The Meaning of Hegel's Logic

VI: The Notion in Hegel's Logic

The Notion (of something) is people's generalised enduring image of it, which has taken shape and is acquired in the course of social practice, held in the mind without the immediate action of the thing upon the senses (as in immediate perception).

To the ordinary non-philosophic understanding, the notion is given immediately in experience; to empiricism, the notion is nothing but an "abstract universal" denoting a collection of individual things possessing a common property; to metaphysical philosophy before Hegel, the Notion is given by intuition or is a self-evident truth arrived at by introspection, and for subjective idealism the Notion has no referent in the objective world.

Hegel's conception is radically different and profound. All the elements of Hegel's dialectic are to be found in the nature of the Notion as elaborated in Hegel's Logic.

Truth is Historical

In the history of philosophy the different stages of the logical idea assume the shape of successive systems, each based on a particular definition of the Absolute. As the logical Idea is seen to unfold itself in a process from the abstract to the concrete, so in the history of philosophy the earliest systems are the most abstract, and thus at the same time the poorest. The relation too of the earlier to the later systems of philosophy is much like the relation of the corresponding stages of the logical Idea: in other words, the earlier are preserved in the later: but subordinated and submerged. This is the true meaning of a much misunderstood phenomenon in the history of philosophy - the refutation of one system by another, of an earlier by a later. Most commonly the refutation is taken in a purely negative sense to mean that the system refuted has ceased to count for anything, has been set aside and done for. Were it so, the history of philosophy would be, of all studies, most saddening, displaying, as it does, the refutation of every system which time has brought forth. Now although it may be admitted that every philosophy has been refuted, it must be in an equal degree maintained that no philosophy has been refuted. And that in two ways. For first, every philosophy that deserves the name always embodies the Idea: and secondly, every system represents one particular factor or particular stage in the evolution of the Idea. The refutation of a philosophy, therefore, only means that its barriers are crossed, and its special principle reduced to a factor in the completer principle that follows.

Thus the history of philosophy, in its true meaning, deals not with a past, but with an eternal and veritable present: and, in its results, resembles not a museum of the aberrations of the human intellect, but a Pantheon of godlike figures. These figures of gods are the various stages of the Idea, as they come forward one after another in dialectical development. [Shorter Logic, § 86n]


Each of the parts of philosophy is a philosophical whole, a circle rounded and complete in itself. In each of these parts, however, the philosophical Idea is found in a particular specificality or medium. The single circle, because it is a real totality, bursts through the limits imposed by its special medium, and gives rise to a wider circle. The whole of philosophy in this way resembles a circle of circles. The Idea appears in each single circle, but, at the same time, the whole Idea is constituted by the system of these peculiar phases, and each is a necessary member of the organisation. [Shorter Logic §15]

Each of the stages of the Notion we have discussed so far, the various moments of Being and Essence, are also notions. Every notion has relative truth as a finite part or stage in the development of human knowledge, partially reflecting objective reality. Each notion has its own genesis and forms part of the genesis of deeper, more concrete notions, like the multifarious species which make up the animal kingdom, each being a living organism in itself, but also forming a part of the process of evolution of species. This approach to knowledge is both critical and creative.

.... Philosophy is a knowledge through notions because it sees that what on other grades of consciousness is taken to have Being, and to be naturally or immediately independent, is but a constituent stage in the Idea. ... The notion, in short, is what contains all the earlier categories of thought merged in it. It certainly is a form, but an infinite and creative form which includes, but at the same time releases from itself, the fullness of all content. ...

If, as was said at an earlier point, the different stages of the logical idea are to be treated as a series of definitions of the Absolute, the definition which now results for us is that the Absolute is the Notion. That necessitates a higher estimate of the notion, however, than is found in formal conceptualist Logic, where the notion is a mere form of our subjective thought, with no original content of its own. [Shorter Logic § 160n]

A key concept in Hegel's historical approach is "sublation":

To sublate, and the sublated ... constitute one of the most important notions in philosophy. It is a fundamental determination which repeatedly occurs throughout the whole of philosophy, the meaning of which is to be clearly grasped and especially distinguished from nothing. What is sublated is not thereby reduced to nothing. ...

'To sublate' [aufhaben] has a twofold meaning in the language: on the one hand it means to preserve, to maintain, and equally it also means to cause to cease, to put an end to. Even 'to preserve' includes a negative element, namely, that something is removed from its influences, in order to preserve it. Thus what is sublated is at the same time preserved; it has only lost its immediacy but is not on that account annihilated. [The Science of Logic, Book I, Becoming]

So, when we come across a particular idea, or social movement or tendency, etc., we see not an isolated proposition which is more or less wrong in this or that respect, but a moment of development, we see it in motion, in interconnection with others, we see its inherent logic, its relative validity and its internal contradictions; we see it as part of history. We see ourselves as part of history.

Such a view is easily understood, but only to the extent that we become familiar with the history of things and the variety and interconnection of things, does this historical approach provides us with a rich and living view of the world. Consequently, dialectics presupposes a continuous study of the history of ideas, social movements and all natural and social phenomena.

The Notion of a Thing is the Truth of its Genesis

When we say that truth is historical, this observation has a further meaning. For example, if we define "fish" in terms of a sub-category of species organised in the manner of Linnaeus, we quickly find ourselves with a host of hybrids and "border-line cases" which cannot be satisfactorily classified "fish" or "not-fish" without in fact losing the notion of Fish. "Fish" is in fact not a set of properties be means of which an object may be classified as "fish" or "not-fish" - as a result of the discovery by Darwin of the origin of species, we can now understand the category of "fish" as a particular stage or arm in the evolution of species, and it is by the relation of a given species to this genesis that we may call it "fish" or "not-fish".

It is important to understand that the notion of a thing is not just it's history, the story of it's rise and fall, but the underlying principle or truth of its genesis.

For example, very many factors participate in the rise of capitalism in history, but Marx showed that capitalism is generalised commodity production, that is, Marx created a Notion of capitalism. This Notion of capitalism included within it Marx's tracing of the history of the commodity relation, which stretched back way before the appearance of capitalism and will continue beyond it.

This approach to a Notion is radically different from that which seeks a Notion in terms of a definition specifying the properties or relations of thing which are definitive or normative. It may in fact be flatly at odds which such a definition. For example, if we interpret Marx's notion of capitalism as an abstract universal, we might be inclined to categorise Ancient Rome as capitalist in a small way or the Soviet Union of the period of War Communism as having overcome capitalism.

On the other hand, a vulgar historical view of the nature of capitalism might lead one to believe in the anarchist slogan: "Property is theft", since the primitive accumulation of capital was based not upon the gradual spread of market relations, but on theft.

These two opposite aspects of the relation between concepts and historical development (concepts as moments of historical development and as the truth of historical development) are synthesised in Hegel's Logic, where Hegel derives the Notion as its own genesis from the concept of Being or immediate perception, and demonstrates that this genesis is the underlying general principle or "spirit" of the real historical development of the Notion in the history of philosophy.

The Truth is both Subjective and Objective

In the history of philosophy, correctly understanding the relation between subject (consciousness, or the ego) and object (the material world) has been a central and difficult problem. This will be discussed further later on, but for here we must observe that Hegel made an epoch-making step towards solving this problem by means of a dialectical analysis and synthesis of the object-subject relation. Instead of starting with an artificially separated subject and object and then trying to figure out how it was that the subject managed to reflect the object, in Hegel's Logic, the subject (Notion) distinguishes itself out of the object (Being), just as in the real history of humankind, people distinguished themselves from Nature by producing their means of subsistence.

Being and essence are so far the moments of its [the Notion's] becoming; but it is their foundation and truth as the identity in which they are submerged and contained. They are contained in it because it is their result, but no longer as being and essence. That determination they possess only in so far as they have not withdrawn into this their unity.

Objective logic therefore, which treats of being and essence constitutes properly the genetic exposition of the Notion. [Science of Logic, The Notion in General]

Consciousness does not go out and "discover" Nature and society, it emerges out of Nature and society, and is their product. The key to resolving the problems of the subject-object relation is to understand the subject as part of and an outcome of the object.

This approach, along with the genetic conception of Notions, is the key to Hegel's solution of the problem of dualism and scepticism which Descartes, the empiricists from Hobbes onwards, Hume and Kant, were unable to solve. The postulation of a priori concepts and categories is equally untenable as the immediate perception of concepts and categories in sensation.

Likewise, Marx approached the resolution of the crisis of capitalism and the struggle for socialism, not only by understanding capitalism as "it's own grave-digger" in creating the world market, modern industry and the proletariat, but also by understanding the working class as both the subject and object of its own liberation.

The Crisis in Modern Physics

The epistemological implications of the discoveries of quantum physics and relativity in the first quarter of this century is a subject far too large and complex for this short booklet. However, the following remarks are pertinent.

The contradiction between 2,200-year-old Euclidean geometry and the observed constancy of the velocity of light in a vacuum and the principle of relativity of motion, and the discovery of the wave-particle nature of sub-atomic particles presented natural scientists with epistemological problems, the resolution of which was a practical necessity for their work but for which their own philosophical knowledge and that of their peers was totally inadequate.

In my view it is entirely due to the political reaction against Marxism, that the philosophical achievements of Hegel and Marx were unknown to Western scientists. As a result, Ernst Mach's recession to Berkeleyism confused even the great Albert Einstein, and most physicists remain in the grip of positivism to this day. Einstein remained a materialist and looked to Spinoza, Heisenberg, initially a subjective idealist, later embraced the objective idealism of Plato, but outside of the USSR, few have any knowledge of dialectics.

The Correspondence Principle

This principle says that for speeds much less than the velocity of light, and macro-dimensions of mass and distance, the equations of general and special relativity and quantum mechanics must converge to those of Newtonian physics. This principle was introduced by Einstein as one of the basic postulates upon which he derived the theory of relativity, and was introduced by Niels Bohr as an essential element in the resolution of the paradoxes of quantum theory.

Within the world of macro-dimensions, our experience has imbedded certain concepts with the force of truisms and form the basis of a firmly established body of science. These concepts must be retained just as they are simultaneously terminated in a new scientific theory based on new insights, and the principle of correspondence expresses in mathematical terms Hegel's principle of "sublation".

Operational Definition of Physical Concepts

Einstein's critique of the Newtonian concepts of simultaneity and distance in terms of the operations, or material interactions, by which these concepts manifest themselves within a physical system is a profound application of the dialectical development of concepts hitherto regarded as a priori, and one in which the subject-object dualism of Newtonian physics is overcome in an entirely materialist and dialectical fashion. Percy Bridgman, however, transformed this insight into an absolute, contrary to the dialectical view of operationalism as a "stage in the development of the Idea".

The Principle of Complementarity

Niels Bohr introduced this principle under which a quantum interaction must be described in terms of wave-concepts and in terms of particle-concepts, and the two descriptions are together taken as a complete description of the properties of the interacting objects, despite the fact that no interaction can simultaneously correlate with both systems of concepts completely.

This concept of quantum-objects is a true Notion, a unity of opposites, and the truth of its contradictory essence and unmediated Being.

The problem of Visualisation

I think not enough attention has been paid to the prejudice that a concept cannot be considered as "real" unless it can be "visualised". This is found for instance in Kant, who accepted as a priori, concepts of space and time which later proved to be "empirical", while at the same time fighting against the dogmatism of extending concepts derived from experience to "things-in-themselves".

But the contrary is true. The thing-in-itself is manifested in Essence, and Essence is contradictory, and Notion must be a unity of opposites, and grasps both Being and Essence in a single thought; Being cannot be "visualised" otherwise.

Absolute and Relative

Linked to the question of subject and object, is the question of the absolute and the relative. The historical view of concepts does not mean that "everything is relative"; within the relative is an absolute - but the absolute is also relative, or as Lenin says: "in (objective) dialectics the difference between the relative and the absolute is itself relative." [Philosophical Notebooks].

Hegel says: "The different stages of the logical idea are to be treated as a series of definitions of the Absolute". [Shorter Logic § 160n]. In other words, in the history of thought and in the development of any specific theory or concept, at various stages or key points of development, an aspect of the truth is fixed upon and "elevated into an absolute"; but in the course of its own development, this absolute proves to be relative, and is overcome by a new concept. But what is absolute is retained and carried forward; the absolute is the whole movement, which is submerged in the notion, but is also contained in that relative concept which is a stage in the genesis of the notion. "The definition, which declares the Absolute to be the Idea, is itself absolute. All former definitions come back to this". [Shorter Logic, § 213]

For instance, capitalism is just a passing stage in the history of humanity (a relative), but it is a necessary stage (absolute). Or the nature of a thing is a matter of opinion, but not just a matter of opinion. And so on.

The Truth is both Immediate and Mediated

This fundamental unity of subject and object is also manifested in the identity of conceptual, socially constructed and immediate, sensual knowledge. And Hegel solves this problem in a way which is diametrically opposite to the sceptical, subjective conclusion of his predecessor, Immanuel Kant.

... truths which we well know to be results of complicated and highly mediated trains of thought present themselves immediately and without effort to the mind of any person who is familiar with the subject. The mathematician, like everyone who has mastered a particular science, meets any problem with ready-made solutions which presuppose most complicated analyses: and every educated person has a number of general views and maxims which he can muster without trouble, but which can only have sprung from frequent reflection and long experience. The facility we attain in any sort of knowledge, art, or technical expertness, consists in having the particular knowledge or kind of action present to our mind in any case that occurs, even, we may say, immediate in our very limbs, in an outgoing activity. In all these instances, immediacy of knowledge is so far from excluding mediation, that the two things are linked together - immediate knowledge being actually the product and result of mediated knowledge. [Shorter Logic § 66]

Notions, or concepts, are the product of a protracted period of social practice [and the objectivity of Notions is founded in the objective character of human practice]. As stated above in indicating the general meaning of "notion", notions are held in the mind without the immediate stimulus of the senses. Nevertheless, when we perceive something, we believe that we have them immediately, that they are not products of our thought, but exist objectively and are given to us in immediate perception and indeed they are!

When we look at "the Moon", we do not question the immediacy of this perception. A murky cloud-covered view we would unhesitatingly refer to as "the Moon" equally as the Moon on a clear night. The Moon itself is inseparable from our concept of it, and has reflected sunlight on to countless generations of people. And in apprehending the Moon, we apprehend that which is referred to in the word "lunacy" and the words "romantic moonlit night" and which causes the tides.

In our Notion of "the Moon" there is both immediate Being and the whole history of development of the concept of Moon in human history, which is its "Essence", inseparably.

Abstract immediacy is no doubt a first; yet in so far as it is abstract it is, on the contrary mediated, and therefore if it is to be grasped in its truth its foundation must first be sought. Hence this foundation, though indeed an immediate, must have made itself immediate through the sublation of mediation.

From this aspect the Notion is to be regarded in the first instance simply as 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. They are contained in it because it is their result, but no longer as being and essence. [The Science of Logic, The Notion in General]

For dialectics, Essence is not a "thing-in-itself", beyond and inaccessible to perception, but is contained in Being and Being shows itself in Essence. Dialectical criticism is not negative and sceptical, but grasps the Notion as a contradiction and holds fast the contradiction between the concept and immediate perception.

Even (or rather especially) when what we see sharply contradicts what we know it to be, truth lies neither in abandoning our former opinion nor in ignoring the evidence of the senses but in forming a unity of the two: modifying our former opinion and seeing it in a new light, finding in immediate perception what was formerly so but now is not so.

Truth is Concrete

In the next chapter, we shall look at the development of the Notion, from a simple abstract concept to a more and more concrete concept, but it must first be noted that we do not use the words "abstract" and "concrete" to contrast the ideal and mental versus the material and sensual. Rather, "abstract" refers to the simplicity of a single thing or aspect of a thing which is torn away from its connection with other things, other aspects, from historical development, while "concrete" on the other hand, refers to the combination of many aspects and interconnections, of many abstractions. Hegel remarks:

Sensuous consciousness is in ordinary estimation the most concrete and thus also the richest; but that is true only as regards materials, whereas, in reference to the thought it contains, it is really the poorest and most abstract. [Shorter Logic, §85n]

We find truth in immediate perception because of the richness of its content, but the concepts that immediately arise from immediate perception are the most abstract and poorest (contrary to the obsession of bourgeois social science with statistics, surveys and so on). The dialectical notions which form the basis of rational analysis are abstract in their simplicity (such as the concept of the atom in the beginnings of the science of physical chemistry) but must be deemed concrete inasmuch as they contain within them the whole history leading up to their conception, negating all earlier concepts of the thing which have outgrown their limits and been negated and carried forward.

The truth of such concepts lies in this concreteness of their genesis. The abstractness of the notion is overcome by the further development of the notion:

... the Notion has subjugated being and essence, which from other starting points include also feeling and intuition and representation, and which appeared as its antecedent conditions, and has proved itself to be their unconditioned ground. There now remains the second aspect, to the treatment of which this Third Book of the Logic is devoted, namely the exposition of how the Notion builds up in and from itself the reality that has vanished in it. It has therefore been freely admitted that the cognition that stops short at the Notion purely as such, is still incomplete and has only as yet arrived at abstract truth. But its incompleteness does not lie in its lack of that presumptive reality given in feeling and intuition but rather in the fact that the Notion has not yet given itself a reality of its own, a reality produced from its own resources. [The Science of Logic, The Notion in General]

In Being, in immediate perception we have from the conceptual point of view, the least truth, because we have in any given moment just one passing, relative aspect or quality. A true concept can only be formed by the development out of immediate perception of its truth, which emerges through a protracted process each stage of which sums up and sublates the relative, abstract truth of the former. Although this process aims at forming a simple kernel or key, at finding what is, its truth, the process of forming this abstraction is a process of concretisation of the concepts through which the development takes place.

Knowledge proceeds from the abstract to the concrete

From the standpoint of a modern day chemist, the nineteenth century notion of "molecule" is very abstract in that it was simply the concept of the smallest unit of a substance which had chemical properties, combined with others in definite whole number ratios, and had a molecular weight. The modern concept of molecule is extremely concrete, because it includes within it a vast body of science and experience, reflected in a highly complex and elaborated concept of molecular structure and dynamics and the various concepts of atoms and sub-atomic entities.

The absolute idea may in this respect be compared to the old man who utters the same creed as the child, but for whom it is pregnant with the significance of a lifetime. [Shorter Logic §237]

So, to a youngster, the concept of nationality is very abstract in the sense that though she/he may know the concept, it cannot mean very much to one who has no experience of war, migration, ghettos, cultural history, language etc., all of which are contained within the notion of nationality in the mind of an older person.

It is in this sense that we say that "atom" and "nationality" are abstract notions in the form that they first appear in thought.

But the Notion, as conceived by Hegel, is concrete by comparison with the very abstract forms of Being and the less concrete forms of Essence, which are merged in the Notion. The Notion is a very concrete concept, because all the content of its genesis are sublated within it.

In the logic of understanding, the notion is generally reckoned a mere form of thought, and treated as a general conception. It is to this inferior view of the notion that the assertion refers, so often urged on behalf of the heart and sentiment, that notions as such are something dead, empty, and abstract. The case is really quite the reverse. The notion is, on the contrary, the principle of all life, and thus possesses at the same time a character of thorough concreteness. That it is so follows from the whole logical movement up to this point, and need not be here proved. The contrast between form and content, which is thus used to criticise the notion when it is alleged to be merely formal, has, like all the other contrasts upheld by reflection, been already left behind and overcome dialectically or through itself.

The notion, in short, is what contains all the earlier categories of thought merged in it. It certainly is a form, but an infinite and creative form which includes, but at the same time releases from itself, the fullness of all content. And so too the notion may, if it be wished, be styled abstract, if the name concrete is restricted to the concrete facts of sense or of immediate perception. For the notion is not palpable to the touch, and when we are engaged with it, hearing and seeing must quite fail us. And yet, as it was before remarked, the notion is a true concrete; for the reason that it involves Being and Essence, and the total wealth of these two spheres with them, merged in the unity of thought. [Shorter Logic § 160n]

In The Grundrisse, "The Method of Political Economy", Marx explains two opposite methods in the development of political economic analysis in terms of the movement from abstract to concrete and concrete to abstract, as follows:

When we consider a given country politico-economically, we begin with its population, its distribution among classes, town, country, the coast, the different branches of production, export and import, annual production and consumption, commodity prices, etc. [The Grundrisse]

That is, in "Hegelian" terms, ordinary understanding (and empirical science), uncritically accepting the categories with which it approaches the subject (or at any rate lacking any other system of concepts), begins with a quantitative-qualitative analysis of immediate perception mediated by these concepts. ...

It seems to be correct to begin with the real and the concrete, with the real production, thus to begin, in economics, with e.g. the population, which is the foundation and the subject of the entire social act of production. However, on closer examination this proves false. The population is an abstraction if I leave out, for example, the classes of which it is composed. These classes in turn are an empty phrase if I am not familiar with the elements on which they rest. E.g. wage labour, capital, etc. These latter in turn presuppose exchange, division of labour, process, etc. For example, capital is nothing without wage labour, without value, money, price, etc. Thus, if I were to begin with the population, this would be a chaotic conception of the whole, and I would then, by means of further determination, move analytically towards ever more simple concepts, from the imagined concrete towards ever thinner abstractions until I had arrived at the simplest determinations. [The Grundrisse]

Proceeding with the methods of empiricism, these pioneers of political economy stripped down the concrete concepts with which they began to "abstract universals", very thin abstractions which are adequate only to the most general, quantitative description of the subject matter.

From there the journey would have to be retraced until I had arrived at the population again, but this time not as the chaotic conception of a whole, but as a rich totality of many determinations and relations. [The Grundrisse]

These very thin notions provide the starting point for a theoretical image of the subject matter which reproduces the richness of immediate perception, but with poor theoretical content.

The former is the path historically followed by economics at the time of its origins. The economists of the seventeenth century, e.g. always begin with the living whole, with population, nation, state, several states, etc.; but they always conclude by discovering through analysis a small number of determinant, abstract, general relations such as division of labour, money, value, etc. [The Grundrisse]

Historically speaking, beginning with these abstract concepts marks the starting point of the science as such, which leads to more and more concrete concepts.

As soon as these individual moments had been more or less firmly established and abstracted, there began the economic systems, which ascended from the simple relations, such as labour, division of labour, need, exchange value, to the level of the state, exchange between nations and the world market. [The Grundrisse]

And Marx here explains Hegel's concept of abstract and concrete, the movement from Being to Notion to Idea:

The latter [the development of more concrete notions] is obviously the scientifically correct method. The concrete is concrete because it is the concentration of many determinations, hence unity of the diverse. It appears in the process of thinking, therefore, as a process of concentration, as a result, not as a point of departure, even though it is the point of departure in reality and hence also the point of departure for observation and conception. Along the first path the full conception was evaporated to yield an abstract determination; along the second, the abstract determinations lead towards a reproduction of the concrete by way of thought. [The Grundrisse]

As Hegel says:

The sensuous consciousness is in ordinary estimation the most concrete and thus also the richest; but that is true only as regards materials, whereas, in reference to the thought it contains, it is really the poorest and most abstract. [The Shorter Logic, § 85n]

The Notion is a Unity of Opposites

In discussing the significance of Kant's discovery of necessary antinomies in logic, Hegel explains:

... every actual thing involves a coexistence of opposed elements. Consequently to know, or, in other words, to comprehend an object is equivalent to being conscious of it as a concrete unity of opposed determinations, [whereas] the old metaphysic, as we have already seen, when it studied the objects of which it sought a metaphysical knowledge, went to work by applying categories abstractly and to the exclusion of their opposites. [Shorter Logic §48n]

In the whole of the Logic, Hegel demonstrates this principle, time and again, in deriving each new concept as the overcoming, or synthesis, of the contradiction arising in the development of another concept. The whole of Logic is a proof that "There is absolutely nothing whatever in which we cannot and must not point to contradictions or opposite attributes" [Shorter Logic § 89].

The significance of this concept of the Notion as a "unity of opposites" may be illustrated with one or two famous examples:

Marx's concept of the Commodity as a unity of Exchange Value and Use Value

As Marx explains in Chapter One of Capital (to which the reader should refer), a commodity is a useful thing which is produced not for its use value but for its exchange value, i.e. because it is useful precisely to someone else, and that this exchange value can only be realised if it finds its way to someone who requires its use value. (Its use value for the producer its only its exchange value). However, it turns out that the quantitative measure of exchange value has nothing (immediately) to do with its use value - the two have qualitatively different measures, are in fact incommensurable.

In later Chapters, the "tension" between the sides of this contradiction are elaborated - for example capital will move from industry to industry or enterprise to enterprise and bring about by a complex process involving the whole economy a dynamic "struggle" between use and exchange value.

Lev Vygotsky's Concept of Word Meaning

The great Soviet psychologist, Lev Vygotsky, initiated the modern theory of language in the early 1930s:

What is the basic unit of verbal thought ?... word meaning. ... The conception of word meaning as a unit of both generalising thought and social interchange is of incalculable value for the study of language and thought. [Thought and Language, Chapter 1]

Vygotsky Notion's of verbal thought, the "germ" of verbal thought, is a unity of opposites. Vygotsky explains that

Modern physics has given us the wave-particle conception of matter and radiation, cosmology which has become identical with the theory of the atomic nucleus in the Big Bang, neurology a left brain/right brain with uncoordinated opposite functions, and so on.

Hegel describes the derivation of a concept as a unity of opposites as a "Syllogism", but a syllogism in a radically different sense than the sense in which the word is used in formal logic:

The relation of the negative to itself is to be regarded as the second premise of the whole syllogism. If the terms analytic and synthetic are employed as opposites, the first premise may be regarded as the analytic moment, for in it the immediate stands in immediate relationship to its other and therefore passes over, or rather has passed over, into it - although this relation, as already remarked, is also synthetic, precisely because that into which it passes over is its other. The second premise here under consideration may be defined as synthetic, since it is the relation of the differentiated term as such to the term from which it is differentiated. Just as the first premise is the moment of universality and communication, so the second is determined by individuality, which in its relation to its other is primarily exclusive, for itself, and different. The negative appears as the mediating element, since it includes within it itself and the immediate whose negation it is. ...
In this turning point of the method, the course of cognition at the same time returns into itself. As self-sublating contradiction this negativity is the restoration of the first immediacy, of simple universality; for the other of the other, the negative of the negative, is immediately the positive, the identical, the universal. If one insists on counting, this second immediate is, in the course of the method as a whole, the third term to the first immediate and the mediated. [The Science of Logic, The Absolute Idea]

The conception of all concepts as a unity of opposites, as essentially, internally contradictory, has both an analytic and a synthetic meaning, both negative and positive. It is negative and analytic when we "discover" the contradictory aspects in a concept as it is given to us, when we bring out the contradictory tendencies within a thing and elaborate their relation. It is synthetic when we bring together apparently distinct or "opposite" notions or things and postulate a new notion.

Both these aspects of the concept of "unity of opposites" are demonstrated by Hegel throughout the Logic, beginning with the analytic proof that "Being is Nothing" and their synthesis in the concept of Becoming as the "realisation that Being is Nothing".

The Notion is equally Analytic and Synthetic

Analysis and synthesis are processes of breaking down of a whole into its constituent parts, and reconstituting a whole from its parts. 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.

The art of working with concepts is the art of merging analysis and synthesis.

The absolute method, on the contrary, does not behave like external reflection but takes the determinate element from its own subject matter, since it is itself that subject matter's immanent principle and soul. This is what Plato demanded of cognition, that it should consider things in and for themselves, that is, should consider them partly in their universality, but also that it should not stray away from them catching at circumstances, examples and comparisons, but should keep before it solely the things themselves and bring before consciousness what is immanent in them.

The method of absolute cognition is to this extent analytic. That it finds the further determination of its initial universal simply and solely in that universal, is the absolute objectivity of the Notion, of which objectivity the method is the certainty. But the method is no less synthetic, since its subject matter, determined immediately as a simple universal, by virtue of the determinateness which it possesses in its very immediacy and universality, exhibits itself as an other. [The Science of Logic, The Absolute Idea]

The Notion is the truth of Actuality

Where does the Notion come from? As Hegel explains, the Notion is the truth of Being and Essence, which constitute the genesis of the Notion. The "Notion" in Hegel's Logic refers to a new Notion, in contrast to the relative, passing notions that have originated from past perception and are active in reflection. The Notion is the result of a process of concentration or distillation, a bringing together of the disparate and separation out of the inessential, as described above in The Meaning of Essence.

The Notion is the simple, abstract outcome of this process which first reaches an approximate identification of opposite determinations which forms an adequate ground for the identity of immediate perception (being) and theory: The notion is a kind of "summing up" of Actuality, its truth.

... the Notion is the truth of substance; and since substance has necessity for its specific mode of relationship, freedom reveals itself as the truth of necessity and as the mode of relationship proper to the Notion. [The Science of Logic, The Notion in General]

"Substance" for Hegel, means possibility, or "the totality of accidents". The "truth of substance" means the comprehension of a process by which what exists is understood not only as real possibility, but cause and effect have merged and possibility has merged with necessity, all elements of conditionality, choice or chance have been "absorbed", where essence is equal to existence, the inessential is equally essential in other words the consummation of the stage of Actuality.

... Substance is the absolute, the actuality that is in and for itself in itself as the simple identity of possibility and actuality, absolute essence containing all actuality and possibility within itself; and for itself, being this identity as absolute power or purely self-related negativity. [Science of Logic, Notion in General]

Thus, for Hegel, the Notion of a thing arises not from intuition or in the form of an unproved "axiom" or by introspection or contemplation, but as the outcome of a whole process and development of practice, in which the existing state of knowledge and actual experience undergo a contradictory interpenetration.

What the nature of the Notion is, can no more be stated offhand than can the Notion of any other object. It might perhaps seem that, in order to state the Notion of an object, the logical element were presupposed and that therefore this could not in turn have something else for its presupposition, nor be deduced; just as in geometry logical propositions as applied to magnitude and employed in that science, are premised in the form of axioms, determinations of cognition that have not been and cannot be deduced. Now although it is true that the Notion is to be regarded, not merely as a subjective presupposition but as the absolute foundation, yet it can be so only in so far as it has made itself the foundation. [The Science of Logic, The Notion in General]

A science therefore does begin not with definitions and unproven "axioms". Such a beginning, if subject to analysis only leads further back to its real beginning, which would lie apparently outside the science. The Notion which forms the foundation of a science, must make its own foundation.

Thus, just as a notion has its genesis, so also the thing conceived in the Notion has its own history, its own genesis, like the embryo which recapitulates the evolution of species in the womb.

The above features characterise the method of Hegel's Logic which lead us to the Doctrine of the Notion, or the Subjective Logic.

The Categories and the Transition between them

In this booklet, I have deliberately focused on the various categories of Hegel's system. However, the important point is to grasp not just the meaning of each category, but the transition between them:

though ordinary thinking everywhere has contradiction for its content, it does not become aware of it, but remain an external reflection which passes from likeness to unlikeness, or from the negative relation to the reflection -into-self, of the distinct sides. It holds these two determinations over against one another and has in mind only them, but not their transition, which is the essential point and which contains the contradiction. [Science of Logic, Law of Contradiction ]

However, it is fair to say, that one cannot grasp the transition between two concepts, until one has grasped the concepts each in-itself. I leave this as the task of you the reader, in your further study.

The Notion in Nature and Society

In the world of nature, it is organic life that corresponds to the grade of the notion. Thus e.g. the plant is developed from its germ. The germ virtually involves the whole plant, but does so only ideally or in thought: and it would therefore be a mistake to regard the development of the root, stem, leaves, and other different parts of the plant, as meaning that they were realiter present, but in a very minute form, in the germ. That is the so-called 'box-within-box' hypothesis; a theory which commits the mistake of supposing an actual existence of what is at first found only as a postulate of the completed thought. The truth of the hypothesis on the other hand lies in its perceiving that in the process of development the notion keeps to itself and only gives rise to alteration of form, without making any addition in point of content. [Shorter Logic, §161n]


... the germ of a plant contains its particular, such as root, branches, leaves, etc.: but these details are at first present only potentially, and are not realised till the germ uncloses. This unclosing is, as it were, the judgement of the plant. The illustration may also serve to show how neither the notion nor the judgement are merely found in our head, or merely framed by us. The notion is the very heart of things, and makes them what they are. To form a notion of an object means therefore to become aware of its notion: and when we proceed to a criticism or judgement of the object, we are not performing a subjective act, and merely ascribing this or that predicate to the object. We are, on the contrary, observing the object in the specific character imposed by its notion. [Shorter Logic, §166n]

In the history of the workers movement, we could understand the workers' revolutionary party and its program as the Notion of the working class.

The Notion of Capitalism

As outlined above, the concept of "commodity" in Marxist political economy is a Notion in the sense of dialectics: a unity of opposites - use-value and exchange value; this Notion gives us the Notion of capitalism as "generalised commodity production", the social system expressing the basic contradiction within the relations of commodity production.

As put forward in Chapter III above, the "essence of capitalism" is production of surplus value; the concept of value as the estranged or alienated form of "abstract human labour" is the content of this Notion.

The Being of capitalism is the whole development of the productive forces, including especially its living human actors.

We say that generalised commodity production (Notion) is production of surplus value (Essence) at that most developed stage of the forces of production (Being), where the entire globe is drawn into the world market, which penetrates into every human relation, breaking up the family and transforming knowledge, care, love and death into commodities to be bought and sold.

In this work, I am giving emphasis to the main categories of the Logic as stages in the development of a process over time. Having grasped these concepts in this way, it is then necessary to see them simultaneously, as the inner dialectic within any object.

Capitalism goes through its historical development from Being (scattered, isolated exchange of commodities at the fringes of ancient society), essence (contradictory struggle, breaking down the barriers of feudalism, developing the world market, finding its appropriate political and social forms, etc., etc.) and Notion (generalised commodity production, the hegemony of the market).

But also, the forces of production continue to develop and transform themselves, and reflect itself in transformations in the superstructure; the value form continuously finds new forms as capital struggles to penetrate and atomise social relations; the commodity production continues to extend itself in breadth and depth.

The categories of the Logic can always be understood in this "double way". Essence is the genesis of the Notion, but Essence does not die out, but lives on within the Notion, changing and modifying its nature; Being is the ever-present "driving force".