Tony Smith on Hegel: Method & System

I have just read the first chapter of Tony Smith's Logic of Marx's Capital as reproduced on the Hegel-by-HyperText site. The chapter is the introductory chapter of a more comprehensive treatment and addresses itself to the Hegel novice, so it is with great hesitation that I respond with criticism. My own efforts to introduce people to a reading of Hegel necessarily also begins from various "simplifications". How could it be otherwise with such an original and profound thinker as Hegel?

In particular, how could one invite the uninitiated to approach Hegel without introducing the three main divisions of the Logic (Being - Essence - Notion) in their succession in the Logic and some notion of the "triadic" structure of the whole work?

Nevertheless, I would find it obligatory to qualify such explanations with warnings to the reader, and at least in the passage we have reproduced, I find no such warnings in Tony's Chapter, so I will take it that the chapter represents accurately Tony's current understanding of Hegel.

1. In numerous passages in this one chapter Tony expressions the idea that "These structures can then be systematically ordered such that a linear progression of categories is constructed that moves in a step-by-step fashion from simple and abstract determinations to categories that are complex and concrete". (C. 1).

A particular case of this view is the view that understanding must proceed from "empirical apprehension of the initially given" to "appropriation of immediately given experience" to "theoretical reconstruction". What is one to make of Hegel's statement in "With What Must Science Begin?" that "there is nothing, nothing in heaven, or in nature or in mind or anywhere else which does not equally contain both immediacy and mediation, so that these two determinations reveal themselves to be unseparated and inseparable and the opposition between them to be a nullity."

I remember very clearly a certain moment in my own study of the Logic, after I had spent quite a long time identifying the various categories and locating them in the system, and then confronting considerable difficulty with a number of important statements in the Logic and in trying to understand how they related to the famous Chapter One of Capital. It just didn't fit! The break-through came in laying aside this idea that the Logic constituted some kind of "ordering" of the categories (except insofar as any text is necessarily an ordering) and in trying to grasp them simultaneously in any given object or concept. The "ordering" concept of Hegel's Logic is OK a stage of cognition of Hegel's Logic, but it is itself but one conception in a whole succession of notions which need to be broken down and transcended.

2. In a similar vein, I remember clearly when one of the correspondents on this list pointed out to me that Hegel never uses the term "thesis-antithesis-synthesis" and to my surprise I was able to conditionally verify this, and was forced to go back and re-think my conception of the inner structure of the Logic. My conclusion was that Hegel avoided this term, with which he was quite familiar, because each of the transitions that arise in the Logic have their own distinctive character, and it would be a mistake to impose a single kind of "building-block". Tony on the other hand, I think rather rashly, allows the reader to suffer the illusion that "he appears to have meant something fairly straightforward", viz., unity-difference-higher unity. I think Tony here makes the kind of "simplification" which has the merit of helping the novice get a handle on Hegel, but has the danger of leaving the reader with the illusion that the issue has been exhausted. It is fair to say that Engels' "Three Laws of Dialectics", for example, carried with it the same inherent danger. Our generation is faced to some extent with overcoming the off-handedness with which Hegel's achievements are treated, and I think we should take great care in the way such "simplifications" are presented.

I will not continue in this vein, for I do not have access to the remainder of the book and risk falling deeper into error in assessing Tony's work. However, I cannot help but observe that there is on this treatment of Hegel the recognisable mark of the Pragmatist. Tony seems to want to reduce Hegel's Logic to a kind of "effective procedure". I am reminded of George Novack's generally valuable study of American Pragmatism in The History of Empiricism, in which he was drawn to the conclusion that Pragmatism had its faults but was most likely the penultimate step in the development of philosophy to dialectical materialism.