Re: dialectics and nature

From David Black

I thought I'd wait to see if anyone else would jump first, but Andy's report on the Aussie class struggle has inspired me up so much (there's nout like that here at the moment) I hereby abandon all reticence....

In a message dated 4/13/98, Cyril writes:

Now, where does Nature come in? It never went away, but it has nothing to do with a few parallels displayed by modern scientific discoveries. Or 'laws of dialectics', which we can 'apply' to anything and everything.!. Or a 'dialectic', like a little dynamo of contradiction, driving the development of 'matter'.

A modern Hegel scholar, Dieter Wandschnieder, suggests that Hegel's concept of nature is "quite definitely a category dialectic of natural categories"; it is neither the real "dialectics of nature", as envisaged by Engels, nor some intuition of the now established empirical fact of natural evolution. The point is that natural evolution does eventually 'realise' dialectical structures on the mental level, because nature does finally produce "a being capable of thought".

The question of dialectic in (non-human) nature is one thing; another is the question of 'Nature' IN Hegel's dialectic. (By the way Andy, whatever Lukacs said in 1967 about his 1923 critique of Engels, doesn't answer the question he posed in the earlier work, namely [something like] 'Where the hell is Subject and Object dialectic in this'.)

On another point Cyril writes:

Marx's communism has something vital to say about nature. It knows that nature must be such that it contains the potential for human freedom, and that this is hidden by bourgeois fetishised social forms. Humanity emerges from nature, as 'human nature', through social production, which is natural and human-natural.

Absolutely! What I'd like to take up as relevant here is the way Lenin, as a 'dialectical materialist', deals with Hegel's concept of Nature. If as Joachim Ritter puts it, the "historical principle of society's emancipatory constitution", as expressed in Hegel's Philosophy of Right, is the "nature principle of society" as appropriated from political economy, then it would seem that the 20th Century has seen the organizing principle of the Idea as expressed in political economy transformed into Political Practice as exercised by state power - even as a totalitarian state-capitalism calling itself "communism".

For Lenin, Hegel's treatment of the Logic-Nature relationship seems to represent 'practice' as Mediation. Lenin certainly recognizes that cognition is creative rather than just reflective; and he even makes note of Hegel's words on the subject's certainty "of its own actuality and the non-actuality of the world". Lenin however, doesn't comment on Hegel's distinction between "the actuality [which] appeared merely as an objective world WITHOUT the subjectivity of the Notion" and its appearance as an objective world whose "inner ground and actual substance IS the Notion... the Absolute Idea" and which sees the determination of cognition as its opposite (emphases mine). In attempting to grasp World History as thought, Hegel makes a syllogism - Universal-Particular-Individual - out of the three sections of his 'Encyclopaedia': Logic, Nature and Mind. (This syllogism expresses self- movement; it has nothing to do with the static triad of thesis- antithesis-synthesis - as in Fichte's subjective idealism). The syllogistic structure of the Encyclopaedia appears to be rooted in the metaphysical categories of Plato's works. In Plato's cosmology, the transition from Logic to Nature is determined by a 'devine demiurge' who makes the world out of primordial chaos; in his works the Timaeus is Nature, the Parmenides is Logic and the Republic is Mind. The external determination by Plato's demiurge mirrors the relationship of his Republic to the 'pure forms' determined by its 'divine guardians'. In Hegel's dialectic of Nature and the Idea, many 'materialist' commentators perceive him as having the Idea "swallow up" Nature, as if he were himself some sort of philosophic guardian of pure form. However, the abstract self-moving categories of Hegel's Logic express the same movement as the history-driven development of consciousness in the Phenomenology. These three sections of Hegel's 'Encyclopaedia' - Logic-Nature- Mind - form at the level of the Absolute the syllogism Universal-Particular- Individual. Hegel's syllogistic 'transition' may be seen, as Hegel scholar Gary Browning has argued, "as confirming the inter-relation between thought, natural phenomena and spiritual human activities which are implied in the development of the thought determinations of the logic".

Lenin recognizes that the Theoretical and Practical Idea are both in themselves "one-sided". On this Dunayevskaya argues (in 1953, and this just the beninning of her 45-year philosophic critique of him) that Lenin reaches the threshold of seeing in Hegel's absolute idea a movement from practice as well as from theory, but doesn't go beyond that threshold and so the Party, for Lenin, remains, an external determination of cognition. It could therefore only end up as the opposite of Revolution. Certainly Lenin recognizes that the Theoretical and Practical Idea are both in themselves "one-sided". In the Absolute Idea in the Logic, Hegel ends with the syllogism Logic-Nature- Mind, but more than a decade later, in 1830, after having been well and truly shaken up first by the capitalist crisis of 1825, then by the July Revolution, he goes to the 'Philosophy of Mind' and adds a second syllogism: of Nature-Mind-Logic. Here, at the 'pinnacle' of his philosophic journey, Mind, as objective political, philosophical and cultural relations, mediates between the Practical idea and Theoretical cognition.

This is followed by a dramatic development. Hegel seems to abolish in his philosophy what he couldn't in the 'real world': the 'system' as a 'closure' of the movement of thought and contingent history. For instead of a third sequential 'syllogism' - in which Logic would have been the middle term, positing Theory as mediation (and implicitly the Theoretician as mediator) - Hegel replaces the abstract category of Logic with the notion of "self- knowing" reason, which is "self-judging" and "divides itself into Mind and Nature". This notion unifies these two aspects as a "movement and development" which is "equally the action of cognition" and now "engenders and enjoys itself" as "the eternal idea". This 'idea' isn't as mystical as it sounds; didn't Marx, in 1860, when capitalism was booming, write to Freiligraph, who thought the "party was over'', about its existence in the "quintessential sense"?

David Black

Hegel, Lectures on the Philosophy of History vol 2 p49. Quoted in Gary K Browning, Transitions to and from Nature in Hegel and Plato, in Hegel's Metaphysics of Nature, Bulletin of the Hegel Society of Great Britain #26 1992

D Wandschnieder, Nature and Dialectic of Nature in Hegel's Objective Idealism, Bulletin of the Hegel Society of Great Britain #26 1992)