Dialectics of Nature. Frederick Engels 1883

Manuscripts, Plans and Outlines

Source: Dialectics of Nature;
First Published: by Progress Publishers, 1934, 6th printing 1974;
Translated: from the German by Clemens Dutt;
Transcribed: by Andy Blunden, 2006.

Titles and Tables of Contents of the Folders

The headings of the four folders and the list of contents made by Engels for the second and third folders of materials for Dialectics of Nature were written in his closing years, in any case not earlier than 1886, for the list of contents of the second folder includes the fragment “Omitted from Feuerbach,” which was written early in 1886.

[First Folder]

Dialectics and Natural Science

[Second Folder]

The Investigation of Nature and Dialectics
1) Notes:
a) On the Prototypes of the Mathematical Infinite in the Real World
b) On the “Mechanical” Conception of Nature
c) On Nägeli’s Incapacity to Know the Infinite 2) Old Preface to [Anti]-Dühring. On Dialectics 3) Natural Science and the Spirit World 4) The Part Played by Labour in the Transition from Ape to Man 5) Basic Forms of Motion 6) Omitted from Feuerbach

[Third Folder]

Dialectics of Nature

1) Basic Forms of Motion
2) Two Measures of Motion
3) Electricity and Magnetism
4) Natural Science and the Spirit World
5) Old Introduction
6) Tidal Friction

[Fourth Folder]

Mathematics and Natural Science

Plan Outlines

Outline of the General Plan

This plan was compiled after June 1878 – since it mentions the old preface to (Anti]-Duhring written in May-June 1878, and a pamphlet by Haeckel entitled, Freie Wissenschalt und freie Lehre (Free Science and Free Teaching), published in June 1878-and before 1880, since there is no mention in it of such chapters of Dialectics of Nature as “Basic Forms of Motion,” “Heat,” and “Electricity,” which were written in 1880-82. A comparison of the reference to the German bourgeois Darwinists Haeckel and Schmidt contained in point 11 of this plan with Engels’s letter to Lavrov dated August 10, 1878, gives grounds for assuming that the present outline was written in August 1878.

(1) Historical introduction: the metaphysical outlook has become impossible in natural science owing to the very development of the latter.

(2) Course of the theoretical development in Germany since Hegel (old preface).[2] The return to dialectics takes place unconsciously, hence contradictorily and slowly.

(3) Dialectics as the science of universal inter-connection. Main laws: transformation of quantity and quality – mutual penetration of polar opposites and transformation into each other when carried to extremes-development through contradiction or negation of the negation – spiral form of development.

(4) The inter- connection of the sciences. Mathematics, mechanics, physics, chemistry, biology. St. Simon (Comte), and Hegel.

(5) Apercus [reflections, remarks) on the separate sciences and their dialectical content:

1. Mathematics: dialectical aids and expressions. Mathematical infinite really occurring.
2. Celestial mechanics-now resolved into a process. - Mechanics: point of departure was inertia, which is only the negative expression of the indestructibility of motion.
3. Physics-transitions of molecular motions into one another. Clausius and Loschmidt.
4. Chemistry: theories, energy.
5. Biology. Darwinism. Necessity and chance.

(6) The limits of knowledge. Du-Bois-Reymond and Nägeli.[3]-Helmholtz, Kant, Hume.

(7) The mechanical theory. Haeckel.[4]

(8) The plastidule soul - Haeckel and Nägeli.[5]

(9) Science and teaching - Virchow.[6]

(10) The cell state - Virchow.

(11) Darwinian politics and theory of society - Haeckel and Schmidt.[7] - Differentiation of man through labour. - Application of economics to natural science. Helmholtz’s “work” (Populäre Vortrage, II).[8]

Outline of Part of the Plan

This outline is fundamentally a plan for the chapter “Basic Forms of Motion.” On the other hand, there is a whole group of chapters – interconnected as to subject and period – that correspond to it, namely, “Basic Forms of Motion,” “The Measure of Motion. Work,” “Tidal Friction,” “Heat” and “Electricity.” All these chapters were written between 1880 and 1882. The outline was written earlier – probably in 1880.

(1) Motion in general. of motion.

(2) Attraction and repulsion. Transference

(3) [Law of the] conservation of energy applied to this.

Repulsion + attraction. – Addition of repulsion = energy.

(4) Gravitation - heavenly bodies - terrestrial mechanics.

(5) Physics. Heat. Electricity,

(6) Chemistry.

(7) Summary.

(a) Before 4: Mathematics. Infinite line. + and - are equal.
(b) In astronomy: performance of work by the tides. Double calculation in Helmholtz, II, p. 120. “Forces” in Helmholtz, II, p. 190.


2. This refers to the “Old Preface to [Anti]-Dühring. On Dialectics” (see pp. 40-49 of this edition).

3. This refers to: (1) E. Du Bois-Reymond’s paper “Über die Grenzen des Naturerkennens” (“Limits of the Knowledge of Nature”) at the 45th Congress of German Natural Scientists and Physicians, Leipzig, August 14, 1872 (first published in Leipzig in 1872); and (2) K. Nägeli’s paper “Die Schranken der naturwissenschaftlichen Erkenntnis” (“Limits of Natural Scientific Knowledge”) at the 50th Congress of German Natural Scientists and Physicians, Munich, September 20, 1877 (published as a supplement to the Congress Bulletin).

4. The reference is to the mechanicist views of the adherents of natural scientific materialism, of which Ernst Haeckel was a typical exponent. Cf. the note “On the ‘Mechanical’ Conception of Nature”.

5. Plastidules was the name Haeckel gave to the smallest particles of living protoplasm, each of which, according to his theory, is a protein molecule of highly complex structure and possesses a kind of elementary “soul.”

The problem of the “soul of the plastidule,” the existence of embryonic consciousness in elementary living organisms, and the relationship between consciousness and its material substratum were discussed at the 50th Congress of German Natural Scientists and Physicians held in Munich in September 1877. Haeckel, Nägeli and Virchow, who addressed the Congress plenary meetings on September 18, 20 and 22, dealt with the problem at considerable length. Haeckel devoted one chapter in his pamphlet Freie Wissenschaft und freie Lehre (Free Science and Free Teaching) to the defence of his views on the matter against Virchow’s attacks.

6. Engels has in mind Virchow’s paper “Die Freiheit der Wissenschaft im modernen Staat” (“Freedom of Science in the Modern State”), which proposed restricting the teaching of science. Virchow was opposed by Haeckel, who published his pamphlet Freie Wissenschaft und freie Lehre.

7. In July-August 1878 Engels proposed to criticise bourgeois Darwinists attacking socialism. The idea was prompted by the news that Oskar Schmidt was going to read a paper entitled “Darwinismus und Socialdemocratie” (“Darwinism and Social-Democracy”) at the 51st Congress of German Natural Scientists and Physicians in Kassel (September 1878). Engels read the news in the magazine Nature of July 18, 1878 (Vol. XVIII, No. 455, p. 316). After the Congress Schmidt’s paper was published in pamphlet form (Oskar Schmidt, Darwinismus und Socialdemocratie, Bonn, 1878). About August 10, 1878, Engels received Haeckel’s pamphlet Freie Wissenschaft und freie Lehre (Stuttgart, 1878), which tried to exonerate Darwinism from the accusation of being linked with the socialist movement and quoted some of Schmidt’s statements. He wrote to Schmidt on July 19 and to Lavrov on August 10, 1878, telling them of his intention to answer those statements.

8. Helmholtz, Populäre wissenschaftliche Vorträge (Popular Scientific Lectures.), Zweites Heft, Braunschweig, 1871. Helmholtz speaks about the physical concept of “work” chiefly on pp. 137-79. Engels examines the category of “work” in his “The Measure of Motion. – Work”.