Evald Ilyenkov 1973

Hegel and the Problem of the Subject Matter of Logic

First Published: in Filosofia Gegelia I sovremennost, ed. L. N. Suvorov.
Source: Intelligent Materialism. Essays on Hegel and Dialectics. Evald Ilyenkov, published by Haymarket Books, 2020.
Translated: and edited by Evgeni V. Pavlov.
Copyleft: Brill Academic Publishers. Used with permission of the editor and translator.

In the history of logic as science, i.e. in the work of scientific understanding of human thinking, Hegel played the most edifying role, in many ways reminiscent of the fate of Napoleon. Having gathered in his person all the might of the revolutionary energy that was suffering under the heavy burden of the inveterate forms of thinking, Hegel destroyed the armies of the advocates of the former, purely formal, conception of thinking, created the new logical empire, but in the end (although after his untimely death) was forced to give up all of the conquered territory, having suffered defeat in the battle against the forces of those same prejudices from the power of which he was unable to free the world, because he did not first free himself from them. Revolution and dialectics do not forgive the betrayal of their principles even to their greatest champions. Like Napoleon, Hegel deserved his fate. And, in some sense, history chose analogous institutions in order to exact its revenge.

The Vienna Congress deposed the usurper who, with the use of revolutionary armies, dared to dream of forcing his entry into the old family of legitimate rulers, and these dwarf-kings could not forgive him his attempt. The ‘Vienna Circle’ treated Hegel the same way when it declared in a series of verdicts all of Hegel’s conquests in the realm of logic as science illegitimate, and Hegel himself a person not worthy of mention in the history of logic, except as an example of illegitimate, anti-scientific and nonsensical interpretation of its subject matter.

The neopositivist attitude toward Hegel’s revolution in conceptualising the very essence of the logical science is understandable. Hegel so thoroughly undermined the authority and the prestige of the obvious axiomatic prejudices of the formal understanding of thinking and its tasks that the latter could only secure its position under the condition of completely ignoring Hegel’s logic and his understanding of thinking.

The defenders of the purely formal approach to logic unanimously reproach Hegel for unacceptably widening the scope of the subject matter of logical science so as to include within it things that are located outside of thinking and that exist before and completely independently of thinking, understood here in its strictest sense as one of the mental capacities of a human individual.

At first glance, this accusation is absolutely justified and Hegel himself gives a serious reason for it when he defines the subject matter of logic as ‘divine thinking’ and logic us ‘the exposition of God as he is in his eternal essence before the creation of nature and of a finite spirit’.[1] Naturally, with such an extended and mystical conceptualisation of thinking, the realm of this concept includes the whole of God’s world of things and events, understood as a grandiose external embodiment of the creative force of the mightily supernatural and superhuman ‘thought’, as its external visually given manifestation or ‘explication’...

Hegel’s expressions, analogous to the one cited above, have always proved an easy target for formal, that is superficial, ‘critique’ of his conception, critique that was mostly reduced to complaints and abuse directed at passages taken out of context. This so-called ‘critique’ has only one goal – to discredit the thinker and his ideas, and it does not contain any real intention of discerning the subject matter addressed and described by these clearly inadequate passages. As far as genuine constructive critique is concerned, it is this intention and its exposition that is the only important thing.

Hegel’s phrases about ‘God’ should under no circumstances be understood literally. According to the philosopher’s own explanation, they mostly played an allegorical role with which he was hoping to be more ‘accessible’ to his contemporaries. The ‘God’ that Hegel had in mind shared very little with his traditional religious namesake (even though there were similarities, and perhaps more than just similarities, between the two). We must not forget that even the Orthodox Christian Lord is not a simple fiction, not a representation i if some ‘non-existent thing’, but an inadequate representation of something very real, that is to say, it is an image (reflection) of that real power that misunderstood and misperceived forces of the social development have over people. It is the people’s collective forces that are conceived as standing against them ns something alien and even hostile, and not only in their fantasy... If we do not forget this, then Hegel’s theological allegories become clear to us who underpaid that there is no God, but also that there is a real – indeed devilishly real – power of collective human forces over an individual with his individual consciousness. This power (under certain circumstances bound to become tyrannical) is understood, one way or another, adequately or inadequately, by that Individual, and having been understood, it becomes the most important component of his subjective thinking, it becomes the regulative scheme of his reflections, his judgments.

Under the pseudonym ‘God’ we find in Hegel’s logic the exact description of Ibis real power of the collective (social) forces (or active capacities) of an Individual taken not as ?n isolated individual, but as an individual in the web i if social connections with other individuals, as a ‘totality of all social relations’.

And if ‘thinking’ is understood as thinking of this, and not some mythically isolated Individual, then in Hegel’s propositions concerning the subject matter of logic there is discerned a truth deeper than that superficial ‘truth’ according to which Hegel’s logic represents a new rendition of an old religious tune or a theology dressed up in logical terminology.

If we take all of this into consideration, then Hegel’s concept of ‘thinking’ that at first appears (from the point of view of ‘common sense’) inexcusably too general turns out to be a much deeper and more serious understanding of real human thinking, much closer to truth than the ideas of ‘commonsensical’ positivists and their ilk.

If we take a closer look at Hegel’s understanding of thinking, it turns out that all of the (neo)positivist ideas about thinking are also found in it but only as moments, as shades and aspects of it, and in the exact same form as they are discussed in the neopositivist ‘logic’. It turns out that in his analysis of the concept of ‘thinking’, Hegel perfectly understands and takes into consideration the neopositivist conceptual apparatus and, more than that, he restores to its rightful place that most fundamental prejudice that for centuries formed the basis for all the formal, i.e. formalistic, fantasies about thinking and about the nature of the laws that human thought obeys. This is in fact a very characteristic move for Hegel – while undermining the authority and the prestige of crusty old prejudices, including religious (Christian) and monarchical ones, he then, with the help of the rotations of the cycles of his dialectic, inconspicuously ‘justifies’ all of these prejudices, interpreting them as necessary ‘moments’ of the absolute truth. He burns down the ancient aberration in the fire of his dialectic in order to once again bring it back to life from the ashes in its original state, if only as a ‘moment’ of truth and not as the whole truth.

Let us leave for now Hegel’s statements about God, absolute spirit and divine concept and consider his understanding of thinking in those moments that directly touch on the human, and only human, thinking. If we do so, we will see in this thinking those points, or more precisely gaps or seams where Hegel was forced to appeal to God, to seek salvation in the ‘absolute spirit’ and other mystical attributes of his philosophy, all because he could not find any other explanation for some principally important peculiarities of the real human thinking. In general, no one appeals to God unless they have to.

‘That thinking is the subject matter of logic, we are all agreed’, writes Hegel in The Encyclopaedia Logic.[2] Furthermore and quite logically, logic us a science is defined as ‘thinking about thinking’, ‘thought thinking itself’.

There is nothing specifically Hegelian or specifically idealist in this definition. It is quite simply the most traditional understanding of the subject matter of logic as a science, taken to its clearest expression. This is the same way every logician has understood the essence of his science – the subject matter of scientific thinking is, unlike in any other science, this very thinking.

But this particular understanding only more sharply demonstrates the necessity to answer the main question: but what is thinking?

We are not, of course, talking about a definition since the only satisfactory answer to the above question would be an extensive explication of the ‘essence of the matter’, i.e. a concretely elaborated theory of thinking, the science of thinking – logic.[3]

However, in every science, including logic, a preliminary definition is necessary in order to delimit the boundaries of the forthcoming study and to indicate l he criterion according to which the facts for investigation are to be selected. And Hegel provides such a preliminary exposition without hiding it from his readers as was done and is done by many authors of books on logic who prefer lo dismiss this most important point with vague generalities.

And he does it in the form of the critical analysis of the existing views regarding the science of logic – not only a legitimate but also perhaps the only possible way it can be done as a science. Such analysis does not throw these views out as ‘false’, but explains them as reasonable but insufficient. Such is Hegel’s attitude toward the widespread (and not only among the expert logicians) current understanding of thinking as one of many mental capacities of a human individual, as a capacity that is not unlike other capacities such as memory, will, vision, touch or smell, as a capacity to give attention or form a representation, and so on and so forth.

Such understanding, justified and legitimate in psychology, immediately becomes unacceptably narrow and therefore false as soon as it is transferred, without any correction, into logic.

In reality, when thinking is understood this way, willingly or unwillingly a rather doubtful premise is accepted, a kind of premise that were it articulated and clearly formulated would not have been as easily accepted by most people.

Namely, it is a premise that thinking is understood as something like internal speech, like a silent monologue, and therefore thinking is studied only inasmuch as it is expressed or is expressible in the form of external speech – either as oral or as written ‘explication’. It is this ancient and, at first glance, most ‘natural’ understanding of thinking, widespread precisely due to this seeming naturalness, that underlies a large number of logical theories. Historically it first appeared among the Sophists, and it found its finished form among the Stoics who quite distinctly expressed it as the fundamental axiom of ‘logical’ investigations. The neopositivists did not invent anything new here.[4] They only equipped this ancient prejudice with a pedantic and quasi-scientific form of expression. In essence this is the same prejudice according to which our thinking may be and must be investigated only in the verbal form of its ‘external manifestation’. It is not very far from this view to the view that a ‘concept’ is a ‘term’ or a ‘signifying sign’ and the ‘judgment’ is an ‘utterance’ or a ‘sentence'; ‘thinking’ obviously begins to be understood as a process or, more precisely, a procedure of ‘constructing utterances’ and ‘systems of utterances’, while ‘reflection’ is presented as a ‘calculation of utterances’. Everything is very simple and very neat, but in the same degree it is also very impoverished.

Thinking, as such, therefore disappears entirely from our field of vision and instead we are investigating ‘language’ – ‘language of science’, ‘language of art’, and so on and so forth. And the rest, all that does not fit the concept of ‘language’, is delegated to other departments this to psychology, that to ‘epistemology’ or ‘semantics’ and so forth. Logic is thus successfully transformed into a section of the science of language, or word[5] – luckily the word ‘logos’ to which the term ‘logic’ traces its lineage in its original etymology means ‘word’ and thus the interpretation of thinking under consideration assumes the appearance of an entirely legitimate and historically informed view.

It is this prejudice that constitutes the main axiom and the cornerstone of i lie neopositivist understanding of logic and thinking that Hegel destabilises with his analysis of thinking by simply taking it to its clearest presentation. In this form the prejudice obviously does not agree with the fact of real human blinking the course of which is determined in great measure by factors more powerful than ‘linguistic structures’. Here we find ‘things’ about which one thinks and speaks, ‘practical motives’ of one’s thinking, width of the thinking person’s horizon, and many other things – all that which, according to the formal approach to thinking, ‘has nothing to do with logic’. If that is the case, l hen such ‘logic’ has nothing to do with real human thinking. The latter turns out to be entirely ‘illogical’. Logic here cannot be a science of real laws of real human thinking but at best turns out to be a system of rules that ‘must be’ or ‘may be’ followed but are, unfortunately, broken at every step. More than that, rules’ can be established and cancelled arbitrarily and according to some legitimate but equally arbitrary agreement, that is ‘conventionally'; thus logic loses all right to the objectivity of its recommendations, to their independence from will and consciousness of a concrete individual, and to the universality and necessity of its ‘laws’.

All of these gravely serious consequences for logic as science are necessarily arrived at, as Hegel shows with his analysis, in that initial idea that ‘thinking’ is one of the mental capacities of an individual, the so-called conscious thinking that always exhibits itself in the form of ‘internal speech’, in the form of a number of calculations done in the sphere of language and cognised in words.

Against this impoverished and superficial idea of thinking Hegel proposes a simple – and compelling in its simplicity – consideration. But who said that thinking can express itself only in speech? Is it true that speech (language) is that singular form of expression of the ability to think in which thinking may be fixed and studied in logic?

Does one not appear as a thinking being in one’s actions, one’s real deeds? Does one appear as a thinking being, as a ‘subject of thought’, only in the act of speaking?

This question is, of course, purely rhetorical.

The thinking that Hegel is talking about reveals itself in human actions no less than in words, in connections of terms and utterances that are seemingly the only thing the logician-positivist cares about. More than that, in his real actions, in the formation of things of the external world, a human being finds his ability to think in a much more adequate way than in all the narratives about those actions, in verbal self-reporting about his own thinking.[6]

Who does not know that in order to judge a person, his genuine form and manner of thinking, it is better to judge what and how he does rather than what he thinks or has to say about it?

Is it not clear that the chains of human deeds display the genuine logic of thinking in a fuller and truer manner than the chains of words or terms, the lace of phrases? Do we not have famous sayings that ‘spoken thought is a lie’ or ‘a tongue is given to a man to hide his thoughts’ or ‘only a fool takes things on a word'? We are here talking of course not about acts of deliberate lying to other people, not about deliberate concealment of truth or the ‘true state of affairs’, but about perfectly sincere and honest self-deception, about the inadequacy of a verbal self-report about one’s own thinking.

But if this is so, then actions and deeds, and therefore the consequences of these actions-deeds (things that are created by them), not only may but must be considered as ‘external forms of manifestation’ of thinking, as acts of manifestation of a capacity to think, as acts of its ‘objectification’, as acts of its realisation and ‘explication’. In logic as science it is no less important than it is in real life to take into consideration the difference between words and deeds, to compare real deeds with the verbal self-report about them, for we find in this difference also the inadequacy of the verbal self-report of ‘thinking’ about oneself in relation to real thinking, real laws of its operation.

It is this simple and yet devastating for pure formal logic consideration that Hegel puts forward against the entire former logic that in the spirit of scholastically interpreted Aristotle functionally restricted the realm of its study to the forms of verbal ‘explication’ of thinking alone.

Hegel does not go beyond the boundaries of the ‘concept of thinking’ but simply demands that the science of thinking take into consideration not only this form of its ‘external manifestation’ of a capacity to think (’thinking’), but also consider in its generalisations other, no less important (or perhaps even more important) forms of its expression, its ‘determinate being’.

Thinking manifests itself – its force, its active energy and its nature in its universal patterns and schemes – not only in speaking or in the composition of treatises, but also in the creation of the entire grandiose world of culture, the entire ‘non-organic human body’ that stands objectively over and against an individual human being, the body of civilisation, including tools and temples, statues and offices, factories and political organisations, ships and toys – all that with which we are involved from the moment we are born and enter the human family.

Thus Hegel introduces practice – the sensuous-objective human activity dint realises human intentions, plans and ideas – into logic and into the sphere of facts under investigation in it. And in that he takes a step of colossal importance in understanding the actual subject matter of logic as science, a step highly regarded by Lenin.

‘Undoubtedly, in Hegel practice serves as a link in the analysis of the process of cognition, and indeed as the transition to the objective (“absolute,” according to Hegel) truth. Marx, consequently, clearly sides with Hegel in introducing die criterion of practice in the theory of knowledge: see Theses on Feuerbach’.[7]

This is why Hegel acquires the full right to consider as a part of logic – as a part of the science of thinking – the objective determinations of things that exist outside consciousness, outside an individual mind.

And there is yet nothing idealist or mystical here since what we have here are forms ('determinations’) of things created by the purposeful activity of a social human being, i.e. the forms of his thinking, ‘embodied’ in some natural material, ‘objectified’ in it. Thus a house is an embodiment in stone of the architect’s intention, machine – an objective realisation in metal of the engineer’s thought, and so on, and the entire colossal body of civilisation (standing as something objective over against an individual and his consciousness) – as ‘thinking in its other-being’ (Anderssein). Therefore the entire history of humanity is considered here as the process of ‘external manifestation’ of the creative force of thought, the energy of thinking, as the process of realisation of ideas, concepts, plans, representations, goals and aspirations of a human being, as a process of ‘objectification’ of those logical schemes that guide purposeful human activity.

Understanding and careful analysis of this aspect of human relationship with the external world (its ‘active side’, as Marx put it) is also not yet idealism; this real aspect may be and must be understood in logic and on the ground of materialistic understanding of thinking and human activity. More than that, by introducing practice (understood, however, only as a process of the external embodiment of the previously elaborated concepts and goals, only as a ‘criterion’ of their truthfulness) into logic Hegel takes a first serious step in the direction of materialism, in the direction of understanding logical forms as a reflected in human consciousness and tested by a thousand year old history of human practice of the universal forms of development of objective reality, of the real world outside of thought. Considering thinking not only in its verbal form, but also in acts of its expression in stone and bronze, in wood and iron, and further – in the structures of social organisation, and so on, Hegel does not go ‘beyond the framework’ of the study of thinking, beyond the limits of the legitimate subject matter of logic, nor does he cease to be a logician in the strictest sense of that term.

From materialism’s point of view, Hegel deserves the opposite reproach – he continues to be a pure logician where the point of view of logic is generally insufficient. His problem is that in his analysis of the history of humanity the ‘activity of logic’ absorbs his attention so much that he ceases to see behind it the ‘logic of activity’, i.e. that determination of human activity that is entirely objective and independent of all thinking.

That is why Marx reproaches Hegel for the fact that practice as such is not considered in his philosophy at all; ‘idealism, of course, does not know real, sensuous activity as such’, notes Marx in Theses on Feuerbach,[8]

Practice – this ‘real, sensuous activity’ – is considered by Hegel not as such, but only as an external form of manifestation of thinking, only as thinking in its ‘external’ manifestation, as an act of objectification of thinking, Practice then is presented exclusively as a phase of the theoretical process, only as a criterion of truth, only as a testing ground for thinking that already took place outside, before and entirely independently of ‘practice’.

This means that practice is considered by Hegel extremely abstractly, that is to say, one-sidedly and only in those of its characteristics that connect it to thinking.

So, for example, Hegel interprets the events of the French Revolution as the process of realisation of the ideas of Enlightenment, thoughts of Rousseau and Voltaire, und the results of the Revolution – as practical consequences of the spiritual-theoretical activity of these authors. Robespierre appears here as a ‘practical Rousseau’ and the guillotine as an instrument of realisation of the Idea of ‘absolute equality’ (since all the distinctions between persons, according to Hegel, are found in their ‘heads’), and so on and so forth. In total agreement with such interpretation, the failure of Robespierre’s policies it explained as a ‘practical’ manifestation of abstraction (that is, one-sidedness, non-dialecticity) of the ideas of freedom, equality and fraternity in that form In which they were proclaimed by the ideologues of the Revolution. In other words, in his interpretation of the events of 1789-93 Hegel shares with its participants all their ideological illusions since, like them, he thinks that ideas and concepts’, having ripened in the heads of the theoreticians of the Enlightenment, were the true causes of the events.

That is why Hegel never gets to the real practical ‘causes’ of the Revolution as he simply accepts them to be what they were in their ideologically perverse Ii a m, found in the heads of Rousseau and Voltaire, and then in the phraseology of Robespierre.

This is a principally important point for understanding the entirety of 111-gel’s philosophy, not only his ‘philosophy of history’ but also his logic. While interpreting ‘practice’ exclusively as thinking in its external manifestation, i.e. as an idea (concept) embodied in space and time, Hegel cannot construct the true dialectics of human activity that expresses in its concepts the true logic of events, logic of actions, logic of the historical process.

It is precisely for this reason that the interpretation of Hegel that, for example, was proposed by Gentile and after him by existentialists, according lo which Hegel’s ‘logic’ is a scholastically expressed logic of the ‘subjective human activity’, logic of ‘acts’, passions and interests, that is to say, it is an abstract schema of the ‘subjective activity’ of human kind, and nothing more, is entirely inadequate. This interpretation – and many ‘Marxists’ were seduced by it – turns real Hegel inside out and cancels in him all that constitutes the true ‘rational kernel’ of Hegel’s logic, that is, its objectivity. Hegel is thus interpreted as a thinker who gave a pseudo-rational form to the schemes of entirely irrational ‘activity’ that obeys the play of passions, illusions, myths, purely subjective preferences, unexplained sympathies and antipathies, ‘intentions’ and the like motives. And Hegel does give a reason for such an interpretation, so the similarities in interpretation of his philosophy in Ivan Ilyin and Richard Kroner are not accidental. Nonetheless such interpretations are false. Real Hegel has it in the exact opposite way – it is not that Hegel’s logic is the scheme of human activity, understood and expressed in concepts, but human ‘activity’ in his system is the external manifestation of logic.

For genuine ‘uninterpreted’ Hegel all activity, all passions and interests, all intentions and even all whims of subjective will from the very beginning and until the very end are authoritatively ruled by the schemes of ‘Logos’, i.e. deified Concept, even if human beings themselves, in the middle of their activity, are not conscious of this (or are conscious only vaguely, inadequately, allegorically, and indirectly).

That is why the ‘chains of words’ and the ‘chains of acts’, according to Hegel, only manifest or ‘explicate’ the schemes of the concept already found in the spirit, i.e. before and independently of any ‘activity’, regardless of the material in which it is realised – in the material of ‘language’ or in the material of sensuous-objective activity, i.e. in wood or bronze, stone or uranium ore ...

It is here that we find the falsehood of Hegel’s idealism – idealism of thinking, idealism of the concept – its secret is found in a peculiar professional blindness of the ‘logician ex professo’, in the selective blindness of the professional who does not see and does not want to see anything in the world but the subject matter of his narrow and specialised science.

This view, once turned on history, on practice as such, immediately turns out to be an absolute falsehood – the falsehood of absolute idealism that sees everywhere only the ‘external forms of manifestation of the force of thinking’.

However, in regard to logic as the science of thinking (under the condition, of course, that we do not forget that we are talking about thinking and thinking only, not history) this point of view is not only acceptable, but is the only reasonable one.

It is indeed ridiculous to reproach the logician for carefully abstracting everything that does not have anything to do with his special subject matter, i.e. thinking, and only paying attention to any fact as long as that fact serves as a consequence, as a form of manifestation of his – logician’s subject matter, subject matter of his specialised concerns, subject matter of his strictly defined science!

To reproach a professional logician that the ‘subject matter of logic’ concerns him more than any other subject matter is as ridiculous as to reproach a chemist that his extreme attention to chemistry makes everything else appear insignificant. The trouble with the narrow professionalism is not found in this issue, and it is not in this sense that it is famously criticised by Marx. The trouble is in the resulting inability (connected with the abstract one sidedness of this view on things) to clearly see the limitations in competence of one s own specialised concepts.

As long as the chemist concerns himself with the ‘subject matter of chemistry’, i.e. as long as he considers all of the riches of the universe exclusively from the categories of his science (whether the subject matter is oil or gold, biological flesh of a living creature or the ‘Sistine Madonna’), there is no reason for reproach.

But as soon as he forgets his specialty and begins to think that the specialised concepts of his science express the ‘genuine essence’ of ‘Sistine Madonna’ or the living cell or the golden coin, his professionalism immediately shows its negative side. He begins to look at all other sciences as ‘pre-scientific’ and purely phenomenological ‘descriptions’ of the external and more or less arbitrary expressions of his own, and only his own, subject matter, i.e. chemistry. Here his claims become ridiculous, he is caught in the web of the Kantian Idea of ‘regressive synthesis’, according to which the ‘genuine essence’ of biology is found in chemistry, the ‘genuine essence’ of chemistry – in physics, in atomic and subatomic structures, and further – physics is ‘reduced’ to mathematics, mathematics – to ‘logic’ (in the narrow sense that was given to it by the purely formal tradition that eventually became neopositivism of today), and so on ...

It is this sin of narrow professionalism that does not want to know the limitations in competence of its narrow specialised concepts that Hegel commits in relation to logic. Although Hegel’s advantage over positivists is found in the fact that he understands thinking and its categories in a deeper and more genuine way than all positivists taken together.

The ‘genuine’ and the ‘most concrete’ mystery of any event in the universe seems to him to be found in the ‘pure’, ‘absolute’, dialectical schemes of the inner workings of human thinking. But this way human thinking itself is mystified, turned (in fantasy, of course) into a cosmic force opposed not only to an individual (here Hegel is correct), but to the whole of humanity, i.e. to the historically developing collective of individuals who participate in the process of thinking together and who mutually correct each other’s ‘conscious thinking’, thus realising the schemas of the dialectical and not the formal logic.

That is why Hegel seems to think that to understand any concrete event in its essence means to reduce it to the purely logical expression, to describe it in logical terms. This is the very same ‘uncritical positivism’ that Hegel’s logic carries in its womb as a not yet overcome – ancient and tenacious – prejudice of the old purely formal logic.

As a logician, Hegel is quite correct in interpreting the development of science, technology and morality (in Hegel’s understanding of this term that includes all of the relationships between people: from morality to politics to economics) as a process that manifests various logical forms and laws as part of itself, i.e. as a history of manifestation of forms and laws of thinking.

But forgetting that he is a logician, and only a logician, Hegel immediately takes these discovered logical forms, manifested in the development of physics, politics, technology, theology, morality, and art as the forms (schemes and laws) of the process that creates all of these ‘particular’ images of its own ‘alienation’.

The entire mysticism of this Hegelian conception of thinking is concentrated in this dangerous for idealism point. Considering all forms of human culture – both spiritual and material – as forms of manifestation of human capacity for thinking, Hegel deprives himself of any opportunity to answer the question – but where does this wonderful human capacity come from?

From nowhere, answers Hegel. It does not ‘come from’, does not originate, but only manifests itself, expresses itself, since it is not conditioned by anything external – it is absolute ('divine’) capacity, creative power and energy present in human beings from birth.

Having raised human thinking (not the thinking of an individual, but of humanity, let us not forget that even for a second) to the level of ‘divine’ power, Hegel simply pretends that the absence of the answer to the question that is dangerous to idealism ('where did this human power come from?’) is the only possible ‘philosophical’ answer...

By ‘thinking in general’ or by ‘pure thinking’ Hegel everywhere understands and studies human thinking in that form in which it is seen by a professional logician, by a person whose point of view is characterised by all the pluses and all the minuses of the narrowly professional approach to this problem.

It is he, the logician, who day after day does the job of ‘thinking about thinking'; it is he, the professional logician, who must inform the others about the schemes, laws and rules within the limits of which their thinking is taking place even if they are not aware of them and only follow them under the pressure of circumstances in which they often find themselves. It is he, the logician, who investigates and studies not his own ‘thinking’ as his own individual capacity but only those faceless schemes that reveal themselves in some collective human thinking, schemes that ‘stand over against’ each individual thinking being. It is he who realises the ‘self-consciousness’ of that very thinking that is not realised by a single individual, taken in isolation (and that is the case if by thinking we understand ‘conscious thinking’, reasoning that is consciously oriented by the ‘rules of logic’), but by a more or less developed collective, ‘ensemble’ of individuals connected into one unified whole by the ties of language, customs, living conditions and social life and ‘things’ it produces and consumes. In his person there takes place the ‘self-consciousness’ of the very thinking that manifests itself not so much in the mute monologue as in dramatically tense dialogues and in the confrontations between separate consciously thinking individuals, i.e. in the historical events, in the process of changing of the external world.

The forms and laws of thinking understood in this manner (as a ‘natural- historical’ process achieved in concert by millions of individuals connected by 11 web of communications into one ‘bead’, one ‘thinking being’ that is in constant dialogue with itself) constitute the subject matter of logic in Hegel’s sense of this word. This entirely real subject matter is the real prototype for Hegel’s portrait of ‘God’ or the ‘absolute spirit’.

It is obvious that in Hegel thinking is understood in a much deeper, more sober and more realistic manner in comparison with its subjective-psychological treatment that is characteristic for purely formal logic, including its ‘contemporary’ neopositivist version.

And if we compare Hegel’s description of the ‘absolute spirit’, the ‘divine thinking’ with the subject matter that is reflected in it (i.e. with the thinking ol social human being, realised in science, technology and morality), and not with a psycho-physiological process that is taking place under the frontal lobe of an individual, not with a ‘conscious judgement’ of a separate person, then In the obtuse turns of Hegel’s phrases we can suddenly see the meaning that is much more down to earth and real than in the allegedly commonsensical ‘logic of science’.

At the same time we can clearly see all the ‘blank spots’ and all the gaps in his understanding of real thinking that Hegel was forced to cover over with purely linguistic patches, i.e. by simply avoiding dealing with them with the help of sometimes witty, but sometimes simply incomprehensible turns of phrase.

Not being able to explain where ‘thinking’ comes from and therefore in advance assuming that it is an impersonal and originary ‘power’, Hegel from the very beginning poses the question only about the forms of manifestation of this power-capacity. It is not about the forms of birth or emergence of the capacity to think, but only about the forms of its expression, its ‘external realisation’, about the forms of its ‘awakening’, about the forms of its ‘self- consciousness’.

It is here, at this point that is dangerous for any idealism, that Hegel indirectly restores that very same ancient and tenacious prejudice from which sprang and still springs the entirety of formal logic from the Stoics to neopositivists, from Zeno to Carnap. This way he, like Napoleon in the relation to the monarchical principle, shares the same ground with the ‘legitimate’ carriers of the principle, descends to their pathetic level and on that level ultimately suffers his defeat, deserves his Waterloo and his St. Helene ...

The problem is that, having started with a perfectly correct thesis, according to which logical schemes (forms and laws) manifest themselves not only in chains of words and propositions, not only in the word, but also in the chains of actions and historical events, and in the form of the system of ‘things’ ere- ated by human activity, Hegel comes back to the idea according to which ‘in the beginning was the word’, to the axiom of St. John and Rudolf Carnap.

Hegel is great and revolutionary (in logic, of course) where he establishes that the logical category (form, scheme, law) is an abstraction that expresses the ‘essence’ of all manners of manifestations of the capacity to think – verbal as well as immediate objective ‘embodiment’ of this capacity in events and actions. He is great where he defines ‘logos’ as an expression of the ‘essence of both words and things’, as a schema that determines equally both Sage und Sadie – ‘word and thing’, or more precisely ‘myth’ (’spoken tradition’) and ‘history’ (real state of affairs, ‘deed’ in its essence). In this form, logos (logical) is understood as a form of thinking that manifests itself both in words and in actions of an individual, and not only in that individual’s words, not only in the words about the actions, as neopositivists still hold.

But Hegel is helpless before the neopositivists where he makes a complete reversal and claims that the word (Sage) is the first – in essence and in time – form of ‘manifestation of thinking’, the first and original form of awakening of the spirit to self-consciousness, that first and original ‘thing’ in the form of which the ‘thinking spirit’ opposes itself to itself in order to see itself, as if in the mirror, in that image which it creates out of itself with its original creative power.

The word – logos in its verbal appearance – appears in Hegel’s conception of thinking not as the only but still as the first in essence and in time form of the ‘determinate being of spirit (thinking) for itself’. The spirit awakens to the independent life at the moment when it creates a mirror out of itself in which it can see its image and its schemes of activity (logic) as if from the outside, and this mirror is word, language, speech.

The first form of the ‘determinate being’ of thinking is in Hegel’s conception the product of the ‘naming power’ (Namengebende Kraft) the verbal self report about what is taking place ‘inside the spirit’, inside ‘pure thinking’ and independently of any ‘external determination’.

And only then, having become conscious of itself in the word and through the word, ‘thinking’ externalises this – already discovered in the wind capacity in the acts of creation of tools and things made with the use of these tools: first in the form of a stone axe, a plough, a piece of bread, but then also in the form of temples, nation-states, and so on and so forth.

All of that is presented as secondary, as a derivative and dependent form of the ‘manifestation of the creative power of thought and concept.

Thus thinking is understood as activity within the medium of the word, as activity directed toward the word as its own peculiar ‘subject matter’ and also as having become conscious of itself in the word; thinking then turns out to be a kind of activity in Hegel’s system that ‘outside of itself’ has no prerequisites, no subject matter that would determine its activity externally, it does not need any conditions that this activity needs as something externally given and existing Independently of it.

In the word there begins and ends the earthly history of the ‘divine’ (i.e. unconditional and presuppositionless) thinking. Practice, on the other hand, is given a secondary role, it is a derivative and fleeting metamorphosis of thinking that first emerges in the medium of the word.

‘The forms of thought are first set out and stored in human language’,[9] and the creation and transformation of the ‘external’ world by a thinking being only comes after it clearly and sufficiently understood its ‘thinking nature’, when it gives itself a clear self-report about what is going on ‘inside’ it.

Here we come across a line that separates Hegel from materialism – in the latter the sequence of steps in accordance with which a human being is transformed into a ‘thinking being’, into a ‘subject of thinking’, turns out to be the exact opposite.

It seems obvious that before a person learns to speak and to give himself a special report about what he is doing, he must act in the world of real things that are not created by him. Therefore this skill (capacity) of treating the things id the ‘external’ world in accordance with their form and measure, this skill in coordinating one’s actions in relation to this external measure and form id things is formed (in anthropogenesis as well as in individual development) earlier than the capacity to use language, word, and much earlier than the capacity to treat the word as a special subject matter.

Therefore all ‘logical forms’ without exception that Hegel considers to be the Immanent domain of the ‘spirit’ in fact ‘express themselves and show themselves primarily’ not in human language, as Hegel postulates, but only as con- slantly repeated schemes of the external – objective and objectively conditioned – human activity. These schemes are brought to consciousness in language only much later. The picture is exactly the opposite of what Hegel gives us.

Lenin turns special attention to this point when he comments on Hegel’s discussion of the ‘syllogism of action’:

For Hegel action, practice, is a logical ‘syllogism’, a figure of logic. And this is true! Not, of course, in the sense that the figure of logic has its other- being in the practice of man (= absolute idealism), but vice versa: man’s practice, repeating itself a thousand million times, becomes consolidated in man’s consciousness by figures of logic. Precisely (and only) on account of this thousand-million-fold repetition, these figures have the stability of a prejudice, an axiomatic character.[10]

It is here that we find the mystery of these ‘logical figures’ that seem for every idealist to be a priori schemes of the activity of the ‘spirit’. Before they become such axiomatic and accepted ‘logical schemes’ and in that form are fixed by formal logic, they are already and for a long time realised in the human objective activity (as schemes of that activity that is directed not at ‘words’ or ‘terms’ but at very real ‘things’)...

And only much later do these schemes, having been brought to consciousness, become also the schemes of speech, language, the schemes for using words, ‘rules’ of action in the realm of language.

Having turned Hegel’s scheme ‘right side up’, materialism rescued philosophy from the necessity of positing the ‘pure’, ‘divine’ thinking that mysteriously existed before and independently of all the forms of its own ‘determinate being’ (i.e. before language and things created by the objective activity of human beings).

‘Thinking’ that Hegel assumes as necessary, of course, never existed and will never exist. Thinking, understood as a specifically human capacity to relate to any thing in accordance with its own measure and form, does not ‘wake up to self-consciousness’, but originally emerges in the process of the immediate and objective human activity. Therefore, the specific subject matter of ‘thinking’ from the very beginning and until the very end are ‘external things’ and not ‘signs’, not things ‘born of spirit’ as it turns out to be in Hegel’s interpretation.

It is for the same reason that all without exception ‘logical’ schemes, figures and ‘rules’ are interpreted from the position of materialism as correctly understood general relations between things of the external world, not as specific relations between ‘signs’. This is related both to the elementary schemes of traditional formal logic that have been fixed long ago and to the complex dialectical relationships that were first systematically developed in Hegel’s logic. Thinking as an active capacity of any human being is born, comes into existence, and not ‘expressed’ as having been already present, in the immediate objective human activity that transforms the external world and that creates the objective human world (tools, products of labour, forms of relationships between individuals in acts of labour, and no on) and only after that it creates the ‘world of words’ and a specific capacity to treat words as its ‘subject matter’.

That is why forms of thought, i.e. logical forms were, remain and forever will be, regardless of whatever fantasies about them were built by the representatives of philosophical idealism in logic, only correctly understood as forms of the external world in the transformation of which is found the essence of human life’s activity.

That is why dialectics, as the science of universal forms and laws that govern both ‘being’ (i.e. nature plus society) and ‘thinking’ (i.e. conscious human activity), is the logic of contemporary materialism that, according to Lenin, ‘has taken everything valuable from Hegel and developed it further’.[11]

A logic that solves the problem of the relationship between being and thinking materialistically cannot be any other kind. Its subject matter coincides with the subject matter of dialectics fully and without remainder. The ‘remainders’ are special realms of study related to psychology, anthropology, linguistics and other disciplines that study the ‘specific features’ of human activity as their special ‘subject matter’ and from which logic can abstract.

The ‘word’ (language) from this point of view turns out to be but one of the forms of the ‘determinate being of thinking’ and in no case the only form, as is postulated by philosophy of neopositivism; it is not the first either in time or in essence, as Hegel thought, and this is where he made the most serious concession to the verbal-scholastic tradition of purely formal interpretation of thinking and therefore of the subject matter of logic as science. This concession, this ‘debt to old formal logic’, is one of the gravest consequences of Hegel’s Idealist position, a position that considered thinking’s ultimate ‘subject matter’ and ‘object’ to be not the ‘external world’ but only itself, i.e. only the world of Its own ‘external manifestations’.

It is here that we find in a concentrated form all the weaknesses of the Hegel’s conception of thinking, of Hegel’s logic, that prevented his logic from becoming the logic of real scientific acquisition of knowledge of nature and history. Because thinking manifests its own ‘genuine nature’ precisely in the process of creating and transforming its own ‘determinate being’, the real objective reality of natural and historical-societal events in acts of ‘self-consciousness’ shows itself only due to its verbalisation, i.e. its transformation into verbal ‘determinate being’.

Returning to the medium of the word, thinking thus returns to ‘itself’, becomes conscious of itself in its truest and most adequate form of its determinate being. Therefore in Hegel, the history of thought (the history of thinking) is identified with the history of language even if this identification is not done so rudely and directly as it is done in neopositivism; and, having noticed this tendency in Hegel, Lenin put two large question marks here ('history of thought = history of language??’).[12]

This identification is connected to many of the peculiarities of the entire Hegelian philosophy. It is not accidental that Phenomenology of Spirit opens with the analysis of the contradiction between the richness of ‘sense certainty’ and the expression of that richness in words like ‘this’, ‘now’ and ‘here’. The same is true for aesthetics where the evolution of art is represented as a gradual ascent of the poetical spirit from its embodiment in stone, bronze and colours to its ‘adequate embodiment’ in the more malleable matter (in sound, in vibrations of air) to poetry as such. Here the progress is from the stone to the word.

Undoubtedly it is this very opportunism in relation to the ancient prejudice described above that gives Hegel’s logic that peculiar aspect that has been noted by many – while making his way from one category to another, Hegel fills the gaps in these transitional sections by means of purely verbal tricks, with the help of linguistic agility. It is this peculiarity that Lenin described in perhaps sharp but appropriate words: ‘... these parts of the work should be called: a best means of getting a headache!'[13] It is these ‘transitions’ that always cause the most trouble to the translators of Hegel’s works into foreign languages. And these transitions are ‘persuasive’ only to a German-speaking reader since, except for the peculiarities of German language, they have no other justification ... In all other languages these are but plays on words and nothing more. Lenin therefore continues:

Or is this after all a tribute to old formal logic? Yes![14]

Yes, Hegel often confuses the definition of concepts and the definition of words, and these substitutions are found in his general understanding of the relationship between concepts and words, thinking and language. Taking the word and the language to be if not the only form of the ‘determinate being of thought’, then still as the best, the most worthy and adequate form of its ‘external realisation’, Hegel slides off on the tracks of the old purely formal interpretation of thinking and logic that, after all, ultimately led bourgeois thought in the area of 11 till, iii (lie dead-end of neopositivism. As the saying goes, in for a penny, in for a pound. Here we find one of the lessons of Hegel’s opportunism in the realm of logic for which he was punished by history.

Thinking as a specifically human capacity consists in the social human being’s activity to carry out his activity in agreement with the objective forms and laws of existence and development of that objective reality, and carry out any activity regardless of the material in which it is realised, including activity in the sphere of language, in the material of signs, terms, and words.


1. Hegel 2010 p. 29.

2. Hegel 1991a, p. 47.

3. Compare this with the words of Engels: ‘From a scientific standpoint all definitions are of little value. In order to gain an exhaustive knowledge of what life is, we should have to go through all the forms in which it appears, from the lowest to the highest’. (Engels 1939, p. 96). ‘The only real definition is the development of the thing itself, and that is already not a definition’ (Engels 1975, p. 578).

4. When we speak about formal logical tradition, we have in mind, here and below, philosophical theoretical interpretation of thinking, and not at all the rules and the schemes that for a long time constituted the content and the apparatus of ‘formal logic’, and that without a doubt have an important, if limited, significance and application. The same goes for the contemporary ‘mathematical logic’. Taken in and of itself the apparatus of this logic does not have any direct relation to the topic of our investigation. This apparatus is especially created and adopted for the solution of a well defined and very strictly determined class of problems – problems connected with the ‘calculation of propositions’, with the purely formal procedure for the transformation of propositions, i.e. for changing one set of signs into another set of signs. Mathematical logic as a special branch of contemporary mathematics entirely consciously limits the sphere of its attention by the relation of signs to signs as part of some strictly determined sign systems. Philosophy does not and cannot have any issues with this logic.

Another matter is when special schemes and rules of activity related to signs-symbols are interpreted as universal, absolute and indisputable ‘laws of thinking in general’, as laws of logic of any kind of thinking, regardless of the ‘subject matter’ thinking takes upon. This is already philosophy, and bad philosophy at that, and as such it can be judged from the point of view of philosophical criteria and must be regarded as completely illegitimate and false.

For it is very clear that this attempt to present the rules for treating immutable (and within the limits of strict formalism they must be immutable) signs as the universal ‘rules of treatment’ applicable to the mutable phenomena of reality, to the ‘things’ that change In reality and in experiments cannot lead to anything except to falsehood. These ‘rules’ cannot be used in these realms. Therefore the honour and the glory of mathematical logic as such are In no danger here.

5. This fact, it must be said, was clearly understood not only by Hegel but also by some of his principal opponents. Thus Adolf Trendelenburg already noted as something quite obvious that circumstance that the traditional formal logic came to understand itself ‘in a language that, in many ways, could be called the deepened into itself grammar [in sich selbst vertiefte Grammatik]’. Trendelenburg 1862, p. 28.

6. Cf. Hegel 1986, p. 197: ‘The person can be known in a much lesser degree by his external appearance than by his actions. The language itself is destined both to hide and to reveal human thoughts’.

7. Lenin 1976, p. 211.

8. Marx and Engels 1976, p. 3.

9. Hegel 2010, p. 12.

10. Lenin 1976, p. 216.

11. Lenin 1976, p. 317.

12. Lenin 1976, p. 89.

13. Lenin 1976, p. 176.

14. Lenin 1976, p. 177.