The Meaning of Hegel's Logic


This article is intended to introduce the reader to a study of Hegel's Logic. It is not intended as a substitute for such a study or as a commentary upon the Logic.

The writing of this article is based on the belief that there currently exists no substitute for Hegel's Logic as an exposition of dialectics. Although Hegel's writing is very inaccessible and suffers as a result of his philosophical idealism, an understanding of dialectics cannot be achieved without a study of his Logic. Consequently, this article is intended to aid this study. Further, I have taken the liberty of a certain amount of repetition, so that the most important points will stand out in the reader's attention.

Following Lenin's advice, we recommend a "materialist reading" of the Logic. That is, where Hegel talks of a "spirit" which expresses or "posits" itself in Nature or human affairs, we read a law or process manifested or expressed by Nature or human activity; when Hegel starts talking about God, we skip to the next paragraph.

In The Science of Logic and the later and more accessible Shorter Logic the subject is "Logic". As Ilyenkov explains in his essays From the History of Dialectics, Hegel created a revolution in the understanding of Logic by, among other things, widening the field of observation from "propositional algebra" (formal rules governing how the truth of one proposition follows from that of another) to the whole field of materialisation of human practice - social-historical development, science, religion, industry. Consequently, in elaborating the general laws exhibited in the development of human practice, he necessarily also uncovered objective laws true to the objective material world as a whole. "Thought" in the sense in which Hegel is dealing with it, is not just the consciousness of individuals, or even concepts as social-historical products, but rather an intangible "spirit" which corresponds to these most general forms, and enters consciousness as something objective.

Thus, when Hegel talks idealistically about The Absolute Idea, Thought, The Architect, etc., etc., we are able to "translate" his line of reasoning in the same way phrases like "a falling stone obeys the law of gravity" is easily comprehensible without assuming that stones are "governed" by some kind of natural or Divine Parliament and Judiciary.

Nevertheless, it is sometimes difficult to grasp his thought at the level of pure logic ("logic" in the sense we use the word in phrases like "the logic of events" or "logic of development"). Because Hegel is elaborating general laws of the development of all processes and things, it is possible and legitimate to grasp his meaning by giving his words a particular slant or context or interpretation.

The most fruitful of such interpretations is as a "theory of cognition", that is, to read the Logic as if it were a description of the laws of development of scientific knowledge. It is also useful to interpret the Logic as a description of the "logic of development" of social processes and movements.

In addition to reading Hegel's Logic, or as an alternative, the reader might prefer to use the text this site.