The eleventh thesis of Feuerbach

"Philosophers have hitherto only interpreted the world in various ways; the point is to change it." (Marx, Eleven Theses on Feuerbach)

This used to be an important maxim, but I ask myself now: do I really believe in it?

I used to think it as important, because people believe philosophy is a deliberating act, one where it is all talk and no balls. *Clearly*, the discipline had to make a difference to the world. Right?

Lets analyse the claim, break it down, identify presuppositions and evaluate!

I shall divide it into two premises:

{"Philosophers have hitherto only interpreted the world in various ways}; {the point is to change it}." (Marx, Eleven Theses on Feuerbach)

I. Philosophers have previously only interpreted the world in various ways

II. The point of philosophy is to change it.

I shall subdivide the first premise

I.i. Philosophers have functioned by interpreting the world

I.ii. Philosophy and its meaning is taken as a given

I.iii. The notion of interpretation is taken as a given

I shall subdivide the second premise

II.i. Philosophy should change the world

II.ii. Philosophy and its meaning is taken as a given

II.iii. It is right (normative) to change the world

II.iv. It is important to change the world

II.v. ‘Changing the world’ is a normative proposition ‘Changing the world’ is given to be a justified proposition

The key assumptions that arouse me are the following:

A. ‘Philosophy’ is taken as a given

B. ‘Changing the world’ is a moral imperative

C. The imperative of changing the world is without a theory of moral justification

Assumption A has been addressed by me in the past.

Assumption B needs to be examined, and by no means should be presupposed. On its own it may seem uncontraversial

Assumption C is the real can of worms. The notion of justification is the carpet that lies beneath B, we may assume that B is uncontraversial, but what we may find in C could undermine that. (I allude to the problem of meaning addressed by Kripkenstein’s notion of ‘quus’)

I think now that people who accept the eleventh tenet have some common sense assumptions, or worked out tenets which justify the tenet.

Some people use that quote of Marx to justify sociology, or theology, because they are political. But what grounds their claims? Here are a few ad hoc answers

  • Fictionalist (and error theory) account: their talk refers to a useful fiction; nothing grounds their account
  • Divine command – this is pretty self-explanatory
  • Common sense: social custom, human intuition or ‘common sense’ (the synthesis of the first two) justify moral claims {but what justifies custom/intuition/common sense?}

2 thoughts on “The eleventh thesis of Feuerbach

  1. …You’ve made a mistake.

    The second element of the 11th theses (particularly clear if you read the rest of them) is not that philosophy should change the world, but that We should change the world, and if philosophy proves useful to that end, then it can be included in our program, but not in-itself as philosophy. Marx is arguing against what you claim are subdivisions I.ii. and II.ii., liberating discourse from the simpering intellects of scholasticism.

    Perhaps this is where your disagreement lies?

  2. To, instead of being mere academic discourse in the corridors of leafy university towns; be a real and informative and powerful force, that can change the world…

    It sounds like YOU have forgotten this conception of philosophy, Michael/Sinistre!


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