Tony Smith (1990)
Source: The Logic of Marx's Capital, Replies to Hegelian Criticisms, by Tony Smith, publ. State University of New York Press, 1990. Only first chapter reproduced here.
Anyone who has ever attempted to come to terms with Hegel will understand how impossible it is to cover major aspects of his thought in just a few pages. In this chapter the aim is simply to introduce provisionally some Hegelian motifs that will recur throughout the course of this study. I shall discuss Hegel's general method and the features of Hegel's system that are most relevant to the present work. The aim throughout is to present those aspects of Hegel's thought that help us understand Marx's theory. But different aspects of Hegel are important for different aspects of Marx. Hegel's Phenomenology is most important for an understanding of the theory of alienation in the 1844 Manuscripts; the theory of history found in the German Ideology is defined in opposition to Hegel's unpublished lectures on the Philosophy of History, and so on. The present work does not attempt a full-scale treatment of the intellectual relationship between the two thinkers. It is concerned only with Marx's economic theory as found especially in Capital and The Theories of Surplus Value. Yet more specifically, it is concerned only with the systematic dimensions of that theory. In this context a comparison with the systematic writings of Hegel's mature period - the Logic, the Philosophy of Right, the Encyclopaedia - is called for (although I shall refer to other works where relevant).
The most direct approach to our subject matter is to state how Hegel's method works in a step by step fashion.
For Hegel, "philosophy is its own time apprehended in thoughts. It is just as absurd to fancy that a philosophy can transcend its contemporary world as it is to fancy that an individual can overleap his own age." This means that for Hegel the point of departure for the operation of his method is the immediately given experience at a particular historical juncture. But at first this immediate experience is not "apprehended." And so thought must proceed from that which is initially given onwards.
What is "initially given"? This, of course, is an empirical matter. And so the next stage is an appropriation of the results of empirical studies. This empiricist moment in Hegel's methodology is often overlooked, but it is clearly stated in passages such as the following: "The knowledge of the particular is necessary. This particularity must be worked out on its own account; we must become acquainted with empirical nature, both with the physical and with the human ... Without the working out of the empirical sciences on their own account, philosophy could not have reached further than with the ancients."
The demand to become "acquainted with human nature" should be taken in the broadest possible sense. Hegel includes under it all areas of human endeavour, from the most mundane events of the everyday world to religious beliefs and the construction of metaphysical systems. But in Hegel's view it is not the philosopher's task to appropriate everything about everything, even if that were not a hopeless project. What is of interest to the philosopher is the fact that it is impossible to engage in discourse without employing categories, whether our discourse concerns metaphysics, the empirical sciences, religion, or events in the everyday world. The philosophical appropriation of immediately given experience is an appropriation of categories. Usually we are content to employ categories in an unreflective fashion. But for Hegel the highest form of thought occurs when thought makes itself its own object. This occurs whenever our thinking considers the basic categories we employ in and of themselves, rather than in terms of their reference to specific objects of experience. For instance, we can assert that "This leaf is green" in a variety of different contexts for a variety of different purposes. But the highest expression of pure thought occurs when every other concern is bracketed out besides the explication of the pure categories employed in this assertion, categories such as "individuality" ("this"), and "existence" ( "is").
Before proceeding it is important to stress once again that these categories do not spring out of thin air. They are initially won in confrontation with the empirically given. The goal is not to "create" the world out of thought ab nihilo, but to reconstruct the intelligibility of the world, and this requires appropriating the fundamental categories that capture that intelligibility. As if in anticipation of the criticism that in his methodology thought generates its own content. Hegel writes: "In order that this science (i.e. Hegel's own theory) may come into existence, we must have the progression from the individual and particular to the universal - an activity which is a reaction on the given material of empiricism in order to bring about its reconstruction. The demand of a priori knowledge, which seems to imply that the Idea should construct from itself, is thus a reconstruction only ... In consciousness it then adopts the attitude of having cut away the bridge from behind it; it appears to be free to launch forth in its ether only, and to develop without resistance to this medium; but it is another matter to attain to this ether and to development of it. "
At this point Hegel could have anticipated contemporary conceptual analysis and treated one or another individual category in isolation. Or he could have followed Aristotle and thrown out many different fundamental categories together more or less haphazardly, leaving future scholars to debate how they all fit together. Or he could have followed Kant and searched for some external schema to impose an order on the categories, as Kant did when he deduced his set of categories from the table of judgements. Instead Hegel attempted to provide an immanent ordering of the basic categories.
Many people believe that Hegel failed in this task. For instance Jon Elster writes that
Hegel, in The Science of Logic, derived the various ontological categories from each other according to certain deductive principles which have resisted analysis to this day. The connection is neither that of causes to effect, not that of axiom to theorem, nor finally that of given fact to its condition of possibility. The "self-determination of the concept" appears to be nothing more than a loose ex post pattern imposed by Hegel on various phenomena that he found important.
But Hegel's procedure is not really ad hoc at all. To see this we have first to consider what a category is. It is a principle (a universal) for unifying a manifold of some sort or other (different individuals, or particulars). A category thus articulates a structure with two poles, a pole of unity and a pole of differences. In Hegelian language this sort of structure, captured in some category, can be described as a unity of identity in difference, or as a reconciliation of universal and individuals. From this general notion of a category we can go on to derive three general types of categorial structures.
In one the moment of unity is stressed, with the moment of differences implicit. In another the moment of difference is emphasised, with the moment of unity now being only implicit. In a third both unity and differences are made explicit together. Hegel's next claim is that there is a systematic order immanently connecting these three categorial structures. A structure of unity in which differences are merely implicit is simpler than one in which these differences are explicitly introduced; and one in which both unity and differences are explicit is yet more complex still. Similarly, the first sort of structure is the most abstract, while the other structures are successively more concrete.
Yet another way of speaking about the immanent connections here is through the idea of a dialectical contradiction. Hegel's views on contradiction have been quite controversial. But at least in the context of constructing a systematic theory of categories he appears to have meant something fairly straightforward. If a category is in general a principle that unifies a manifold, then if a specific category only explicates the moment of unity, leaving the moment of difference implicit, then there is a "contradiction" between what it inherently is qua category (a unifier of a manifold) and what it is explicitly (the moment of unity alone). Overcoming this contradiction requires that the initial category be "negated" in the sense that a second category must be formulated that makes the moment of difference explicit. But when this is done the moment of difference will be emphasised at the cost of having the -moment of unity made merely implicit. Once again there is a contradiction between what a category inherently is and what it is explicitly. Overcoming this contradiction demands that the second sort of category also be negated, and replaced with a category in which both poles, unity and difference, are each made explicit simultaneously. Hegel is well aware that "contradiction" and "negation" are not being used here in the sense given to them in formal logic. Following a tradition that goes back to Plato, he asserts that in the above usage "contradiction" and "negation" are logical operators for ordering categories systematically, as opposed to logical operators for making formal inferences. The logic with which we are concerned here is dialectical logic.
It is interesting to note that in the culmination of Hegel's Logic, the section "The Absolute Idea," we do not find any reference to some special metaphysical entity. Instead we find a summary of dialectical method. It begins with a category of simple unity: "The beginning ... content is an immediate, but an immediate that has the significance and form of abstract universality ... it is a simple and a universal." But when measured by what a category inherently is, this is inadequate: "Hence the beginning has for the method no other determinateness than that of being simple and universal; this is itself the determinateness by reason of which it is deficient." This deficiency can be overcome only if the moment of difference is made explicit. In this sense "the immediate of the beginning. . is not merely the simple, but as abstract is already posited as infected with a negation." The "negation" of the simple unity is the moment of difference that it itself contains implicitly. With this we have "the emergence of real difference". Hegel states that the moment "by which the universal of the beginning of its own accord determines itself as the other of itself, is to be named the dialectical moment." Or, again, "the dialectical moment ... consists in positing in it the difference that it implicitly contains." But this stage of difference is itself one-sided and partial, "therefore with it the dialectical moment consists in positing the unit-i that is contained in it." When the stage of difference is dialectically negated, we once again have a category of unity, but now it is a complex unity, one that incorporates the moment of difference; it "is in general the unity of the first and second moments, of ... the simple resulting from sublation of difference ... This result is therefore the truth. It is equally immediacy and mediation." Since a category of unity-in-difference on one level can itself prove to be a category of simple unity from a higher level perspective, thereby initiating another dialectical progression from unity through difference to unity-in-difference, we can construct a systematic theory of categories by employing the dialectical method. In this sort of theory we move in a step-by-step fashion from simple and abstract categories to those that are complex and concrete, with dialectical logic providing the warrant for each transition:
The determinateness which was a result is itself, by virtue of the form of simplicity into which it was withdrawn, a fresh beginning; as this beginning is distinguished from its predecessor precisely by that determinateness, cognition rolls onwards from content to content. First of all, this advance is determined as beginning from simple determinatenesses, the succeeding ones becoming ever richer and more concrete. For the result contains its beginning and its course has enriched it by a fresh determinateness ... at each stage of its further determination it raises the entire mass of its preceding content, and by its dialectical advance it not only does not lose anything or leave anything behind, but carries along with it all it has gained, and inwardly enriches and consolidates itself.
At the conclusion of the linear progression of categories we once again arrive at the initial starting point. But it has now been apprehended in thought. If dialectical logic is rigorously adhered to, the move from one category to the next is not ad hoc. The linear progression from a category of immediate unity to one of difference, and from there to a category of unity-in-difference, is not a mere formal schema imposed by Hegel externally. It is instead "the absolute method ... does not behave like external reflection but takes the determinate element from its own subject matter, since it is itself that subject matter's immanent principle and soul". In this manner the object realm of experience has been reconstructed in thought.
Hegel is typically presented as an "idealist" whose dialectical method is so permeated by idealistic prejudices that it could not be taken over by materialists without severe alteration. At times Marx himself inclined to this view. In the next chapter we shall discuss both where Marx was mistaken in his estimation of Hegel's idealism and the senses in which seeing Hegel as an idealist is justified. In the present section I shall discuss some of the ways Hegel's position is not as incompatible with a materialist perspective as may appear at first sight.
What is an idealist? Let us term "the real process" the total series of all events that have occurred, are occurring, or ever will occur in the world. The method considered in the previous section begins with an apprehension of this real process, moves to an appropriation of the fundamental categories implicit in that apprehension, and then orders those categories. This ordering can be termed "the process in thought," or "the logical process." The question of idealism arises when we try to connect the real process with the process of thought. From this perspective there are four related ways Hegel could be considered an idealist. First, Hegel could have identified the real process with the process of thought in the sense that each stage in the former corresponds to a stage in the latter. Second, he could have denied that the real process had any element in it that could not be reduced to a logical category in the process of thought. Third, Hegel could have asserted that the process of thoug4t is not in any sense a function of the real process. Fourth, he could have held that some sort of idealistic supersubject is the ultimate foundation for the real process. Hegel has often been interpreted as being an idealist in each of these respects. These interpretations are, I believe, mistaken.
For Hegel the systematic progression of categories follows an immanent logical ordering distinct from the order of events in immediate experience. "What we acquire ... is a series of thought and another series of existent shapes of experience; to which I may add that the time order in which the latter actually appear is other than the logical order." The converse, of course, holds as well: the historical progression in the real process is not reducible to the logical progression of categories within Hegel's system. For example, were the real material process reducible to a mere appearance of the logical process, then it would seem to follow that from a grasp of the latter one could extrapolate to the course which future real events must follow with logical necessity. But Hegel makes no such move. He instead acknowledges that the real process has its own pattern of future development, one irreducible to the pattern of logical development in the process of thought.
For Hegel the independence of the materially given from thought is not merely a function of its following a distinct ordering. For Hegel there remains something "other" which separates the material realm from thought. In the real process there is an irreducible residue of contingency, a surd without an intelligibility to be grasped by thought, an element which cannot be reduced to logical categories. Hegel acknowledges a residue of the material, impenetrable by thought, at practically every stage of his system. It is found, to list just some examples, in the individual soul, in the content of sensations, in the workings of the market place, in the content of positive laws, in history, etc. At points such as these, thought confronts "something other" than itself Because Hegel acknowledges a contingency and accidentality in the real world that cannot be reduced to categories, he does not reduce the world to logical necessity. Its independence is guaranteed.
What are we to make of Hegel's often-repeated assertion of the unity of thought and being? Does this not imply a confused merger of real subjects (beings) with mere predicates (thought), and a denial of the independent reality of the former? Consider the following sentence: "This spiritual movement (i.e. the logical process) ... which ... is the immanent development of the Notion, this movement is the absolute method of knowing and at the same time is the immanent soul of the content itself." Phrases such as "spiritual movement," "the immanent development of the Notion," and "the absolute method of knowing" bring to mind a familiar Hegel, the object of countless polemics, the absolute idealist intent on reducing the real process to the thought process. But with the last clause we get a different picture. Thought, the dialectic of categories, is not claimed to be identical with the whole content, but only with its "soul." Hegel's project thus does not involve a reduction of real material things and events to categories. "This identity of being and thought is not however to be taken in a concrete sense, as if we could say that a stone, so far as it has being, is the same as a thinking man. A concrete thing is always very different from the abstract category as such." In referring to the identity of thought and being, Hegel's point is that the ultimate intelligibility of these concrete things can only be grasped by means of thought determinations, in a categorial reconstruction of the given. This should be acceptable to anyone who accepts the validity claim that theoretical formulations (thought) can in principle capture what is true about their object (being). (As we shall see, in this sense Marxism too is committed to the identity of thought and being.)
As we have seen above in the discussion of the starting point of theory, for Hegel philosophy is "its time apprehended in thoughts." The real process, which includes the process of history, asserts it independence from the thought process by providing the ultimate horizon within which the thought process is situated. Could there be any doubt, for example, that a "Hegelian" system constructed in Classical Greece or Medieval Europe would be radically different from what Hegel himself constructed in nineteenth-century Germany? Classical Greece, Hegel would point out, lacked the principle of subjectivity. Medieval Europe had that principle, but had no way of reconciling it with an Essence that it conceived as lying "Beyond." Any reconstruction of categories during those periods would differ drastically from Hegel's, in which - Hegel would insist - these problems had been overcome. Also we have already noted that in Hegel's view systematic philosophy cannot fully develop prior to the historical rise of the empirical sciences. These points show that the thought systems constructed in the history of philosophy cannot go beyond the level attained in a particular period of historical development. They are instead dependent upon the principles attained by their historical period. Thus the former (the logical process) does not at all negate the independence of the latter (the real process).
Hegel makes a number of comments on the meta-theoretical level that seem to suggest that the movement of categories is the unfolding of a supersubject. This most peculiar sort of metaphysical entity is termed Geist (Spirit), The Absolute, The Idea, and at times it is also identified as God (e.g. when the contents of the Logic are described as God's thoughts prior to creation.32) This would be bad enough, but this Spirit is also said to bring about the real process, including both nature and the human world. From a materialist standpoint, here too there seems to be a confusion of real subjects and predicates. Whereas in reality thoughts are properties of real human subjects, here it seems that "Thought" or Spirit is hypostasised into a supersubject, while real humans are made into its predicates. Obviously such a topsy-turvey metaphysics is incompatible with a materialist ontology.
There is no shortage of passages in Hegel that suggest this interpretation. However we must interpret Hegel's remarks within the context of his own system. A central tenet of this system is the distinction between Vorstellung and Denken. - Vorstellung may be translated as "imaginative representation" or "picture-thinking." In it a concept is conveyed through the aid of an image. This eases comprehension of the concept, but at the cost of introducing extraneous elements that may prove misleading. For a full grasp of the concept it must be considered as a pure thought determination. All extraneous images must be removed, just as the comprehension of a circle demands an understanding of its mathematical definition that goes beyond any imaginable picture of a circle. This is why for Hegel religion, consisting of picture-thoughts, must be placed on a systematically lower level than philosophy, even though both share the same content.
This distinction is clear enough, but Hegel muddled things considerably by continually resorting to picture-thoughts within his own systematic philosophy. When he writes that Absolute Spirit is self-acting and productive, creating the realm of nature and human spirit, he is indulging in picture-thinking, in imaginative representations that on his own terms belong on a prephilosophical level. lie no doubt thought that this rhetorical device would ease his (mostly Christian) audience into his system, since he identified this Absolute with the Christian God. He assumed that his audiences would then learn how to translate such pictures into their proper philosophical import.
What is the philosophical notion Hegel is attempting to convey with his talk of a self-generating Absolute? The content of philosophy, i.e. the series of determinations that makes up the process of thought, has two dimensions to it. First, as discussed previously, this content is initially appropriated from the real process and then reconstructed in thought so as to capture the intelligibility of that real process. In this sense the content of philosophy is most definitely not self-generated; it depends upon the real process. But, second, the series of determinations is characterised by certain logical connections that can only be brought out in the process of thought. The transitions from one category to the next are immanently justified in terms of the objective content of each category; in this sense the transitions are "self-acting." Once all the extraneous pictures have been weeded out, "Absolute Spirit's productive activity" means that in the process of thought "the content (is) objectively and intrinsically determined, and (hence) self-acting and productive" in this sense.
Consider the following passage from The Philosophy of Spirit: "This development (i.e. Hegel's categorial reconstruction) brings forth a succession of shapes; these, it is true, must he specified empirically, but in the philosophical treatment cannot remain externally juxtaposed, but must be known as the corresponding expression of a necessary series of specific Notions, and they are of interest to philosophy only in so far as they express such a series of Notions." Insofar as the succession of shapes "must be specified empirically" the content refers to a real process ontologically distinct from the logical process. But insofar as the content expresses "a necessary series of specific Notions" then it simultaneously involves an element that is not given in the real process. "Self-generating Absolute" is a quite extravagant term used to bring out this component of necessity.
"Absolute Spirit", then, is not a metaphysical supersubject. There are only thinkers in Hegel's ontology, flesh and blood men and women. There is no entity "Thought" separate from them. But these thinkers have two dimensions. On the one hand thinking could trace subjective psychological associations, or associations based on real processes that are objective but contingent. In so far as we think of necessary connections, however, then we are operating on a different level, which Hegel extravagantly termed that of the "Absolute." In other words, the opposition here is not between an "Absolute" hypostasised supersubject and real human subjects. It is instead between real human subjects who grasp the "objectively and intrinsically determined content" of categories and real human subjects who content themselves with whatever thought associations they find most psychologically plausible or given in contingent experience. This is why when we finally come to the section on the Absolute in Hegel's Logic we do not find a supersubject. Instead Hegel discusses a method that in principle any thinker can follow in order to derive necessary connections among categories.
Finally, there is all the God-talk in Hegel that seems to suggest that Hegel accepted an idealistic metaphysical entity. Hegel does use the term "God" continually in his philosophical writings, and he obviously hopes his Christian audience will accept the orthodoxy of his usage. But when we read his philosophy of religion we discover that at the highest stage of religion "God" does not refer to some father figure somewhere beyond, nor to some filial figure dead long ago. At the highest stage of Hegel's philosophy of religion we find instead the spirit that binds together the human community. From a metaphysical standpoint this spirit is not some sort of separately existing entity distinct from the human community. It is instead an ultimate principle of unity immanent within that community. This is no more inherently idealist than the solidarity that may bind the oppressed together.
In summary, Hegel often did talk of Spirit in terms that suggest a supersubject. The metaphysics involved in such picture-thinking is indeed incompatible with a materialist ontology. But in Hegel's own terms such talk- properly has no place within a strictly philosophical framework.
Philosophically such talk refers to the claim that the content of the theory unfolds immanently. As we shall see below, Marx too made this sort of claim.
The conclusion of this section is that Hegel's dialectical methodology is not as antithetical to materialist considerations as is often thought. As we shall see in the next chapter there are good reasons to contrast Hegel's "idealism" with Marx's "materialism." But they do not involve, the fundamental method whereby Hegel constructed his dialectical theory.
It has been somewhat artificial to discuss Hegel's method in abstraction from the content of his system. After all, it is one of his central tenets that method and content cannot be separated. We now must try to incorporate the content of Hegel's system into our discussion.
Hegel's system is a reconstruction of the real process (the object realm) in thought, in order to capture its inner intelligibility. It does this by taking the fundamental determinations of the object realm and then noting that these categories define structures that are either structures of simple unity, or of difference, or of unity-in-difference. These structures can then be systematically ordered such that a linear progression of categories is constructed that moves in a step-by-step fashion from simple and abstract determinations to categories that are complex and concrete. The positing and overcoming of dialectical contradictions is the motor of this movement. We can begin to flesh out the content of this system by distinguishing the three main categorial regions: the logical, the natural, and the spiritual. The most distinctive feature of-the logical realm is that categorial structures falling here are ultimately structures of simple unity, or in Hegel's own language tithe distinctive feature of the logical Idea is immediate, simple being-within-self." This means that here we find a series of principles considered in themselves, apart from any real embodiments they may have in the natural or spiritual realms. In other words, for Hegel the realm of the logical refers to a systematic ordering of pure (formal) ontological structures.
Although the region of the logical as a whole is characterised by simple unity, reconstructing this region in thought is a matter of explicating a dialectic of basic ontological structures. Within the logical realm there are three fundamental sorts of structures. The first is described with the category of being (Sein). This is a category of simple unity because the basic structure here is one of an aggregate of isolated and self-contained entities, each of which is treated as a simple unity in itself.
Hegel argues that this one-tiered ontology is quite impoverished. Each isolated entity is supposedly a complete unity in itself. But each is confronted with others "outside" it, and would not be what it is without those others. An adequate determination of an entity requires an acknowledgment of its necessary interconnection with other entities. It must be acknowledged that there are principles which underlie the different units, connecting them together. In this manner a two-tiered ontology is formed, a more complex ontological structure with two poles. The first is the pole of the different unities or beings. The second pole is that of the essence (Wesen) that subsumes those separate beings under common principles.
Although the essence pole does unite different unities under it, the dominant characteristic of this structure is the difference between the two poles. This difference can be expressed in a number of ways. The essence pole can claim a priority that reduces the realm of beings to its mere appearances. Or the essence pole, the moment of unity, could be relatively extrinsic to the beings, such that the unity tends to break down and fragment.
In the final section, the notion (Begriff), Hegel introduces categories that allow for a mediation between these two levels, a unity-in-difference in which each pole remains distinct from the other while being reconciled within a structured totality. Differences here are no longer "swallowed up" by the pole of unity, or unity is no longer unstable and constantly in danger of fragmenting, the twin dangers within essence structures. Instead different individuals retain their autonomy within a unity strong enough to maintain them. The categories on the level of Begriff thus allow us to describe a complex ontological structure characterised by a reciprocal affirmation of different individuals within a common unity. This unity is both distinct from and united with the individuals. A notion structure is characterised by a harmonious reconciliation between universal and individual.
The remainder of Hegel's system, which reconstructs the natural and the spiritual realms in thought, is termed by Hegel Realphilosophie. Here we hive a progression of structures in which categorial-ontological forms discussed in the Logic have what can be termed "real embodiments."
This last phrase requires some comment. As we have seen, Hegel allows for an irreducible contingency in the world. In his language, the "actual" must be distinguished from the merely "existent." In existence there ire always a plurality of contingent factors. These are the concern of ordinary life and of the empirical sciences. But the philosopher is not concerned with the great number of variations possible in existence. In Hegel's view the philosopher's task is to grasp the inner nature of things. Only those individual existences that measure up to their nature count as "actual" in Hegel's sense of the term. Thus we cannot discover the actual by simply noting what is given in existence. Instead we must formulate pure types in thought. Such thought constructs are categories. These categories of Realphilosophie are constructed with the aid of the pure categories taken from the Logic. In this sense they are "real embodiments" of the latter.
In this work I shall not be concerned with the natural realm beyond simply noting that for Hegel it is characterised in terms of difference or "externality." In contrast, in a reconstruction in thought of the spiritual realm the structures defined will be ones of unity-in-difference. This means that they are structures which in principle allow for a reconciliation between universal and individual. But this reconciliation can occur to a greater or lesser extent, and so we can trace a dialectic of the basic forms of the spiritual realm. Since Hegel defines freedom in terms of this reconciliation, the stages of the dialectic moving from the less adequate spiritual forms to more adequate ones are steps in the "liberation" of spirit: "The several steps of this activity, on each of which , with their semblance of being, it is the function of the finite mind to linger, and through which it has to pass, are steps in its liberation. In the full truth of that liberation is given the identification of the three stages-finding a world presupposed before us, generating a world as our own creation, and gaining freedom from it and in it." These three stages are termed by Hegel subjective spirit, objective spirit, and absolute spirit, respectively.
Since our main interest is the influence of Hegel on Capital, the level of objective spirit is where we must focus. This is the section of the philosophy of spirit where Hegel presents his theory of institutions. Here too any attempt at completeness is out of the question. Instead I shall stress only the categories of " right, " "civil society, " and "state. " Since these categories are fairly familiar, the account can be brief.
On the level of abstract right, with its subcategories of private property, contract, and right and wrong, we have a structure articulated wherein isolated individual wills have relations to specific objects and come into external relationships with each other in order to exchange these objects in contracts. Each individual claims to be independent and self-sufficient. We clearly have here a real embodiment of Seinslogik, a structure of social ontology that can be made intelligible in terms of Hegel's category of being. The breakdown of this stage consists precisely in the fact that in this structure each individual unity is necessarily connected to others and would not be what it is were it without these others. There is no property, for instance, without the acknowledgment of others. And yet these others remain external to the unity of the individual. This is a dialectical contradiction of the sort discussed above. We therefore have systematic motivation to make a transition to a higher level unity which can incorporate these differences within it. This brings us to the level of morality, where a moral code unifies the many different subjects standing under it. Here the different individual subjects do acknowledge their mediation under a moral system that unites them. In this sense the moral system is their essence. With this formulation of the moral community we have passed from the level of Sein to that of Wesen. However a new structural problem arises now. The unifying essential pole, the moral system, proves unable to hold the individual within its unity. Each individual subject can formulate his or her own interpretation of morality. This threatens to fragment the moral community into a mere aggregate of individuals. This would count as a retreat back to a social ontology based on a Seinslogik. If this is to be avoided, we must move to a new categorial level where a unity is articulated that is more substantive, i.e. that can prevent this fragmentation of the community. This can be done only if the different individuals are unified within institutions. The next level of categories, ethical life (Sittlichkeit), includes the family, civil society, and the state. These are all institutional structures within which different individuals are united in a substantial fashion. The move from morality to ethical life thus roughly (but good enough for our purposes) maps the transition from Wesen to Begriff, from essence to notion.
Skipping over Hegel's discussion of the family, civil society is a unity wherein different individuals are explicitly united in a division of labor in which each one, in working for himself, in reality is working for all. The institutional working of the market in a socially wide system of reciprocal need satisfaction unites the different individuals in a more stable fashion than shared allegiance to a moral code could ever do. But in civil society the unity and difference poles are not fully in harmony. On the one hand the unity operates in a blind fashion over the individuals through the laws of the market. On the other hand the different individuals and groups are only externally connected, being primarily concerned with their own private interests. These tensions in the structure of civil society lead Hegel to the category of the state. Here the unity of the community is consciously articulated in the sovereign, and the mechanisms of political association and citizenship educate the individual to concern for and participation within the social whole. In this manner Hegel believes that within the institutional form of the modern state different individual citizens can in principle consciously affirm their unity within the political community.
At this point three brief comments are in order. Each introduces a central theme of the following study. First, it is important to stress one final time that Hegel's system provides an immanent progression of categories. One category of necessity leads to another through the positing and overcoming of dialectical contradictions. The theory does not tell the story of any real historical subject maintaining its continuity in a historical process evolving from abstract right through civil society to the state. Instead we have a logical progression. Structurally, the unity that is civil society incorporates true differences with it, and thus is a more advanced structure than that of the isolated individual wills on the level of abstract right. But it fails to unify these differences adequately. Dialectical logic thus necessitates a new structure, captured in a new categorial determination, in which unity and difference are united in a deeper fashion. The transition to the state thus is a logical one accomplished in the process of thought rather than in a real historical process, although it is claimed that this reconstruction of sociopolitical categories begins with an appropriation of the real process and culminates with a grasp of the inner nature of that real process.
Second, categorial theories of this sort are by no means value free. They inherently have a normative, practical component. When a structure from the realm of Realphilosophie is interpreted in terms of a categorial structure taken from the Logic, this necessarily involves an evaluation of it. To the extent that the categorial structures of being (Sein) or of essence (Wesen) are applicable to it, the evaluation must ultimately be negative. In so far as it is a real embodiment of a notion (Begriff) structure, the evaluation must be affirmative. On the level of spirit the earlier categories fix structures within which relatively simpler and more abstract forms of freedom are possible, while within the structures that can be grasped in notion terms, more complex and concrete forms of freedom are in principle possible.
Third, the categorisation (and therefore the evaluation) of a stage in the Realphilosophie is a quite complex matter. There is no one-to-one correspondence between a category in the Logic and one in the Realphilosophie. In so far as "civil society" is part of the spiritual realm, as opposed to the logical or the natural realms, it is a structure of unity-in-difference where categories on the level of the notion are applicable. But in so far as it is on the level of objective spirit, categories of essence are applicable, since according to Hegel no ultimately satisfactory reconciliation of unity and difference, universal and individual, is possible prior to the level of absolute spirit. However within the realm of objective spirit "civil society" is a determination on the level of ethical life (Sittlichkeit) as opposed to abstract right and morality. As such it is a structure to which notion categories are applicable. But relative to the state it contains a stress on particularity (private self-interest) that cannot be integrated seamlessly with the unified community. In this emphasis on the element of difference, civil society attains only a relative universality, and essence (Wesen) categories are in order.
Unfortunately there is not space to go into Hegel's system in any more detail. For our purposes it is sufficient at this point to have won a tough idea of what a category is, of Hegel's concept of "contradiction" and dialectical transition, of the role of material considerations in Hegel's theory, and of the outlines of Hegel's system. It is now time to establish that all this has some relevance to Marx's masterwork.