Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)

Degree Granting Department


Major Professor

Michael Morris, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Stephen Turner, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Alex Levine, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Roger Ariew, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Manu Samnotra, Ph.D.


Ethics, Flourishing, Marx, Aristotle, Marxism, Human Nature


This dissertation will show that Marx’s philosophy contains a notion of human “second nature” centered on the activity of labor with a corresponding class-centered theory of flourishing and emancipation. This notion shares important similarities with that of Aristotle but also differs in significant ways. Second nature for Marx is created and habituated through education and social labor. Moreover, human nature is molded into different forms as history progresses and modes and means of production change. In a class society everyone becomes is alienated from their nature in a way that inhibits their flourishing. This contrasts with an emancipated society, where people are free to develop their nature in accordance with their interests as social individuals. Marx’s conception rests on a notion of species-being he gains from Feuerbach, but he goes beyond Feuerbach in historicizing human nature.

For Marx and Engels, second nature comes to reflect the class divisions inherent in each society. Every class has its own moral standpoint which emerges out of the interests, practices, social relations and ways of life of that class. Thus, Marx and Engels have a relativist view of ethics where multiple ethical systems coexist and have their own models of justification. I show that Marx and Engels are still moral realists despite their relativistic and sociological account of morality insofar as every class morality is beset by internal contradictions and external tensions that undermine it, and insofar as every class morality successfully addresses some limitations on human flourishing. Moreover, they believe that class morality will be superseded by a truly human morality only fully knowable to those who have been socialized within it.

The division in class morality is displayed in Marx’s analysis of the working day. I show how in Capital, two distinct moral standpoints are given voices by Marx to explain their reasoning on the length of the working day. The bourgeois standpoint validates the morality of free exchange, while the proletarian standpoint argues for fair compensation for their labor and sufficient free time for rest and happiness. These two standpoints are never entirely commensurate, but Marx also shows how the working-class standpoint grasps the real barriers to human flourishing, unlike the capitalist standpoint. This shows both how Marx is a relativist insofar as he recognizes the validity of two distinct moral standpoints, and how he is a realist insofar as he sees one morality as more internally consistent and capable of grasping the material conditions of the time. The ultimate ends of working class morality is a model of education that edifies everyone in a plurality of ways, an equitable distribution of work responsibilities, the use of technology to reduce the psychological and physical burdens of labor, and sufficient free time from tedious forms of labor.

Included in

Philosophy Commons