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Marx, Article Critique Example

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Article Critique

Karl Marx offers a unique understanding of consciousness when he states, “It is not the consciousness of men that determines their being, but, on the contrary, their social being that determines their consciousness (Crotty, 61).” Before explaining what Marx potentially means, it may be useful to briefly understand the tradition he is opposing. Marx adopts a clearly anti-Cartesian position vis-à-vis consciousness: Descartes posited that an individual’s consciousness arose from the ability to think and understand oneself; a skeptical idealist who believed the locus of consciousness was found in the mind or the soul, not in the external environment.   Marx is proposing an opposite interpretation: Consciousness does not exist in the individual; rather, consciousness only arises as a function of external environmental forces. Marx’s understanding of consciousness is further developed as part of being in the “working class” and the materialist conception of history that requires individuals to gradually gain awareness of class struggle in  the world.

On the one hand, there may be proponents of a quasi-Marxian understanding of consciousness among architects and urban designers.  Some believe that the aesthetic involved in designing buildings and urban spaces plays a critical role in impacting such issues such as productivity, mood, and even incentivizing certain behavior. I don’t believe, however, that many would propose that one’s entire consciousness arises from the building or area that they live in.  Perhaps in extreme cases where an individual lives in an environment completely beset by violence and carnage, that individual’s consciousness may be primarily formed by the surrounding area.  But even in this case, a change of architecture or urban renovation would do little to change the individual’s consciousness, in lieu of larger changes in the area’s living dynamics.

Overall, Marx’s definition of consciousness is important in emphasizing the role of environment in molding individuals’ perception of reality.  His error, however, is to derive an individual’s primary understanding from environment alone.

References:

Crotty, J. (1998).  Foundations of Social Research.  Thousands Oaks: Sage.

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