Dewey J. Hoitenga Philosophy Essay Contest

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The Dewey J. Hoitenga Philosophy Essay Contest is an annual event sponsored by the GVSU Department of Philosophy. The winning paper will receive both recognition and a prize. The 2023 winner is Carver Claeys..



Congratulations to Carver Claeys

Winner of this Year's Dewey J. Hoitenga Philosophy Essay Contest 2023

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Carver Claeys, Winner of 2023 Essay Contest

The Descent of Marx: An Investigation into the Intellectual Debts of Karl Marx to Charles Darwin

By Carver Claeys

If you were to find yourself suspecting that the connection between Evolutionary Theory and Marxism seems an intimate one, then you would find yourself in ample company. Karl Marx's intellectual partner and closest friend, Friedrich Engels, saw this connection as an abundantly clear one. Social Darwinists, promoters of the marriage of Darwinian thought and sociological study, are no rare breed. Two key figures would be missing from this cohort, though... Charles Darwin and Karl Marx. After a sober investigation of the facts, an intellectually honest conclusion should be that Charles Darwin did not directly influence Karl Marx's projects to penetrate the mysteries of social evolution.

The connection between Darwin and Marx may seem apparent and obvious, it can be shown that every major element of Marx's intellectual stances can be more directly attributed to other thinkers and thus it is difficult to properly defend the case that Darwin directly influenced the intellectual positions of Marx. While it is true that Marx considered Darwin's work to be congenial to historical materialism, he saw it more as an affirmation of positions he had already established as opposed to being something that he owed any serious intellectual debt to. This conclusion can be defended by three main categories of evidence. These categories of evidence being Marx's sincere belief that there was an inability in Darwin's work to connect Natural Selection to definite conclusions about social developments; Marx establishing that the titanic projects of the two men were in distinct domains of investigation; and lastly that we fail to see a substantial shift in the defining character of Marx's work post-Origin of Species or post-Descent of Man since every hallmark of Marxist thought can be directly attributed to the influence of thinkers that predate Darwin. It must be acknowledged that there are several pieces of evidence that may suggest the opposite conclusion and that Darwin indeed must have directly influenced Marx, but all of these pieces can be addressed by assessing them in their proper contexts, which will then show that the thesis of this paper still holds likelihood. A brief explanation of two key methodological choices of my investigation will be given before individually addressing the supporting points of my thesis and, following all of this, a proper reckoning with the pieces of evidence that could be seen as solid foundation for an objection to my thesis.

It is important before we begin to flesh out certain investigative choices that were made in the process of assessing the various pieces of evidence involved in this question of whether Darwin had direct influence on Marx or not. The first of these choices was the decision to only consider the extent of the influence of Darwin's On the Origin of Species on Marx's work as opposed to the influence of both Origin and The Descent of Man. The reason for this being that, save for a pamphlet and an essay, Marx's entire corpus of published work was completed prior to the publishing of The Descent of Man. It is also not to be seen whether Marx even read this latter book of Darwin. The second choice is, despite Friedrich Engels being a crucial intellectual and authorial partner to Marx and despite Engel's ardent favor of Darwin's work, treating Engels' role as more or less an assistant to elucidating already establishing ideas from Marx as opposed to sharing equal stature to Marx in choice of vision or direction. This choice is substantiated by the words of Friedrich Engels himself, found in his book, Ludwig Feuerbach and the End of Classical German Philosophy:

I cannot deny that both before and during my 40 years' collaboration with Marx I had a certain independent share in laying the foundation of the theory, and more particularly in its elaboration. But the greater part of its leading basic principles,especially in the realm of economics and history, and, above all, their final trenchant formulation, belong to Marx. What I contributed -  at any rate with the exception of my work in a few special fields - Marx could very well have done without me. What Marx accomplished I would not have achieved. Marx stood higher, saw further, and took a wider and quicker view than all the rest of us. Marx was a genius; we others were at best talented. Without him the theory would not be by far what it is today. It therefore rightly bears his name.1

There is an instance where Engel's influence on Marx is apparent in regards to Marx making the move to incorporate the class struggle with historical materialism due to his exposure to Engels' 1845 work, The Condition of the Working Class in England2, but this instance should not diminish the position to relegate Engels to the role that he himself claimed to have. Now, we can proceed with the three bodies of evidence that suggest that Darwin's influence on Marx is negligible.

Firstly, while Marx did concur with Darwin concerning the evolution of organic life, the material basis of that evolution, and the omittance of an appeal to teleology, he still found a difficulty to connect Darwin to human social developments as a marked flaw in the context of potentially using Darwinian thought to make definite conclusions within the domain of the evolution of modes of human social structures.3 The thinker that Marx believed had achieved more of a satisfactory mark in this endeavor was the Frenchman Pierre Tremaux, with his 1865

1 Engels, Friedrich, "Ludwig Feuerbach and The End of Classical German Philosophy." Johann Heinrich Wilhelm Dietz, (Stuttgart 1888)

2 Griffin, Emma, "Liberty's Dawn: A People's History of the Industrial Revolution .", Retrieved April 14,2023

3 Colp Jr., Ralph, "The Contacts Between Karl Marx and Charles Darwin ." Journal of the History of Ideas,

(Apr.-June 1974): p. 330

book, Origin and transformations of Man and other beings. In this work, Tremaux argued that the mechanism behind the evolution of organisms lie in the Earth's soil and crust, thus a geological impetus was the main culprit in his eyes.4 Marx wrote to Engels after reading Tremaux in August 1866, saying that "In the historical and political application of Tremaux is much more important and fruitful than Darwin. Here alone is found a natural basis for certain questions, as of nationality, etc."5 He also states that Tremaux's work is "a very important advance over Darwin."6 The reader's attention should be drawn particularly to Marx's exclamation that here alone is found a natural basis for certain questions, these questions being what exactly the material connections/mechanisms are between evolutionary theory and the class struggle within the evolution of human history and social modes of being.

Another point of contention for Marx within the corpus of evidence laid out by Darwin in On the Origin of Species is Darwin's application of the work of Thomas Malthus. Malthus' 1798 treatise, An Essay on the Principle of Population, establishes how populations tend to increase in a geometric fashion while food supplies tend to increase in an arithmetic fashion. Thus, the population exponentially outpaces the rate of increase of the food supply, leading to shortages of the food supply and a ceiling/limit on the growth of said population. 7 In the third chapter of On the Origin of Species, Darwin addresses the crucial feature of an observed, general "struggle for existence" amidst the plant and animal kingdoms. This struggle is essential for the entire argument that Darwin wishes to convey since it is this striving towards survival and the

4 Stebbins , Robert E., "French Reactions to Darwin, 1859-1882." (Michigan University 1969): pp. 285-86

5 Zirkle, Conway, "Evolut ion, Marxian Biology, and the Social Scene." University of Pennsylvania Press, (1959): pp. 91-95

6 Ibid

7 Malthus, Thomas , "An Essay on the Principle of Population." J. Johnson, (London 1798)

continuance of an organism's progeny that serves as an indication that there are selective pressures at play in nature. While there is a multitude of mechanisms in nature that serve to help ensure the survival of organisms that are better suited to the environmental conditions that said organisms find themselves thrown into, one of these mechanisms is the rate of reproduction of a population of organisms contrasted with the rate of replenishment of that population's source of food.8 Darwin explains that:

Every being, which during its natural lifetime produces several eggs or seeds, must suffer destruction during some period of its life, and during some reason or occasional year, otherwise, on the principle of geometric increase, its numbers would quickly become so inordinately great that no country could support the product... It is the doctrine of Malthus applied with manifold force to the whole animal and vegetable kingdoms; for in this case there can be no artificial increase of food, and no prudential restraint from marriage. Although some species may be now increasing, more or less rapidly, in numbers, all cannot do so, for the world would not hold them.9

Karl Marx loathed Malthus and found it regrettable that Darwin would turn to Malthus' work as a featured component of supporting evidence in On the Origin of Species. Richard J. Wiltgen states that Marx's "tendency to label Malthus as a 'plagiarist,' 'sycophant,' and 'reverend scribbler' and his population principle a 'libel on the human race' is well documented."10 Wiltgen goes on to say that Marx found contention with the "ahistorical" character of Malthus' argument, with Marx believing that the pressures of human overpopulation were

8 Darwin , Charles, "On the Origin of Species." ed. Joseph Carroll, (2003): pp. 132-43

9 Ibid, p. 134

10 Wiltgen, Richard J. "Marx's and Engels's Conception of Malthus: The Heritage of a Critique." Organization & Environment 11, no. 4 (1998): pp. 451- 60. 690

mischaracterized by Malthus as a consequence of natural processes as opposed  to being the result  of a historical process, i.e., "the  historical  laws of capitalist  production." 11  We can find less scathing verbiage but the same sentiment in a June 1862 letter Marx sent to Engels after Marx's second reading of On the Origin of Species. Marx writes, "I am amused at Darwin, into whom I looked again,  when  he says that he applies  the  'Malthusian'  theory  also to plants and  animals."12 It thus becomes more difficult to adopt the position  that Darwin  must have had a strong  influence on Marx's own investigations when he ascribes more  stock  to  the  work  of Tremaux.  This difficulty is compounded further by the divergence in opinion  we find between Marx  and Darwin  on the efficacy of appealing to Malthusian population theory.

The second body of evidence that indicates the lack of direct influence Darwin had on Marxian theory are Marx's own explicit statements that, while the argument structure of Darwin and himself had remarkable similarities, the titanic projects of the two men were in distinct domains of investigation. A footnote in the second German edition of Capital reads, "human history differs from natural history in.. .that we have made the former, but not the latter. .. Darwin has interested us in the history of Nature's Technology ... Does not the history of the productive organs of man. . .deserve equal attention?...would not such a history be easier to compile?"13 Maurice Mandelbaum, in his History, Man, and Reason: A Study in Nineteenth-Century Thought, explains:

In short, the Darwinian problem was seen by Marx as analogous to a fundamental problem in his own theory, but one which he did not himself attempt to solve. To be sure, neither in this passage nor elsewhere does Marx suggest that the Darwinian theory should

11 Ibid

12 Marx, Padover , "The Letters of Karl Marx." Prentice-Hall, (1979): p. 157

13 Marx, Karl, "Capital." (1872): p. 372

be applied to historical analysis, nor that social change is to be construed as an extension of the process of biological evolution; however, a parallel was drawn between Marxisn and Darwinism. 14

What we can then take away from the words of both Marx and Mandelbaum is that lines of demarcation have been drawn between the realm of Darwinian investigation and the realm of Marxist investigation. Of course it is the case that Darwin and Marx are making painstaking attempts to elucidate complex processes that are occurring on the same planet and relative sphere of reality, but this does not necessarily entail that progress in one realm provides a one-to-one correspondence in the other. Substantiating this boundary even further are words given to Karl Marx from Charles Darwin himself. Two and only two epistolary exchanges exist between Marx and Darwin with the first of these exchanges (dated October 1, 1873) involving these sentiments from Darwin:

Dear Sir,

I thank you for the honour which you have done me by sending me your great work on Capital; and I heartily wish that I was more worthy to receive it, by understanding more of the deep and important subject of political Economy. Though our studies have been so different, I believe that we both Earnestly desire the extension of knowledge, and this in the long run is sure to add to the happiness of Mankind. 15

Darwin's admittance of his own ignorance of the domain of political economy and indication that "our studies have been so different" further help us to understand that the great works of the two

14 Mandelbaum, Maurice, "History, Man, and Reason: A Study in Nineteenth-Century Thought." (Baltimore 1971):

p. 395

15 Aveling, Edward, "Charles Darwin and Carl Marx." New Century Review , (Jan.-June 1897): p. 243

men exist entirely in their own spheres and thus it becomes, in a purely logistical sense, difficult to argue how Darwin's work could have directly influenced Marx.

One further element that concretizes this separation is the difficulty both Marx and Darwin had with giving sympathy or credence to the multitudes of Social Darwinists that were beginning to take root. Marx was very open and frank about his contempt towards those who made the move to apply Darwinian thought to social issues. In a response to Ludwig Buechner's Darwinism and Socialism, Marx categorized it as "superficial nonsense" and lambasted the author as "obviously a 'maker of books." '1 6 Another instance of Marx not taking kindly to a manifestation of Social Darwinism is his response to a book by Friedrich A. Lange in 1870:

Herr Lange you see has made a great discovery.. The whole of history can be brought under a single great natural law. This natural law is the phrase (in this application Darwin's expression becomes nothing but a phrase) "the struggle for life," and the content of this phrase is the Malthusian law of population or, rather,over-population. So, instead of analyzing the struggle for life as represented historically in varying and definite forms of society, all that has to be done is to translate every concrete struggle into the phrase, "struggle for life," and this phrase itself into the Malthusian population fantasy. 17

Within this passage, it becomes clear that Marx viewed the misapplication of Darwinian thought to the human history of social structures as a bastardization of Darwinism. Marx has no quarrel with the claim that there is indeed a "struggle for existence" amongst the members of the animal and plant kingdoms. But, he indeed has much to quarrel with what to him is a gross

16 Marx, "Letters to Dr. Kugelmann." (New York, 1934): p. 30

17 Ibid , p . 30

reductionism in the framing of the evolution of societies as another extension of Darwinian evolutionary theory.

Charles Darwin himself was of course privy to this tendency to reconcile social analysis with his own work and remarked, "What a foolish idea seems to prevail in Germany on the connection between Socialism and Evolution through Natural Selection." 18

The third and final body of evidence that substantiates the independence of the entire corpus of Marx's works from a characteristically Darwinian influence is the reference to the proper intellectual influences on every single hallmark of Marxist theory. These hallmarks are Dialectical/Historical Materialism, Class Struggle or Class Antagonism, the framing of private property as an institution that needs to be abolished, and Marxian political economy (the distinct focus of his magnum opus, Capital).

While it is the case that Darwin's work has a solely materialist basis for the model of descent with modification, Marx's favor of materialism can be attributed to the school of thought prevalent amongst his academic circle while he was studying philosophy at university in Germany. This circle came to be known as the Young Hegelians, adherents of Hegelian dialectical thinking but with a marked bent towards materialism, atheism, and left-wing political tendencies. The philosophy of G. Hegel permeated the atmosphere and drinking water surrounding Marx, however, he never directly studied under Hegel. But he did study under those who were direct students of Hegel, the chief influencer of Marx being his doctoral adviser, Bruno Bauer. Bauer led the Young Hegelian group, Die Freien ("The Free Ones"), at the University of Berlin.19

18 Francis Darwin, op. cit., 2, p. 413

19 Kolakowski, Leszek, "Main Currents of Marxism : The Founders, The Golden Age, The Breakdown." Norton,


Another key indicator of Marx's favor of materialism from this period is the choice of his 1841 doctoral thesis, The Difference Between the Democritean and Epicurean Philosophy of Nature. Epicurus and Democritus both gave credence to the notion that the universe itself was only a conglomeration of atoms and empty space, leaving no room for immaterial entities or souls.20 A doctoral thesis is no casual commitment and this choice on Marx's part to analyze the comparisons and contrasts between Epicurus and Democritus indicates that his comfort with materialism must have been significant.

Of course, it wouldn' t be Marxism if this materialism wasn't also fused together with a dialectical approach to apprehending reality, using as a methodology a comprehensive analysis of history. It is Hegel who we can credit with the establishment of popularizing the model of dialectics, the process that is characterized mainly by dynamism and change. Thesis begets antithesis and together they beget synthesis. And by analyzing the history of human thought, Hegel declared that we can trace a movement from fragmentation to unity, what he called "The Absolute." Just as the history of one human life can be characterized by maturity towards greater and greater rational clarity/competence,the history of the entire human race can be framed as a gradual march towards The Absolute, with this march being a function of dialectics.21 What Marx wished to do with this was remove the characteristic German Idealism and theological flavoring, replacing it with unadulterated materialism and an atheistic attitude. Thus we arrive at Dialectical and Historical Materialism.

The inspiration to assimilate Historical Materialism and Dialectical Materialism with what has come to be known as the "Class Struggle" came from none other than Friedrich Engels,

20 Marx, Engels, " Collect ed Works of Karl Marx and Frederic k Engels Vol. l."  (New York, 1975): pp. 25-107

21 Redding, Paul, "Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Winter 2020 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL= < /win2020 /entries/hegel />.

when Marx was exposed to Engels' 1845 work, The Condition of the Working Class in England. Engels, the son of a textile industrialist (the source of his privileged  perch  from  which  to survey the English industrial landscape), was able to convey to Marx, both in his book and in person, the stark realities of an English manufacturing worker.  These  realities  were a lower income  than that of English folk prior to the Industrial Revolution, appalling living conditions, and staggering concentrations of disease and mortality  rates compared  to their peers in  the countryside.  This brutal regime felt by this intensely coagulated  population  of people  led Engels  to conclude  that the modern workman was the fundamental unit of the most revolutionary force in human social history, and Marx shared Engels' fervent belief in this regard.22

In regards to the impetus behind Marx assessing the legitimacy of the institution of private property, ultimately concluding that it is something we must necessarily abolish, we can turn our attention to the French Socialists. While it is true that Jean-Jacques Rousseau can be seen as the great instantiator of this vein of thought amongst the French with his famous declaration that "Nature made man happy and good... but society depraves him and makes him miserable," Rousseau left a negligible impression on Marx. It is actually the case that the French socialist Pierre-Joseph Proudhon with his work, What is Property, who left the greatest impression on Marx after he read it. Proudhon was responsible for the coining of the oft-chanted slogan, "property is theft!"23 In the end, Marx categorized private property as one of the fundamental mechanisms that capitalists require to engage in capitalism at all. While one immediately thinks of swaths ofland or houses when it comes to "private property," Marx's chief focus in this area was the means of production (land, buildings, machinery/equipment, raw materials).

22 Griffin, Emma, "Liberty's Dawn: A People's History of the Industrial Revolution.", Retrieved April 14, 2023

23 Proudhon, Joseph, "What is Property? Or an Inquiry into the Principle of Right and of Government." (1840)

By allowing these properties to be available for private purchase and ensuring that these transactions be protected by the legal superstructure imposed by the state, Marx believed that this condition made the exploitation of the working masses possible. As long as property remains something that isn't nationalized, i.e. owned by a worker-controlled governance, then it remains an essential organ for the perpetual oligarchy of the ruling class, in his view. The long substantiated historical record of political power often resting in the hands of land-owners is key to supporting this view.

The final defining piece of Marxist thought that we can examine bears one feature that the previously mentioned pieces do not share, which is that it did not manifest until several years after the publishing of On the Origin of Species. It is this piece, Capital, the dense elucidation of the capitalist mode of production, that will bear the brunt of the scrutiny as to whether we can smell the odors of Cambridge, Galapagos finches, and the Royal Societies.

Searching for the source of capitalist wealth, Marx relied mainly on the theories of classical economists Adam Smith and David Ricardo, with Smith being one of the most famous (or infamous, depending on one's political agenda) apologists of proto-capitalist, laissez-faire, free-market economics. But rather than using these findings to defend capitalism, Marx' s intent was the inverse. Relying on Smith and Ricardo's Labor Theory of Value as his basis for determining the objective value of commodities, Marx traced the root of profit to the manifestation of Surplus Value. This Surplus Value was only possible due to a fraction of the value that labor produced being directed back into the hands of labor as opposed to the entire portion. One small fraction covered the wages that provided sustenance to the workers while the surplus was appropriated as profit for the pocketbooks of the "robber barons." Other than the helping hand of Smith and Ricardo, we find Hegel's influence as well with the application of Dialectical Materialism and Historical Materialism to make sense of the large sets of historical economic data that Marx scrutinized heavily. Relations of the means of production, how capitalism utilizes these for further and further gains in surplus value, and the move towards the uniquely capitalist mode of production hallmark of overproduction crises are expounded upon to result in an intimidatingly mammoth-sized masterpiece. 24 What does all of this mean? That the conclusion s laid out in Origin were certainly not a hindrance to the conclusions of Capital.

Marx could have and should have very well gotten to these conclusions even if Charles Darwin had never existed.

As convincing as this argument may be, that Darwin's work was not directly responsible nor necessary for the entirety of Marxist thought, there still exist striking facts that could sway the rational investigator to conclude the contrary. However, once examined thoroughly, the argument survives the revelation of these facts. After the first occasion that Marx read On the Origin of Species in December 1860, he wrote to Engels saying, "These last four weeks, I have read all sorts of things. Among others, Darwin's book on natural selection. Although it is developed in the crude English style, this is the book which contains the basis in natural history for our view."25 The "crude English style" that Marx is referring to is most likely alluding to the fact that Darwin wrote On the Origin of Species in a more accessible style that allowed a greater number of decently educated people to comprehend it. One wasn't absolutely required to be an experienced naturalist of a royal society to be able to assess the full theoretical framework and implications of speciation by means of natural selection. While this quote alone may convince many as evidence for a direct connection between Darwin's work and Marx's work, it is a much

24 Wolff, Jonathan and David Leopold, "Karl Marx", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Spring 2021 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL= < /spr2021/entries /marx/>.

25 Bellamy Foster, John, " Marx's Ecology: Materialism and Na ture." (2000): p. 197

more apt description to say that Marx was more or less elated to find that there was congruence in thought found in another equally important academic discipline rather than expressing excitement over a source of inspiration for a future project.

In the year 1862, Marx read On the Origin of Species for the second occasion and, according to fellow German communist Wilhelm Liebknecht, "spoke of nothing else for months but Darwin and the enormous significance of his scientific discoveries." 26 Liebknecht, caught up in this Darwinian fervor (all 1,250 copies of the first printing of Origin sold in one day27) with Marx, also recalled attending with Marx a series of six lectures given by Thomas Huxley, the famous popularizer of evolutionary theory dubbed, "Darwin's Bulldog."28 Marx also attended in 1873 a lecture of a similar character given by the Darwin popularizer, Edward Aveling, on the subject of "Insects and Flowers," which Marx found to be fantastic enough to congratulate Aveling at the end of it.29 Given that Marx was living in Chelsea, London at this time and had been doing so since at least 1850, with Charles Darwin himself being no more than 20 miles away, it is impossible to imagine a passionate academic like Marx not finding himself caught up in the zeitgeist of the Victorian intellectual scene.  A sustained participation in this does not entail that Darwinian leanings must have been liberally pilfered through in order to serve as a basis for his own work.

26 Institut Marksizma-Leninzma, "Reminiscences of Marx and Engels." Foreign Languages Publishing House,

(1968): p. 106

27 "Darwin 's On the origin of species was Published Today, in 1859." Smithsonian Libraries and Archives,

(November 2009):

https:/ l l/24/darwins-on-the-origin-of-species-was-published-toda y-in-1859

28 Huxley, Leonard, " Life and Letters of Thomas H. Huxley, I." (New York, 1913): pp. 222-24

29 Aveling, Edward, "Charles Darwin and Carl Marx." New Century Review, (Jan.-June 1897): p. 321

Darwin is explicitly named and his work mentioned in two footnotes of Capital. The first of these footnotes reads:

Darwin in his epoch-making work on the origin of species, remarks with reference to the natural organs of plants and animals, "So long as one and the same organ has different kinds of work to perform, a ground for its changeability may possibly be found in this, that natural selection preserves or suppresses each small variation of form less carefully than if that organ were destined for one special purpose alone. Thus, knives that are adapted to cut all sorts of things, may on the whole, be of one shape; but an implement destined to be used exclusively in one way must have a different shape for every different use."30 Ralph Colp, Jr., tells us in The Contacts Between Karl Marx and Charles Darwin that "this quotation is from a German translation of The Origin; Marx, presumably, added it to Das Kapital as a late thought, as his book was being prepared for printing."31 It is worth mentioning as well that this edition that this footnote was being included in was the second German edition of Capital. If Darwin were to play a more crucial and pressing role in the development of Marxist thought, would it not be more than reasonable to suspect that we would find this presence in the first edition, in the main body of the text, and not simply "added as a late thought?"

The second of these footnotes reads:
A critical history of technology would show how little any of the inventions of the 18th century are the work of a single individual. Hitherto there is no such book. Darwin has interested us in the history of Nature's Technology, i.e., in the formation of the organs

30 Marx, "Capital," trans. Samuel Moore and Edward Aveling, ed. Friedrich Engels, (New York, 1967): p. 341

31 Colp Jr., Ralph, "The Contacts Between Karl Marx and Charles Darwin." Journal of the History of Ideas,

(Apr.-June 1974): p. 331

of plants and animals, which organs serve as instruments of production for sustaining life. Does not the history of the productive organs of man, of organs that are the material basis of all social organization, deserve equal attention? And would not such a history be easier to compile, since, as Vico says, human history differs from natural history in this, that we have made the former, but not the latter?32

Again, we can tum to Colp to help put this second footnote into perspective. Colp explains, "In both of these footnotes Marx contrasts his view of the history of human society with Darwin's view of the history of organic nature. He does not, as previously, try to relate one directly to the other, and to see Natural Selection as the 'basis' for the class struggle." 33 Thus, we see an evolution of Marx's views on Darwin since the initial exposure in 1860. Boundaries are established so that one's work is not confused as the same as the other's.

The last piece of evidence that prima facie indicates an intimate connection between Darwin and Marx involves a letter Marx wrote to Engels with specific instructions on how to write a review for Capital for a German newspaper. The editor of this newspaper, a man by the name of Mayer, was a known Liberal Social Darwinist. In order to attain greater circulation amongst a German audience, Marx told Engels to write a review for Capital that pandered to Mayer's Social Darwinist leanings. Engels' review, Marx insisted, had to state how Capital "proves that contemporary society, economically considered, is pregnant with a new, higher form... (and) shows socially the same universal process of change which was proved in the natural sciences by Darwin."34 Removed from its context, this quote from Marx lends itself to imagining Darwinian inspiration behind the central focus of Capital. Within its context, this

32 Marx, Karl, "Capital." (1872): p. 372

33 Colp Jr., Ralph, "The Contacts Between Karl Marx and Charles Darwin." p. 332

34 Avineri, Shlomo, "From Hoax to Dogma-A Footnote on Marx and Darwin." Encounter, (March 1967): p. 31

letter from Marx only betrays a shrewd sense of strategy. One must keep in mind that, in regards to Marx's political philosophy, circulation and exposure of his ideas to as wide an audience as possible was a necessity given that a call to action is embedded deep within that philosophy.

This sentiment rings most resoundingly in one of his most cited utterances which also happens to be engraved on his tomb, "the philosophers have only interpreted the world in various ways. The point, however, is to change it."35 If an awakening of class consciousness is imperative to shake up the social order, then appealing to even a Social Darwinist newspaper editor is a necessary price to pay given that such a tactic could very well lead to a much greater readership. The fact that this newspaper editor was a German one should not be overlooked, given that, out of all of the modernized European nations, Marx suspected that Germany would be the most ripe arena for socialist revolution.36

In summary, Marx's designation of Darwin's work as something ineffectual in the realm of applied social theory, Marx's establishment of both his and Darwin's work being in distinct intellectual domains of inquiry, and the hallmarks of Marx's theoretical framework having sources of inspiration from entirely different thinkers that long predate Darwin help us strongly suspect that Darwin's influence on Marx can be safely considered to be negligible. One can make this argument and defend it while reconciling this with the fact that the admiration that Karl Marx had for Charles Darwin was still immense. So immense in fact, that Dr. Marx wrote two letters to Darwin extolling his utmost respect for the legendary naturalist. While imitation may be the highest form of flattery, we can see nothing of the sort in Marx's wrestling with Darwin.

35 Marx, Karl, "T heses on Feuerbach," ed. Friedrich Engels, (February 1888)

36 Wolff, Jonathan and David Leopold, "Karl Marx", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Spring 2021 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL= <>.


Yearly Essay Contest Winners

Name Year of Contest Current Status Essay Action
Carver Claeys 2023 Winner GVSU Philosophy Major The Descent of Marx: An Investigation into the Intellectual Debts of Karl Marx to Charles Darwin View
Jordan Bradley 2022 Winner GVSU Graduate Rebellion and Reason View
Lucas Howe 2021 Winner Lucas is currently employed as a Salesforce Administrator in Austin, TX, and continues to engage in creative projects in music, writing, etc. Tethering the Mind: Embodied Cognition and its Implications View
Mallory Wietrzykowski 2020 Winner Mallory is a MA student in philosophy at Kent State University Explaining How Confabulations Undermine the Concept of Free-Will View
Lauren Chunn 2019 Winner Lauren is currently employed as Medical Science Liaison for a biotech company View
Adrian Rios 2018 Winner Adrian is a Professional Writing Assistant at Lansing Community College Franz Boas and the Genesis of Modern Anthropology View
Abigail DeHart 2015 Winner Graduated from Michigan Law School in 2019 and is now a lawyer for a law firm in Washington DC View
Sam Girwarnauth 2010 Winner Sam completed his masters in philosophy at Western Michigan and has been an attorney since 2017. He is currently on active duty as Army Judge Advocate, currently serving as a trial defense attorney at Fort Campbell, Kentucky View
Patrick Lummen 2007 Winner Patrick completed an MA degree focused on the philosophy of religion at the University of Chicago Divinity School. Patrick has taught Philosophy as an adjunct professor and is currently the Project Manager for the University of Chicago View
Dan Blaser 2005 Winner View

Page last modified April 26, 2023