§Absolute and Relative

Absolute and Relative are philosophical terms concerning the mutual interdependence of things, processes and knowledge. ‘Absolute’ means independent, permanent and not subject to qualification. ‘Relative’ means partial or transient, dependent on circumstances or point-of-view. For dialectics, the Absolute is only the whole movement through various relative stages of understanding, but the progress of knowledge never comes to an end, so the absolute is relative. However, even a relative truth may nevertheless contain some grain of truth, so there is an absolute within the relative. Perception is relative to the observer, but the existence of an objective world is absolute.

Hegel uses the various ‘definitions of the Absolute’ to characterise the successive philosophical standpoints shown to be in fact relative in the development of the Absolute Idea.

See Hegel: "in Being everything is immediate, in Essence everything is relative" and Absolute and Relative.

Lenin says: "in (objective) dialectics the difference between the relative and the absolute is itself relative." [Volume 38 p 360 of LCW]



Analogy means the establishment of similarity in certain aspects, relations or properties between quite dissimilar things. Analogy makes possible deduction of properties of the thing on the basis of reasoning which is made comprehensible by contemplation of the analogue (or "model"). All of mathematics is essentially analogy, since it is highly developed reasoning based on very thin abstractions which can be applied to almost any concrete thing.
Analogy is also the form of superficial reasoning which, lacking knowledge of a thing, draws conclusions which may be valid for a superficially similar thing and impose them on something, thus animism and all kinds of religion. See induction below and what Hegel calls the "Syllogism of Allness"


§Analysis and Synthesis

Analysis and Synthesis are philosophical terms denoting the processes of mentally breaking down of a whole into its constituent parts, and reconstituting a whole from its parts. Dialectics is a unity of both analysis and synthesis. Both analysis and synthesis take part, alternately, in every stage of the cognition of a thing. Like ‘abstraction’ and ‘generalisation’, both analysis and synthesis arrive at new knowledge of the thing, and both are required for an all-sided knowledge of a thing — breaking it down and identifying its various parts, aspects, and then arriving at a new understanding based on how the parts interact and merge with each other etc., and gaining a new conception of the parts.

See Marx on the Method of Presentation of Capital and the the method of investigation of Capital.

See Hegel on the critique of empirical analysis and The Idea as the two methods of cognition of truth and Lenin's comments on this, and Geoff Pilling's explanation.



Philosophical term meaning logical contradiction, especially associated with the work of Immanuel Kant.

See Hegel's Outline of Logic, Kant's Antimonies of Reason and the Science of Logic.



A philosophical term concerned with the relativity of perception and the difference between immediately given sensual knowledge and conceptual knowledge of the lawfulness of things. Appearance is the dialectic of Form and Content, the recognition of the difference between them. In Hegel’s Logic, Appearance is the second grade of Essence, moving beyond the recognition of the outer form of a thing to its lawful, inner character or content. Appearance is a modification of Being which includes Essence but is transient and unstable, because it is still partial or abstractly one-sided.

See Lenin’s comments on Hegel’s concept of Appearance, Hegel’s critique of Kant in the Shorter Logic, the section in Hegel’s Outline of Logic and Geoff Pilling's discussion of Marx's attitude towards bourgeois concepts of political economy as stages in the development of a scientific concept, Hegel's critique of Kant in the Shorter Logic or the section in Hegel's Outline of Logic and Form & Content, and Existence - Appearance - Essential Relation.


§Chance & Necessity

Chance, or Accident is a transient, non-essential property of a thing or process, as opposed to what is essential, necessary and substantial. Denial of the objectivity of chance is called Determinism, which leads to the fatalistic view that everything is necessarily as it is and predetermined. Knowledge of the Necessity of things is the basis of all rational, conceptual thouhgt and action. Denial of the objectivity of Necessity, the idea that historical events are the outcome of the chance occurences and individual actions, etc., is associated with Voluntarism. For dialectics, Chance and Necessity are inextricably linked. Necessity asserts itself through the interaction of millions of accidents, while each such ‘accident’ is the outcome of a necessary sequence of causes.

See Engels' discussion of necessity in human history in Ludwig Feuerbach, part 4, Hegel on The objectivity of Chance and Possibility & Contingency.



Cognition means acquiring knowledge of the objective world.

The central concept in the Marxist understanding of Cognition is practice, which is the criterion of truth for Marxism. While the objective world is the source of knowledge, mere existence as part f the world and sensuous contact with the world does not provide knowledge of the world. Only struggling to change the world can create conditions for acquiring knowledge. Even then, only if action is connected with theory can theory be changed and knowledge acquired, for blind, impulsive activity can lead to success or failure but not knowledge.

Central to the problem of cognition is the relation between Subject and Object. Different understandings of the subject-object relation lead to scepticism — that cognition is impossible, Relativism &151; that knowledge is possible but has no significance; dogmatism &151; that knowledge is not only possible but can be absolute and final; Empiricism and Rationalism which emphasise respectively Experience or Reason in Cognition; Objectivism and Subjectivism which emphasise the role of the objective world or subjective consciousness in the process of Cognition.

See Lenin's Philosophical Notebooks and his annotations on reading Hegel on cognition, on Subject and Object and see The True and The Good.


§Content and Form

Form and Content are philosophical contents concerned with the contrast between the appearance (or significance) of a thing and its essence or existence. Form is the mode of existence, expression or internal organisation of the Content of a thing, while Content is in turn the totality of relations and potentialities of the same thing.

The historically earliest concepts of Form and Content identified Content with a ‘formless’ matter and Form with the structure of that matter, but such a concept which allows reality only to Form and reduces Content to a wholly abstract “thing-in-itself” is conducive towards a metaphysical understanding of things.

Form and Content are a Unity of Opposites: they are two aspects of one and the same thing, which in the process of development of the thing and in its cognition, interpenetrate one another, interact and transform one into the other - Form becomes Content and Content Form.

There can be no Content without a Form (a thing exists in one form or another) nor Form without Content (everything is connected to other things, is capable of transforming into something else, leads to something else); but a given Form may be more or less true to the Content.

A story which "works" as a movie, may fail as a novel, and vice versa; a given conflict in the class struggle may find fruitful expression in the form of a disciplined organisation, while another conflict may not be resolved at all in such a form.

Natural and social processes exhibit a process of "shedding" untrue forms and taking on forms closer to the content — as if the content was struggling against the form, overthrowing it and becoming itself a new form, only to be replaced by a new deeper content. Contrariwise, an untrue form can overcome the dynamic of the content, suppress it and draw in a new Content more in keeping with the form.

In Hegel's system, the dialectic of form and content is the negative aspect of Appearance through which Appearance proves to be Actuality.

See Engels in Ludwig Feuerbach, part 4.

See Hegel's explanation in the Shorter Logic and also Form and Content and Form & Content.


§Continuity and Discontinuity

Continuity and Discontinuity refer to the two aspects of things manifested in discrete form (particles, whole numbers, planets, individual people, ‘leaps’ such as the boiling of water, birth and death, the "Big Bang") or, manifested in a continuum (wave motion, concepts like length which imply indefinite divisibility, fluidity, time passing, as well as continuous processes like growing older, erosion, etc.)

Common experience tell us that Nature exhibits the interchange between continuity and discontinuity - growing up marked by sudden changes, heating which gradually leads to boiling, gradual growing apart of friends leading to sudden ruptures, etc., and that one and the same process may show itself in an aspect of continuity or discontinuity depanding on the way the subject acts upon it. Discontinuity is inconceivable without the capaity to conceive of the ‘gap’ separating the discrete elements of the thing, and continuity is inconceivable without being able to mentally grasp different points on the continuum.

These two concepts actually prove extremely difficult for formal logic and mathematics to deal with. Modern physics understands that matter is neither discrete nor continuous but a unity of the two ("wave-particle"), but the history of science exhibits a long history of struggle between theories of the discrete and the continuous. For instance, modern biology recognises that evolution is a process of "interrupted continuity". In general there is nothing in Nature which is simply and wholly either continuous or discontinuous.

See Hegel on gradualness and discontinuity



Contradiction means literally ‘saying “No”’, but more generally refers to propositions which assert apparently incompatible or opposite things — “A and not-A”. (See Antimony). Contradiction is the centre of Hegel's critique of Formal Logic and the most popular concept for introducing dialectics, which is concerned with the internal contradictions within ideas as the “driving force” leading to change and development.

Formal Logic holds that the Law of (Non-)Contradiction — “if a given proposition is true then its denial cannot be true” — is an absolute truth, mandatory for all logical thinking and theory.

Hegel criticises this law, and points out that the ancient Greeks had already proved that, for instance, the simple concept of motion requires that an object is both 'here and not-here' at one and the same time, something modern mathematics and physics would now agree with!

Engels makes the “Unity (Interpenetration) of Opposites” a basic “Law of Dialectics”.

See Hegel on the unity of Positive and Negative and on the Law of Contradiction, and “There is absolutely nothing whatever in which we cannot ... point to contradictions” and see Law of Excluded Middle.

Lenin says “The splitting of a single whole and the cognition of its contradictory parts is the essence ... of dialectics”, and here Lenin draws attention to the fact that contradiction is central not just to "logic" (as normally understood) but cognition (analysis), and that the dialectical concept of contradiction is not the contradiction between two things external to one another, but the contradiction which is at the essence of a thing.

Mao's article On Contradiction, is a highly readable popular explanation of the application of the concept of contradiction in the analysis of complex social and historical phenomena. See C L R James on Identity, Difference and Contradiction and Essential Opposition.



A known thing, from which other inferences may be drawn.



See Induction below.

Deduction and Induction are terms denoting opposite methods of reasoning. Deduction is the method of inference which substantiates a conclusion on the basis of a number of previously established premises by means of the application of laws of logic, rather than by drawing on experience. Induction is begins from a number of given facts and arrives at the principles exhibited in these facts, opening the possibility for deducing new facts or hypotheses. However, it should be kept in mind that cognition is impossible without both deduction and induction. Neither induction nor deduction can go more than a single step without the help of the other. Criticising formal logic, which rigidly separate Deduction and Induction, Hegel asks: “Where do the laws of logic come from? And where do the premises come from?”. Deduction and induction are a unity of broadly the same nature as analysis and synthesis.


§Determinate & Indeterminate

To determine a thing is to know what it is, as in measuring something to determine its length; indeterminate means that the thing has not yet formed in to something one way or the other, or it is not recognisable for what it is. Determinate Being, or Dasein — “being there” — means being present as a specific thing, rather than just a collection of attributes or potentialities.



To determine (and thus "a thought determination") refers to something "taking on a value", becoming a "particular" as when the length of an object is "determined" by measuring it. In Hegel's writing, the term "thought determination" comes up very frequently; it doesn't mean very much. Lenin mentions several possible words for the same thing, and later makes light fun over Hegel's use of the word. "Determine" also has the meaning as in "determine the outcome" - see the following entry, "Determinism".



Determinism is the acceptance of causality as an objective relation. If carried to the point of absolute (or mechanical) determinism - the denial of chance and accident - as in the case of Laplace, determinism becomes a kind of fatalism in which everything is absolutely determined by what has gone before.



Development refers to that process of change in which something becomes more and more concrete and mature, as opposed to the simple succession of one thing passing away as another comes into being or the transition of a thing into something else in the course of the struggle of form and content and interchange of Cause & Effect.

See Hegel's contrast of the Development of the Notion and Hegel's explanation of the relation between opposites in Being and Essence, which make up the Objective Logic. See also Development of the Notion in Hegel's Logic.


§Dialectical Materialism

Dialectical Materialism is another name for Marxism, coined by Karl Kautsky and popularised in the Second International after the death of Marx and Engels, emphasising the origins of Marx's thinking in the materialist philosophical trends of Western philosophy and the dialectics of Hegel. The term has a basis in Engels' work, such as in Ludwig Feuerbach popularising Marx's ideas, though neither Marx nor Engels ever used the term. See also Historical Materialism and Political Economy.



Discrete is a synonym for discontinuous, denoting breaks in development, "leaps" in Nature, matter in the form of distinct objects or particles, counting-numbers as opposed to indefinitely divisible magnitudes. Refer to Continuity and Discontinuity above.



Ancient Greek philosophical school from 6-5th Century BC including Parmenides and Zeno, taught the immutable essence of true being and the illusory nature of all visible changes and differences, to counter the views of Heraclitus and others on the changeable basis of things. Belittled sense perception as the basis for knowledge, and posed the problem of expressing the contradictoriness of motion and change in logical concepts.



Doctrine that sense experience is the sole source of knowledge. The materialist trend: Bacon, Locke, recognises that the material world is the source of sensation, and that sense experience has objective content. Or the idealist trend: Berkeley and Hume. Hume drew from the rationalist, critique of Empiricism, the denial of any objective content for sense experience, limiting knowledge to the sum total of sense-experience.
See Hegel's critique of Empiricism. and in particular it's defect
According to Empiricism, Experience is the only source of knowledge; according to materialism, the source of experience is the external world, but for pre-Marxist materialism experience is the result of a passive perception of the external world. But Experience does not by itself give necessary and universal knowledge, but can only grasp the superficial external phenomena of the objective world. Experience must be supplemented by the activity of Reason (Rationalism) which only happens when experience arises from practice.
See Hegel's critique of empricism and Geoff Pilling's explanation.



A distorted or one-sided perception of reality conditioned by restricted practice, as opposed to (deliberate) falsehood, or mistakes which refer to actions. The concept of error held by any philosophical standpoint reflects its theory of knowledge. In dialectics, error, like knowledge, is both absolute and relative. Hegel also talks of "error" in the context of the "freakish" or fortuitous encountered in everyday life. See The Object for Hegel's explanation of error.
See Hegel's comment on Error as a positive.


§Law of the Excluded Middle

The Law of the Excluded Middle is that “if a given proposition is not true then its denial must be true”. See also The Law of (Non-)Contradiction which says that “if a given proposition is true then its denial cannot be true”. Whereas formal logic places an absolute ban on Contradiction, Intuitionism is a branch of Logic which holds that the Law of Excluded Middle is not valid.

For dialecitcs, this law has only relative truth; due to the inherently mobile and interconnected nature of all concepts, it is frequently the case that neither a proposition nor its denial may be accepted as absolutely true.

See Hegel in Science of Logic.



In philosophy, “Existence” does not refer to something being “tangible” or material, as opposed to “ideal” or intangible — Ideas, espirit d’temps, etc exist just as much as sticks and stones. Nowadays, “Existence” more commonly owes its meaning to writers influenced by Phenomenology, a meaning in turn having is origin in disputes among Hegel’s critics in the 1840s about whether Essence should be rated higher than Existence or vice versa.

In Hegel’s system, Existence denotes the perception of the thing as part of the whole world of things and processes which relate and interact with the thing, it means “being in the world”, so to speak. It is the negative of Reflection, and the synthesis of Existence and Reflection-in-itself is the Thing which proves to be Appearance.


Sensuous empirical reflection of the external world, the standpoint of Empiricism, in contrast to Reason, the standpoint of Rationalism.

See also where Hegel likens the Absolute Idea to an old man.


§Experimental Method

The method of experiment (which begins in its proper sense with Galileo rolling balls down a slope and timing them with an hour-glass) is the investigation of specific features of a phenomenon by actively influencing them, through creating special conditions in keeping with the investigator's purposes.
Experiment differs from Observation; in experiment, the observation is active - the subject deliberately influences the object. Thus, the investigator isolates the object from reality - but with the specific purpose of testing a theory. The deepening of the experimental method is the successive withdrawal of this isolation of the object from reality together with the enhancement of the direct influence of the subject, but this movement is possible only on the basis of a theory which is adequate to reality.
Thus, experiment is "embryonic practice" - active learning from experience. Comprehension of an experiment presupposes a correct understanding of the subject-object relation. The well-known "uncertainty principle" of quantum physics is an example of a wrong understanding of this relation which leads to subjective idealist conclusions. In modern physics, the "principle of correspondence" originated by Niels Bohr (the founder of the nucleus-electron theory of the atom) is a materialist solution of the subject-object relation in experimental quantum physics.


§External Reflection

External reflection is the perception of a thing as it relates to other things outside of it (its superficial appearance), rather than perception of thing in its internal contradictions, its essential nature, the conception of an object unconscious of its relation to the subject.

See Science of Logic on External reflection


§Finite & Infinite

Finite and Infinite are terms used in mathematics and philosophy concerned with the boundedness or exhaustibility of a thing. Finite means having limits, or in mathematics ‘countable’. Infinite means being without limits or ‘uncountable’. However, as soon as we put a limit around something and declare it to be finite, we simultaneously define its other which is infinite, and a thing can only be deemed to uncountable on the basis of conception of its as composed of finite parts.


§"For Itself" and "For us"

See "In Itself", "For Itself" and "For Us" below.



See Content and Form.


§Formal Logic

The system of Logic founded by Aristotle based on the syllogism, which is adequate for testing the validity of deductive reasoning of the form ‘If all A are B, and C is an A, then C is a B’ etc., which is valid only to the extent that (i) the premises (such as ‘all A are B’) are valid, (ii) the terms are self-identical and (iii) the object is not too complex for formal analysis.

Many Marxists have written polemics against Formal Logic, particularly as a way of explaining dialectics. However, a cavalier attitude towards the requirements of formal logic when they are relevant is the method of Voluntarism, not Dialectics. Formal Logic reflects the fact that in the world there are things which are stable and discrete. The point its to know the Limits of Formal Logic.

See various critiques in the sampler and Formal Logic and Dialectics, Formal Logic in Nature and Society, Law of Excluded Middle, Law of Identity, Law of Non-Contradiction and Law of Sufficient Ground.



Function means the outward manifestation of the properties of objects insofar as they form part of a given system of relations and interconnected processes, especially in respect of the aspect of stability or self-generation of a system of relations, as opposed to those aspects of a system and its components which constitute its internal contradictions and forces for change.

See Functionalism below.



Functionalism is the method of investigation which seeks to elucidate what "function" an object plays within a complex, independent of its outward phenomenal form or its materiality and historical conditioning. For example, we may see that the function of sport is to alleviate social tensions in the system, or racism to direct discontent away from fundamental criticism of the system, etc. Functionalism was popular amongst sociologists and anthropologists in the first half of the century.
Developed one-sidedly, functionalism tends to reproduce the object as static, and misses the internal contradictions, interdependence and life process of the whole and its functional parts. Like structuralism, functionalism has an inherent tendency towards Kantian relegation of the materiality of the object to the status of an unknowable 'beyond'.


§Genetic Exposition

Genetic Exposition (i.e. genesis) of a Notion means showing how a Notion comes into being or into consciousness through the objective movement of the subject matter itself. Genetic Exposition differs obviously from the deduction of the Notion and the further development of the Notion which begins with the simple notion and elaborates its implications, including a reconstruction of the concrete reality exhibited in the genetic exposition. The genetic exposition, which is a necessary part of Logic differs also however from Historic exposition, where the exposition confines itself to the strictly "narrative" history. As Marx explains, the sequence of exposition is the sequence determined by the object itself (though in the passage just referred to Marx, of course, sharply differentiates himself from Hegel's idealistic formulation of this idea). Hegel's metaphor for the Notion as a "germ" is appropriate. See Geoff Pilling's explanation of the genesis of the notion of capital.



God is the way in which the dominant conception of knowledge and ethics in a given society are made to seem objective, by means of the conception of some extra-human entity which expresses or imposes this conception on to the world. The struggle between Deism — belief in God, and Atheism — assertion that God does not exist, has figured largely throughout history. However, Marx declared himself in favour of Humanism, simply meaning that the concept of God is a human product, not the other way around. Common variations on Deism are Agnosticism — “Don’t know”, and Naturalism — in which God is given the name of “Nature”.

See Marx's 1844 Manuscript: Private Property & Communism and Hegel on the various metaphysical definitions of God and in the Hints.



Ground” is conditions for something to come into existence, or “appear". Hegel says: “The maxim of Ground runs thus: Everything has its Sufficient Ground” and “that is, the true essentiality of any thing is ... as having its Being in an other.”

Hegel defines Ground as the unity of Identity and Difference, and the precursor of Appearance. Thus, the investigation of “necessary and sufficient grounds” is a movement from measure towards the discovery of lawfulness; in discovering the ground of something in an other it is part of the movement towards the dialectic of form-and-content, cause-and-effect, inner-and-outer.

See C L R James on Ground.
See also Ground (or Essential Contradiction).


§Historical Method of Exposition

The Historical Method of Exposition means the explanation of a thing by means of “narrating” the history through which the thing comes to its final form. This purely descriptive procedure provides valid objective material for the comprehension of the thing, but does not constitute its explanation or establish its “notion”, particularly since its beginning is necessarily arbitrary. See above on Genetic Exposition.

See Hegel on the Historical Method of Exposition and Hegel’s remarks on the History of Philosophy, Marx on the Method of Presentation of Capital, and in the Grundrisse and Ilyenkov's essay on the Logical and Historical methods.



Those philosophical trends which take the spiritual or non-material (ideal) as primary to the material, especially in relation to the question of the nature and origin of knowledge. Idealism may reject the existence of the external world (the world beyond thought, beyond sensation) altogether or assert that while a world beyond sensation may exist, it is unknowable. These trends are known as Subjective Idealism. On the other hand, idealism may accept the objectivity of nature but regard the material as the expression of ideal forces such as the Will of God, Gaia, the absolute Idea, etc whose nature is accessible to the Mind directly. These trends are known as Objective Idealism.


§Illusory Being [or Semblance]

Illusory Being is a category of Hegel’s philosophy denoting the sceptical moment when an object is first perceived. The Dialectic of Reflection is the dialectic of the essential and unessential. Illusory Being is the negative moment in this dialectic — the unessential. Against the position of scepticism, Hegel says that it must be recognised that the unessential is Being’s unessential, that is, the thing is expressed in the unessential as well as in the essential, only the unessential is not yet recognised for what it is.

See Hegel’s Science of Logic.


§Immediate knowledge

Immediate, as opposed to mediated knowledge, means knowledge gained without proof, by a direct contemplation of truth, as distinct from discursive knowledge which is always mediated by the data of experience and by logical reasoning. Immediate knowledge may be sensuous experience or a priori, intuitive knowledge.



See Induction & Deduction above.

Induction is the method of inference which draws a general conclusion from a number of single facts. Complete induction (where all instances have been examined, and a conclusion can be drawn with certainty) lies at one extreme, with simple enumeration (where the generalisation follows with no essential reliability at all) lying at the other extreme. For dialectics, induction is not the stripping of the individuals down to an abstract, common feature, but rather the discovery of the principle of the whole which unites all the individuals parts in a single process.

See Hegel on the crude understanding of induction, and the syllogism of analogy.



Intuition is the ability to understand truth directly, i.e. immediately, without mediation through concepts or mental pictures. Intuition figures in the philosophy of both Descartes and Spinoza in the cognition of axiomatic or essential truths.

Dialectics sees Intuition as a stage in the development of knowledge which is prior to reflection and concptual knowledge, as for example where people are involved in activities that they have never reflected on or thought about.

See Hegel on Immediate or Intuitive Knowledge.


§"In Itself", "For Itself" and "For Us"

§"In Itself"

To subjective idealism or contemplative, un-dialectical materialism, "in itself" means independent of the nature of the cognising subject or the action of other things on something. In dialectics, it means less developed, not yet showing itself. Thus, the important thing is to see the transition between things, their interconnection and not to separate things with an impenetrable barrier. In a social process, "in itself" means (for example) "the voters" people who do not yet have any other being than being "out there" as so many individuals. See Lenin's understanding in his annotations.

§"For Itself"

"For itself" appears in Hegel's Logic with "The Idea", it is a thing developed to the point where it has consciousness of itself. In society, this corresponds to a movement in which the individuals know and identify themselves as part of that movement and have a shared program etc.

However, "consciousness" has here, with "Life" lost its content of being "in itself", it now has consciousness and purpose, means and ends, but there is a lack of correspondence between means and ends.

§"In and For Itself"

In Hegel's system, this term refers to the Absolute Idea: here consciousness has merged with its own being. In history and society, this is like a social movement that has achieved its objective and merged itself into the whole social body, like the women's movement on the day that the oppression of women no longer exists.

See also Thing-in-Itself below.



In Hegel’s system, Judgment is the “middle term” of the Subjective Notion: Notion - Judgment - Syllogism, leading to the Objective Notion. A Judgment is, in its simplest form is just a simple assertion, denoting the immediate “agreement of the Notion and reality” (Judgement of Existence), and in its development becomes an assertion which is posited as against an other — a Judgement of Reflection, a criticism of the other — a Judgement of Necessity, and ultimately trascends the other as a new Notion, — the Judgement of the Notion.

See the Science of Logic: “Judging is thus another function than comprehension, or rather it is the other function of the Notion as the determining of the Notion by itself”, or the Shorter Logic: "‘The rose is red’ is not a judgment".



Matter is a philosophical category denoting all that which exists outside of and independently of thought — objective reality. As a philosophical category, “matter” must be distinguished from any particular theory of matter developed by natural science and from its meaning in physics as mass as opposed to radiation.

See Hegel's comment on Kant's theory of matter and Hegel's criticism of the natural scientific confusion on this question.



Those philosophical trends which assert the material world (the world outside of consciousness) to be primary to thought, especially in relation to the question of the origin of knowledge. For materialism of all kinds, thoughts are pictures or reflections of something, matter, outside of Mind, which existed before Mind and independently of thought. See Hegel's definition in his critique of Empiricism.
See Lenin's concise explanation, or Marx's epoch-making German Ideology.
See also History of Materialism.
See also Materialism and Idealism and Materialist Dialectics.


§Mechanical Materialism

Mechanical Materialism refers to those forms of materialist thinking which gained strength from the gains of natural science beginning from the work of Newton and others in explaining the world in terms of the action of objects one upon another according to fixed laws of nature, expressed in terms of forces. Mechanical materialism is the science of things rather than processes, of external action rather than internal change, it emphasises exact science at the expense of holistic knowledge, and separates absolutely the subject ("observer") and object.

The gains of science expressed in the mechanical view of the world allowed the build up of a vast body of theoretical knowledge, which in turn laid the basis for a dialectical view. See Hegel on Mechanism.



Existence or definition of a thing (concept) by revealing its relation to another thing (concept). The properties of things are revealed in the interconnection with other things. A mirror mediates the thing it is reflecting and its image. Mediated knowledge is knowledge which is mediated, for example, through past experience and reflection which enables us to recognise things in the stream of impressions.

Mediation is important in the dialectical understanding of the Syllogism and in understanding how social relations participate in the acquisition of knowledge by individuals.



Metaphysics is a term used to denote a branch of philosophy dating back to the time of Aristotle referring to the study of the nature of things “beyond the senses”. By the 16th century Metaphysics became synonymous with Ontology, the study of Being or Existence. For Hegel and for Marxists, metaphysics meant dealing with things or concepts abstracted from their interconnection with other things (concepts) and as static ‘self-identical’ objects, rather than processes and self-contradictory concepts. For Positivism and most bourgeois philosophy today, Metaphysics is used in the sense given to it by Kant, meaning concern with objects which are ‘not possible objects of experience’.

See Engels in Ludwig Feuerbach and Hegel in The Shorter Logic.



See Chance & Necessity, Possibility & Reality, Freedom & Necessity, Determinism and Real Possibility.



“Negation” is saying ‘No’; in formal logic, Negation is the statement that another, first, statement is false. In Hegel’s dialectics, negation takes on a special, deeper meaning: one statement (object, concept) which is posited, is “negated”, or challenged, disproved, overtaken, supplanted by another. Hegel shows that the first is not simply set aside, or “eliminated”, but continues as a subordinate part of the new, “higher” truth — it is “sublated” into the former - “terminated but simultaneously preserved”. We can talk of concepts being 'negations' of sense-perception, and of human actions as being 'negations' of the world, inasmuch as actions are to change the world.

See Negation of the Negation in Hints, Engels on Marx's understanding of Negation of the Negation in history in AntiDühring and Marx on Communism as the Negation of Private Property.

Hegel’s explanation of the relation of positive and negative, and Positive and Negative and Polarity and Lenin on sublation.


§Object and Subject

Subject and Object are crucial concepts in Epistemology, the theory of knowledge. In particular, they are crucial concepts in understanding Hegel’s dialectics and Marxism.

In grammar, the ‘subject’ of a sentence is the part which does the verb, and the ‘object’ is the part that is acted upon by the verb in the sentence. [As in “I (subject) see Joe (object)” ]. In the theory of knowledge, ‘subject’ refers to the active, cognising individual or social group, with consciousness and/or will, while ‘object’ refers to that on which the subject’s cognitive or other activity is directed.

For pre-Marxist materialism, the subject and object existed independently of one another, and the subject passively contemplated the object, receiving sensual impressions of it and assessing this information as an isolated individual according to his/her own nature.

For subjective idealism, the activity of the subject was emphasised, and the object existed either only by means of the subject’s activity, or the object’s independent existence was questioned altogether.

In the dialectical theory of knowledge, the important thing is to understand the subject and object as a unity and to see both the activity of the subject (which had been developed by idealism — see Theses on Feuerbach No. 1) and the independent existence of the world of which the subject is a part (which had been emphasised by materialism).

See also subjectivism, objectivism (indicating errors in a person's approach to problems), Subjective Idealism, Objective Idealism (indicating trends in the history of hilosophy), Subjectivity, Objectivity (referring to divisions of the Doctrine of the Notion in Hegel's Logic), Subjective Logic and Objective Logic (referring to the two Parts of Hegel's Logic).

See Theses on Feuerbach.

See Hegel: “By 'object' is commonly understood not any sort of actuality, but something independent, concrete, and self-complete”. For further discussion of the subject-object relation: see Hegel’s Subjective Logic and The Notion and The Idea and Vygotsky.


§Objective & Subjective

‘Objective’ means pertaining to the object itself, independently of the ‘observer’ or subject. ‘Subjective’ means pertaining to the point of vewi fo the subject, rather than to the object under consideration.

See Object & Subject, and Objectivism & Subjectivism.

See Hgel’s critique of Kant.



Philosophical standpoint which refrains from making value judgements, or intervening in the object and fails to recognise the fact that the subject is part of the object. See Objectivity in the Hints.


§Objective Idealism

Those philosophical trends which see nature and history as the expression of ideal forces and therefore, while seeing the material world as knowable, reject the primacy of the material world, of which ideas can only be a reflection.
Marx regarded Hegel as an objective idealist and showed that Hegel's views are close to those of consistent materialism. The idealist conception of history, which sees history as expressing the onward progress of civilisation, etc., etc., and the views of those natural scientists who cling to religious views, for example, express idealism, without the "subjective idealism" which militates against the possibility of authentic knowledge.
See Marx's definition of this in 1844.
See also Objective Idealism of Hegel.



Observation means the purposive perception of the objective world which provides the primary data for scientific research, in which the investigator endeavours not to influence the object being observed. The aim is to isolate the object from the active intervention of the subject, but not to limit the "reality" (interconnection with all other processes and things in the world).
In the history of science, observation plays a vital role from Aristotle onwards, but only from Bacon's time becomes systematic. Observation is the characteristic method of Empiricism, but there is never a time when Observation is not fundamental; Observation is developed in combination with the active side with Experiment and Practice.
Observation is about the dialectic of Being.



Operationalism asserts that the criterion of truth of a proposition is that it is able to be 'tested' by an effective procedure, or finite sequence of definite operations. Thus, operationalism rejects as invalid any concept which is not amenable to testing in this manner, and identifies a concept with its operational definition, rejecting any other content for it.
Operationalism thus draws attention to the practical aspect of knowledge, but true Notions, such as 'social class' or 'value' are barred from theory by Operationalism, which will admit only of those objects immediately given in experience. Operationalism thus remains within the orbit of subjectivism if applied one-sidedly.
See Hegel's criticism of Kant's view of 'practical ideas'.



Hegel: “Opposition; according to which the different is not confronted by any other but by its other.”

Hegel traces the development of the concept of contradiction (the unity of opposites) through Identity , Diversity or Variety, Difference, Opposition and Contradiction: two objects are seen to be not simply ‘different’, side by side and ‘indifferent’ to one another, but ‘opposite’, a difference that begs an explanation and thus leads to a contradiction by means of which they both must be explained as determinations of the same. (Difference which does not also contain identity is “ships in different oceans”).

See The Doctrine of Essence in the Shorter Logic, Classification and also Opposition (or Essential Difference).



“Phenomenon” is means something manifested to the senses, and is contrasted with “noumenon” (sometimes called ‘Essence’, or ‘thing-in-itself’ or ‘metaphysics’) which remains beyonds the bounds of experience and is a synonym for Appearance. For dialectics there is no sharp boundary between Phenomenon and Thing-in-itself.

See Hegel on Kant's view of Phenomena.



Positivism was popular amongst those who drew sceptical conclusions from the stunning developments in natural science around the turn of the century and is still a dominant trend today among historians and social scientists. Positivism asserts that science can only describe the outward appearance of things, and no 'meaning' or 'law' can be ascribed to nature or history. Positivism militates against simplistic or mechanical explanations and obliges a critical appraisal of the facts and the concepts and theories by which facts are grasped. Lacking any knowledge of dialectics and relying instead on formal logic however, positivism was led to reject the only materialism it knew, mechanical or contemplative materialism. Unable to grasp interconnection, internal contradiction, transition and real movement, scepticism became absolute. In this way, positivism led back to subjective idealism. In physics, statements like 'matter does not exist', in historical analysis, that 'history is one long series of accidents', follow from positivism's rejection of dialectics, and therefore materiality.


§Possibility and Reality

Objective stages in development of a process reflecting the existence or absence of the conditions for its occurrence. For dialectics there can be no sharp line between Possibility, where conditions may be in the process of development, and the realisation of possibility. If all the conditions for a thing are present, then it will be realised.

See Hegel’s comprehensive critique of these concepts in Actuality and on “Everything is Possible ?



The second term in a simple sentence which says something about the first term, the "subject". E.g., "Fido is a dog" - "is a dog" is the predicate.


§Positive knowledge

Knowledge which affirms something, rather than denying (or negating) something or disproving something. Usually associated with the "positive sciences" which accumulate "positive knowledge" about the objective world.



Pragmatism says that "If it works, then it's true". In other words, the criterion of truth is reduced absolutely to the immediate validity of the application of a proposition to existent reality. Pragmatism is a step forward from empiricism in that while it regards experience only as valid, it emphasises the active side of experience, and in this sense introduces a rational element into empiricism.

See How to Make our Ideas Clear, by Charles Sanders Peirce (regarded as the founding work of Pragamatism) and Empiricism and Pragmatism, by George Novack (a sympathetic criticism of Pragmatism), Emile Durkheim's critique Pragmatism & the Question of Truth and Percy Bridgman's elaboration of Operationalism, the development of Pragmatism which says that a concept is not meaningful unless it can be reduced to a sequence of human actions. Einstein also has interesting comments on Bridgman in his Reply to Criticisms, and Richard Rorty offers a more modern defence of Pragmatism.



the second term in a simple sentence which says something about the first term, the "subject". E.g., "Fido is a dog" - "is a dog" is the predicate.


§Quality and Quantity

Quality is an aspect of something by which it is what it is and not something else and reflects that which is stable amidst variation. Quantity is an aspect of something which may change (become more or less) without the thing thereby becoming something else.

Thus, if something changes to an extent that it is no longer the same kind of thing, this is a ‘qualitative change’, whereas a change in something by which it still the same thing, though more or less, bigger or smaller, is a ‘quantitative change’.

In Hegel's Logic, Quality is the first division of Being, when the world is just one thing after another, so to speak, while Quantity is the second division, where perception has progressed to the point of recognising what is stable within the ups and downs of things. The third and final stage, Measure , the unity of quality and quantity, denotes the knowledge of just when quantitative change becomes qualitative change.

See the Outline of Logic, Quality & Quantity, Law of Transformation of, and Engels’ explanation of the dialectics of Quantity and Quality in Anti-Duhring.



See Quality and Quantity.



Rationalism emphasises the role of Reason in arriving at true knowledge, as opposed to. Empiricism, which emphasises the role of Experience and sense perception in knowledge. There are both idealist and materialist trends in both Rationalism and Empiricism.
See Descartes, Spinoza, Leibnitz, Kant and Fichte.



In philosophical terminology ‘Reality’ does not indicate materiality as opposed to mental — mental phenomena are as real as material things, but rather is to do with something moving from possibility to actuality. In dialectics, Reality is a synonym for Actuality. See Possibility & Reality and Hegel's comments on this in the Introduction.



In Hegel's Logic, Reciprocity is the completion of the division of Actuality which proves to be the Notion. Reciprocity is the grasping of the thing at the point where cause and effect, action and reaction, possibility and necessity have completely merged with one another.

Reciprocity is sometimes called “interaction”, the conception of a complex system as a network of interacting causes and effects, but yet lacking a “notion” or concept of the underlying unifying system to “make sense” of these interactions.

See Hegel on Reciprocity in the Science of Logic and the Shorter Logic and Reciprocity and the Notion and Plekhanov.



In inorganic nature, reflection is the process of things reproducing, under the influence of other things, traces or imprints of the things exercising that influence; in organic nature, reflection is an active process, such as in the adaptation of animals to their environment or the irritability of plants and other organisms. The idea of reflection, as the correspondence of mental images with the material world which is the source of those images, is the basis of the materialist approach to cognition. For dialectics, Reflection refers specifically to the ‘recognition’ of quantities and qualities in terms of notions which have already been acquired through past experience and thought.

Reflection refers especially to the relation between phenomena and their Essence. See Hegel in the Shorter Logic.

See Reflection in Nature and Society, Reflection and Reflection.



See Absolute and Relative, but also “in Being everything is immediate, in Essence everything is relative”.



Religion is that form of social consciousness in which forces of Earthly are conceived as fantastic "unearthly" forms and which constitutes a systematic and dogmatic doctrine supported by an organisation. See Theism.

Hegel places religion in the penultimate position in his philosophy, after Art, and followed only by philosophy. For his understanding of religion see the first paragraph of the Encyclopedia and his discussion of blind necessity which contains an excellent commentary on religion. See Feuerbach on Hegel combatting theology with philosophy.



a philosophical conception questioning the possibility of knowledge of objective reality. As a philosophical doctrine, Scepticism emerged during the crisis of antique society (4th century BC) as a reaction to the preceding philosophical systems which had tried to explain the sensual world by means of speculative reasoning and in so doing had often contradicted one another. ... The first sceptics drew attention to the relativity of human knowledge and its dependence on various circumstances...
See Hegel on Scepticism and Hume, above



Self-consciousness is the awareness of being separate from the objective world and of being related to and a part of that world. Viewing humankind as a product of Nature, humanity is in this sense the self-consciousness of Nature. Social processes may also be viewed as processes which may develop along the same lines: as a social class or movement at first exists, but only as potential (in-itself), becomes existent, or 'visible' and active, but as yet does not act under its own program or notion of itself, and eventually attains not only consciousness of its existence and ends, but reaches the point of unifying theory and practice, i.e. consciously shaping its own history, or becoming fully self-conscious.

See Marx's Critique of Hegel's Philosophy in General.



“Semblance” is a synonym for “Illusory Being”, an alternative translation of the German Schein or “Show". See Illusory Being above.



5th Century BC Greek philosophers who were professional teachers of "wisdom" and did not constitute an definite "school" of philosophy. "Sophistry" was a word coined by their detractors meaning the use of superficially plausible but specious arguments to prove their point.



See Object and Subject;


§Speculative Logic

See Understanding below.

(c) “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 says 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.

See Hegel in Shorter Logic.



Structuralism is the method of investigation which aims at revealing the structure of a complex thing, abstracted from its phenomenal form and materiality. This allows attention to be focussed on structural similarities between different phenomena irrespective of superficial differences and actual material content of the object. This method has been popular among sociologists.

Structuralism further denotes a whole trend in philosophy which was dominant from the end of World War II till the rise of post-structuralism in the 1960s. Structuralism had its origins in the linguistics of Ferdinand de Saussure (c. 1910) and was prefigured by the anthropology of Emile Durkheim at the turn of the century. This trend arose in response to the inadequacy of the exclusive focus, characteristic of the Second Positivism, on analysis of the data of perception and its rejection of any type of "metaphysics". Saussure showed that the meaning of a word lay not in its phonic form but in its position within a structure of phonemes. Likewise, for Durkheim, various societies based themselves on mythologies the characters and events of which were relatively "arbitrary", but clearly shared a common "structure". Claude Lévi-Strauss is the most eminent exponent of structuralist sociology. The American version is Functionalism, developed by Talcott Parsons, which emphasises the dynamic equilibrium to the various processes within a complex.

Likewise, in economics it was seen that the values of the various econnomic parameters formed a structure much like that of a mechanical structure which could be manipulated by intervention. (John Maynard Keynes).

The limitations of structuralism arise from its focus on form, albeit structural form, at the expense of content, and abstracting from materiality, must needs be ahistorical and contemplative. A dialectical view differs from Structuralism because for dialectics form and content bear a definite relation which analysis is bound to explore, whereas strucuralism regards form as indifferent. Materialism differs from structuralism by recognising the necessary interconnection between the multiplicity of interconnected structural forms within any complex and the need to study the development of structures in relation to underlying social developments.

Foucault's critique of structuralism in Archaeology of Knowledge, reflected the failure of structuralism to resolve the social contradictions manifested at the end of the post-war boom and the loss of confidence in "grand narratives" and is parallel to the emergence of finite mathematics and related technologies relative to analysis and notions of continuum. While drawing attention to the shortcomings of Structuralism Foucault's post-structuralism fails to resolve the very issues which lay at the basis of the earlier rise of structuralism and suffers from much the same short-comings as indicated above.



Structure means the inner organisation of a system, constituting a unity of stable interrelations between the elements, as well as laws governing the interrelations. Many qualitatively different structures overlay each other and interact with each other in the existence of all things - chemical, economic, social, etc. The concept of structure emphasises the aspect of Form which is stable and abstracts from the Content or materiality of things and from the inner contradictions and dynamics of a system. But like all things, the structure, like the elements of a structure undergo change and transform into other structures.

Structure is also often contrasted with Function, where interconnected processes rather than things are emphasised, and Structuralism.



"Subjective" means in relation to the subject (i.e the person acting, the "observer"), commonly used in the sense of "in the eye of the beholder", as opposed to "objective".


§Subjective Idealism

Those forms of Idealism which place an absolute barrier between thought and matter (the world outside of thought), either questioning the possibility of objective knowledge, as in the case of Scepticism, or rejecting it altogether in the most extreme forms. See Hegel's contrast of subjective idealism and Absolute (i.e objective) idealism.



“Substance” means objective reality viewed as the unity of all forms of its self-development — including both nature and society and consciousness. Substance is thus a fundamental category of philosophy, but particularly associated with the philosophy of Spinoza who utilised the concept of Substance to overcome the unsatisfactory dualism of Descartes. Spinoza’s achievement must be seen as a step forward for materialism in that it overcame this duality.

Hegel uses the term “Substance”, sometimes called “the totality of accidents”, to indicate a stage in the development of Actuality.

See Science of Logic, the Shorter Logic and Outline of Logic. See also Kant in the Biographical notes and Ilyenkov's Essay on Substance.



The historically first form of deduction, which consists of three terms: Individual, Universal and Particular, arranged in three judgments forming two premises and a conclusion. Fido (Individual) is a dog (Particular). All dogs are quadrupeds (Universal). Therefore, Fido is a quadruped.

In the Doctrine of the Notion, Subjectivity, Hegel develops dozens of relationships between Individual, Universal and Particular, as part of his critique of formal logic. These ideas are very important in understanding how a simple program or demand develops into a large and complex movement and are central to the political ideas Hegel developed in his Philosophy of Right.

See for example Marx's treatment of the concepts of political economy in the Grundrisse, Chapter One, part 2.

See the Science of Logic on the Syllogism, and the Syllogisms of Existence, Reflection and Necessity.

See also the section in the Shorter Logic on the Syllogism and Formal Logic, above, and Hegel ridiculing the idea of a logic indifferent to the truth of its premises, but only whether the conclusion follows from the premises: nothing could be deduced from a notion which has no content.



The process of combining the parts to form a whole. See Analysis and Synthesis.



Purposeful action. See the Hints and ridicule of "external design" in Nature..



These terms are frequently used by writers alluding to Hegelian categories.

§In Itself

In-itself refers to a process or movement for which the conditions exist, but which is yet to “show itself".

In general, the “thing-in-itself”, means the thing as it exists “by itself”, abstracted from our impression of it or our knowledge of it (as opposed to the “thing-for-us”, which denotes the “"phenomenon"”, the thing as it appears to us). This term acquired particular significance in the 18th century, when the empricists demonstrated that, according to the proposition that true knowledge came via the senses, it was impossible to know the “thing-in-itself”, (see Locke). Kant was concerned with the contradiction this led to, since it was obvious that science did provide understanding of the “world beyond sensation” (the “other side”).

For the Rationalists, the “thing-in-itself” presented no problem, since it could be known by Reason or Intuition or Faith, or whatever. But for Rationalism, the problem was how Rational knowledge could correspond to the material world “beyond Mind” (Descartes).

Kant attempted to find a rational explanation for knowledge acquired through the senses, but became hopelessly lost in contradictions; for Kant however, contradiction is a “fault”, indicative of the failure of thought to grasp objective truth. Kant showed that if one attempted to think about things which were not possible objects of perception, then thought came up against “antimonies”.

Hegel showed that the “thing-in-itself” is a bare abstraction and criticises Kant for making perception not a connection with the thing but a “barrier” between subject and object, for counter-posing appearance to the “thing-in-itself". The “thing-in-itself” is indeed inaccessible to perception, says Hegel, but only because it is a “Nothing".

Hegel’s criticism of Kant’s concept of “thing-in-itself” as something “beyond perception” is central to Hegel’s importance. Engels’ famous explanation of “thing-in-itself” in Ludwig Feuerbach, Part 2 as properties of things which are at one point unknown, but though the progress of science become known, is a well-known explanation of the materialist theory of knowledge, and owes a great deal to Hegel’s critique of Kant’s “thing-in-itself".

§For Itself

“For itself” appears in Hegel’s Logic with “The Idea”, it is a thing developed to the point where it has consciousness of itself. In society, this corresponds to a movement in which the individuals know and identify themselves as part of that movement and have a shared program etc.

§For Us

This term is often used,emphasising the subjective side of perception, either to refer to phenomenon or the significance or meaning of a thing.

Marx defines alienation as the opposition of in itself and for itself, of consciousness and self-consciousness, of object and subject in Critique of Hegel’s Dialectic.

See section in Hegel’s Outline of Logic and Shorter Logic on “For us” and Science of Logic on “for other”.



It is said that a thought has Truth to the extent that it corresponds to the world outside thought. Every philosophy has its own characteristic test of this correspondence, that an idea works, that an idea is logically provable from inherent truths, etc. For Marxism, Practice is the criterion, or test, of truth. Practice changes the world and consequently the relation of human society to itself and Nature is constantly changing and there can be no final of Absolute Truth.

See Thesis I in Theses on Feuerbach and Hegel on true and untrue objects and the Introduction to the Shorter Logic and Analytic & Synthetic Cognition.



Defined by Hegel: “logic has three sides: (a) the abstract side, or that of Understanding; (b) the Dialectical, or that of negative reason; (c) the Speculative, or that of positive reason.”. See Hegel on Kant and his explanation of Understanding.. See Ilyenkov's explanation.
(a) “Thought, as Understanding, sticks to fixity of characters and their distinctness from one another: every such limited abstract it treats as having a subsistence and being of its own.”
(b) “In the Dialectical stage these finite characterisations or formulae supersede themselves, and pass into their opposites.” ...
See also Hegel in connection with Freedom and Necessity and Speculative Logic.



“Volition” means the Will or intention. See The Good. The standpoint which one-sidedly exaggerates Volition is called Voluntarism.



Voluntarism is the trend of philosophy which one-sidedly emphasises the role of Will in truth. Essentially voluntarism is subjective and has been identified over the past century with reactionary political trends, since it emphasises the truth of the actions of those in whom society endows power. See Volition above. Hegel says, on the contrary to voluntarism: "it is only the will itself that stands in the way of attainment of its goal, for it separates itself from cognition".

MIA Glossary