30 November 2010

Hegel - Extracts about Being, Essence and Notion

CU Course on Hegel, 05a

Hegel - Extracts about Being, Essence and Notion

This is the halfway point in our course on Hegel. Our mission is to thoroughly study and understand the whole of Hegel’s Logic. How are we getting on?

Thanks to Andy Blunden’s lecture we got an overview of Hegel’s Logic in the previous post. In his next two lectures, Andy returns to the sequence Being-Essence-Notion in more detail.

What have we been doing so far? We have not been reading whole books of Hegel. We are not at the stage where we can, as Tony Buzan would have it, skip over the difficult bits and come back later to fill in the gaps. We are still in the situation where, when reading Hegel, we find that most of it is incomprehensible, and only intelligible in spots, here and there. So we are making a virtue of that, and:

  • We are taking mostly relatively short spots of Hegel, learning how to handle them, and beginning to absorb them, and to become familiar with them.
  • We are also looking for any kind of overview material, including contents pages, as well as material like Andy Blunden’s summarising lecture on Being, Essence and Notion. The overviews will give us clues as to where to locate the small pieces that we are picking up.
  • We are not forgetting, also, that this is the Communist University, and that what we do here is to set things up for live dialogue between real people. We have doneso, and we will continue to do it. It remains for the recipients of these posts to organise their Freirean dialogues around the material.

Today’s main item consists of eleven short extracts from various works of Hegel that are given by Andy Blunden in broad support of his lecture on Being, Essence and Notion. They are from the Shorter Logic, the Philosophy of Right, the Phenomenology, the Science of Logic and the History of Philosophy.

Perhaps this is an appropriate time to make some provisional general remarks.

Hegel describes a movement through history that does not discard the past but treats it as a component part of the present and of the future.

Further: “[Hegel]’s supreme merit, as far as ethics and social and political philosophy are concerned, is that the concrete universal explicates affirmative intersubjective relations and makes possible an account of social institutions that is a third alternative to abstract atomic individualism and collectivist communitarianism.” [Hegel’s Ethics of Recognition, p. 112, Williams 1997]

If all this is so then Hegel has given us a way of seeing life that was not available before, and is better than what was before.

Hegel does not lean on any “a priori”, presupposition, or Prime Mover. Hegel shows how creation of something from nothing is a daily occurrence. It is commonplace, except that nothing is lost, and accumulated quantity will generate qualitative change.

This new vision clarifies things that Euclidean geometry and its logical cousins cannot clarify, or even see at all.

Hegel talks of Spirit, and is classified as an Idealist, and was followed by noisy “materialists” such as Feuerbach.  These and other things, not least of them the shear difficulty of reading Hegel directly, have led people to misunderstand Hegel, who does not oppose the material against the spiritual. On the contrary, Hegel solves the contradiction between material and spiritual.

In Hegel, the human is both the creator, and the created.

“Materialists” think that they have solved the dichotomy of mind and matter by awarding priority to matter. But all this does is to replace a divine creator with an inanimate one, thus perpetuating a “Big Bang” type of theory and continuing to fail to explain creation as a constant, continuing and necessary presence.

In this way “materialists” become a version of what they thought they had overthrown. They continue to lack a strong theory of development, progress, or revolution.

Please download and read this text via the link:

Further reading:

29 November 2010

Being, Essence and Notion

CU Course on Hegel, 05

“Immediacy” - Unselfconscious Being

Being, Essence and Notion

The three divisions of the Logic

Lenin wrote: “It is impossible completely to understand Marx's Capital… without having thoroughly studied and understood the whole of Hegel's Logic.” Our mission, given by Lenin, is therefore to thoroughly study and understand the whole of Hegel’s Logic.

We soon find that there are actually two Logics: The Shorter Logic, and The Science of Logic; but they are similar and are both divided by three main headings:  Being, Essence and Notion.

This time we are going to reverse the order and take Andy Blunden’s lecture as the main item, simply because Andy has done a great job.

There is a movement from Being, through Essence, to Notion. This is not to deny the importance of the argument and the detail, but to say that what distinguishes Hegel’s Logic is that it shows how things develop from nothing to something. It is not a static philosophy of positions and definitions. Nor is it an owners’ manual for the mind.  It is a science of creation, and development. The beginning is Being, which is “immediate” with as yet no past and no future. Hence our illustration of the unselfconscious puppy-dog, above.

The following are extracts from Andy Blunden’s lecture, finishing with a reference back to Marx’s Capital, that may assist readers to get a quick overview of Andy’s overview of Hegel’s “Logic”:

“I should mention here as an aside that all Hegel’s major works have the same structure: he identifies the simple concept or notion which marks the unconditioned starting point for the given science, and then he applies the method, the model for which is given in the Logic, in order to elaborate what is implicit in the given concept; he develops ‘the peculiar internal development of the thing itself.’ 

“So, the Logic begins with a critique of Being, what is contained in the concept of ‘Being’. The Logic is really the study of concepts; so, the Concept is the truth of Being, whilst Being is the Concept still ‘in itself’. The Third Book of the Logic is the Doctrine of the Notion (or Concept which is same thing), that is, the Concept for itself. But in the Doctrine of Being, the Concept is still just ‘in itself’. 

“If there is to be some thing amidst the infinite coming and going, the chaos of existence, the simplest actual thing that can be is a Quality, something that persists amidst change. And if we ask what it is that changes while it remains of the same quality, what changes when the thing still remains what it is, then this is what we call Quantity. But a thing cannot indefinitely undergo quantitative change and remain still what it is, retain the same quality; at some point, a quantitative change amounts to a change in Quality, and this Quantitative change which amounts to a Qualitative change, the unity of Quality and Quantity, we call the Measure of the thing.

“Thus there are three grades of Being: Quality, Quantity and Measure. We apply these categories to things that we regard as objects, the business of the positivist sociologist, the observer. Even a participant in a not yet emergent social change or sociological category, has to play the role of sociologist to be conscious of it. 

“Essence is reflection… When people reflect on things, they do so only with the aid of what they already know. So reflection is a good term. It is new Being, reflected in the mirror of old concepts. It’s like what Marx was talking about in the “Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte”:  

‘The tradition of all dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the brains of the living. And just as they seem to be occupied with revolutionizing themselves and things, creating something that did not exist before, precisely in such epochs of revolutionary crisis they anxiously conjure up the spirits of the past to their service, borrowing from them names, battle slogans, and costumes in order to present this new scene in world history in time-honoured disguise and borrowed language.’ (18th Brumaire, I)

“The third part of the Logic is the Doctrine of the Notion. Notion is a translation of the German word Begriff which is also translated as ‘concept’. 

“The Doctrine of the Notion begins with an abstract notion, and the process of the Notion is that it gets more and more concrete. 

“The first section of the Notion is Subjectivity, or the Subject. And here for the first time we get a glimpse of Hegel’s conception of the subject: it is not an individual person in any sense at all, but a simple element of consciousness arising from social practices which implicate the whole community, reflected in language, the whole social division of labour and so on. 

“The process of the Doctrine of the Notion is the abstract notion becoming more and more concrete. This process of concretization takes place through objectification of subjectivity, that is, through the subject-object relation. The first thing to grasp about the Object, which is the second division of the Doctrine of the Notion, is that the Object may be other Subjects, Subjects which are Objects in relation to the Subject or Subjects which have become thoroughly objectified. Objectification is not limited to the construction of material objects or texts; it’s a bit like ‘mainstreaming’, or being institutionalized. The process of development of the Subject is a striving to transform the Object according to its own image, but in the process the Subject itself is changed and in the process of objectification becomes a part of the living whole of the community.

“The unity of Subject and Object, the third and last grade of the Doctrine of the Notion, is the Idea. The Idea can be understood as the whole community as an intelligible whole, it is the summation of the pure essentialities of a complete historical form of life. It is the logical representation of Spirit, or of the development and life of an entire community, in the form of a concrete concept. 

“So the starting point of a science is the Notion which forms the subject of the science, not Being. This is worth mentioning because there is a widespread fallacy about the relation between Marx’s Capital and Hegel’s Logic. Some writers have put Capital up against the Logic, and in an effort to match them, start by equating the commodity relation with Being, on the basis that the commodity relation is the “simplest relation” or on the basis that the commodity relation is immediate. But the first thing to be done in a science, according to Hegel (and Marx followed Hegel in this), is to form a Notion of the subject, the simplest possible relation whose unfolding produces the relevant science. In the case of Capital, this abstract notion, the germ of capital, is the commodity relation. In the case of the Philosophy of Right, it was the relation of Abstract Right, that is private property. The problem of the origins of value or of the commodity relation is a different question, and Marx demonstrates his familiarity with the Doctrine of Essence in the third section of Chapter One, where the money-form is shown to emerge out of a series of relations constituting historically articulated resolutions of the problem of realizing an expanded division of labour.”

Please download and read this text via the link:

Further reading:

28 November 2010

Preface to the Phenomenology

CU Course on Hegel, 04c

Preface to the Phenomenology

On scientific knowledge

This, the Preface to Hegel’s “Phenomenology” (download linked below) is a full-length, full-strength reading of the difficult man’s own work. It has 72 numbered passages and 21485 words. It is longer than a normal Communist University reading text; the length could possibly be reduced for the next time this course is run.

Why the rush?

This is a good moment to remind readers that our Hegel course is still in creation. It is being sent out on a daily basis, as it is written, whereas in the normal way it would be spread out over ten weeks. The reason for rushing on this occasion is so as to complete the drafting of all CU courses by the end of 2010, so that the full programme can be scheduled for delivery in 2011, and announced before the year-end.

The Hegel course is the last of the full complement of twelve Communist University courses to be put together, and the fourth to have been completed this year. The other three new ones are the African Revolutionary Writers Series; The Classics; and Marx’s “Capital”, Volumes 2 and 3.

There is another consideration informing the timing of this course. Andy Blunden will be visiting South Africa and is to give a public lecture at Wits University in Braamfontein, Johannesburg on 21 February, 2011. The title of the lecture will be “Is Science a Humanity?” Andy is an expert on Hegel, among many other things. His lectures and choices of texts have formed the basis of this course of ours. Andy is also one of the principal drivers of the Marxist Internet Archive (MIA), which has underpinned the entire Communist University project from its beginning in 2003. Without that mighty resource at our disposal, what we have done could not have been done.

The Preface to the Phenomenology

For Hegel’s Phenomenology, MIA gives an Index, a fuller Contents page, the Preface, an Introduction, and the remainder of the work, in numbered passages up to number 808. In the spirit of Tony Buzan, let us show here the contents of the preface, listed within the main Contents but not yet in our downloadable document:

Headings in Hegel’s “Preface to the Phenomenology
Head  #

The element of truth is the Concept and its true form the scientific system
Present position of the spirit
The principle is not the completion; against formalism
The absolute is subject – 
– and what this is
The element of knowledge
The ascent into this is the Phenomenology of the Spirit
The transformation of the notion and the familiar into thought ...
– and this into the Concept/Notion
In what way the Phenomenology of the Spirit is negative or contains what is false
Historical and mathematical truth
The nature of philosophical truth and its method
Against schematizing formalism
The demands of the study of philosophy
Argumentative thinking in its negative attitude ...
... in its positive attitude; its subject
Natural philosophizing as healthy common sense and as genius
Conclusion: the author's relation to the public

This document is given for discussion. Like all the others, this blog-post or covering e-mail message is only intended as an opening to discussion and not as an explanation nor, least of all, as a didactic prescription. What we will do now is to give some short quotations from the document, but first just remark that it becomes clear why Andy Blunden recommends this document, because it contains some quite direct and straightforward statements by Hegel, which may well help us as we go along.

Extracts from Hegel’s “Preface to the Phenomenology

Passage 2

The more the ordinary mind takes the opposition between true and false to be fixed, the more is it accustomed to expect either agreement or contradiction with a given philosophical system, and only to see reason for the one or the other in any explanatory statement concerning such a system. It does not conceive the diversity of philosophical systems as the progressive evolution of truth; rather, it sees only contradiction in that variety.”

“The bud disappears when the blossom breaks through, and we might say that the former is refuted by the latter; in the same way when the fruit comes, the blossom may be explained to be a false form of the plant’s existence, for the fruit appears as its true nature in place of the blossom. These stages are not merely differentiated; they supplant one another as being incompatible with one another.”

But the ceaseless activity of their own inherent nature makes them at the same time moments of an organic unity, where they not merely do not contradict one another, but where one is as necessary as the other; and this equal necessity of all moments constitutes alone and thereby the life of the whole.”

Passage 11

… it is not difficult to see that our epoch is a birth-time, and a period of transition.”

“The spirit of man has broken with the old order of things hitherto prevailing, and with the old ways of thinking, and is in the mind to let them all sink into the depths of the past and to set about its own transformation. It is indeed never at rest, but carried along the stream of progress ever onward.”

“But it is here as in the case of the birth of a child; after a long period of nutrition in silence, the continuity of the gradual growth in size, of quantitative change, is suddenly cut short by the first breath drawn - there is a break in the process, a qualitative change and the child is born.”

Passage 12

“In the same way, science, the crowning glory of a spiritual world, is not found complete in its initial stages.”

Passage 13

“Intelligibility is the form in which science is offered to everyone, and is the open road to it made plain for all. To reach rational knowledge by our intelligence is the just demand of the mind which comes to science.”

Passage 17

“In my view - a view which the developed exposition of the system itself can alone justify everything depends on grasping and expressing the ultimate truth not as Substance but as Subject as well.”

Passage 23

“The need to think of the Absolute as subject, has led men to make use of statements like “God is the eternal”, the “moral order of the world”, or “love”, etc. In such propositions the truth is just barely stated to be Subject, but not set forth as the process of reflectively mediating itself with itself. In a proposition of that kind we begin with the word God. By itself this is a meaningless sound, a mere name; the predicate says afterwards what it is, gives it content and meaning: the empty beginning becomes real knowledge only when we thus get to the end of the statement. So far as that goes, why not speak alone of the eternal, of the moral order of the world, etc., or, like the ancients, of pure conceptions such as being, the one, etc., i.e. of what gives the meaning without adding the meaningless sound at all?”

Passage 27

“It is this process by which science in general comes about, this gradual development of knowing, that is set forth here in the Phenomenology of Mind. Knowing, as it is found at the start, mind in its immediate and primitive stage, is without the essential nature of mind, is sense-consciousness. To reach the stage of genuine knowledge, or produce the element where science is found - the pure conception of science itself - a long and laborious journey must be undertaken. This process towards science, as regards the content it will bring to light and the forms it will assume in the course of its progress, will not be what is primarily imagined by leading the unscientific consciousness up to the level of science: it will be something different, too, from establishing and laying the foundations of science; and anyway something else than the sort of ecstatic enthusiasm which starts straight off with absolute knowledge, as if shot out of a pistol...”

As much as Hegel is usually careful never to give an impression of summarising his work, yet here in this Preface are many statements of a rather concrete nature.

Please download and read this text via the link:

Further reading:

27 November 2010

Use Your Head

CU Course on Hegel, 04b

A Buzan-type Mind-Map

Use Your Head

Tony Buzan is not an overtly political author and may be little different from a “motivational speaker”, but his work has helped millions of students and it has always been part on the Communist University’s “recommended” list. A downloadable file of our “Conspectus” of Buzan’s book “Use Your Head” is linked below.

While we have always stressed the apparently apolitical intentions of the author of this practical manual of study, yet its attraction for us may be that it does, in fact, correspond very well with our Marxist philosophy and also with Marxism’s Hegelian roots.

So let us explore that. But first, let us revise Tony Buzan’s advice. Hegel’s books are generally agreed to be among the most difficult ever written. If ever we needed Tony Buzan, it is now.

Reading, memorising and note-taking, the Tony Buzan way

Buzan places practical means and methods in the hands of students who are faced with the most extremely difficult books to read and understand. “Use Your Head” was published in 1974. In 2004, your VC made a “Conspectus” of the book. Note that this word, conspectus, is a favourite of Lenin’s. It means a “seeing together”. It means the same as “synopsis”. It is something like “overview”, which is a term that Buzan uses.

Much faster reading can be achieved by applying a better understanding of how reading physically happens, by doing away with a number of wrong ideas, and by applying a few useful techniques.

Much better memory of what is learned can be achieved by taking more breaks and by doing more short reviews of the learned material.

Much more useful notes can be taken if the Buzan “mind-map” technique (see the illustration above) is used. All of these things are briefly explained in the main linked download below, and in Buzan’s books which are still widely available.

The Buzan Organic Study Method

The Buzan Organic Study Method is a set of prescriptions that work together very well indeed. Particularly important are The Browse, the planning (i.e. Time and Amount), Overview, Preview, Review, looking for and using summaries/conclusions/reading from the back, and the advice on Difficult Sections, which is:

“Moving on from a difficult area releases the tension and mental floundering that often accompanies the traditional approach. ‘Jumping over’ a stumbling block usually enables the reader to go back to it later on with more information from the ‘other side’. The block itself is seldom essential for the understanding of that which follows it.” It is easier to fill in a hole if you are working from both sides – the far side as well as the near side. This is particularly good advice when dealing with a difficult writer like G W F Hegel.

Buzan the Hegelian?

Now let us look again at Tony Buzan with Hegelian Marxist eyes.

What is a Mind-Map? It is a representation of the ascent from the abstract to the concrete. This is a key Hegelian idea and is especially important for the matter we are pursuing in response to Lenin, which is the alleged impossibility of understanding Marx’s “Capital” without good knowledge of Hegel.

Later we are going to see that the Soviet Philosopher Evald Ilyenkov wrote an entire book about the ascent from the abstract to the concrete in Marx’s “Capital”. Tony Buzan may well be innocent of any association with this idea, but his “mind-maps” are perfect representations of it.

Secondly, consider this about Buzan’s “Organic Study Method”. Yes, it is organic – a good, humanist and Marxist word. But more than that it resembles Hegel’s work in the following way: it proceeds but does not arrive. If you are looking for a main event, or a final conclusion, you do not find it in the Buzan Organic Study Method. Is Buzan a closet dialectician?

As Andy Blunden puts it, describing the thought of Hegel: The Idea is a process. Whether by accident or by conscious design, Tony Buzan’s method fits in very well with Hegel.

Please download and read this text via the link:

Further reading: