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  • 18 July 2005
  • Top Marx: why the public voted Karl greatest philosopher


    A BBC Radio 4 poll that named Karl Marx as the greatest philosopher of all time was described by The Guardian newspaper as a shock result, but to University of Sussex philosophy lecturer Dr Andrew Chitty, the result comes as no surprise.

    Marx, the 19th-century political thinker and author of the Communist Manifesto, accounted for 27.9 per cent of 34,000 votes cast by the public in a poll for In Our Time, the Melvyn Bragg-hosted show that examines the history of ideas. Marx beat Socrates, Plato, Kant, Hume and Aristotle for the title.

    Dr Chitty has collated an impressive online bibliography on Marx, teaches a course on Marx for the MA Social and Political Thought, and is a member of the organising group of the Marx and Philosophy Society. He believes that Marx has a greater relevance than ever in today's world of global politics, poverty, environmental degradation and war.

    Dr Chitty says: "Why do I think Marx won? I would guess that it is because we live in a society increasingly permeated by capitalism and its logic. The ceaseless preoccupation with productivity and cost-efficiency, the daily bombardment of every household by TV advertising and junk mail, the continual transformation of our lives by new technology, the drive toward overt or covert privatisation, the widening national and international gaps between rich and poor, the destruction of environments, global warming, even in my view the occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq, are all driven by the logic of capitalism.

    "Marx made it his life's work to try to understand this logic, and as a result, more than any other single thinker, he gives us a way of understanding our present world. A lot of people sense that." Dr Chitty adds: "Hardly anyone believes in racial or sexual discrimination, or anything other than a one-person-one-vote democratic state. Yet when it comes to the economy, people live fantastically unequal lives. According to one estimate, more than 28,000 children die every day from extreme poverty somewhere in the world. Marx categorically demanded an absolute end to economic inequality. I think people recognise he is right about that.

    "The collapse of the Soviet Union and the de facto conversion of China to capitalism have also strengthened his appeal. Those regimes sustained a very rigid and simplistic interpretation of Marx's thought. Now that is being forgotten, and there is room for a fresh return to his own texts."

    But has the modern world forgotten about philosophy too? Dr Chitty argues: "Philosophy is important because we can't decide how to live on the basis of facts and experiences alone. We need a framework  to make sense of  them. Philosophy gives you that - or it should. Of course religion does too; the difference is that in philosophy everything has to be argued for, nothing can be taken as an authority except our own reason.

    "Of course there is an issue about whether Marx is 'really a philosopher'. Marx himself had no time for philosophy as he knew it. He thought of himself as a social, economic and political theorist. But I think in the broad sense he is."

     

    Notes for editors 

    For the BBC's Greatest Philosopher poll, see http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio4/history/inourtime/

    For philosophy at Sussex, see http://www.sussex.ac.uk/philosophy/

    See also Dr Chitty's home page: http://www.sussex.ac.uk/Users/sefd0/

    Press Office contacts: Maggie Clune or Jacqui Bealing, tel: 01273 678 888 or email M.T.Clune@sussex.ac.uk or J.A.Bealing@sussex.ac.uk

     

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