Reason and Revolution. Herbert Marcuse 1941
THE striking difference between Hegel’s Logic and the traditional logic has often been emphasized in the statement that Hegel replaced the formal by a material logic, repudiating the usual separation of the categories and forms of thought from their content. Traditional logic treated these categories and forms as valid if they were correctly formed and if their use was in conformity with the ultimate laws of thought and the rules of the syllogism – no matter what the content to which they were applied. Contrary to this procedure, Hegel maintained that the content determines the form of the categories as well as their validity. ‘But it is the nature of the content, and that alone, which lives and progresses in philosophic cognition, and at the same time it is the inner reflection of the content which posits and originates its determinations.’ The categories and modes of thought derive from the process of reality to which they pertain. Their form is determined by the structure of this process.
It is in this connection that the claim is often made that Hegel’s logic was new. Novelty is supposed to consist in his use of the categories to express the dynamic of reality. In point of fact, however, this dynamic conception was not a Hegelian innovation; it occurs in Aristotle’s philosophy where all forms of being are interpreted as forms and types of movement. Aristotle attempted exact philosophical formulation in dynamic terms. Hegel simply reinterpreted the basic categories of Aristotle’s Metaphysics and did not invent new ones.
We must note in addition that a dynamic philosophy was enunciated in German philosophy prior to Hegel. Kant dissolved the static forms of the given reality into a complex of syntheses of ‘transcendental consciousness,’ while Fichte endeavored to reduce ‘the given’ to a spontaneous act of the ego. Hegel did not discover the dynamic of reality, nor was he the first to adapt philosophical categories to this process. What he did discover and use was a definite form of dynamic, and the novelty of his logic and its ultimate significance rest upon this fact. The philosophical method he elaborated was intended to reflect the actual process of reality and to construe it in an adequate form.
With the Science of Logic, we reach the final level of Hegel’s philosophic effort. Henceforward, the basic structure of his system and its ground concepts remain unaltered. It might therefore be appropriate briefly to review this structure and these concepts along the lines of Hegel’s exposition of them in the prefaces and the introduction to the Science of Logic.
Sufficient notice has not been given to the fact that Hegel himself introduces his logic as primarily a critical instrument. It is, first of all, critical of the view that ‘the material of knowledge exists in and for itself in the shape of a finished world apart from Thinking,’ that it exists as ‘something in itself finished and complete, something which, as far as its reality is concerned, could entirely dispense with thought.’ Hegel’s first writings have already shown that his attack on the traditional separation of thought from reality involves much more than an epistemological critique. Such dualism, he thinks, is tantamount to a compliance with the world as it is and a withdrawal of thought from its high task of bringing the existing order of reality into harmony with the truth. The separation of thought from being implies that thought has withdrawn before the onslaught of ‘common sense.’ If, then, truth is to be attained, the influence of common sense must be swept away and with it the categories of traditional logic, which are, after all, the philosophical categories of common sense that stabilize and perpetuate a false reality. And the task of breaking the hold of common sense belongs to the dialectical logic. Hegel repeats over and over that dialectics has this ‘negative’ character. The negative ‘constitutes the quality of dialectical Reason,’ and the first step ‘towards the true concept of Reason’ is a ‘negative step’; the negative ‘constitutes the genuine dialectical procedure.’ In all these uses ‘negative’ has a twofold reference: it indicates, first, the negation of the fixed and static categories of common sense and, secondly, the negative and therefore untrue character of the world designated by these categories. As we have already seen, negativity is manifest in the very process of reality, so that nothing that exists is true in its given form. Every single thing has to evolve new conditions and forms if it is to fulfill its potentialities.
The existence of things is, then, basically negative; all exist apart from and in want of their truth, and their actual movement, guided by their latent potentialities, is their progress towards this truth. The course of progress, however, is not direct and unswerving. The negation that every thing contains determines its very being. The material part of a thing’s reality is made up of what that thing is not, of what it excludes and repels as its opposite. ‘The one and only thing for securing scientific progress ... is knowledge of the logical precept that Negation is just as much Affirmation as Negation, or that what is self-contradictory resolves itself not into nullity, into abstract Nothingness, but essentially only into the negation of its particular content ...’
Contradiction, or the concrete form of it we are discussing, the opposition, does not displace the actual identity of the thing, but produces this identity in the form of a process in which the potentialities of things unfold. The law of identity by which traditional logic is guided implies the so-called law of contradiction. A equals A only in so far as it is opposed to non-A, or, the identity of A results from and contains the contradiction. A does not contradict an external non-A, Hegel holds, but a non-A that belongs to the very identity of A; in other words, A is self-contradictory.
By virtue of the negativity that belongs to its nature each thing is linked with its opposite. To be what it really is it must become what it is not. To say, then, that everything contradicts itself is to say that its essence contradicts its given state of existence. Its proper nature, which is, in the last analysis, its essence, impels it to ‘transgress’ the state of existence in which it finds itself and pass over to another. And not only that, but it must even transgress the bounds of its own particularity and put itself into universal relation with other things. The human being, to take an instance, finds his proper identity only in those relations that are in effect the negation of his isolated particularity – in his membership in a group or social class whose institutions, organization, and values determine his very individuality. The truth of the individual transcends his particularity and finds a totality of conflicting relations in which his individuality fulfills itself.
We are thus led once more to the universal as the true form of reality.
The logical form of the universal is the notion. Hegel says that the truth and essence of things lives in their notion. The statement is as old as philosophy itself, and has even seeped into popular language. We say that we know and hold the truth of things in our ideas about them. The notion is the idea that expresses their essence, as distinguished from the diversity of their phenomenal existence. Hegel draws the consequence of this view. ‘When we mean to speak of things, we call the Nature or essence of them their Concept,’ but at the same time we maintain that the concept ‘exists only for thought.’ For, it is claimed, the concept is a universal, whereas all that exists is a particular. The concept is thus ‘merely’ a concept and its truth merely a thought. In opposition to this view, Hegel shows that the universal not only exists, but that it is even more actually a reality than is the particular. There is such a universal reality as man or animal, and this universal in fact makes for the existence of every individual man or animal. ‘Every human individual, though infinitely unique, is so only because he belongs to the class of man, every animal only because it belongs to the class of animal. Being-man, or being-animal, is the Prius of their individuality.’ The biological and psychological processes of the human and animal individual are, in a strict sense, not its own but those of its species or kind. When Hegel says that every human individual is first man, he means that his highest potentialities and his true existence center in his being-man. Accordingly, the actions, values, and aims of every particular individual or group have to be measured up against what man can and ought to be.
The concrete importance of the conception becomes obvious when contrasted with modern authoritarian ideology in which the reality of the universal is denied, the better to subjugate the individual to the particular interests of certain groups that arrogate to themselves the function of the universal. If the individual were nothing but the individual, there would be no justifiable appeal from the blind material and social forces that overpower his life, no appeal to a higher and more reasonable social ordering. If he were nothing but a member of a particular class, race, or nation, his claims could not reach beyond his particular group, and he would simply have to accept its standards. According to Hegel, however, there is no particularity whatsoever that may legislate for the individual man. The universal itself reserves that ultimate right.
The content of the universal is preserved in the notion. If the universal is not just an abstraction but a reality, then the notion denotes that reality. The formation of the notion, too, is not an arbitrary act of thinking, but something that follows the very movement of reality. The formation of the universal, in the last analysis, is a historical process and the universal a historical factor. We shall see, in Hegel’s Philosophy of History, that the historical development from the Oriental to the modern world is conceived as one in which man makes himself the actual subject of the historical process. Through the negation of every historical form of existence that becomes a fetter on his potentialities, man finally gets for himself the self-consciousness of freedom. The dialectical notion of man comprehends and includes this material process. This notion therefore cannot be put in a single proposition or a series of propositions that claims to define the essence of man in accordance with the traditional law of identity. The definition requires a whole system of propositions that mirror the actual development of mankind. In the different parts of the system the essence of man will appear in different and even contradictory forms. The truth will be no one of these, but the totality, the concrete development of man.
We have outlined the negative aspect of the dialectic. Its positive aspect consists in its shaping of the universal through the negation of the particular, in its construction of the notion. The notion of a thing is ‘the Universal immanent in it,’ immanent because the universal contains and holds up the proper potentialities of the thing. Dialectical thinking is ‘positive because it is the source of the Universal in which the Particular is comprehended.’ The process of dissolving and destroying the commonsense stability of the world thus results in constructing ‘the Universal which is in itself concrete,’ concrete, for it does not exist outside the particular but realizes itself only in and through the particular, or, rather, in the totality of particulars.
We have taken man as an example of the dialectical construction of the universal. Hegel, however, demonstrates the same process for all entities of the objective and subjective world. The Science of Logic deals with the general ontological structure these entities have, and not with their individual concrete existence. For this reason, the dialectical process in the Logic assumes a most general and abstract form. We have already discussed it in the chapter on the Jenenser Logic. The process of thought begins with the attempt to grasp the objective structure of being. In the course of the analysis, this structure dissolves into a multitude of interdependent ‘somethings,’ qualities and quantities. On further analysis thought discovers that these constitute a totality of antagonistic relations, governed by the creative power of contradiction. These relations appear as the essence of being.
The essence, therefore, emerges as the process that negates all stable and delimited forms of being and negates as well the concepts of traditional logic which express these forms. The categories Hegel uses to unfold this essence comprehend the actual structure of being as a unification of opposites which requires that reality be interpreted in terms of the ‘subject.’ The logic of objectivity thus turns into the logic of subjectivity which is the true ‘notion’ of reality.
There are several meanings of the term notion that appear in the exposition.
1. Notion is the ‘essence’ and ‘nature’ of things, ‘that which by thinking is known in and of things’ and ‘what is really true in them.’ This meaning implies a multitude of notions to correspond to the multitude of things they denote.
2. Notion designates the rational structure of being, the world as Logos, reason. In this sense, the notion is ‘one, and is the essential basis’ and the actual content of the Logic.
3. Notion in its true form of existence is ‘the free, independent and self-determining Subjective, or rather the Subject itself.’ It is this sense of the term that Hegel means when he says, ‘The character of Subject must be expressly reserved for the Notion.’
The Science of Logic opens with the well-known interplay of Being and Nothing. Unlike the Phenomenology of Mind, the Logic does not begin with the data of common sense, but with the same philosophical concept that brought the Phenomenology to a close. Thinking, in its quest for the truth behind the facts, seeks a stable base for orientation, a universal and necessary law amid the endless flux and diversity of things. Such a universal, if it is really to be the beginning and the basis for all subsequent determinations, must not itself be determinate, for otherwise it would be neither first nor the beginning. The reason it could not be determinate if it is to be a beginning lies in the fact that everything determinate is dependent on that which determines it, and hence is not prior.
The first and indeterminate universal that Hegel posits is being. It. is common to all things (for all things are being), therefore, the most universal entity in the world. It has no determination whatsoever; it is pure being and nothing else.
The Logic thus begins, as the whole of Western philosophy began, with the concept of being. The question, What is Being? sought that which holds all things in existence and makes them what they are. The concept of being presupposes a distinction between determinate being (something; Seiendes) and being-as-such (Sein), without determinations. Daily language distinguishes being from determinate being in all the forms of judgment. We say a rose is a plant; he is jealous; a judgment is true; God is. The copula ‘is’ denotes being, but being that is quite different from a determinate being. The ‘is’ does not point to any actual thing that could be made the subject of a determinate proposition, for in determining being as such and such a thing, we would have to use the self-same ‘is’ which we are attempting to define, a patent impossibility. We cannot define being as some thing since being is the predicate of every thing. In other words, every thing is, but being is not some thing. And what is not some thing is nothing. Thus, being is ‘pure indeterminateness and vacuity’; it is no thing, hence nothing.
In the attempt to grasp being we encounter nothing. Hegel uses this fact as an instrumentality to demonstrate the negative character of reality. In the foregoing analysis of the concept of being, being did not ‘turn into’ nothing, but both were revealed as identical. so that it is true to say every determinate being contains the being as well as the nothing. According to Hegel, there is not a single thing in the world that does not have in it the togetherness of being and nothing. Everything is only in so far as, at every moment of its being, something that as yet is not comes into being and something that is now passes into not-being. Things are only in so far as they arise and pass away, or, being must be conceived as becoming (Werden). The togetherness of being and nothing is thus manifest in the structure of all existents and must be retained in every logical category: ‘This unity of Being and Nothing, as being the primary truth, is, once and for all, the basis and the element of all that follows: therefore, besides Becoming itself, all further logical determinations ... and in short all philosophic concepts, are examples of this unity.’
If this is the case, logic has a task hitherto unheard of in philosophy. It ceases to be the source of rules and forms for correct thinking. In fact, it takes rules, forms, and all the categories of traditional logic to be false because they disregard the negative and contradictory nature of reality. In Hegel’s logic the content of the traditional categories is completely reversed. Moreover, since the traditional categories are the gospel of everyday thinking (including ordinary scientific thinking) and of everyday practice, Hegel’s logic in effect presents rules and forms of false thinking and action – false, that is, from the standpoint of common sense. The dialectical categories construct a topsy-turvy world opening with the identity of being and nothing and closing with the notion as the true reality. Hegel plays up the absurd and paradoxical character of this world but he who follows the dialectical process to the end discovers that the paradox is the receptacle of the hidden truth and that the absurdity is rather a quality possessed by the correct schema of common sense, which, cleansed of their dross, contains the latent truth. For the dialectic shows latent in common sense the dangerous implication that the form in which the world is given and organized may contradict its true content, that is to say, that the potentialities inherent in men and things may require the dissolution of the given forms. Formal logic accepts the world-form as it is and gives some general rules for theoretical orientation to it. Dialectical logic, on the other hand, rejects any claim of sanctity for the given, and shatters the complacency of those living under its rubric. It holds that ‘external existence’ is never the sole criterion of the truth of a content, but that every form of existence must justify before a higher tribunal whether it is adequate to its content or not.
Hegel said the negativity of being is ‘the basis and the element’ of all that ensues. Progress from one logical category to another is stimulated by an inherent tendency in every type of being to overcome its negative conditions of existence and pass into a new mode of being where it attains its true form and content. We have already noted that the movement of categories in Hegel’s logic is but a reflection of the movement of being. Moreover, it is not quite correct to say that one category ‘passes into’ another. The dialectical analysis rather reveals one category as another, so that the other represents its unfolded content – unfolded by the contradictions inherent in it.
The first category that participates in this process is quality. We have seen that all being in the world is determinate; the first task of the logic is to investigate this determinacy. Something is determinate when it is qualitatively distinct from any other being. ‘By virtue of its quality Something is opposed to an Other: it is variable and finite, and determined as negative, not only in contrast with an Other, but simply in itself.’ Every qualitative determination is in itself a limitation and therefore a negation. Hegel gives this old philosophic statement a new content in linking it with his negative conception of reality. A thing exists with a certain quality – this means that it excludes other qualities and finds itself limited by the ones it has. Moreover, every quality is what it is only in relation to other qualities, and these relations determine the very nature of a quality. Thus, the qualitative determinates of a thing are reduced to relations that dissolve the thing into a totality of other things, so that it exists in a dimension of ‘otherness.’ For instance, the table here in this room is, if analyzed for its qualities, not the table but a certain color, material, size, tool, and so on. It is, Hegel says, in respect of qualities, not being-for-itself, but ‘being-for-other’ (Anderssein, Sein-für-Anderes). As against this otherness stands what the thing is in itself (its being a table), or, as Hegel calls it, its ‘Being-in-itself’ (Ansichsein). These are the two conceptual elements with which Hegel constructs every being. It must be noted that for Hegel these two elements cannot be detached from one another. A thing in itself is what it is only in its relations with others, and, conversely, its relations with others determine its very existence. The traditional idea of a thing-in-itself behind phenomena, an outer world separated from the inner, an essence permanently removed from reality, is rendered absurd by this conception, and philosophy emerges as definitely joined to the concrete reality.
We return to our analysis of quality. Determinate being is more than the flux of changing qualities. Something preserves itself throughout this flux, something that passes into other things, but also stands against them as a being for itself. This something can exist only as the product of a process through which it integrates its otherness with its own proper being. Hegel says that its existence comes about through ‘the negation of the negation.’ The first negation is the otherness in which it turns, and the second is the incorporation of this other into its own self.
Such a process presupposes that things possess a certain power over their movement, that they exist in a certain self-relation that enables them to ‘mediate’ their existential conditions. Hegel adds that this concept of mediation is ‘of the utmost importance’ because it alone overcomes the old metaphysical abstractions of Substance, Entelechy, Form, and so on, and, by conceiving the objective world as the development of the subject, paves the way for a philosophical interpretation of concrete reality.
Hegel attributes to the thing a permanent relation to itself. ‘Something is in itself in so far as it has returned to itself from Being-for-other.’ It is then an ‘intro-reflected’ being. Intro-reflection is a characteristic of the subject, however, and in this sense the objective ‘something’ is already ‘the beginning of the subject,’ though only the beginning. For, the process by which the something sustains itself is blind and not free; the thing cannot manoeuver the forces that shape its existence. The ‘something’ is hence a low level of development in the process that culminates in a free and conscious subject. ‘Something determines itself as Being-for-Self and so on, till finally, as Notion, it receives the concrete intensity of the subject.’
Hegel continues by pointing out that the thing’s unity with itself, which is the basis for its determinate states, is really something negative, because it results from the ‘negation of the negation.’ The objective thing is determined; it passes into a new mode of being by suffering the action of manifold natural forces; hence, the ‘negative unity’ that it has is not a conscious or active unity, but a mechanical one. Owing to its lack of real power, the thing simply ‘collapses into that simple unity which is Being,’ a unity that is not the result of a self-directed process of its own. The thing, engaged though it is in continuous transitions into other things and states, is subject to change and not the subject of change.
The sections that follow outline the manner in which the unity of a thing may develop. They are difficult to understand because Hegel applies to the objective world categories that find their verification only in the life of the subject. Concepts like determination, mediation, self-relation, ought, and so on, anticipate categories of subjective existence. Hegel nevertheless uses them to characterize the world of objective things, analyzing the existence of things in terms of the existence of the subject. The net result is that objective reality is interpreted as the field in which the subject is to be realized.
Negativity appears as the difference between being-for-other and being-for-self within the unity of the thing. The thing as it is ‘in itself’ is different from the conditions in which it actually exists. The actual conditions of the thing ‘oppose’ or stand in the way of its working out its proper nature. This opposition Hegel denotes as that between determination (Bestimmung), which now takes on the meaning of the ‘proper nature’ of the thing, and talification (Beschaffenheit), which refers to the actual state or condition of the thing. The determination of a thing comprises its inherent potentialities ‘as against the external conditions which are not yet incorporated in the thing itself.’
When, for instance, we speak of the determination of man, and say that that determination is reason, we imply that the external conditions in which man lives do not agree with what man properly is, that his state of existence is not reasonable and that it is man’s task to make it so. Until the task is successfully completed, man exists as a being-for-other rather than a being-for-self. His talification contradicts his determination. The presence of the contradiction makes man restive; he struggles to overcome his given external state. The contradiction thus has the force of an ‘Ought’ (Sollen) that impels him to realize that which does not as yet exist.
As we have said, the objective world, too, is now treated as a participant in the same kind of process. The thing’s transition from one talification to another, and even its passage into another thing, are interpreted as motivated by the thing’s own potentialities. Its transformation does not occur, as first appeared, ‘according to its Being-for-other,’ but according to its proper self. Within the process of change, every external condition is taken into the thing’s proper being, and its other is ‘posited in the thing as its own moment.’ The concept of negation, too, undergoes revision in Hegel’s exposition at this point. We have seen that the various states of a thing were interpreted as various ‘negations’ of its true being. Now, since the thing is conceived as a kind of subject that determines itself through its relations to other things, its existent qualities or talifications are barriers or limits (Grenzen) through which its potentialities must break. The process of existence is simply the contradiction between talifications and potentialities; hence, to exist and to be limited are identical. ‘Something has its Determinate Being only in Limit’ and the ‘Limits are the principle of that which they limit.’
Hegel summarizes the result of this new interpretation by saying that the existence of things is ‘the unrest of Something in its Limit; it is immanent in the Limit to be the contradiction which sends Something on beyond itself.’ We have herewith reached Hegel’s concept of finitude. Being is continuous becoming. Every state of existence has to be surpassed; it is something negative, which things, driven by their inner potentialities, desert for another state, which again reveals itself as negative, as limit.
When we say of things that they are finite, we mean thereby ... that Not-Being constitutes their nature and their Being. Finite things are; but their relation to themselves is that they are related to themselves as something negative, and in this self-relation send themselves on beyond themselves and their Being. They are, but the truth of this Being is their end. The finite does not only change, ... it perishes; and its perishing is not merely contingent, so that it could be without perishing. It is rather the very being of finite things that they contain the seeds of perishing as their own Being-in-Self [Insichsein], and the hour of their birth is the hour of their death.
These sentences are a preliminary enunciation of the decisive passages in which Marx later revolutionized Western thought. Hegel’s concept of finitude freed philosophic approaches to reality from the powerful religious and theological influences that were operative even upon secular forms of eighteenth-century thought. The current idealistic interpretation of reality in that day still held the view that the world was a finite one because it was a created world and that its negativity referred to its sinfulness. The struggle against this interpretation of ‘negative’ was therefore in large measure a conflict with religion and the church. Hegel’s idea of negativity was not moral or religious, but purely philosophical, and the concept of finitude that expressed it became a critical and almost materialistic principle with him. The world, he said, is finite not because it is created by God but because finitude is its inherent quality. Correspondingly, finitude is not an aspersion on reality, requiring the transfer of its truth to some exalted Beyond. Things are finite in so far as they are, and their finitude is the realm of their truth. They cannot develop their potentialities except by perishing.
Marx later laid down the historical law that a social system can set free its productive forces only by perishing and passing into another form of social organization. Hegel saw this law of history operative in all being. ‘The highest maturity or stage which any Something can reach is that in which it begins to perish.’ It is clear enough from the preceding discussion that when Hegel turned from the concept of finitude to that of infinity he could not have had reference to an infinity that would annul the results of his previous analysis, that is, he could not have meant an infinity apart from or beyond finitude. The concept of the infinite, rattler, had to result from a stricter interpretation of finitude.
As a matter of fact, we find that the analysis of objective things has already taken us from the finite to the infinite. For the process in which a finite thing perishes and, in perishing, becomes another finite thing, which repeats the same, is in itself a process ad infinitum, and not only in the superficial sense that the progression cannot be broken. When a finite thing ‘perishes into’ another thing, it has changed itself, inasmuch as perishing is its way of consummating its true potentialities. The incessant perishing of things is thus an equally continuous negation of their finitude. It is infinity. ‘The finite in perishing, in this negation of its self, has reached its Being-in-Self [Ansichsein], and therefore has gained its proper self ... Thus it passes beyond itself only to find itself again. This self-identity, or negation of negation, is affirmative Being, is the other of the Finite... is the Infinite.’
The infinite, then, is precisely the inner dynamic of the finite, comprehended in its real meaning. It is nothing else but the fact that finitude ‘exists only as a passing beyond’ itself.
In an addendum to his exposition Hegel shows that the concept of finitude yields the basic principle of idealism. If the being of things consists in their transformation rather than in their state of existence, the manifold states they have, whatever their form and content may be, are but moments of a comprehensive process and exist only within the totality of this process. Thus, they are of an ‘ideal’ nature and their philosophical interpretation must be idealism. [Hegel employs the original historical sense of ‘ideal.’ An existent is ‘of an ideal nature’ if it exists not through itself, but through something else.] ‘The proposition that the finite is of ideal nature constitutes Idealism. In philosophy idealism consists of nothing else than the recognition that the finite has no veritable being. Essentially every philosophy is an idealism, or at least has idealism for its principle ...’ For, philosophy starts when the truth of the given state of things is questioned and when it is recognized that that state has no final truth in itself. To say ‘that the finite has no veritable being’ does not mean that the true being must be sought in a transmundane Beyond or in the inmost soul of man. Hegel rejects such flight from reality as ‘bad idealism.’ His idealistic proposition implies that the current forms of thought, just because they stop short at the given forms of things, must be changed into other forms until the truth is reached. Hegel embodies this essentially critical attitude in his concept of ought. The ‘ought’ is not a province of morality or religion, but of actual practice. Reason and law inhere in finitude, they not only ought to, but must be realized on this earth. ‘In actual fact, Reason and Law are at no such sorry pass as that they merely “ought” to be; ... – nor yet is Ought in itself perpetual, nor finitude (which would be the same) absolute.’ The negation of finitude is at the same time the negation of the infinite Beyond; it involves the demand that the ‘ought’ be fulfilled in this world.
Accordingly, Hegel contrasts his concept of infinity with the theological idea of it. There is no reality other than or above the finite; if finite things are to find their true being, they must find it through their finite existence and through it alone. Hegel calls his concept of infinity, therefore, the very ‘negation of that beyond which is in itself negative.’ His infinite is but the ‘other’ of the finite and therefore dependent on finitude; it is in itself a finite infinity. There are not two worlds, the finite and the infinite. There is only one world, in which finite things attain their self-determination through perishing. Their infinity is in this world and nowhere else.
Conceived as the ‘infinite’ process of transformation, the finite is the process of being-for-self (Fürsichsein). A thing is for itself, we say, when it can take all its external conditions and integrate them with its proper being. It is ‘for itself’ if it ‘has passed beyond the Barrier and its Otherness in such a manner. that, thus negating them, it is infinite return upon itself.’ Being-for-itself is not a state but a process, for every external condition must continuously be transformed into a phase of self-realization, and each new external condition that arises must be subjected to this treatment. Self-consciousness, Hegel says, is the ‘nearest example of the presence of infinity.’ On the other hand, ‘natural things never attain a free Being-for-self’; they remain being-for-other.
This essential difference between the object’s mode of existence and that of a conscious being results in limiting the term ‘finite’ to things that do not exist for themselves and do not have the power, therefore, to fulfill their potentialities through their own free, conscious acts. Owing to their lack of freedom and consciousness, their manifold qualities are ‘indifferent’ to them, and their unity is a quantitative unit rather than a qualitative unity.
We shall omit the discussion of the category of quantity and turn directly to the transition from being to essence, which brings the First Book of the Science of Logic to a close. The analysis of quantity discloses that quantity is not external to the nature of a thing but is itself a quality, namely, measure (Mass). The qualitative character of quantity finds expression in Hegel’s famous law that quantity passes into quality. Something might change in quantity without the slightest change in quality, so that its nature or properties remain one and the same, while it increases or diminishes in a given direction. Everything ‘has some play within which it remains indifferent to this change ...’ There comes a point, however, at which the nature of a thing alters with a mere quantitative change. The well-known examples of a heap of grain which ceases to be a heap if one grain after the other is removed, or of water which becomes ice when a gradual decrease of temperature has reached a certain point, or of a nation which, in the course of its expansion, suddenly breaks down and disintegrates: all these examples do not cover the full meaning of Hegel’s proposition. We must understand also that he aimed it against the ordinary view that the process of ‘arising and passing away’ was a gradual (allmählich) one, he aimed it at the view that natura non facit saltum.
A given form of existence cannot unfold its content without perishing. The new must be the actual negation of the old and not a mere correction or revision. To be sure, the truth does not drop full-blown from heaven, and the new must somehow have existed in the lap of the old. But it existed there only as potentiality, and its material realization was excluded by the prevailing form of being. The prevailing form has to be broken through. ‘The changes of Being’ are ‘a process of becoming other which breaks off graduality and is qualitatively other as against the preceding state of existence.’ There is no even progress in the world: The appearance of every new condition involves a leap; the birth of the new is the death of the old.
The Science of Logic opened with the question, What is Being? It set afoot the quest for categories that could enable us to grasp the truly real. In the course of the analysis, the stability of being was dissolved into the process of becoming and the enduring unity of things was seen to be a ‘negative unity,’ which could not be known from quantitative or qualitative aspects but rather involved the negation of all qualitative and quantitative determinates. For, every determinate property was seen to contradict what things are ‘for themselves.’ Whatever the enduring unity of being ‘for itself’ may be, we know that it is not a qualitative or quantitative entity that exists anywhere in the world, but is rather the negation of all determinates. Its essential character is therefore negativity; Hegel calls it also ‘universal contradiction,’ existing as it does ‘by the negation of every existing determinateness.’ It is ‘absolute negativity’ or ‘negative totality.’ This unity, it appears, is such by virtue of a process wherein things negate all mere externality and otherness and relate these to a dynamic self. A thing is for itself only when it has posited (gesetzt) all its determinates and made them moments of its self-realization, and is thus, in all changing conditions, always ‘returning to itself.’ Hegel calls this negative unity and process of self-relation the essence of things.
The question What is Being? is answered in the statement that ‘the truth of Being is Essence.’ And to learn what essence is, we have merely to collect the results of the preceding analysis:
1. The essence has ‘no determinate Being.’ All the traditional proposals about a realm of ideas or substances have to be discarded. The essence is neither something in nor something above the world, but rather the negation of all being.
2. This negation of all being is not nothing, but the ‘infinite movement of Being’ beyond every determinate state.
3. The movement is not a contingent and external process, but one held together by the power of self-relation through which a subject posits its determinates as moments of its own self-realization.
4. Such a power presupposes a definite being-in-self, a capacity for knowing and reflecting upon the determinate states. The process of the essence is the process of reflection.
5. The subject that the essence reveals itself to be is not outside the process nor is it its unchangeable substratum; it is the very process itself, and all its characters are dynamic. Its unity is the totality of a movement that the Doctrine of Essence describes as the movement of reflection.
It is of the utmost importance to know that for Hegel reflection, like all the characters of essence, denotes an objective as well as subjective movement. Reflection is not primarily the process of thinking but the process of being itself. Correspondingly, the transition from being to essence is not primarily a procedure of philosophical cognition, but a process in reality. Being’s ‘own nature’ ‘causes it to internalize itself,’ and being, thus ‘entering into itself becomes Essence.’ This means that objective being, if comprehended in its true form, is to be understood as, and actually is, subjective being, The subject now appears as the substance of being, or being pertains to the existence of a more or less conscious subject, which is capable of facing and comprehending its determinate states and thus has the power to reflect upon them and shape itself. The categories of the essence cover the whole realm of being, which now manifests itself in its true, comprehended form. The categories of the Doctrine of Being reappear; determinate being is now conceived as existence and later as actuality; the ‘something’ as thing and later as substance, and so on.
Reflection is the process in which an existent constitutes itself as the unity of a subject. It has an essential unity that contrasts with the passive and changeable unity of the something; it is not determinate but determining being. All determination is here ‘posited by the Essence itself’ and stands under its determining power.
If we examine what Hegel attributes to the process of essence and what he discusses under the heading of Determinations of Reflection, we find the traditional ultimate laws of thought, the laws of identity, variety, and contradiction. Added under a separate head is the law of ground. The original meaning of these laws and their actual objective content was a discovery made by the Hegelian logic. Formal logic cannot even touch their sense; the separation of the subject matter of thought from its form cuts the very ground from under truth. Thought is true only in so far as it remains adapted to the concrete movement of things and closely follows its various turns. As soon as it detaches itself from the objective process and, for the sake of some spurious precision and stability, tries to simulate mathematical rigor, thought becomes untrue. Within the Science of Logic, it is the Doctrine of Essence that provides the basic concepts that emancipate dialectical logic from the mathematical method. Hegel undertakes a philosophic critique of mathematical method before he introduces the Doctrine of Essence – in his discussion of quantity. Quantity is only a very external characteristic of being, a realm in which the real content of things gets lost. The mathematical sciences that operate with quantity operate with a content-less form that can be measured and counted and expressed by indifferent numbers and symbols. But the process of reality cannot be so treated. It defies formalization and stabilization, because it is the very negation of every stable form. The facts and relations that appear in this process change their nature at every phase of the development. ‘Our knowledge would be in a very awkward predicament if such objects as freedom, law, morality, or even God himself, because they cannot be measured and calculated, or expressed in a mathematical formula, were to be reckoned beyond the reach of exact knowledge, and we had to put up with a vague generalized image of them ...’ Since it is not only philosophy but every other true field of inquiry that aims at knowledge of such contents, the reduction of science to mathematics means the final surrender of truth:
When mathematical categories are used to determine something bearing upon the method or content of philosophic science, such a procedure proves its preposterous nature chiefly herein, that, in so far as mathematical formulae mean thoughts and conceptual distinctions, such meaning must first report, determine and justify itself in philosophy. In its concrete sciences, philosophy must take the logical element from logic and not from mathematics; it must be a mere refuge of philosophic impotence when it flies to the formations which logic takes in other sciences, of which many are only dim presentiments and others stunted forms of it, in order to get logic for philosophy. The mere employment of such borrowed forms is in any case an external and superficial procedure: a knowledge of their worth and of their meaning should precede their use; but such knowledge results only from conceptual contemplation, and not from the authority which mathematics gives them.
The Doctrine of Essence seeks to liberate knowledge from the worship of ‘observable facts’ and from the scientific common sense that imposes this worship. Mathematical formalism abandons and prevents any critical understanding and use of facts. Hegel recognized an intrinsic connection between mathematical logic and a wholesale acquiescence in facts, and to this extent anticipated more than a hundred years of the development of positivism. The real field of knowledge is not the given fact about things as they are, but the critical evaluation of them as a prelude to passing beyond their given form. Knowledge deals with appearances in order to get beyond them. ‘Everything, it is said, has an Essence, that is, things really are not what they immediately show themselves. There is therefore 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 permanent in things, and that permanent is in the first instance their Essence.’ The knowledge that appearance and essence do not jibe is the beginning of truth. The mark of dialectical thinking is the ability to distinguish the essential from the apparent process of reality and to grasp their relation. The laws of reflection that Hegel elaborates are the fundamental laws of the dialectic. We pass now to a brief summary of these.
Essence denotes the unity of being, its identity throughout change. Precisely what is this unity or identity? It is not a permanent and fixed substratum, but a process wherein everything copes with its inherent contradictions and unfolds itself as a result. Conceived in this way, identity contains its opposite, difference, and involves a self-differentiation and an ensuing unification. Every existence precipitates itself into negativity and remains what it is only by negating this negativity. It splits up into a diversity of states and relations to other things, which are originally foreign to it, but which become part of its proper self when they are brought under the working influence of its essence. Identity is thus the same as the ‘negative totality,’ which was shown to be the structure of reality; it is ‘the same as Essence.’
Thus conceived, the essence describes the actual process of reality. ‘The contemplation of everything that is shows, in itself, that in its self-identity it is self-contradictory and self-different, and in its variety or contradiction, self-identical; it is in itself this movement of transition of one of these determinations into the other, just because each in itself is its own opposite.’
Hegel’s position involves complete reversal of the traditional laws of thought and of the kind of thinking derived from them. We cannot express this identity of things in a proposition that distinguishes a permanent substratum and its attributes from its opposite or contrary. The variety and the opposites are for Hegel part of the thing’s essential identity, and, to grasp the identity, thought has to reconstruct the process by which the thing becomes its own opposite and then negates and incorporates its opposite into its own being.
Hegel returns time and again to accent the importance of this conception. By virtue of the inherent negativity in them, all things become self-contradictory, opposed to themselves, and their being consists in that ‘force which can both comprehend and endure Contradiction.’ ‘All things are contradictory in themselves’ – this proposition, which so sharply differs from the traditional laws of identity and contradiction, expresses for Hegel ‘the truth and essence of things.’ ‘Contradiction is the root of all movement and life,’ all reality is self-contradictory. Motion especially, external movement as well as self-movement, is nothing but ‘existing contradiction.’
Hegel’s analysis of the Determinations of Reflection marks the point at which dialectical thinking can be seen to shatter the framework of the idealist philosophy that uses it. So far, we note that the dialectic has yielded the conclusion that reality is contradictory in character and a ‘negative totality.’ As far as we have penetrated into the Hegelian logic, dialectic has appeared as a universal ontological law, which asserts that every existence runs its course by turning into the opposite of itself and producing the identity of its being by working through the opposition. But a closer study of the law reveals historical implications that bring forth its fundamentally critical motivations. If the essence of things is the result of such process, the essence itself is the product of a concrete development, ‘something which has become [ein Gewordenes].’ And the impact of this historical interpretation shakes the foundations of idealism.
It may very well be that the developed antagonisms of modern society impelled philosophy to proclaim contradiction to be the ‘definite fundamental basis of all activity and self-movement.’ Such an interpretation is fully supported by the treatment accorded decisive social relationships in Hegel’s earlier system (for example, in the analysis of the labor process, the description of the conflict between the particular and the common interest, the tension between state and society). There, the recognition of the contradictory nature of social reality was prior to the elaboration of the general theory of the dialectic.
But in any case, when we do apply the Determinations of Reflection to historical realities, we are driven almost of necessity to the critical theory that historical materialism developed. For, what does the unity of identity and contradiction mean in the context of social forms and forces? In its ontological terms, it means that the state of negativity is not a distortion of a thing’s true essence, but its very essence itself. In socio-historic terms, it means that as a rule crisis and collapse are not accidents and external disturbances, but manifest the very nature of things and hence provide the basis on which the essence of the existing social system can be understood. It means, moreover, that the inherent potentialities of men and things cannot unfold in society except through the death of the social order in which they are first gleaned. When something turns into its opposite, Hegel says, when it contradicts itself, it expresses its essence. When, as Marx says, the current idea and practice of justice and equality lead to injustice and inequality, when the free exchange of equivalents produces exploitation on the one hand and accumulation of wealth on the other, such contradictions, too, are of the essence of current social relations. The contradiction is the actual motor of the process.
The Doctrine of Essence thus establishes the general laws of thought as laws of destruction – destruction for the sake of the truth. Thought is herewith installed as the tribunal that contradicts the apparent forms of reality in the name of their true content. The essence, ‘the truth of Being,’ is held by thought, which, in turn, is contradiction.
According to Hegel, however, the contradiction is not the end. The essence, which is the locus of the contradiction, must perish and ‘the contradiction resolve itself. It is resolved in so far as the essence becomes the ground of existence. The essence, in becoming the ground of things, passes into existence.’ The ground of a thing, for Hegel, is nothing other than the totality of its essence, materialized in the concrete conditions and circumstances of existence. [Hegel explains this relation in his analysis of the Law of Ground. His discussion has a twofold aim: (1) It shows the Essence operative in the actual existence of things; and (2) it cancels the traditional conception of the Ground and a particular entity or form among others. Hegel acknowledges that the ‘principle of sufficient reason [or Ground]’ implies the critical view that Being ‘in its immediacy is declared to be invalid and essentially to be something posited.’ He holds, however. that the reason or Ground for a particular being cannot be sought In another likewise particular being.] The essence is thus as much historical as ontological. The essential potentialities of things realize themselves in the lame comprehensive process that establishes their existence. The essence can ‘achieve’ its existence when the potentialities of things have ripened in and through the conditions of reality. Hegel describes this process as the transition to actuality.
Whereas the preceding analysis was guided by the fact that the proper potentialities of things cannot be realized within the prevailing forms of existence, the analysis of actuality discloses that form of reality in which these potentialities have come into existence. Essential determinations do not here remain outside of things, in the shape of something that ought to be but is not, but are now materialized in their entirety. Despite this general advance embodied in the concept of actuality, Hegel describes actuality as a process totally permeated by conflict between possibility and reality. The conflict, however, is no longer an opposition between existent and as yet non-existent forces, but between two antagonistic forms of reality that co-exist.
A close study of actuality reveals that it is first contingency (Zufälligheit). That which is is not what it is of necessity; it might exist in some other form as well. Hegel does not refer to some empty logical possibility. The multitude of possible forms is not arbitrary. There is a definite relation between the given and the possible. Possible is only that which can be derived from the very content of the real. We are here reminded of the analysis previously made in connection with the concept of reality. The real shows itself to be antagonistic, split into its being and its ought. The real contains the negation of what it immediately is as its very nature and thus ‘contains ... Possibility.’ The form in which the real immediately exists is but a stage of the process in which it unfolds its content, or the given reality is ‘equivalent to possibility.’
The concept of reality has thus turned into the concept of possibility. The real is not yet ‘actual,’ but is at first only the possibility of an actual. Mere possibility belongs to the very character of reality; it is not imposed by an arbitrary speculative act. The possible and the real are in a dialectical relation that requires a special condition in order to be operative, and that condition must be one in fact. For instance, if the existing relations within a given social system are unjust and inhuman, they are not offset by other realizable possibilities unless these other possibilities are also manifested as having their roots within that system. They must be present there, for example, in the form of an obvious wealth of productive forces, a development of the material wants and desires of men, their advanced culture, their social and political maturity, and so on. In such a case, the possibilities are not only real ones, but represent the true content of the social system as against its immediate form of existence. They are thus an even more real reality than the given. We may say in such a case that ‘the possibility is reality,’ and that the concept of the possible has turned back into the concept of the real.
How can possibility be reality? The possible must be real in the strict sense that it must exist. As a matter of fact, the mode of its existence has already been shown. It exists as the given reality itself taken as something that has to be negated and transformed. In other words, the possible is the given reality conceived as the ‘condition’ of another reality. The totality of the given forms of existence are valid only as conditions for other forms of existence. This is Hegel’s concept of real possibility, set forth as a concrete historical tendency and force, so as definitely to preclude its use as an idealistic refuge from reality. Hegel’s famous proposition that ‘the fact [die Sache] is before it exists’ can now be given its strict meaning. Before it exists, the fact ‘is’ in the form of a condition within the constellation of existing data. The existing state of affairs is a mere condition for another constellation of facts, which bring to fruition the inherent potentialities of the given. ‘When all the conditions of a fact are present, it enters into existence.’ And at such a time, also, the given reality is a real possibility for transformation into another reality. ‘The Real Possibility of a case [einer Sache] is the existing multiplicity of circumstances which are related to it.’ Let us revert to our case of a social system as yet unrealized. Such a new system is really possible if the conditions for it are present in the old, that is, if the prior social form actually possesses a content that tends towards the new system as to its realization. The circumstances that exist in the old form are thus conceived not as true and independent in themselves, but as mere conditions for another state of affairs that implies the negation of the former. ‘Thus Real Possibility constitutes the totality of conditions; an Actuality ... which is the Being-in-Self of some Other ...’ The concept of real possibility thus develops its criticism of the positivist position out of the nature of facts themselves. Facts are facts only if related to that which is not yet fact and yet manifests itself in the given facts as a real possibility. Or, facts are what they are only as moments in a process that leads beyond them to that which is not yet fulfilled in fact.
The process of ‘leading beyond’ is an objective tendency immanent in the facts as given. It is an activity not in thought but in reality, the proper activity of self-realization. For, the given reality holds the real possibilities as its content, ‘contains a duality in itself,’ and is in itself ‘reality and possibility.’ In its totality as well as in its every single aspect and relation, its content is enveloped in an inadequacy such that only its destruction can convert its possibilities into actualities. ‘The manifold forms of existence are in themselves self-transcendence and destruction, and thus are determined in themselves to be a mere possibility.’ The process of destroying existing forms and replacing them by new ones liberates their content and permits them to win their actual state. The process in which a given order of reality perishes and issues into another is, therefore, nothing but the self-becoming of the old reality. It is the ‘return’ of reality to itself, that is, to its true form.
The content of a given reality bears the seed of its transformation into a new form, and its transformation is a ‘process of necessity,’ in the sense that it is the sole way in which a contingent real becomes actual. The dialectical interpretation of actuality does away with the traditional opposition between contingency, possibility, and necessity, and integrates them all as moments of one comprehensive process. Necessity presupposes a reality that is contingent, that is, one which in its prevailing form holds possibilities that are not realized. Necessity is the process in which that contingent reality attains its adequate form. Hegel calls this the process of actuality.
Without a grasp of the distinction between reality and actuality, Hegel’s philosophy is meaningless in its decisive principles. We have mentioned that Hegel did not declare that reality is rational (or reasonable), but reserved this attribute for a definite form of reality, namely, actuality. And the reality that is actual is the one wherein the discrepancy between the possible and the real has been overcome. Its fruition occurs through a process of change, with the given reality advancing in accordance with the possibilities manifest in it. Since the new is therefore the freed truth of the old, actuality is the ‘simple positive unity’ of those elements that had existed in disunity within the old; it is the unity of the possible and the real, which in the process of transformation ‘returns only to itself.’
Any purported difference between various forms of the actual is but an apparent one, because actuality develops itself in all the forms. A reality is actual if it is preserved and perpetuated through the absolute negation of all contingencies, in other words, if all its various forms and stages are but the lucid manifestation of its true content. In such a reality, the opposition between contingency and necessity has been overcome. Its process is of necessity, because it follows the inherent law of its own nature and remains in all conditions the same. At the same time, this necessity is freedom because the process is not determined from outside, by external forces, but, in a strict sense, is a self-development; all conditions are grasped and ‘posited’ by the developing real itself. Actuality thus is the title for the final unity of being that is no longer subject to change, because it exercises autonomous power over all change – not simple identity but ‘self-identity.’
Such a self-identity can be attained only through the medium of self-consciousness and cognition. For only a being that has the faculty of knowing its own possibilities and those of its world can transform every given state of existence into a condition for its free self-realization. True reality presupposes freedom, and freedom presupposes knowledge of the truth. The true reality, therefore, must be understood as the realization of a knowing subject. Hegel’s analysis of actuality thus leads to the idea of the subject as the truly actual in all reality.
We have reached the point where the Objective Logic turns into the Subjective Logic, or, where subjectivity emerges as the true form of objectivity. We may sum up Hegel’s analysis in the following schema:
The true form of reality requires freedom.
Freedom requires self-consciousness and knowledge of the truth.
Self-consciousness and knowledge of the truth are the essentials of the subject.
The true form of reality must be conceived as subject.
We must note that the logical category ‘subject’ does not designate any particular form of subjectivity (such as man) but a general structure that might best be characterized by the concept ‘mind.’ Subject denotes a universal that individualizes itself, and if we wish to think of a concrete example, we might point to the ‘spirit’ of a historical epoch. If we have comprehended such an epoch, if we have grasped its notion, we shall see a universal principle that develops, through the self-conscious action of individuals, in all prevailing institutions, facts, and relations.
The concept of the subject, however, is not the last step of Hegel’s analysis. He now proceeds to demonstrate that the subject is notion. He has shown that the subject’s freedom consists of its faculty to comprehend what is. In other words, freedom derives its content from the knowledge of the truth. But the form in which the truth is held is the notion. Freedom is, in the last analysis, not an attribute of the thinking subject as such, but of the truth that this subject holds and wields. Freedom is thus an attribute of the notion, and the true form of reality in which the essence of being is realized is the notion. The notion ‘exists,’ however, only in the thinking subject. ‘The Notion, in so far as it has advanced into such an existence as is free in itself, is just the Ego, or pure self-consciousness.’
Hegel’s strange identification of the notion and the ego or subject can be understood only if we bear in mind that he considers the notion to be the activity of comprehending (Begreifen) rather than its abstract logical form or result (Begriff). We are reminded of Kant’s transcendental logic in which the highest concepts of thought are treated as creative acts of the ego that are ever renewed in the process of knowledge. Instead of dwelling on Hegel’s elaboration of this point, we shall attempt to develop some of the implications of his concept of the notion.
According to Hegel, the notion is the subject’s activity and, as such, the true form of reality. On the other hand, the subject is characterized by freedom, so that Hegel’s Doctrine of the Notion really develops the categories of freedom. These comprehend the world as it appears when thought has liberated itself from the power of a ‘reified’ reality, when the subject has emerged as the ‘substance’ of being. Such liberated thought has eventually overcome the traditional separation of the logical forms from their content. Hegel’s idea of the notion reverses the ordinary relation between thought and reality, and becomes the cornerstone of philosophy as a critical theory. According to common-sense thinking, knowledge becomes the more unreal the more it abstracts from reality. For Hegel, the opposite is true. The abstraction from reality, which the formation of the notion requires, makes the notion not poorer but richer than reality, because it leads from the facts to their essential content. The truth cannot be gleaned from the facts as long as the subject does not yet live in them but rather stands against them. The world of facts is not rational but has to be brought to reason, that is, to a form in which the reality actually corresponds to the truth. As long as this has not been accomplished, the truth rests with the abstract notion and not with the concrete reality. The task of abstraction consists in the ‘transcendence and reduction of reality [as from mere appearance] to the essential, which manifests itself in the Notion only.’ With the formation of the notion, abstraction does not desert, but leads into actuality. What nature and history actually are will not be found in the prevailing facts; the world is not that harmonious. Philosophical knowledge is thus set against reality, and this opposition is expressed in the abstract character of the philosophical notions. ‘Philosophy is not meant to be a narrative of what happens, but a cognition of what is true in happenings, and out of the body of truth it has to comprehend that which in the narrative appears as mere happening.’
Philosophical cognition is superior to experience and science, however, only in so far as its notions contain that relation to truth which Hegel grants only to dialectical notions. Mere transpassing of the facts does not distinguish dialectical knowledge from positivistic science. The latter, too, goes beyond the facts; it obtains laws, makes predictions, and so forth. With all the apparatus of its procedure, however, positivistic science stays within the given realities; the future it predicts, even the changes of form to which it leads never depart from the given. The form and content of scientific concepts remain bound up with the prevailing order of things; they are static in character even when they express motion and change. Positivist science also works with abstract concepts. But they originate by abstraction from the particular and changing forms of things and fix their common and enduring characters.
The process of abstraction that results in the dialectical notion is quite different. Here, abstraction is the reduction of the diverse forms and relations of reality to the actual process in which they are constituted. The changing and the particular are here as important as the common and enduring. The universality of the dialectical notion is not the fixed and stable sum-total of abstract characters, but a concrete totality that itself evolves the particular differences of all the facts that belong to this totality. The notion not only contains all the facts of which reality is composed, but also the processes in which these facts develop and dissolve themselves. The notion thus establishes ‘the principle of its distinctions'; the diverse facts that the notion comprehends are to be shown as ‘inner distinctions’ of the notion itself.
The dialectical method derives all concrete determinations from one comprehensive principle, which is the principle of the actual development of the subject-matter itself. The various states, qualities, and conditions of the subject-matter must appear as its own positive unfolded content. Nothing can be added from outside (any given fact, for instance). Dialectical development is not ‘the external activity of subjective thought,’ but the objective history of the real itself. Hegel is consequently able to say that in dialectical philosophy it is ‘not we who frame the notions,’ but that their formation is rather an objective development that we only reproduce.
There is no more adequate example of the formation of the dialectical notion than Marx’s concept of capitalism. just as Hegel, in accordance with the doctrine that the notion is an antagonistic totality, declares it ‘impossible and absurd to frame the truth in such forms as positive judgment or judgment in general,’ Marx, too, repudiates any definitions that fix the truth in a final body of propositions. The concept of capitalism is no less than the totality of the capitalist process, comprehended in the ‘principle’ by which it progresses. The notion of capitalism starts with the separation of the actual producers from the means of production, resulting in the establishment of free labor and the appropriation of surplus value, which, with the development of technology, brings about the accumulation and centralization of capital, the progressive decline of the rate of profit, and the breakdown of the entire system. The notion of capitalism is no less than the three volumes of Capital, just as Hegel’s notion of the notion comprises all three books of his Science of Logic.
Moreover, the notion constitutes a ‘negative totality,’ which evolves only by virtue of its contradictory forces. The negative aspects of reality are thus not ‘disturbances’ or weak spots within a harmonious whole, but the very conditions that expose the structure and tendencies of reality. The extraordinary importance of this method becomes quite clear when we consider the way Marx conceived the crisis as a material moment of the capitalist system, so that this ‘negative’ moment is the fulfillment of the principle of that system. Crises are necessary stages in the ‘self-differentiation’ of capitalism, and the system reveals its true content through the negative act of breakdown.
The notion presents an objective totality in which every particular moment appears as the ‘self-differentiation’ of the universal (the principle that governs the totality) and is therefore itself universal. That is to say, every particular moment contains, as its very content, the whole, and must be interpreted as the whole. For explanation, let us again refer to the field in which dialectical logic has come to fruition, the theory of society.
Dialectical logic holds that every particular content is formed by the universal principle that determines the movement of the whole. A single human relation, for example, that between a father and his child, is constituted by the fundamental relations that govern the social system. The father’s authority is buttressed by the fact that he is the provider of the family; the egoistic instincts of competitive society enter his love. The image of his father accompanies the adult and guides his submission to the powers that rule over his social existence. The privacy of the family relation thus opens and leads into the prevailing social relations so that the private relation itself unfolds its own social content. This development proceeds according to the principle of the ‘determinate negation.’ That is to say, the family relation produces its contradiction that destroys its original content, and this contradiction, though dissolving the family, fulfills its actual function. The particular is the universal, so that the specific content directly turns into the universal content through the process of its concrete existence. Here again, dialectical logic reproduces the structure of a historical form of reality in which the social process dissolves every delimited and stable sphere of life into the economic dynamic.
Owing to its intrinsic relation to every other particular moment of the whole, the content and function of every given aspect changes with every change of the whole. To isolate and fix the particular moments is therefore impossible. The unbridgeable gulf asserted to exist between mathematics and dialectical theory rests on this point; this is why every attempt to frame the truth in mathematical forms inevitably destroys it. For, mathematical objects ‘have the peculiar distinction ... that they are external to one another and have a fixed determination. Now if Notions are taken in this manner, so that they correspond to such [mathematical] symbols, then they cease to be Notions. Their determinations are not such dead matters as numbers and lines... . they are living movements; the different determinateness of one side is also immediately internal to the other; and what would be a complete contradiction with numbers and lines is essential to the nature of the Notion.’ The notion, the only adequate form of the truth, ‘can essentially be apprehended only by Mind ... It is in vain that an attempt is made to fix it by means of spatial figures and algebraic symbols for the purpose of the external eye and of a notionless mechanical treatment or calculus.’
The entire doctrine of the notion is perfectly ‘realistic’ if it is understood and executed as a historical theory. But, as we have already hinted, Hegel tends to dissolve the element of historical practice and replace it with the independent reality of thought. The multitude of particular notions eventually converge in the notion, which becomes the one content of the entire Logic. This tendency might still be reconciled with a historical interpretation if we regard the notion as representing the final penetration of the world by reason. Realization of the notion would then mean the universal mastery, exercised by men having a rational social organization, over nature – a world that might indeed be imagined as the realization of the notion of all things. Such a historical conception is kept alive in Hegel’s philosophy, but it is constantly overwhelmed by the ontological conceptions of absolute idealism. It is ultimately the latter in which the Science of Logic terminates.
We cannot follow the Doctrine of the Notion beyond the point we have reached. Instead of a brief and necessarily inadequate outline of the Subjective Logic, we have chosen to attempt a rough interpretation of its closing paragraphs. They furnish the famous transition from the Logic to the Philosophy of Nature and Mind, and thus close the entire range of the system.
THE notion designates the general form of all being, and, at the same time, the true being which adequately represents this form, namely, the free subject. The subject exists, again, in a movement from lower to higher modes of self-realization. Hegel calls the highest form of this self-realization the idea. Ever since Plato the idea has meant the image of the true potentialities of things as against the apparent reality. It was originally a critical concept, like the concept of essence, denouncing the security of common sense in a world too readily content with the form in which things immediately appeared. The proposition that the true being is the idea and not the reality thus contains an intended paradox.
For Hegel, who knew of no realm of truth beyond the world, the idea is actual and man’s task is to live in its actuality. The idea exists as cognition and life. The terms will offer no more difficulties; since Hegel’s earliest writings, life has stood for the actual form of true being. It represents the mode of existence that a subject, through the conscious negation of all otherness, has made its own free work. Furthermore, life can be such a free work only by virtue of cognition, since the subject requires the power of conceptual thinking to dispose over the potentialities of things.
The element of practice is still retained in the concluding sections of the Logic. The adequate form of the idea is termed the unity of cognition and action, or ‘the identity of the Theoretical and the Practical Idea.’ Hegel expressly declares that the practical idea, the realization of ‘the Good’ that alters the external reality, is ‘higher than the Idea of Cognition, ... for it has not only the dignity of the universal but also of the simply actual.’
The manner in which Hegel demonstrates this unity shows, however, that he has made a final transformation of history into ontology. The true being is conceived as a perfectly free being. Perfect freedom, according to Hegel, requires that the subject comprehend all objects, so that their independent objectivity is overcome. The objective world then becomes the medium for the self-realization of the subject, which knows all reality as its own and has no object but itself. As long as cognition and action still have an external object that is not yet mastered and is therefore foreign and hostile to the subject, the subject is not free. Action is always directed against a hostile world and, since it implies the existence of such a hostile world, action essentially restricts the freedom of the subject. Only thought, pure thought, fulfills the requirements of perfect freedom, for thought ‘thinking’ itself is entirely for itself in its otherness; it has no object but itself.
We recall Hegel’s statement that ‘every philosophy is an idealism.’ We can now understand the critical side of idealism, which justifies this statement. There is, however, another aspect of idealism that ties it up with the reality its critical tendencies strive to overcome. From their origin, the basic concepts of idealism reflect a social separation of the intellectual sphere from the sphere of material production. Their content and their validity had to do with the power and the faculties of a ‘leisure class,’ which became the guardian of the idea by virtue of the fact that it was not compelled to work for the material reproduction of society. For, its exceptional status freed this class from the inhumane relations that the material reproduction created, and made it capable of transcending them. The truth of philosophy thus became a function of its remoteness from material practice.
We have seen that Hegel protested this trend in philosophy, considering it the complete abdication of reason. He spoke for the actual power of reason and for the concrete materialization of freedom. But he was frightened by the social forces that had undertaken this task. The French Revolution had again shown that modern society was a system of irreconcilable antagonisms. Hegel recognized that the relations of civil society could, owing to the particular mode of labor on which they were based, never provide for perfect freedom and perfect reason. In this society, man remained subject to the laws of an unmastered economy, and had to be tamed by a strong state, capable of coping with the social contradictions. The final truth had therefore to be sought in another sphere of reality. Hegel’s political philosophy was governed throughout by this conviction. The Logic also bears the mark of resignation.
If reason and freedom are the criteria of true being, and the reality in which they are materialized is marred by irrationality and bondage, they must again come to rest in the idea. Cognition thus becomes more than action, and knowledge, the knowledge of philosophy, draws closer to the truth than does the social and political practice. Although Hegel says that the stage of historical development attained at his time reveals that the idea has become real, it ‘exists’ as the comprehended world, present in thought, as the ‘system of science.’ This knowledge is no longer individual, but has the ‘dignity’ of the ‘universal.’ Mankind has become conscious of the world as reason, of the true forms of all that it is capable of realizing. Purified as it is of the dross of existence, this system of science is the flawless truth, the absolute idea.
The absolute idea is not added to the results of the preceding analysis as a separate supreme entity. It is in its content, the totality of the concepts that the Logic has unfolded, and in its form the ‘method’ that develops this totality. ‘To speak of the absolute idea may suggest the conception that we are at length reaching the right thing and the sum of the whole matter. It is certainly possible to indulge in a vast amount of senseless declamation about the absolute idea. But its true content is only the whole system of which we have been hitherto studying the development.’ Consequently Hegel’s chapter on the Absolute Idea gives us a final comprehensive demonstration of dialectical method. Here, again, it is presented as the objective process of being, which preserves itself only through the different modes of the ‘negation of the negation.’ It is this dynamic that eventually moves the absolute idea and makes the transition from the Logic to the Philosophy of Nature and of Mind. The absolute idea is the true notion of reality and, as such, the highest form of cognition. It is, as it were, dialectical thought, unfolded in its totality. However, it is dialectical thought and thus contains its negation; it is not a harmonious and stable form but a process of unification of opposites. It is not complete except in its otherness.
The absolute idea is the subject in its final form, thought. Its otherness and negation is the object, being. The absolute idea now has to be interpreted as objective being. Hegel’s Logic thus ends where it began, with the category of being. This, however, is a different being that can no longer be explained through the concepts applied in the analysis that opened the Logic. For being now is understood in its notion, that is, as a concrete totality wherein all particular forms subsist as the essential distinctions and relations of one comprehensive principle. Thus comprehended, being is nature, and dialectical thought passes on to the Philosophy of Nature.
This exposition covers but one aspect of the transition. The advance beyond the Logic is not only the methodological transition from one science (Logic) to another (Philosophy of Nature), but also the objective transition from one form of being (the Idea) to another (Nature). Hegel says that ‘the idea freely releases itself’ into nature, or, freely ‘determines itself’ as nature. It is this statement, putting the transition forward as an actual process in reality, that offers great difficulties in the understanding of Hegel’s system.
We have stressed that dialectical logic links the form of thought with its content. The notion as a logical form is at the same time the notion as existing reality; it is a thinking subject. The absolute idea, the adequate form of this existence, must therefore contain in itself that dynamic which drives it into its opposite, and, through the negation of this opposite, to its return upon itself. But how can this free transformation of the absolute idea into objective being (Nature) and from there into mind be demonstrated as an actual happening?
At this point, Hegel’s Logic resumes the metaphysical tradition of Western philosophy, a tradition that it had abandoned in so many of its aspects. Since Aristotle, the quest for being (as such) had been coupled with the quest for the veritable being, for that determinate being that most adequately expresses the characters of being-as-such. This veritable being was called God. The Aristotelian ontology culminated in theology, but a theology that had nothing to do with religion, since it treated the being of God in exactly the same way that it treated the being of material things. The Aristotelian God is neither the creator nor judge of the world; his function is purely an ontological, one might even say, mechanical one; he represents a definite type of movement.
In line with this tradition, Hegel too links his Logic with theology. He says that the Logic ‘shows forth God as he is in his eternal essence before the creation of Nature and of a finite Mind.’ God in this formula means the totality of the pure forms of all being, or, the true essence of being that the Logic unfolds. This essence is realized in the free subject whose perfect freedom is thought. Up to this point Hegel’s logic follows the pattern of the Aristotelian metaphysic. But now, the Christian tradition, in which Hegel’s philosophy was deeply rooted, asserts its right and prevents the maintenance of a purely ontological concept of God. The absolute idea has to be conceived as the actual creator of the world; it has to prove its freedom by freely releasing itself into its otherness, that is, nature.
Hegel’s view does, however, hold to the rationalistic tendencies of his philosophy. The true being does not reside beyond this world, but exists only in the dialectical process that perpetuates it. No final goal exists outside this process that might mark a salvation of the world. As the Logic depicts it, the world is ‘totality in itself, and contains the pure idea of truth itself.’ – ‘ The process of reality is a ‘circle,’ showing the same absolute form in all its moments, namely, the return of being to itself through the negation of its otherness. Hegel’s system thus even cancels the idea of creation; all negativity is overcome by the inherent dynamic of reality. Nature achieves its truth when it enters the domain of history. The subject’s development frees being from its blind necessity, and nature becomes a part of human history and thus a part of mind. History, in its turn, is the long road of mankind to conceptual and practical domination of nature and society, which comes to pass when man has been brought to reason and to a possession of the world as reason. The index that such a state has been achieved is, Hegel says, the fact that the true ‘system of science’ has been elaborated, meaning his own philosophical system. It embraces the whole world as a comprehended totality in which all things and relations appear in their actual form and content, that is, in their notion. The identity of subject and object, thought and reality, is there attained.