[translation]Marx without Reservations: Six Theses for Interpreting Capital in Light of Hegel’s Logic

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Original work can be found here: http://www.revistas.unal.edu.co/index.php/idval/article/view/48173

Marx without Reservations:
Six Theses for Interpreting Capital
in Light of Hegel’s Logic

German Daniel Castiglioni
Universidad Nacional del Litoral / conicet
Santa Fe – Argentina

[Translated by Antonio Wolf]

[This English translation is not official nor endorsed by the original writers. Footnotes and bibliography were left untranslated because they add very little to the argument.]

 

abstract
Because it is not possible to comprehend Capital without knowing the Science of Logic, this article aims to chart some general guidelines to reach such an understanding. In six theses, I highlight some important aspects of Marx’s thought that have been little treated and discussed within the Marxist tradition to indicate certain equivocations and highlight some interpretations. This offers a new framework to understand the critical attitude that the “mature” Marx adopted regarding his teacher’s dialectic.
Keywords: K. Marx, G. W. F. Hegel, Capital, Science of Logic.

The reception of the thought of Hegel in the Marxist tradition has varied with the course of history. Despite a common recognition of the dependence of Marx with respect to Hegel (mainly in his youth period), there has always existed the attempt to eliminate all traces of Hegelianism in the works of Marx, and tied to this, a strong denial of dialectic. We can name, for example, the revisionism of Eduard Bernstein in Germany, the works of Althusser and his school in France, and the interpretation of De La Volpe and Colleti in Italy. It is not our intention here to make an examination of all these interpretations, nor to give a general diagnostic about the question. We depart, instead, from the presupposition that it is impossible to comprehend the development of the economic forms in Marx’s Capital without a deep study of Hegel’s Science of Logic. It is from within this perspective that we present, in the form of theses, some general guidelines that, in our judgment, cross the horizon of any Hegelian reading of Marx.

In the first place, the mature works of Marx must be placed in the center of Marxist studies, that is, the Contribution to a Critique of Political Economy, and principally, Capital, since it is in this last period where one finds the majority of the influence of Hegel (thesis 1). Second, the correct relation between Capital and the Logic must be determined since on this point many interpretations, in their attempt to trace the influence of the Logic, disfigure the thought of Marx as well as Hegel’s (thesis 2). Hence, for a Hegelian comprehension of Capital, it should not be overlooked that Marx intended to construct a system that is at the same time a critique of the content exposed. This linking between system and critique is possible through the Hegelian dialectic (thesis 3). With that, the importance given to the form of the study of political economy by Marx must be highlighted (thesis 4), as well as the key place the theory of value has as the beginning of the scientific exposition (thesis 5). One final aspect that must be taken into account, although no less significant for it, is the Hegelian language utilized by Marx, not only in the first chapters, but in all of Capital (thesis 6).

All of these theses are interrelated and do not cease to refer to one another; hence, they can be read in a different order from what is presented here. Our objective consists in determining the general picture that makes possible the reading, interpretation, and later reconstruction of Capital based on the Hegel’s Logic. This does not prevent us, however, from referring to Marxist studies and its long tradition for pointing to the origin of certain misunderstandings as well as the works that are part of the orientation proposed here.

Before beginning with the exposition of the theses it is necessary to clear up some difficulties regarding the texts of Marx. First, Capital is only the first of six parts of a great project about “the system of bourgeois economy” (Marx 1980 3).[1] At the same time, Capital divides into four books (or three tomes)[2], but only the first of them was published by Marx under the title The Process of Production of Capital in two editions (1867 and 1872). Hence, only a very small portion of his gigantic project managed to come to light. According to the calculations of Dussel, “In life Marx published less than a seventieth part of his project” (1990 26)

The two editions of Capital present some important changes, mainly in the theory of value (first section).[3] However, Marx continued reworking and submitting revisions to the published volume (cf. 1975 23), with which it cannot be considered that his latest version was definitive. Furthermore, for systematic reasons it is unlikely that this first book would remain unchanged once the entire project approached its completion, or at least his idea of its outline more clearly set. At no time should we forget the precariousness of the mature works of Marx. Especially, presenting Capital as if it were a finished knowledge (the “bible of the proletariat”) must be avoided, or, at least, if it is recognized that Marx had not completed its project, we must consider that it can and should be completed. Something similar happened with the Aristotelian corpus in scholasticism; the commentary filled the silences left by Aristotle, and his works were read under the assumption that it formed a unitary system (cf. Aubenque 20-21). We reject all that school Marxism, sometimes called “orthodox Marxism”, which is also filtered through many of his critics (cf. Ruiz 2014).

Likewise, Marx and Engels are talked of as if they thought the same.[4] Book III of Capital is also cited as if it were on par with book I, when it, along with book II, are just some of the notes of Marx which Engels subsequently ordered under the guise of completion (Capital has four drafts, but Engels did not base himself on all the manuscripts to make the text he considers definitive). In this regard, Martinez Marzoa saw himself in need to establish, in a manner prior to his interpretation of Capital, a double philological delimitation, both internal and external, of the corpus of Marx (cf. Martinez 5-6). Externally, the source texts that are authored by Marx himself must be separated, for example, from Engels’. It must be distinguished internally which are published manuscripts or notes, as well as the type of text (manifestos, letters, programs, statements of a political party, scientific works, etc.). In turn, it should be considered if a work (or part thereof) is finished or if it is still susceptible to reworkings. Although the internal boundary may cause disputes, the external boundary is indisputable: Engels is not Marx, and even more, according to the famous declaration, Marx is not a Marxist.

Having all these aspects in mind, we begin the development of the six theses for the interpretation of Capital based on the Hegel’s Logic.

Thesis 1: It is not the young Marx, but the “late” one that is closest to Hegel[5]

It is commonly recognized that the thought of Hegel had a considerable influence in Marx’s theoretical production. Despite the critiques of this author towards the Hegelian system, or perhaps in their name, it is impossible to deny the importance of Hegel for the comprehension of his works. Nevertheless, when this relation is determined it is common to suppose that Marx receives his major influence from Hegel in his young period, and that his later theoretical development is marked by a progressive distancing and autonomy from this philosopher. This normally accepted scheme presupposes, in its turn, that the evolution of the thought of Marx must be understood as the passing of philosophy to science, that is, from the “ideological” Marx of youth, immersed in a (post)Hegelian atmosphere, to the scientific and economist Marx, represented in his masterpiece: Capital. Whether it is considered that this transition is a true progress or a decadence, the relation between Marx and Hegel is left reduced mainly to the supposed Hegelianism of the young Marx, leaving overlooked his mature writings. Karel Kosik expressed it in these terms:

The unconscious and unanalyzed scheme of most of the interpretations of the spiritual development of Marx presupposes that the evolution of the Manuscripts to Capital is equivalent to the passing of philosophy to science. Whether this process is valued positively or negatively as progress or decadence, its characteristic feature remains the gradual abandonment of philosophy and the philosophic problems for the benefit of science and the problems of exact science. (70)

Even when this general vision can continue being a common place within the studies about Marx, there are various reasons for considering that it is erroneous. As we will show right away, the major influence of Hegel is received by Marx in his mature period, from 1857, when he found himself elaborating his great project including a critique of political economy. For its part, the thesis of the Hegelianism of the young Marx has strongly been questioned. After a first acquaintance with Hegel in his formative university years the young Marx assumes very early the Feuerbachian critiques of the system of Hegel, and he extends them to a good portion of the Hegelian doctrines of the state. It is from this that Althusser, for example, considers that the Hegelianism of the young Marx is a “myth”, but from this he concludes erroneously that Marx never was Hegelian (cf. 1967 26). To demonstrate that the relation between Marx and Hegel is not what is commonly accepted, that instead it is the “mature” Marx of Capital that is the closest to Hegel, we will highlight three aspects.

In the first place, it is a fact of great importance that Marx returns to read Hegel’s Logic towards the end of 1857 when he found himself working on what would be the first work of maturity: the Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy, published in 1859. In a letter to Engels dated 14th of January of 1858, Marx describes in this manner his rereading of Hegel:

Furthermore, I have made magnificent findings. For example, I have captured in the air the entire theory of profit just as it existed until now. In the method of the elaboration of the theme, there is something which has been of great service: by mere accident I had once again looked over Hegel’s Logic (Freiligrath has found some books of Hegel that had belonged to Bakunin and has sent them to me as a gift). (1980 315)

But Marx does not simply look over the Logic, he makes a detailed study writing notes mainly about the Doctrine of Being.

This new approachment to Hegel influences enormously in the entire mature period of Marx. It can be perceived with clarity that in all the manuscripts after 1857 Marx expresses himself with the terminology and conceptualization of the Hegelian Logic. It is because of that that the diffusion that these manuscripts had in the second half of the 20th century, beginning with the so called Grundrisse (the first of the four drafts of Capital), gave a new impulse to the polemic over the Hegelianism of the “late” Marx (cf. Reichelt 1970; Uchida 1988). The first great commentator of these manuscripts, Roman Roldolsky, considered that “the most important and theoretically interesting problem that the Grundrisse offered… is the relation between the Marxian work and Hegel, and especially, with the Logic of this author” (11).

Likewise, supposing that in his youth he had been a Hegelian, it is very strange that Marx did not have in his library anything more than the Science of Logic. In fact the references to the Logic are very isolated in his young writings. We must conclude that the young Marx did not know this fundamental work of Hegel’s more than superficially.

Second, it is from this epoch after 1857 that Marx begins to claim that his analysis of capitalism is based on dialectic, recognizing his debt to Hegel. Even though in the writings of the young Marx he refers to Hegel many times, as much because of theme as well as argumentative structure, only in the mature period can there be found a strictly dialectical development exposition.

In the controversial epilogue to the second edition of Capital Marx highlights the incomprehension that a good part of critique has had over the method applied in his work (cf. 1975 17-20). It is in this context where he affirms that his method of exposition is dialectical, differentiating it from Hegel’s by the place assigned to the process of thinking (the ideal) and the famous “standing on its head” of the dialectic. Nonetheless, this issue over the nature of the Marxian dialectic is one of the most polemic themes, and which can with difficulty be explained through the simple figure of the inversion (cf. Korsch 105). In turn, the express declarations that Marx makes with respect to it are isolated and do not have any intention of delving, at least publically, on the question.

Nevertheless, just as Dieter Henrich has pointed out, the critiques of Hegel by Marx are made on behalf of him (cf. 227), that is to say, they are internal to the Hegelian philosophy. Marx reclaims from the dialectic its “rational kernel” against the mystifying aspect that it had in Hegel. It is on behalf of reason and the unity of concept and reality which he raises his critique to the Hegelian philosophy.

Third, it must be highlighted that in that very same epilogue Marx himself does not doubt to declare himself a pupil of Hegel openly, calling him a “great thinker” (1975 20). Marx also left very clearly expressed this connection with Hegel in the manuscripts of the second book of Capital. There he writes:

In a comment about the first tome of Capital, Herr Dühring emphasizes that in my jealous devotion to the Hegelian logic I discover even in the form of circulation the figures of the Hegelian syllogism. My relation with Hegel is very simple. I am a disciple of Hegel, and the vainglory of the epigones that think they have buried this eminent thinker appear to me frankly ridiculous. Nonetheless, I have taken the liberty of adopting toward my master a critical attitude, of ridding his dialectic of his mysticism and making it experience a profound change […]. (cit. in Dussel 1990 37)

In life Marx often received these critiques about his supposed Hegelianism (or idealism) and his devotion to Hegel’s Logic. Marx does not shy from these critiques, instead he takes them on recognizing Hegel as his master. But, at the same time, Marx is not merely a repeater of Hegelian thought, but freely adopts a critical attitude towards him just as Feuerbach once did. This free appropriation is what precisely characterizes an authentic disciple.

Summarizing these three aspects, we sustain that only after 1857 is there found in Marx a terminological and conceptual use of the Hegelian Logic; second, only in the mature works does the content developed have a deliberate exposition according to dialectical method; and finally, only the “late” Marx declares himself, in critical attitude, a disciple of Hegel, trying to overcome him from the development of his own principles. If we refer to the thesis of Althusser about the commonly accepted Hegelianism of the young Marx as a myth, we can conclude that the major influence of Hegel is not received by Marx in his youth, as it is commonly believed, but in his mature period when he is working on the rough draft of Capital. As Rafael Echeverria holds, we believe that Hegel represented for Marx a love of maturity (cf. 4).

Thesis 2: The relation of Hegel’s Logic and Marx’s Capital does not consist in a mere application of abstract categories to an external matter, nor is it limited to a simple correspondence between the expositive order of both works, but instead it consists in extracting the logical development of economic forms.

Within the Hegelian tradition of Marxism the search for points of contact between Marx’s Capital and Hegel’s Logic is a well known problem (though little elaborated) and has received diverse interpretations. Perhaps the first who formulated this connection in a laconic and programmatic way was Lenin. In the notes of his reading of the Science of Logic there is found the well known aphorism: “It is impossible to completely understand Marx’s Capital, and especially its first Chapter, without having thoroughly studied and understood the whole of Hegel’s Logic. Consequently, after half a century none of the Marxists understood Marx!” (Lenin 172)

Now, the main question that must be first addressed consists in determining the relation between both works. How to interpret Marx’s Capital from the point of Hegel’s Logic? How to measure the influence of one work on the other? What does it mean that between them there is an essential connection? To address these questions it must be emphasized, in the first place, the difference between both texts. The Logic is a universal science that coincides, according to Hegel, with metaphysics (cf. Hegel 1997 131 §24n). In this work Hegel founds philosophy’s own method by which it transforms into science (cf. Hegel 2011 202). Capital, in contrast, is a scientific project that for all the extension and universality we attribute to it, from the Hegelian point of view, is a particular philosophical science that deals with the capitalist mode of production. Stated in another manner, Marx is not writing a logic, a universal science, which is contrasted at the same level of the Hegelian Logic. Nevertheless, it is obvious that in Capital Marx operates with an internal logic, that is, in this book there is a method that gives scientific rigor to the exposed content. This question over the method is, therefore, the first that must be emphasized in an investigation that pretends to link Hegel’s Logic and Marx’s Capital.

Lenin said with respect to the following:

If Marx did not leave us a Logic (with capital), he left instead the logic of Capital […] In Capital Marx applied the logic to one single science, the dialectic and the theory of the knowledge of materialism […] took all that was valuable in Hegel, and developed it. (309)

This would open the possibility of elaborating a “Marxist” logic different to that of Hegel. Is this attempt really possible? At the end of the famous epilogue to the second edition of Capital Marx affirms: “The mystification which dialectic suffers in Hegel’s hands by no means prevents him from being the first to present its general form of working in a comprehensive and conscious manner” (1975 20) According to this passage, it would be useless to write a work that exposes the pure movement of the general forms of the dialectic, this task was already done by Hegel (precisely in the Science of Logic). The mystification attributed to Hegel by Marx is all that should be warned. Making that proviso (which is a very controversial issue), Marx can use the Hegelian Logic in the exposition of Capital and even go so far as “coquetting” with his language.[6]

However, despite this difference between the universality of the Logic and the particularity of Capital, it must be avoided, from the beginning, to reduce the link between both works as a mere application of abstract categories to an external content. Karel Kosík has pointed out this error of the so-called “logicizing and methodizing interpretations”. In chapter III of the Dialectic of the Concrete, he considers four interpretations of the possible relations between science (in particular economics) and philosophy (dialectic), a relation he considers “the cardinal problem” of Capital since this work is not a treatment of pure economics in the common sense of the word (cf. Kosík 162). The first of these interpretations is the mutual indifference between economics and philosophy:

In one case, science (economics) and philosophy are reciprocally superfluous, the one for the other, since the interpretation transforms the economic movement into logical movement, and Marx’s Capital is presented in a manner that the scientific conclusions are translated to the language of philosophy. The economic content is indifferent to the logical categories, and the logical categories are independent of the economic content. In such a conception, the work of Marx is considered mainly and before all an applied logic that uses economics to illustrate its movement. (Kosík 163).

If Hegel’s Logic is considered in this manner, that is, as a great abstract structure indifferent to any content (be it economic, biological, or historical, etc.), then the essential connection to Marx’s Capital, and, in general, with any other particular science, is lost. The young Marx denounced this “pan-logicism” of Hegel with respect to his Philosophy of Right. “What really interests Hegel is not the philosophy of Right, but Logic” (2002 84). “All of the Philosophy of Right is nothing more than a parenthesis of the Logic” (id. 85). And a bit later: “Hegel gives his Logic a political body; what he does not give is the logic of the political body.” (d. 127). It could be said, in similar fashion, that all of Capital is nothing more than a parenthesis of the Logic, or also, that if we simply apply the Hegelian dialectic to political economy, then we will give the Logic an economic body, but not by this will we discover the logic of the economic body.

However, this “logicism” interpretation surges from an incomprehension of the significance of the Hegelian Logic and its relation with the particular philosophical sciences. It is not about simply applying the categories of the Hegelian Logic to Marx’s Capital, as if they were mere empty schemas that await to be filled with an external content (in this case, the economic); on the contrary, the effort consists in deciphering, in the development of the economic forms of Capital, that movement of thought that Hegel studied in isolation in his Logic. In other words, to discover “the general forms of the dialectic” that make the systematic exposition of Capital from the Logic of Hegel. Said in Hegelian terms, the task consists in extracting (ausziehen) the logical (das Logische) from the development of the economic forms (cf. Hegel 2011 207).[7] Only in this manner is a Hegelian reconstruction of Capital possible.

Likewise, the link between the development of the economic forms of Capital and the pure determinations of the Logic should also not be reduced to a simple linear correspondence of the expositive order of both works. Lenin is one of the first to have suggested this type of parallelism. In his Philosophical Notebooks he comments the following equivalence: “The beginning –the simplest ‘being’, common, immediate, in mass: the single commodity (the ‘Sein’ in political economy)” (310). Since the Logic begins with pure Being and Capital with the single commodity, and both works are dialectical, then the Sein of political economy is the commodity, or inversely, the commodity in thought is pure Being. From here the deployment of the parallelism of being-commodity could be continued. More current studies (the majority of the time without knowing of the reflections of Lenin) take up, or better yet develop, this linear connection (cf. Arthur 2002; Dussel 2005).

However, three reasons persuade us to reject this type of interpretation. First, Marx’s Capital is not a rewriting of the Science of Logic in economic code. The economic forms of Capital are not exposed following the same order of the categories of the Hegelian Logic, as if they were its “materialist counterpart”. The “inversion” of the dialectic of Hegel has a much more complex meaning than this simple putting “right side up” of every category to find its referent material hidden under the “mystical shell”. However much Capital is a work that follows a dialectical method very close to the Logic’s, this does not mean that it should reproduce its very categorial order.

In second place, Hegel himself, when he occupied himself with the distinct particular philosophical sciences (all the ones that compose the philosophy of Nature and Spirit), never limits himself to speculatively copying, as in a mirror, the expositive order of his Logic. Every particular science has its own abstract beginning which is not equivalent to pure Being except for a vague structural analogy.[8] The scientific exposition of a science follows the internal movement of the object it studies and not a previous structural scaffolding. That that specific object can and should be thought with the determinations exposed in the Logic does not mean that the same expositive sequence must be imposed for the study of the forms of pure thought.

Lastly, these interpretations of the link between Capital and the Logic remain trapped in a fixed and linear schema that makes impossible to think a set of categories of multiple interaction just as Hegel does in ever particular philosophical science (paradigmatically, in the Philosophy of Right). In attempting to elucidate the logic of Capital, these readings reduce it instead to an abstract prefigured abstract order which belongs exclusively to the Science of Logic (and only to that work of Hegel).

In conclusion, the task of interpreting Capital based on the Logic should not consist in an application of abstract categories to an alien material, but neither does it reduce to equating the very order of categories of one or another work. With such equivalencies there is no achievement of a satisfactory explanation of the dialectical movement of the economic forms that are, precisely, what is essential as much for Marx as for Hegel. Nevertheless, any other type of connections between these works must be taken, at the beginning, only in a problematic manner, and in no case can be valued on their own as a demonstration of the influence of Hegel on Marx. The correspondence is only an external relation which is justified and becomes immanent when through it the deepening of the content and the clarification of its movement is achieved. In this sense, a different attitude to that of Arthur or Dussel is found, for example, in Kohan (2003), Robles Báez (2005) and Castiglioni (2014).

 

Thesis 3: Capital is not only the exposition of the system of political economy, but at the same time, through the dialectical articulation of the economic forms, its immanent critique

The fundamental interest of the mature works of Marx is the construction of a “system of bourgeois economy” (1980 3). With that, this thinker aligns himself with the long philosophical tradition of the “system builders”. However, the scientificity of Marx’s work goes beyond the traditional approach in which the critical (pars destruens) should precede and prepare the positive exposition of the system (pars construens). A paradigmatic example of this separation between critique and the system is the philosophy of Kant. In the Critique of Pure Reason Kant puts forward a “revolution of the way of thinking” (KRV B XI), for which metaphysics finds “the steady march of a science” (KRV B XIX). But critique is not yet this science itself, instead it must sketch the plan for “a future system of metaphysics” (KRV B XXXVI). In this manner, as prior to the system, critique must be considered as its propaedeutic (cf.KRV A 11B 25).

On the contrary, for Marx the system of bourgeois economy is, at the same time, its immanent critique. This can be proven by the double title of his major work: Capital (that is to say, the system of political economy) is at the same time the Critique of Political Economy. Nevertheless, Marx left clarified this aspect in a letter to Lasalle, dated 22nd of February of 1858, in which he says:

The work of which it deals with is, first, the critique of the economic categories, or if you like, the system of bourgeois economy presented in critical form. It is at the same time a picture of the system and a critique of that system through its own exposition. (1980 316)

Now, this strategy of unifying system and critique is a characteristic of Hegelian dialectic itself. On one hand, the Logic is “the system of pure reason” (Hegel 2011 199), since in it the living unity of the determinations of thought, unity which is nothing other than Reason itself as Spirit, is deployed. In this manner Hegel’s Logic, mainly in its first part, that is, the objective logic, coincides with ontology (cf. 1968a 2011). But, on the other hand, by dealing with the forms of thought in-and-for-themselves, before investigating their applicability, the Logic is

[. . .] the true critique [die wahrehafte Kritik] of them [the pure forms]: a critique that does not consider them merely according to the general form of apriority against the a posteriori, but that adheres to them in their particular content. (ibd.)

Therefore, this moment of the critique is not prior to the system nor external to it, but constitutes its immanent force, and in this way, represents the dialectical moment of the method, only through which a body of knowledge can transform itself, according to Hegel, into science (cf. 1997 184 §81n). Hence in the Hegelian dialectic is found the key that makes a system be at the same time, through its exposition, the immanent critique of the content exposed.

Thus, Marx is also indebted to Hegel in this sense. The “dialectical method” applied to political economy is what allows the exposition of the system of bourgeois economy to not be a mere compilation of economic forms, according to an arbitrary or subjective order, but instead the simplest and most abstract forms convert themselves into more complete ones through their own internal contradictions, that is, through their immanent critique.[9]

This systematic and dialectic character at once is what makes the published text have a hermeneutic priority for Marx over the rest of his writings. In a letter to Engels, dated the 31st of July of 1865, Marx highlights this importance of the publication:

Whatever its defects could be, the advantage of my works consist in that they form an artistic whole, which is only acquired with my method [or manner of preceding] of never letting them go to press before they are finished. With the method of Jacob Grimm this would be impossible, though that proceeding is fine, in general, for books which do not form an articulated dialectical unity. (1959 672).

In the first half of the XIXth century the brothers Grimm edited a great quantity of stories from the German tradition, as well as elaborating an important German dictionary amongst other linguistic investigations. But this “method of Grimm”, which Marx alludes to, was nothing more than an empirical collection of stories with no necessary link between them, and which were published together only for belonging to the German culture. It is a great work of empiricism, just as Aristotelian logic was for Hegel (cf. Hegel 1955 326). But Capital is not a mere compilation of economic forms (just as Hegel’s Logic is not a mere set of forms of thought), but it is articulated according to a dialectical unity.

Hence, Capital never could have been written, for example, through aphorisms, like some books by Feuerbach or Nietzsche; in this respect, many post-Hegelians (including the young Marx) renounce the system of Hegel for the simple mode of exposition of its thoughts despite their continuing immersion and running in circles within the Hegelian categories. For Hegel, in contrast, philosophy can only be scientific if it composes a system. He says in the Encyclopedia:

A philosophizing without system cannot be anything scientific; otherwise, because such way of philosophizing expresses itself instead in a subjective way of feeling, it is contingent according to its content. A content is only justified as a moment of the whole; outside of this it is an unfounded supposition or subjective certainty; many philosophical writings limit themselves to expressing only appearances and opinions. (1997 117 §14n)

This last [comment] could be said of the works of the young Marx; they express only a subjective point of view, a simple opinion or appearance. In his youth Marx does not compose any text that follows a strictly dialectical exposition. The analysis of the distinct categories do not constitute an “articulated dialectical unity”, but on the contrary, they are similar to the “method of Grimm”; and the same goes for other post-Hegelians like Feuerbach or Kierkegaard. Though to talk of “dialectics” in a broad sense could be continued, all of these abandon the scientific rigor that Hegel aims. But with Capital, Marx returns to the center this problem over science, or the system, and with it, of the adequate method of exposition. For this reason it can be said that only the “late” Marx is for the first time a true Hegelian that tries to better formulate the philosophy of his master by covering aspects (political economy) that were left without development. This “turn to Hegel” is produced thanks to the reading Marx makes of the Science of Logic when he found himself working on his great project of a critique of political economy.[10] Only in his mature works does Marx rescue the dialectic in its strict Hegelian sense, that is, as “the moving soul of scientific procedure” (Hegel 1997 148 §81n).

In conclusion, Capital is not only the system of the economic forms according their deployment and dialectical articulation, but instead, because of that, is also the critique of political economy. Both aspects, therefore, are not separate, like they occur in the philosophy of Kant (first the critique, then the system), but are integrated, like in Hegel (the Science of Logic is the system of pure reason, and at the same time, the true critique of the forms of thought). Thus, the key to comprehending the systematicity of the mature works of Marx are found in the resurgence of the Hegelian dialectic as immanent critique.

Thesis 4: The content of Capital, according to its dialectical development, are the very economic forms themselves

To interpret Capital from the point of Hegel’s Logic it is fundamental to highlight the importance given by Marx to form. All of Capital must be considered as an analysis of economic forms. Now, according to Marx, the exposition is not enough to construct a science. A critique of these forms must be made through the exposition that shows their insufficiencies and contradictions to generate, from a necessary impulsion, a new economic form.[11],[12] Thus, Marx is not interested in the sensuous material from which these forms were extracted (by the method of investigation[13]), instead what matters to him, as well as to Hegel, is their internal movement. Thus, only a dialectical exposition can reproduce the “real movement”.

Marx takes various opportunities to point to this importance of the form over matter (or material content). For example, at the beginning of the third of the economic forms of value (simple circulation), in the point titled “The metamorphosis of commodities”, he holds that:

[. . .] we are to examine the total process from the point of view of the form, and thus only the change of form, or the metamorphosis of commodities, through which the social metabolism is mediated.

The absolutely defective conception of this formal change obeys, leaving aside the little clarity about the concept of value itself, the fact that all formal change of a commodity operates in the exchange between two commodities, one of which is common and the other monetary. If we keep just to that material aspect, to the exchange of commodities for gold, we lose sight of precisely what we should observe, that is, what happens with the form. (Marx 1975 127)

An articulated dialectical exposition can only be achieved, therefore, by placing it in the point of view of the form, since it is the only way that the contradictions contained in political economy can be manifested. From this follows the difficulty for comprehending, according to Marx, the genesis of money, an economic form that during more than two thousand yeas nobody had succeeded in deciphering (cf. 1975 6). The difficulty lies precisely is in that the form of values lacks material content. But not because of it does it merely deal with mere empty forms, as it is accustomed to consider thoughts in traditional logic, but the intrinsic dialectic of said economic forms is the genuine content that Capital exposes. We can even hold that the critique of Marx towards the classical economists is analogous to the critique of Hegel towards traditional logic.

According to Hegel, it is said that logic makes abstraction of all content because it is considered that such comes from the senses, and that it is the only source that fills the logical forms; that without this sense material [logic] would, therefore, be empty and dead. Thus, logic would not be able to give any guidance for the knowing of truth (cf. Hegel 2011 193). Nevertheless, Hegel inverts this common reproach toward logic’s formalism, since, for this author, though logic abstracts the forms of thought from all empirical content, it considers every form isolated with a value itself and correct in itself. But, in this way, the very forms of thought become the amorphous material that itself needs ordering according to necessary links so that the whole acquires systematic unity. The pure forms

[. . .] only are, then, the material of truth, the content lacking form: its defect does not consist, then, in that they are simple forms, but on the contrary in that they lack form and in that in them there is too much content. (Hegel 1955 327-328)

In other words, the defect of traditional logic does not reside in its abstract formalism, but in the opposite reason, that it itself needs said formalism. Thus, “when it is said that logic lacks substance [gehaltlos], its object is not at fault, but only the way in which this is grasped” (Hegel 2011 197). Hegel’s Logic thus operates a change of perspective regarding the forms of thinking, to transform traditional logic into science.

Marx’s critique of the classical economists is, in a certain way, similar. Though they have established the distinct economic forms in an isolated manner, nonetheless, they have not taken care of thinking these forms in-and-for-themselves as well as their mutual internal connection. Nevertheless, it is the development of the forms that should constitute the true content of a treatment of political economy.

Marx himself established this relation between his critique toward the economists and the critique of Hegel toward the logicians. In the first edition of Capital, in treating the form of value, Marx affirms in a footnote the following:

It can hardly be surprising that the economists, subject entirely to the influence of material interests, have overlooked the formal content [den Formgehalt] of the relative expression of value, when, before Hegel, the professional logicians ignored the formal content [Forminhalt] of the paradigms of judgment and conclusion. (1975 991)

The key to this passage is found in that Marx does not simply counterpose the form and content, but that he talks about the content of the very form itself, that is, of the form as genuine content. The classical economists (just like the logicians prior to Hegel) busied themselves with mere empty forms because they were, inversely, submerged in material interests, considering that only in said interests could those economic forms have any use and bring true knowledge. But, in this way, they overlooked the very content of the forms themselves, which are just what Marx occupied himself with in Capital. Thus, Marx makes a change of perspective over the economic forms themselves like the one made by Hegel to transform logic into science.

This concept of form is essential to comprehend the resolution of the internal contradictions of political economy, and with that, the expositive development of Capital. When starting the section about “The Metamorphosis of Commodities” Marx says:

We already saw that the process in which commodities are exchanged implied mutually excluding contradictory relations. The development of the commodity does not suppress those contradictions, but engenders the form in which they can move. This is, in general, the method by which real contradictions are resolved. (1975 127, emphasis from original)

As can be proven, for Marx, as well as for Hegel, contradiction is the motor of the entire process. These contradictions are real, thus they cannot be eliminated, but the development of the economic form (in this case the commodity form) allows the solution to the contradictions, which consist in producing a new economic form.

Hence the methodological need to explain the transition of one form to the other, the “metamorphosis” or dialectical articulation that gives coherence to the exposition. Each form consists in the unification of contradictory and mutually exclusive moments. But when this contradiction makes itself unsustainable for the very form that contains it, this leads to engender a new more concrete form since it has been enriched with the dialectic of the former. Thus, every form has within itself the germ of its destruction. Marx had already expressed this dialectic in reference to the progress of the distinct modes of production that make up “the prehistory of human society”. The conflict inherent to every society between the productive forces and the relations of production leads to, in a determined epoch, the abandonment of the mode of production that characterized it and establishes, by means of a social revolution, a new economic structure (cf. Marx 1980 5).

For all this, it is understood that the concept of form must be thought from the point of Hegel’s Logic, and not, as pointed out by Jorge Veraza (cf. 120), from Aristotle. While it is true that Marx greatly esteems “the genius of Aristotle” (cf. 1975 74), it is Hegel himself who rescues his speculative thought, including that traditional concept of form. Thus, what “Aristotelianism” Marx would have is due to, one more time, his dependence on Hegel’s thought.

In conclusion, Capital is an analysis of economic forms freed from material content. Nonetheless, this does not imply that they are empty forms, but that these very forms are the genuine content that, through their dialectical development, construct the system of political economy.

Thesis 5: All of Capital is the developed exposition of the theory of value abstractly presented in its first section[14]

The “system of bourgeois economy” (divided by Marx into six books, the first of which corresponds to the three tomes of Capital) could also be comprehended from the standpoint of the distinct theories it develops. In this sense the first two tomes of Capital (the third tome or fourth is about the history of the theory) make up the three great general theories about capital: the theory of production (book I), the theory of circulation (book II), and the theory of the configurations of the process as a whole (book III) (cf. Marx 1975 9).[15] Each book is composed, in its turn, of diverse particular theories. For the first tome, the only one published by Marx, these theories are mainly three: the theory of value (first section), the theory of relative and absolute surplus-value (the second to sixth section), and the theory of reproduction or accumulation (last section). Each theory dialectically articulates distinct economic forms, which constitute the movement of the singularity.[16] Only on the level of the singular, hence, is the dialectical articulation displayed between the economic forms. The transition of one particular theory to another implies a more radical transformation.

Nonetheless, from these particular theories the first, the theory of value, without a doubt is one of the most studied and controversial of the work. This is due to not only that Marx considered it, with good reason, the most difficult (cf. 1975 5), but also because it recognizes that in it the Hegelian mode of expression has been used, in his words, a “coquetting” with Hegel (id. 20).[17] This makes the exposition of the theory of value possess a high conceptual and speculative level.

Added to this is the peculiar history of its drafts. Marx published three versions of the theory of value. The first is exposed in the two chapters that compose the Contribution of 1859. Afterward, Marx did not think to rewrite the theory of value, but, the maturation of his project took him to present a summary of that work, where his exposition is improved (cf. 1975 5). This summary goes on to constitute the first chapter of the first edition of Capital. [18] This chapter is the last that Marx edited, thus, as Dussel has highlighted, “some hesitation is observed in the use of the new categories, for not having worked them since 1859” (1990 179). In turn, when the work was already in the press, Marx added (by suggestion of a friend) an appendix to the first chapter to make the development of the form of value more didactic (cf. Marx 1975 11). In the second edition of Capital, Marx again edits the theory of value, including the appendix in the main body of the text. A more detailed analysis of the issue, as well as a clearer use of the categories, is observed.

Due to these issues, the first section of Capital has generated a series of discussion not only with respect to its content, but also to the place that it occupies in the whole work. For Frederic Jameson, for example, this section constitutes a small autonomous treatment, analogous to The Rhinegold, the Wagnerian opera that serves as the opening to the trilogy of The Ring of the Nibelung (cf. 23-27).[19] For Bolívar Echeverría, in contrast, this first section is inseparable from the second, since in both is made an “examination of appearance” in contrast to the rest of book I and II of Capital as “exploration of essence” (cf. 50-51). Despite this, Echeverría considers that the first chapter of Capital (in its second edition) is independent of the rest (cf. 73). For its part, Althusser’s “imperative recommendation” to skip the first section on a first reading of Capital is well known (cf. 1992 25).

Now, from the Hegelian point of view, the objective difficulty of this entire first section of Capital is due to the dialectical character that Marx’s system has (cf. 1975 21). This means that the exposition of the economic forms must be conceived as a development and display of the hidden contradictions in the simplest and first forms, in a way that, as Hegel says, the advancement from the beginning is not a deduction of something different, but a subsequent and more concrete determination of the beginning itself (cf. Hegel 2011 217). From this perspective, all of Capital can be considered as a developed exposition of the theory of value abstractly presented in its first section.

According to the content, the theory of value is composed of three economic forms: the commodity, the form of value (relation between two commodities), and simple circulation (cf. Castiglioni 2014). Nevertheless, the reflections about the point of departure turn around the commodity, since it is it which gives beginning to the exposition of Capital. According to Marx, the commodity is the “elementary form” (Elementarform) of the wealth of capitalist societies (cf. 1975 43). This form encloses in itself two counterposed factors: value and use-value. The requirement of expressing and determining the commodity in a more concrete way is what leads to the following economic form: the form of the appearance of value, in which the internal antithesis between value and use-value is externalized in the relation between two commodities (cf.id. 75). To explain this development, Marx utilizes biological metaphors frequently. Hence he calls the commodity the cellular economic form (cf.id. 6). From this economic cell (the singular) is generated the tissue (the particular) of all the other forms. Following this metaphor, to expose the organism (the universal) of bourgeois economy scientifically, it is necessary to begin with its most simple element, that which contains in itself the principle of the development as an original contradiction. This complicated dialectic between the first element and the totality that is reconstructed from it makes it so that the beginning of the exposition be absolutely necessary despite being a result of the work of the investigation. Thus, Marx must already have a vision of the entire system of the bourgeois economy in its whole to determine the commodity as its elementary form (cf.

Marx here follows the method of Hegel that goes from the abstract to the concrete. In dealing with synthetic knowledge, in the last section of the Logic, Hegel affirms: “in all ways the abstract has to constitute the beginning and the element [das Element] in which and from where the particularities and the rich configurations of the concrete go on extending” (1958b 532). Hegel gives some examples that can serve to comprehend the beginning of Capital. In geometry, he says, we do not being with the concrete spatial figures, but with the point and the line, and from there are constructed, in the first place, the distinct plane figures. From these, in turn, we do not begin from any polygon, but from what has the least sides, that is, the triangle, since it is the simplest. In the learning of reading, when it is done in a rational way, we do not begin, Hegel holds, by the whole words, not even with the syllables, but with the letters and abstract tones, since they constitute the elements of the word (cf. id. 531). Returning to the biological metaphors of Marx, the point and the letters would be the cell of geometry and reading. Or inversely, the commodity is the point from which are traced the diverse figures that constitute capitalist society; it is also the letter which allows the economic processes hidden between the lines. In Hegel’s Logic itself, this cell is pure Being, or, as Being passes immediately to Nothing and Nothing to Being, the logical element that constitutes Becoming (cf. 1968a 111). Therefore, the point of departure of a science must be its simplest element. The difficulty lies, therefore, in its excessive simplicity.

In conclusion, the point of departure for the system of bourgeois economic science, being the theory of value, and specifically the commodity form in the first section of Capital, cannot be considered isolated from the rest; on the contrary, it occupies a fundamental place to comprehend the dialectical exposition of Capital.

Thesis 6: The influence of Hegel on Capital is not limited to the passages in which Marx explicitly refers to Hegel, but is found in the language itself

The dialectical exposition of Capital is the first proof of the influence of Hegel, and mainly of the Science of Logic, on the thought of the “late” Marx. As much for Hegel as for Marx, dialectic is what gives systematicity to a whole of knowledge, since it expresses the internal movement of the object of study.[20],[21] Nonetheless, this proximity between both dialectical thinkers turns much more profound and radical when the language utilized by Marx is analyzed. This can be verified, for example, in the Grundrisse (the first draft of Capital). In these manuscripts it can be clearly perceived that Marx is “rehearsing” with Hegel’s Logic, which he had read with great admiration in 1857.

However, it could be believe that bit by bit Marx separates himself from this late influence of Hegel, and that over the following years, tends to free his mode of expression (cf. Althusser 1992 31). Against this position we have the testimony of Marx himself, who in the controversial epilogue of the second edition of Capital recognizes having used the language of Hegel for the theory of value. Marx, talking about Hegel, says: “I openly declared myself, then, a disciple of that great thinker, and went so far as to coquette here and there, in the chapter about the theory of value, with his peculiar mode of expression” (1975 20).

Having in mind that this theory was the last draft by Marx and that it was the one that underwent the most reelaborations,[22] it is difficult to hold an independence with regards to Hegel after 1857. Rather, one might think that the Hegelian influence stops being simply passive or exterior such that with the years Marx incorporates the Logic within the dynamic of his own thought. The mere “application” of the Hegelian categories to political economy, as evidenced in the earliest manuscripts of Capital, itself reveals that Marx had not yet achieved appropriating (that is to say, make his own) the Logic of Hegel. Only with the years does this work become an “unconscious force” of his thought. It is because of that the influence of Hegel cannot be reduced to the places where Marx refers explicitly to him. Let us highlight, nevertheless, some of these fundamental places.

In the fifth chapter, which treats the labor process and valorization, Marx himself cites a passage from the Encyclopedia corresponding to teleology and its cunning of reason. The instruments of labor are the medium which man places frequently against nature to transform it according to his subjective ends (cf. Marx 1975 217). In the ninth chapter (with which the exposition of the third section about the theory of absolute surplus value is finalized), it is explicitly alluded to the Hegelian theory of qualitative jumps. Marx says:

The owner of money or of commodities does not really transform into a capitalist but where the minimum sum advanced for production exceeds with amplitude the maximum average. It is confirmed here, as in the natural sciences, the exactness of the law discovered by Hegel in his Logic, according to which mere quantitative changes, which at reaching a certain point, turn into qualitative differences. (id. 374)[23]

These qualitative changes also are found in other parts of Capital, for example, they are fundamental for the concept of relative surplus value. Likewise, in announcing one of the famous Marxist theses, in the twenty-fourth chapter of Capital, namely, the abolition (Aufhebung) of private property, Marx utilizes again the language of Hegel:

The capitalist mode of production and appropriation, and thus of capitalist private property, is the first negation of individual private property founded on labor itself. The negation of capitalist production is produced by itself with the necessity of a natural process. It is the negation of the negation. This restores private property, but over the foundation of the conquest reached through the capitalist era: the cooperation of free workers and their collective property over the earth and over the means of production produced by labor itself. (1975 954)

The abstract positivity is individual private property, the first negation is capitalist private property, but the second negation is collective property. This is newly the positivity, but not abstractly, instead it is mediated by the conquest of the capitalist era. Thus it can be considered the restored individual property, in the same form that for Hegel the concept is the negation of the negation and “the restored Being” (cf. 1968b 272). At the same time, if we remember the polemic of the young Marx with Proudhon, it is really interesting that Marx utilizes in Capital these language of negation and of negation of negation, after that in the Poverty of Philosophy, for example, he had mocked him for such an obsession (cf. 2007 97-98). Nonetheless, this deed alone proves that the “late” Marx is the closest to Hegel. [24],[25]

These are only some explicit references to Hegel, and which are well known by the Marxist tradition. But it must not be limited to the influence of Hegel, but the connection is in the exposition itself and the concepts it uses, in the transitions and articulations between the different theories and its diverse economic forms, in this manner, the “coquetting” with the Hegelian language extends far beyond the theory of value like Marx had assured.

We can briefly show here this terminological and conceptual use of the Logic regarding the transformation of money into capital. Some interpreters have highlighted the Hegelian character of the definition of capital as value turned into subject, value that valorizes itself. Marx says: “value converts itself here in the subject of a process in which, changing continuously the forms of money and of commodities, modifies its own magnitude, in which surplus value detaches from itself as originating value, it autovalorizes” (1975 188). For Slavoj Zizek, for example, this transformation corresponds clearly with the Hegelian transition of substance to subject (cf. 99). Value, which in the analysis of the commodity reveals itself as the substance common to the world of commodities (cf. Marx 1975 47), is converted, in capitalist circulation, in subject that autovalorizes (cf. Arthur 2002; Dussel 2005).

Hegel’s Doctrine of Essence could elucidate the movement of value from the commodity to capital. According to Hegel, the three levels of reflection are: appearance (der Schein), the phenomenal appearance (Erscheinung), and the manifestation or revelation (offenbarung) (cf. 2011 440). In a similar manner, value describes this movement in the first chapter of Capital. First, value is in itself defined by Marx as a “spectral objectivity (gespenstige Gegenständlichkeit” (19785 47). Value is thus a phantasm (Gespenst) that, in the analysis of the commodity, simply appears within itself. But, secondly, with the passing of the form of the commodity to the form of value, value makes its appearance an other. A commodity serves as the mirror in which the value of another commodity is expressed. This is why Marx says that the form of value is the form of appearance (Erschenungsform) of value (cf. id. 59). Finally, money can be considered the manifestation of the value of all commodities in un and the same commodity (gold), which has socially consolidated by an objective process (cf. id. 85). Through this correspondence is facilitated the later transformation of money into capital, as transition of substance to subject (the end of the Doctrine of Essence). The substance of value manifested in money is converted later into the subject that autovalorizes, that is, in capital.

This is only one of the distinct directions to investigate. The general picture is always constituted by the Hegelian Logic and its free appropriation on the part of Marx. The “coquetting” with Hegel conceals a much more profound relation than what it lets one see. Thus, to discover the Hegelianism of the “late” Marx a detailed study must be made of the language of Capital. Using an expression from Derrida regarding Bataille, we can afform that the language of Capital confesses a Hegelianism without reservation (Derrida 344).

Final considerations

The purpose of the presented work has been to trace the general direction for all interpretations of Capital from the point of the Logic of Hegel. This means, in the first place, emphasizing certain aspects of the thought of Marx which are not always had in mind in the common interpretations, like, for example, the notion of system or the category of economic form. It is these aspect which, precisely, approximate Capital to the philosophy of Hegel, and even more, to the Science of Logic. But, secondly, it has also been important to highlight the errors that can come up in making a Hegelian interpretation of Capital, be it because the thought of Hegel is disfigured, or worse, Marx’s. Thus, we have attempted to establish and found the general frame that makes possible the correct comprehension (and later reconstruction) of Capital through the Hegelian Logic.

However, this does not imply an assimilation between both thinkers. Marx always holds against Hegel a critical attitude, which only in his maturity, precisely because he appropriates the radical manner of his master, can become an immanent critique. The proximity between Hegel and Marx, of which we have constantly talked about, does not impede, but on the contrary, incites the thinking of their difference, but as one that can only surge from below this depth of proximity, that is, from the breast of Hegelian philosophy itself, and not by exterior counterpositions and unnecessary dualisms (like matter against spirit), which do not do more than simplifying and finally eluding the issues of the Hegelianism of the “late” Marx.

It is because of this, in third and last place, that only within the frame of the six theses which we have developed can it be begun to elucidate the free appropriation that Marx makes of the Hegelian dialectic. In conclusion, there is no doubt that with Capital we are in the presence of an authentic disciple of Hegel, perhaps the most radical that the “great thinker” may have had.

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[1] Las partes del sistema son: capital, propiedad de la tierra, trabajo asalariado; Estado, comercio exterior y mercado mundial. Se ha discutido si Marx mantiene este plan de 1859 hasta el final de su vida; sin duda hay modificaciones en el transcurso. Rosdolsky, por ejemplo, ha identificado hasta 14 versiones (cf. 36). Pero según Dussel (y lo dice expresamente “en contra de Rosdolsky”), el plan en seis partes es el definitivo (cf. 1990 18). Respecto de la importancia de la noción de sistema, véase la tesis 3.

[2] El segundo tomo abarca los libros II y III (cf. Marx 1975 9).

[3] Para estas modificaciones, véase la tesis 5.

[4] En este sentido, Dussel acusa con razón a Althusser (cf. 1990 315).

[5] Buena parte del contenido de esta primera tesis se encuentra publicado en Castiglioni (cf. 291-296), aunque fue mejorado y ampliado especialmente para este artículo.

[6] Sobre la importancia del lenguaje hegeliano utilizado por Marx en El capital, véase la tesis 6.

[7] Para la cuestión de las “formas económicas”, véase la tesis 4.

[8] Por ejemplo, la primera categoría de la filosofía de la naturaleza (es decir, inmediatamente después de abandonar la Lógica) es el espacio. Pero el espacio es para Hegel cantidad pura, por ello no podría corresponderse con el ser cualitativo del comienzo de la Lógica (1997 313 §254). Esto vale aún más para El capital, ya que la mercancía es un objeto mucho más concreto que el espacio puro.

[9] Véase la tesis 5.

[10] Para el hegelianismo del “último” Marx, en oposición a sus obras juveniles, véase la tesis 1.

[11] Véase la tesis anterior.

[12] Véase la tesis anterior.

[13] Sobre la distinción entre el método o modo de investigación y el método o modo de exposición, véase el “Epílogo a la segunda edición” de El capital (cf. 1975 19).

[14] Debo la formulación de esta tesis a Martínez Marzoa, aunque su demostración no se haga a partir de la dialéctica hegeliana (cf. Martínez 16).

[15] El segundo tomo integra los libros II y III.

[16] Esta distinción entre teorías generales, teorías particulares y formas singulares se inspira en la Fenomenología del espíritu. Dice Hegel: “el espíritu desciende desde su universalidad a la singularidad por medio de la determinación. La determinación o el medio es conciencia, autoconciencia, etc. Pero la singularidad la constituyen las figuras de estos momentos” (1966 398). Por tanto, desde el punto de vista metodológico, lo que en la Fenomenología son figuras de la conciencia, en El capital son formas económicas.

[17] Para la cuestión del lenguaje hegeliano utilizado por Marx, véase la próxima tesis.

[18] En la primera edición de El capital, Marx divide la obra en seis capítulos. En la segunda edición, cambia los capítulos por siete secciones, las cuales se subdividen ahora en distintos capítulos.

[19] Continuando esta analogía musical, los dos capítulos finales de El capital son considerados como su “coda”.

[20] Véase la tesis 3.

[21] Véase la tesis 3.

[22] Véase la tesis anterior.

[23] Hegel desarrolla la teoría de los “saltos” cualitativos al finalizar el segundo capítulo de la sección sobre la medida en la Doctrina del ser.

[24] Véase la primera tesis.

[25] Véase la tesis anterior.

On Hegel’s Project in the Science of Logic

The Science of Logic is a giant tome of what some may consider pure arcane abstraction. A work that bills itself the science of pure thinking of thoughts, one question that inevitably arises regarding  it is what purpose it serves. Hegel refuses to tell us much of what the purpose of the Logic is beyond two basic things: it has to do with the concept of the Absolute, and the derivation of valid thinking from pure presuppositionless thought itself.

It is clear from the very concepts used in the Logic that the work was intended to function in multiple roles within philosophy in general. Not only is the Logic about logic as the thinking of valid thinking, but also about the objects which logic is meant to investigate, hence we see metaphysics and ontology as its conceptual content, for these are the general concepts of thought itself, and this makes sense when one gives just a little thought to it. What else could logic be about if not the very general object kinds, structures, and relations of reality itself? If the necessity of logical determinations is not the same necessity of the world itself, what value do the results of logic have for determining anything but arbitrary and subjective mental fictions? Logic and ontology must be identical in some key manner in order for objectivity and normative judgments to be fully intelligible, and the Logic is meant to show just how this is possible through the connection of concept and objectivity.

Jumping ahead into the thinking which occurs within the Logic itself, one can begin to see a bit more of what this project entails. First is that the Logic has to do with the relation of ontological categories to each other. As each category develops itself it does so through analytic definition, yet this analytic definition presupposes or posits another concept and synthetically relates what is not itself as constitutive of itself. This analytic and synthetic expansion of conceptual relations allows for an inner relation between them in a growing chain of concepts building upon each other such that one can go from abstract Being to Existence to Essence, etc. and see the direct chain that makes intelligible their exact relation.

Second, the Logic concerns the relation of thought to itself as thought. From the beginning of the project until its end, by looking at the process by which one thought moves to another, thought shows a power of self-determination, self-mediation, and self development through its analytic/synthetic expansion, its self-oppositions, and its unifications. This self-expansion of thought and its capacity to mediate its contradictions into intelligible unity, its capacity to go beyond itself through a renewed expansion of content, shows thought as having content in itself and points to the boundlessness of thought by this process of self-differentiating expansion and self-mediation.

Third, looking at the skeletal categorial framework of the Logic one can see that the penultimate major category is the Idea. The Idea is the concept in which an object and concept correspond. When an object corresponds perfectly with its concept then we may say it is ideal. Against the common-sense notion that it is ideas that must correspond to objects, Hegel puts forth the doctrine that the determination of truth is the inverse: it is objects, insofar as they are actually objective, that must correspond to concepts (ideas). Part of the results of the Logic is the derived proof of the identical structure of objects and concepts through the necessary aspect of self-determination inherent to the concept of objectivity itself, and as the Logic shows, concepts share this very key aspect of self-determination. This capacity of concepts to self-determine is what allows Hegel to claim that there is no issue in thought grasping true objectivity in itself. When the concept in its self-development matches the object as it is in its living development, from genesis to completion, we can say not only that we have grasped its truth in thought, but that the object itself has become what it should be in virtue of this same correspondence. If a concept shows a logical development which the object does not, then this object is judged as lacking full reality.

Fourth, because of the role which concepts have in Hegel’s system as the measure of truth, the normative dimension of reality becomes intelligible only as an object being in agreement with its concept. Recalling Aristotle’s ancient teleology, Hegel brings back the sense of normativity in Aristotle as the measure of good being the accordance of object to its telos, but Hegel reformulates it as the accordance of object to concept. For Hegel the one normative rule to settle all questions of ultimate good is the form of the universal which self-determines, which is what it is of its own developmental freedom, and as such shares the structure of objectivity. An organic being, for example, is freely what it is and becomes what it is of its own inner constitution and teleological development, but only to a certain point. The ultimate truth and therefore the measure of what ultimately should be, what is the highest good of all reality, is the Absolute. When judged from the Absolute standpoint all other things are relative and are objectively inferior, false, or incomplete in kind by failing to live up to the Absolute’s complete self-determination (freedom).

The Absolute is the completed system as it is from Logic to Spirit, completed in the final concept of Absolute Spirit which knows itself completely. In the Logic the Absolute Idea is just as it says: it is only the idea of the Absolute, the general logical character of it. What this idea shows itself to be, however, is nothing less than the consummate process of the Logic‘s self-developing concepts. Hegel equates the Absolute with freedom, for it is the concept of that which is what it is in-and-for-itself and not merely by a given determining compulsion external to it.

Fifth, the totality of the process of the Logic, because it is the pure process of thought in-itself as pure universality, shows the way to answering the question of what logic is as logic. Valid and true thought follow not just the structure of the Logic’s pure concept; it is not formal, but is ordered and systematized according to the products of the inner development of any content it is applied to. This aspect sets the first rule of valid thinking: necessity. There is, however, something more that the Logic shows about a general structure of conceptual thinking. Until Hegel concepts were encountered and developed unsystematically and haphazardly, but each concept is nothing less than the very general process of the Logic‘s categorial determinations and their progression. As is argued by Andy Blunden in some of his papers regarding the topic, when we first encounter a new and true object that embodies a genuine concept we develop the concept first in its immediate appearance using determinations of the logic of Being, and having exhausted such a poor conception we are forced to eventually conceive of further determinations behind appearances through the logic of Essence, from which we eventually develop further determinations through the logic of the Concept once systematic development is possible. Often determinations of a concept will be discovered in experience in a disconnected  order and disarray with no clear necessary unity other than that we observe these determinations to be in some kind of relation. It is the work of the logician to penetrate through the arbitrary order of experience and see into the necessary logical conceptual relations and developments as a specific systematic and unitary organic whole. It must be said that one must not mistake this general conceptual developmental description as the development of all concepts. The Logic‘s own development and categories are unique to itself and not not merely make an abstract form through which empirical concepts are filtered through, rather, empirical concepts have their own logical development which only follows the broad structures of the Logic.

It is also interesting, as Markus Gabriel notes, that the Logic can, because it is logic, be understood as the very principle of intelligibility in all things. Insofar as anything is thinkable (conceptualizable) it must conform to some categorial determination in the Logic. That which fails to enter the system of the Logic is, quite literally, unthinkable. Whether this is understood to point to a reality beyond thought that is ineffable yet existent, or the inverse, that what is ineffable is so because it really lacks ontological reality, such as James Kreines argues in his reading of the Logic as ontologically pluralistic due to the existent domains of reality that are ontologically incomplete via the fact that they are logically incomplete, is up to the reader’s interpretation. Suffice to say, a lot of interesting thoughts arise when one considers the totality of the Logic as logic and as ontology.

These are but a few of the general projects which run through the Logic and you can be sure there is far more that can be gleamed in the detailed examination of the text itself. Overall it’s one hell of a project, and if you’re fascinated by systematic philosophy like I am, it’s well worth giving it a chance.