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Thing, Value, Time, and Freedom: A Consideration of Some Key Concepts in Marx's

Philosophical System
Author(s): Wujin Yu and Jie Tang
Source: Frontiers of Philosophy in China, Vol. 1, No. 1 (Jan., 2006), pp. 114-123
Published by: Springer
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Front.Philos. China (2006) 1: 114-123
DOI 10.1007/s11466-005-0011-2

Yu Wujin

Thing,Value,Time,and Freedom:A Consideration

of Some Key
Conceptsin Marx'sPhilosophical

0 Higher EducationPress and Springer-Verlag2006

Abstract Criticizingthe misunderstandingandwrongexplanationof Marx'sphilosophical

system made by recentChinesetextbookson Marxistphilosophy,the authorarguesthat
Marx'sphilosophyhas practical,economical-philosophical,
stresseson reconstructing
Marx'sphilosophicalsystemthroughsynthesizingthe abovethree
dimensions.This paperintendsto set up a new outlineof Marx'sphilosophicalsystem,in
termsof the followingfourconcepts-thing, value,time, andfreedom.

Keywords Marx,thing,value, time,freedom


Based on the priorgraspof the threebasic dimensionsof Marx'sphilosophy,i.e., practice,

economy-philosophy,andontology,the authorhasprimarilyfounda new pathto reconstruct
Marx'sphilosophicalsystem.Limitedby themeandlength,thispaperwill mainlydiscussthe
importantpointsfollowingfourkey conceptsandtheirinterrelations
in the reconstruction of
Marx'sphilosophy--thing,value, time, and freedom.

Fromabstractmatterto concretething

The view of mattertold by recentChinesetextbookson Marxistphilosophyis a view of

"abstractmatter"thatwas criticizedby Marxlong ago.
In Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844, Marx wrote:

"Industryis therealhistoricalrelationshipof nature,andthereforeof naturalscience,to

man.If thenit is conceivedof as the openrevelationof humanfaculties,thenthehuman

by TangJie fromZhexueYanjiu,

PhilosophyDepartment, Shanghai,China
Front.Philos.China(2006)1: 114-123 115

essenceof natureorthenaturalessenceof manwill alsobe understood.Naturalscience

will then lose its one-sidedly materialist[abstraktmaterille],or ratheridealistic,
orientationand become the basis of humanscience as it has already,though in an
alienatedformn,becomethe basis of actualhumanlife" ([1], p. 102).
It is notable here that Marx createdthe very importantconcept of "industry,"and
comprehendedit as the necessarymediumto enablescientificresearchleave the "abstract
material"orientation.In fact, real natureis the naturemediatedby industry,whereasreal
matteris the mattermediatedby humanproductivelabor.Ratherthan somethingelse,
industryis an openbookconcerningthe essentialforceof humanity,andit is just the concrete
exhibitionof humanpractice,especiallyof humanproductivelabor.
In Capital,Marxfurtherpointedout:"theweaknessof the abstractmaterialismof natural
science,a materialismwhich excludesthe historicalprocess,are immediatelyevidentfrom
the abstractandideologicalconceptionsexpressedby its spokesmenwheneverthey venture
beyond the boundsof their own specialty"([2], p. 494, footnote).This indicatesthat the
essentialdifferenceof Marx's view of matterfrom all the formerphilosophers,whether
materialistsor idealists,consists in this: Marxneverabstractlytalkedaboutmatterbeyond
humanactivities,i.e., never talked about the materialityof the world as recent Chinese
textbookson Marxistphilosophydid. Marxalways took the most basic practice,i.e., the
productivelabor,as his startingpoint,andhe historicallyexploredtheconcreteconfiguration
of matter,i.e., concretething,andtherebycarriedouta criticalexaminationon the prevailing
phenomenaof "reification"and "fetishism"that arose from the capitalisteconomical
We shouldsee that some contemporaryWesternscholarshave observantlynoticedand
disclosedthe practicalandrevolutionarytendencyof Marx'sview of matter.Fromthe point
of view of Lukacs,the keystoneof Marx'sview of matteris not to talkloudlyin classroom
about"w'orldbeing unifiedin matter,"a dogmaalso held by the old materialists,but rather
throughdisclosingthe reificationphenomenonand reificationconsciousnessto arousethe
classconsciousnessof proletariat, andtherebyto impelthemto recastthe capitalistsocietyin
the way of practice.WhentalkingaboutMarx,Gramscipointedout:
"clearly,for the philosophyof praxis, 'matter'shouldbe understoodneitherin the
meaningthatit hasacquiredin naturalsciencenorin anyof the meaningsthatone finds
in the variousmaterialisticmetaphysics.The variousphysical(chemical,mechanical
etc.) propertiesof matterwhich togetherconstitutematteritself shouldbe considered,
but only to the extentthatthey become a productive'economicalelement'.Matteras
such thereforeis not our subjectbut how it is socially and historicallyorganizedfor
production,and naturalscience shouldbe seen correspondinglyas essentiallya his-
toricalcategory,a humanrelation"([3], pp. 465-466).
Heidegger,when talking about how to deal with Marx's materialism,made a very
importantpoint:to engage Marx'ssystem, one needs to get rid of such naive ideas about
materialismandsuchsimpledenialsof it. The natureof suchmaterialismconsistsnot in the
assertionthateverythingis material(Stoff) but in a metaphysicalprescriptionaccordingto
which all beings appearas materials(Material)of labor(see [4], p. 27). Schmidt,in his
representativework,Marx's Conceptof Nature,continuallyexpressedthe samne notion:
"It is not just becausethe working Subjectsmediatethe materialof naturethrough
themselvesthatit is impossibleto speakof matteras a supremeprincipleof being.Men
116 Front.Philos.China(2006)1: 114-123

arenotconcernedin theirproductionwithmatter'as such',butalwayswith its concrete,

andqualitativelydeterminedformsof existence"([5], p. 34).
All theseopinionsindicatethatthe essentialdifferencebetweenMarxandold materialists
consistsin the factthatMarxdidnot talkaboutabstractmatterfroma staticepistemological
pointof view; instead,he talkedaboutmodesof concretematteras factorsof production,i.e.,
concretethings,froma dynamicalview of practice.In fact,Marxneverindulgedhimselfin
tracinga materialworldthatexistedbeforethe emergenceof humanbeings,just as whatthe
old materialistsandlatereditorsof textbookson Marxistphilosophydid. ForMarx,thereis
no significancefor men to tracea materialworldindependentof them.Thus,Marxpointed
out: "I can in practiceonly relatemyself humanlyto an object if the objectrelatesitself
humanlyto man" ([1], p. 100). On all accounts,things are not objects of man's static
observationbut are factorsof humanpractice,especiallyof productivelabor.
Then,whatdoes Marxmeanby concretething?Owingto the factthathis startingpointis
not humansocietyin generalbutthe specialsocialsystemof capitalism,Marxthinksthat,in
capitalisteconomicrelations,the concretethings appearas a huge accumulationof com-
modities.He wrote:"thecommodity(die Ware)is, firstof all, an externalobject,a thing(ein
Ding) whichthroughits qualitiessatisfieshumanneeds of whateverkind"([2], p. 125). As
soon as commoditiesas thingsareproducedin greatmass,the phenomenonof"reification"
or "fetishism"spreadsout. Throughhis research,Marxprofoundlyrevealsthe essence of
these phenomena:
"theformof wood, for instance,is alteredif a tableis madeout of it. Neverthelessthe
tablecontinuesto be wood, an ordinary,sensuousthing.But as soon as it emergesas a
commodity,it changesinto a thing whichtranscendssensuousness.It not only stands
withits feet on theground,but,in relationto all otherconmmodities,
it standson its head,
andevolves out of its woodenbraingrotesqueideas,farmorewonderfulthanif it were
to begin dancingof its own free will" ([2], pp. 163-164).
Thus, it can be seen thatthe practicaland revolutionaryorientationof Marx'sview of
matterjust consists in the critiqueof the widely spreadingphenomenaof "reification"or
"fetishism"in capitalistsociety and in the disclosureof the real relationsbetweenpeople
from the relationsbetween things. The editorsof recent Chinese textbookson Marxist
philosophysatisfythemselveswith abstractlytalkingabout"worldbeingunifiedin matter,"
a view alreadyheld by old materialists;this will hinder our grasp of that essential
orientationof Marx's view of matter.What is more importantis that Marx elicited the
conceptof value not throughabstractmatterbut throughconcretething.

Fromuse valueto exchangevalue

As statedabove, in capitalisteconomicrelations,concretethings appearas a huge accu-

mulationof commodities.Then,how did Marxeconomically-philosophically look into the
commodity,thecell of capitalistsociety?He thinksthatthethingas commodityhastwo basic
properties:firstly,"the usefulnessof a thing makes it a use-value(Gebrauchswert)"([2],
p. 126).Thatis to say,thethingas commodityalwaysmeetscertainhumanneeds,whereasits
"use value" is just realized in the process of men's consumingor using it. "Riches"
(Reichtums)in the normalsense indeedmeanspile of thingsas commodities.In this sense,
Front.Philos.China(2006)1: 114-123 117

for Marx,use valuealwaysconstitutesthe materialcontentof riches,no matterwhatsocial

form riches take. Secondly, "'exchange-value'(Tauschwert)appearsfirst of all as the
quantitative relation,theproportion,in whichuse-valuesof one kindexchangeforuse-values
of anotherkind.Thisrelationchangesconstantlywithtimeandplace"([2],p. 126).Thething
as commodityhas exchange value just because the commodityitself is producedfor
exchange.For Marx,thereare two essentialdifferencesbetweenuse value and exchange
value: first,use value is commodity'snaturalpropertyor naturalbeing, whereasexchange
value is commodity'ssocial propertyor social being;second,as use value, differentcom-
modities are differentfrom each other in quality,whereasas exchange value, different
commoditiesaredifferentfromeachotheronly in quantity.It is very importantto recognize
these two points.
We mustpoint out thattherehave been always misunderstandings of Marx'stheoryof
value in philosophicalcircles. This could be seen from Marx'sMarginalnotes on Adolf
Wagner'sTextbook ofpolitical economy,whichhe wrotein his lateryears.An essentialerror
of Wagneris thathe mistakesMarx's"usevalue"for "value."Whenrecountingthis wrong
understanding of Wagner,Marxrecapitulated: "thegeneralconcept'value' arisesfromthe
behaviorof men towardsthe thingsfoundin the externalworldwhichsatisfytheirneeds..."
([6], p. 236). Obviously,this sentenceis Marx'sgeneralization of Wagner'swrongview,but
peoplemistakeit forMarx'sown view of value([7], p. 63). As a matterof fact,so long as we
have readthis paperin earnest,we would find thatMarxvery sharplycriticizedWagner's
theoryof value,accusingthatWagnerwas keenon talkingaboutgeneraltheoryof valueand
alwaysintendedto showhis brightnessby usingtheword"value."In addition,this "enables
himto stickwiththetraditionalGermanacademicconfusionof 'use-value'and'value',since
both have the word 'value' in common"([6], p. 231).
Fromthepointof view of Marx,use value"doesnotplay therole of its oppositenumber,
of 'value',whichhasnothingin commonwithit, otherthanthat[theword]'value'appearsin
the term'use-value'"([6], p. 242). Marxheretells us explicitlythatwe shouldnot assertthat
"usevalue"is just "value"simplyon thebasisthatthenameof "usevalue"containstheword
"value."Thereis an essentialdifferencebetween"usevalue"and"exchangevalue,"which
Marxusuallycalled"value"for short.
Indeed,when Wagnertriedto understandand talkaboutMarx'stheoryof value fromthe
relationbetweenpeople'sneeds and externalthings,he confusedthese two concepts.Marx
revealedruthlesslythe languagegame playedby Wagner:
"heachievesthisby re-christeningwhatin politicaleconomyis commonlycalled 'use-
value'as 'value'pureandsimple,'accordingto Germanusage'.And as soon as 'value'
pureand simplehas been found,it serves in turnfor deriving 'use value' again from
'valuepureandsimple'.Forthat,one has only to replacethe fragment'use', whichhas
been dropped,in frontof 'value'pureand simple"([6], p. 237).
To thoroughlydisclose the possible confusionsthat arose from Wagner'sTextbookof
political economy,Marxpoints out:
"Theone thingthatis clearlyat the basis of this Germanidiocyis thatlinguisticallythe
words 'value' or 'worth'were employedat first for useful thingsthemselves,which
existedfora longtimejust as 'labor-products',beforetheycameto be commodities.But
thathasnothingto do withthe scientificdefinitionofcommodity-'value'"([6], p. 245).
118 Front.Philos.China(2006)1: 114-123

People may ask, why did Marxelucidateagain and againthe differencebetween"use

value"and"value"(i.e., "exchangevalue")?Here,his pointis thatthe"usevalue"onlyrefers
to the naturalpropertiesor naturalbeing of thingas commodity,whereasvalueor exchange
value refersto the social propertiesor social being of thingas commodity.It indicatestwo
differentorientationsin the discussionsof the theoryof value in Marx'sphilosophy.
FortraditionalChinesetextbookson Marxistphilosophy,the problemof valueis ignored.
Sincethe 1980s,peoplehavebegunto explorevaluetheorycontainedin Marx'sphilosophy.
However,Wagner'smisunderstanding, whichidentifies"usevalue"with "value,"has always
dominatedpeople'smind.In fact,so long as thiskindof misunderstanding is not eliminated,
what people are concernedwith will alwaysbe the "use value"as the naturalpropertyof
things,andthiswill resultin people'sindifferenceto "value"as the socialpropertyof things.
Nevertheless,in a certainsense, all the secrets of Marx's philosophy of economy are
concealedin its theoryof "value."Why would we say this?
If "usevalue"is only concernedwith the relationbetweenmenandthe naturalproperties
of things,in short,therelationbetweenmenandthings,then"value"(i.e., exchangevalue)is
concernedwith the relationbetweenmen and the social propertiesof things, in short,the
relationbetweenpeople. In the economic domain,just as Marxpointedout: "exchange-
values (exchange-valuedoes not exist unless [thereare] at least two of them) represent
somethingcommonto them[commodities]whichis whollyindependent'of theiruse-values'
(i.e. here,of theirnaturalform),namelyvalue"([6], p. 230). Thatis to say,in the economic
domain,the concreteexpressionof value is the exchangevalue,which is concernedwith
interpersonal economicrelations.Beyondthe economicdomain,value is concernedwith a
series of importantnotionsrepresentinginterpersonal relations,such as humanrights,life,
feelings,convictions,goodness,equality,democracy,freedom,justice,andso on. In fact,for
Marx,the essence of the value problemnever consistsin the relationbetweenpeople and
thingsbut in the relationbetweenpeople.
For a long time, ChinesephilosophersunderstoodMarx'stheoryof value only by ap-
pealingto the"usevalue,"i.e., the relationbetweenpeople'sneedsandavailablethings.This
limitationhas resultedin the factthatourresearchon the "exchangevalue"in the economic
domainwas neglected,andthe factthatourresearchon the seriesof valueformsconcerning
the relationsbetweenpeople outsidethe economicdomainwas neglected.Indifferenceto
these two aspectsnot only made it hardfor people to gain a real understanding of Marx's
theoryof value but also madethe reconstruction of Marx'sphilosophicalsystem along his
own line of thoughtimpossible.Actually,without encounteringthe problemof value,
especiallywithoutencounteringthe problemof "exchangevalue"in the economicdomain,
we will not be able to understandMarx'sview of time, which is my next topic.

Fromnaturaltime to social time

Concerningtheproblemof time,all recentChinesetextbookson Marxistphilosophyfocused

on naturaltime. The so-called "naturaltime" means time understoodand illustratedac-
cordingto the mode of matter'smotiontakingplace in nature.This naturaltime, separated
fromhumanactivities,cannothistoricallyshow the connotationaldifferenceof the concepts
of time in varioussocieties, and it cannotprofoundlydemonstratethe special social and
historicalmeaningof the theoryof time in capitalistsocietiesandits intrinsicrelationto the
Front.Philos.China(2006)1: 114-123 119

importanttheoreticalproblemsof value and freedom.This conceptof time did not makea

thoroughcritiqueand clarificationof the theoreticalassumptionsof the old materialistic
conceptof time;thatis to say, it only methodologicallytriedto overcomethe mechanical
characteristicof the traditionalconcept of time, but it did not make any fundamental
transformations of the abstractcarrierof the traditionalconceptof time (i.e., abstractmatter
separatedfromhumanactivitiesof practice).In this way, Marx'soriginativetheoryof time
was put on the basis of traditionalmaterialism,andthus,its epoch-makingsignificancewas
Marx'view of time is not a view of naturaltime held by traditionalphilosophyandthe
textbooksof Marxistphilosophybut a view of "socialtime."In otherwords,Marx'sview of
timedidnot takethe staticobservationof humanbeingson motionsof matterin natureas its
startingpointbut took humanpracticeof productionas its startingpoint.
Accordingto Marx,we should not illustratehumanproductivelabor on the basis of
abstractmatterandthe view of naturaltime;instead,we shouldunderstandandillustratethe
problemof matterandtimeon the basisof productivelabor.It is in theprocessof productive
laborthatabstractmatterseparatedfromhumanbeings transformsinto the basic factorsof
production(e.g., factorybuildingsand equipmentsof production,raw materialsof pro-
duction,instrumentsof production,products,castoffs of the process of production,etc.)
immediatelyandconsequentlyappearsas human-related existence.In the capitalistmodeof
production,the generalform of matteris commodity,and commodityis createdby labor.
Hence,Marxsaid, "laboris the living, form-givingfire;it is the transienceof things,their
temporality,as the processof theirformationby living time"([8], p. 286). Noticeably,Marx
mentions"living time"here. This living time is in accordancewith productivelaboras
"living,form-givingfire"andit endowsmatterwith"form."Fromthisimportant passage,we
can drawthe followingthreeconclusions:
First of all, social time originatesin humanproductivelabor.As pointedout by C. C.
Gould,"forMarx,laboris the originof time--both of humantime-consciousness andof the
objective measure of time" ([9], p. 41). In otherwords, it is laborthat created time and
brought it into the world. Gould thinks that Marx's view of time and that of Kant's have
something in common; thatis, they both start from human activities.However, Kant sets off
fromhumanactivitiesof consciousness,whereasMarxsets off fromhumanproductivelabor.
As for Heidegger,althoughhe discussedtime on the basis of the existent activitiesof
"Daseinitself,"he "comprehended the temporalactivitiesof Daseinnot as the objectifying
activitiesand not as social activitieswhich change the nature"([4], p. 62). This is the
fundamentaldifferencebetweenhis theoryof time and thatof Marx's.
Secondly,social time is differentfrom uniformlyflowing naturaltime; it has different
essential characteristicsin different phases of history. Gould noticed: "Marx further
suggeststhatthe use of time as a measurevarieshistorically.Thusit mightbe said thatfor
him time is itself qualitativelydifferentat differentstages of social development"([9], p.
64). In the precapitalismphase, laborwas measurednot by time but by the differentuse
valuesof goods. Only when society developedinto, as Marxmentioned,the secondphase,
thatis to say,the phaseof capitalism,"thepossibilityof time as a measurefor laborarises"
([9], p. 64). In addition,in the thirdphase of social development,i.e., the communist
society depicted by Marx, what constitutesa kind of measurementof abundanceis
precisely"freetime or time for the free developmentof individualities.In this society,labor
becomesthe creativeactivityof self-realization, whichaccordingto Marxis 'realfreedom'"
([9], p. 68).
120 Front.Philos.China(2006)1: 114-123

Thirdly,the essentialmodeof socialtimein the domainof economyis "sociallynecessary

labor-time[GesellschaftlichnotwendigeArbeitszeit]."As is known,the goal of capitalist
productionis exchangevalue,butthe quantityof valueof the commodityas thegroundof the
exchangevalue is measuredby "sociallynecessarylabor-time."Marxsays, "sociallynec-
essarylabor-timeis the labor-timerequiredto produceanyuse-valueunderthe conditionsof
productionnormalfor a given society andwith the averagedegreeof skill and intensityof
labor prevalentin that society"([2], p. 129). For Marx,socially necessarylabor-timeis
objective,for it is determinednot by any individualproducerof commoditywith his own
subjectivedesirebut is demonstratedin certainhistoricalconditions.This time is like a
specialkindof ether,determiningthe proportionof all the "socialthings"(gesellschaftliche
Dinge, i.e., commodity)in the lifeworld:"whatexclusivelydeterminesthe magnitudeof the
value of any articleis thereforethe amountof laborsocially necessary,or the labor-time
sociallynecessaryfor its production"([2], p. 129). Fromthis statement,we can also see that
Marx's"socialtime"is alwaysrelatedto "exchangevalue"of thecommodityas socialbeing.
Both the denialof the problemof valuemadeby the writersof recentChinesetextbookson
Marxistphilosophyandthe misunderstanding madeby contemporary scholarsof axiology,
who mistook value for "use value,"are obstaclesfor a preciseunderstandingof Marxist
Wecan see fromwhatwe havediscussedabovethatMarxneverspeaksof the problemof
time metaphysicallybeyondall the historicalconditionsbut alwaysconsidersthis problem
underthe specialsocialandhistoricalconditionsof thecapitalistsociety.Theepoch-breaking
significanceof Marx'sview of "socialtime"consistsin thathe offeredthe new conceptof
"sociallynecessarylabor-time" andrevealedthe secretof the valueof commodity,andwith
this new concept,he dividedworker'sproductiveprocessinto "necessarylabortime"and
"surpluslabortime,"and thus revealedthe secret of "surplusvalue."The importanceof
Marx'sview of "socialtime"consistsalso in thatthe problemof freedom,which we will
discussbelow,is preciselydevelopedon thiskindof specialhorizonof time,andsincerecent
Chinesetextbookson Marxistphilosophydid not understand Marx'sview of time correctly,
Marx'sview of freedomandhis discussionof the relationbetweenfreedomandtime areall
outsidetheirfield of vision.

Fromepistemologicalfreedomto ontologicalfreedom

The concept of freedomis very importantin Marx's philosophy,but it has been mis-
understoodfor a long time. As we all know, formerSovietphilosophers and
H-IIOa4Hadefinedfreedomin theirA SmallDictionaiyof Philosophyas such:
"Freedomconsistsnot in the escapefromnaturallaws in imagine,butin theknowledge
of them and in the abilityto apply them to practice...the necessityand regularityof
natureareprimary,whereasthehumanwill andconsciousnessaresecondary.Peopleact
blindlyandunwarilybeforetheyknowthenecessity.Buttheywill learnhow to control
the necessityandto use it to servethe society once they get to know it. Therefore,free
activityis possibleonly on thebasis of knowledgeaboutnecessity.Freedomis nothing
but the necessitywhich is recognized"([10], pp. 171-172).
Front.Philos.China(2006)1: 114-123 121

This is a typical understanding,and almost every textbook on Marxistphilosophy

expoundsthe conceptof freedomin the sameway.We caninferthreeconclusionsfromthese
sentences:first, Marx'sconceptof freedombelongs to epistemology,and the ontological
implicationof freedomhas hardlybeen appreciated.Secondly,freedomis connectedwith
necessity,i.e., thenaturalregularity.Thirdly,freedomis not the escapefromthe necessityof
naturein imaginationbut the correctknowledgeof necessity.
At first sight, it is worthy of no rebuketo understandthe concept of freedomepis-
temologically,becausethe moredeeplywe knowthe necessityof nature,the morefreelywe
act andknow.Actually,such a view is completelyspecious.For if it were true,we would
infer from it thatthe scientistsare the most free, since they are most acquaintedwith the
necessityof nature.Furthermore, it wouldbe nonsensefor peopleto strivefor freedomand
libertythroughsocialmovementandrevolution,andwhatis requiredfor themto do would
just be to studysciences.Thus,the conceptof freedom,thoughit is so importantto human
existence,degeneratesinto a mere epistemologicalconcept.Led by such a concept,even
ethics could not be set up, for the free will of humanbeings is the basis of ethics, and if
freedomis nothingbut the knowledgeof necessity,nobodyneeds to be morallyresponsible
for his own behavior.
It is well knownthatepistemologyis concernedwith the relationof humansto nature,
while ontologydealswiththerelationshipbetweenmen.Kantexpresslysaid:"independence
from the determiningcauses of the world of sense (an independencewhich reasonmust
always ascribeto itself) is freedom"([11], p. 71). Actually,Sartre,a contemporaryphi-
losopher,explainedmoredefinitely:"thereis no determinism--manis free,manis freedom"
([12], p. 34). Thatis to say,people's freedomhas nothingto do with people'sknowledgeof
the sensuousworldbut is relatedonly to the ontologicaldomain,to the freewill of man.In
Kant'sopinion,if someonepersistsin speakingof freedomon the basis of naturalnecessity,
such freedom"isjust like a revolvingbrochette,it can revolveautomaticallyby itself once
someonewinds it" ([13], p. 222).
Marx accepted Kant's conception, and his idea of freedom should above all be
ontologicallyelucidated,i.e., peoplelive in theworldfirstof all as agentswith freewill, and
then they come to know thingsaccordingto his own intentionfor living. Marxwrote:"as
pure ideas, equalityand freedomare merely idealizedexpressionsof this exchange;de-
velopedinjuridical,politicalandsocialrelations,theyaremerelythisbasisat a higherlevel"
([8], p. 176).Thisimportant passageshowsthatMarxregardedthephilosophyof economyas
an entranceto revealthe ontologicalmeaningof the conceptof freedomand thatfromthe
beginning,he linkedthe conceptof freedomcloselywith thatof time,interpreted timeas the
horizonon which freedomcan be actuallyunfolded.
Marxwrote:"timeis infact the active existenceof the humanbeing. It is not only the
measureof humanlife. It is the space for its development"([14], p. 493). This is to say
that time is ontologicallythe necessary condition under which human beings achieve
freedom.If men spend all their time (except for time used on their necessarysleep) on
earningtheir living, it is impossiblefor them to have any freedom.As a result,human
freedomor "humanpositive existence"is just basedon the time, which could actuallybe
freely disposedby humans.Marxfurthermaintained:"in relationto the whole of society,
the productionof disposabletime [can]also [be considered]as the creationof time for the
productionof science, art, etc" ([8], p. 328). For Marx, the developmentof science, art,
and otherpublic activitiesof humansare all realizedin the free time of society, and "the
122 Front.Philos.China(2006)1: 114-123

free time of society is based on the absorptionof the worker'stime by compulsorylabor;

thus he loses room for intellectualdevelopment,for that is time" ([15], p. 301).
Then,how does suchconditionof time come intobeing?Marx'sansweris: "wagelabor,
in general,makesits appearance onlywhentheproductivepowerhas alreadybeendeveloped
to such an extentthat a significantamountof time has been set free. This setting-freeis
alreadyan historicalproducthere" ([16], p. 29). Actually,it is the capitalisticmode of
productionthat"candissociateconsiderableamountof time,"andthis createsthe conditions
for some people to posses otherpeople'stime, in otherwords,for some people to deprive
othersof theirfreedom.Justin this sense,Marxsaid,"thetheftof alien labortime,whichis
the basis of presentwealth"([16], p. 91). On the one hand,the capitalistsamasstheirown
capitaland wealththroughthe value producedby the workers'surpluslabortime; on the
otherhand,they also depriveworkersof freedomthroughusurpingsurpluslabortime of the
It is doubtlessthatMarx'sphilosophy,as a revolutionary philosophy,primarilystrivesfor
the workers'time and freedom.Thus, Marxwrote in his Capital:"a realmof necessity,
beyondit beginsthatdevelopmentof humanenergywhichis anendin itself,thetruerealmof
freedom,which, however,can blossom forthwith this realmof necessityas its basis. The
shorteningof the working-dayis its basicprerequisite" ([17], p. 535). Here,"theshortening
of the working-day"meansthe shorteningof the workers'labortime. ForMarx,this is the
"basicprerequisite" forworkersto haveaccessto freedom,because"thesavingof labortime
is equivalentto the increaseof freetime,i.e. timefor the full developmentof the individual"
([16], p. 97). We can see fromthe above analysisthat,in Marx'sphilosophy,freedomand
time areinseparablyrelatedto each other.
Marcusehada profoundunderstanding of Marx'stheoryof timeandfreedom.He divided
modernpeople'sordinarylivingtime intotwo parts:one is "workingtime"(Arbeitzeit),i.e.,
the time people have to spendto earna living, the otheris "freetime"(Freizeit),i.e., the
leisuretime thatpeoplecan freelydisposeafterwork.He wrote:"Thefirstpreconditionof
freedomis to decreasethe working-timeso as to makethe amountof mereworking-timeno
longer block the human development"([18], p. 152). These words show that Marcuse
understoodnot only the philosophicalmeaningof Marx'stheoryof time developedin his
theoryof economybutalsotheinterrelationship betweenMarx'sdoctrineof freedomandthat
of time. Throughan analysisof the increasinglystrongerphenomenonof automatization in
the moderncapitalisticsociety,he pointedout that the automatization would be likely to
reversethe relationbetween free time and workingtime, which is the foundationof the
existingcivilization;thatis, it is possibleto minimizethe workingtime andto makethe free
time be the dominanttime. Thatreversalwould lead to the radicalrevaluationof various
values. He wrote thus:"afterbeing free from the requirementsof ruling,the quantitative
decreaseof working-timeand working-energywill lead to a qualitativechangeof human
existence:what determinesthe existentcontentsof humanwill be the free time,ratherthan
the workingtime"([18], p. 218). As a matterof fact, whatMarcuseexpoundedhere is the
idea expressedby Marx.Whenhe talkedaboutthe futuresociety,Marxsaid,"thenwealthis
no longermeasuredby labortime but by disposabletime"([16], p. 94).
Althoughhe harshlycriticizedvariousphenomenaof alienationin moderncivilization
(whichareeven embodiedin the controlof men's free time),Marcusestill maintainedthat
both the developmentof technologyandthe decreaseof workingtime preparethe objective
conditionsformodernpeopleto enjoymorefreedom.Fromthe aboveconsiderations, we can
Front.Philos.China(2006)1: 114-123 123

concludethatthe essence of Marx'sidea of freedomcan only be broughtto light froman

ontologicalpoint of view.
In a word,by meansof thefourkey concepts,"thing,""value,""time,"and"freedom,"we
have sketchedthenew pathto thereconstruction of Marx'ssystemof philosophy.Of course,
thisreconstructionprocessis verycomplicated,andmanytheoreticalproblemsarestillopen
to exploration.We look forwardto scholar'scomments.


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