Marx and the Critique of Humanism | International Conference

November 7, 2022



International Conference

Marx and the Critique of Humanism

School of Arts and Humanities, University of Lisbon

7-8 November 2022

Event organized as part of the activities of Praxis-CFUL

Conference website:

[Full programme]         [Book of Abstracts]


Keynote speakers:

Etienne Balibar, Kingston University, UK (by zoom)

John Bellamy Foster, University of Oregon, US (by zoom)

Jason Read, University of Southern Maine, US

Karen Ng, Vanderbilt University, US

Carol Gould, City University of New York, US


Marx’s corpus of texts is conceived mainly as critique: critique of religion, critique of philosophy, critique of politics, critique of political economy, etc. However, among the targets of Marx’s critique the notions of ‘the human’ and ‘humanism’ have an ambiguous status. A substantial humanism has been attributed to his work starting with the publication (in 1932) of the Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844, in which Marx develops a theory of alienation. So-called ‘Marxist humanists’ argued that there is continuity between the early philosophical writings of Marx and his later works such as Capital. Famously, Louis Althusser argued that the thought of the young Marx is separated by an ‘epistemological rupture’ from the scientific standpoint of Capital, while ‘Marxist humanism’ is theoretically vacuous and politically misleading.

The concepts of ‘the human’ and ‘humanism’ have been the target of various critiques. European philosophy, starting with Nietzsche through Heidegger to Foucault and post-structuralism, questioned ideas of ‘human nature’, ‘man’ and ‘humanity’ as abstract metaphysical constructions. Under these auspices, the criticism of the concepts of humanity and humanism proliferated in different subfields within humanities and social sciences. The concept of ‘humanity’ was considered an instrument of colonial power, while interventions in the name of humanity were seen as denying to the others the quality of being human. Currently, the concepts of ‘humanity’ and ‘humanism’ are the target of critique from the perspective of post-humanism which views these concepts as anthropocentric and unable to account for non-human beings, and from the perspective of transhumanism that claims to transcend the limits of the human by technological enhancement.

The premise of this conference is that Marx’s writings refuse the notion of an unchanging or pre-given ‘essence’ of what it means to be human. Marx repeatedly affirmed the historical variability of human needs, drives and capacities, since ‘all history is nothing but a continuous transformation of human nature’ (The Poverty of Philosophy). For Marx, the ‘human essence’ is ‘the ensemble of social relations’ (Theses on Feuerbach, VI), while social relations are made and remade by human action. The “essence” of the human in Marx’s work is thus a self-transformative function pointing to an open idea of humanity that remains inexhaustible across its multiple and varying concrete actualisations. In the context of a proliferation of theoretical ‘overcomings’ of humanity, a re-reading of Marx’s texts shows that Marx’s understanding of ‘human essence’ not only engages with the concerns of post-humanist and transhumanist perspectives but reveals unthought aspects of these standpoints.

However, even if Marx’s concept of an ‘open’ humanity is plausible, it generates further questions: how can the ‘continuous transformation of human nature’ be compatible with the idea of a ‘full’ development of the individual, as Marx alludes to in different contexts? Is transformation equivalent to development? By what criteria (immanent, universal or otherwise) can the adequacy of any particular form of human existence be determined? Does the ‘ensemble of social relations’ contain a normative horizon of transformation? What specific modifications and distortions does the idea of the human take on in capitalist societies, and how might the Marxist notions of ideology and fetishism help make sense of these? One the other hand, does the critique of humanity from the perspective of transhumanism and posthumanism go beyond Marx’s account of the human? Can Marx’s thinking of the ‘human essence’ enter into dialogue with post-humanism, post-Anthropocene, transhumanism in productive ways?

We invite contribution that address these questions and engage with the following topics, although the list is not exhaustive: Marx’s humanism, its supporters and critics; the idea of transindividuality in Marx; Marx on nature and humanism as a ‘consistent naturalism’; Marx’s ecology; Marx and transhumanism; Marx and post-humanism; the idea of ‘open humanity’; philosophical anthropology; humanism and the critique of political economy; humanism and Marx’s materialism; humanism, ideology and fetishism; practical humanism and revolution; humanism and decolonial Marxism; humanism and Marxist feminism; debates on humanism in the Global South, etc.


Organizational details


School of Arts and Humanities (Library Building – Rooms B112B & B112C)

University of Lisbon

Cidade Universitária, Alameda da Universidade, 1649-004 Lisboa, Portugal


Attendance is free and open to all. No need to register in advance

For further details or questions, please contact


Organizers: Tamara Caraus (Praxis-CFUL, University of Lisbon) and Andrés Saenz de Sicilia (University of the Arts London)


This event is funded by Portuguese national funds through FCT – Fundação para a Ciência e a Tecnologia, I.P., in the scope of the project UIDB/00310/2020