Marx’s Concept of Social Existence and Its Fundamental Significance

Social Sciences in China (Chinese Edition)

No.7, 2019


Marx’s Concept of Social Existence and Its Fundamental Significance



Zou Shipeng


Core concepts are the cornerstone of an academic theory and its discourse system. Marx’s concept of social existence still has great value as scholarly theory. In Marx’s view, neither Hegel’s logical ontology nor Feuerbach’s theory of sensibility can shape the consciousness of social existence. On the basis of new materialism and historical materialism, Marx promoted an ontological revolution, transforming traditional abstract existence into social existence. On the basis of his critique of practice and the theory of historical production, Marx reveals the historical generation of social existence during human society’s transition from the prehistoric period to the world historical era and points out why industrial society is subordinate to the historical critique of bourgeois and civil society. Based on Marx’s relative distinction between the activities and the relationships of practice, we has explained how the multiple forms of human practice (production, communication, labor, life, sensibility and object-directed activity) constitute a theory of value for human existence or its connotations of philosophical anthropology, and revealed that Marx’s theory of human essence being the “ensemble of social relations” is the logical part of the concept of social existence. This not only distinguishes his theory from egotism, populism and anarchism, but also constitutes the basic principle of Marxist classical social theory. Marx gives an in-depth discussion of the relationship between social existence and social consciousness, maintaining that not only does social existence determine social consciousness, but also that social consciousness is generated from social existence and is distinct from ideology. It therefore not merely presents an ideological critique, but also transforms consciousness into “true knowledge,” forms “real empirical science’ or historical materialism, and so develops a tradition of critical social theory.