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What is the difference between 'marxist' (with a small 'm') and 'Marxist'? This question arose to me when I came across this:

It follows from this belief that if you can totally change the 'ensemble of the social relations', you can totally change human nature. This claim goes to the heart of Marxism and of more broadly marxist (with a small 'm') thinking.

I have seen that, similarly, Daniel Dennett in his paper Postmodernism and Truth differentiates between 'Truth' and 'truth':

When philosophers argue about truth, they are arguing about how not to inflate the truth about truth into the Truth about Truth, some absolutistic doctrine that makes indefensible demands on our systems of thought.

(emphasis by me)

Maybe this is common in English and is not specific to fields like philosophy.

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    Marxism with capital M : Marxist theory, Marxist philosopher. I'm not an English native, but I think that this is the correct way of writing it. Commented Apr 2, 2019 at 14:18
  • @MauroALLEGRANZA is correct; "marxist", with a lower-case "m", is just a grammatical error. Since Marx is a proper noun, the first letter is always supposed to be capitalized. The issue with capitalizing the first letter of words that aren't usually considered proper nouns is meant to empathize them becoming a proper noun, to suggest some sort of universality. Sorta like, if you program in C# or something, how class names are supposed to be capitalized while instances of those classes aren't.
    – Nat
    Commented Apr 2, 2019 at 15:33
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    IMO, there is nothing "philosophical" there... When the author writes "more broadly marxist thinking", it sounds to me as a way to allude to non-orthodox Marxism, to someone broadly "inspired" by Marxist (capital M) philosophy. Commented Apr 2, 2019 at 15:38
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    This is not specific to Marx, but roughly, "Marxist" would refer to ideas more or less attributable to Marx, whereas "marxist" (especially when the small "m" is emphasized) to ideas loosely in the same spirit. It is the same with Platonism and platonism, etc. The distinction is not very strictly followed though.
    – Conifold
    Commented Apr 2, 2019 at 18:49

2 Answers 2

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There is nothing deep here but a distinction is just about possible. An idea, argument or theory might properly be called 'Marxist' if it is explicitly present in the work of Marx. For instance, the idea of surplus value or of commodity fetishism. In contrast, an explanation of the Russian Revolution in terms drawn from Marx could reasonably be called 'marxist'. The lower case 'm' would indicate that this explanation is applied Marx rather than Marx's own account - which it couldn't be, short of clairvoyance, since Marx was long dead before the Revolution.

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Apparently in the English Language proper nouns and proper adjectives (adjectives derived from proper nouns) are capitalized. Though Marxism and Marxist are apparently eponyms and those might over time lose their capitalization if the connection with the entity is forgotten or no longer the important part.

Now Marxism apparently caught on as a "brand name" even in Marx's own time, leading to the remark from Marx about Paul Lafargue "If (he is a Marxist then) one thing is certain, I am not a Marxist". And apparently Merriam-Webster still argues the capitalized version is the only one. So apparently the author tried to make a comment that the focus is on the ideology (Marxism) not the person (Marx), so it's likely not an original claim from Karl Marx. Similar to how in the U.S. context Democratic/Republican (proper adjectives derived from party names) and republican/democratic (regular adjectives derived from political ideas) are used depending on whether people speak about the respective party or the political construct. Though as that is a non-standard usage of that language, the artist probably needs to explain what they wanted to express with their art...

Similarly for truth and Truth. Truth is not a proper noun and should not be capitalized but as he literally rants about people inflating truth, it's only fitting to reflect that in style, might as well had added allcaps and exclamation marks but maybe that would be a bit much.

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    I thought it was the difference between Karl and Groucho.
    – user4894
    Commented Sep 9, 2022 at 21:44
  • @user4894 They'd both be proper nouns ;)
    – haxor789
    Commented Sep 10, 2022 at 8:09

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