Selection from Karl Marx, “Private Property and Communism” (1844). Text copied from Marxists.org.
In this section, Marx describes both the objective and subjective aspects of sensation. In particular, he points to the significant role played by society in shaping sensory experience. Sensing is a learned behavior, just like capitalism is a learned mode of exchange. I have bolded text for emphasis.
“It is obvious that the human eye enjoys things in a way different from the crude, non-human eye; the human ear different from the crude ear, etc.
We have seen that man does not lose himself in his object only when the object becomes for him a human object or objective man. This is possible only when the object becomes for him a social object, he himself for himself a social being, just as society becomes a being for him in this object.
On the one hand, therefore, it is only when the objective world becomes everywhere for man in society the world of man’s essential powers – human reality, and for that reason the reality of his own essential powers – that all objects become for him the objectification of himself, become objects which confirm and realize his individuality, become his objects: that is, man himself becomes the object. The manner in which they become his depends on the nature of the objects and on the nature of the essential power corresponding to it; for it is precisely the determinate nature of this relationship which shapes the particular, real mode of affirmation. To the eye an object comes to be other than it is to the ear, and the object of the eye is another object than the object of the ear. The specific character of each essential power is precisely its specific essence, and therefore also the specific mode of its objectification, of its objectively actual, living being. Thus man is affirmed in the objective world not only in the act of thinking, but with all his senses.
On the other hand, let us look at this in its subjective aspect. Just as only music awakens in man the sense of music, and just as the most beautiful music has no sense for the unmusical ear – is [no] object for it, because my object can only be the confirmation of one of my essential powers – it can therefore only exist for me insofar as my essential power exists for itself as a subjective capacity; because the meaning of an object for me goes only so far as my sense goes (has only a meaning for a sense corresponding to that object) – for this reason the senses of the social man differ from those of the non-social man. Only through the objectively unfolded richness of man’s essential being is the richness of subjective human sensibility (a musical ear, an eye for beauty of form – in short, senses capable of human gratification, senses affirming themselves as essential powers of man) either cultivated or brought into being. For not only the five senses but also the so-called mental senses, the practical senses (will, love, etc.), in a word, human sense, the human nature of the senses, comes to be by virtue of its object, by virtue of humanised nature. The forming of the five senses is a labour of the entire history of the world down to the present. The sense caught up in crude practical need has only a restricted sense. For the starving man, it is not the human form of food that exists, but only its abstract existence as food. It could just as well be there in its crudest form, and it would be impossible to say wherein this feeding activity differs from that of animals. The care-burdened, poverty-stricken man has no sense for the finest play; the dealer in minerals sees only the commercial value but not the beauty and the specific character of the mineral: he has no mineralogical sense. Thus, the objectification of the human essence, both in its theoretical and practical aspects, is required to make man’s sense human, as well as to create the human sense corresponding to the entire wealth of human and natural substance.
Just as through the movement of private property, of its wealth as well as its poverty – of its material and spiritual wealth and poverty – the budding society finds at hand all the material for this development, so established society produces the rich man profoundly endowed with all the senses – as its enduring reality.”
For another version of the text, see: http://faculty.washington.edu/cbehler/teaching/coursenotes/Texts/Marx,EconPhilMan.html