienation from the act or activity of work itself thus turns out to be a form of alienation from essence which consists in truncated realisation of that aspect of what workers essentially are which concerns the inwardly directed regulation of the execution of a role or identity rather than the outwardly directed mediation of this execution with the particular context.

Consequently, on this account of alienation from essence, it is possible for a situation to occur in which alienation is restricted, at least relatively speaking, to the act or activity of work itself. In other words, it is possible to imagine that alienation from essence might manifest itself solely or at least primarily as alienation from the act or activity of work. There is good historical reason for countenancing this abstract possibility. Labour historians have shown that workers in the nineteenth century, although not only impoverished, injured and endangered by their work, but also stultified by, hence alienated from it, were able to function relatively effectively and even happily within their own oppressed communities, in which there was often an extraordinary degree of solidarity. Furthermore, although in Marx’s time much work was stultifying, hence alienating in the second sense, technological limitations and conceptions of workplace organisation also enabled rearguard resistance, at least in the more skilled forms of work, to the reduction of work to the repetition of very simple, mindless tasks. As Braverman and Kanigel have pointed out,50 for the skilled tradesman at least there was still room for an empowering exercise of what Aristotle calls techné, Dejours practical intelligence and Heidegger circumspection and regard.

Of course, as both Braverman and Kanigel also point out, the Taylorist re-organisation of production sought progressively to eliminate this work-internal possibility of resistance. Crucially, however, this work-internal re-organisation need not impact significantly upon the relation of work to the wider social context. Indeed, thanks to the increases in productivity enabled by the Taylorist re-organisation on the one hand and the increasing strength of the labour movement on the other, workers were able to extract from capitalism decent living and working conditions whilst retaining and remaining at least able to enhance the forms of social solidarity and community which often characterised even the most brutal forms of satanic nineteenth century ‘Manchester’ capitalism.

ii. Alienation of the Worker under Capitalism from the Product of Work

Alienation in the second sense distinguished by Marx, alienation from the product of work, is the most difficult to interpret as one of three concrete forms in which alienation from essence manifests itself. The key, however, lies in that aspect of species-being which consists in the phrónetic mediation of the execution of a role or identity with the context. Such mediation is governed by a concern to conduct oneself in a manner which respects those interests one regards as legitimate. If, however, this is so, then Marx is tacitly conceiving social interaction to governed by certain concrete notions of respect and recognition, even though these notions will be defective wherever social interaction involves oppression, as it obviously does in, for example, racist societies.51

Now behind this clearly Hegel derived assumption lies a deep presupposition by revealing which one creates the basis for understanding alienation from the product of work. For the thesis that distinctively human social interaction always involves concrete notions of respect and recognition entails that such social interaction always takes place between beings with various local and concrete rights and responsibilities, of which local rights and responsibilities they are aware and as a rule fulfil. Marx believes, however, that precisely because this is so, such social interaction must also be something of which a general and abstract principle of fairness and equity is true. This is implicit in his claim that the human being, as a species-being, “… comports itself to itself as a universal and therefore free being.” (MEW 40, S.515; my translation)

Note that this is not to claim that individuals and their social interaction actually conform fully or adequately to this principle. Indeed, the individuals involved in such social interaction may not even grasp the principle as true of themselves and their interaction, much less adhere to it. The principle that humans should treat other human beings fairly and equitably may be true so to speak behind the backs of individual human beings and their interaction. Indeed, it can even manifest itself behaviourally, once again behind the backs of the individuals involved, as when members of a human raiding party reach ad hoc agreement about how their booty is to be divided. It is a unique and distinguishing feature of distinctively human cooperation that as a rule human beings will, unlike, e.g., chimpanzees, resolve this kind of issue according to a principle of desert and reward for effort—see Tomasello 2015. This reflects a primordial understanding of fair or just distribution.

Where, however, does Marx get this presupposition from? It is, after all, a substantive claim not simply implicit in the thesis that, as finitely rational, inherently limited and dependent self-conscious beings, humans are essentially concerned (as a rule) to respect legitimate interests since this latter formally ontological thesis does not specify whose interests count as legitimate and in virtue of what. As a matter of intellectual history, the presupposition derives from Kant and the Kantian tradition, just as does the thesis that, as finitely rational, inherently limited and dependent self-conscious beings, humans are essentially oriented towards the perfected good. Indeed, this presupposition is built into Kant’s notion of the perfected good. But what justifies it?

Note that this is really two questions in one. Firstly, given that a substantively Kantian conception of justice does not follow automatically from the claim that human beings are characterised as a rule by a concern to respect legitimate interests, what justifies Marx in plugging this notion of justice into the notion of species-being and deriving thereby the thesis that human beings are essentially oriented towards the idea of the perfected good in a truly Kantian sense? Secondly, what justifies Marx or indeed anyone else in thinking that this conception of justice is the right one, in other words, that the principle of fair and equal treatment for all human beings is true?52 Neither question can be fully addressed here but a few brief remarks must be made. Just as this conception of justice itself is Kantian, so, too, must be its justification. In other words, the only way to answer these questions would be to show that that self-conscious awareness of oneself as one and the same across an interval of time which self-conscious awareness of any individual intentional state or experience presupposes is only possible if one is as a rule aware of the principle of fair and equal treatment in that emphatic, not merely cognitive but also affective sense which led Kant to speak of the moral law as striking awe in us.

At this point, one might object, in a manner reminiscent of Barry Stroud, that any such transcendentally philosophical justification can only answer the first question. But in the case of such distinctively moral presuppositions rather than theoretical ones such as the principle that the world of experience must be a causally orderly place, this response is surely too quick. As has just been intimated, justice in the sense of fair and equal treatment of human beings simply in virtue of their character as human or rather species-beings is always already implicit in the way human beings, at least as a rule, appeal to notions of fairness in order to resolve local problems of distribution. Moreover, individuals must appeal to such notions in order to be cooperating in distinctively human fashion; the very possibility of such cooperation depends, has as a component part, the possibility of effective appeal to them. In this sense, the principle is indeed something to which self-conscious subjects find themselves inherently committed. Furthermore, nothing could count as a conception of justice, hence the correct conception of justice, unless it could be used by human beings to solve the kinds of problem which distinctively human cooperation encounters. So in the specific case of this principle utility, rational believability or assertibility, and truth of belief do not come apart extensionally even though intensionally they are different. The answer to the first question is therefore also an answer to the second.

Now given this, something follows of crucial importance for understanding alienation from the product of work. All human interaction obviously takes place “in nature”. What, however, is nature? Because human interaction occurs in it, nature is a place in which the principle of fair and equal treatment is true and, no doubt only intermittently and inconsistently, adhered to. Nature is thus a place in which, in some no doubt very small way, a true principle of fair and equal treatment holds sway; this principle is not just a truth about, but also, to some small degree, a law of, human behaviour. (Indeed, one may describe it as a natural law in the sense of something inherent to the nature of humans as species-beings.) In consequence, nature has the significance of being the totality of all things presupposed for existence of human beings not just in their capacity as organisms or animals but also as sensuous hence limited rational agents—precisely as species-beings.53 Nature is thus not merely that totality in and through which humans secure their organic existence; it is also that in and through which humans secure or guarantee their existence as sensuous hence limited moral agents. For as we have seen, Marx presupposes a Kantian connection between being a rational agent and being (as a rule) a moral agent. In consequence, the distinctively rational activity through which humans secure their existence as distinctively rational animals has a dual character: it is a matter of maintaining and sustaining themselves not just biologically but also as moral agents, with rights and responsibilities with regard to other such agents. Nature is not a just the totality of all things in which humans secure their physical survival; it is also essentially the totality of all things in which they secure their existence as moral agents.

What, however, does it mean to speak of the distinctively rational activity in this dual way—as a matter of securing existence both physically and as a moral agent? Correlatively, what does it mean to speak of nature as from the outset, hence essentially or ontologically that totality of all things in which human, hence species-beings secure their existence both as moral beings and as organic, indeed animal beings? Imagine some part of nature untouched by human hand, upon which no others have any special or distinctive claim. Imagine, too, that, for whatever reason, to whatever end, you make some changes to this part of nature. Say you create a vegetable garden, perhaps in order to secure your organic, indeed animal existence, perhaps simply because you get enjoyment out of gardening. There is a powerful intuition that if I, knowing all these facts about you, were simply to ignore them, in other words, simply rode roughshod over your garden, destroying it in the process or taking its produce for myself, then I would have done something wrong. Specifically, I would not have respected you, I would have injured you, not necessarily physically but certainly in your capacity as a moral agent, hence a Kantian end-in-itself which deserves to be treated as such.

Evidently, your labour on an untouched part of nature upon which no others have a prior claim has changed it not merely physically but also normatively: you have made it into something over which someone, namely, you, have a claim. It would be too strong to say that through your labour you have made it your property in the full sense, for this would mean that you were entitled to exclude me from it unless certain conditions, mutually agreed in advance, applied. Yet by mixing your labour with it you have nonetheless made this part of nature yours—in a sense part of you—in the weaker sense that it has become something on whose fate and future you have a right to be consulted.54 Only if I understand this to be so and behave accordingly do I treat you as what you are, namely, no mere thing but a moral being, deserving of treatment as an end-in-itself. Recognition that you to have a right to be consulted on the fate and use of anything upon which you have legitimately worked and that I must therefore behave accordingly is implied by my recognition of you as a sensuous, hence limited self-conscious subject and therefore as a sensuous, hence vulnerable moral being. I have recognised you as all this from the outset, namely, as soon as I cognised you as an animal capable of suffering, hence with interests deserving consideration, indeed as a distinctively self-conscious, rational animal which is therefore entitled to the same treatment I am entitled to.

With this, we have reached the point at which any truly substantive interpretation of what Marx means by alienation from the product of work can begin—an interpretation which does not treat Marx’s talk of the product as standing over and against the capitalist wage labourer as putting a simple, indeed pre-philosophical point in obscurantist philosophical terms. For it immediately reveals what the labour contract is: this is not a simple agreement in which two parties create different but complementary obligations. It is also, in addition or rather conceptually prior to this, an act of divestment, precisely of alienation in the strictly legal sense: workers renounce their conceptually original entitlement to having a say in the fate and use of the products of their labour. It is absolutely crucial to note that there is, in and of itself, nothing wrong with such divestment. There is, after all, no reason to assume that by alienating themselves in this merely formal sense from the products of their labour wage labourers must suffer or experience even mere dissatisfaction. Furthermore, since payment for work is an efficient way of getting things done, thereby distributing and allocating resources, it would conceivably be a desirable feature of any form of economic organisation, capitalist or not.

Consequently, if the alienation of workers from their product under capitalist relations of production is to be a form of suffering, it must amount to more than alienation in this formal sense. Somehow, distinctively capitalist relations of production must constitute an implementation of the concept of wage labour such that alienation in that formal sense which wage labour always constitutes becomes or contributes to a form of suffering—an implementation in which material-ontological application perverts the formal-ontological category applied. It is not hard to see how this might be so. One has only to consider how those factors ultimately responsible for the worker’s alienation from the act of work under capitalism must impact upon the product of work. Under capitalism, particularly in its late-modern, post- yet neo-Taylorist form, production is institutionally organised around efficiency; it is subject to constant rationalisation in Weber’s sense, as a result of which it tends towards wider choice, higher quality and lower price.

For in an economy organised around this principle, goods and services circulate according to a logic of efficiency irrespective and irrespectful of the consequences on the social and natural environment in which they swirl around—consequences which will, to one degree or another, matter to the producers of them. In effect, such an economy constantly tends towards constituting a system in the technical sense of the term, a pattern of interaction whose ontological structure is such that one can distinguish between ‘system’ and ‘background’ or, as it is called in German, Umwelt, i.e., environment. More concretely and, for practical purposes, more usefully, it is a pattern of interaction which works systematically to exclude ad hoc intervention in any of the pathways, i.e., supply chains, along which goods and services move. In this way it creates that complexity which consists not just in a speed and size beyond human capacities to manage in real time but also in the restriction of information flows to what individual actors need to know in order to keep things moving. Just this tendency of capitalism to force economic transactions towards the asymptote of a hermetically sealed system55 is what Marx is getting at when he speaks of the product of work under capitalism as coming to stand over and against the worker as an alien and hostile power—see MEW 40, S.511f.

Clearly, this capitalist hypostasisation of the circulation of goods and services is or reflects a form of suffering; Marx’s characterisation of it as hostile (MEW 40, S.512) is not gratuitous and unmotivated. Specifically, it is the character of the circulation of goods and services as a force which subordinates all other aspects of life to its maintenance, such that workers find themselves constantly confronted with having to choose between impoverishment and the denial of desires and preferences arising in other dimensions of life. In particular, it concerns the way the imperative to maintain this circulation has become so hegemonic that work now inhibits the context-sensitive exercise of phrónesis and the mediation of work with its context. Alienation from the act of work derived from the way in which production dominated by the dictates of efficiency inhibits the context-sensitive exercise of circumspection and regard within the work process. By contrast, alienation from the product of work arises when production inhibits, to the point of inducing suffering or at least dissatisfaction, the capacity to integrate work into a coherent overall life in which all aspects receive their due.

Note that in the interpretation of what it means for the worker to be alienated under capitalism from the product of work no use has thus far been made of the idea that wage labour involves alienation in the formal sense of divestment of entitlement to have a say in the fate of the product. There is a good reason for this: as we have already seen, there is nothing necessarily wrong with alienation in the formal sense. It would therefore be wrong to interpret alienation from the product of work in any way which implied that simply by divesting oneself of the entitlement one acquires through labour to a say in the fate of one’s product, one suffers or becomes dissatisfied.56 Alienation from the product of work in the formal sense implicated by the labour contract is merely a component of, it cannot be identical with alienation from the product of work in any sense implying suffering or dissatisfaction. Specifically, the former becomes a necessary component of the latter when work becomes so subject to the need to service the autonomous, free-wheeling circulation of goods and services that it itself becomes demanding and imperious in the ways already outlined. For then workers do suffer or at least experience dissatisfaction and they do so for quite ordinary, intelligible reasons: their communities begin to disintegrate, they lack time, they increasingly feel uneasy, suspicious and disingenuous in the workplace and, yes, they are increasingly discomfited by the growing injustice of the system even when they are material beneficiaries of it.

Of course, this might lead one to ask why one needs the notion of alienation from the product of work in the formal sense at all. For it might now seem that the notion does no work. In fact, appeal to this notion is by no means superfluous. The role it plays is not to insinuate that as species-being workers suffer under capitalist relations of production simply because the need to survive requires them to renounce their entitlement to a say in the fate of the product—as if such relations of production put survival at odds with the satisfaction of an original, affectively grounded need to be consulted on what happens to what they produce. No such bad metaphysics is needed. Appeal to the formally alienating character of the labour contract is required merely as part of the adequate explanation of a genuinely distressing, hence wrongful alienation from the product of work—adequate precisely because by involving such appeal the explanation reveals both the systematic origins of wrongful alienation and its remedy. In consequence, the idea that the labour contract involves divestment of the entitlement one acquires through labour to a say in the future of the product helps one to identify the correct remedy to the forms of suffering or dissatisfaction which arise when servicing the circulation of commodities through a form of production given over entirely to efficiency becomes destructive in a quite ordinary sense. Thanks to its appeal to alienation in the formal sense represented by the labour contract, the explanation reveals that the solution lies in making the circulation of commodities manageable, this by sufficiently restoring to work its character as something through which human beings secure their existence not merely as organic but also as rational beings. This restoration requires in turn that workers be able genuinely to engage in phrónetic mediation of their work activity, which clearly implicates an effective say in the fate of what they produce.

Note, too, that this account of the role played by appeal to alienation in the formal sense intimates how one must respond to a larger issue, one which challenges the very idea of a philosophical conception and theory of alienation such as Marx envisages it. Why, one might ask, does it not suffice simply to provide a strictly empirical characterisation of how contemporary work engenders suffering and dissatisfaction, an identification based, as such empirical identification must be, merely in commonsense or at least non-philosophical, empirical notions of what human beings like and dislike? What real explanatory and practically political work does a distinctively philosophical conception of alienation do which cannot be done in strictly psychological, sociological or anthropological manner? The answer is now clear: while such empirical identification is clearly needed, it itself has a philosophical character insofar as it is conducted adequately, i.e., describes the facts accurately. Specifically, the philosophical account of alienation, hence of the philosophical account of essence which it presupposes, are required in order to describe the relevant causal mechanisms accurately and to rectify them genuinely. In general, the social critique of which Marx’s account of alienation is a crucial part, hence political economy as such, is both empirical and philosophical; it transcends the traditional opposition, hence transforms the traditional understanding both of empirical and of philosophical inquiry.

iii. Alienation of the Worker under Capitalism from “The Other”

We come now to the fourth way in which workers’ alienation from their essence as species-being under capitalist relations of production manifests itself. This is alienation of the worker from “the other” (der Andere). It is unclear just who the other is: Is it the worker’s workmates? Or is it “people in general,” possibly up to and including humanity as such? Finally, is it the capitalist who employs the worker? The Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts are permeated by a philosophical vocabulary ultimately derived from Hegel. And for Hegel the term ‘the other’ typically has a relatively technical meaning: something y is the other of something x just in case (a) x stands in some relation R to y; and (b) y’s relatedness to x is derivative upon x’s relatedness to y in the sense that it is something one can only understand in and through understanding what it is for x to stand in R to something. Condition (b) is designed to capture the insinuation both in Hegel and indeed in Marx that the other of something is fundamentally a correlatum, i.e., something asymmetrically derivative upon an initial relatum.

If, however, this is so, the “the other” is always an entity whose existence is directly entailed by another entity’s standing to it as relatum in some quite specific relation currently under discussion. In the case at issue here, this specific relation is work, understood as the process by which human beings produce and reproduce the means of their material subsistence. Consequently, the other is the non-worker, understood as an individual whose existence is implied by the relation of work, in their capacity, however, not as worker but as someone served by the process of work. Marx implies just this when he describes private property as comprehending “the relation of the worker to work and to the product of his work and to the non-worker and the relation of the non-worker to the worker and to the product of his work.” (MEW 40, S.522) Given this it follows that under capitalist relations of production the other is, in the first instance, the capitalist.57 This makes sense because, under capitalist relations of production, it is clearly the capitalist who mediates between the worker and all other beneficiaries of work, i.e., all others served by it. Again Marx seems to say just this:

Thus through alienated, externalised work the worker creates the relation of a human being alien to and standing outside of work to this work. The relation of the worker to work creates the relation of the capitalist to the same, or whatever else one might call the individual in charge of work (Arbeitsherr). (MEW 40, S.519-520; italics added)

Understanding why according to Marx the capitalist is the other of the worker in this rich yet not readily understandable sense requires understanding Marx’s account of private property, specifically, his obscure and seriously under-elaborated claims that work is the essence of private property (MEW, S.557 and 561) in Marx’s specific sense,58 indeed that this essence results from alienated work (MEW 40, S.521). Interpreting this very difficult aspect of Marx’s thought cannot be undertaken here. Let it therefore suffice to characterise what the worker’s alienation from the capitalist is, in particular, in a way which shows this to be a form of suffering or dissatisfaction for the worker, indeed for both.

As in the case of alienation from the product of work, so too, here, the idea that the labour contract is a divestment of an original entitlement to a say in the fate of what one produces plays a key role. For it entails that the individual to whom this entitlement is transferred also gives something up: the possibility of even-handedly deliberating with the worker about the fate of the worker’s product. The suggestion here is not that this loss alone is a form of suffering or dissatisfaction. It need no more be this than the worker’s divestment of entitlement need be a form of suffering or dissatisfaction. As we have seen, the worker’s divestment can be entirely necessary and good, for the kinds of reason Locke once used to reconcile private property with the idea that God had originally given the Earth to all human beings equally. Since the capitalist’s loss is really just the obverse of the worker’s, it is just as good and just as bad as the latter. Thus one might argue that the overall good created by permitting certain individuals to dispose over the products of another’s work legitimates this authority.

At the same time, this situation, in which both employee and employer relinquish certain rights to and possibilities of social engagement with one another for the sake of a greater good—enhanced output—, contains within it seeds of suffering and dissatisfaction. In particular, in its distinctively capitalist form production is institutionally or conventionally organised around the principle of economic efficiency, i.e., around optimising for choice, price and quality. Consequently, when the employer is a capitalist, the productive process can lead to a situation of cognitive dissonance on the employer’s side, particularly in contemporary post-, hence neo-Taylorist capitalism, in which efficiency is explicitly recognised and implemented as the principle of the organisation of production. For as much as the worker the capitalist is subject to that hegemony of the economic which capitalism inherently embodies and the post- and neo-Taylorist organisation of it makes explicit. This can lead to a conflict between what individual capitalist employers value, not the least in those to whom they stand as capital to labour, and the requirements of their role as capitalist employers. In particular, the organisation of production, distribution and exchange according to criteria of economic efficiency will tend to require the capitalist to suspend the role of non-economic considerations in decision-making. This can become so extreme as to be tenable only through that kind of bad faith which consists in leaving one’s moral self at the boardroom door. There thus emerges the not uncommon phenomenon of a director who behaves well beyond the boardroom while behaving more or less badly within it. For most people such a split in moral personality is dissatisfying, to the point of being a form of suffering.


This account of what Marx means by workers’ alienation under capitalist relations of production, in particular, their alienation from their essence as species-beings, has an important theoretical and political implication. For it strongly suggests, perhaps even entails, that alienation is more pronounced in post-nineteenth century capitalism, in which for many poverty, ill-health and danger have been overcome. Empirically, this is a very plausible thesis: as has already been pointed out, even in conditions of extreme poverty and danger, workers in the nineteenth century were able to function relatively effectively and even happily within their own oppressed communities, in which there was often an extraordinary degree of solidarity. True, stultifying work of the kind represented by the pin factory has been replaced by forms of work which are in principle much more creative, hence positively require the exercise of techné, hence of Dejours’ practical intelligence or Heidegger’s circumspection and regard. And in much contemporary management literature, the employer is both encouraged to promote, and celebrated for promoting, such ostensibly “empowering” kinds of work (which, as such texts are always also keen to point out, enable the employer to get the most out of employees). The reality is, however, that even in forms of contemporary work with the potential for such “empowerment,” this potential is contradictorily realised because the emergence of such new forms of work has exacted its price: imposition of regimes of punitive performance management. And these can generate, as we have seen, alienation of the worker from the act of work, sometimes of a very extreme kind.

More importantly, however, the emergence of so-called post-Fordist59 forms of work has exacted a further price. Taylor’s command-and-control model for the organisation of production is now seen as outdated, at least in advanced industrial societies, which have effectively exported it to the Third World, thereby enabling some parts of the latter to become so-called emerging economies. But the ideal which Taylor sought to implement—continuous improvement of efficiency—remains even more solidly and prominently in place. This has resulted in an even more extreme hegemony of the economic which manifests itself not only work-internally as regimes of surveillance, discipline and punishment but also, as we have also already seen, work-externally, as the undermining of relation to and effective mediation with the wider context. This undermining of the relation of work to wider context just is that loss of the social solidarity and community which once compensated for old forms of suffering at and through work.

Nor is it clear how there can be newer forms of social solidarity and community not reliant on the features which enabled the old forms: on job security, temporally and socially unitary work schedules, acceptance that average performance is enough and that work is not necessarily the most important dimension of life, time for non-work related, non-competitive socialisation in the work place, accurate representation of work place reality, etc. Certainly, no newer forms appear to have arisen in the wake of the post- and neo-Taylorist transformation of work, even as much popular and management literature might maintain that they have. And it is hard to see how they could because in the end the undermining of the relation of work to wider context is a form of disempowerment. Precisely for this reason, it is also a retreat into work: the increasing number of individuals who only live for work, the relatively recent hyperbole of high achievement and the concomitant institutional sanctioning of those who treat their job as just a job, and, last but not least, the relatively recent proliferation of awards, grants and prizes, as well as the complementary exacerbation of tendencies to find self-worth in institutional recognition.

How then to respond to the phenomenon of alienation in the third sense distinguished by Marx? Contemporary work can cause alienation from essence at a subtle meta-level. From the outset proponents of the explicit re-organisation and restructuring of work around efficiency have argued for it by claiming that it organises work along rational lines. They have thus always maintained and still maintain that the various concrete measures which implement efficiency are perfectly rational and indeed it is very hard to see how to counter these claims rationally. Thus, when these very measures induce the forms of suffering or at least dissatisfaction indicated above, those having to endure this suffering or dissatisfaction receive a further injury: inability to respond to these claims with a rational argument and the consequent visceral experience of the possibility that their suffering or dissatisfaction is perhaps merely a result of their own deficient ability to cope.

Now for Taylor and many of his contemporaries, the key to rationalising work lay in seeing it as a process which could be directly engineered to produce outcomes more efficiently. By contrast, many today, influenced as they are by free-market and possibly also by neo-institutional transaction economics, believe that one can implement efficiency by construing work as a process which can be indirectly engineered to produce outcomes more efficiently: one creates a framework of rules for the conduct of work which forces workers to behave as individuals in the market at least ideally act. Notice, however, that the difference between past and present advocates of work place rationalisation is not as great as the latter often maintain. Both the older and the newer approaches to the rationalisation of work share the same assumption that the reality they are dealing with—work and workers—are engineerable quantities.

This suggests that an essential part of any social and political response to alienation, particularly but not exclusively in the master sense of alienation from essence, must consist in identifying and challenging the conception of rationality and the self-conscious, rational subject which leads one to make this assumption. This is not simply a theoretical, it is also a therapeutic task. For only such identification and critique by reason itself of how it understands itself can yield the arguments which will, by showing theoretically how work place rationalisation is or has at least become irrational, assuage the additional pain and insult inflicted upon which those who suffer under it when they are told that because it is rational, there is something wrong with them. This theoretical task is thus not simply theoretical but socio-political because it is the only possible remedy to a particularly sophisticated and debilitating form of alienation from essence. And a central aspect of this task would be the phenomenological unpacking of what is truly involved in those three different forms of sighted self-comportment—circumspect techné, regardful techné and conscientious phrónesis—which constitute both essential dimensions of the sensuous, hence limited self-conscious subject and key elements of what Heidegger calls fundamental ontology. It should therefore not be surprising to find that, having already proved useful in reconstructing what Marx means by species-being, Heidegger should also prove useful in this wider task.

In particular, since Heidegger’s fundamental ontology is in fact a form of transcendental philosophy, it would be prove to be central to the various transcendentally philosophical tasks of explication and justification intimated in the course of this paper. In particular, it would be useful in the elaboration of the ontological structure and significance of work, something towards which both Hegel and Marx gesture in their accounts of it as ways in which the self objectifies itself and which Marcuse aptly describes as its burdensome character (Lastcharakter)—see Marcuse 1933, S.565. For underlying this is the thought that it is the discipline and burden of work which enables the sensuous, hence limited self-conscious subject to acquire the capacity to take an objectifying stance towards its own desires and affectivities, such that it becomes possible for it to discover that what it thought it really wanted it did not in fact, or that that which it thought it could not endure it could in fact. This is clearly a crucial capacity if there is to be the kind of social change needed both for overcoming alienation in the name of living well and, I would argue, for resolving environmental crisis. As an extra bonus, I believe that by thus developing out of the initial liason facilitated here a true marriage of fundamental ontology and Marxism one would not only understand Marx himself better, perhaps better than he himself; one would also understand better the tradition of reflection on notions of self to which he belongs. This would represent, I believe, a first step towards saving in particular the young Marx from the charge which Habermas and Honneth, following Charles Taylor, have laid against him, namely, that he embraces an ‘expressivist’ conception of self. And all these things would allow a much meatier, more radical kind of critical theory—something desperately needed for a truly effective response to environmental crisis.


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Kanigel, R. 1997 “Taylor-Made—How the World’s First Efficiency Expert refashioned Modern Life in His Own Image”. Sciences 37: 18-23

Kanigel, R. 2005 The One Best Way—Frederick Winslow Taylor and the Enigma of Efficiency, Cambridge, Mass.: The MIT Press

Kant, I. 1787/1978 Kritik der praktischen Vernunft. Immanuel Kant—Werkausgabe, Bd. VII. Third Edition. Weischedel, W. (ed.) Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp Verlag

Lyotard, J.-F. 1984 The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge, trans. G. Bennington and B. Massumi, Manchester: Manchester University Press

Marcuse, H. 1933 “Über die philosophischen Grundlagen des wirtschaftswissenschaftlichen Arbeitsbegriffs.” Herbert Marcuse—Schriften, Bd. 1, Springe: zu Klampen Verlag, 2004, pp.556-594

Marx, K. 1844/1964 The Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844. Struik, D. (ed.) Milligan, M. (trans.) New York: International Publishers, Inc.

Marx, K. 1968 Karl Marx/Friedrich Engels—Werke 3: 5-7. Berlin: Dietz Verlag

Marx, K., and Engels, F. 1968 Karl Marx/Friedrich Engels—Werke 3: 13-530. Berlin: Dietz Verlag

Marx, K. 1968 Karl Marx/Friedrich Engels—Werke 40: 443-463. Berlin: Dietz Verlag

Marx, K. 1968 Karl Marx/Friedrich Engels—Werke 40: 465-588. Berlin: Dietz Verlag

Marx, K. 1968 Karl Marx/Friedrich Engels—Werke 42: 47-768. Berlin: Dietz Verlag

Tomasello, M. 2015 A Natural History of Human Morality. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press

Weber, M. 1947. The Theory of Social and Economic Organizations. Henderson, A. M., and Parsons, T. (trans.) New York: Oxford University Press


  1. I put things this way because Marx does not make clear just who these other human beings are. An adequate account of what alienation is must therefore identify precisely just who these others are and why, in what sense, the worker is alienated from them. I attempt this below—see Section VI iii.

  2. Obviously, not all suffering and privation is wrongful, e.g., the kind of suffering or privation one endures at the dentist’s, the privation one undergoes when seeking to reduce weight.

  3. The classical political economists always assumed that the idealised relations of exchange on which they reflect and whose laws they attempt to identify through such reflection were governed by the principle that exchange ought to be fair—governed both in the sense that this moral principle is true and in the sense that market actors acknowledge it, want to conform to it and as a rule do so. This does not, however, entail that the relation of exchange which exists between the worker and the capitalist is morally wrong or illegitimate. If this relation respects all other moral requirements and if capitalist relations of production and exchange are the best way of organising the economy, i.e., the one which most reliably benefits most people most of the time, then the extraction of surplus value may be rationally regarded as a necessary evil, hence morally unobjectionable, in just the same way as the pain one’s dentist causes is a necessary evil, hence morally unobjectionable..

    That Marx also makes this methodological assumption is confirmed by the following passage from the Grundrisse: „Obgleich das Individuum A Bedürfnis fühlt nach der Ware des Individuums B, bemächtigt es sich derselben nicht mit Gewalt, noch vice versa, sondern sie erkennen sich wechselseitig an als Eigentümer, als Personen, deren Wülen ihre Waren durchdringt. Danach kommt hier zunächst das juristische Moment der Person herein und der Freiheit, soweit sie darin enthalten ist. Keines bemächtigt sich des Eigentums des andren mit Gewalt. Jedes entäußert sich desselben freiwillig.“ (MEW 42, S.169)

  4. One should no doubt engage with workers in the present in order to improve their understanding of why their pay, health and safety is as it is. But this is only because doing so is part and parcel of encouraging collapse of the system.

  5. It is worth pointing out that there is no evidence to show that the early Marx was not equally dismissive of such attempts.

  6. I have argued the need for and sketched the rough outline of such theory elsewhere—see Christensen 2014 and 2015.

  7. See Feuerbach 1846/1973, S.269.

  8. Indeed, I suspect that Feuerbach was the first, or at least one of the first, to use the verb in this way. Admittedly, at one point (Feuerbach 1846/1973, S.33) Feuerbach speaks of „Das Verhalten der Erde zur Sonne“ and „ein Verhalten der Erde zu sich selbst.“ This is clearly inconsistent with the idea that “Sich Verhalten” is essentially self-conscious, rational self-maintenance. Note that Heidegger is in this regard very consistent: “Sich Verhalten” is applicable only to Dasein; the evolutionarily hard-wired self-steering character of insects he calls their Sich Benehmen—see Heidegger GA 29/30.

  9. It is not properly translated in the old Milligan translation: “Man is a species-being … because he treats himself as the actual, living species; because he treats himself as a universal and therefore a free being.” (Marx 1844/1964, p.112)

  10. Heidegger would eventually explicitly say as who it is.

  11. And this ambiguity would go on to become what Heidegger calls the ontological difference.

  12. The full passage reads: “Das praktische Erzeugen einer gegenständlichen Welt, die Bearbeitung der unorganischen Natur ist die Bewährung des Menschen als eines bewußten Gattungswesens, d.h. eines Wesens, das sich zu der Gattung als seinem eignen Wesen oder zu sich als Gattungswesen verhält.” (MEW 40, S.516-517)

  13. In other words, the human being, as a self-conscious subject, realises itself as the particular kind of subject and the particular individual subject that it is. Note, however, that the notion of self-realisation here is not the very modern pre-philosophical one but rather a very old Aristotelian one. Because the danger exists of confusing these two notions of self-realisation or -actualisation, one should avoid these terms. Axel Honneth seems to me at least to conflate these notions.

  14. And indeed uses other terms containing the word ‘species’ (Gattung), e.g., species-life (Gattungsleben) and species-activity (Gattungstätigkeit). Interestingly and importantly, Feuerbach speaks much more of species and species-life than he does of species-being.

  15. And I believe he does this from the outset and retains it throughout his life. The critique of Feuerbach in the German Ideology does not represent a rejection of this but rather a critique of Feuerbach which yields itself out of this. I cannot, of course, argue for this properly here.

  16. In the Gilligan translation, there is a translator’s note to the term ‘species-being’—see pp.241-242. In this note Gilligan attempts to explain the term by appeal to the account Feuerbach gives of the essence of humanity in The Essence of Christianity. The translation of Feuerbach he cites is the one by Mary Anne Evans, i.e., George Elliot, from 1854. Unfortunately, in one of the passages cited Evans has Feuerbach speak of “(t)he relation of the sun to the earth …” whereas in fact Feuerbach speaks of “(d)as Verhalten der Erde zur Sonne … .” (Feuerbach 1846/1973, S.33) Evans so little sees the significance of Feuerbach’s use of the verbal substantive Verhalten that she uses the much flatter English word “relation” (which would be appropriate if Feuerbach had used the word Verhältnis or Beziehung), whose completely flat symmetry she then appears to take as entitlement to invert Feuerbach’s earth-to-sun to sun-to-earth. As the translations of Marx also reveal, this reflects a general tendency on the part of English-speaking interpreters and translators not to see the significance of the use made by Feuerbach and others of the reflexive verb Sich Verhalten.

  17. Nor can one regard Marx as speaking elliptically about the mere capacity to become conscious of or be concerned about one’s own species and the species of all other things. For this would render the notion of species-being incapable of doing any theoretical work: in some sense even those who lack a concept either of the human being or of all other thing could acquire it but precisely because and to the extent that they lack these concepts, their character as species-being would have no impact upon or implications for how they currently exist. Marx’s characterisation of humans as species-beings has been rendered vacuous.

  18. Heidegger’s formal-ontological characterisation has another advantage over Marx’s more anthropologistic, even biologistic terminology of human essence (menschliches Wesen), humanity (Menschheit), species (Gattung), species-activity (Gattungstätigkeit), species-life (Gattungsleben) and of course species-being (Gattungswesen): it permits one clearly to acknowledge that human beings comport themselves to numerous different things simultaneously, that is, that they fall under numerous kinds K such that something only falls under K if it comports itself to itself as an instance of K.

  19. Such knowing-that enables one to formulate relatively anodyne rules of thumb for the kind.

  20. The qualification “as a rule” is necessary because it is certainly possible that someone should find themselves in, e.g., the role of a teacher without actually understanding, in the strong, both cognitive and practical sense relevant here, what it is to be a teacher. This is, however, only possible as an exception to the rule. If literally no one understood themselves as a teacher in this sense, then the role would not exist. The necessity of this qualification should be borne in mind whenever convenience leads me to leave it out.

  21. This will be true only of social roles and identities but since, at least on a broad reading of the term ‘kind’, social roles and identities are kinds, the term is quite appropriate here.

  22. The ‘sightedness’, that is, the cognitive character, of such application must be emphasised. With Dreyfus and his followers one can certainly say that the ability to perform a certain social role or to realise a certain identity is a knowing-how. But the character of know-how precisely as a knowing of something must be taken seriously: true know-how has, as Fichte might say, an eye set into it, an eye which yields knowledge of what, in view of the particular, perhaps unique circumstances in which one is acting, is to be done. Without this eye, without this sight, the behaviour in which the realisation of a role or identity consists would not have the spontaneity, the perhaps unprecedented adaptavity, which permits one to speak of application.

  23. I hesitate to say that it therein makes, realises or even merely constitutes itself as what it is because all these terms, particularly the first, encourage (although they do not necessitate) a reading of Existenz as an essentially promethean notion. This is quite wrong; insofar as it is appropriate here to speak, for example, of realisation, realisation is to be understood in an old-fashioned Aristotelian sense rather than any modern sense, whether in the philosophical sense intended by those who claim that the only thing essential about human being is that it makes and re-makes itself anew; or in the pre-philosophical sense intended by those who speak of their essential need to realise themselves in this or that unique way, e.g., through performance poetry, stamp-collecting or train-spotting.

  24. Clearly, only Dasein can exist in the sense just characterised. Consequently, only the human being exist in this sense, at least as far we empirically know. To this extent one may quite unproblematically say that existence in Heidegger’s sense—Existenz—and everything which pertains to it are essential determinations or features of Dasein. Yet this is clearly not an ‘essentialism’ of the kind criticised by Jäggi—see Jäggi 2005—since these essential determinations of Dasein are merely formally, not materially ontological. In consequence, they do not entail any substantive form of human life, society or culture.

  25. This formal-ontological character explains why Heidegger puts the word ‘essence’ in shudder quotes.

  26. This shows, incidentally, how much more sophisticated Heidegger’s ‘existentialism’ is in comparison to Sartre’s existentialism. One can certainly say, with Sartre, that existence precedes essence if by this one means, as Heidegger does, that Dasein’s essence lies at the level of formal, not regional or material ontology. If, however, one intends, as Sartre appears to, some kind of anti-essentialism, then what one says is simply wrong.

  27. Indeed, the distinction between phrónesis and techné maps at least roughly onto the distinction just made between external and internal insight, which latter is both circumspective and regardful at once, or as Heidegger occasionally says, umsichtig-rücksichtig.

  28. See NE VI, Ch.12, 1144a23–8. One may regard possession of the higher-order preference as at least necessary for being of good character.

  29. Yet this Heidegger-inspired account of what is in effect phrónesis is clearer than Aristotle’s in one important respect: on this account, it is perfectly clear that phrónesis is not something independent of or extraneous to that circumspection and regard which is built into the capacity to act out social roles and identities. Rather, it is explicitly construed as a form of sight which underpins the first two. To this extent, it is fundamentally this form of sight which distinguishes the acting out of roles and identities from the mindless behaviour of the Sphex wasp, which therefore characterises an animal as rational. To this extent, too, phrónesis is something which begins in the everyday and genuinely culminates in the political. The connection between phrónesis and techné, between the political and the everyday, is made clear; phrónesis is not construed simply as something exercised by the citizen ruling in order that the citizens ruled might effectively pursue their everyday technai in everyday certainty. Rather, it is shown to be implicit in the exercise of techné itself.

  30. “So fern nun Tugend und Glückseligkeit zusammen den Besitz des höchsten Guts in einer Person, hiebei aber auch Glückseligkeit, ganz genau in Proportion der Sittlichkeit (als Wert der Person und deren Würdigkeit glücklich zu sein) ausgeteilt, das höchste Gut einer möglichen Welt ausmachen: so bedeutet dieses das Ganze, das vollendete Gute, worin doch Tugend immer, als Bedingung, das oberste Gut ist, weil es weiter keine Bedingung über sich hat, Glückseligkeit immer etwas, was dem, der sie besitzt, zwar angenehm, aber nicht für sich allein schlechterdings und in aller Rücksicht gut ist, sondern jederzeit das moralische gesetzmäßige Verhalten als Bedingung voraussetzt.”—Kant, I. 1787/1978, Zweites Hauptstück, A 199 (S.238-239).

  31. The thought here is biblical: the perfected good is a condition in which “the righteous shall flourish as the green leaf.” (Proverbs 11:28)

  32. Kant can maintain this because according to him the fully rational subject’s awareness of the moral law is awareness of it as commanding (gebieterisch). The subject is thus awestruck, hence moved by it.

  33. In this spirit, Marx writes, “(C)ommunism is not as such the goal of human development—the form of [truly] human society.” (MEW 40, S.546) Human development does not tend towards any end-point behind the backs of human agents, as it does in Hegel.

  34. This famous passage from The Critique of the Gotha Programme of 1875 is not original to Marx—see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/From_each_according_to_his_ability,_to_each_according_to_his_needs.

  35. Marx maintains, of course, that a social order which allocates resources according to this (half of) the principle must be one in which private property in Marx’s distinctive sense—private ownership of the means of production for the market (exchange)—does not exist.

  36. That the life-activity of human beings is their collective productive process is clear from Marx’s characterisation of nature as “the matter, object and tool of [the human being’s] life activity.” (MEW 40, S.516) That, however, the interpretation just given of how Marx understands the productive process—what in the Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts he calls “productive life”—is shown by the following passage, taken, importantly, from the German Ideology: “Die Weise, in der die Menschen ihre Lebensmittel produzieren, hängt zunächst von der Beschaffenheit der vorgefundenen und zu reproduzierenden Lebensmittel selbst ab. Diese Weise der Produktion ist nicht bloß nach der Seite hin zu betrachten, daß sie die Reproduktion der physischen Existenz der Individuen ist. Sie ist vielmehr schon eine bestimmte Art der Tätigkeit dieser Individuen, eine bestimmte Art, ihr Leben zu äußern, eine bestimmte Lebensweise derselben. Wie die Individuen ihr Leben äußern, so sind sie. Was sie sind, fällt also zusammen mit ihrer Produktion, sowohl damit, was sie produzieren, als auch damit, wie sie produzieren. Was die Individuen also sind, das hängt ab von den materiellen Bedingungen ihrer Produktion.” (MEW 3, S.21)

  37. It is worth pointing out that the interpretation developed here and attributed to Marx is perfectly compatible with the view that non-human and in particular natural entities have moral claims. I certainly believe that individual sentient animals have rights and neither Marx nor I believe that rocks and rivers have rights (although they may well deserve protection for prudential and aesthetic reasons). But nothing said thus forecloses the issue of whether rocks, rivers, ecosystems, species and the like have rights. If they so, this would obviously affect what realises the perfected good but here no position has been taken on what would or would not count as realising the perfected good beyond the claim that no racist totality of social interaction would realise it.

  38. One might wish one were an elephant or a Vulcan like Mr. Spock rather than a human being. But this is at best an idle wish which one does not take seriously—or if one does, one is insane.

  39. See Dejours and Deranty 2010, p.170, and Dejours 2006, pp.49-51.

  40. At one point, Heidegger describes this everyday kind of phrónesis as “Sicht auf das Sein als solches, umwillen dessen das Dasein je ist, wie es ist” (Heidegger 1979, § 31, H 146), that is, sight towards that Being as such for the sake of which Dasein in each case is as (how) it is. In § 41, H 191, Heidegger describes understanding, which precisely at H 146 he has identified with the sight of Dasein, as “[das] sich entwerfenden Seins zum eigensten Seinkönnen,” that is, as self-sketching Being towards one’s ownmost ability to be. This, Heidegger goes on to say, is precisely that for the sake of which Dasein in each case is as (how) it is. (I am assuming here that the standard translation of Heidegger’s use of Sich Entwerfen as to project is wrong, indeed misleadingly so.)

  41. Sometimes Marx himself does seem to regard such phenomena as causes of alienation, as when he says, speaking of the relations of production with which he was familiar, “Die Verwirklichung der Arbeit erscheint so sehr als Entwirklichung, daß der Arbeiter bis zum Hungertod entwirklicht wird.” (MEW 40, S.512) Here, Marx moves from a conception of Entwirklichung as alienation—lack or denial of Verwirklichung, i.e., the realisation of what one essentially is—to a conception of it as ceasing to be real, i.e., dying. In so doing, he creates the impression that the poverty caused by work is a cause not just of death but of alienation. It seems, however, that Marx is not so much confused as sacrificing precision for a rhetorical flourish which expresses his moral outrage at the conditions of workers in his time.

  42. This provides an initial clue as to how one should understand alienation in the second sense distinguised by Marx, namely, alienation of workers from the act of work.

  43. Two world wars played a major role in winning acceptance for and carrying out the Taylorist re-organisation. Governments, business interests and trade unions rallied around diverse national flags in an effort to produce more for the war effort. This fundamentally transformed the size and structure of the capitalist economy and laid the seeds for American hegemony in the second half of the twentieth century.

  44. See Weber 1947, p.250 and p.261.

  45. Taylor was an engineer, not an economist.

  46. The development of such chains both explains and is explained by another phenomenon, the rise, namely, in power and size of retailing.

  47. Taylor vehemently opposed the tendency of old-style factory managers and owners simply to cut wages whenever workers’ productivity improved. This, he recognised, made the work place into an environment in which it was simply irrational for workers to comport themselves conscientiously. Taylor argued, quite rightly, that if the workplace were organised in the right way, one could improve productivity to a level which exceeded the improvement of wages required to achieve this improvement of productivity. So the manager or owner of an enterprise should seek to increase rather than lower wages—in the right way, of course.

  48. This is not to deny, of course, that the improvement of wages and conditions has slowed and in some cases even been unwound.

  49. The term ‘capital’ is here understood in the Marxist sense, that is, as connoting money which has become a means of investment for the sake of acquiring the capacity to produce goods and services which will be sold on the market for the sake of acquiring further means of investment, i.e., capital. Clearly, this identity presupposes, both historically and conceptually, those identities which constitute something as money in the first place, in particular, being a means of circulation, but also being a means of payment, a means of credit, etc. Note that this notion of capital is not identical with the notion of profit since capital is basically profit made for the sake of generating more profit made for the sake of generating more profit made for … . Note, too, that this does not prevent one from regarding machinery and other non-monetary assets as forms of capital although it does mean that one must regard such non-monetary forms of capital as derivative upon capital in the monetary sense.

  50. See Braverman 1974 and Kanigel 1997 and 2005.

  51. See MEW 40, S.450, 530 and 531.

  52. Note that this is a practical and moral-philosophical version of two questions one can ask of Kant’s attempt to provide a transcendental philosophical justification of notions of space and time, cause and substance, stronger than those recommended by Hume: why must a self-conscious subject believe that the world which shows itself in its experience is a spatio-temporally structured and causally regular place, in particular, in any sense stronger than Hume’s? And why must the thesis that the world which shows itself in a subject’s experience is such a spatio-temporally structured and causally regular place in any sense stronger than Hume’s be true? Barry Stroud once argued that Kant’s transcendental philosophy could at best constitute an answer to the first question.

  53. This, incidentally, is the point of departure for understanding Marx’s conception of nature and, in particular, his puzzlingly remarks about nature’s being the inorganic body of man (MEW 40, S.516-517)—that wherein human sensuousness realises and fulfils itself, thereby humanising nature and naturalising humanity (MEW 40, S.541-544).

  54. Your entitlement to having a say in the future fate and use of this part of nature could then go on to become the basis upon which you and I reach agreement concerning the extent to which you may and may not use it as you like, hence defend it and yourself against me should I not respect this agreement. In this way, the part of nature you have laboured upon could become your property in a sense much more recognisable as a case of property, property ownership and property rights and responsibilities.

  55. This appears to be what Lyotard is getting at when he speaks of the tendency of post-modern society towards turning a mere aggregate of interaction into a system in something approximating to Luhmann’s sense—see Lyotard 1984.

  56. The only way in which one could make this in and of itself a form of suffering would be to indulge in the dubiously metaphysical move of positing some higher-order desire to have such a say. This would be a mistake analogous to the mistake one would make in simply postulating or positing that human beings, as self-conscious species-beings, have some urge or drive to be free. It is quite clear that human beings can live relatively comfortably in situations of unfreedom. As a rule, they will find this situation sub-optimal, will be discomfitted by it, but the can and often do reconcile themselves to their sub-optimal existence, particularly when it is materially satisfactory.

  57. Incidentally, this appears not to be the received view; I have found only one source which also claims this, namely, http://www.sparknotes.com/philosophy/marx/section1.rhtml.

  58. Which is not to be confused with private property in the sense in which my toothbrush is mine. By private property Marx does not mean personal property but rather an aspect or dimension of the total productive life of a human community to which some individual or individuals have a right of exclusive access or use.

  59. The idea that such new forms of work are post-Taylorist, at least because they no longer involve stultifying assemby line work and the like, is fundamentally and importantly confused: it is just plain false that Taylor regarded it as desirable that workers should be given the most mindless, repetitive tasks possible. Rather, he regarded it as necessary, hence as something which should, both for economic and for moral reasons, be avoided if cost-effective automation was possible.