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Marx’s Notion of Man as a ‘Species Being’ and Alienation Essay

The notion of man as a ‘species-being for Marx meant the recognition of man’s human essence as a member of a species. A species that take part in a process of conscious production whereby we produce as human beings for one another; Marx perceived this to be the process of mans ‘active species life’ (Bottomore; 1963 ). Marx specifically used the term ‘species being’ as a method to distinguish human life from animal life; where production is more a consequence of ‘blind instinct’ rather than conscious productive labour. The recognition of man as a ‘species’ becomes eminent to the theory of Alienation, which is central to Marx’s work and vital in reiterating the human essence of man.

‘Alienation’ for Marx was a consequence of the conditions within systems of mutual production, which caused the man to lose his identity as a species being and fall into an alienated state through the production of capital. Subsequently, he became detached from his conscious life activity causing him to be detached from himself, from others and the product of his labour. Essentially man comes to lose all the traits that identify his recognition of himself as human, causing himself to become de-humanized (ibid.). The main concern of this essay will be to adequately explain Marx’s notion of man as a ‘species being’ within the context of this notion of alienation, whilst providing an understanding of their place within the social construction of society, as Marx had intended.

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Initially, I will touch upon the philosophical background of Hegel and Feuerbach that influenced the writings of Marx, showing the somewhat shift in Marx’s approach from a philosophical background to a more economical and political interpretation of the conditions under which alienated labour occurred. The conditions which define mutual systems of production causing the man to be alienated will be addressed, with specific reference to the relations within modes of production profound within a capitalist economy. An exploration of the political economy which Marx draws critique upon will finally be approached; proposing the elimination of private property as a means to overcome alienation, whilst also presenting ideas to progress the state into an economy where individuals acquire the product of there labour, an economy according to Marx under communism.

Marx’s utilisation of the notion ‘species being’ was initially addressed by Feuerbach who developed the concept in his work on the religious consciousness of man in the Essence of Christianity (Bottomore; 1956). Feuerbach used the term in reference to every ‘man’s consciousness of a human essence’ whilst Marx interpreted the term to distinguish ‘the social bias of this consciousness’ (Arthur, C; 1970). The distinction was laid out in the conscious behavioural differences between humans and animals; humans having the capacity to produce for others in their recognition as a member of a species, whilst animals remain confined to the object of there own existence (Bottomore; 1956). This thesis laid its foundations very much in the spiritual nature of man as Feuerbach had intended. Hegel’s influence on Marx held more primacy, in that much of Marxist thought stemmed from that of the young Hegelians.

Hegel suggests that the alienation of man, and his recognition of himself as a species essentially lying in the capacity of man’s consciousness, specifically mans estrangement from the objects of his labour through his ‘species powers’ (Lukacs, G; 1938). “..The real, active orientation of man to himself as a species-being, of his manifestation as a real species being (i.e. as a human being), is only possible by the utilisation of all the powers he has in himself and which are’ his as belonging to the species-something which in turn in only possible through the co-operative action of all mankind…”, (cited in Lucaks, G; 1938. pg 321: Marx.op.cit.,p.197) From this Hegel did not perceive alienation as a negative existence for man but on the contrary a state which through the appropriate conscious activity could be seen to induce men to progress as a species; an objective notion of spiritual alienation adopted by many young Hegelians (Elster, J 1985).

Marx acknowledged both philosophical notions of Hegel and Feuerbach and subsequently adopted the role of the economist as opposed to the philosopher to expand these notions within the social construction of society. In his essay ‘On the Jewish Question’ Marx placed importance on man’s recognition of himself as a ‘species being’ and this is how Marx contemplates his notion of the perfect political state – a state of political emancipation; the final form of human emancipation. A state where capital is not the sole means of existence detaching man from his humanisation as a species-being, thus sustaining the alienation of mankind (Arthur, C; 1970). The loss of one realisation as a species-being is, therefore, a consequence of man’s alienated state, thus causing mans detachment from his conscious life activity as a member of the human species. This subsequently impedes man’s capacity to become humanised as an individual, alternatively, he is left de-humanised at the loss of his species-being.

Now what is required is a coherent dissection of the spheres through which alienation occurs and is sustained through the use of man as a commodity, or as Marx more specifically states – ‘a miserable commodity’ (Colletti, L; 1975) in order to conceptualize man’s profit-maximizing utility within society and the possibility of this alienation to become eliminated, returning man to his natural state. Marx observed man within a capitalist state where he has become a vital means of producing capital through his labour. Man no longer exercises his essence as a species-being in productive labour for the good of others, but on the contrary, he becomes detached from his essence and the product of his labour is abstracted as a means to produce for the sake of capital. In this sense man becomes reduced to nothing but a machine; the more capital the product of his labour acquires, the more the worker will be encouraged to produce through the influence of wages.

The appeal of this profit for the worker sustains his alienated state by further sacrificing his ‘body and spirit’ for the sake of his wages; “..the more they want to earn the more they must sacrifice their time and perform slave labour in which their freedom is totally alienated in the service of avarice…” (Bottomre; 1963, pg 71) So essentially the increase in production and specifically the power of man’s product of his labour suppresses him further into an alienated state at the cost of his humanity. His fulfilment at work is minimal; on the contrary, he is miserable and survives only as a means to produce capital. The worker remains detached from the product of his labour and produces only wages in an attempt to prosper in the same way as the capitalist seeks to prosper – only the prosperity of the capitalist ascends at a higher level through the exploitation of the worker. (ibid).

From here competition becomes almost predictable as another condition accentuating the alienation of the worker. As the greed of the capitalist grows and the productive value of the object of production increases, the relationship the worker has with the product of his labour deteriorates. As Marx states in his First Manuscript on Alienated Labour, “…the more value he creates, the more worthless he becomes….the more civilized the product, the more barbarous the worker….the more refined his product the more crude and misshapen the worker…” (cited in Bottomore; 1963 pg 122) Here competition is seen to accentuate mans state of alienation through his use as a commodity. The worker’s exploitation as a commodity reduces his labour to that of a machine, causing the maintenance of the worker’s welfare to also carry with it the attributes of a mechanical object;

“.. as far as political economy is concerned, the requirements of the worker can be narrowed down to one: the need to support him while he is working and prevent the race of workers from dying out. ”. (ibid, pg 137) It is these relations between wages, labour and the product of labour that Marx believes to be responsible for the de-humanisation of man. With the economic conditions and considerations of capital Marx has provided, it is clear to see that man has been deduced from his natural state as a species-being, to that of a commodity solely as a consequence of capital interest and competition. Through the exploration of the various features of market exchange and modes of production within the state, Marx derives a critique upon the political economy as a result of the inability of a man to own the product of his labour in a Capitalist society where, as mentioned previously – only the capitalist prospers.

Marx’s critique elaborated the concept of ‘private property’ which sustained alienation and concluded that the abolition of alienation would require the abolition of private property; which itself would require a shift in the political economy. His thesis arose from his recognition of the enslavement of workers as commodities as a result of a competing market economy that man had become unfortunate enough to be represented within as a form of ‘living capital’. The man became a form of private property as both labour and capital; of which both have evidently been portrayed as being alien to him. Yet Marx believes that these alienating features of private property can be overcome in a state where mutual production and conditions of labour are not alienating.

Marx postulates that in present society, wealth resides in producing objects and this is an attribute of alienation. Previously in more communal societies (for example that of tribes) wealth resided in natural objects, thus the alienation of man from the object of his production was non-existent (Avineri; 1968). Property ownership in previous tribal communes represented social identification as opposed to individual prosperity (ibid). In the present society, the perfect political state for Marx ( where individuals acknowledge their capacities as species-beings) is that of a communist state. A state where man produces not for the sake of capital, but for the sake of others. The only means to achieve this end would therefore require the abolition of private property which produces this capital.

The preference for a communist state lies in Marx’s contention that modes of production need to change in order for man to be free form his alienated state. These modes will only change if the political economy changes to allow the worker to own the product of his labour, “…the mode of production in material life determines the general character of the social, political and spiritual processes of life. It is not the consciousness of men that determines their existence, but, on the contrary, their social existence determines their consciousness” (Marx, K as cited in Feuer, L 1959, pg 84). This point highlights the shift in Marx’s thinking from that of Hegel’s. Whilst Hegel suggested internal consciousness determined alienation, Marx suggests external existence determines the internal consciousness, thus the environment in which mans labour is produced is of vital significance to his existence as alienated – a theme coherent throughout Marx’s early manuscripts (Bottomore; 1963 p 202).

Although in saying this the notions of alienation and species-being were always different between Marx and Hegel; one thought the solution lay internally (Hegel) and the other (Marx) saw the solution to lye externally. However, in addressing specifically the notion of ‘species-being Marx’s transition from Feuerbachian influence is less clear. Initially, when Marx talks of species-beings, he speaks in relation to individuals having the capacity to recognise their ‘human essence’. Yet, when Marx speaks of alienation, he speaks in relation to men as objects with no reference to there human essence. He appears to abandon his philosophical premise inspired by Feuerbach and opts for purely economic and political rhetoric of the state and the individual within civil society. Marx’s writings read from a very historical understanding of the nature of man, whilst in adopting the Feuerbachian notion of species-being he transcends to a more anthropological understanding which he fails to persevere through his concept of alienation.

This presents confusion as to whether or not Marx simply discards this anthropological position of Feuerbach in the German Ideology in preference for a historical account of human nature. Through the clarification of the notion ‘species-being and alienation, it appears that the ‘money economy’ is pre-eminent as a factor underpinning the alienation of man from his labour, the object of his production and his human essence. It is predominantly, for this reason, Capitalism will endeavour to induce and sustain the alienated existence of mankind: as long as the relationship between labour and capital remains within its present state among the modes of production (Avineri; 1968). Marx has been successful in considering the development of the economic structure of society as a ‘natural-historical process’ whilst also considering the realms of personal interest and relations embodied within capitalist production.

However, Marx opens himself up to criticism with his failure to maintain a grounded frame of understanding upon which to build his thesis’, or at least to make coherent the process of his adaptive shifts in understanding – from an initially anthropological understanding to a more historical and economic one (Bottomore; 1956). Aside from this Marx makes clear his standpoint on the notion of alienation and the place of species-being within the context of human emancipation: for Marx, emancipation from an alienated existence is the only means for individuals to return to there natural state as species-beings and his concepts of alienation appear to substantiate this claim within the greater context of the political economy.


  • Arthur, C (1970) The German Ideology. Lawrence and Wishart. pp 4 – 34.
  • Avineri, S (1968) The Social and Political Thought of Karl Marx. Cambridge University Press. pp 8 – 123.
  • Bottomore, T.B (1956) Karl Marx: Selected Writings in Sociology and Social Philosophy. McGraw Hill book company. pp 1 – 29
  • Bottomore, T.B (1963) Karl Marx: Early Writings. Watts. pp 1 – 144
  • Colletti, L (1975) Karl Marx: Early Writings. Harmondsworth; Penguin. pp 270 – 400.
  • Elster, J (1985) Studies in Marxism and Social Theory: Making Sense of Marx. Cambridge University Press. pp 74 – 78
  • Feuer, L (1959, 1969) Marx and Engels: Basic Writings on Politics and Political Philosophy. Fontana; Classic of History and Thought. pp 11 – 87.
  • Lucaks, G (1938) The Young Hegel. Merlin Press, 1975. ch 3.5

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Marx’s Notion of Man as a ‘Species Being’ and Alienation Essay. (2021, Mar 14). Retrieved April 16, 2021, from