30 September 2011

The Subject Matter of the Logic


CU Course on Hegel, Part 4a

The Subject Matter of the Logic

We will come to Tony Buzan in the next instalment of this part of our course on Hegel, but let us also consult him briefly here, before we look at Andy Blunden’s lecture on “The Subject Matter of the Logic” (download linked below). Buzan wrote:

“One of the interesting facts about people using study books is that most, when given a new text, start reading on page one. It is not advisable to start reading a new study text on the first page . . .

“What is essential in a reasonable approach to study texts, especially difficult ones, is to get a good idea of what’s in them before plodding on into a learning catastrophe . . . [in other words to find out quickly what the text is about]

“What this means in a study context is that you should scour the book for all the material not included in the regular body of the print. . . Areas of the book to be covered in your overview include:

table of contents
marginal notes
capitalised words
back cover

Never did we need more clues of this kind than when studying Hegel. In this regard we can return to Lenin. A facsimile of page 100 of Lenin’s notebook for “Conspectus of Hegel’s book The Science of Logic” is given above. Although Lenin uses only one colour and no illustrations, yet his notes do quite resemble one of Tony Buzan’s “mind maps”, as we shall see.

It was in this work that Lenin wrote “It is impossible completely to understand Marx's Capital, and especially its first chapter, without having thoroughly studied and understood the whole of Hegel's Logic. Consequently, half a century later none of the Marxists understood Marx!!” 

In the very next note, Lenin wrote: “Hegel actually proved that logical forms and laws are not an empty shell, but the reflection of the objective world. More correctly, he did not prove, but made a brilliant guess.” This is a good clue and it corresponds to part of what Andy Blunden has to say, as we will see.

Our wonderful resource, the Marxists Internet Archive, has kindly listed, with hyperlinks, Lenin’s Philosophical Notebooks on a single web page; and this is a good moment to remember that Andy Blunden’s terrific, fully browsable “Hegel by Hypertext” is also part of the same Marxists’ archive.

Andy’s Blunden’s lecture on the Subject Matter of the Logic

This lecture was given in 2007 as part of the on-going Australian Hegel Summer Schools. It is readable (but do please skip what you don’t understand). From it we can get certain strong clues about Hegel.

One is that Hegel treats sciences as thoughts thinking themselves. His logic is not a single key that can be applied to every kind of thing. He finds that each science thinks in its own way. It follows that his logic is a much more exhaustive work of moving through the entire field of knowledge, describing what is to be found there as a natural history of “second nature”. What he seeks to understand is how thought, (science) can arise without “presupposition”, otherwise called “a priori”, given or innate understanding.

Now may be a good time to think again about Marx’s “Capital” in this context. Marx’s quest (pursued from the 1840s, and finished in the late 1850s, after which “Capital” Volume 1 was composed and published in 1867) was also for one thing, and quite a similar thing: Marx’s quest was for “the secret of the self-increase of capital”.

Both men were looking to explain something that came from nothing; Hegel as a philosopher, for science in all cases; Marx for the phenomenon of the new ruler of the world: capital.

Contrary to what some of Marx’s followers (including at times, Lenin) have said to the effect that he had discovered a key to understand the world, Marx’s three actual volumes of “Capital” turn out to be analogous to Hegel’s, in that there is no single key that opens all doors, but actually many keys that have to be found. As with Hegel, much of what is found by Marx is thoroughly “counter-intuitive” as we would say these days. In other words, what is obvious is not always true, and what is found is not to be corrected to fit preconceptions. “Consistency” is not usual, and has no logical, let alone moral, force.

Specificity matters. History matters. Logic is not independent of its content and its history. Hegel and Marx are at one to this extent. Specificity is never lost, even though the essence of logic is movement, or development, and the developing logic is what Hegel, for want of a better word, calls Spirit.

We are not ready for closure yet. We may never be, with Hegel. But one thing we could derive from what we can see so far is to say that development is the essence of society, and is not something that is done to society, or that society does when it is not sleeping. Development is not an option. It is never absent. There is only development, and nothing else. If we are not developing towards heaven, then we are developing towards hell. “Those not busy being born are busy dying,” as one of Bob Dylan’s songs says.

Andy Blunden wrote a whole book on the Meaning of Hegel’s Logic, available free on MIA. Another very helpful work of Andy’s is Getting to know Hegel. The latter is an Appendix to Andy’s great work-in-progress book on “The Subject”. This man is helping us!

Please download and read this text via the link:

Further reading:

29 September 2011

The Logic


CU Course on Hegel, Part 4

The Logic

Some academics try to illustrate Hegel with diagrams, like the one above. They don’t help very much. The following one is supposed to represent the scheme of Hegel’s “Encyclopaedia”, as if it was the world represented by an unfamiliar projection:

What this diagram suggests, among other things, is that Hegel’s headings (or constructs) are not eclectic or random, but do form part of an organic, or concrete, whole, as you would expect from the one who bequeathed “The Ascent from the Abstract to the Concrete” to Marx and Engels. Here below is another diagram, allegedly showing Hegel’s “11 forms of dialectic”. We must resist the temptation to reduce Hegel to the level of a corporate inspirational speaker. But we may be reassured to know that Hegel’s dialectical concerns (e.g. Unity and Struggle of Opposites; Particular and General; Being and Nothingness; Form and Content; Cause and Effect) are not infinite in number, but are actually quite few.

At least it is reassuring to be able to feel that such organic-seeming totalisations of Hegel as the above two-dimensional diagrams are possible. It is also useful to be shown that Hegel’s system is not the relentless march of the triads that the diagram at the top and some of its variations are apt to suggest. The shape is neither even, nor symmetrical. Hegel’s thought is not strained. It takes its own shape.

The indistinctness of the diagrams is not a big problem at this stage. We would not want to take them too literally or to trust them too much. They are not Hegel’s work and the present distance from where we are now to the point of being able to check the diagrams against Hegel’s actual work is long. It would require us to read and internally digest several of the most difficult books ever written, on the way.

But we don’t need to do all that. Marx is going to straighten out Hegel for us, anyway. What we need is enough of Hegel so as to fully understand Marx, in keeping with the task set for us by Lenin*. Lenin says: If you don’t have Hegel, or at least his “Logic”, then you don’t have Marx. We are going to get sufficient of Hegel in this course so as to have our Marx on a firm foundation.

The way we will begin this part is with a few spots that we will locate and explore. They will be tiny in relation to the whole but they will furnish is with some reference points, as well as begin to make us used to the great man’s style.

At the end of this part, we will take a very much larger portion of Hegel for reading. We must not have a course where we end up still being virgins in relation to the works of the main writer that we are studying. In between, we will look at what Andy Blunden has written about Hegelian Logic and also try to get some assistance from Communist University standby Tony Buzan. So there will be four instalments altogether within this fourth part of our course on Hegel.

So in this instalment we are using a compilation of four short extracts from Hegel’s Logic and The Shorter Logic (see the link to the download, below). Hegel’s work is usually divided into numbered passages (not always single paragraphs) that are usually given a sign such as § or φ.

Andy’s first given quotation is §62 from The Science of Logic. Hegel is saying that negation leads lower forms of consciousness to a higher form of consciousness. He says that for science it is therefore necessary to be able to see that the negative is as good as the positive, and that negation is what moves things on to a result; and that a result is not an “immediacy”, where immediacy is simple, latent, unmoved being.

Hegel is writing of the common consciousness and therefore of science, and this view of science is the one that Marxism has.

Andy’s second quotation is §121 from The Science of Logic. This is the famous Hegel! This is the Hegel that drives people crazy, or makes them to think that Hegel is crazy. But Hegel, contrary to what appears, is not wasting time. To say that being is nothingness is the beginning of finding out what has substance, and how human beings are able on a daily basis to create, God-like, something out of nothing.

Andy’s third Quotation is §133 from The Shorter Logic, where Hegel is writing of Form and Content, as a struggle of opposites that define each other and constantly change places. Perhaps this is a good time to remember that this Communist University is not a didactic, but rather a dialogic University, and so to refrain from trying to “define” everything, but instead to leave the door open for discussion. Asikhulime!

Andy’s last quotation, §160-1 from The Shorter Logic, is about The Notion, and brings at last what is Hegel’s special gift to posterity, something we need right now in South Africa, which is a revelation of the nature of this thing called Development.

Because dialectic is not a magic for itself, but it is an understanding of development, and how humans develop themselves as humanity. And this is what we need to know.

Please download and read this text via the link:

Further reading:

* “It is impossible completely to understand Marx's Capital, and especially its first chapter, without having thoroughly studied and understood the whole of Hegel's Logic. Consequently, half a century later none of the Marxists understood Marx!!” – Lenin

27 September 2011

‘Critique of Pure Reason’


CU Course on Hegel, 03c

‘Critique of Pure Reason’

With Immanuel Kant, we will need some word-definitions. “Empirical” means sensed or found; a priori means first, or before; a posteriori means after.

The Introduction to Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason (download linked below) is a “propaedeutic”, which is another word for introduction, or preliminary course. An “organon” is the whole course, or the whole work. “Hume” is David Hume, a Scottish philosopher.

Right at the beginning, Kant is trying to persuade his reader that although things are learned by experience, yet it is possible to have known something before. This is a clear self-contradiction of Kant’s, but he insists on it. He continues:

“In what follows… we shall understand by a priori knowledge, not knowledge independent of this or that experience, but knowledge absolutely independent of all experience. Opposed to it is empirical knowledge, which is knowledge possible only a posteriori, that is, through experience.”

Kant then claims that the a priori knowledge is by nature collective, or in other words social, knowledge.

The source of collective consciousness is a matter of great interest to revolutionaries. Kant says it is already there. Few revolutionaries will agree with Kant.

Kant then prays for a science which will classify the details and describe the extent of a priori human knowledge, of which he says, in conclusion, that the first part will be “the transcendental doctrine of sensibility.”

Are we any the wiser? At least we have this much: That Kant tried to have his cake and eat it. He wanted to have unreasonable reason. He wanted reason without a source or origin. Later, he even wanted religion that would be “within the limits of reason”. Also, he wanted to create a taxonomy of “antinomies”. That is a list or catalogue of things that contradicted each other, as if to list them would excuse them.

Kant seems to be rehearsing and trying to legitimate the bourgeoisie’s necessary (for them) habit of believing two contradictory things at the same time, or, which amounts to the same thing, taking possession of all arguments and pretending that they all support the bourgeois position.

Part of this mental trickery is to endlessly categorise things. See the above cartoon, which can also be found in “Philosophy for Beginners”, by Richard Osborne, a very helpful illustrated manual. According to Osborne’s book, one of Kant’s slogans was: “Purposiveness without purpose.” How pathetic!

Altogether, Kant appears like the fore-runner of the typical modern bourgeois journalist or “analyst”. He can march the reader up the hill, and march the reader down again, purposively, but without purpose.

In this regard, please note that from the very first line, Kant is referring to “our” and “we”. But who is this “we”? It is an a priori “we”. It is a “we” that always pretends to be class-neutral, but is not in fact class-neutral. It is a “we” that does not willingly reveal its nature. It hides.

So long as the world is Kantian, so long does in remain in the tiresome hands of “analysts”.

Back to Hegel

If Hegel is at all heroic, it must be partly for this: that Hegel refuses Kant, and thereby rescues philosophy from Kant’s dreadful pedantry. Hegel seeks to build a knowledge of the common, collective consciousness from history, by a process that can be understood, and observed, as a unity and struggle of opposites, or in other words dialectic.

Andy Blunden calls this man-made collective world of understanding “second nature”. This is the social environment, where the physical environment external to human beings is “first nature”.

Hegel opens the door that Kant keeps shut. It is the door to honest class-consciousness, which when open, reveals the road to revolutionary thought. It was Marx and Engels who realised this potential in Hegel’s philosophy. Conversely, understanding Hegel (as Lenin pointed out*) is going to help us to understand Marx. And that is our goal: Not Hegel for Hegel’s sake, but Hegel for the sake of understanding Marx, Engels, and everything that followed.

Please download and read this text via the link:

Further reading:

* “It is impossible completely to understand Marx's Capital, and especially its first chapter, without having thoroughly studied and understood the whole of Hegel's Logic. Consequently, half a century later none of the Marxists understood Marx!!” - Lenin

25 September 2011

Hegel, Phenomenology and Kant


CU Course on Hegel, 03b

Hegel, Phenomenology and Kant

Andy Blunden’s second lecture contains this useful passage:

“Most writers interpret Hegel by importing into their reading of Hegel Kant’s concept of subject. This is wrong. Now it is true that on occasion, especially when he is commenting on Kant, Hegel does use the word ‘subject’ in the Kantian sense, that is to say, as meaning an individual, an individual adult citizen, to be a little more precise. This is invariably the sense in which the Kantian subject is used today, and the same sense is usually, rather kaleidoscopically, read into Hegel. Normally, Hegel simply uses the word ‘person’ to convey this meaning. For Hegel, ‘subject’ is not a philosophical synonym for ‘person’. It is really important to remember this. 

“The word subject went through some transformations since the Romans translated Aristotle, particularly with Descartes, but the core idea that Kant has imparted with the word is the coincidence of three things: the cogito of Descartes, the bearer of ideas and knowledge, the idea of self-determining agent who bears moral responsibility for their actions, and identity or self-consciousness. All three of these entities coincide in the Kantian subject, and Hegel is true to this concept, but it is not an individual person.

“The individual is just a single atom of the whole entity constituted by the collective activity of the community as a whole. Of course, nothing other than an individual human being can think or bear moral responsibility for actions, but they cannot do so as isolated atoms; the content of our thinking is thought-objects which are constituted by the activity of the entire community and past generations. And our actions are vain and meaningless except insofar as they take on significance through the relation of the individual to the whole community. The point is, how to elaborate this idea of thought and moral responsibility as collective activities, and at the same time develop the conception of individuality which constitutes the essence of modern society.

“In the “System of Ethical Life,” Hegel approached the question of labour not so much from the standpoint of how individuals acquire knowledge, as how the universal, that is, a culture, is constructed. At the basic level, people work with plants, and then animals, and then machinery, and in doing so produce crops, herds and means of production which are passed on to future generations. Likewise, in using words the language is maintained and developed and passed on to future generations, and finally, in abstracting the knowledge of culture and imparting it to a new generation in the raising of children, people are constructing and maintaining their ‘second nature’, the universals which are the content of all thought. When an individual thinks, they think with universals actively maintained by and meaningful only within their community.

“So to provide an adequate concept of the subject, Hegel has to let go of the idea of an individual locus of experience, with access to universal principles of Reason existing in some fictional hyperspace on one side, and on the other side, unknowable things-in-themselves. The content of experience is thought objects which have been constructed by collective activity…”

What we are therefore gaining here, from Hegel, is a philosophy that can reckon with the collective subject, or what Marx and Engels referred to in the last paragraphs of the second part of the Communist Manifesto as a “vast association of the whole nation”. This is a democracy not as formality or mechanism, but as collective consciousness manifest as fact.

There is no possibility of communism without a conception of this kind.

In the same part of the Manifesto, Marx and Engels wrote that in the “vast association”, the “free development of each [would be] the condition for the free development of all”. The individual subject is not excluded. On the contrary, the individual subject is the basic building-block of society. There is no society without individuals. But what we have, as well, is the collective, social subject.

What we get with Hegel, it seems, and we must confirm this with more reading of the original texts, is the first philosophical treatment of the collective that is not merely presumptuous and declaratory of its existence. We get a working model of the collective subject, and we get a description of how the collective consciousness is formed, and how it is maintained.

Let us finish off this instalment with a direct quotation from one of Hegel’s predecessors - the great Spinoza - and in the last instalment of this third part of the course, look again at some of Kant’s original writing. Then we will follow Andy Blunden’s route through Hegel for three more parts, until we come back to look at some of Hegel’s successors, such as Marx, Lenin, and Ilyenkov.

Here is Spinoza:

“As far as the 'method for finding out the truth' is concerned, 'the matter stands on the same footing as the making of material tools.... For, in order to work iron, a hammer is needed, and the hammer cannot be forthcoming unless it has been made; but, in order to make it, there was need of another hammer and other tools, and so on to infinity. We might thus vainly endeavour to prove that men have no power of working iron.

“But as men at first made use of the instruments supplied by nature to accomplish very easy pieces of workmanship, laboriously and imperfectly, and then, when these were finished, wrought other things more difficult with less labour and greater perfection. . . . So, in like manner, the intellect, by its native strength, makes for itself intellectual instruments, whereby it acquires strength for performing other intellectual operations, and from these operations gets again fresh instruments, or the power of pushing its investigations further, and thus gradually proceeds till it reaches the summit of wisdom.”

B. de Spinoza (1632-1677)
Improvement of the Understanding, Ethics and Correspondence

Picture: an anarchist ant.

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Further reading:

24 September 2011

The Young Hegel and what drove him


CU Course on Hegel, 03a

Hegel and Napoleon Bonaparte, Jena, 1806

The Young Hegel and what drove him

Now that we have struggled with some of Hegel’s own words we may as well take advantage of some of Andy Blunden’s illuminating scholarship. See the download linked below for the first of Comrade Andy’s set of ten lectures on Hegel, called by him “The young Hegel and what drove him”.

Andy sketches the world of Hegel, corresponding in time with the first (English) Industrial Revolution, containing the Great French Revolution, and extending to the bourgeois military conquests of Napoleon Bonaparte. Hegel actually saw Bonaparte in the streets of Jena in 1806. Hegel admired Bonaparte, and called him “The World Spirit on horseback”. “World Spirit” did not mean God.

Andy Blunden points out that in an age of liberals, Hegel was not a liberal. Andy’s remarks correspond with Christopher Caudwell’s “On Liberty”, where Caudwell points out that men without institutions are mere brutes. (“Unfortunately not only is man not good without institutions, he is not evil either. He is no man at all; he is neither good nor evil; he is an unconscious brute.”)

Andy Blunden says: “There is some basis for associating Hegel with notions of progress and a ‘cultural evolution’ in which all the people of the world are subsumed into a single narrative”. We must look to see if it is really with Hegel that the idea of one human history, and “one race - the human race” arrives.  In a work like Engels’ “Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State”, written a little over half a century after the death of Hegel, and indeed in the “Communist Manifesto” of 1848, the idea of a single human revolutionary history is strong.

Lastly, Andy Blunden introduces Hegel’s “The Spirit”. Read about it and leave it to bed down in the mind. But note this passage of Andy’s (shortened):

“One of the difficulties that Hegel had to overcome was the problem of dualism… Kant’s philosophy got around mind-matter dualism at the cost of introducing a host of other such dichotomies and it was the need to overcome these dichotomies in Kant’s philosophy which was one of the main drivers for Kant’s critics [including] Hegel. For Hegel, it was all thought. We will presently come to how Hegel arrived at difference from this abstract beginning, but the idea of thought, of Spirit, shaping the world, served as a foundation upon which to build a philosophical system… Thinking [is] the activity of the human mind, but the content of that thinking is objective, it is given from outside the individual, it is the individual’s ‘second nature’. The objects around us and which are the content of our perception and thoughts are the objectifications of the thought of other people, or ourselves. We live in a world not of matter, but of thought objects, which are, like all objects, also material things.”

Here is a hyperlinked list of main Works of Hegel in English:

The German Constitution, 1798-1802 (HPW) Ø

Introduction to The Critical Journal of Philosophy, with Schelling (1801) Ø

Faith & Knowledge (1802) Ø

System of Ethical Life (1802-3) Ø

Realphilosophie I (1803-4) & II (1805-6) Ø 

Phenomenonology of Spirit (1807) Ø
The Science of Logic Ø
Part I: The Doctrine of Being (1812)
Part II: The Doctrine of Essence (1813)
Part III: The Doctrine of the Notion (1816)

Encyclopaedia of the Philosophical Sciences (1817 & revised up till his death in 1831)
Part I: The Logic  Ø
Part II: The Philosophy of Nature Ø
Part III: The Philosophy of Mind
1 Subjective Spirit Ø
2 Objective Spirit  Ø
3 Absolute Spirit

The Philosophy of Right, 1821 Ø

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Further reading:

22 September 2011

Young Hegel, Phenomenology, Consciousness and Kant


CU Course on Hegel, 03

Young Hegel, Phenomenology, Consciousness and Kant

Our first two parts of our ten-part Hegel series are behind us. Starting now, and for the next five parts, we are going to track Andy Blunden’s prepared course of lectures on Hegel.

But rather than leading with Andy’s writings, we will take the excerpts from Hegel that have been chosen by Andy, compile them together, and treat them as our main discussion text. This will be in keeping with our long-time Communist University way of doing things, whereby we privilege the original writings of our subject, and discuss them.

We will mostly take Andy’s good texts as further, additional, optional or alternative reading. Today’s main discussion texts are two, linked below.

The first consists of five short quotations from Hegel and one from Immanuel Kant. More light may be cast upon them below, and in Andy Blunden’s writings, to follow.


As much as the world that Marx entered was a Hegelian world, so just as much was the world that Hegel, born 1770, a Kantian one. Kant was approaching fifty when Hegel was born. Kant was still going strong when Hegel published his first attempt to create a concrete and comprehensive philosophical system, the System of Ethical Life (1802).

Kant lived a long, respectable and orderly life in Königsberg (now Kaliningrad, Russia), the capital of the major German power of his time, Prussia. Kant said that things (phenomena) cannot be known. The “thing-in-itself” (ding-an-sich) is unknowable, according to Kant. Having evaded the basic question of philosophy in this way (i.e. the relationship of mind to matter), Kant freed himself to improvise an elaborate ad hoc bourgeois moral code, and he achieved an unparalleled authority in his lifetime.

Hegel said, in effect: Yes, things cannot altogether be known. But what we see is what we can know, and what we are able to see and to know is what we are, as humans. What we are able to see and to know is also something that develops. The way that it develops can be known, and is in fact dialectical.

In this way, Hegel rescued humanism from the arbitrariness, and the eclecticism, of the eighteenth-century encyclopaedists (e.g. Diderot), the romantics (e.g. Rousseau), the empiricists (e.g. Hume) and the so-called idealists such as Kant. We can argue about what Hegel meant by “Spirit” and “Idea” later, but what we can note here is the nature of the undoubted movement from Kant via Hegel to Marx.

Hegel restored the relationship of Subject and Object as it had been understood by Spinoza and the earlier rational humanists, but now rooted it in a systematic and especially a dynamic understanding, so that it could eventually become, in Marx’s hands, a full theory of change, and therefore a revolutionary theory.

The Master-Slave relationship

The second main downloadable linked text today is the famous Master-Slave passage from Hegel’s “Phenomenology”, which we must read, if only so as to discount it and put it aside.

We have already cautioned ourselves about this passage, which in the 20th century, in the hands of Alexandre Kojève, Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir took on a populist life of its own as a reversion to anti-humanist static relationships and the vulgar reification of “The Other”, which what we have called “The Fake Other”.

For the purposes of this course we are from now on going to put this passage behind us, and proceed, as directed by Lenin, to comprehend Hegel’s “Logic” as best we can, the better to understand Marx’s “Capital”. In this matter we can usefully preview what Andy Blunden is going to have to say:

“Some interpretations of Hegel take as their point of departure the master-servant relation, §§178-196 of the Phenomenology. Very broadly speaking, those Hegelians who take this relation as their essential Hegel and those who take the Logic as their essential Hegel form two almost mutually exclusive schools of thought. What is special about the master-servant relation is that it is an apparently unmediated relation lacking any third point to mediate the relation. On the other hand, the Logic, along with the entirety of Hegel’s works, is all about mediation. It is really impossible to read the Logic from the standpoint of unmediated relations, and in fact, outside of that one passage of about 19 paragraphs, it is impossible to read any of Hegel’s work without making central the relation of mediation. And in any case, the master-servant relation is about how two subjects still somehow manage to mediate their relation even when there is no third party or common language or law to mediate the relation for them.”

The Master-Slave relation is an interesting metaphor and a small part of Hegel, but it is not the whole or principle Hegel.

Please download and read this text via the link:

Further reading:

19 September 2011

Introduction to the System of Ethical Life


CU Course on Hegel, Part 2b

Introduction to the System of Ethical Life

Here follows an approach to Hegel:

In the ancient world of the Greeks and the Romans, and in the Italian Renaissance, there was a Humanism that saw humanity as creating itself in the process of interaction with the external, physical world (in other words: through labour).

In philosophical terminology, this is the interaction between the human Subject and the Objective world. It generates the study of the relation between Mind and Matter, which has been the fundamental question of Philosophy in all eras.

Rational Humanism has always been challenged by more-or-less superstitious belief-systems. So, for example, the Humanists of the Italian Renaissance were overtaken by Platonists and Mannerists and the mystical Counter-Reformation.

The Italian Renaissance was followed by its mostly Protestant, North European equivalent, usually called “The Enlightenment”. Humanists of the Enlightenment such as Descartes and Spinoza were later contradicted by romantics such as Rousseau and Kant.

Hegel came into a Kantian world, wherein Kant was, in his own words, the “Critic of Pure Reason”. Kant wanted a way around pure reason. Kant wanted a license, or permission, to be irrational, or just lazy. Kant wanted to escape the most difficult questions. Kant wanted a short cut.

To recover philosophy from Kant’s cop-out, Hegel did not go back to a static vision of the Human Subject, whether individual or social, facing an objective wilderness that must be tamed.

Hegel shows more than that. Hegel shows that the Objective universe is really an observed universe, and is in that sense a Human creation. As much as it has objective existence separate from humans, yet what defines it is not that alone, but also the attention that it gets from humans. The Objective Universe is that-which-is-known, as well as that-which-is-other.

In the Introduction to “The System of Ethical Life” (download linked below) Hegel uses two terms in his first sentence, the meaning of which we need to note. “Intuition” means sense-perception. “Concept” means knowledge. “Perfect adequacy between intuition and concept” means that what is sensed is known. What is felt, is understood. When sense and understanding correspond, then we have what Hegel calls “The Idea”.

“But because they [Intuition and Concept] are then held apart from one another in an equation as its two sides, they are afflicted with a difference.” They must exchange their qualities. They do not remain separate. They develop,

“But what is truly the universal is intuition, while what is truly particular is the absolute concept. Thus each must be posited over against the other, now under the form of particularity, again under the form of universality; now intuition must be subsumed under the concept and again the concept under intuition.”

And so on. There is movement.

The word “subsumed” is typically Hegelian, and it carries over into Marxism.

We strive to understand these three paragraphs. What we can see is that Hegel is describing, not merely a static relation of Subject and Object, but a development of the relationship such that the opposing terms can change places, or one can be subsumed under the other, but their union, perfect or not, does not negate their identity. A simple relation is not perfect. There is more. The last line of the Introduction says:

“Or in this way the identity of the particular (i.e., the side onto which the intuition has now stepped) with the universal is determined as an imperfect unification or as a relation between the two.”

It may be better not to strain to understand such passages. It may be better to leave them open, so that meaning can accumulate around them as we look at more of Hegel’s output over the remaining eight parts of this course. As much as this is simply good study practice (e.g. as advocated by Tony Buzan), yet patiently deriving meaning from incomplete or "broken" data is also very Hegelian.

Please download and read this text via the link:

Further reading:

17 September 2011

The Fake “Other”


CU Course on Hegel, Part 2a

The Fake “Other”

The fundamental question of philosophy is the relation between human and environment, or in other words, between mind and matter, or in philosophical terms, between Subject and Object.

Some philosophers, including the so-called “Post-Modernists” of our times, have considered that humans are products of circumstances, or effects of chemical processes, and do not have free will. In this view, human society is driven by forces outside its own consciousness, and beyond its control. These philosophers have consequently sometimes declared “The Death of the Subject”, as if to say that all ideas of free will, and of the conscious, self-propelling human development know as Humanism, are out of date now; and this view suits the bourgeois class at this time.

James Heartfield’s 2002 book “The ‘Death of the Subject’ explained” deals with many different anti-Humanist theories and concludes:

“Like Mark Twain’s death, reports of the ‘Death of the Subject’ are exaggerated. They have to be. The fulcrum point on which society turns is the freely willing subject. For all of the attempts to imagine a world without subjects, but only processes and objective forces, no developed society is conceivable without rationally choosing individuals at its core.”

In our study of G W F Hegel we will have to return to the question of the relation between the Subject and the Object, because it is central to Hegel’s contribution to philosophy in general and to Marxism in particular. Hegel took this relation and made it dialectical; in other words, he showed how its development happens.

But for the time being we are still concerned with what Hegel is not, and we will use Chapter 3 of Heartfield’s book (a downloadable file is linked below) to show why the by-now-commonplace concept of “The Other”, which appears in newspaper and magazine articles all the time, should not be attributed to Hegel, as much as Hegel does write about “the other” in his books.

Hegel’s other is another other, and this can be seen from Heartfield’s writing. Heartfield gives the 20th-century history of this confusion, and he is not the only writer to have done so.

The vulgar concept of “The Other” is a fixed, alien and threatening presence, real or imagined. In this imaginary framework, individuals and societies are believed to have their behaviour affected by fear of “The Other”, perhaps unjustly. So for example, in the example of Edward Said’s “Orientalism” that Heartfield begins with, Said’s complaint is found to be that the Muslims are wrongly treated as “Other”, when they are not actually “Other”. The Muslims are unjustly “Other”-ised, according to Said.

From a philosophical point of view Said could have better held that there is no such thing as “The Other” in this fixed sense.

Heartfield then goes further back to show that the origin of the concept of “unbridgeable opposition between Self and Other” is Paris, France, in the 1930s and 1940s, in the persons of Alexandre Kojève, Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir, among others. Kojève imported and popularized a fake version of Hegel’s philosophy, and it took on a life of its own, even penetrating down to popular bourgeois journalism.

We will look at Hegel’s writing, including the famous Master-Slave dialectic, and we will see that, as with Ubuntu, the Hegelian Self and Other are not in “unbridgeable” opposition but are instead intimately linked, to the extent that they are the condition for each other’s development.

Please download and read this text via the link:

Further reading: