MIA: Encyclopedia of Marxism: Glossary of Terms



Special Theory of Relativity

Proposed in 1905 by Einstein, Einstein was able to mathematically prove the existence of the space-time continuum, stipulating the existence of a four dimensional space: where any event is located via three spatial components, x, y, z, in addition to a time coordinate, t. The special theory also led Einstein to equate energy with mass. The special theory of relativity is based upon two premises: that the laws of physics are equally valid in all nonaccelerated frames of reference, and speed of light in vacuo has the same value for all inertial observers.


Species Being

The term Species Being (Gattungswesen) was adapted from Feuerbach and makes an appearance in Marx’s early works, specifically the 1844 Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts, and not in his later works.

“Species-being” can be understood in two senses: i) that a thing “can only exist in a social or communal situation with others of its own type,” which coheres with Marx’s perspective that we are social beings. And ii) the distinctively human capacity to “structure the material world in accordance with our own purposes” – in other words, our capacity to productively “labor in accordance with one’s own conscious deliberation.” Marx objected to the concept of human nature, but “species-being” resonates with the claim that humans are products of the societies they create. It also poses a Marxist politico-ethic: if we “acquire fulfilment as human beings through productive activities” then we should build societies that foster “free conscious activity” (Marx).

(Quotes from Thomas Wartenberg, 1982).


Speculative Logic

The Speculative stage, or stage of Positive Reason, apprehends the unity of terms in their opposition - the affirmative, which is involved in their disintegration and in their transition.”.

In an alternative explanation of the three parts of Logic as three stages in the development of thinking, Hegel wrote that the first is Abstract Understanding; then Dialectical, or Negative Reason and thirdly the Speculative stage of Positive Reason.

Whereas in normal language, ‘speculation’ has a negative connotation, Hegel uses the term ‘dialectical’ to describe the process of criticism and successive sublation of internally contradictory ideas leading up to the formation of the Notion.

Further Reading: Hegel in Shorter Logic.
See also: Understanding below.


Spirit of the Times (Zeitgeist)

Zeitgeit” or “spirit of the times” is one of several names Hegel gives to Geist, translated variously as Spirit, Mind, World Mind, Absolute Idea or God and expressing the concept of the sense or rationality in the order of things and the succession of one state of affairs after another according to some kind of lawful process. Hegel did see this rationality as a spirit which animated people, not as a creation of human labour:

“In the course of this work of the world mind, states, nations, and individuals arise animated by their particular determinate principle which has its interpretation and actuality in their constitutions and in the whole range of their life and condition.

“While their consciousness is limited to these and they are absorbed in their mundane interests, they are all the time the unconscious tools and organs of the world mind at work within them. The shapes which they take pass away, while the absolute mind prepares and works out its transition to its next higher stage.” [Philosophy of Right]

The “spirit of the times” does not indicate a homogenous state of affairs in which everyone goes along with the same idea, but rather expresses the fact that in any given society, there is a certain “language”, culture or range of concepts in which every dispute, every contradiction must be fought out. This “political terrain” which is expressed in the Zeitgeist operates “behind the backs” of the participants, it is the unspoken agreement which underlies every dispute:

“The special interest of passion is thus inseparable from the active development of a general principle: for it is from the special and determinate and from its negation, that the Universal results. Particularity contends with its like, and some loss is involved in the issue. It is not the general idea that is implicated in opposition and combat, and that is exposed to danger. It remains in the background, untouched and uninjured. This may be called the cunning of reason, – that it sets the passions to work for itself, while that which develops its existence through such impulsion pays the penalty and suffers loss. Philosophy of History

This concept is not unlike the thesis that social interests and the development of the productive forces underlie and condition political conflict and cultural production.

“Political economy is the science which starts from this view of needs and labour but then has the task of explaining mass-relationships and mass-movements in their complexity and their qualitative and quantitative character. This is one of the sciences which have arisen out of the conditions of the modern world. Its development affords the interesting spectacle (as in Smith, Say, and Ricardo) of thought working upon the endless mass of details which confront it at the outset and extracting therefrom the simple principles of the thing, the Understanding effective in the thing and directing it. It is to find reconciliation here to discover in the sphere of needs this show of rationality lying in the thing and effective there; but if we look at it from the opposite point of view, this is the field in which the Understanding with its subjective aims and moral fancies vents its discontent and moral frustration.” [Hegel, Philosophy of Right]

Marx commented:

“The outstanding achievement of Hegel’s Phänomenologie and of its final outcome, the dialectic of negativity as the moving and generating principle, is thus first that Hegel conceives the self-creation of man as a process, conceives objectification as loss of the object, as alienation and as transcendence of this alienation; that he thus grasps the essence of labour and comprehends objective man - true, because real man - as the outcome of man’s own labour. The real, active orientation of man to himself as a species-being, or his manifestation as a real species-being (i.e., as a human being), is only possible if he really brings out all his species-powers - something which in turn is only possible through the cooperative action of all of mankind, only as the result of history - and treats these, - powers as objects: and this, to begin with, is again only possible in the form of estrangement. ...

“Hegel’s standpoint is that of modern political economy. He grasps labour as the essence of man - as man’s essence which stands the test: he sees only the positive, not the negative side of labour. Labour is man’s coming-to-be for himself within alienation, or as alienated man. The only labour which Hegel knows and recognises is abstractly mental labour. Therefore, that which constitutes the essence of philosophy - the alienation of man who knows himself, or alienated science thinking itself – Hegel grasps as its essence; and in contradistinction to previous philosophy he is therefore able to combine its separate aspects, and to present his philosophy as the philosophy. What the other philosophers did - that they grasped separate phases of nature and of human life as phases of self-consciousness, namely, of human life as phases of self-consciousness, namely, of abstract self-consciousness - is known to Hegel as the doings of philosophy. Hence his science is absolute. [Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy in General]