The Meaning of Hegel's Logic

III: The Meaning of “Essence ”

At first, it appears that Hegel is using the word "essence" quite differently from the way it is used conventionally or in philosophy. In mediaeval philosophy and in the philosophy of Kant "Essence" refers to some elusive, unattainable, inner content of a thing which is hidden from perception. In ordinary language, we talk of the "essence of the matter", by which is meant it's "meaning" or significance, the most important or defining aspect of thing, besides which other aspects are just accidental or "unessential". As it turns out, Hegel is indeed talking of the same thing, but his approach is distinctively "Hegelian".

Being - Essence - The Notion

In Hegel's Logic, Essence is the Division which stands between Being and The Notion; Being and Essence constitute The Objective Logic, while the Doctrine of The Notion is The Subjective Logic. In the opening paragraphs of The Subjective Logic Hegel gives a summary of "the story so far":

The Notion is ... in the first instance ... the third to being and essence, to the immediate and to reflection. Being and essence are so far the moments of its becoming; but it is their foundation and truth as the identity in which they are submerged and contained. ...

Objective logic therefore, which treats of being and essence constitutes properly the genetic exposition of the Notion. ...

Now the Notion is that absolute unity of being and reflection in which being is in and for itself only in so far as it is no less reflection or positedness, and positedness is no less being that is in and for itself. This abstract result is elucidated by the exposition of its concrete genesis; that exposition contains the nature of the Notion whose treatment it must have preceded. The chief moments of this exposition ... has been given in detail in the Second Book of The Objective Logic. [The Science of Logic, The Notion in General]

Here Hegel is explaining Essence as the history of how a notion of something comes into being. In the first place there is just immediate consciousness "one damn thing after another" and then we recognise various things which do not simply pass away to be replaced by something else like unconnected images one after another, but something that lies behind Being. But each of these views proves inadequate, fails to explain various aspects of the thing, and is one after another negated. Each view or essence is not destroyed by its negation, but overcome, retained and superseded by a still deeper essence, such as in the history of astronomy from flat Earth to geocentric to heliocentric to infinite unbounded Universe, to the Big Bang, etc.

Prior to Hegel, this subject (The Doctrine of Essence) was not considered to be a part of Logic at all. Today it would generally be covered, if at all, by History and Philosophy of Science or Research Methods. It is called Objective Logic because it describes the process whereby knowledge proceeds unconsciously as if determined by objective law. The Subjective Logic, on the contrary, begins with an abstract Notion, which is made more and more concretely theoretical practice, such as the history of development of a science once its central founding Notion is formulated; for example, the science of chemistry after the discovery of the concept of the periodic table of elements.

Essence describes how you come to the Notion, to the "key" to understanding something which, once arrived at, is the basis for all analysis of and "logical thinking" about the thing. This process goes through all sorts of "mistakes" before finding the "right road". Without this concept of Hegel's, it appears as if the Notion can only be arrived at by "inspiration" or "hunch".

Any mention of Essence implies that we distinguish it from Being: the latter is immediate, and, compared with the Essence, we look upon it as mere seeming. But this seeming is not an utter nonentity and nothing at all, but Being superseded and put by. The point of view given by the Essence is in general the standpoint of 'Reflection'. This word 'reflection' is originally applied, when a ray of light in a straight line impinging upon the surface of a mirror is thrown back from it. In this phenomenon we have two things - first an immediate fact which is, and secondly the deputed, derivated, or transmitted phase of the same. Something of this sort takes place when we reflect, or think upon an object: for here we want to know the object, not in its immediacy, but as derivative or mediated. The problem or aim of philosophy is often represented as the ascertainment of the essence of things: a phrase which only means that things, instead of being left in their immediacy, must be shown to be mediated by, or based upon, something else. The immediate Being of things is thus conceived under the image of a rind or curtain behind which the Essence is hidden.

Everything, it is said, has an Essence; that is, things really are not what they immediately show themselves. There is something more to be done than merely rove from one quality to another, and merely to advance from qualitative to quantitative, and vice versa: there is a permanence in things, and that permanence is in the first instance their Essence.

With respect to other meanings and uses of the category of Essence, we may note that in the German auxiliary verb, sein (to be), the past tense is expressed by the term for Essence (wesen): we designate past being as gewesen. This anomaly of language implies to some extent a correct perception of the relation between Being and Essence. Essence we may certainly regard as past Being, remembering however meanwhile that the past is not utterly denied, but only laid aside and thus at the same time preserved. [The Shorter Logic, §112n]

In this note to the first § of The Doctrine of Essence in The Shorter Logic, Hegel explains the meaning of Essence in its contrast to Being. At first, as I remarked above, it's just "one damn thing after another". Prices go up and down, politicians have scandals, strikes, take-overs, elections, etc. In so far as we are talking about "what is going on", these are "immediates", news items, things which appear and disappear, but "mean nothing to us". This is Being: how we perceive a thing before we recognise anything at all - chimera, images that do not show us the essence of the thing - but of course they do contain the essence, as well as these passing images.

We are only capable of recognising things that we already know from the past. A new concept of something cannot spring right out of immediate perception, it must be mediated through a whole process through things we already know about, and this process is Essence. To ascertain the essence of things, what lies behind the immediate, we begin by recognising things, the concepts of which we already have in our brains. But here we have not just an image that appears and passes away again, but what it is, so to speak.

The truth of being is essence.
Being is the immediate. Since knowing has for its goal knowledge of the true, knowledge of what being is in and for itself, it does not stop at the immediate and its determinations, but penetrates it on the supposition that behind this being there is something else, something other than being itself, that this background constitutes the truth of being. This knowledge is a mediated knowing for it is not found immediately with and in essence, but starts from an other, from being, and has a preliminary path to tread, that of going beyond being or rather of penetrating into it. Not until knowing inwardises, recollects itself out of immediate being, does it through this mediation find essence.

When this movement is pictured as the path of knowing, then this beginning with being, and the development that sublates it, reaching essence as a mediated result, appears to be an activity of knowing external to being, and irrelevant to being's own nature.

But this path is the movement of being itself. It was seen that being inwardises itself through its own nature, and through this movement into itself becomes essence. [The Science of Logic, Volume One The Objective Logic, Book II: Essence]

This excerpt is the opening of the Doctrine of Essence in the Science of Logic. "Essence is the truth of Being" It is the process of getting to the essence of what's happening, of going into it, of discovering its laws of motion, of explaining at first the main lines of development. Contradictions arise; the seemingly accidental aspects of the thing - the inessential - force us to deeper and deeper essence.

It is called "mediated" knowledge, because we use concepts to perceive Being, and these concepts have themselves their origin in Being. We recognise a scoundrel because "we've met his type before". Thus Essence is the movement of Being itself, rather than something external to, foreign to Being.

The Development of Essence

In the sphere of Essence one category does not pass into another, but refers to another merely. In Being, the forms of reference is purely due to our reflection on what takes place: but it is the special and proper characteristic of Essence. In the sphere of Being, when somewhat becomes another, the somewhat has vanished. Not so in Essence: here there is no real other, but only diversity, reference of the one to its other. The transition of Essence is therefore at the same time no transition: for in the passage of different into different, the different does not vanish: the different terms remain in their relation. When we speak of Being and Nought, Being is independent, so is Nought. The case is otherwise with the Positive and the Negative. No doubt these possess the characteristic of Being and Nought. But the Positive by itself has no sense; it is wholly in reference to the negative. And it is the same with the negative.

In the sphere of Being the reference of one term to another is only implicit; in Essence on the contrary it is explicit. And this in general is the distinction between the forms of Being and Essence: in Being everything is immediate, in Essence everything is relative. [The Shorter Logic, §111n]

Here Hegel points out that in Being, things come and go, rise and fall, and pass into one another - the opposites are independent of one another, whereas in Essence the opposites contradict one another and exist in contrast or opposition to one another. As a concept of the thing reaches its limit, and is transcended, it is superseded by its Other. The former retains its truth, although its truth is now shown to be relative and not absolute.

In the following excerpt from the Doctrine of the Notion in The Shorter Logic, Hegel contrasts this process of the struggle of opposites characteristic of the process of Essence, with the Development of the Notion from the initial abstract Notion to the absolutely concrete Idea, in which the former is not overcome by the later, but rather is absorbed into it, as one and the same Notion becomes more concrete:

The onward movement of the notion is no longer either a transition into, or a reflection on something else, but Development. For in the notion, the elements distinguished are without more ado at the same time declared to be identical with one another and with the whole, and the specific character of each is a free being of the whole notion. [The Shorter Logic, Development of the Notion, §161]

The initial moments of Essence are partial, limited impressions. Reality is infinitely complex and multi-sided, so what we think we see initially soon proves inadequate. It is the "exception which proved the rule". What seems at first inessential, accidental, not bearing on the question at issue at all, may prove in fact to be essential, but can only be so perceived as we run into contradictions and are forced to penetrate deeper. The movement of Essence is to become ever more comprehensive and more and more adequate to actuality, although not yet able to grasp the Notion of the thing itself.

The initial moment of Essence is Identity or reflection-into-self, the Understanding's uncritical identification of the thing with itself:

This identity, as it descended from Being, appears in the first place only charged with the characteristics of Being, and referred to Being as to something external. This external Being, if taken in separation from the true Being (of Essence), is called the Unessential. But that turns out to be a mistake. Because Essence is Being-in-self, it is essential only to the extent that it has in itself its negative, i.e. reference to another, or mediation. Consequently, it has the unessential as its own proper seeming (reflection) in itself. But in seeming or mediation there is distinction involved: and since what is distinguished (as distinguished from identity out of which it arises, and in which it is not, or lies as seeming) receives itself the form of identity, the semblance is still not in the mode of Being, or of self-related immediacy.

The sphere of Essence thus turns out to be a still imperfect combination of immediacy and mediation. In it every term is expressly invested with the character of self-relatedness, while yet at the same time one is forced beyond it. It has Being - reflected being, a being in which another shows, and which shows in another. And so it is also the sphere in which the contradiction, still implicit in the sphere of Being, is made explicit. ... [The Shorter Logic, § 114, The Unessential]

The theory of Essence is the most difficult branch of Logic. It includes the categories of metaphysic and of the sciences in general. These are the products of reflective understanding, which, while it assumes the differences to possess a footing of their own, and at the same time also expressly affirms their relativity, still combines the two statements, side by side, or one after the other, by an 'also', without bringing these thoughts into one, or unifying them into the notion. [The Shorter Logic, § 114]

The Sub-divisions of Essence
Simple Essence (Reflection) - Appearance - Actuality

We shall now go through the three main sub-divisions of Essence, namely Reflection (or Existence or Simple Essence), Appearance and Actuality. In the Science of Logic, Hegel sums up the divisions of Essence as follows:

At first, essence shines or shows within itself, or is reflection; secondly, it appears; thirdly, it manifests itself. In its movement, essence posits itself in the following determinations:

  1. As simple Essence, essence in itself, which in its determinations remains within itself.
  2. As emerging into determinate being, or in accordance with its Existence and Appearance.
  3. As essence that is one with its Appearance, as Actuality.


In this first section of Essence Hegel himself is uncertain of how to structure the material. He apparently revised the material countless times and between the publication of the Science of Logic in 1812 and the final revision of the Shorter Logic in 1830, and the Chapters of this Division change unrecognisably. Within this first section he deals with "Identity, Difference, Opposition" and Contradiction; with the maxims of identity and diversity; with positive and negative (polarity); with the unity of the essential and inessential, likeness and unlikeness.

"Reflection" means the generation by a thing of an image in something else, its Other. Reflection has its objective base in the universal property of material entities to reflect the properties of other objects with which has contact. Essence is in fact the process of development of Reflection which leads to the Notion. Reflection begins with Identity, the identification or recognition of a thing. This identity is upset and undergoes a contradictory development. This development is called Essence.

We will return to Reflection and the various subjects Hegel expounds under this category in the next chapter, after a consideration of the subdivisions of Appearance and Actuality.

Appearance (Form & Content)

The movement of essence is in general the becoming of the Notion. In the relation of inner and outer, the essential moment of this emerges, namely, that its determinations are posited as being in negative unity in such a manner that each immediately is not only its other but also the totality of the whole. But in the Notion as such this totality is the universal - a substrate which is not yet present in the relation of inner and outer. [Part C of Essential Relation in The Science of Logic]

The movement from Existence to Appearance. "What it is, turns out to be just an appearance" - leads towards an understanding of the relation between form and content - of why the content has this form, and not another. Thus appearance does not get away from Essence, but contains it as "show".

Existence stated explicitly in its contradiction is Appearance. But appearance (forth-showing) is not to be confused with a mere show (shining). Show is the proximate truth of Being or immediacy. The immediate, instead of being, as we suppose, something independent, resting on its own self, is a mere show, and as such it is packed or summed up under the simplicity of the immanent essence. [The Shorter Logic, § 131n - note to first § of Subdivision of Appearance]

The essence is, in the first place, the sum total of the showing itself, shining in itself (inwardly); but, far from abiding in this inwardness, it comes as a ground forward into existence; and this existence being grounded not in itself, but on something else, is just appearance. In our imagination we ordinarily combine with the term appearance or phenomenon the conception of an indefinite congeries of things existing, the being of which is purely relative, and which consequently do not rest on a foundation of their own, but are esteemed only as passing stages. But in this conception it is no less implied that essence does not linger behind or beyond appearance. Rather it is, we may say, the infinite kindness which lets its own show freely issue into immediacy, and graciously allows it the joy of existence. The appearance which is thus created does not stand on its own feet, and has its being not in itself but in something else. ... [Shorter Logic, § 131n]

In the early stages of natural science, the different branches described the various phenomena as they came to the senses and to experience, heat, optics, mineralogy, zoology, astronomy etc. Only much later is it possible to study biochemistry, electromagnetic radiation, the structure of the atom, processes which are not evident to the senses at all, but are conceivable only on the basis of a long period of theoretical development. The period of phenomena is the stage of Appearance in the development of science.

As soon as, by the accumulation of the properties of a science or a thing or event, we have been able to identify what it is, there begins a process of penetration from essence to deeper essence. This is the dialectic of form and content or Appearance.

For example: a new recruit to the organisation is a particular age and gender, comes from a particular social milieu and "spontaneously" expresses certain political opinions, etc. In the course of time, we come to know the content of this form and in fact, the content manifests itself; the enthusiastic new recruit becomes a real member, occupying a specific position in the spectrum of political opinion in the organisation, exhibits certain strengths and weaknesses and responds to events developing along a particular line which not only was not previously visible, but could not be said to have previously existed.

Form & Content

It must be seen here that the dialectic of Form (person ... recruit) and Content (recruit ... member) is driven forward by the continual "in-flow" of being to essence (more and more interaction). Being does not "stop" and pass over to Essence; Being drives Essence deeper and deeper. Every appearance retains its validity as it is overcome by a deeper truth. (The recruit is a person, the member is a demonstration).

First a form appears, but the form proves to have a different content, and comes into conflict with its content, content overthrows form and the content becomes a new form.

The first thing to note about how Hegel talks about Form and Content is that the content is also a form, but a deeper more developed form; on the other hand, there can be no formless content nor form without content. As Hegel explains:

The essential point to keep in mind about the opposition of Form and Content is that the content is not formless, but has the form in its own self, quite as much as the form is external to it. There is thus a doubling of form. At one time it is reflected into itself; and then is identical with the content. At another time it is not reflected into itself, and then it is external existence, which does not at all affect the content. We are here in presence, implicitly, of the absolute correlation of content and form: viz., their reciprocal revulsion, so that content is nothing but the revulsion of form into content, and form nothing but the revulsion of content into form. This mutual revulsion is one of the most important laws of thought. But it is not explicitly brought out before the Relations of Substance and Causality.

Form and content are a pair of terms frequently employed by the reflective understanding, especially with a habit of looking on the content as the essential and independent, the form on the contrary as the unessential and dependent. Against this it is to be noted that both are in fact equally essential; and that, while a formless content can be as little found as a formless matter, the two (content and matter) are distinguished by this circumstance, that matter, though implicitly not without form, still in its existence manifests a disregard of form, whereas the content, as such, is what it is only because the matured form is included in it. Still the form still suffers from externality.

In a book, for instance, it certainly has no bearing upon the content, whether it be written or printed, bound in paper or in leather. That however does not in the least imply that apart from such an indifferent and external form, the content of the book is itself formless. There are undoubtedly books enough which even in reference to their content may well be styled formless: but want of form in this case is the same as bad form, and means the defect of the right form, not the absence of all form whatever. So far is this right form from being unaffected by the content that it is rather the content itself. A work of art that wants the right form is for that very reason no right or true work of art: and it is a bad way of excusing an artist, to say that the content of his works is good and even excellent, though they want the right form. Real works of art are those where content and form exhibit a thorough identity. [Shorter Logic, §133 Content and Form]

Frequently, social movements go through a process of transforming from one form to another, of "shedding form" until finding the form which is true to its content. The converse process takes place when we are trying to determine what something is; at first it appears to be this, but then on closer examination it proves to be that.

The Subdivisions of Appearance: Existence - Appearance - Essential Relation

We are still in the phase of recognising a thing, of reflection of Being in past Being (knowledge in the form of Notions, as Essence), albeit, what it is at a deeper and deeper level. We are still in the phase of characterisation, but not yet of connecting with others, of concrete understanding, of cause and effect, of freedom and necessity.

Thus essence appears.
Reflection is the showing of illusory being within essence itself. Its determinations are enclosed within the unity simply and solely as posited, sublated determinations; or, reflection is essence which, in its positedness, is immediately identical with itself. But since essence is ground, it gives itself a real determination through its reflection, which is self-sublating or which returns into itself; further, since this determination, or the otherness, of the ground relation sublates itself in the reflection of the ground and becomes Existence, this endows the form determinations with an element of self-subsistence. Their illusory being completes itself to become Appearance.

The essentiality that has advanced to immediacy is, in the first instance, Existence, and an existent or thing - as an undifferentiated unity of essence with its immediacy. It is true that the thing contains reflection, but its negativity is, in the first instance, extinguished in its immediacy; but because its ground is essentially reflection, its immediacy sublates itself and the thing makes itself into positedness.

Secondly, then, it is Appearance. Appearance is that which the thing is in itself, or its truth. But this merely posited Existence which is reflected into otherness is equally the transcending of its itself in its infinitude; to the world of appearance is opposed the world that is reflected into itself, the world of essence.

But the being that appears and essential being, simply stand in relation to one another. Thus Existence is, thirdly, Essential Relation; what appears manifests what is essential, and this is in its Appearance.

The relation is the still-imperfect union of reflection-into-otherness and reflection-into-self; the perfect interpenetration of both is Actuality. [Science of Logic Section Two of the Doctrine of Essence]

The Development of Appearance

Appearance is the dialectic of Form & Content, or to put it another way, Form & Content is the "essence of appearance". Appearance is firstly the truth of existence, realised as essential relation. Appearance develops in a process with the build-up of a multiplicity of forms, all standing in contradictory relationship to their content.

The Appearance of Capitalism

The appearance of capitalism is money - and money which makes money in the form of interest-bearing capital; wages, the apparent "fair day's pay for a fair day's work"; the rule of the market over people, the relation of person to person in the form of commodity-to-commodity: all appearances, real illusions, forms which have a real content.

Actuality (Cause & Effect)

From Appearance, we have all the phenomena of the thing and in Actuality we see the truth of phenomena with all the inner and outer forms equally immediate and essential.

Actuality is the dialectic of Cause and Effect, which reaches its fullest development in the concept of Reciprocity, a totality in which every aspect and form of the thing is both cause and effect of every other; and the truth of Reciprocity is Necessity, and the truth (or "understanding") of Necessity is Freedom, which is the Notion.

Actuality is the process of concretising the picture of the thing with all its possibilities and interconnections, of understanding of a thing in terms of all the conditions of its existence, the factors determining its growth, etc.; all the parts become identical with the whole: "All that is rational is real and all that is real is rational".

Actuality is the unity, become immediate, of essence with existence, or of inward with outward. The utterance of the actual is the actual itself: so that in this utterance it remains just as essential, and only is essential, in so far as it is immediate external existence.

We have ere this met Being and Existence as forms of the immediate. Being is, in general, unreflected immediacy and transition into another. Existence is immediate unity of being and reflection: hence appearance: it comes from the ground, and falls to the ground. In actuality this unity is explicitly put, and the two sides of the relation identified. Hence the actual is exempted from transition, and its externality is its energising. In that energising it is reflected into itself: its existence is only the manifestation of itself, not of another. [§ 142 start of Subdivision of Actuality in the Shorter Logic]

The concrete, all-sided study of the phenomenon leads to an understanding in which the circle of cause and effect has been closed - it could not be other than it is.

According to Hegel, cause and effect are relative moments, denoting a limited moment of understanding, especially insofar as we are concerned with complex issues such as in history and the development of science. The dialectic of cause and effect passes over to the concept of reciprocity - where every effect is equally a cause, and every cause equally an effect, and cause and effect are dissolved into mere relativity by absolute reciprocity.

Substance (Possibility & Contingency - Real Possibility)

The beginning of Actuality is Substance - "the totality of Accidents" [Shorter Logic § 151], or all the essential and inessential attributes of things, in their infinite manifold necessary interconnection.

The dialectic of Substance takes the form of Possibility, which is translated through actuality, the actual conditions (contingencies which are Facts), into Real Possibility. The fullest development of this dialectic arrives at a conception of Necessity.

Hegel says:

The problem of science, and especially of philosophy, undoubtedly consists in eliciting the necessity concealed under the semblance of contingency. That, however, is far from meaning that the contingent belongs to our subjective conception alone, and must therefore be simply set aside, if we wish to get at the truth. All scientific researches which pursue this tendency exclusively lay themselves open to the charge of mere jugglery and an over-strained precisionism. [Shorter Logic § 145n]

The essence of this dialectic is the correlation of Necessity, distinguished from what is accidental, which is cause and effect.

Causality (Cause - Effect - Reciprocity)

When we try to explain something, we enquire into its cause. At this point the Cause is absolutely independent of the Effect. But the cause is also an effect, and is efficient only under a complex of conditions which are also both cause and effect. Thus, the view of causality reconstructs the conditions and possibilities in a network of relations of causality. In its fullest development, this cause - effect/cause - effect - cause chain bends back upon itself, becomes a circle in which there is no beginning, but a reflection of the all-sided interconnection of things which have their ground equally in themselves as in an Other. This concept is called Reciprocity.

At this point Causality has become identical with Possibility and Contingency, a whole system of necessary Action and Reaction.

In the study of great historical events, there is always controversy as to causes, the significance of particular conditions or events, the role of certain individuals etc.. Hegel has this to say:

... in so far as the relation of cause and effect is admitted, although improperly, the effect cannot be greater than the cause; for the effect is nothing more than the manifestation of the cause. It has become a common jest in history to let great effects arise from small causes and to cite as the primary cause of a comprehensive and profound event an anecdote. Such a so-called cause is to be regarded as nothing more than an occasion, an external stimulus, of which the inner spirit of the event had no need, or could have used a countless host of other such in order to begin from them in the sphere of Appearance, to disengage itself and give itself manifestation. [Science of Logic, Formal Cause]

The completion of the stage of Actuality is summed up by Hegel as "Freedom is the understanding of Necessity":

... the process of necessity is so directed that it overcomes the rigid externality which it first had and reveals its inward nature. It then appears that the members, linked to one another, are not really foreign to each other, but only elements of one whole, each of them, in its connection with the other, being, as it were, at home, and combining with itself. In this way, necessity is transfigured into freedom - not the freedom that consists in abstract negation, but freedom concrete and positive. [Shorter Logic, § 158n]

Freedom and Necessity

This understanding of the thing, at which the dialectical development of the opposite tendencies within a thing has become quite comprehensive, brings thought to the Notion of the thing, the conception of the object as a unity of opposites - to the "freedom of the Notion".

When anything is said to be necessary, the first question we ask is: Why? Anything necessary accordingly comes before us as something due to a supposition, the result of certain antecedents. If we go no further than mere derivation from antecedents, however, we have not gained a complete notion of what necessity means.

What is merely derivative, is what it is, not through itself, but through something else: and in this way, it too is merely contingent. What is necessary on the other hand, we would have to be what it is through itself: and thus, although derivative, it must still contain the antecedent whence it is derived as a vanishing element in itself. Hence we say of what is necessary, 'It is'. We thus hold it to be simple, self-relation, in which all dependence on something else is removed.

Necessity is often said to be blind. If that means that in the process of necessity the End or final cause is not explicitly and overtly present, the statement is correct. The process of necessity begins with the existence of scattered circumstances which appear to have no interconnection and no concern one with another. These circumstances are an immediate actuality which collapses, and out of this negation a new actuality proceeds. Here we have a content which in point of form is doubled, once as content of the final realised fact, and once as content of the scattered circumstances which appear as if they were positive, and make themselves at first felt in that character. The latter content is in itself nought and is accordingly inverted into its negative, thus becoming content of the realised fact. The immediate circumstances fall to the ground as conditions, but are at the same time retained as content of the ultimate reality. From such circumstances and conditions there has, as we say, proceeded quite another thing, and it is for that reason that we call this process of necessity blind. If on the contrary we consider teleological action, we have in the end of action a content which is already foreknown. This activity therefore is not blind but seeing. To say that the world is ruled by Providence implies that design, as what has been absolutely predetermined, is the active principle, so that the issue corresponds to what has been fore-known and forewilled.

The theory however which regards the world as determined through necessity and the belief in a divine providence are by no means mutually excluding points of view. The intellectual principle underlying the idea of divine providence will hereafter be shown to be the notion. But the notion is the truth of necessity, which it contains in suspension in itself; just as, conversely, necessity is the notion implicit. Necessity is blind only so long as it is not understood. [Shorter Logic 147n]

Reciprocity and the Notion

It is important to distinguish between Reciprocity and the Notion. The learned professor of history will be well aware of how every cause in a particular historical period or juncture was equally an effect and every effect a cause, and be able to trace the constitution of the government, the history of migrations, the development of industry and warfare, etc., etc., all inextricably linked to one another. Such a learned professor may rile against the historian who seeks to understand that period or historical juncture, to put forward a Notion or concept of it, a proposition which gives a "meaning" to what was happening. "Far too simple!", "It was much more complicated than that!", "But it was just as much such and such".

Reciprocal action realises the causal relation in its complete development. It is this relation, therefore, in which reflection usually takes shelter when the conviction grows that things can no longer be studied satisfactorily from a causal point of view, on account of the infinite progress already spoken of. Thus in historical research the question may be raised in a first form, whether the character and manners of a nation are the cause of its constitution and its laws, or if they are not rather the effect. Then, as the second step, the character and manners on one side and the Constitution and laws on the other are conceived on the principle of reciprocity: and in that case the cause in the same connection as it is a cause will at the same time be an effect, and vice versa.

The same thing is done in the study of Nature, and especially of living organisms. There the sexual organs and functions are similarly seen to stand to each other in the relation of reciprocity.

Reciprocity is undoubtedly the proximate truth of the relation of cause and effect, and stands, so to say, on the threshold of the notion; but on that very ground, supposing that our aim is a thoroughly comprehensive idea, we should not rest content with applying this relation. If we get no further than studying a given content under the point of view of reciprocity, we are taking up an attitude which leaves matters utterly incomprehensible. We are left with a mere dry fact; and the call for mediation, which is the chief motive in applying the relation of causality, is still unanswered. And if we look more narrowly into the dissatisfaction felt in applying the relation of reciprocity, we shall see that it consists in the circumstance that this relation, instead of being treated as an equivalent for the notion, ought, first of all, to be known and understood in its own nature. And to understand the relation of action we must not let the two sides rest in their state of mere given facts, but recognise them, as has been shown in the two paragraphs preceding, for factors of a third and higher, which is the notion and nothing else.

To make, for example, the manners of the Spartans the cause of their constitution and their constitution conversely the cause of their manners, may no doubt be in a way correct. But, as we have comprehended neither the manners nor the constitution of the nation, the result of such reflections can never be final or satisfactory. The satisfactory point will be reached only when these two, as well as all other, special aspects of Spartan life and Spartan history are seen to be founded in this notion. [Shorter Logic § 156n]

Having discovered that causality is a relative concept, the historian who does not understand dialectics (the positivist, for example) remains trapped in a meaningless morass of "interaction". Only a dialectical Notion, the "truth of necessity", can transcend this impasse.

The Actuality of Capitalism

The Actuality of capitalism is the identity of inner and outer: the extraction of value from the labour of workers by means of the wages system, the accumulation of surplus value through interest charges, etc. Actuality means understanding the identity of appearance and existence. It is manifested in the explication of the cause of its effects, as capitalism as the cause of impoverishment, etc., and alienation resulting from wage-labour as the basis of the rule of capital.

Essence in Natural and Social Developments

When a social movement first finds a voice, it speaks not with its own voice, but in the language of concepts which history has given it. Thus the first working class organisations were the guilds inherited from feudalism. Before speaking through a mass revolutionary socialist party, the workers build their own bourgeois parliamentary party.

The Division of Essence is that long drawn out and contradictory period from when a class first gets organised in whatever form it finds available, expressing itself in the "socially acceptable" terms of the day, and then goes through a process of the dialectic of Form and Content: the movement takes a particular form, but within this form a new content develops, this content eventually shows itself, overthrows the old form and takes on a new form more adequate to the content, continually revolutionising itself. This is the stage of Appearance.

Through the various forms a movement adopts it begins to learn, its defeats and setbacks are seen not as "bad luck" but as essential; the search of form becomes concentrated, until Form becomes identical with Content. "Freedom is the understanding of Necessity". As a movement grows, its growth and continued existence is subject to conditions, it goes in fits and starts. As the process becomes stronger, it does not simply overcome conditions, but the conditions themselves become part of the process and development becomes irresistible. This the stage of Actuality, the eve of being in and for itself (the Notion).

The Essence of Capitalism

The Essence of capitalism is the production of surplus value. Marx says that we should bear in mind that "the value of commodities has a purely social reality, and that they acquire this reality only in so far as they are expressions of one identical social substance, viz., human labour, it follows as a matter of course, that value can only manifest itself in the social relation of commodity to commodity" [Capital, Chapter 1, Section 3]. Marx traces the contradictory development of value through various forms within pre-capitalist societies, reaching its fullest development as the money-form in the society of generalised commodity production, capitalism. The genesis of value constitutes the Essence of Capital.

The Essence of the Women's Liberation Movement

The Essence of the modern Woman's Liberation movement is the value of woman's labour: in the genesis of the Women's movement the concept of Woman goes through a series of contradictory forms: Mother, God's Police, Woman as Equal, Woman as Separate, Woman as Exploited, etc., etc. It is the job of the historian of the Women's Movement to trace and understand the development of these concepts of Woman, which spring from the development of the productive forces and social relations in society as a whole. The socialisation of women's labour beginning in the 1940s is the being of the moden movement (see my paper on "Liberation Epistemology").

The Essence of Western Philosophy

The Essence of Western Philosophy (Galileo to Foucault) is Epistemology, the problem of knowledge, the essence of which in turn is the relation of subject (consciousness) and object (the world outside consciousness, matter). This conception develops in a contradictory fashion reflecting the development of society and industry and the build up of positive knowledge of the world, each philosophy having its own characteristic Notion of the relation of Matter and Mind. See Chapter IX.

The Essence of Humankind

The essence of humankind is labour. Homo sapiens distinguished ourselves from Nature by labour: "a process in which both man and Nature participate, and which man of his own accord starts, regulates, and controls the material reactions between himself and Nature. He opposes himself to Nature as one of her own forces, setting in motion arms and legs, head and hands, the natural forces of his body, in order to appropriate Nature's productions in a form adapted to his own wants. By thus acting on the external world and changing it, he at the same time changes his own nature" [Capital, Chapter VII, Section 1]