Ideology pp 46-71 | Cite as

Thought and Its Social Conditions

  • John Plamenatz
Part of the Key Concepts in Political Science book series (KCP)


Hegel, though he distinguished Objective from Subjective Spirit, never distinguished ‘social existence’ or social conditions from consciousness or thought, or ideas generally from ideology in the broadest sense of the word. It was Marx who, if he was not the first to make this distinction, was the first to make much of it, to insist on it as a key to the proper understanding of society and of man as a social being. Marx’s assertion that social existence determines consciousness is perhaps the most often quoted of all, at least by sociologists. It is much more a favourite with them than the distinction he makes between the ‘material substructure’ of society and the ‘ideological superstructure’. The sociologists of knowledge who study ideas, beliefs and theories in relation to the social conditions in which they arise or come to be widely used or accepted, are particularly impressed by it. Marx, as they (some of them, at least) see it, was never more happily inspired than when he uttered these words, even though he failed to see clearly their full import. For example, Karl Mannheim, in Ideology and Utopia, says that ‘it was Marxist theory which first achieved a fusion of the particular and the total conceptions of ideology’ (p. 66); and also that ‘with the emergence of … the total conception of ideology, the simple theory of ideology develops into the sociology of knowledge’ (p. 69). It is where Marxist theory contrasts ‘consciousness’ with ‘social existence’ that the ‘total conception of ideology’ emerges; it is there, if anywhere.


Social Condition Human Behaviour Social Relation Natural Event Formal Science 
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© Pall Mall Press Ltd, London 1970

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  • John Plamenatz

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