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Materialism is the philosophical view that holds that matter is the ultimate foundation of reality. It is separate from economic materialism which is what many people think the word "materialism" refers to, being the attitude which emphasizes the acquiring and consuming of material goods. Materialism is usually considered in opposition to idealism, which considers the mind and ideas to be primary. Materialism however views these things as mostly derived from matter; thus for example positing that the values, attitudes, and culture of a society and its individuals are derived from material factors like access to resources and geographic features like navigable rivers and mountains.

From materialism were developed historical materialism and dialectical materialism, both of which were formulated by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, as well as Joseph Dietzgen who formed dialectical materialism independently from Marx and Engels. The former is a theory which views history and its developments as transpiring on a material basis, and the latter is a philosophical method which examines dialectics materialistically, rather than idealistically as Hegel had done.

The ruling class of almost every society rejects materialism because of its progressive tendencies, as rulers are generally intent on preserving their status above all else; thus tending towards idealism as a basis on which to justify their position in society. There are a few exceptions however — the pre-revolutionary French bourgeoisie saw metaphysical materialism as a force that will bring them to power, embracing it. The working class at the dawn of capitalism was weak, poorly organized, with the very notion of dialectical materialism still in its infancy, let alone internalized by the proletariat who have not felt the contradictions of capitalism yet. This all naturally changed and capitalists eventually came to see materialism as a hostile force, turning to idealism like the rulers of systems past. What is constant however is that materialism is the philosophy of vanguard social forces, with idealism taking the opposite side; of being the thought form of the established, privileged sections of the population. The working class has only started to be conscious of materialism in the capitalist age, where it got organized in large collectives which facilitated the spread of ideas, broadened its interests, and united it in struggle, as well as providing more free time to think and organize. With this, workers can study materialist philosophy itself as well as social sciences in general, as many worker groups were organized to do before the Russian Revolution.[1]

Pre-Marxist materialism

Greek atomism

Early modern materialism


Marxist materialism

Dialectical materialism

Dialectical materialism is the adaption of Hegel's dialectics to Feuerbach's materialism. It is called dialectical materialism because its approach to the phenomena of nature, its method of studying and apprehending them, is dialectical, while its interpretation of the phenomena of nature, its conception of these phenomena, its theory, is materialistic.

Historical materialism

Historical materialism is the extension of the principles of dialectical materialism to the study of social life, an application of the principles of dialectical materialism to the phenomena of the life of society, to the study of society and of its history.

External links


  1. What Is Philosophy?. Galina Kirilenko, Lydia Korshunova. 1985. Pages 96–9