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

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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.]


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 ( 75). To explain this development, Marx utilizes biological metaphors frequently. Hence he calls the commodity the cellular economic form ( 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.

Dialectics: An Introduction

Hegel is a philosopher known for his difficulty and speculative depth, but finding a mere entry point from which to learn the system is itself a difficult endeavor when the most fundamental aspect of his system, his method, is obscure. I hope that this article accomplishes the aim of clarifying dialectics in a way that very few articles do. What I write here is in no way an original conception or secret knowledge. A few authors have written on this topic with clarity. However, these authors are not known in popular discourse, nor are their works the first to come up in a search engine inquiry. As such, I set my task here merely as a condensed exposition of dialectics for others in hopes of sparing them from what should not be a long arduous road just to reach the door. Credit, first and foremost, goes to Hegel himself, who despite all claims made to the contrary is not mysterious or secretive about his ‘method’ at all.

The So-Called ‘Method’

There truly is no such thing as dialectic as a method in the usual sense that people think of a method. This is not to say there is no method. What I mean to say, however, is that unlike the common understanding of what a method is, such that one merely has to follow the generally right form and steps and apply to content, Hegel’s method is no such thing. The first thing to do before considering this method, however, is to rid ourselves of this common notion of method as a correct general formula as helpful regarding what Hegel writes. There is a form we may give as description of method, but this will unfortunately prove a useless thing when it comes to being capable of thinking as Hegel does.

Concerning what we may properly term dialectical in Hegel at all we may more clearly begin with calling the method of dialectics as such immanent (internal) critique, but this is not the entire method which Hegel employs. Insofar as Marx and Hegel engage in such an activity there is no difference, there is no ‘idealist’ or ‘materialist’ dialectical method. This is not to say there is no fundamental difference between Marxists and Hegelians, but that difference is certainly not dialectics themselves; not if Marx is using such a method as that which Hegel himself uses. I shall expand on this later on, but for now the focus shall be on dialectics as such.

What is often called ‘dialectical method,’ I must repeat, is a method that exists neither in Marx nor in Hegel like the likewise mythical scientific method of hypothesis-experiment-conclusion does not exist for science in general. There is no formula to this ‘logic’no set of rules to apply over and over. There is no {thesis-antithesis}-synthesis, nor {abstract-negative}-concrete. What is wrong with these formulas is not so much that they are just plain wrong, but that they serve to confuse the matter for someone who does not already know the logic of immanent critique and speculation (Hegel’s term for the reasoning which follows after the dialectical contradiction moment) which is commonly reduced to the name dialectics and thus confused to be really only about dialectics (immanent critique). As a description of the process, the former formula is understandable to some degree, and the latter is even correct to a high degree in that it describes a pattern relation between the results produced. The issue, however, is that people generally don’t understand that these are mere descriptions and not the process itself. They conflate a processed result for the process that creates those results, and in thinking that Hegel’s method and dialects are these descriptions they are led to misunderstand that the form that results is the method itself.

In one sense, one can look to Socratic/Platonic dialectic and its process of attempting to arrive at truth through a thorough and multifaceted inquiry into a concept by mutual interrogation between interlocutors demanding justification of claims by grounding in universal reason as a form of dialectical method akin to Hegel’s. In such dialectic, a knowledge claim is put through a gauntlet of merciless interrogation by reason from all available points of views in order that clarification by clarification those in conversation may come to agreement of the universal truth contained in the nebulous shadows of regular thought. These multiple perspectives engage each other not simply in an attempt to supplant each other as the definitive truth, but to constructively come together as differences that may reveal themselves to be compatible, for they contain aspects of truth even if one-sided and incomplete. In Plato’s dialogues, the most interesting of these concepts are those like truth itself, justice, the good, beauty, et cetera. Like these dialectical dialogues, Hegel’s dialectics involve multiple perspectives, a demand for coherence, and a demand for definitively final reasons.

Dialectics as a method—not Hegel’s method as a whole—is properly to be understood as immanent critique, i.e. critical analysis of concepts/objects from within. This kind of analysis does not use any conceptual resources outside of its concept/object to critique it; it does not presuppose a form it must  conform to. By this, it is meant that one basically follows the train of thought set by the concept, the relations already within it, and those that it brings up of its own content and their relations. The content being investigated leads the investigation itself, and the immanent critic is more like a detective observing carefully for their suspect to justify or incriminate themselves, yet never once stepping in so that it remain clear to all that it was indeed all the suspect’s doing. In simplified terms, what is aimed at by such an analysis can be considered three things: testing coherency, testing stability, and testing for a claim to logical/material independence, in other words testing for a claim of being a coherent absolute. Immanent critique, however, only reveals the success or failure of meeting these demands, but does not and cannot provide for the advance beyond the moment of failure revealed in a dialectic.

Beyond the immanent critique of concepts is the speculative thinking which turns dialectical thinking itself into an object of inquiry. Speculation makes the turn beyond a dialectic, enables the sublation (the cancelling/suspending/preserving of the contradiction) of it, and is the advance towards a new dialectic. Hegel’s method thus advances through immanent critique and speculation as necessary moments.


That there is no dialectical method as a formula is not to deny that there are such things as dialectics. Dialectics is the plural of dialectic. This may seem like a strange or pedantic point, but it seems many do not understand this; most people speak of the dialectic or dialectics as the name and form of the method. Now, regarding ‘the dialectic’, what is often meant by this is actually not incorrect if we mean it in the Platonic dialectic sense, however, this is almost universally confused with dialectics in the very specific sense of contradiction which they have as a moment in Hegel. This equivocating confusion of the term expands dialectics too far, and it is this expansion to the level of Hegel’s entire method and system which makes it become so general as to be meaningless. Because of this confusion, dialectics from here on is specifically concerning the second technical meaning of contradictory opposition. It is indeed partly true that dialectics drive the method and as such can be understood as the method in a way, but the method of Hegel does not presuppose dialectics as its motor nor are they the entirety of it. The method discovers dialectics in the content it investigates; dialectics are a result themselves. It is, therefore, best to be introduced to the method through the abstraction of the dialectical moment.

By a dialectic it is to be understood that this must always mean a relation of inner contradiction, and only inner contradiction; dialectics are not about contradictions in general, but only these necessary inner contradictions.  For clarification’s sake, let us say that a dialectic is shorthand for a dialectical relationship. To think dialectically is to think in and through internal contradictions of concepts. This aspect of dialectics regarding thinking must be emphasized, for as mentioned earlier in the comparison to Platonic dialectic, there is a kind of moving discourse going on between the concepts caught in their immanent relation. A Hegelian dialectic is not a dialectic in merely being seen in their immanent contradiction, but is a dialectic also in the Platonic sense in that it is also a moving developing inner discourse of concepts such that they cannot help but become their opposite and their opposite become them and back again. This active and moving dialectic is best seen rather than described, and that shall be done in the examples later in this article. For now, I shall continue using the term concept exclusively as the object of dialectics because even material objects and activities are only intelligible as concepts which we think through to comprehend the world, for insofar as anything is intelligible it is conceptual and it is its concept alone which we can elaborate in universal structure.

I here offer a static definition of the moment of internal contradiction in Hegel’s method that can be termed dialectical. Here I must emphasize this is only a moment, for as mentioned already dialectics include the movement of these contradictory ideas, but here I first want to deal with the static appearance of a dialectic prior to exposing its movements.

Dialectical relationships: Such relations are of the kind of contradictory  concepts that in their meaning, or existence, necessarily presuppose and require their opposite. To have one is to have the other. To think through one leads to thinking of the other. To change one is to change the other. This is the famous unity of opposites dialectics is described as by many Marxists. Such ‘materialist’ relations are: {Worker—capitalist}; {[use-value]—[exchange-value]}; {material—ideal} etc. One may want to add here the so-called dialectic of {base—superstructure} of the young Marx, but this is in fact a false dialectic since no such immanent contradiction exists between these terms.

The worker and the boss have no meaning or existence without each other, necessarily develop into each other in the thinking of their concept, and if you have one you know you have the other. The distinction of use-value and exchange-value requires that each presuppose the other in order to mean anything, for what would it mean to consider products of labor to be use-values in an ahistorical categorial sense without the opposition to another value immanently contradictory to it which necessitates pointing out the difference? In material relations of this kind this means that a change in one is a change in its other, e.g. a change of one term may change an entire dynamic of relations by supplanting it with new terms, or that a change in relations may supplant terms with new ones—form and content are inseparable.

Now—if you’re a Marxist—you may wonder how this fits in with something like a commodity being dialectical. By this all that can be meant is that the thing/concept contains a dialectic as its content. This is much like a version of Hegel’s sublation term, a concept that cancels yet preserves a contradiction by suspending and mediating it to avoid the mortal problem of immediacy (according to most popular accounts of sublation anyway, not quite according to Hegel’s own use of the term), of unavoidable contradiction, what some take as a metaphor of a struggle to the death. This movement towards mediation, of avoiding contradictions, is one of the key elements in which Marx turns away from Hegel (I will deal with this specific difference in another blog post one day). Generally, ‘idealist’ dialectics are thought to be far more abstract ones such as {Being-Nothing}, but in truth Hegel gets very concrete and ‘materialist’ in certain dialectical chains.

This relation of inner contradiction, in a strict sense, is all that a dialectic can be as merely a moment of Hegel’s method. Hegel’s method is more than just the dialectics that arise, though they are important as moments to it. While from the standpoint of dialectics alone we do not get anywhere other than contradiction insofar as we remain within the dialectic’s content, whenever we are engaging in Hegel’s method as a whole and make the speculative step we know that we are dealing with the study of a plurality or series of dialectical relationships. The logical movement from one dialectic to another occurs, to our conscious perspective, by an inner analysis of these contradictory relationships, the inner development of one from the other and back again, and this very movement between concepts as a concept itself, is what pushes thought onward insofar as the analysis generates more concepts to continue. This movement of concepts, however, is not merely our subjective movement in thought such as one imagines in a mere arbitrary given definition, but is the movement of an objective concept structure itself, something that will become apparent in the examples. Why does thought move from dialectic to dialectic, contradiction to contradiction? The reason is simple: because insofar as we are thinking them we cannot stop thinking until they are fully rationalized.

In the sphere of thought the clash of contradiction forces thought to move of its own accord by the power of reason, the drive of thought to find ultimate reasons to ground itself, and insofar as a concept points itself to reasons within and beyond it it moves on. In the sphere of materiality contradiction manifests as clashing forces which in their relation and contact inherently destabilize by their very concept and nature. Dialectics may end in a constructive sublation or dissolution, the first the path of the dialectics of the Science of Logic, the latter the path of the dialectics of the Phenomenology of Spirit.


Mentioned earlier, after dialectics comes speculation. Dialectics corresponds to a mode of thinking which in German Idealism has a specific technical name: understanding. It is with this mode of thinking which immanent critique is carried out to its final limit in dialectical self-contradiction merely by what originally seems a simple analysis determining the specificity of a concept. This is self-contradiction because the concepts investigated undermine themselves and fall into their opposite in content and form in being thought through. Against the analytic thinking of understanding, speculation is a turn upon the process and product of the understanding—the dialectic as a whole—which takes as its object the thinking of the dialectic itself. For example: in the paradox of Being and Nothing’s assumed difference yet content/form identity, we find that the impasse of this would-be dialectic is overcome by turning to the movement occurring in the relation of these thoughts to each other, turning it into a concept as Becoming, and returning to understanding in order to differentiate it through analysis.

One can consider these as two ‘modes’ or moments in which the thinking of Hegel’s method may be said to function: immersive (understanding) and recollective (speculative). In the immersive mode of thinking one is engaged directly with the immediate content and form of what is being thought. For example, in thinking Being one is led to think of Nothing, and in thinking Nothing one is led to thinking Being. In this immersed mode, however, one is stuck forever bouncing from one thought to the other and back again endlessly. In the recollective mode of thinking one takes a step back from the immersed mode and looks upon its entire process structure as a whole—it is from this mode of thought that sublation often occurs. Stepping back from Being and Nothing, we see in their total system of movement the moment of vanishing which is called Becoming.

The Source of Dialectics: Negativity

Since I assume the reader here to be curious, let it be revealed that one of the mysteries regarding the why of dialectics is the power of negativity in thought. Thought has a power to negate, and this negation as activity can be carried out seemingly absolutely against all determination, but also in a manner which appears uniquely at the level of a Concept as a negation that determines itself and negates external factors. Thought has such an absolute negative power that it can even dare to negate the seemingly unnegatable: itself. It is negativity which is the moving and determining power which generates movement. Negativity, however, is more than the mere moment of negation, for negativity both generates positive affirmations as much as negative ones (determinate negation)—what thoughts and things are as much as what they are not; their unity and their diremption. The very having of a determinate thought or object whatsoever is an immediate instance of immanent negation as well as affirmation: things are themselves through not being others, yet they themselves are but mere others to others, thus one gets strange situations in which seeming nonsense is concluded in pure contradictions if that mere movement is all we stop at.

Negativity is, one may say in not too bad an analogy, activity. This activity, however, is, and as such the moment it turns its activity onto itself it petrifies the activity it has already carried out into inert Being, i.e. thinking necessarily turns itself into thought the moment it reflects upon itself. In the Science of Logic, for example, we begin with Being without any determination to define it. Being then is an object of thinking which in turn provides Nothing as a further thought by thinking upon thoughts. Negativity is so absolute that it can negate itself, and thus we have the negation of negation (the dialectic of the understanding) and positively affirms it in the speculative sublation. Because it is internal and constitutive of thought itself, in the movement of thinking it likewise appears as a reflexivity of thoughts which, in being themselves already have gone beyond themselves, and in going beyond themselves only return to themselves in this free movement of thinking. This reflexivity is seen in Being as its immediate content’s inversion to Nothing, and Nothing’s immediate form inversion to Being. Not only is this reflexivity seen in the immediate immanent negation of thought such as with Being and Nothing’s self-undermining, but also as the transcendental jump reflexive upon the whole thought process itself such as what is seen in the move to Becoming when one looks upon the thinking of Being and Nothing as a whole.

This shall be expanded in another blog post in the future, but for now it hopefully suffices superficial curiosity on why dialectics come to be at all in pure thinking, and why thought moves.

About Contradiction

The contradiction which dialectics deals with is often treated by many philosophers as if it is the contradiction which formal logic terms as the law of non-contradiction: A cannot be A and not-A at the same time, or A cannot be true and false at the same time, or, in the case of what Paul Redding calls the Aristotelian concept of contradiction in term logic,  A cannot instantiate a property/attribute and its opposite at the same time. Hegel does not deny any of these laws, but rather considers contradictions as multiple points of views on the same thing. Being and Nothing are indeed separate and different, yet they are each aspects (moments) of understanding the Absolute of which they form and are a part of, and thus they are also the same and united. Contradiction exists insofar as there are multiple and opposing positions from which things can be looked at and comprehended, and things can materially be only insofar as there really are different things in unity. When we think of A, yes, we really do think of A, it just so happens that the whole truth of A is also what A is not, its non-being, its opposite, and this too must be looked at and comprehended as part of A’s totality and ultimate truth. In order to think at all thought must develop through one sided determinations which define each side of A momentarily. A and not-A indeed cannot be thought at one single moment from one single perspective, but we can see that A and not-A are both aspects of A from different perspectives at different moments.

Dialectics and Thought

Dialectics are a result, yet though they are a result the structure of dialectical opposition is inherent to thought itself. In pure concepts Hegel believes he shows the immanent character of thought itself as dialectical. In thinking anything at all, even the abstraction of thought itself, we cannot help but think by and through reflexive difference which in pure form is direct opposition. The first dialectic of thought, pure abstract Being, cannot help but immediately move and grasp towards its opposition to attain determinate content. Pure Being and Nothing are there to show it is impossible to think without oppositional difference—all thought is already oppositional and determinate even in the most extreme indeterminacy, for indeterminacy is itself determinate against determinacy itself. One may want to say it is the experience of our mind that cannot hold fast to a thought and that it is silly to say thought itself must move to opposition, but Hegel intends to show us that it is indeed a thought which necessarily moves and demands oppositional content, for a thought is only a thought in the opposition which makes it differentiated, determined, and therefore minimally defined. If a thought as concept is to be at all it must be determinate, already in any still moment calling forth from within itself the minimal requirement of its other which defines it as a thought at all. A thought is always already this specific thought and not another thought, never an empty abstraction. As thought is shown to be unable to hold fast to itself in one sided moments if it is to be intelligible, it shows itself to be a thinking.

It is said by some that dialectical thinking is best learned by observing it in action, so here are three examples of a very basic level. Here, hopefully, the activity of dialectic shall become apparent in the movements.

Example 1: Being And Nothing

A classical Hegelian dialectical development is the famous {Being-Nothing}-Becoming dialectic. Now, this dialectic is actually very different to what most will encounter regarding it; it is not as simple as this formula makes it seem. The full development of it is actually this:

**Sublation: equally means “to keep,” “to ‘preserve’,” and “to cause to cease,” “to put an end to.” Something is sublated only insofar as it has entered into unity with its opposite; in this closer determination as something reflected, it may fittingly be called a moment. – Hegel, Science of Logic

Now to break it down, if such a thing as simplifying what Hegel calls the already absolute simple is possible.

In the Science of Logic, for reasons ultimately only fully explained by the path of the Phenomenology, we begin in pure immediacy of thought such that it appears to us as an absolute abstraction and indeterminateBeing is the most immediate of all concepts for it lacks all mediation to it: all thoughts as concepts are and thus appear to be in fact mediated by Being which is itself absolutely simple and non-analyzable. This Being is not to be thought in contradistinction to anything at all for that would bring in mediation into its concept. It is not Being in contradistinction to Nothing nor to beings, and it is not even to be determined as indeterminate at all from its own standpoint for such would be a determinacy making the concept non-absolute and mediated. It is in this absoluteness of Being that the terms pure and indeterminate are used. It is not to say anything positive about it, but rather to disabuse us of the desire to think anything about it which assumes there is anything already beyond it to make any distinctions. Being is indeterminate to the degree that indeterminacy is not even a positive determination that can be made about it, it is meant to empty any determination whatever from consideration. This concept is all that we have access to as content to think through.

[Comment:] Following the structure of Hegelian science as an immanent development of concepts from abstraction to concreteness, we begin with the concept of Being as the first step of the the investigation of logic. At the beginning, however, this method of science is unjustified and unexplained, and indeed cannot be justified or explained for such would be to presuppose a method. Instead, Hegel tells us that the best he can do to persuade us of our starting point is that we should endeavor to start with something which we can only build up and thus not fall trap to having problematic presuppositions and unjustified concepts underlying our investigation such as what would be the case if we simply decided to begin somewhere more complex or advanced such as in syllogisms, concepts, essences, or what have you.

In thinking Being we find that the content, or definition, of pure Being is an absence of content, for there is nothing to distinguish Being with. One must take this train of thought literally. In thinking Being we have nothing to think. Nothing is the very thinking we carry out in the indeterminacy of Being. In attempting to think Being, we have in this thinking thought nothing, and we here turn this empty thinking into a thought itself, hence we now have the concept of Nothing. The difference from Being is made upon the thinking of Being and the result of thinking this thought as something different from this initial thought. This is a jump Hegel can make through his method of speculation, for in speculation we can think about thinking and thus make it into a thought, hence the thinking of nothing at all is transformed into Nothing. We thus have generated out of Being the concept of Nothing as the concept which notes the absence of any content in Being—contentlessness has itself been transformed by thinking into a content.

Nothing, like Being, is equally devoid of any determinacy, and has no content to distinguish from anything else. Hegel points out that:

In so far as mention can be made here of intuiting and thinking, it makes a difference whether something or nothing is being intuited or thought. To intuit or to think nothing has therefore a meaning; the two are distinguished and so nothing is (concretely exists) in our intuiting or thinking. (Science of Logic)

Drawing from the common notion of nothing as a determinate opposition to something, Hegel points out that 1) nothing has a specific meaning different from Being in its common conception, and 2) that in the determinate difference Nothing is and therefore itself partakes in Being. Given that, however, we cannot use that determinate distinction here, for we have no logical ground to do so. At best we can only accept that we intend something different from Being by Nothing, but what this difference is cannot yet be articulated with our conceptual tools for neither Being nor Nothing admit to any content that could differentiate them since that would bring in determinacy to them.

When we attempt to think Nothing, however, we think the same thought as Being. Nothing is Being in this equivalence of indeterminacy. While we may externally reflect upon them with advanced categories such as form and content to speak of their differentiation and similarity, such that Being’s content is Nothing, and Nothing’s form is Being, we cannot yet do so immanently. Here the peculiarity of pure Being and Nothing arises before us as an indistinguishable content: pure Being and pure Nothing are both indeterminate in content, they have the same lack of meaning, and it is only in this absence of determinacy that they are here one and the same. Being = indeterminateness = Nothing. A distinction has arisen which is as of yet no conceptual distinction other than an intended difference. We cannot say in what Being and Nothing are to be related as similar or different, only that we treat them as distinct in our intention pointing them out as separate.

[Comment:] As an external reflection we may consider in the relation of Being, Nothing, and their indeterminate content, that there is a further peculiarity: that of the strange contradiction of their form and content. Being has shown itself to have Nothing as its content. Its form, that of Being, is in contradiction to its content, a contentless Nothing. Nothing, however, faces an inverse contradiction. Nothing is in harmony with its contentlessness, but is in contradiction with its form, the form of Being, for if Nothing is the truth of Being which underlies it, then Nothing is Being. Further, Nothing is not simply the content result of thinking Being, but is itself a form intended to be distinguished from Being. The contradiction of form and content cannot be escaped, there cannot be form without content or the inverse; Being and Nothing can be seen as immediately moving from one to the other as their form and content forces the movement in their very thought. This seems to make sense of the dialectic, but this is not actually what Hegel has for us here at the beginning as what is to be thought.

A picture may help with understanding some of this movement though it is also misleading by making a determinate relation between Being and Nothing which is here not logically there at the beginning. Attempt to picture a singularity, a dimensionless point which is all there is. What is within such point? Nothing, there is no being within or outside the singularity, the singularity is dimensionless, it is only itself immediately and without separation. Since pure Being peculiarly contains (means) Nothing, it points us to an interesting thought: Nothing is what makes Being what it is. Nothing, hence, has now been positioned by Being itself as that which is more fundamental than it. Being is not absolute, but it points to Nothing as a new candidate for absolute truth and it must be investigated. Continuing the analogy of a singularity, since Nothing is the content of Being, makes Being what it is, Nothing itself is in the form of Being. Pay close attention to that, Nothing is and it is in the form of Being. Nothing is in Being for it is its content, yet Being is nothing but the form of Nothing itself. Neither Being nor Nothing are absolute, they are utterly dependent on the other, yet they are not separate as others for they are a  unity of form and content that is indistinguishable.

In fact, we find here something strange: Being and Nothing appear to be one and the same concept in separate moments that merely appear separate. We may in a way want to see them as the form and content of one concept: the Being of Nothing. We know, however, that this is ridiculous and nonsensical. We know we at least intend a real difference between Being and Nothing, they cannot be the same concept, we cannot accept the Being of Nothing as a valid concept since it is no concept at all, it is the mere empty tautology of indeterminacy. Nonetheless, though we intend the difference we have so far no way to even conceptualize the distinction and keep it from collapsing.  Is there something more that can be used to determine the difference of Being/Nothing in this immediate movement?

Against all common understanding of Hegel let this be clear: Being and Nothing are not a dialectic, for they are not real concepts. Being and Nothing are one and the same only because they have the same indeterminate content in an intended difference that has two concepts that lack any determination in relation to themselves and to each other. Being and Nothing, in being thought, immediately (this is not temporal transition, but logical) transition into their opposite only in their lack of content being compared. This is actually not secret. Hegel tells us this in the paragraph right before he finally dives into the logical investigation. We derived Nothing from the thinking of Being,  the thinking of nothing at all, turned this thinking into another concept, and posited this as something else rather than falling back into Being. Nonetheless, given that we have made a distinction without logical warrant and find ourselves trying to think two thoughts which both contain nothing to think about, and which in relation to each other merely are a succession of supplanting term names for what we yet know not what, we still have a way to move from this seemingly inescapable empty beginning.

In transitioning Being disappears—Hegel calls this vanishing—into Nothing, and likewise Nothing vanishes into Being. This incessant immediate movement between Being and Nothing as a whole movement of vanishing is what Hegel calls Becoming. Becoming is the sublation of Being and Nothing for it is their immediate unity as vanishing. This, however, is not enough to make Becoming intelligible as a genuine concept. In fact, we must realize there is a problem with our beginning. If pure Being and Nothing are both indeterminate and lack definition, just how is it that we know and can articulate that they are different?  We have up to now merely assumed they are different because we intend to mean something different by each, yet in this pure indeterminate beginning we find no conceptual resource to make this intelligible in concept.

Being and Nothing vanish ceaselessly into each other, and this vanishing is Becoming. Two indeterminacies vanishing into each other, however, provides no content to define their relation. Hegel thus finally reveals to us that this beginning which we made had been a false beginning, and laboriously spends 20 pages to convince us that there can truly be no such concept as pure Being or pure Nothing. The true beginning of the investigation is Becoming, for in Becoming we now have the first proper concept in which the difference of Being and Nothing can be made in conceptual definition. Because Being and Nothing have already shown themselves to comprise Becoming, even if  we don’t know what their difference really is, Becoming can shed light on our indeterminate Being/Nothing. Now that we have Becoming, a retroactive definition of Being and Nothing by considering this movement as moments of Becoming can be carried out. The movement of Being and Nothing into each other itself sheds light on the form and content of Being and Nothing themselves. Here we’re about to do something grand: from two pure indeterminacies we can and will lift indeterminate thought with its own bootstraps up into determinacy. From indeterminacy related to indeterminacy there is at least a minimal indeterminacy as their relation.

In Becoming we immediately can discern two parts, Hegel calls them moments, that comprise the definition of the concept of Becoming: Being vanishes to Nothing, it is Ceasing to Be (Being); Nothing vanishes to Being, it is Coming to be (Nothing). Both Ceasing/Coming to be are sublations, immediate unities of Being and Nothing on their own, hence they self-sublate and are in internal unity with their opposite, e.g. Being is its vanishing from Being to Nothing, it includes its opposite explicitly.

[Now, where did this new concept, sublation, come from? The answer is simple: from the content we have developed. Sublation is a concept describing the relation which the structure of Becoming has towards Being and nothing; it unites, cancels, and preserves them all at once.]

Being and Nothing are now differentiated by this simple definition as being inverse moments in Becoming. The problem of definition, of a content/form that is one and the same seems to be solved; we finally have Being, Nothing, and Becoming as definite concepts, or so it seems until we think further. Being and Nothing, defined now as Ceasing/Coming to be which comprise Becoming, show a new problem: they presuppose a further determinate difference of Being and Nothing. If Being and Nothing are merely Coming/Ceasing to be, then we see that we in fact have not made a true separation of Being and Nothing yet. Being is defined as its mere vanishing to Nothing, and Nothing the mere vanishing to Being. We have lost Being and Nothing as distinct concepts yet again, content and form forces the incessant vanishing of Coming/Ceasing to be into each other again. The immediate unity and indifference which made the indeterminate Being and Nothing a problem reappears only in a duplicated unity of vanishings of inverse order. What is the Nothing that Being vanishes into, and what is the Being that Nothing vanishes into? So far we have merely defined one vanishing in the process of vanishing into yet another vanishing, however, this cannot do, for this would make vanishing endure substantively and thus cease to be a vanishing. Through Becoming we determined (defined) Being and Nothing as moments, but now Becoming’s own moments are pointing us to Being and Nothing which lie outside Becoming as that which Becoming’s moments vanish into. As moments of Becoming, Ceasing/Coming to be vanish. Into what? Being and Nothing, for they are the terms that make vanishing intelligibly possible. Becoming, because it is vanishing, vanishes itself into the background of Being and Nothing and leaves them in immediate unity once again, but just because Becoming has vanished into the background does not mean it no longer plays a role, far from it.

Here, a marvelous conceptual move has occurred: Becoming, the vanishing of Being and Nothing, themselves determined in it only as inverse vanishings into each other, vanishes itself for it is vanishing. There is a possibility to err in this crucial movement, however, and what follows is why. Ceasing/Coming to be assume Being and Nothing to be distinct and separate in order to be vanishing into each other, but Being and Nothing in Becoming are nothing but vanishings into each other ceaselessly, but since Ceasing/Coming to be have vanished the distinction between Being and Nothing which they vanish into, now we see that this vanishes Being and Nothing themselves, and Ceasing/Coming to be vanish along with them. If Being and Nothing, which Ceasing/Coming to Be depend on to be at all, have vanished in general,  then the result of Becoming is a vanishing of the vanishing, but it returns us back to pure Nothing and brings us back to the transition of Becoming again.

In Becoming there is no escape from denying Being and Nothing for they are the necessary contents for Becoming, thus Ceasing/Coming to be are themselves not what Being and Nothing are. The moments of Becoming point to the solution of their vanished distinctions by presupposing the distinction of Being and Nothing. Ceasing/Coming to be now carry out their full movement as vanishings: in Ceasing to be Being vanishes to Nothing; in Coming to be Nothing vanishes to Being. The vanishings complete and vanish themselves away into what they have Become. It is the truth of Becoming that it become and vanish itself into Being and Nothing that has each become. The vanishing of Being and Nothing has vanished, they are now a stable unity of distinct yet immediately united concepts. Being and Nothing now have distinct content, if only in that they became in inverse of each other, but now recall that Being and Nothing shared one other aspect: their form; both have the form of Being. Being and Nothing both are.

Once more Being and Nothing inherently relate, no longer as vanishing forced by their form/content contradiction, but as that which has become into the two stable concepts. What is their relation now? They are beings in immediate unity, beings which are in virtue of their not being the other. This is a unity that is, and as such the unity of Being/Nothing has the form of Being itself. Now at last we have a Being whose being is the immediate unity of Being with a non-being (Nothing), i.e. a Being whose being is in virtue of its non-being. This new Being is the vanishedness of Becoming, for the vanishing has vanished itself into the background—this, however, is not a disappearance of Becoming, far from it. Think closely on what Becoming is, the vanishing transition between Being and Nothing, and you shall see an interesting truth: the transitioning differences and identities of all things are Becomings. At the edge of conception where this new Being/Nothing resulting from Becoming are is Becoming itself, the moment where we find that a Being has immanent contact with its Nothing. Thus, Determinate Being sublates Being, Nothing, and Becoming.

Becoming’s inner movement’s vanishing has revealed a strange yet undeniable truth following from the logical movements that have developed thus far: Being and Nothing are one and the same, they are inseparable,  and they truly are different. Both Being and Nothing are ( they are the same);  both have Being. Now we can see Being is a being with a non-being, a Being with negation, and this negation is nothing other than another Being itself in its own right (they are different). Being is an immediate unity of beings which negate each other in virtue of being two beings which are not each other (they are inseparable). The entire development from Being/Nothing to the moments of Becoming have not been falsehoods or misunderstandings at all; on the contrary, they have further revealed the pieces to the baffling puzzle we started with and now allow us to further make sense of just how all of these aspects of Being and Nothing can be true. What vanishes in Becoming is also an incomplete concept of Being and Nothing as radically incommensurable concepts that cannot define themselves, and the resultant vanishedness makes way to the first real concept of Being: a Being with a non-Being as part of its being. 

As Hegel explains in the text, the absolute basic form of determination (definition) is negation, of Being which is negated. What negates Being? Nothing. But what is Nothing? A Being itself, but a being that is the non-being of the first Being. This unity of Being and Nothing is basic Determinate Being, or, general Existence. This is the first concept in which we can finally begin to think about  definable Being(s), however, there is at this point no difference between the determinateness of Being, and Being itself. Determinateness is, and Being is determinate. The contradiction of form/content forces thought’s movement onwards.

The form of the path of relations which pure Being has traversed, its dialectical development, is unique to itself. If one attempts to impose the form of relations which pure Being develops on its way to Existence one shall be terribly mistaken for Existence has its own peculiar form of development, one which is not unlike a hall of mirrors reflecting its content and form as multiple determinations of determinateness itself.

As to what this development of abstract concepts becoming more determinate, or concrete, is necessary for… I’ll leave that to your curiosity.

Example 2: The Commodity

A classical Marxian analysis is the commodity-{(use-value)-(exchange-value)} dialectic. A commodity, as an already empirically given and determinate concept, contains within it a tense contradiction between two concepts of value in the economic sphere: use-value, what we desire a commodity for in use, and exchange-value, what we can trade or exchange it for. How do we know that commodities contain these two concepts? Because they are necessary presuppositions for commodities to serve the actual economic role they do, that is, the meaning of a commodity is to be a use-value with exchange-value. A commodity is something which someone has a use or need for, but which has no use for its holder other than to exchange for what they need. Notice also that a commodity necessarily implies a plurality of commodities, for in order to exchange it requires another commodity to relate to it. Implied in use-value, due to exchange-value, is the plurality of qualitative commodities, for one does not trade a quality for the same quality and quantity. 

These two values cannot be had at the same time. If we want the use-value we must give up the exchange-value and vice versa. The consuming aspect of the market wants use-value, the selling side wants exchange value. Not only do commodities presuppose their own inner relation of value, but they presuppose the social structure of private property and the institution of right, as well as a system of social dependency in which persons are in need of the commodities of others while others are in need of the commodities which they hold, and thus they are driven to the agreement of exchange to satisfy their needs. Quite a lot is presupposed in the mere concept of commodities, and quite a lot follows from its own specific development as the category of economic value.

Let us develop this concept of the commodity further. Commodities are use-values which can exchange for other use-values. In the relation of different qualities and quantities, however, how is this very exchange intelligible? If the direct substances and quantities in the exchange are themselves not directly comparable, a third term must be in operation in the relation which is equal; this third term is the concept of value. However, let us recall the plurality of quality use-values available for exchange and we realize we have not yet exhausted the thinkable relations! We can relate one commodity to many and see one and the same value manifest in different qualities and quantities at once in the relative form of value (1 coat=20 linen; 10 carrots; 1 pound of iron etc.). From that relative form not only do we see one value capable of manifesting as multiple qualities and quantities, but we also grasp that one of the forms can be used to stand in to represent the value of all others in its own quality and quantity, and where do we end? With the appearance of the universal commodity form which directly embodies value in itself, a use-value of exchange-value itself, for all others to measure against as money.

The development goes on from there.

Example 3: Freedom of Speech

An example of a simple yet concrete analysis of only the negative dialectical analysis of the understanding is an blog I once wrote on the concept of free speech. A simple summary of the analysis is that free speech is contradictory in its idea and its reality. Free speech, as a right, upon analysis leads us to ask what kind of speech actually enacts its condition of protection, and we find it is only dissenting speech of those in minorities or outside the status quo power that actually falls under the need of such a protection of speech. Insofar as one speaks things in the acceptable range of popular or power discourse there is no need for protection. The analysis moves forward and questions why speech, mere words, should give ground for censorship at all.

One finds that speech is not mere words, hot air, but is also activity with practical purpose to convey messages, to create responses and actions. This action related aspect of speech is what censorship aims to stop. If speech were mere words nobody should ever fear speech, but speech has actual capacity to be a force that moves people to action, and action in the social sphere means real struggle for changing the dominant power and the structures of power themselves. Free speech as it is known in the west only protects dissenting speech as mere words, but it does not and cannot protect dissenting speech that aims to make action to change the status quo fundamentally.

Free speech in the end does not concern itself with speech as a medium of social activity at all, only mere words spoken to the wind. This is the contradiction: we are free to say what we want insofar as it doesn’t lead to undesired results to the status quo. Free speech, when it is claimed to exist, only exists as empty speech for those who need it most, mere words in the wind with no power, no capacity to make movement happen. This is why being a socialist during most of the last century was grounds for censorship and even imprisonment in the US, because there was a real danger that socialist speech would be a force and spark a revolution if ignored. There is nothing more dangerous than ideas of dissent in a time where critical minds provide fertile soil to push contradictions to breaking points of action. Free speech, as such, is not an absolute right and exists within limitations of social and legal context.

The limits of free speech may make it seem weak, and its contradictions may make it seem like a useless practice and concept in all, but it is the reality of it. There is more to be said about it, but that shall suffice here.


As can be seen, the moments of abstraction-negation-concretion more or less show up, but this formulation is itself a dead abstraction that can tell us nothing about how to carry out a dialectical investigation and understanding of any subject matter. Dialectics are uniquely determined in form by their content, and their content by their form. No half baked idea the likes of an abstract unity of opposites such as the eternal unity of Yin and Yang, good and evil, light and darkness, being and nothing, etc. can pass itself off as a dialectical comprehension of the united terms. Only the penetrating power of reason focused on conceptual purity and holding steadfast to a development of a concept from its inner structure can properly make intelligible why such terms are inextricably united at all, and what could logically follow from their contradictory unity.

We may easily say of Hegel’s method correct formulations of its general movements and result structures. {Abstract-negative}-concrete is correct. We can easily describe the movement also as one of {positing-understanding}-speculating, and we may describe it as {thought-thinking}-thinking of thinking thought. No matter how correct our description, however, it is for the intents of reading Hegel almost useless. I say almost because I do realize there is a value in at least providing the formulation as a springboard to then lead a direct dive into the actual thinking.

As Becoming shows, it is a myth that Becoming is the resultant sublation of Being and Nothing, it is the real first step as a sublation that transitions into Being and Nothing in unity which then sublate Becoming as a unity. The path from Being and Nothing through Becoming back to Being and Nothing is a conceptual ride that requires focus and patience to think through in order to comprehend how these ontological categories relate to each other, and what they mean in themselves.

For a broader overview of Hegelianism I suggest that one read James Kreines‘ articles, available online, and also to check out Richard Dien Winfield’s various lectures on Hegel’s works. Andy Blunden, a Marxist, provides some very good essays concerning the use of the Logic and dialectics for ‘materialist’ purpose. Hegel’s Philosophical Development by Richard Kroner is a great overview essay covering Hegelianism’s genesis, aims, and structure.