Purdue University Political Economy Inequality of Wages Discussion

Write a Discussion post by posing one philosophical question about this module’s content(Marx).I Have attached all the guidelines, reading material and types of questions acceptable. Minimum words 150.

Part of learning how to think philosophically does not merely involve reading and
understanding things, it also involves learning how to ask good, probing questions-questions that further open up the material and lead to further questions. Sometimes
knowing how to ask the right questions is part of the process of comprehending the
material in the first place. These are the skills this exercise is meant to develop.
First, you will want to consult the google doc in this module. Is contains a list of
different kinds of philosophical questions. It isn’t exhaustive, of course. But it should
offer enough of a jumping off point for thinking about what it means to ask a good
philosophical question.
When you are writing your discussion I want you to include in the title of your
thread what kind of question you are asking (e.g. “immanent critique,” or “question
about implication,” etc.). A good, thorough question usually takes a couple sentences
to spell out.
Do not do the following: don’t just spit out a one sentence question with no depth.
For example you could ask a clarification question like “what does Kant mean by
metaphysics?” That’s a massive question, but also basically a flat one. Nevertheless,
you might actually want to bring that up in order to clarify what he means by
metaphysics. So what should that question look like?
Try this: a clarification question “what does Kant mean by metaphysics? He talks
about it on page XX and seems to imply blah, blah, blah…I think he means something
like blah, blah, blah…in the lecture Dr. Ransom explained it like this, but that doesn’t
quite make sense to me yet, does anybody have any insight into how to clarify this?”
hey, now that’s a question. So don’t just state your question; elaborate on it a bit,
reference class material, make suggestions, probe responses. That’s what a good
question looks like. I doubt you could do that in just one sentence.
Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844. First Manuscript
[Estranged Labor]
||XXII| We have proceeded from the premises of political economy. We have accepted its
language and its laws. We presupposed private property, the separation of labor, capital and land,
and of wages, profit of capital and rent of land – likewise division of labor, competition, the
concept of exchange value, etc. On the basis of political economy itself, in its own words, we
have shown that the worker sinks to the level of a commodity and becomes indeed the most
wretched of commodities; that the wretchedness of the worker is in inverse proportion to the
power and magnitude of his production; that the necessary result of competition is the
accumulation of capital in a few hands, and thus the restoration of monopoly in a more terrible
form; and that finally the distinction between capitalist and land rentier, like that between the
tiller of the soil and the factory worker, disappears and that the whole of society must fall apart
into the two classes – property owners and propertyless workers.
Political economy starts with the fact of private property; it does not explain it to us. It expresses
in general, abstract formulas the material process through which private property actually passes,
and these formulas it then takes for laws. It does not comprehend these laws – i.e., it does not
demonstrate how they arise from the very nature of private property. Political economy throws no
light on the cause of the division between labor and capital, and between capital and land. When,
for example, it defines the relationship of wages to profit, it takes the interest of the capitalists to
be the ultimate cause, i.e., it takes for granted what it is supposed to explain. Similarly,
competition comes in everywhere. It is explained from external circumstances. As to how far
these external and apparently accidental circumstances are but the expression of a necessary
course of development, political economy teaches us nothing. We have seen how exchange itself
appears to it as an accidental fact. The only wheels which political economy sets in motion are
greed, and the war amongst the greedy – competition. [After this paragraph the following
sentence is crossed out in the manuscript: “We now have to examine the nature of this material
movement of property.” – Ed.]
Precisely because political economy does not grasp the way the movement is connected, it was
possible to oppose, for instance, the doctrine of competition to the doctrine of monopoly, the
doctrine of the freedom of the crafts to the doctrine of the guild, the doctrine of the division of
landed property to the doctrine of the big estate – for competition, freedom of the crafts and the
division of landed property were explained and comprehended only as accidental, premeditated
and violent consequences of monopoly, of the guild system, and of feudal property, not as their
necessary, inevitable and natural consequences.
Now, therefore, we have to grasp the intrinsic connection between private property, greed, the
separation of labor, capital and landed property; the connection of exchange and competition, of
value and the devaluation of man, of monopoly and competition, etc. – the connection between
this whole estrangement and the money system.
Do not let us go back to a fictitious primordial condition as the political economist does, when he
tries to explain. Such a primordial condition explains nothing; it merely pushes the question away
into a grey nebulous distance. The economist assumes in the form of a fact, of an event, what he
is supposed to deduce – namely, the necessary relationship between two things – between, for
example, division of labor and exchange. Thus the theologian explains the origin of evil by the
fall of man – that is, he assumes as a fact, in historical form, what has to be explained.
We proceed from an actual economic fact.
The worker becomes all the poorer the more wealth he produces, the more his production
increases in power and size. The worker becomes an ever cheaper commodity the more
commodities he creates. The devaluation of the world of men is in direct proportion to the
increasing value of the world of things. Labor produces not only commodities; it produces itself
Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844. First Manuscript
and the worker as a commodity – and this at the same rate at which it produces commodities in
This fact expresses merely that the object which labor produces – labor’s product – confronts it as
something alien, as a power independent of the producer. The product of labor is labor which has
been embodied in an object, which has become material: it is the objectification of labor. Labor’s
realization is its objectification. Under these economic conditions this realization of labor appears
as loss of realization for the workers;18 objectification as loss of the object and bondage to it;
appropriation as estrangement, as alienation.19
So much does labor’s realization appear as loss of realization that the worker loses realization to
the point of starving to death. So much does objectification appear as loss of the object that the
worker is robbed of the objects most necessary not only for his life but for his work. Indeed, labor
itself becomes an object which he can obtain only with the greatest effort and with the most
irregular interruptions. So much does the appropriation of the object appear as estrangement that
the more objects the worker produces the less he can possess and the more he falls under the sway
of his product, capital.
All these consequences are implied in the statement that the worker is related to the product of his
labor as to an alien object. For on this premise it is clear that the more the worker spends himself,
the more powerful becomes the alien world of objects which he creates over and against himself,
the poorer he himself – his inner world – becomes, the less belongs to him as his own. It is the
same in religion. The more man puts into God, the less he retains in himself. The worker puts his
life into the object; but now his life no longer belongs to him but to the object. Hence, the greater
this activity, the more the worker lacks objects. Whatever the product of his labor is, he is not.
Therefore, the greater this product, the less is he himself. The alienation of the worker in his
product means not only that his labor becomes an object, an external existence, but that it exists
outside him, independently, as something alien to him, and that it becomes a power on its own
confronting him. It means that the life which he has conferred on the object confronts him as
something hostile and alien.
||XXIII| Let us now look more closely at the objectification, at the production of the worker; and
in it at the estrangement, the loss of the object, of his product.
The worker can create nothing without nature, without the sensuous external world. It is the
material on which his labor is realized, in which it is active, from which, and by means of which
it produces.
But just as nature provides labor with [the] means of life in the sense that labor cannot live
without objects on which to operate, on the other hand, it also provides the means of life in the
more restricted sense, i.e., the means for the physical subsistence of the worker himself.
Thus the more the worker by his labor appropriates the external world, sensuous nature, the more
he deprives himself of means of life in two respects: first, in that the sensuous external world
more and more ceases to be an object belonging to his labor – to be his labor’s means of life; and,
second, in that it more and more ceases to be means of life in the immediate sense, means for the
physical subsistence of the worker.
In both respects, therefore, the worker becomes a servant of his object, first, in that he receives an
object of labor, i.e., in that he receives work, and, secondly, in that he receives means of
subsistence. This enables him to exist, first as a worker; and second, as a physical subject. The
height of this servitude is that it is only as a worker that he can maintain himself as a physical
subject and that it is only as a physical subject that he is a worker.
(According to the economic laws the estrangement of the worker in his object is expressed thus:
the more the worker produces, the less he has to consume; the more values he creates, the more
valueless, the more unworthy he becomes; the better formed his product, the more deformed
becomes the worker; the more civilized his object, the more barbarous becomes the worker; the
Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844. First Manuscript
more powerful labor becomes, the more powerless becomes the worker; the more ingenious labor
becomes, the less ingenious becomes the worker and the more he becomes nature’s servant.)
Political economy conceals the estrangement inherent in the nature of labor by not considering
the direct relationship between the worker (labor) and production. It is true that labor produces
for the rich wonderful things – but for the worker it produces privation. It produces palaces – but
for the worker, hovels. It produces beauty – but for the worker, deformity. It replaces labor by
machines, but it throws one section of the workers back into barbarous types of labor and it turns
the other section into a machine. It produces intelligence – but for the worker, stupidity,
The direct relationship of labor to its products is the relationship of the worker to the objects of
his production. The relationship of the man of means to the objects of production and to
production itself is only a consequence of this first relationship – and confirms it. We shall
consider this other aspect later. When we ask, then, what is the essential relationship of labor we
are asking about the relationship of the worker to production.
Till now we have been considering the estrangement, the alienation of the worker only in one of
its aspects , i.e., the worker’s relationship to the products of his labor. But the estrangement is
manifested not only in the result but in the act of production, within the producing activity, itself.
How could the worker come to face the product of his activity as a stranger, were it not that in the
very act of production he was estranging himself from himself? The product is after all but the
summary of the activity, of production. If then the product of labor is alienation, production itself
must be active alienation, the alienation of activity, the activity of alienation. In the estrangement
of the object of labor is merely summarized the estrangement, the alienation, in the activity of
labor itself.
What, then, constitutes the alienation of labor?
First, the fact that labor is external to the worker, i.e., it does not belong to his intrinsic nature;
that in his work, therefore, he does not affirm himself but denies himself, does not feel content
but unhappy, does not develop freely his physical and mental energy but mortifies his body and
ruins his mind. The worker therefore only feels himself outside his work, and in his work feels
outside himself. He feels at home when he is not working, and when he is working he does not
feel at home. His labor is therefore not voluntary, but coerced; it is forced labor. It is therefore
not the satisfaction of a need; it is merely a means to satisfy needs external to it. Its alien
character emerges clearly in the fact that as soon as no physical or other compulsion exists, labor
is shunned like the plague. External labor, labor in which man alienates himself, is a labor of selfsacrifice, of mortification. Lastly, the external character of labor for the worker appears in the fact
that it is not his own, but someone else’s, that it does not belong to him, that in it he belongs, not
to himself, but to another. Just as in religion the spontaneous activity of the human imagination,
of the human brain and the human heart, operates on the individual independently of him – that
is, operates as an alien, divine or diabolical activity – so is the worker’s activity not his
spontaneous activity. It belongs to another; it is the loss of his self.
As a result, therefore, man (the worker) only feels himself freely active in his animal functions –
eating, drinking, procreating, or at most in his dwelling and in dressing-up, etc.; and in his human
functions he no longer feels himself to be anything but an animal. What is animal becomes
human and what is human becomes animal.
Certainly eating, drinking, procreating, etc., are also genuinely human functions. But taken
abstractly, separated from the sphere of all other human activity and turned into sole and ultimate
ends, they are animal functions.
We have considered the act of estranging practical human activity, labor, in two of its aspects. (1)
The relation of the worker to the product of labor as an alien object exercising power over him.
This relation is at the same time the relation to the sensuous external world, to the objects of
Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844. First Manuscript
nature, as an alien world inimically opposed to him. (2) The relation of labor to the act of
production within the labor process. This relation is the relation of the worker to his own activity
as an alien activity not belonging to him; it is activity as suffering, strength as weakness,
begetting as emasculating, the worker’s own physical and mental energy, his personal life – for
what is life but activity? – as an activity which is turned against him, independent of him and not
belonging to him. Here we have self-estrangement, as previously we had the estrangement of the
||XXIV| We have still a third aspect of estranged labor to deduce from the two already
Man is a species-being,20 not only because in practice and in theory he adopts the species (his
own as well as those of other things) as his object, but – and this is only another way of
expressing it – also because he treats himself as the actual, living species; because he treats
himself as a universal and therefore a free being.
The life of the species, both in man and in animals, consists physically in the fact that man (like
the animal) lives on organic nature; and the more universal man (or the animal) is, the more
universal is the sphere of inorganic nature on which he lives. Just as plants, animals, stones, air,
light, etc., constitute theoretically a part of human consciousness, partly as objects of natural
science, partly as objects of art – his spiritual inorganic nature, spiritual nourishment which he
must first prepare to make palatable and digestible – so also in the realm of practice they
constitute a part of human life and human activity. Physically man lives only on these products of
nature, whether they appear in the form of food, heating, clothes, a dwelling, etc. The universality
of man appears in practice precisely in the universality which makes all nature his inorganic body
– both inasmuch as nature is (1) his direct means of life, and (2) the material, the object, and the
instrument of his life activity. Nature is man’s inorganic body – nature, that is, insofar as it is not
itself human body. Man lives on nature – means that nature is his body, with which he must
remain in continuous interchange if he is not to die. That man’s physical and spiritual life is
linked to nature means simply that nature is linked to itself, for man is a part of nature.
In estranging from man (1) nature, and (2) himself, his own active functions, his life activity,
estranged labor estranges the species from man. It changes for him the life of the species into a
means of individual life. First it estranges the life of the species and individual life, and secondly
it makes individual life in its abstract form the purpose of the life of the species, likewise in its
abstract and estranged form.
For labor, life activity, productive life itself, appears to man in the first place merely as a means of
satisfying a need – the need to maintain physical existence. Yet the productive life is the life of
the species. It is life-engendering life. The whole character of a species, its species-character, is
contained in the character of its life activity; and free, conscious activity is man’s speciescharacter. Life itself appears only as a means to life.
The animal is immediately one with its life activity. It does not distinguish itself from it. It is its
life activity. Man makes his life activity itself the object of his will and of his consciousness. He
has conscious life activity. It is not a determination with which he directly merges. Conscious life
activity distinguishes man immediately from animal life activity. It is just because of this that he
is a species-being. Or it is only because he is a species-being that he is a conscious being, i.e., that
his own life is an object for him. Only because of that is his activity free activity. Estranged labor
reverses the relationship, so that it is just because man is a conscious being that he makes his life
activity, his essential being, a mere means to his existence.
In creating a world of objects by his personal activity, in his work upon inorganic nature, man
proves himself a conscious species-being, i.e., as a being that treats the species as his own
essential being, or that treats itself as a species-being. Admittedly animals also produce. They
build themselves nests, dwellings, like the bees, beavers, ants, etc. But an animal only produces
Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844. First Manuscript
what it immediately needs for itself or its young. It produces one-sidedly, whilst man produces
universally. It produces only under the dominion of immediate physical need, whilst man
produces even when he is free from physical need and only truly produces in freedom therefrom.
An animal produces only itself, whilst man reproduces the whole of nature. An animal’s product
belongs immediately to its physical body, whilst man freely confronts his product. An animal
forms only in accordance with the standard and the need of the species to which it belongs, whilst
man knows how to produce in accordance with the standard of every species, and knows how to
apply everywhere the inherent standard to the object. Man therefore also forms objects in
accordance with the laws of beauty.
It is just in his work upon the objective world, therefore, that man really proves himself to be a
species-being. This production is his active species-life. Through this production, nature appears
as his work and his reality. The object of labor is, therefore, the objectification of man’s specieslife: for he duplicates himself not only, as in consciousness, intellectually, but also actively, in
reality, and therefore he sees himself in a world that he has created. In tearing away from man the
object of his production, therefore, estranged labor tears from him his species-life, his real
objectivity as a member of the species and transforms his advantage over animals into the
disadvantage that his inorganic body, nature, is taken from him.
Similarly, in degrading spontaneous, free activity to a means, estranged labor makes man’s
species-life a means to his physical existence.
The consciousness which man has of his species is thus transformed by estrangement in such a
way that species [-life] becomes for him a means.
Estranged labor turns thus:
(3) Man’s species-being, both nature and his spiritual species-property, into a being alien to him,
into a means of his individual existence. It estranges from man his own body, as well as external
nature and his spiritual aspect, his human aspect.
(4) An immediate consequence of the fact that man is estranged from the product of his labor,
from his life activity, from his species-being, is the estrangement of man from man. When man
confronts himself, he confronts the other man. What applies to a man’s relation to his work, to the
product of his labor and to himself, also holds of a man’s relation to the other man, and to the
other man’s labor and object of labor.
In fact, the proposition that man’s species-nature is estranged from him means that one man is
estranged from the other, as each of them is from man’s essential nature.
The estrangement of man, and in fact every relationship in which man [stands] to himself, is
realized and expressed only in the relationship in which a man stands to other men.
Hence within the relationship of estranged labor each man views the other in accordance with the
standard and the relationship in which he finds himself as a worker.
||XXV| We took our departure from a fact of political economy – the estrangement of the worker
and his production. We have formulated this fact in conceptual terms as estranged, alienated
labor. We have analyzed this concept – hence analyzing merely a fact of political economy.
Let us now see, further, how the concept of estranged, alienated labor must express and present
itself in real life.
If the product of labor is alien to me, if it confronts me as an alien power, to whom, then, does it
To a being other than myself.
Who is this being?
The gods? To be sure, in the earliest times the principal production (for example, the building of
temples, etc., in Egypt, India and Mexico) appears to be in the service of the gods, and the
Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844. First Manuscript
product belongs to the gods. However, the gods on their own were never the lords of labor. No
more was nature. And what a contradiction it would be if, the more man subjugated nature by his
labor and the more the miracles of the gods were rendered superfluous by the miracles of
industry, the more man were to renounce the joy of production and the enjoyment of the product
to please these powers.
The alien being, to whom labor and the product of labor belongs, in whose service labor is done
and for whose benefit the product of labor is provided, can only be man himself.
If the product of labor does not belong to the worker, if it confronts him as an alien power, then
this can only be because it belongs to some other man than the worker. If the worker’s activity is
a torment to him, to another it must give satisfaction and pleasure. Not the gods, not nature, but
only man himself can be this alien power over man.
We must bear in mind the previous proposition that man’s relation to himself becomes for him
objective and actual through his relation to the other man. Thus, if the product of his labor, his
labor objectified, is for him an alien, hostile, powerful object independent of him, then his
position towards it is such that someone else is master of this object, someone who is alien,
hostile, powerful, and independent of him. If he treats his own activity as an unfree activity, then
he treats it as an activity performed in the service, under the dominion, the coercion, and the yoke
of another man.
Every self-estrangement of man, from himself and from nature, appears in the relation in which
he places himself and nature to men other than and differentiated from himself. For this reason
religious self-estrangement necessarily appears in the relationship of the layman to the priest, or
again to a mediator, etc., since we are here dealing with the intellectual world. In the real
practical world self-estrangement can only become manifest through the real practical
relationship to other men. The medium through which estrangement takes place is itself practical.
Thus through estranged labor man not only creates his relationship to the object and to the act of
production as to powers [in the manuscript Menschen (men) instead of Mächte (powers). – Ed.]
that are alien and hostile to him; he also creates the relationship in which other men stand to his
production and to his product, and the relationship in which he stands to these other men. Just as
he creates his own production as the loss of his reality, as his punishment; his own product as a
loss, as a product not belonging to him; so he creates the domination of the person who does not
produce over production and over the product. Just as he estranges his own activity from himself,
so he confers upon the stranger an activity which is not his own.
We have until now considered this relationship only from the standpoint of the worker and later
on we shall be considering it also from the standpoint of the non-worker.
Through estranged, alienated labor, then, the worker produces the relationship to this labor of a
man alien to labor and standing outside it. The relationship of the worker to labor creates the
relationship to it of the capitalist (or whatever one chooses to call the master of labor). Private
property is thus the product, the result, the necessary consequence, of alienated labor, of the
external relation of the worker to nature and to himself.
Private property thus results by analysis from the concept of alienated labor, i.e., of alienated
man, of estranged labor, of estranged life, of estranged man.
True, it is as a result of the movement of private property that we have obtained the concept of
alienated labor (of alienated life) in political economy. But on analysis of this concept it becomes
clear that though private property appears to be the reason, the cause of alienated labor, it is rather
its consequence, just as the gods are originally not the cause but the effect of man’s intellectual
confusion. Later this relationship becomes reciprocal.
Only at the culmination of the development of private property does this, its secret, appear again,
namely, that on the one hand it is the product of alienated labor, and that on the other it is the
means by which labor alienates itself, the realization of this alienation.
Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844. First Manuscript
This exposition immediately sheds light on various hitherto unsolved conflicts.
(1) Political economy starts from labor as the real soul of production; yet to labor it gives
nothing, and to private property everything. Confronting this contradiction, Proudhon has decided
in favor of labor against private property21. We understand, however, that this apparent
contradiction is the contradiction of estranged labor with itself, and that political economy has
merely formulated the laws of estranged labor.
We also understand, therefore, that wages and private property are identical. Indeed, where the
product, as the object of labor, pays for labor itself, there the wage is but a necessary consequence
of labor’s estrangement. Likewise, in the wage of labor, labor does not appear as an end in itself
but as the servant of the wage. We shall develop this point later, and meanwhile will only draw
some conclusions. ||XXVI| 22
An enforced increase of wages (disregarding all other difficulties, including the fact that it would
only be by force, too, that such an increase, being an anomaly, could be maintained) would
therefore be nothing but better payment for the slave, and would not win either for the worker or
for labor their human status and dignity.
Indeed, even the equality of wages, as demanded by Proudhon, only transforms the relationship of
the present-day worker to his labor into the relationship of all men to labor. Society is then
conceived as an abstract capitalist.
Wages are a direct consequence of estranged labor, and estranged labor is the direct cause of
private property. The downfall of the one must therefore involve the downfall of the other.
(2) From the relationship of estranged labor to private property it follows further that the
emancipation of society from private property, etc., from servitude, is expressed in the political
form of the emancipation of the workers; not that their emancipation alone is at stake, but
because the emancipation of the workers contains universal human emancipation – and it contains
this because the whole of human servitude is involved in the relation of the worker to production,
and all relations of servitude are but modifications and consequences of this relation.
Just as we have derived the concept of private property from the concept of estranged, alienated
labor by analysis, so we can develop every category of political economy with the help of these
two factors; and we shall find again in each category, e.g., trade, competition, capital, money only
a particular and developed expression of these first elements.
But before considering this phenomenon, however, let us try to solve two other problems.
(1) To define the general nature of private property, as it has arisen as a result of estranged labor,
in its relation to truly human and social property.
(2) We have accepted the estrangement of labor, its alienation, as a fact, and we have analyzed
this fact. How, we now ask, does man come to alienate, to estrange, his labor? How is this
estrangement rooted in the nature of human development? We have already gone a long way to
the solution of this problem by transforming the question of the origin of private property into the
question of the relation of alienated labor to the course of humanity’s development. For when
one speaks of private property, one thinks of dealing with something external to man. When one
speaks of labor, one is directly dealing with man himself. This new formulation of the question
already contains its solution.
As to (1): The general nature of private property and its relation to truly human property.
Alienated labor has resolved itself for us into two components which depend on one another, or
which are but different expressions of one and the same relationship. Appropriation appears as
estrangement, as alienation; and alienation appears as appropriation, estrangement as truly
becoming a citizen.23
We have considered the one side – alienated labor in relation to the worker himself, i.e., the
relation of alienated labor to itself. The product, the necessary outcome of this relationship, as we
Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844. First Manuscript
have seen, is the property relation of the non-worker to the worker and to labor. Private property,
as the material, summary expression of alienated labor, embraces both relations – the relation of
the worker to work and to the product of his labor and to the non-worker, and the relation of the
non-worker to the worker and to the product of his labor.
Having seen that in relation to the worker who appropriates nature by means of his labor, this
appropriation appears as estrangement, his own spontaneous activity as activity for another and as
activity of another, vitality as a sacrifice of life, production of the object as loss of the object to an
alien power, to an alien person – we shall now consider the relation to the worker, to labor and its
object of this person who is alien to labor and the worker.
First it has to be noted that everything which appears in the worker as an activity of alienation, of
estrangement, appears in the non-worker as a state of alienation, of estrangement.
Secondly, that the worker’s real, practical attitude in production and to the product (as a state of
mind) appears in the non-worker who confronting him as a theoretical attitude.
||XXVII| Thirdly, the non-worker does everything against the worker which the worker does
against himself; but he does not do against himself what he does against the worker.
Let us look more closely at these three relations. |XXVII||
[First Manuscript breaks off here.]
Kinds of Questions About Philosophical Texts
The Purpose of this document is to give you some guidelines about how to pose a good
philosophical question. These questions are in no particular order and are, by no means,
Immanent Critique
This kind of question is generated internally from a text/position (hence the immanence). It looks
something like “The author claims X, but also says Y, which seems inconsistent,” or “the author
is trying to do X, but Y seems to be inconsistent with doing X.” In this kind of question, you do not
have to bring any external resources or information to bear on the text. It remains entirely within
the domain of what the author has said. This can generate discussion about potential
inconsistencies within a position or can tease out lurking themes that unite apparently inconsistent
External Critique
This is the kind of question that brings in information from outside of the text in order to challenge
or raise questions about the claims being made therein. This could be something from your
personal experience, or something that you have noticed in the world, or a claim about the subject
from a different discipline, etc.—as long as it meaningfully engages with the text and presents a
relevant point about or counterpoint to the author’s position. This question can be tricky because
some external points might not be relevant: challenging Descartes’s position with a claim from
quantum mechanics might not necessarily be relevant, since this isn’t something he could have
possibly reacted to or anticipated in his historical situation. There is a thin line between discussing
and getting clear on a text versus determining whether the claims are true in some broader sense.
Clarification Questions
Clarification questions are almost always worthwhile, and you should not avoid asking these
questions simply due to the fear of being seen as somebody who doesn’t ‘get it’. In these cases,
you can refer to some section, claim, or series of claims that you had trouble understanding. Or
perhaps you think that the claims themselves are unclear. Make sure that when you pose a
clarification question you are actually referring to something specific in the text (e.g. don’t just say
“I don’t understand [this text]”). It usually helps to refer to passages in the text when doing this.
Often times asking a clarification question can actually turn into asking one of the other types of
questions specified here.
Questions About an Implication of the Text
This is the kind of question about something implied by the claims made in a text. Although the
author might not make a claim explicitly or intentionally, you might notice that there is a conclusion
that falls out the author’s claims beyond what you find in the text. You might point to an implication
that is troublesome (e.g. something morally or intellectually problematic, or otherwise something
that you suspect that the author would not want to support), or you could pose, as a point of
discussion, a question about what some implications might be (e.g. “Based on the fact that the
author said X, does Y follow as an implication of X?”). You might even want to point out some
positive implications of the text—things implied that you think are helpful, useful, or true.
Immanent Connection
As opposed to a critique (i.e. pointing out a problem or concern about a text), you might want to
raise a question about how claims within a text are meaningfully connected. For example, you
might wonder how/if a claim in one part of a text is related to a claim in another part of the same
text. Chances are (if the text is well-written) that the answer will be: yes. But sometimes these
questions can be helpful for discussing and teasing out non-obvious connections, conceptual
motifs, or themes within a text or philosophical position. Connecting to another claim in the text
could also
External Connection
Similarly, you might want to raise a question about a claim in the text and how/if it connects to
something outside the text. For example, you could ask about whether this claim is connected to
something going on in the author’s social/historical/political context. You could also ask about
whether a claim that the author makes is connected or related to another philosopher’s claims, or
claims from a different discipline.
Methodological Questions
In this kind of question you should focus on the author’s method for making philosophical points.
Think about how they start their investigation, and what sorts of tools, resources, or styles of
investigation are at work in the text. Once you have identified something about the author’s
method of thinking, you can then raise questions about whether or not that influences their claims
and conclusions. Is there something about the author’s method that leads them to certain claims
instead of others? Would they perhaps have come to different conclusions if they used a different
method of investigation? Is there a method of investigation that you think might be better suited
to (or useful for expanding on) the issue that the author is thinking about? Make sure to be specific.
Questions About Assumptions
Perhaps you have a sense that there are some assumptions in a text: something in the
background of the author’s claims that they have not explicitly defended, but rather have simply
assumed to be true. When the author claims X, is that claim supported by other claims that they
haven’t justified or explained? To what extent does their claim depend on these background
assumptions? Could these assumptions be defended? If these assumptions are false, would the
claim still hold?
Questions About Context/Scope/Application of the Claims
How broad are the claims that the author is making? Do these claims only apply to the specific
situation or subject matter that the author is writing about? Are these claims supposed to apply
universally? Could these claims be usefully applied to something outside of the situation/subject
in question? Would applying these claims to something else change our understanding of the
author’s claims? Do the author’s claims only apply to their own specific historical, social, or cultural
context? Does the author stipulate the scope of the project or analysis? If so, is their estimation
of the project’s scope accurate? Is it potentially applicable to a larger or smaller domain than the
author has stipulated?
Questions About Justification
This is a question about how the author justifies, or feels the license to make a claim or a series
of claims. What is the supporting evidence/reasons for X? Does this evidence (or do these
reasons) properly support X? Are there ways to justify X other than the author’s justification? How
is one claim in the text used to justify another? If X isn’t properly justified, then does that mean
that other claims in the text are unjustified as a result?
Questions About Conspicuous Omission/Exclusion
These questions deal with how a text might omit or exclude certain relevant voices, information,
or contributions to the topic in question. Is there some other text that speaks to the claims that the
author is making? If so, how would the views of the omitted or excluded author(s) stand in relation
to the author’s own view? Would they challenge their view? Support it? Is the author covering
philosophical ground (posing problems and questions or conducting analyses and projects) that
the omitted author(s) have already covered? It is also worth noting that some subjects have been
written about from a vast number of positions, perspectives, disciplines, and historical contexts.
And thus, to include every claim made about this subject would be impossible. The omission of
something does not necessarily detract from the value or integrity of the text. If, for example, the
author is writing about the topic of free will, it would not be possible to explicitly discuss every
claim about that subject. This does not, however, make the text immune from this kind of question.
Bringing up an omission should ultimately make a relevant point about the author’s text:
sometimes it is worthwhile to scrutinize what the author is not claiming or considering.
Questions About Translation
This is a question about whether a concept, claim, or series of claims that the author takes from
another source genuinely applies to the subject about which they are currently making claims.
This is not limited to translating between languages, in the sense that translating a sentence from
German to English might not perfectly preserve the meaning of the original sentence, although it
is certainly worthwhile to pose this kind of question sometimes. It could apply more broadly to
questions about whether apparently similar terms or similar claims are really or just superficially
similar–does that term or claim properly translate across contexts of reference? If, for example,
an author is talking about Ayer’s account of substance, and cites a quote in which Spinoza is
making what appears to be a relevant or related claim about substance, you might want to ask
whether Ayer means the same thing by ‘substance’ that Spinoza does. This term might not
properly translate between its respective uses. Does that affect the point that the author is trying
to make?
Questions About Interlocutors
These are questions regarding the author’s uptake of other authors. Basically, this group of
questions revolves around the more general question of whether or not the author charitably and
effectively reconstructed the views of the other authors they discuss or critique. If author X is
critical of author Y, is there anything author X is omitting in their reconstruction of Y’s views that
could help Y’s case and hurt X’s case? Similarly, if X appeals to Y’s theory or view to support their
argument, is there anything they’ve omitted about Y’s view that would contradict X’s view or hurt
their argument? If X is critiquing Y’s view on specific grounds, does X provide detailed and
relevant textual references to support their critique? How does X’s reconstruction of Y’s view
square with your own interpretation of Y’s view (if you have one)?
Questions About Motivation
This is a question about the purpose of a text. This is not always clearly stated in the text itself,
and (especially when we are talking about historical texts) these motivations might not be directly
accessible to us as readers. What is the author trying to achieve by making these claims? Are
they trying to defend a broader position? Are they trying to criticize someone else’s position? Are
they making these points in the service of some other moral, theoretical, and/or political purpose?
Keep in mind: Just because somebody has an agenda behind or interest in making a claim does
not immediately mean that their claim should not be taken seriously. However, it could lead us to
scrutinize something about how claims in the text fit together in the achievement a goal. Or it
could lead us to notice assumptions or poorly defended claims that stem from an orientation
toward these broader interests. Perhaps the author does not sufficiently engage with some
countervailing evidence/claims due to their interests. Also keep in mind: try not to speculate too
wildly about the author’s motivations (e.g. “The author only claims X in order to explain why they
have a bad relationship with their parents.” This would, outside of some very, very exceptional
circumstances, count as a ‘wild’ speculation). It is also important to consider whether reducing
the value of a claim to the author’s motivation is a useful method of evaluating that claim itself;
depending on the the claim and what the claim is doing in the text, this might be more or less
Contributors: Tailer Ransom, Nick Brancazio, Morgan Elbot, Anna Christen, Amy Nigh, James

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