Historical Materialism and the Concept of Supervenience

22 Pages Posted: 6 Apr 2020 Last revised: 8 Apr 2020

See all articles by Malcolm Rogge

Malcolm Rogge

Corporate Responsibility Initiative; Harvard Law School

Date Written: April 1, 2020


The author applies the concept of supervenience in contemporary metaphysics to Marx’s foundational proposition that the relations of production in a society “correspond” to the underlying forces of production. The author proposes that this correspondence relation be regarded as Marxian supervenience. The author draws on Gerald Cohen’s analytical breakdown of Marx’s theory of history and on Jaegwon Kim's formulations of strong and weak supervenience to show how the concept of strong supervenience is most useful for interpreting Marx’s primacy thesis. While no position is advanced here about whether the theory of historical materialism is true or not, the author provides a tool that can be used for developing a clearer conception of Marx’s foundational construct. By employing the concept of Marxian supervenience as an interpretive tool, it might be possible to uncover critical problems or advantages for the theory; it might also be possible to develop a clearer understanding of how to find evidence for the truth or falsity of historical materialism. The results of such efforts could find practical application in the fields of political philosophy, political science, legal science, political history, ethics and sociology.

Suggested Citation

Rogge, Malcolm, Historical Materialism and the Concept of Supervenience (April 1, 2020). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3567965 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3567965

Malcolm Rogge (Contact Author)

Corporate Responsibility Initiative ( email )

John F. Kennedy School of Government
79 JFK Street
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

Harvard Law School ( email )

1575 Massachusetts
Hauser 406
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

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