Humanities Showcase: Marxism and liberalism on individual gain and the social good


Dr Sanyal offers a critique of some key elements of liberal thought on methodological grounds.

Start Date

13th Apr 2018 3:30pm

End Date

13th Apr 2018 5:00pm


Room 346, Humanities Building, Sandy Bay campus

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presented by

Dr Sagar Sanyal

Research Fellow, University of Melbourne

A fundamental tenet of liberalism is that ‘the individual pursuit of private gain in capitalism promotes the social good’ (perhaps with redistribution of wealth, or remedies for negative externalities). However the tenet has been understood differently in different schools within bourgeois thought: as in the classical political economy of Adam Smith; in the neoclassical economics of marginal utility and mutual advantage; or in Rawls’ theory of justice.

Smith has a class analysis and a materialist labor theory of value, which are later developed in a critical direction by Marx. But Smith also has elements of methodological individualism and empiricism which the neoclassical economists develop by adding a subjective marginal utility theory of value, idealization, formalism, and positivism. Rawls accepts the neoclassical framework, and appends an a priori‘theory of justice’.

Dr Sanyal argue that the classical school of Smith is methodologically more sound than the neoclassical-Rawls tradition, and that within the classical school, Marx’s critical variant is preferable. Ultimately this is a critique of some key elements of liberal thought on methodological grounds.