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date: 30 September 2020

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter considers the significance of Marx’s concept of alienation to his overall criticism of capitalism. At the concept’s core is the idea that while labor is potentially a fulfilling and liberating activity, under capitalism it appears only as a hostile, dominating force. Workers thus experience their own activity, natural and built environments, and fellow human beings as alien and hostile. While this idea has been deeply influential, it has also been the subject of heated controversies, in particular for its apparent dependence on an essentialist or teleological idea of human nature. While important, such controversies were often inflated by their political and intellectual context, and this chapter argues they should be considered alongside the lasting significance of alienation as an explanatory concept. Understood as such, it can still contribute a great deal to understanding and criticizing contemporary society, and provide guidance for how to transcend and replace it.

Keywords: alienation, labor, capitalism, essentialism, human nature, Marxism

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