Marx’s “Theses on Feuerbach” #9
“The highest point reached by contemplative materialism, that is, materialism which does not comprehend sensuousness as practical activity, is the contemplation of single individuals and of civil society.”
Marx’s ninth “thesis on Feuerbach” functions as a bridge, simultaneously summarizing many of the critical points of the previous theses and pointing forward to the essential eleventh. In order to understand this brief text, it must first be recalled that, in his first thesis, Marx established a category of materialism, “contemplative materialism,” primarily identified with Feuerbach. Relying upon a dichotomy between sensuousness (practical activity) and contemplation (i.e. praxis and theoria), Marx rejects contemplative materialism for its reductionism, that is, its emphasis upon the purely rational character of human experience.
In the current thesis, Marx critiques this contemplative standpoint as the
“contemplation of single individuals and of civil society.” Yet, is the contemplation of “single individuals” and “civil societies” not the precise intention of Marx’s own philosophical, historical, political, and economic work? This seems undeniable. In what way, therefore, must this critique be read, if it is not to collapse upon itself, if it is not to function equally as a refutation of Marx’s own project? Here, “contemplation” must instead be read as “mere contemplation.” In this sense, Marx’s rejection of contemplative materialism is essentially politically driven; it is an accusation of quietism. For Marx, one must not merely “comprehend” individuals and society, philosophy itself must be “practical activity,” “sensuousness,” it must effect or affect individuals and society, it must make an actual difference to the experience of real human life.