What Determines Consciousness?

Karl Marx and Consciousness

It is not the consciousness of man that determines their being, but, on the contrary, their social being that determines their consciousness.

Karl Marx

Do you think your status affects your consciousness, does your consciousness come from above, or somewhere between these two?

I read the quote above today and decided to share it with my Instagram family before I did my research. I wanted to know what people’s opinions were before I started digging in.

What does the quote mean?

Well, Karl Marx was a materialist who, unlike his teacher Hegel who was an idealist and believed in spiritual forces, [Marx] believed that consciousness came from social ranking. So, he believes that if you’re in a lower class that determines one form of consciousness verses being in the upper class which determines a different form of consciousness.

I can tell you education plays a great role in molding consciousness. There is an extreme difference between a public and private education. I can tell you from my own experience that teachers are more engaged and open to the needs of the student in a private education verses public education where there are less teachers and supplies for more students. This isn’t saying that public school systems aren’t beneficial. I am extremely grateful for public schools but the truth is that wealthier towns have access to more, verses public school systems in more impoverished communities. I don’t think we need to go to Harvard to have an expanded consciousness. I’d even limit it to say an individual simply needs intellectual stimulation geared to their specific learning style to mold their consciousness in a more expansive way. So basically, education can either hinder or expand consciousness depending on the students access to a proper learning environment.

It’s not just education that molds consciousness, it’s also the workforce and how we perceive it. The lower class workers are affected in so many ways. Marx says that the laborer denies himself and does not grow mentally and physically torturing his body and ruining his mind. “The result therefore is that the human being (the laborer) does not feel himself to be free except in his animal functions: eating, drinking, and reproducing, at best in his human dwelling or in his clothing, etc., and in his human functions he is no more than an animal.” The toil of labor runs down a man’s ability to enjoy life. He’s whittled down to his most primitive instincts unable to relish in the joys that come from being alive.

Education can be limiting for those in a lower status, and the work force can run the laborer down to their basic primal instincts and the third thing; the shaming of those in poverty. The upper classes or those in the working class are raised and/or conditioned to never be like the poor. Those who have money look down on those in poverty, shame them, and call them lazy and selfish.

So, what do I think?

This all makes sense to me within this context. I’m not through researching Marx so my opinion is likely to change over time. I do believe social class has an effect on our consciousness. I do believe that education, labor, and social issues affect our consciousness. I guess the next question is what I think we should do to change these issues. I think there’s a million options, we just have to be brave enough to move forward with new ideas.

Philosophers until now have only interpreted the world in various ways

The point, however, is to change it

Karl Marx


The Critical Tradition, David H. Richter





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A writer and sensitive realist who takes risks with the intention of progress