Logic of Being, Nothing, and Becoming

This was already part of my post introducing dialectics, but I’m making it its own post here just to aid with blog organization. Enjoy.


The dialectic of Being is very visible when it comes to giving an example of dialectics online, many cite this rather short and dense dialectic to give a typical thesis-antithesis-synthesis example, but nothing could be further from the truth. The true order of the dialectic is not just {Being-Nothing}-Becoming, but rather it is 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.

(Abstract) Being and Nothing

In the Science of Logic, for reasons ultimately only fully explained by the path of the Phenomenology, we begin in pure abstraction and indeterminacy. The most bare and abstract indeterminacy we can think is the general form of pure Being for the indeterminacy we begin with is indeterminacy. The content, or definition, of pure Being is nothing. There is no definition one can give for pure Being which is universal and indeterminate. That which means everything can only mean nothing. If all things, say, are known and understood as “Apple”, there is nothing specific Apple means, and as such it is indeterminate, it has no definition, and it means Nothing. Nothing is the very thought we think in the indeterminacy of Being.

Pure Nothing, like pure Being, is indeterminate and has no definition to be given. Nothing, however, is this indeterminacy, and thus it is Being. 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 meaning. Being = indeterminateness = Nothing. But in the relation of Being, Nothing, and their indeterminate content, 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, that of indeterminateness, Nothing. Nothing, however, faces an inverse contradiction. Nothing is in harmony with its indeterminate content, but is in contradiction with its form, the form of Being, for if Nothing is the case, the truth of Being, then Nothing is Being. The contradiction of form and content cannot be escaped, there cannot be form without content or the inverse; Being and Nothing are immediately moving from one to the other as their form and content forces the movement in their very thought.

A picture may help with understanding this movement. 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 are one and the same concept. We may see them as the form and content of one concept: the Being of Nothing. We know, however, that this is ridiculous and nonsensical. There is 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. Being and Nothing immediately move to each other due to the contradiction of form and content which is immediate and forces an immediate logical move to the opposite concept. Is there something more that can be used to determine the difference of Being/Nothing in this immediate movement?

We see in this simple beginning of the Logic already arise the strange and irreducible dialectic of just these two simple concepts. Being is Nothing is Being is Nothing is… ad infinitum. Being and Nothing, in being thought, immediately (this is not temporal transition, but logical) transition into their opposite by either content or form. Being disappears, vanishes, into Nothing, and likewise Nothing vanishes into Being. This incessant immediate movement between Being and Nothing as 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 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 here 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. Just as Being and Nothing were related as a contradiction of form and content which forces a movement into each other, 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.

Becoming and the redevelopment of Being/Nothing

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. 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? 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, yet as moments of Becoming Being and Nothing as Ceasing/Coming to be vanish. Being and Nothing vanish into what? Each other! Ceasing/Coming to be vanish into Nothing/Being. Becoming, because it is vanishing, vanishes itself into the background of Being and Nothing and leaves them in immediate unity once again.

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. Pure Being’s content pointed to pure Nothing, and there it can be seen that there is no escape, no denying of Being or Nothing, for they are a necessary form/content to each other, likewise in Becoming there is no escape from denying Being and Nothing for they are the necessary contents for Becoming. 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.

Concrete—or determinate—Being and Nothing

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.

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 without transitioning into the other, 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 onward.

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.

PhoS: Perception and Error (part 2)

Continuing from the prior post which developed the thing with properties, here we continue with the movements of Perception’s comprehension of its object.

Movements and moments of Perception

In §117 of the Phenomenology the general movement of Perception’s cycle of error is laid out as follows:

  1. The object is taken up and perceived as a simple pure individual thing (one) with property which itself has universality. By attributing to the one the property, its universality as a simple singular object is nullified. Perception has erred in its attribution of universal essence to the singular individual; the truth is that the universal unity is community (the continuous plurality as property).
  2. As a community, property is determinate and contrasted to an other and excludes it. As determinate, however, this property excludes and breaks apart the continuity of the object’s community into a broken plurality of properties by positing the excluding One as the essence of the object. Thus a second error has been made.
  3. As a One that excludes, the object is a plurality of separate and mutually indifferent properties. As such, the object is in truth a universal communal medium (an also) in which a plurality of determinate sensuous universalities exist indifferent to each other. Error has once more occurred.
  4. This communal medium, as contrasted to the properties in it, is itself an individual property like them and is equally indifferent to them. As a purely individual property, however, it loses all conceptual determinacy and cannot be a property at all, for it is neither in a One nor in a related plurality. As a pure self-relating indeterminate entity with no exclusive character (negation) the object now appears as pure sensuous being to which consciousness relates to merely as the “meaning of something“, thus stepping back from Perception only to reenact the process anew.

While Perception began with the act of an I and a sensuous being it wished to apprehend, its results are the vanishing of the object it originally determined. In its attempts to determine the truth of the object, consciousness merely moved away from the object and back into itself in the act of perception. Perception, however, becomes in this movement aware of its own act of perceiving the object only to return into itself. It learns from this that its thoughts are not a pure apprehension of the object, but the object is nonetheless truth. The object is self-same universality, and any appearance of a contradiction to this shall be taken on as Perception’s error. Perception now is aware it errs in its act, and by virtue of this awareness it believes it has the capacity to sift truth from falsity through its thoughts and once again gain a pure apprehension of the object through the correction of the mediating thoughts. The movement of Perception begins anew with the qualified limitation which Perception’s awareness of its role as perceiver plays.

In the 1st movement, Perception takes heed that the object is one, and when it notices the plurality of different properties it no longer attributes them to the object, but to its own doing. The object is white to my eyes, salty to my tongue, etc. Perception recognizes that it is the universal medium (the also) which differentiates the one into the determinate and independent many through the given determinate difference of its sense organs. As determinate, properties exclude each other—white is in contrast to black, and one is in contrast to many. The thing, however, is one only through its exclusion of the many, this is its determinateness, and thus the properties must not merely be Perception’s, but must be part of the thing itself in order that it may indeed be determined as one against another.  As in the thing, the properties are its essence for they are its inner being, and as the thing is itself the truth it exists in-itself independent of others. As differentiated within the thing—as its essence—the properties exist in independent exclusion of each other, and thus exist in-and-for-themselves. The thing is thus perceived to be in truth the universal medium (the also) in which the properties exist indifferent to each other and the medium. A reversal of Perception’s first judgment has occurred, for the the properties now exist in-themselves and independent from the each other and the universal medium itself. It is the unity of the object which is Perception’s doing, not the plurality.

A second movement begins once again as Perception continues to attempt to understand the object. As the properties are independent they are, and in relation to other properties they are merely also with another, e.g. the thing is white also with cubical shape, etc.  Because each property is in-itself, the thing is white insofar as it is not cubical, or is white and cubical insofar as it is not salty, i.e. a property is in-itself insofar as it is not in relation to another. In this way the properties are kept apart.  Since the one has been seen by Perception as its own doing and not the thing’s, the properties cease to be properties of a one and are conceived as free-standing matters. However, as independent matters are all that are, the also is recognized as a mere collection of independent properties which form an enclosing surface; the also is their indifferent unity.

Perception has gone from positing oneness in the thing itself and difference (the also) within its consciousness, to positing oneness in itself and difference in the object. Looking back on the process it sees that both the thing and itself have the one and the also. What it faces is a differentiated truth in itself and in the object. Perception and its object are both “one and also”. Not only is it in the act of Perception’s apprehending that there is diversity and the returning-into-self of this diversity into the object, but the thing itself has these aspects. The object exhibits itself, reflects out of itself, in a determinate way for the apprehending consciousness, but reflects back into itself what it originally reflected out of itself.  It first exhibited oneness in itself and seemed to reflect difference out of itself into consciousness, but in the act of perception the difference returns to the thing and the oneness is reflected out of it into consciousness. The object has both determinations and has a contrasted truth in itself.

In a third movement the thing is no longer simply true and selfsame. The thing is now non-selfsame and returns back into itself from out of selfsameness. The object is the movement of perception in itself.  As one the object is in-and-for-itself, but it also is for-another (also). As for-another it is itself an other for-itself. Perception is unwilling to allow this difference to inhere in the thing itself, so it attempts to place it outside it. As the moment of the also falls into the thing and its oneness, however, the also and oneness are different, thus the also falls into different things in doing so. The contradiction of the also and oneness is resolved by having two objects (things). The thing is for-itself and selfsame, but this unity is disturbed by other things (the also between them). The unity of oneness is preserved as the thing and consciousness in-itself; the also is preserved as separate from the thing and from consciousness as an external otherness to both as an indifferent relation of otherness of different things.

The in-itself of things which determines them as different is not a contrast within themselves; they are each a simple determinateness and are essentially such in their oneness. Within the thing, however, we already saw there was plurality and difference in its differentiated matters (properties). The diversity within the things is an actual distinction of multiple compositions in them, but because simple determinateness composes the essence of the thing, the multiple composition is unessential for the thing is one in its simple determinateness. Within the unity the thing posses in itself a doubled insofar—one insofar as not also (being-posited-into-one); also insofar as not one(being-posited-in-contrast)—but its contrast is not a contrast in the thing as one in itself. The oneness is taken as of higher value than contrast in the thing, as such, insofar as the thing comes into contrast through its absolute distinction as a simple determinateness in itself the distinction is external to it. The multiplicity necessarily in it is considered unessential due to this overvaluing of the oneness, thus the distinction outside and within it are both unessential to the thing. As a one through its simple determinateness, the thing contrasts itself with others and preserves itself. However, it is a one existing for itself insofar as it does not stand in relation to others, but it relates itself to others through this very absolute character as a one—for to be one is to exclude the others—thus the thing is merely this act of relating via negating others, and its independence perishes by virtue of what supposedly made it independent.  What was supposed to secure the truth of the unified object’s independence, its being-for-itself, has only shown that in truth its essence is an other.

Thus the object and truth of Perception dissolves itself away. What was supposed to be the essential for the object, being-for-itself, has shown itself to be just as unessential as being-for-another. Perception’s concept of the object was nothing but a set of meaningless and empty differences first positing one aspect as essential and then another, as Hegel puts it: a mere show of sophistry claiming one thing and then its opposite and back again. However, Perception’s dissolution is not empty. Its dissolution came about because of the problem of conceiving the difference which was in the object, and despite its failure two things has been learned: 1) the difference is a difference of the object itself and not a fiction of perception; 2) the determinacy of the object cannot be captured by appealing to sensuous experience of individuality as opposed to the abstract universality of its unity.

If there is a way to capture the difference of one and many in the object it must be captured in a single movement of thought, a true universal unity which subsumes its individuals within itself. This insight and movement away from the perceived object’s essence lying in its sensuous character is the movement away from Perception to Understanding, a new form of consciousness which grasps that the truth of the object’s unified difference must be found within a realm of pure universality.

PhoS: Perception and Error (Part 1)

Perception is the second of the forms of consciousness, and follows from the results of Sense Certainty. In Perception the mediation of thought and language have been acknowledged by the knower, but the experiential object of knowledge is still considered the essential substance of knowledge and the conceptual knowing as the inessential in the relation. All seeming contradictions or errors that Perception finds in its conceptions of the object of knowledge are considered by it solely its own error and are not ascribed as a reality of the object itself. Since mediation is allowed by Perception, this mediation shall prove itself problematic for it will stand between consciousness and its object. Hegel terms this particular form of consciousness the form of general common sense; it is not reducible to being any particular philosophy or philosopher’s epistemic framework despite having aspects that can be pinpointed to some philosophers. Just like Sense Certainty, Perception will be plagued by problems of inversion, but of a different kind.

In the first § of the chapter Hegel says something quite Hegelian concerning the I and the object perceived. The I and its object are both universals, and

“One of them [the I] is the very moment of “pointing out,” and the other is the same movement but as the “simple.” The former is the act of perceiving, the latter is the object. In terms of its essence, the object is the same as the movement; the movement is the unfolding and distinction of the moments, and the object is those moments as jointly grasped together.” (§111, Pinkard trns.)

Perception, then, shall show itself to be a single movement in which the perception of the object shall constitute the knowledge of the object itself; the sensuous object shall be shown to not be the essence of knowledge itself.

The general problems of Perception

The first general problem of Perception is the problem of the relation of the universal to individual in the form of the thing and its properties. The thing, the experiential singled this, is the universal for it is the unity of the different properties which inhere in the thing. Perception tries to first think the object by capturing its sensuous plural existence through an abstracted unity of thought. Because there is a clear difference in the thing between its unity (universality) and individuality (properties), and further between individuals themselves, Perception tries to articulate this difference through a third mediating term to do the work of negation (the One). Its failure shall be shown to be its inability to capture the complete unity and determinateness of the object. The object as a whole is fragmented in the categories of Perception as the medium (universal), the One (negation), and property (individual); all are perceptual perspectives of the unified object which alone cannot provide the conceptual coherency of the object, yet Perception can only conceive of the object from one of these categories and its primacy in relation to the others. As it cognizes the object from these categories they shall dissolve into each other.

The second problem is that of essential vs unessential. For Perception there is an ambivalence of just what its actual object of perception essentially is: Is the object truly the universal unity and the plurality of individual properties unessential, or is the object in truth the inverse, i.e. is it that the plurality of individuals is essential and singular unity unessential?

First, however, the transition from Sense Certainty and Perception must be fully articulated, and none should be amazed that this is no easy task.

Mediation and Determinateness

Perception begins with a reflection of the implied truth of Sense Certainty’s phenomenological experience of the many nows, heres, and thises. This result is that the object of knowledge must itself be a mediated universal: a this of many thises, a now of many nows, a here of many heres. This mediated universal, however, is not recognized as mediated by other universals, but as mediated by individual particular sensuous experiences. This mediated universal in general is a thing with many properties. This acknowledgement by Perception gives it a place as the first form of consciousness with determinate knowledge for it accepts mediation into its conceptual schema of the object and no longer rests happy with merely pointing to the object of experience.

Determinateness enters the this that resulted from SC by acknowledging its mediation through other thises. It is a this that is not this, i.e. a this that is not another this, a determinate this. What this is, however, is not yet itself determined, it is a conceptual nothing, and remains an abstract universal. The pure this is determined merely as the abstracted unity of the object before Perception.

The determination of the This into the Thing with many Properties

Recalling Sense Certainty, the sensuousness of the object it faced is retained, but now as the universal itself, i.e. sensuousness is the property of the this. The this retains the immediacy of Sense Certainty’s sensuousness as property—this is a sublation, for it explicitly unites the concretely sensuous and individual with the abstract universal. Because the this with property has immediacy it implies a multiplicity of properties, for as we saw at the end of Sense Certainty, immediacy is itself the mediation of one thing through another. Each property is like the this which merely is not another this, as such they are a simple abstract universal as such.

As universal the properties self-relate and exist independently and indifferent to all other properties. It must be noted that at this point there is here no talk about universals, only of the universal character of the this and properties. Property is itself universal as sensuousness as such, but Perception has not recognized this as a separate universality from the this. How can Perception not recognize that property itself is another universal against the the general unity of the this? Because it relies on the experiential sensuousness of the object for the determination of the individual properties which inhere in the this. The properties are determined through their sensuous existence, e.g. the whiteness, cubical shape, and taste of salt are recognized only as these individual experiential determinations whose mediation is the unity of the thing.

Because only the this has been properly recognized as universalas the unity (as medium) of these properties, but property as such has not been recognized as another universal unity itself, Perception conceives of the thing and its properties as a brute unity of universal and individual with no recognition that properties can relate to each other and be determined as much by their relation to each other as by their relation to the unity of the thing. Therefore, the this appears as the medium in which properties inhere and interpenetrate without affecting or relating to each other, e.g. in salt the color, shape, and taste seem to be utterly independent of each other in mere sense-experience; they merely relate to the this in which they are unified in one place. As the medium which unifies the many properties, the this functions as the ‘also‘ through which properties relate in their utter independence, e.g. in salt (thing) there is whiteness also with cubicalness also with hardness, etc. As is clear, Perception conceives of properties first as pure individualities with no independent universal character themselves, the universal character being the this’s  and not their own. This is why it is said that the self-related universality of properties is not their own, but is separate from them as the pure self-relating-itself-to-itself, i.e. the this is the universal (as unity of the object) as such which alone relates itself to itself, the properties relate to and through this as their own universality, but do not relate to each other. The this as universal is the unity and medium of the properties by being the one here and now where properties are assembled together, e.g. whiteness also with squareness are united here. The this is thus the pure thinghood and the first conception of the essence of the object of Perception.

One more specification of the object remains to be made by Perception: it must further specify how properties may be determinate without having universality or negation themselves. Properties cannot be indifferent to each other lest they lose their determinate character, they must relate as properties to each other as different, excluding, or negating, in order to be multiple properties, e.g. color that is not taste etc. However, Perception cannot acknowledge this determinate character—the having of positive being that negates others—of properties as inherent to properties themselves, for this would grant essentiality to what is not essential of the object. The first solution Perception attempts is to further specify the excluding character necessary for the determinateness of properties not in them as such, but in the thinghood, the universality, which is further determined to take on the role of exclusion (negation) as a moment of itself, this negating moment is the One which mediates the difference of individual properties and does the work of excluding for them; the One is negation as such. It becomes pure negation which separates the properties yet is itself separate from them and is self-related unitary essence; it is conceived as the thing alone without its unnecessary properties.

To finish this part off, here is Hegel’s articulation of the final assembly of the determinations of the general object of Perception:

“In these moments taken all together, the thing, as the truth of perception, reaches its culmination or at least insofar as it is necessary to develop such a culmination here. It is α) the indifferent passive universality, the “also” of the many properties, or, rather, matters; ß) likewise the negation as simple, that is, the one, the excluding of contrasted properties; and γ) the many properties themselves, the relation of the two first moments, namely, it is the negation as it relates itself to the indifferent element and extends itself within it as a range of distinctions; it is the point of individuality in the medium of durable existence radiating out into multiplicity.” (§115)


Phenomenology of Spirit: Sense Certainty

Sense Certainty (SC) is the first form of consciousness in the Phenomenology, and it’s relatively easy to understand. Sense Certainty posits itself as a completely passive I which immediately, without the mediation of thought, relates to its objects of knowledge by way of pointing either linguistically or literally. In this manner SC seems to circumvent the problem of knowing as a medium or instrument, for it has rejected all mediation and places its knowing in the immediacy of the object it knows. From the perspective of SC, it captures the purest knowledge in its activity of pointing to the concrete object itself without further additions. All who want to know the truths which SC wishes to convey must merely look towards the object which SC points out and immediately absorb the rich experiential manifold that is the object itself.

Who believes in Sense Certainty?

Before we engage the issue, I’d just like to make a tangent concerning just who in the world actually has ever believed knowledge is what is known in the manner of SC. Listening to Bernstein’s lectures on the chapter, he does not believe anyone has nor can possibly function with knowledge in the way that SC does, and that it is simply a primitive logical form for the sake of completeness of argument. While indeed, I don’t think anyone can function with knowledge and language like SC, I do think there is a surprisingly large minority that at least believes that knowledge functions like this, and here I’ll use myself as a fine anecdotal example. During my short lived year dipping into eastern philosophy and mysticism a few years back (hadn’t yet read Hegel directly) I reached a philosophical skepticism of the mediation of thoughts that is very much SC’s, and I even used similar language to argue for it: the truths which we wished to convey were not our concepts of things but the thing to which words pointed to. For example, I once actually did have a conversation with a friend regarding meaning and truth regarding a dinner table. Regarding meaning, I argued, we use the word table to point to the object which we really mean to draw to attention, and if one were to consider the question of what true was, the concept or the thing (this), it clearly was the thing which was before us here and now. I wasn’t alone in that kind of thinking, many a mystic and intuitionist at least believes that truth is ultimately like this, an immediate experiential encounter with the this which is only here and now. Anecdote aside, it just goes to show that yes, humanity does hold some strange ideas sometimes. While SC is part of what Hegel deems natural consciousness, and it logically is first for it is simplest, it isn’t common sense, indeed, it rests on a very intellectual basis and requires a rational and abstract thinking process to be convincing.

Sense Certainty


The problems of SC arise from its obstinate commitment to hold fast to what it believes is immediacy and concreteness in its knowing. It holds that it performs its act of pointing and knowing in the now, the here, and the this. For it these basic and seemingly singular and concrete categories guarantee it indeed does know the concrete object itself without the errors of thought. Hegel shortly introduces the common idea that truth is what it is forever, thus SC’s claims to truth shall be challenged on this account which it as well must agree to.

Despite SC’s beliefs, since knowledge is something the knower in SC has in their mind, we must question SC’s claim to knowing the objects. With the meager conceptual tools which it has limited itself to, SC cannot but hold the bare conceptual knowledge of this, a category merely pointing out a being before it here and now. What specific being is before SC, at what specific time, and at what specific place, it cannot say; it can only point to it. Different I’s in different places and times all claim the same: this is here now. The this is a plurality of the many things which the I’s have before them. The here is a plurality of places where they point. The now is a plurality of nows as the day goes by. The truths which SC claims to know seem to be ever changing and contradicting experiences. Now here is an apple; now here is a tree; now here is a cloud; now here is day; now here is night. The now and here are nothing and everything, changeless in abstraction, changing in every utterance repeated. SC’s knowledge claims seem to contradict themselves, to invert the truth it intends. Its truths change moment to moment and I to I because it refuses to acknowledge memory and conceptual specificity.

The knowledge of SC thus turns out to be bare and pure abstraction, not just of its object, but even of itself. To SC, the I and its object are not even conceptually differentiated in kind, both are mere thises here and now. It is so committed to this immediacy of knowing that it refuses to even acknowledge the past and its memory. All SC can truly know and communicate is that there is a being before it now and here, nothing else. One may retort, “But SC doesn’t care about conceptual knowledge, it cares about knowing the object in its pure manifold of experience.” Very well, what object is it that SC can know in its mere experience of the here and now? As was shown earlier, a changeless abstract universality with en ever changing experiential content. In what it utters, SC cannot capture the content to which it points.



Not only is SC’s knowledge poor and abstract, but its claim to immediacy is questionable. The following is what SC does when it makes a knowledge claim:

1) It points to the object before it now
2) It claims “This is here now”

In § 107 Hegel lays out formally what is implicitly wrong with SC’s own claim to immediacy. First, the I points out the now, but in the very pointing the now has moved. Second, the I claims the now which it pointed out but which has already passed; it sublates the now within itself for it unites the now which has been with the now that is. Third, in the very claiming that “this is now” the now has yet again moved and the now pointed to as well as the now claimed have passed away and been within the now as it keeps moving. What has been shown is that every now is not actually immediately apprehensible, that the now apprehended is always a plurality of nows, thus every claim made by SC is a now mediated by other nows. The this and here too are a plurality along with the now, as such they too are mediated.

SC has been shown to be unable to speak the truths it wishes to speak, it cannot convey the objects it wishes to know and communicate, for its meager concepts invert the object into abstractions. The analysis of SC ends with the realization by it that the truth of its knowing is its pointing to the objects of knowledge and attempting to conceive it in thought and express it in language, hence it has realized it perceives its object and that its mental content and its expression in language can err in conveying the object perceived.

Logic of Existence: A Hall of Mirrors

In the newest translation of the Science of Logic (the Cambridge translation) Determinate Being is changed to Existence to be in line with the original spirit of Dasein. I must mention that there is a massive stumbling block in the 3rd concept of Existence, Reality, due to an unfortunately terrible and obtuse translation which not only makes it easy to derail the comprehension of the transition from Reality to Something, but makes it near impossible. Had I not looked at other translations and attempted a rephrasing by expanding the term to see an explicit relational chain I wouldn’t have understood it. Translation issues aside, Existence shall be used to refer to Determinate Being for the most part.

Existence is Hegel’s second major concept and the basis of the developments in chapter 2 in the Science of Logic. The main reason I’ve decided to write a blog on this is because the chapter holds a set of insights which despite being short and dense, are powerful to think with. The patterns of existence appear frequently over and over again within the Science of Logic alone, and these relations appear in many a philosophical work implicitly if not explicitly.

Existence as a concept is simple yet tricky in that the way its relations function differ significantly from the logic of abstract Being in chapter 1. Existence is Being with a non-Being, an immediate unity of Being and Nothing, Determinateness; as such it immediately implies and generates a specific set of self-repulsions and ‘reflections’ of itself like a hall of mirrors. Determinateness itself is what generates the difference and relation of Determinate Being and Quality, Something and Other, and Determination and Constitution; it is how they perform their act of reflecting self-opposition; it is the ‘engine’ of Existence. One should keep in mind the structural equivalencies of Existence, Determinateness, Determinate Being, and the repetition of their structures. I have found it useful in my readings to sometimes rephrase a term into an equivalent, e.g. Existence changed to Determinateness, to make it clearer what kind of relations and movements are going on in the Logic.

As always, images cannot do the concepts of the Logic justice. I add them not to supplant the conceptual explanation, but as a visual aid to “see” the conceptual relations in a structural sense.


Being with non-Being, this unity, is Determinateness as such; this Determinateness is, hence Existence is Determinate Being. Being and Nothing have shown themselves to be perspective relation of Beings. Being is the non-being of Nothing, and Nothing the non-being of Being. Existence, one could say, begins with an immediate repulsion/reflection of Being from Being in the structure of Being and Nothing.

Existence begins with a problem of identity of content just as Being and Nothing did.  In this first moment we do not have any determinations which differentiate Determinateness from Being; Determinateness is (Being with non-Being), and Being is likewise this very Determinateness (Being with non-Being). There is a difference implied in the terms, but none has been provided by the immediate content of Determinate Being. This is Existence in general. It is important to note the self-reflexivity of Existence implicit in Determinateness in order to comprehend the movements within it. Existence is from its very outset self-referencing and self-repelling; it Others itself, it ‘reflects’ off itself in order to make multiple determinations of itself. In the mere implicit content of Determinateness we find the entire internal and external self-reflection of Existence as Quality, Something and Other, Determination and Constitution, Limit—that’s as far as this blog post will go— and more.

Quality, existent Determinateness, or determinate Determinateness, is the concept which captures the difference of Determinateness and Determinate Being. Quality is the first repulsion and reflection of Existence against itself by making explicit the difference of the Determinateness which inheres in Determinate Being. Within Quality two moments are implied: Reality as the moment of existent Quality (structural moment of Being), and Negation as the moment of existent lack of Quality (structural moment of Nothing), lack which is itself a Quality. As one can see, both Reality and Negation have Existence beyond Existence in general, and their aspect as determinate concepts inherently connects both. Both are present as immediate unity in Quality, the existence of one requiring the immediate existence of the other in order to have determinateness. Both are repetitions of the Being and Nothing structure which is the immediate unity in Existence. This formal repetition of the moments of Existence which occurs in Quality is why Hegel can say that qualitative Being is existent Existence, Determinate Determinate Being, i.e. Something.


Something, qualitative Being, existent Existence. As a Being with Reality and Negation, the two determinations of Quality, it carries the implication of self-relation and relation to an Other. Self-relation because Reality affirms Quality of Something itself; relation to Other because Negation is the non-being of another Reality. In Something, Determinate Being has been limited and restricted by its own Determinateness, Quality; it has been realized and negated, and immediately implies an Other beside it as another repulsion/reflection of Existence. The very relation of Determinate Being and Quality already has opened the way to the oppositions of Something and Other, Determinate Being itself being in opposition to its Quality’s being.

Something, like Existence, begins with a problem of identity once again. Something is faced with an Other which it lacks any explicit difference from other than the the intentional pointing to one existent as Something and another existent as the Other. Each existent is merely Other to the Other, each is Something to itself, both are different and identical at the same moment. Insofar as their being is determined as their mutual otherness, their non-being of the Other, they have Being-for-other. As Something that is not simply existent in relation to Other, but exists in its own right as an existent, Something has an inner being independent of the Other: Being-in-itself (Hegel’s own rebranding of Kant’s thing-in-itself).

In Being-for-other the Somethings confront each other as Others and thus they are the same with the first difference being that each is the Other of the Other. Because both are Other in relation to each other, they, as Others, are merely the other of themselves, i.e. Something is the other of Something, Other is the other of Other. In other words, they share the same content and repel this very same content. Self-repulsion and reflection is explicit.

To be Something is to be the Other of the Other, but this requires that Something have a being independent of the Other, it must really be an Other to the Other in itself, it must have Being-in-itself. One can see how Existence’s reflections are increasing in order to add necessary specificity to the conceptual object. First, Determinate Being reflected itself as Quality, then Something reflected itself as Other, and now Being-for-Other reflects itself as Being-in-itself.  Something is at first merely its negation of the Other, its non-being of the Other (it is Other of the Other), and its Being-in-itself is now its non-Being-for-other, its independent being. Something and Other’s moments on the surface imply an independence from each other, however, implicitly they are tied by a necessity to point to the other for their subsistence, for to have independent being, Being-in-itself, they must truly be Other not on the mere surface, but Other within and independent from the external Other. To be is not only to not be the external Other, but also to be the Other of that Other within.

What Something is in-itself, however, is what is in it, and what is in Something is its Being-for-other, for it is the Other of the Other within; it is the negation of the external Other; it negates its Being-for-other, and it is through this negation that it has determinate inner content at all. Being-in-itself is Otherness within Something; Being-for-other is Otherness outside. Something is merely being Other to the Other, its internal being only is by virtue of opposition to the external being it negates. Being-in-itself and Being-for-other repeat again the moment of existence as Quality, for it is another structural moment of determinate Determinateness; it is another immediate unity of the moments of Being/Nothing. This unity is Determination and its reflection, Constitution.

“The in-itself, in which the something is reflected into itself from its being-for-other, no longer is an abstract in-itself but, as the negation of its being-for-other, is mediated through this latter, which is thus its moment. It is not only the immediate identity of the something with itself, but the identity by virtue of which the something also has present in it what it is in itself; the being-for-other is present in it because the in-itself is the sublation of it, is in itself from it; but, because it is still abstract, and therefore essentially affected with negation, it is equally affected with being-for-other. We have here not only quality and reality, existent determinateness, but determinateness existent-in-itself; and the development consists in positing such determinateness as thus immanently reflected.”

Determination repeats the moment of Reality in Quality and is a bit of a tricky concept due to the increasingly complex and dense terminology describing it. It is at its most simple the Being-in-itself through the negation of Being-for-other, and as the explicit relation of unity of both terms it is a sublation. When Hegel says that it is “Determinateness existent-in-itself” one can translate that as: determinate Determinateness within; the structure repeats Quality’s relation to Existence within Existence (Determinate Being) itself;  it is Quality within. Something’s Determination seems to be indifferent to its Being-for-other, but despite Determination’s seeming independent being, it is thoroughly dependent on the Other through the explicit negation of Being-for-Other filling it.

Constitution is the reflected opposition of Determination, Determinateness which is in relation to the Other, and the moment of Negation. Constitution is thoroughly and explicitly the determinate Being-for-other of Something, that Quality which is not intrinsic or necessary to it, but it has taken up Being-in-itself into itself explicitly, thus Constitution is the Being-for-other of Being-in-itself.  Constitution is seemingly indifferent to Determination, but it too is not simply Being-for-other, it also depends on Being-in-itself to provide its determinateness. Determination and Constitution are each the determinate form of Being-in-itself and Being-for-other.

“In so far as that which Something is in itself is also in it, the Something is affected with Being-for-other; Determination is therefore open, as such, to the relation with Other. Determinateness is at the same time moment, but it contains at the same time the qualitative distinction of being different from being-in-itself, of being the negative of the Something, another Existence. This Determinateness which thus holds the Other in itself, united with the Being-in-itself, introduces otherness in the latter or in Determination, and Determination is thereby reduced to Constitution. – Conversely, the being-for-other, isolated as Constitution and posited on its own, is in it the same as what the Other as such is, the other in it, that is, the other of itself; but it consequently is self-referring Existence, thus being in-itself with a determinateness, therefore Determination. – Consequently, inasmuch as the two are also to be held apart, Constitution, which appears to be grounded in Something external, in an Other in general, also depends on Determination, and the determining from outside is at the same time determined by the something’s own immanent Determination. And further, Constitution belongs to that which Something is in itself: Something alters along with its Constitution.”

If Determination is determinate inner being, Constitution is nothing but the determinate external relation of Determination to another Determination, or simply as self-referring Existence. Determination and Constitution are two sides of the same coin just as all moments of Existence have been. When Hegel says Determinateness is moment which contains the qualitative distinction of Being-in-itself and the Other which Something is not, it can be understood that Determinateness as such functions as the generative and transitive concept which makes explicit different beings and disappears into the background of what has been determined by reflected opposition.

At this point we now have the development of Something as a true existent with determined content. Something and Other oppose each other as seemingly independent beings through their determined moments. They both have Being-in-itself through their Determination, and Being-for-other through their relative Constitution. Their independence, however, is false. Their Determination shows itself to be open to otherness by its own determined content via the moment of Other and its self-relations which generates the entire structure of Something, thus the independence of Something and Other is thoroughly mediated through the otherness of Others and neither is capable of full independent self-determination.

Now in so far as the in-itselfness is the non-being of the otherness that is contained in it but is at the same time also distinct as existent, something is itself negation, the ceasing to be of an other in it; it is posited as behaving negatively in relation to the other and in so doing preserving itself. This other, the in-it-selfness of the something as negation of the negation, is the something’s being-in-itself, and this sublation is as simple negation at the same time in it, namely, as its negation of the other something external to it. It is one determinateness of the two somethings that, on the one hand, as negation of the negation, is identical with the in-itselfness of the somethings, and also, on the other hand, since these negations are to each other as other somethings, joins them together of their own accord and, since each negation negates the other, equally separates them. This determinateness is limit.

Finally, Limit arises as yet another reflection of existence. With Something in general determined in full specification as an existent being, Negation enters the picture yet again as Limit. First, Limit begins as the concept of Something’s non-being of Other; Limit is only of the Other, but this Other is a Something, and as such Something is affected by this very same Limit. Something holds the other Something away as its Other through its Limit, and thus each Something is by virtue of this Limit. Because Something has existence through its Limit, this Limit is within it. Limit itself is the Being and non-Being of Something and Other, it is a structural repetition of  Quality (Reality and Negation), and as such the moments of the Something’s Being and non-Being are determined outside each other. Something and Other thus have their Being outside this Limit, and Limit itself is the non-being of both. Limit has developed itself as a new Other against the two Somethings, but the first Something and Other are truly the same Existent being in general as has been seen. It is Limit which is in truth the Other of Something, and it is by virtue of Limit that multiple Somethings are.

To reiterate the major points: To be is to not be another; to have a quality is to at the same moment to lack another quality—the affirmative moment being a Reality and the lacking moment being a Negation; to not be another requires that Something have Being-in-itself beyond Being-for-other; what it is to be-in-itself is merely to not be-for-another, and this double negation (being by not being the Other, and then denying the Other is needed at all) of Something is Determination with its opposition to other Determinations being Constitution; and finally, to be Something differentiated against itself is to have a Limit which itself is a third other in the relation of Something and Something.

For an easy example of where else in Hegel one sees some of these logical relations one can merely look at chapters 2 and 3 of the Phenomenology of Spirit.

The Strangeness of Nothing

The ontological status of Nothing is very interesting, for there is in the common understanding an endless slew of problems in conceiving it. It is very likely that if you have ever had a discussion about Nothing with an average person it has basically ended in the strange predicament about the unintelligibility,  the ineffability, of Nothing. The very naming of Nothing seems to give it affirmation of Being which it does not logically allow. In my middle school and high school days I heard many-a-times the phrase, “Nothing can’t be Nothing, because calling it Nothing makes it something.” The apparent silliness of this seeming misunderstanding or obfuscation of language aside, what status does Nothing have in the world?

Logically, Nothing seems to be a negating term, an absence of Being. It has no positive existence itself, only Being does. We say, for example, that darkness is merely the absence of light, that cold is the absence of heat, etc. By definition negations, Nothings, obviously do not exist. The definition of Nothing is that it does not exist, that it has no Being for it is the absence of Being. Only being is; Nothing is not. Simple… or so it seems.

Language, and by extension thought itself, has a peculiar difficulty dealing with Nothing, with negations, absences. Because they are Nothings, and Nothings are not, language has had to develop rather strange and contradictory ways to refer to absences, to point to that which does not exist. We say “There is nobody at the door,” “There is nothing in my cup,” “There is nothing there.” We are naturally compelled to speak of absences in the affirmation of their Being. Some philosophers have considered this a mere example of the inadequacy of natural language and our animal intuitions for thinking properly about the world. According to such philosophers an ideal logical language purged of these confusions of natural language is required for thinking the world as it really is.

But why should we think that these natural developments of language are confused and wrong? Yes, by definition absences have no Being, but is this actually a tenable position? Is it not the case that when I notice and say, “There is nothing in my cup,” there really i Nothing in my cup? Isn’t it the case that there really is an absence there? Darkness may be an absence of light, yet I see darkness, I see the absence of light as its own Being. When there is an absence of heat i feel cold as a positive state. It seems strange that we conceive and interact with Nothings all the time, yet somehow we are to believe these are silly fictions.

Hegel’s conception of Being and Nothing is capable of making this strangeness intelligible. For Hegel the fact that we have had to develop language to speak of Nothing as we do is itself a pointer towards what this term really means. Being as such, pure Being, is nonsense. Likewise the idea of a pure Nothing that does not itself have Being is nonsense. As Parmenides believed, that ‘Only Being is; Nothing is not,’ we cannot help but think and speak from the side of Being and only from the side of Being, for if Nothing is really that which is utter non-Being, then it is logically unthinkable. Despite this, we clearly think of Nothing all the time, we speak of it all the time, we deal practically with it all the time. Being as pure Being doesn’t mean anything, just as Nothing as pure Nothing is meaningless, and this meaningless indeterminacy is what makes intelligible that Nothing already puts us in the form of Being for it is a meaningless and indeterminate emptiness. On the most abstract level Parmenides has touched on a truth that cannot be escaped, yet it’s also a truth that doesn’t tell us much of anything. If Nothing must Be, then the notion of Nothing as absolute negation of Being is not tenable. The solution Hegel offers in the Science of Logic is that Being and Nothing are concepts of relative position in a relation of Beings. Being and Nothing are in truth the perspective of Being this particular Being and not another. Where one Being meets another Being, there its non-Being, its Nothingness, begins.

For an expanded explanation of Being and Nothing as Hegel deals with it in the Science of Logic‘s first chapter, check out my post on the dialectic of Being, Nothing, and Becoming.

An anecdote on the myth that Hegel is impossible without background.

One of the most annoying points I encounter repeatedly when it comes to engaging Hegel for a newcomer is the repetition that Hegel is very, VERY, difficult. So difficult, in fact, that if you have not had at least four years of your life dealing with learning at least the continental movement from Hume to Kant to Fichte to Schelling to… ever increasing background qualifications, you have no hope in properly understanding anything Hegel has to say. That’s not even counting the difficulty of learning Hegel’s terminology itself and the obscure logic of dialectics. So… just hold on until you’ve made it through undergrad, there is no shame in admitting that Hegel is too hard for you.

This is from personal anecdote, but I find that in my experience the difficulty of Hegel is vastly overplayed. Yes, it is true that you will miss an immense amount of subtlety in the Phenomenology of Spirit and the later works’ arguments and the texts’ conversation with the philosophies of Hegel’s past and present, but just because one misses subtlety does not mean one is left with an unintelligible experience in which nothing great is learned. As Hegel himself says in the Phenomenology, to paraphrase: to demand that we know before we know is just a bit silly. To think that making mistakes is bad and invalidates any insights you may gain by misunderstanding is likewise silly. Depending on who you ask, some Hegelians claim that others have made quite a name for themselves due to their misreadings and the results thereof (Kojeve, anyone?).

When I began to read Hegel directly my only background in studying philosophy formally was virtually at the level of a summary text of the history of western philosophy covering snippets in the typical analytic fashion, I had just gotten past the philosophy 101 level classes. Most of the actual development in thought which led me to Hegel came from my own private philosophical readings that were for the most part utterly unrelated to the readings in my philosophy classes.

As I had been going through basic philosophy classes I had read Marx’s Capital Vol.1 as a challenge to engage with unpopular ideas and see their merits and failures for myself. I found Marx quite clear, and since I had at the time already arrived (due to quantum mechanics pop science) at process metaphysics speculations, I found Marx’s emphasis on processes and developments a welcome change from the philosophies I had encountered in my classes. It is through Marx that I encountered Hegel, and through random snippets of Hegel I truly encountered Kant as an epistemologist and ontologist, something far more fascinating to me than his ethics (at the time). In my attempt to understand Marx rigorously and philosophically I read many summary accounts of the silly idealism of Hegel, accounts which warned that it was an utter waste of time to engage with for someone focused on more practical matters of social existence, but over the couple of years I focused on comprehending Marxism one problem arose constantly: dialectics. It seemed like no one at all was capable of making intelligible this mysterious logic which was used by both Marx and Hegel, and which many claimed was the backbone to everything in their systems. Many of the accounts of it were so vague as to be useless, and I must admit that for some time I myself parroted these vague notions which in retrospect were nothing but word salad. In eventual frustration with the failure of Marxists and Marx himself in making intelligible what seemed most important, the logic which justified the argument’s development and validity in Capital, I finally decided to read about Hegel from the point of view of Hegelians. While I had been trying to penetrate the depths of Marxism I had quite a lot of times read snippets of Hegel, and I liked what I had encountered, so it wasn’t that big of a change for me.

When I finally began reading the Phenomenology of Spirit I did so without any guide. I had read a few overview articles, and I read Findlay’s introduction to the Miller translation, but they were mostly unintelligible and of no help. However, once I began the famous Preface I had moments of experiencing the sudden flashes of insight which reading Capital had first dazzled me with. Despite the difficulty and denseness of the Preface, and of not seeing how the discussions going on were related, Hegel made points at many moments which were epiphanies for me. I did not at the time understand the meaning of “dialectical”, Spirit, the Concept, the Idea, etc., and Hegel did not offer definitions, yet I also noticed they were not so unintelligible or even necessary for grasping the general gist of what went on. The unique idealist terminology remained unclear to me for the good part of half a year, yet my desire to make sense of Hegel compelled me to think these terms were not what most accounts had led me to believe. Hegel struck me as too intelligent to be so foolish as to think all of reality was mental in a Berkelyan or in a (simplistic) Platonic sense. What Hegel seemed to refer to in these terms, the Concept, the Idea, etc. seemed very different to anything I had ever known by them, yet I could not at the time understand them.

In reading the first section of the Phenomenology, Consciousness, I made my first major grasps of what Hegel was doing. This section’s three chapters made apparent to me that whatever Hegel was doing in the Phenomenology it seemed to have to do with meta-epistemology. I took this point and began searching for secondary literature on it, and here I encountered Westphal’s reading of Hegel. In attempting to understand the meta-epistemological view dialectics began to take the form of a process of investigation that had something to do with critiquing the inner coherence of conceptual schemes such as epistemology and ontology. The second insight I gained from reading Hegel directly was the point that epistemology and ontology were not distinct beginning standpoints, but two standpoints that each assumed the other and always came together. An epistemology assumes an ontology, and ontology assumes an epistemology.

At the door of the Master/Slave dialectic, however, I gave up on the Phenomenology. It wasn’t because I found it boring, or that it was too hard. I had made it through the third chapter, the infamous Force and the Understanding, and felt I had understood at least the general form of the argument if not the details, yet I stopped because I found reading Hegel too exciting. I wanted to talk about the ideas I discovered in the text with someone, to discuss interpretations, and I was frustrated by the lack of anyone else to engage the topic with in a timely and lively manner. My reading of the Phenomenology being indefinitely postponed, however, did not end my study of Hegel in general.

These two first insights gained from directly reading the Phenomenology ended up providing my entry path towards grasping Hegel more broadly. As I read more on those topics I began to find papers which led me further to new connections. From meta-epistemology and further overviews of the Phenomenology and Hegel’s system as a whole I began to think of Hegel as a meta-philosopher due to his overview of what seemed like all general points of view on topics, and by this point I had settled into the comprehension that whatever dialectics was it was something that didn’t have a general form and had more to do with a critique of inner coherence of concepts and thought structures. Searching for meta-philosophical readings of Hegel led me to the work of James Kreines, whose articles turned my focus away from the Phenomenology towards the Science of Logic. I had known the connection of the Science of Logic‘s concepts to ontology, but Kreines’ work led to a greater interest in the Logic‘s role and function in Hegel’s system as a whole. The connection between logic as such and the world, a notion I had already held as necessary for philosophizing for some years, became far more interesting and central. I read more on this, but without touching the Logic itself my understanding was limited to abstract papers and making general connections with little else. Where I had gaps I would study backwards to get at least the bare arguments necessary to understand a point, and often I read beyond what I had to.

I have continued to read Hegel (some Science of Logic, some Enclyclopedia), and most of what has kept me from a complete study of any of the works has been the overwhelming excitement they cause, and my own learning-by-explaining style. I’ve found that I think better and pay far closer attention when I read with the aim of discussing and attempting to clarify and explain what I read to someone else. I may not be a very wide or deep reader of philosophy or even Hegel, still, I can understand most Hegelese I encounter these days, especially the beginning developments of the particular sciences that are built up. When I can open up a work by Hegel and find myself following a conceptual development once I have situated myself in the context of the discussion… that’s quite something for someone who lacks the training of 4 years of Descartes to Schelling.

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

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

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

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

[Translated by Anthony 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 (cf.id. 75). To explain this development, Marx utilizes biological metaphors frequently. Hence he calls the commodity the cellular economic form (cf.id. 6). From this economic cell (the singular) is generated the tissue (the particular) of all the other forms. Following this metaphor, to expose the organism (the universal) of bourgeois economy scientifically, it is necessary to begin with its most simple element, that which contains in itself the principle of the development as an original contradiction. This complicated dialectic between the first element and the totality that is reconstructed from it makes it so that the beginning of the exposition be absolutely necessary despite being a result of the work of the investigation. Thus, Marx must already have a vision of the entire system of the bourgeois economy in its whole to determine the commodity as its elementary form (cf.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Final considerations

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[9] Véase la tesis 5.

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

[11] Véase la tesis anterior.

[12] Véase la tesis anterior.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[20] Véase la tesis 3.

[21] Véase la tesis 3.

[22] Véase la tesis anterior.

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

[24] Véase la primera tesis.

[25] Véase la tesis anterior.

Why You Should Read the Science of Logic Before the Phenomenology

The Science of Logic (simply the Logic from here on) is G.W.F. Hegel’s most important work, at least according to him. After Hegel’s death and the reaction against Hegelianism there was a cold period after which the Phenomenology of Spirit made a sudden surge from obscurity and it has been a mainstay of Hegelianism since. The Phenomenology has in the last century dominated the reception of Hegel in the continental and analytic philosophy circles and is considered Hegel’s greatest masterpiece, a strange thing considering that Hegel seemed to consider it less and less the more he taught the system based on his Logic.

Hegel is, in my experience, a philosopher that is monumentally difficult and yet offers incredibly accessible and clear points that require no background or skill other than the capacity to think. There is a surface to Hegel’s system which is, because of its logical nature, very accessible to any thinker who is open to tread the path of a thought alongside Hegel, but at the same time there is the depth beneath the surface which reveals a set of interconnections beyond what is apparent in the path of the straight logical steps on the surface. This depth is a result of ‘recollection’, of reflective thought about the reflexivity of thought which went on in its logical mode. The more life experience, and the more intellectual breadth and depth, the richer the recollection’s insights. First, however, one must have a grasp of how to think along with Hegel, and the Phenomenology does not actually make clear just what Hegel’s famous core method (dialectics) is supposed to be, but worse, it has the phenomenological method in play alongside the dialectical method and the confusion increases. Though logically and historically the Phenomenology is prior to the Logic, I strongly suggest one to read part of the Logic before engaging the Phenomenology.

The Phenomenology was originally intended to be the “introduction” to Hegel’s system, particularly his Logic, by way of a negative dialectical argument. It aimed to eliminate all possible avenues for foundational philosophy to provide a ground for knowledge, and was to decisively leave Hegel’s own take on the problem of knowledge as the only remaining possibility for moving on and doing Philosophy at all once he negated the opposition of consciousness to an absolute external object in all its forms. The final result was a moment of Absolute Knowing where Spirit would gain the knowing of knowing by way of the reader’s own realization of it—this knowing would merely give the starting point of science as its abstract indeterminate beginning. The book is written in such an abstract way that one should not need any background for it, and while one can certainly go at it this way, it doesn’t help that Hegel wrote it as if the intent was to force you to reread the book multiple times in order to reach its intellectual depths. He mentions terms which he never defines: the Concept (translated as Notion by Miller), the Idea, and Spirit very early on and maintains their use as if the reader just knows what he means despite his meaning being utterly unknown at such points beyond contextual hints. Due to the difficulty and seemingly winding arguments of the book very few ever make it through this initiation, and fewer still seem to remember what it is that Hegel intended to teach them at the end. The book is certainly worthy of praise and with many insights as well as fascinating literary, cultural, and conceptual analyses and interpretations, but it is written in such a manner that no novice to philosophy could ever understand much of its significance without expertise to guide them in the intricate backgrounds of references of arguments, the dense and sometimes obscure phrasing, and the sometimes obscure transitional arguments which move the story of Spirit’s experience along.

As an introduction the Phenomenology is as difficult an introduction as could have ever been designed, an obstacle that a reader must willingly put themselves through wholeheartedly and lose themselves to in order to reap the benefit of its conclusion: the full realization that the opposition of consciousness presupposed by almost all of philosophy prior to and after Hegel cannot lead anywhere fruitful in the end. The Phenomenology ends in Absolute Knowing, a form of consciousness which has gone beyond the opposition of consciousness to its object. It sees that all along it had merely faced itself in its object; it is an indeterminate end where nothing but the identity of consciousness and its object is known—thought faces itself as all it knows (make of that what you will for now). As a popular introduction to Hegel’s system the Phenomenology is a failure as historical experience shows most simply do not understand its language, argumentation style, and what it is meant to conclude. The Phenomenology may be said to be the most immediately interesting and readable of Hegel’s works, yet one of the least immediately comprehensible since Hegel seems to be all too happy to use terms he never defines—at least not straightforwardly—and an argumentation method that has popularly come to be unfortunately known as the ‘dialectic’, which seems to resist any clear definition if the popular understanding of it is anything to go by. In contrast, the Logic is Hegel’s most immediately comprehensible yet least immediately interesting or readable work. This is a very strange affair for people are constantly told of the necessity of the Phenomenology to understand the (supposedly) even less understandable Logic. If the Phenomenology is this difficult, it’s no surprise the vast majority avoid the Logic since it is considered even more so.

The Logic is the “sequel” to the Phenomenology, the first part of the system it is meant to introduce. For a few years in Jena Hegel taught material similar to what later would be in the Phenomenology, but once he had settled his account of the matters he ceased to teach it in favor of expanding his positive system. He hardly mentions the book ever again in lecture or writing. Despite the seeming abandonment of it to history, the work, in its function, is ever a necessary part for understanding Hegel and his thought. The Phenomenology, or something akin to it in scope and function, is necessary to fully break the spell of wandering natural consciousness that presupposes that it is a knower that faces an object different from itself, and which must answer the dual problem of ontology and epistemology which elude unification in a coherent account of their relation to each other and to consciousness as a knowing. While some may easily accept Hegel’s claims against the opposition of consciousness to an object of knowing, the real argument and proof against it is in the completed path of the Phenomenology of Spirit. While we do not submit ourselves to its path of despair we are always left to the nagging doubt and temptation that perhaps there may be a way to work epistemology/ ontology/ ethics/ aesthetics/ etc. as first foundational philosophy despite Hegel’s claims against such a possibility.

Despite what most say about the difficulty of the Logic and its status as the result of the Phenomenology, you should actually read a very small part of it before reading the Phenomenology. Reading the Logic in its entirety is a big commitment if what you really are interested in is the Phenomenology, but reading the first few chapters will help greatly in following Hegel’s argument style in its predecessor. The Logic is where Hegel’s method is in its most clear and obvious form, even if you only read the first chapter it is sufficient to see what the so-called method is. If one reads the chapters on Being and Existence/Determinate Being carefully, then the reading of the Phenomenology isn’t as mysterious or difficult due to his method being clarified. Not only is the method clear, but it shall be made clear what some otherwise seemingly unclear terms have to do with the developments that Hegel takes us through in the Phenomenology, e.g. if one has read the chapter on Existence it shall be clear as day what one of the major formal problems  dominating the three chapters of Consciousness is. Now, it’s not that it’s impossible to discern the logical train in the Phenomenology, but it takes an incredible memory and constant hindsight to maintain logical chains in mind and remember that that one seemingly random sentence about Being and thought 40 pages ago is a key to understanding why a Being with immediacy is mediated and therefore is determinate and implies a plurality—this disconnection of underlying logical forms, unfortunately, is a product of the phenomenal presentation.

The Logic is a bit more merciful on the reader concerning its developments, and maintains its concept developments directly connected in the chain you follow.  The beginning of the Phenomenology is rather simple and the arguments in it quite easy to follow, but even in the second chapter the argument begins hinging on logical moves which already depend on a supremely careful eye to the terms used, how they’re used, and what is being related—I actually consider the second chapter’s beginning to be one of the hardest parts in the first three chapters. There is chapter 3, “Force and the Understanding”, which is a bit of a maze of many dialectical moves ending in the dissolution of Consciousness, the mode of cognition which takes knowing as merely the confronting of an external object and the correspondence of thought to such object.

Besides being able to notice the logical moves underlying the phenomenal aspects of the Phenomenology, you’ll also be able to take notice of what is going on in the phenomenal aspects themselves—you’ll be able to comprehend and appreciate just why every form of consciousness comes up in the order that it does. While every form of consciousness faces destruction with its own immanent negative dialectic, each dialectic unfurls a positive logical concept immanent in the structure of a form of consciousness. These positive results, which are the end of every form of consciousness, are key to grasping why the work flows the way it does.

Now, there are two prefaces and two introductions to the Logic since it was clear many would simply not read the Phenomenology or understand it. These essays in a way attempt to give some justification of the project of the Logic, and all amount to repeating two central points: 1) formal logic isn’t logic since logic is the thinking of thinking which establishes the validity of valid thinking and as such has itself as the content and form of its inquiry, and 2) we must start with indeterminacy, without givens of any kind, so forget everything you think you know. In this regard the Logic is certainly very readable in that it is very intelligible, in fact it is surprising how readable it is for a book by the supposedly obscure Hegel. Because of the presuppositionless aspect of the work one can jump in and merely focus on what is built up in the work itself in order to comprehend it. Though it is very intelligible (usually), its subject matter is very dry and abstract, and because it only deals with thought itself there is no escape for any kind of picture/metaphorical thinking with examples we are accustomed to. Very few will find much to excite them in the book if they are not interested in metaphysics and categories of thought as such.

To say something brief on the value of the Logic itselfit is the systematic development of valid thinking which can prove itself to be valid thinking. The only rule on the ground at the beginning of it is that we think, and that we think only what is thinkable in and through the content with which we begin. This demand for thinking only with what is available and its relations, if it have any, is merely the first demand of all valid thinking: necessity. If we are to discover anything else about valid thinking we must at least discover these new insights necessarily following from our concepts inner contents. The Logic goes on to develop and move as thought shows itself to be at once both analytic and synthetic, for by analytic definition it points beyond itself and determines itself further through what is not immediately itself.

highly suggest you to read the Logic‘s first two chapters to get a sense of Hegel’s actual method in its purest practice as well as to know two of the fundamental structures which appears throughout the Phenomenology over and over again—the something/other relation, and more importantly the concept of  Infinity. This alone will help immensely with increasing your comprehension in a reading of the Phenomenology of Spirit and every other of Hegel’s works.

On the ‘scientific’ character of Hegel’s dialectical method.

Hegel uses the term ‘science’ not only to qualify his philosophy; he claims that his philosophy is the very concept of valid science. Science had not yet been reduced to the current restriction to empirical science at the time, it roughly meant systematic knowledge well into the 1800s, thus it isn’t too strange that something like philosophy could be considered a science.

An interesting thing I have noticed reading the Science of Logic directly is that there is one thing in common with Hegel’s conception of science and the current popular understanding of it: that science directly accesses its object without subjective aspects entering into the matter investigated and discovered. Because Hegel’s method is to investigate the necessary universal character of objects, their concepts, as they self-determine and generate themselves of their own accord, the method is ‘objective’. This objectivity is the same objectivity which the common understanding knows: that which is objective is that which is what it is in its own right, and not because of anything else. This, of course, destroys most of the objectivity we presume to exist in the world. Most things are not what they are in their own right, they are what they are through relation to myriad of external factors, some of them being our own subjective determinations upon the objects.

When we investigate objects of the material kind we often find no rational explanation for them but the whole of the universe of matter and forces, and thus the object we begin trying to know finds itself disappearing into a system of dependencies which compose it. At such points of inquiry we find that what we thought were objects were not objects, but merely arrangements of the true objects which constitute them. Not only do we lose the original object being explained, but as far as empirical sciences can go we also lose the criterion of objectivity itself: we posit forces and concepts which are unintelligible to us and which have no necessity we can see other than that they are useful for our relative manipulation of the material world. Why are there only so many laws of nature? We don’t know. Why are the laws of nature what they are? We don’t know. What is gravity? We don’t know. What is positive or negative charge? We don’t know. Why is it that atoms have specific electron shell arrangements and bond with other atoms according to these electron arrangements? We don’t know. Our theories are subjectively posited and the world arranged into them, but we have no clue why these arrangements and objects should have any unity at all, and even if we somehow do know a necessary unity we do not know why it is as it is at all.

Take for example a piece of chalk. What are its objective features? Certainly not its shape, color, etc. for these are subjective determinations not intrinsic to its substance as chalk. Even the measure of material of the chalk is not objective to its being as chalk, for chalk as chalk is merely its chemical composition as calcium carbonate. Does calcium carbonate as such exist? It is a synthetic compound of elements, calcium and carbon, each which in turn is a compound of protons, neutrons, electrons, etc. Some of these particles, protons and neutrons, are themselves further compounds of what are now called quarks. The real substance, many would say, the real objects of the world, are these fundamental particles and their interaction with forces. In certain theories a further reduction is attempted and matter/space itself is dissolved as an objective being in its own right and pure forces are posited as the real objective being of the world, but what are these forces? We find no answer for empirical science which rests upon given assumptions cannot offer it. It cannot give an account of forces as such, it cannot give an account as to what they are in themselves nor why they are as they are. Empirical physics can only posit these fundamental forces and their mathematical character as given, it cannot explain what they are, how they are, why there are as many as there are, and why they should relate in the way that they do. As far as we are able to know with this method, the laws are what they are and relate as they do because we judge them to be so. Such science relies on subjectively determined dogmatic presuppositions of objects of knowledge and how knowing meets the object.

Hegel’s methodology does lead to the necessary knowledge of how and why an object is what it is in its own right for it holds itself to following the development of a concept of its own power of self-generating determinations. If objectivity is that which is what it is in its own right and not because of anything else, whatever object we encounter must be the full source of itself from start to finish. If we are to hold the object as it is in itself in the mind we must likewise meet this freely self-developed and determined object with an equally self-developed and determined concept. The encounter of both as corresponding to each other is what Hegel calls the Idea of an object: an actualized concept. Just as empirical science shows that most things we think are real objects are actually not, so does Hegel’s science. The difference is that Hegel’s objectivity is not a reductive objectivity to that which appears to be what it is in its own right because it is has no further inner constitution. Objectivity for Hegel is not that which has no further inner constitution, is unintelligible, and as such no longer explainable according to anything else, but objectivity is rather that which is most fully intelligible and explainable according to its inner constitution from its simple parts to the whole. For Hegel it is not the laws and matter of physics or of chemistry which are most objective and knowable, but organic life, and above that thinking life, which are the most substantial and objective existences. We can be certain of our objective knowledge with Hegel’s method because it is simply the free development of the concept of the object itself.

That empirical science cannot meet the task of objectivity is not to deny its pragmatic usefulness. There is unquestionable functional truth to the products of empirical scientific inquiry, and because we value practical technology we should hopefully never abandon empirical science. That said, currently science oversteps its bounds in many areas and attempts to do the work of metaphysics in ignorance of its own presuppositions and the problems of its conception of objectivity which causes it to so invert the world as to lose sight of the most obvious existences: that of organic self-organized life and of mind.

"There is no royal road to science, and only those who do not dread the fatiguing climb of its steep paths have a chance of gaining its luminous summits."-Karl Marx