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Engels, Friedrich (1820–95)

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-DC087-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved July 23, 2024, from

Article Summary

Until the 1970s the most influential framework for understanding Marx’s career and ideas was the one established by Engels. This framework was crucially related to his understanding of philosophy and its supposed culmination in Hegel’s systematic and all-encompassing idealism.

Engels claimed that Marx had grounded Hegel’s insights in a materialism that was coincident with the physical and natural sciences of his day, and that Marx had identified a dialectical method applicable to nature, history and thought. With respect to history, Marx was said to have formed a ‘materialist conception’, from which his analysis of capitalist society and its ‘secret’ of surplus value were derived. Together these intellectual features were the core of the ‘scientific socialism’ which, Engels argued, should form the theory, and inform the practice, of the worldwide socialist or communist movement. This was to abolish the poverty and exploitation necessarily engendered, he claimed, by modern industrial production.

Philosophically the tenets of dialectical and historical materialism have been defended and modified by orthodox communists and non-party Marxists, and expounded and criticized by political and intellectual opponents. The three laws of dialectics, and the doctrine that history is determined by material factors in the last instance, have been attacked as tautologous and indeterminate. Engels’s view that scientific socialism is a defensible representation of Marx’s project has also been challenged by textual scholars and historians.

Citing this article:
Carver, Terrell. Engels, Friedrich (1820–95), 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-DC087-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
Copyright © 1998-2024 Routledge.

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