News and Letters Newspaper banner

From the Writings of Raya Dunayevskaya: Marxist-Humanist Archives
May, 1999

Rough Notes on Hegel's SCIENCE OF LOGIC
Part 4: Doctrine of NOTION

Editor's Note: The following concludes our four-part publication of Raya Dunayevskaya's detailed commentary on Hegel's SCIENCE OF LOGIC. It was written in 1961 and appears in print for the first time.

The Logic is one of Hegel's most important works and was of great service to Marx, especially in the writing of CAPITAL. It has taken on new importance in light of the need to comprehend the logic of contemporary capitalism and the struggles against it. These notes serve as an anchor of a nationwide series of classes News and Letters Committees is holding on "The Dialectic of Marx's CAPITAL and Today's Global Crises."

All material in brackets as well as footnotes have been supplied by the editors. "SLI" and "SLII" refer to the text of the SCIENCE OF LOGIC translated by Johnston and Struthers in two volumes (Macmillan, 1929); "SLM" refers to the translation by A.V. Miller (Humanities Press, 1969). "LCW 38" refers to Lenin's 1914-15 commentary on Hegel's Logic, the first such study done by a Marxist.

Dunayevskaya's text has been slightly shortened, indicated by the use of ellipses. The original can be found in THE RAYA DUNAYEVSKAYA COLLECTION, 2806.

by Raya Dunayevskaya, founder of Marxist-Humanism in the U.S.

Volume II(1):

Subjective Logic or the Doctrine of the Notion

With the Notion, we reach, at one and the same time, that which in philosophic terms is oldest, most written about, and purely intellectualistic; and, from a Marxist point of view, least written about, most "feared" as idealistic, unreal, "pure" thought-in a word, a closed ontology.

And yet it is the Doctrine of the Notion that develops the categories of Freedom and, therefore, should mean the objective and subjective means whereby a new society is born. It is true that CONSCIOUSLY for Hegel this was done only in thought, while in life contradictions persisted. But what was for Hegel consciously does not explain away the objective pull of the future on the present, and the present as history (the French Revolution for Hegel), and not just as the status quo of an existing state. Be that as it [may], let's follow Hegel himself.

Before we reach Section One, there is the Introductory "On the Notion in General." We will meet in Lenin constant references to Marx's CAPITAL from now on. Thus, in this early section, Lenin notes that Hegel is entirely right as against Kant on the question of thought NOT separating from truth, but going toward it, as it emerges from the Concrete and moves to the Abstract: "Abstraction of MATTER, of natural LAW, of VALUE, etc., in a word, ALL scientific (correct, serious, not absurd) abstractions reflect nature more deeply, truer, FULLER. From living observation to abstract thinking, and from this to practice-such is the dialectic road to knowledge of truth, the knowledge of objective reality. Kant degrades knowledge in order to make place for belief; Hegel elevates knowledge believing that knowledge is knowledge of God. The materialist elevates knowledge of matter, of nature, throwing God and the philosophic rabble defending him into the dung heap" [LCW 38, p. 171].

The section to which Lenin refers in Hegel is "It will always remain a matter for astonishment how the Kantian philosophy knew that relation of thought to sensuous existence, where it halted, for a merely relative relation of bare appearance, and fully acknowledged and asserted a higher unity of the two in the Idea in general, and, particularly, in the idea of an intuitive understanding; but yet stopped dead at this relative relation and at the assertion that the Notion is and remains utterly separated from reality;-so that it affirmed as true what it pronounced to be finite knowledge, and declared to be superfluous and improper figments of thought that which it recognized as truth, and of which it established the definite notion" [SLII, p. 226; SLM, p. 592].

It could also be said that Khrushchev's "peaceful coexistence" and Kant's indifferent coexistence of Absolute and the Particular or Reason and Understanding coincide also in the fact that Kant does see a dialectical relationship between the two, unlike Leibniz, who saw only harmony arising from it.

Section One: Subjectivity

Chapter I: Notion

The forms of the Notion are: Universal, Particular, Individual. These three forms of Notion are the categories which express development in this entire book, even as in the Doctrine of Essence it was the categories of Identity, Difference and Contradiction; and in Being, it was Quantity, Quality and Measure, with this difference: that the movement in the Doctrine of the Notion from Universal to Particular to Individual could characterize the movement of all three books of the SCIENCE OF LOGIC, thus, Being standing for Universal, Particular standing for Essence, and Individual standing for Notion.

It is this first meeting with U-P-I that makes Lenin say that it reminds him of Marx's first chapter in CAPITAL. Not only that; he begins immediately thereafter (that is, after dealing with chapter II-Judgment-and in the Approach to chapter III on Syllogism) to make the famous aphorism: (1) Relating to the relationship between Abstract and Concrete: "Just as the simple value form, the individual act of exchange of a given commodity with another already includes in undeveloped form all major contradictions of capitalism-so the simplest generalization, the first and simplest forming of notions (judgments, syllogisms, etc.) signifies the ever-greater knowledge of the objective world connections. Here it is necessary to seek the real sense, significance and role of Hegelian logic" [LCW 38, pp. 178-79]. (2) Where he rejects Plekhanov as a vulgar materialist, or at least having criticized Kant only as a vulgar materialist. (3) Includes himself when he says that all Marxists at the beginning of the twentieth century had done so. (4) And where he concludes that it is impossible to understand CAPITAL without understanding the whole of Hegel's LOGIC. (The friends should reread the whole chapter on Lenin in MARXISM AND FREEDOM.)

I have had to skip a great deal which at another time must be studied more carefully, both on the question of the Judgment-where Hegel lists four major forms and a total of twelve for a sub-section-and the syllogism, where we have three major sections, each containing four sub-sections. It is not only because I am hurrying to get to the sections which have not been dealt with in any great detail by Marxists, but because for OUR age this section on Subjectivity is not the subjectivity which has absorbed all objectivity and which we will first read in the Absolute Idea. One phrase from the last paragraph in Hegel's section on the Syllogism will, however, be of the Essence: "The Syllogism is Mediation-the complete Notion in its Positedness" [SLII, p. 342; SLM, p. 704]. The key word is Mediation. It is of the Essence in all thought, as well as in all struggles. Indeed, it could be said that mediation IS the conflict of forces. For example, all of Essence could be summed up in the word Mediation, or, if instead of Essence, you're thinking concretely of production in CAPITAL, then of course it is production relations. So that what U-P-I does in showing the GENERAL movement in LOGIC, mediation is the CONCRETE struggle and appears in ALL three books: in Being, it is Measure, which is, of course, the threshold of Essence; in Essence, it is Actuality, or more specifically, Causality which, as Reciprocity, brings us to the threshold of Notion; in Notion, it is Action, Practice, which supersedes Subjectivity of Purpose and THUS achieves unity of Theory and Practice.

Section Two: Objectivity

The three chapters in this section-I, Mechanism; II, Chemism; III, Teleology-are devastating analyses of Bukharin's HISTORICAL MATERIALISM over one hundred years before it was ever written...(2)

For us, what is important is Lenin's profound understanding in 1914, AS AGAINST the period when HE gave the green light to vulgar materialism with his MATERIALISM AND EMPIRIO-CRITICISM, of the fact that the mechanical, chemical and even teleological-that is to say, subjectively purposeful-are no substitute for the SELF-DEVELOPING subject. Lenin notes here that Hegel laid the basis for historical materialism, quoting Hegel's statement "In his tools man possesses power over external nature, even although, according to his Ends, he frequently is subjected to it. But the End does not only remain outside the Mechanical process: it also preserves itself within it, and is its determination. The End, as the Notion which exists as free against the object and its process and is self-determining activity, equally is the truth which is in and for itself of Mechanism. . ." [SLII, p. 388; SLM, p. 747].

Lenin further defends Hegel for his seeming strain to "subsume" the purposeful activity of man under the category of logic because, as Lenin states it: "There is here a very deep content, purely materialistic. It is necessary to turn this around; the practical activity of man billions of times must bring the consciousness of man to the repetition of the various logical figures, in order that these should achieve the significance of an AXIOM" [LCW 38, p. 190].

I believe that Hegel here is criticizing what we will much later in history know as The Plan. Intellectual planning, or what Hegel would call "Self-Determination applied externally,"(3) is certainly no substitute for the self-developing subject, not even as idealistically expressed by Hegel in the Absolute Idea.

Section Three: The Idea

Lenin notes that the introductory section to this is very nearly the best description of the dialectic. It is in this section that we will go through chapter I on Life; chapter II on the Idea of Cognition, which will not only deal with Analytic and Synthetic Cognition, but will take up the question of Practice, Volition, the Idea of the True and the Idea of the Good; and finally, chapter III on the Absolute Idea.

It is the section in which Lenin will write, although he will not develop it, that "man's cognition not only reflects the world, but creates it" [LCW 38, p. 212]. He will also stress over and over and over again totality, Inter-dependence of Notions of ALL Notions, RELATIONSHIPS, Transitions, Unity of Opposites and various ways of defining dialectics from the single expression that it is the transformation of one into its opposite, to the more elaborate threefold definition of dialectic, as including Determination, Contradiction and Unity; and finally, the sixteen-point definition of dialectic, which passes through Objectivity, Development, Struggle and finally Negation of the Negation.

Lenin will also do a lot of "translations" of the word Idea, the word Absolute, which in some places he uses as no different than Objective, but in other places as the unity of Objective and Subjective. It is obvious that Lenin is very greatly moved by the fact that Practice occupies so very great a place in Hegel, but feels that, nevertheless, this practice is limited to the theory of knowledge. I do not believe so. (See my original letters on the Absolute Idea, May 12 and 20, 1953.)(4)

Let's retrace our steps back to the beginning of this whole section on the Idea. Hegel argues against the expression "MERELY IDEAS: now if thoughts are merely subjective and contingent they certainly have no further value. . . And if conversely the Idea is not to be rated as true because, with respect to phenomena, it is transcendent, and no object can be assigned to it, in the sensuous world, to which it conforms, this is a strange lack of understanding, for so the Idea is denied objective validity because it lacks that which constitutes appearance, or the untrue being of the objective world" [SLII, p. 396; SLM, p. 756]. Hegel gives Kant credit for having rejected this "vulgar appeal" to experience, and recognized the objective validity of thought-only to never have thought and reality meet. Hegel breaks down the Determinations of Idea as, first, Universal; second, a relationship of Subjectivity to Objectivity, which is an impulse to transcend the separation; and finally, the self-identity of Identity and Process so that "in the Idea the Notion reaches Freedom..." [SLII, p. 399; SLM, p. 759].

On that same page, he states, in very materialistic terms indeed, that the "Idea has its reality in some kind of matter." Hegel will then take idea through Life through what he calls the Idea of the True and the Good as Cognition and Volition.

In the Idea of Cognition, Hegel will inform us that his PHENOMENOLOGY OF MIND is a science which stands between Nature and Mind, which in a way seems contradictory since it has served as the "introduction" to his LOGIC, and he will further summarize it when he comes to the PHILOSOPHY OF MIND.

He will hit out a great deal sharper at Jacobi than at Kant, although he gives Jacobi credit for showing that the Kantian method of demonstration is "simply bound within the circle of the rigid necessity of the finite, and that freedom (that is, the Notion, and whatever is true) lies beyond its sphere and scope" [SLII, p. 458; SLM, p. 816].

But he gets less and less interested in other philosophers, the more he reaches the question of Freedom, Liberation, Unity of Theory and Practice: "In this result then Cognition is reconstructed and united with the Practical Idea; the actuality which is found as given is at the same time determined as the realized absolute end, -not however (as in inquiring Cognition) merely as objective world without the subjectivity of the Notion, but as objective world whose inner ground and actual persistence is the Notion. This is THE ABSOLUTE IDEA" [SLII, p. 465; SLM, p. 823].

This is because, in reaching this final chapter, the Absolute Idea, he is through with all which we would politically describe as "taking over"; that is to say, capitalism will develop all technology so perfectly for us that all the proletariat will have to do will be to "take over." As we reject this concept politically, Hegel rejects it philosophically. He has now so absorbed all the other systems that, far from taking over, he is first going back to a TOTALLY NEW BEGINNING.

Here is what I mean: Take a philosopher like Spinoza. Despite his profound dialectical understanding that "every determination is a negation," he went to God taking over. This concept of Absolute, Absolute Substance, Hegel rejects, even as he rejects the Absolute Ego of Fichte and Schelling, and the Absolute of the General Good Will of Kant. Note how every single time, in no matter which section of the LOGIC you take, [when] Hegel reaches an absolute for that stage, he throws it aside to start out all over again. So that when he reaches the Notion, he is dealing with it as a new beginning AFTER he rejected Absolute Substance, and that even his Notion has the dialectic of further development; indeed Universal, Particular, Individual is the absolute Mediation, or the development of the LOGIC.

If, for example, we stop in the Absolute Idea at the Expression: "the self-determination in which alone the Idea is, is to hear itself speak" [SLII, p. 467; SLM, p. 825], we can see that the whole Logic (both logic and LOGIC) is a logic of self-determination and never more so than at the VERY POINT when you have reached an Absolute-say, growing internationalization of capital. You then go NOT to taking over, but breaking it down to the new beginning in the self-determination of nations; or when the state had reached the high stage of centralization, you most certainly do not go to taking over, but rather to the destruction of the state.

Hegel can reach these anticipations of the future because a very truly great step in philosophic cognition is made only when a new way of reaching freedom has become possible, as it had with the French Revolution. If at that point you do not cramp your thoughts, then you will first be amazed on how very close to reality-the reality of the present which includes the elements of the future-thought really is.

To me, that is why Hegel makes so much of the method. It is not because that is all we get from Hegel-method-but because the end and the means are absolutely inseparable. Thus, on p. 468, Hegel writes: "The method therefore is both soul and substance, and nothing is either conceived or known in its truth except in so far as it is completely subject to the method; it is the peculiar method of each individual fact because its activity is the Notion." It isn't true, for example, as Lenin stated, that Hegel ended this chapter at the point [SLII, p. 485; SLM, p. 843] where Notion and reality unite AS NATURE, which Lenin translated to mean as Practice. In this final paragraph, Hegel proceeds on to show the link back from Nature to Mind, and of course we know that those two transitions were in themselves two full books.(5)

Or as Hegel puts it: "The transition here therefore must rather be taken to mean that the Idea freely releases itself in absolute self-security and self-repose. By reason of this freedom the form of its determinateness also is utterly free-the externality of space and time which is absolutely for itself and without subjectivity" [SLII, p. 486; SLM, p. 843].

Marcuse thinks that it is this statement about the Idea releasing itself freely as Nature, "this statement of putting the transition forward as an actual process in reality that offers great difficulty in the understanding of Hegel's system."(6) But he himself doesn't attempt to overcome these difficulties. On the contrary, he disregards them, accepting the idea that it is a closed ontology and the best we can do is take this method and use it as a critical theory.

One thing is clear to me, that when Hegel wrote that the "transcendence of the opposition between Notion and Reality, and that unity which is the truth, rests upon this subjectivity alone" [SLII, p. 477; SLM, p. 835], the subjectivity was certainly not to be that of the philosopher, despite all of Hegel's hopes that it would be, but that of a new, lower, deeper layer of "world spirit," or, to be specific, the proletariat and those freedom-fighters in backward Africa, who just will freedom so much that they make it come true. For what happens after [the revolution], however, that truth must arise not only from the movement from Practice, but also that FROM THEORY. The negation of the negation will not be a generality, not even the generality of a new society for the old, but the specific of self-liberation, which is the humanism of the human BEING, as well as his philosophy.


  1. Although the Doctrine of the Notion or Subjective Logic is, Hegel writes, "the third part of the whole" [SLII, p. 209; SLM, p. 575] it was originally published as volume two of the SCIENCE OF LOGIC in 1816. Parts One and Two, the Doctrine of Being and the Doctrine of Essence were first published four years earlier in volume one, entitled "The Objective Logic."
  2. Nikolai Bukharin, HISTORICAL MATERIALISM: A SYSTEM OF SOCIOLOGY (New York: International Publishers, 1925). This work was attacked for its "positivistic Aristotelianism" by Antonio Gramsci. See Gramsci, SELECTIONS FROM PRISON NOTEBOOKS (New York: International Publishers, 1971), p. 437.
  3. Dunayevskaya has here apparently shortened the phrase "self-determination is applied to them only externally" [SLII, p. 391; SLM, p. 750].
  4. These letters are included in THE PHILOSOPHIC MOMENT OF MARXIST-HUMANISM (Chicago: News and Letters, 1989).
  6. Marcuse, REASON AND REVOLUTION, p. 166.