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‘Material’ denotes, (1) in the broad sense, all that is outside the individual consciousness, but (2) in the narrow sense, those activities which are necessary for the production and reproduction of life itself.


(1) ‘Material’ is used to describe material entities and processes, such as the paper and ink which are the carriers of the written word, the pressure waves and air which are the carriers of speech, the human bodies and artefacts which are the carriers of activities and actions. Even though these processes which have been given as examples are controlled by human minds and are also ideal, they are all material in as much as they exist outside of consciousness, interconnected with other material processes across the entire universe, whether observed or not, and independently of whether and how they are interpreted. Also material are the natural processes such as earthquakes, the rotation of the Sun and the autonomic nervous system of the human body, over which human beings have no control and which existed before human beings walked the Earth.

See Matter and Ideal.

(2) ‘Material’ is also used in a narrower sense following Marx's use in, for example, the Preface to the Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy:

'... it is always necessary to distinguish between the material transformation of the economic conditions of production, which can be determined with the precision of natural science, and the legal, political, religious, artistic or philosophic – in short, ideological forms in which men become conscious of this conflict and fight it out. Just as one does not judge an individual by what he thinks about himself, so one cannot judge such a period of transformation by its consciousness, but, on the contrary, this consciousness must be explained from the contradictions of material life, from the conflict existing between the social forces of production and the relations of production.' (1859)

The distinction Marx is making here, between those forms of activity which are necessary for the production and reproduction of life and those 'ideological' forms of activity which are necessary for the reproduction of the social relations or 'spiritual' activities not essential to the reproduction of life itself, is a relative distinction, important for the analysis of social change.


Lenin, V. I. (1908) "Matter has Disappeared?" Materialism and Empirio-Criticism

Marx, K. (1859). A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy, Preface

-- AndyBlunden - 17 Nov 2013


Topic revision: r3 - 20 Nov 2013, AndyBlunden

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