Is it immaterial that there’s a ‘material’ in ‘historical materialism’?

Charles W. Mills*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


G. A. Cohen’s influential ‘technological determinist’ reading of Marx’s theory of history rests in part on an interpretation of Marx’s use of ‘material’ whose idiosyncrasy has been insufficiently noticed. Cohen takes historical materialism to be asserting the determination of the social by the material/asocial, viz. ‘socioneutral’ facts about human nature and human rationality which manifest themselves in a historical tendency for the forces of production to develop. This paper reviews Marx’s writings to demonstrate the extensive textual evidence in favour of the traditional interpretation - that for Marx, the ‘material’ includes the economic, and is thus ineluctably social in character. Thus those critics of Cohen who have urged the inclusion of the relations of production in historical materialism’s explanans do seem to have Marx’s terminological and conceptual backing.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)323-342
Number of pages20
JournalInquiry (United Kingdom)
Issue number3
StatePublished - 1989

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Philosophy
  • Health Policy


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