Markets, Productivity, and Happiness in a Historical Perspective

Marx on happiness as eudaemonia

Winslow Ted, York University

Marx’s idea of “the true realm of freedom” identifies it with the actualization of an idea of “happiness” derived from Aristotle (called in Capital “the greatest thinker of antiquity”). In particular, it critically appropriates Aristotle’s ideas that the “nature” of anything is what it is when fully developed, that the “nature” (in this sense) of human being is “action” originating in “ratiocinative desire” derived from “desiderative reason,” that the object of such desire is happiness as eudaemonia, and that this is “the actualization and perfect practice of virtue.” The latter includes Aristotle’s idea (Nicomachean Ethics Book V chap 1) of the practice of the virtue of “justice” as the practice of “complete virtue” in relations with others (i.e., as the practice of “the sort of justice … that is not a part of virtue but the whole of virtue”). For Marx, the reciprocal practice of justice, in this sense, as an end in itself has as its communicative content the creation and appropriation of aesthetic and intellectual “goods,” beauty and truth. It is for this reason that “private property” as the excluding of others from one’s “goods” has been replaced by “social property” as their sharing, a sharing that is essential to their character as “goods” for the individuals sharing them. What Marx identifies as the ultimate rational principle on which to base the production and distribution of instrumental “goods,” “From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs!,” is also the actualization of the reciprocal practice of such justice. This governance of the production and distribution of both ends in themselves and instrumental “goods” by justice is inconsistent with their governance by “markets.” Moreover, because the reciprocal practice of justice expresses the full development of self-conscious reason in “universally developed individuals,” it will also be associated with much greater development of "productivity" as objectified in the “productive forces” and with its much more “efficient” use in meeting the “needs” of end in itself eudaemonic activity in the true realm of freedom. Understood in terms of these ideas, “the whole of history,” for Marx, is an educational process fully developing the “human” “senses” – e.g., “an eye for beauty of form,” “a sense for the finest play,” “the so-called mental senses,” “the practical senses (will, love, etc.)” – i.e., an educational process fully developing what, for Marx, are the ethical and intellectual “virtues/capabilities.” The successful completion of this historical process of development (in which capitalism is an essential educational “stage”) is a prerequisite for individuals (now as “universally developed individuals”) actualizing happiness as eudaemonia. The paper will support these interpretive claims with textual evidence.


Keywords: Marx Aristotle happiness eudaemonia rationality justice social property

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