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The Antecedent Question in Marxist Ethics

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China Social Science Review

No.4, 2021


The Antecedent Question in Marxist Ethics



Li Yitian


If the “question of moral legitimacy in the context of historical materialism” is regarded as the “initial question” of Marxist ethics, cannot the question of whether Marxist ethics itself can be established as a form of knowledge and a serious branch of scholarship—that is, the “question of the intellectual legitimacy of Marxist ethics itself”—be antecedent and more fundamental? An antecedent question is not the same as an initial question. Marx and Engels’ negation and criticism of morality cannot be taken as sufficient reason to invalidate Marxist ethics. Fundamentally, the question of the intellectual legitimacy of Marxist ethics relates to whether Marxists (especially the classical Marxist writers) undertake systematic discussion and thought about moral phenomena or problems; whether Marxist theory contains or directs one toward ethical norms; and whether Marxists intend to solve the moral problems that exist in real life using Marxist theory. Only when Marxist moral discourse has no system, so that one cannot extract from it clear value claims and a reasonable path to their implementation, or when interpreters endow it with overmuch normativity or even break the bounds of historical materialism, will it truly provide a negative answer to the antecedent question of Marxist ethics.