Kant (and Hegel) as Background for Marx

Kant and Hegel as Background to Marx:
Part I, Kant on Speculative Reason
The point here is to provide the student with a sense of the nature of the philosophical and political world within which Marx worked. To make sense of Marx*s solutions to theoretical and practical problems we must understand what he thought the nature of the problems was. To see Marx from the perspective of English empiricism is to fail to comprehend the radically different approach from which nineteenth century German philosophers worked. In this context it is important to recognize that in the nineteenth century Germany was in many ways the center of the philosophical world.
The major point of German philosophy, in distinction from British empiricism, is to see the world not as some finished whole whose laws can be described to make sense of the accidental conjunction of events that constitutes history, but ,as Engels says in describing Hegel’s view in which:
for the first time the whole world, natural, historical, intellectual, is represented as process, i.e., as in constant motion, change, transformation, development; and the attempt is made to trace out the internal connection that makes a continuous whole of all this movement. and development. From this point of view the history of mankind no longer appeared as a wild whirl of senseless deeds of violence, all equally condemnable at the judgment—seat of mature philosophic reason and which are best forgotten as quickly as possible, but as the process of evolution of man himself. It was now the task of the intellect to follow the gradual march of this process through all its devious ways, and to trace out the inner law running through all its apparently accidental phenomena­ (Socialism:Scientific and Utopian, as reproduced in Tucker, p.697.]
It is not correct to see this as simply different from the empiricist view-it was explicitly developed by Kant as a rejection of Hume*s philosophical arguments. The empiricist view with roots in Hobbes and Locke suggested that our sense impressions give us knowledge of the way the world is. Hume accepts this notion and points out that a thorough analysis of its implications shows that we cannot know many things that we have thought we could. Hume is remembered by Anglo-American thinkers largely for his argument that no series of “is” statements can logically produce an “ought conclusion. But his epistemological questioning of the foundations for our knowledge of cause and effect relations is often passed over. For Kant, Hume’s work produced a major revelation; he says that it was the challenge of David Hume that “first interrupted my dogmatic slumber” (Prolegomena to Any Future Metaphysics in Friedrick, 45)
Thus it is essential to get a brief understanding of Hume’s argument.
Basically Hume claims that we can never observe necessary relations between two events. We can see that one billiard ball moves to a position next to another one and that the second one then moves as well. But we cannot observe that ball a “caused ball b to move.” There is nothing in our observations that can warrant us in alleging that future conjunctions of events will produce the same result. True to his own basically conservative cast Hume resolves all of this in terms of the notion of “conventions” that are useful fictions without foundation in knowledge of the underlying realities of events. Kant, however, moved in a fundamentally different direction.
Kant alleges that an understanding of Hume’s argument shows us that the whole project of philosophy has been misdirected. Hume has shown us that there is nothing that we can observe in the universe that will justify our claim that every event has a cause. Hume thinks that this casts doubt upon whether we know that indeed every event does have one. For Kant it is clear that we know that every event has a cause even though Hume is right to point out that we cannot obtain such knowledge from observation of the world. What this suggests is that we must find some other basic foundation for our knowledge than an examination of the character of the underlying noumenal structure of the universe. All that we can observe are phenomena and it is true that through such observation we can never obtain knowledge of necessary relations, only of contingent ones. Thus if philosophy is to proceed it must work from some other basis than an explication of the character of noumena (the underlying structures of the universe that are assumed by many philosophers to be somehow represented in phenomena). Thus Kant suggests that philosophy should take a step analogous to that taken by Galileo in his explanation of planetary motions. Just as Copernicus changed his focus from the earth as the center of the solar system, we should change our focus away from the universe in our explanations and instead focus on our minds themselves; we need a Copernican revolution in philosophy. As Kant puts it:

It has hitherto been assumed that our cognition must conform to the objects; but all
attempts to ascertain anything about these objects a priori, by means of conceptions, and thus to extend the range of our knowledge, have been rendered abortive by this assumption. Let us then make the experiment whether we may not be more successful in metaphysics, if we assume that the objects must conform to our cognition This appears, at all events, to accord better with the possibility of our gaining the end we have in view, that is to say, of arriving at the cognition of objects a priori, of determining something with respect to these objects, before they are given to us. We here propose to do just what Copernicus did in attempting to explain the celestial movements. When he found that he could make no progress by assuming that all the heavenly bodies revolved round the spectator, he reversed the process, and tried the experiment of assuming that the spectator revolved, while the stars remained at rest. We may make the same experiment with regard to the intuition of objects. If the intuition must conform to the nature of the objects, I do not see how we can know anything of them a priori. If, on the other hand, the object conforms to the nature of our faculty of intuition, I can then easily conceive the possibility of such an a priori knowledge. Now as I cannot rest in the mere intuitions, but–if they are to become cognitions–must refer them, as representations, to something, as object, and must determine the latter by means of the former, here again there are two courses open to me. Either, first, I may assume that the conceptions, by which I effect this determination, conform to the object–and in this case I am reduced to the same perplexity as before; or secondly, I may assume that the objects, or, which is the same thing, that experience, in which alone as given objects they are cognized, conform to my conceptions–and then I am at no loss how to proceed. For experience itself is a mode of cognition which requires understanding. Before objects, are given to me, that is, a priori, I must presuppose in myself laws of the understanding which are expressed in conceptions a priori. To these conceptions, then, all the objects of experience must necessarily conform. Now there are objects which reason thinks, and that necessarily, but which cannot be given in experience, or, at least, cannot be given so as reason thinks them. The attempt to think these objects will hereafter furnish an excellent test of the new method of thought which we have adopted, and which is based on the principle that we only cognize in things a priori that which we ourselves place in them. (From PREFACE TO THE SECOND EDITION, 1787 my p. 38 in Word edition from Gutenberg Project)

What philosophy can do is to make sense of how it is that we know things. It is not the job of philosophy to replace the sciences, either natural or social, but rather to explain how these sciences are possible. To offer such an explanation is not to describe the world but to make sense of the foundations of knowledge themselves.
Another way to put the point is to notice that traditionally it has been thought that philosophy was based on experience. Kant’s point is that metaphysics, as he often denominates the fundamental aspects of philosophy, cannot be based upon experience. It cannot be a result of experience, rather it is necessarily prior to experience, it is a priori. Having experience assumes some kind of basic knowledge, at least it assumes some basic concepts. Without the concept of space, for example, it would be impossible to experience any object; we could have no empirical evidence absent the concepts that make experience possible. As Kant puts it in The Critique of Pure Reason:
Such a priori origin is manifest in certain concepts, no less that in judgments. If we remove form our empirical concept of body, one by one, every feature in it which is empirical, the color, the hardness or softness, the weight, even the impenetrability, there still remains the space which the body (now entirely vanished) occupied, and this cannot be removed. Again, if we remove from our empirical concepts of any object, corporeal or incorporeal, all properties which experience has taught us, we yet cannot take away that property through which the object is thought as substance or as lingering in a substance (although this concept of substance is more determinate than that of an object in general). Owing, therefore, to the necessity with which this concept of substance forces itself upon us, we have no option save to admit that it has its seat in our faculty for a orion knowledge.
(Friedrich, p.2?)
The basis of philosophy is knowledge that is prior to experience, thus we cannot base philosophy on experience even though philosophy assumes the existence of experience and is dependent upon science to provide substantive knowledge of experience. We could not, live in a purely a priori world; are life is experience. Philosophy, however, can begin from examining the logic of our empirical knowledge to determine what is the case a priori. Kant alleges that is confusion about the relation between the a priori (that which precedes experience) and the a posteriori (that which comes only after experience) on the one hand, and analytic and synthetic judgments on the other hand.
A priori knowledge is what we know prior to experience, a posteriori knowledge is what we know as a result of experience. It appears that all a priori knowledge must be analytical; it can only be derived from definitions. An analytical argument is one in which we have no more knowledge in the predicate of a sentence than we do in the subject. It is rather odd to say that we can prove that bachelors are unmarried adults; we just know that it is true by definition that they are. To understand the concept of “bachelor” is to understand that it refers to an unmarried adult. Thus a priori arguments may not appear to be the basis for obtaining knowledge. Rather we seem to obtain knowledge through experience, we learn things and thus we can construct synthetic arguments; ones where the predicate contains information not included in the subject.
Kant argues that it is unsound to simply identify a priori arguments with analytical arguments; in fact , he alleges, there are examples of synthetic a priori statements. These are statements that contain more in their predicates than is included in the subject, but where the additional knowledge is not based on experience. Every event has a cause” is a statement of this kind. Hume*s problem is that he alleged that we could not know that there is a necessary connection between cause and effect simply because he recognized that we cannot base such knowledge on experience and it is obviously not a merely analytical claim. Hume is right that this is not an analytical claim and that it cannot be based on experience but he is not justified in doubting that the claim is true simply because of these logical points; what he should have done, and what Kant sets out to do, is to recognize that this is an example of a true statement that is at once synthetic and a priori. Once this has been recognized, Kant believes, the point of philosophy is to explain how it is the case, to “prove,” that it is true that every event has a cause.
It is as if Kant were saying “of course we know that every event has a cause, if we find a philosophical argument that leads us to doubt that we know this we should not question the knowledge, we should question the philosophical foundation from which the argument proceeds. It is essential to all explanation in the natural science, or at least Kant thinks that it is, to work on the assumption that every event has a cause. Thus our knowledge is dependent upon this foundation which we can understand to be a sound one. It is a characteristic of our minds, or perhaps more appropriately, of our knowledge, that every event has a cause. It is true, as Kant recognizes, that this does not mean that there is some world which lies behind our experiences themselves in which every event has a cause, that it is noumenally the case, even though for the purpose of making sense of phenomena at we must assume that it is as if it were.
Philosophy thus shows us what it is necessary to assume if our experience is to be explicable, it does not depend upon experience in the sense that a blank slate is written on, as Locke would have it, but it does depend on experience in the sense that whether or not philosophical argument is sound depends upon whether it can make sense of our experience and the knowledge that is derived from it. The Critique of Pure Reason, or as Kant once said he should have named it The Critiques of Pure Speculative Reason, has as its purpose the philosophical explication of the foundations of natural sciences and mathematics; here Kant alleges to provide us with the necessary metaphysical foundations of those sciences. A good deal of the book is taken up with a discussion of the “categories of the mind” which make our knowledge possible.
Yet when Kant comes to deal with moral philosophy he is faced with a fundamental problem. When he searches for the foundation of moral thought and action which would play the same role as the notion of causation in speculative reason, it turns out that this foundation is fundamentally distinct from the one he has developed in the first critique. It is clear that this type of philosophy is“practical.” “Practical reason” helps us to understand what we are to do, or more precisely how we can understand the foundations for our actual arguments by which to determine what to do. In this sense Kant’s position looks oddly like contemporary views of the division between the is and the ought.
The problem is that when we examine Kant’s moral philosophy is far from the naturalistic or relativistic foundations of most contemporary attitudes on. this question. We well see how this is the case as we develop his moral theory.
The point of moral philosophy is to attribute responsibility of subjects for their actions. To say that a person is a “good person” or that an act is a “good act” requires us to assume that the actor is responsible for the actions. Insofar as we see human activity (behavior) as caused we cannnot attribute responsibility to human beings. Thus, in order to make sense of our moral knowledge we must assume that actors are free to choose at least part of the time. This appears to be in contradiction with the principle of “speculative reason” that “every event has a cause.” But this is not a matter of what is true in the world. Rather it is an aspect of our knowledge. Two things that are true appear to contradict each other. But it is not really “things” that are in contradiction, it is our ideas. Kant’s solution to this apparent problem is to denote this theoretical situation as an “antinomy.” Where two propositions are in contradiction with each other this is not, to reiterate, a characteristic of the world. It is a characteristic of our knowledge. His “critical” approach to pure speculative reason has shown that it is limited in that it cannot provide us with knowledge of “things in themselves,” with noumena. But practical philosophy is not necessarily so limited. Although we can have no knowledge based on experience of the nature of human freedom, of the existence of God or of the nature of the human soul this does not mean that we can have no such knowledge in any sense. This knowledge is not possible for speculative reason but it may be possible for “practical reason.” We can resolve the contradiction that every event has a cause and yet that some actions are free by noting that each proposition refers to a different realm of discourse. Causal language belongs to our explanations of phenomena. It is a “necessary” concept in that without it we could not describe phenomena. Without it we would not be able to manipulate objects. But it is not the job of moral philosophy to describe phenomena, or to manipulate objects, rather it is to provide us with guidance for our conduct. In this sense moral knowledge has as its aim making sense of the activity of subjects. Just as we cannot simply give up on scientific or mathematical knowledge because there is no phenomenal way to observe that every event has a cause, we cannot simply give up on moral knowledge because it requires us to assume that some actions, at least, are to be seen as caused by a subject. Subjects cause events in this sense. But a causal explanation of subjects would not provide us with moral knowledge. We don’t look to philosophy to describe what moral actors do, we look to philosophy to help us understand how to regulate our own conduct in such a manner as to make sense of our moral evaluations. The function of philosophy is not to decide whether we have moral knowledge any more than it is to decide whether we have scientific knowledge. Rather it is to make sense to us of how we can have such knowledge; to develop the foundations of such knowledge. We overcome the antinomy by noting that it is a feature of our knowledge. We have two separate kinds of knowledge, each requires it own a priori foundations.
To attribute responsibility to actors requires us to assume that they are free agents. This is not to make a claim that freedom exists in the world. Rather it is to claim that freedom is a necessary concept for us to engage in practice, to do things, rather than simply to understand how things are done to us. Thus “freedom” is a necessary concept for all practical knowledge, for all knowledge that we can use to determine what to do. Speculative knowledge makes it possible to know how to do things, how to produce the effects that we desire to create. Moral knowledge helps us to decide how to act. This cannot, according to Kant, be based on any “end” which is determined for us. To say, for example, that the principle of morality is to obtain happiness, is to suggest that we are determined, not that we are free. This is because what will make us happy is determined by the world in which we live. Thus, though it may sometimes be appropriate to act in order to make ourselves happy, this cannot be the principle of morality. The principle of morality must be such that it can promote freedom.
But freedom is not merely to be without restraint. We are actually only free when we are capable of determining our actions. That is, we must be free to act. But are freedom to act must conform to some principles. This is because free action is necessarily action in accord with reason. Insofar as we merely “respond to the promptings of desire” as Rousseau puts it in The Social Contract, we are not free. So there must be a principle that binds us but that allows us to remain free. After lengthy consideration Kant argues that we must act based on reasons. Reasons are not merely individualized matters. What counts as a good reason for me to act must count as a good reason for any other person in the same circumstances. Thus we must act in accordance with “the categorical imperative.” This states that “we must act in accordance with a maxim that could be a universal rule.”
Note that this does not tell us what to do. It tells us what will count as a good reason for doing something. If the “maxim” (the reason) upon which we act is consistent with the categorical imperative we do what is morally acceptable. We apply a formal principle, the categorical imperative, to our proposed actions. The proposed action provides the content of our action which is to be judged by the extent to which the reason for it meets the formal principle of morality. This principle is stated in several different ways. Among them are:
We should act on a maxim such that it could be a universal law. (The purely formal, a priori principle of morality. It applies to any rational being.))
We should act on a maxim such that it could be a universal law of nature. (The ‘typified’ version of the first statement. This applies to humans as natural beings. In this respect we are merely partially rational beings. Our nature includes pursuit of happiness.)
Always treat persons as ends, not as means.
Act in such a way as to promote a kingdom of ends.
Act in such a way as to promote freedom.
Do your duty out of respect for duty.
Yet this formal principle presents problems for understanding our practical moral concerns. Note that what counts is not the consequences of our actions. Rather it is the “principle” of our actions, the reason for which we act. But while we can observe the consequences of people’s actions, we cannot observe the reasons for which they act. Two people may perform exactly the same actions, may do the same thing, but do so for very different reasons. Furthermore we may encounter obstacles to our actions so that we do not succeed in accomplishing what we intend to do. But for moral purposes it is the intention, not the result that counts. Yet no one but the actor can determine the reason for which anyone actually acts. So whether or not a person is a good person can only be determined by that person herself. Kant says that this is true in one realm of morality, the realm of “virtue.” So, note that we cannot require anyone to act for a particular reason. It is possible to force people to say, for example, that they “believe’ that Jesus saves us from our sins. But you can’t force them to actually believe it. Thus the law, in this sense, cannot enforce morality. It cannot force people to do things for the right reason. This is not simply to say that the law “ought” not to enforce morality. It is to say that it is logically impossible for it to do so. Judgment of persons is necessarily a matter for self judgment. Only the subject can judge the reasons for her actions. Thus moral philosophy provides guidance for individuals in determining what sort of actions are good ones. Individuals are free here in a double sense. On the one hand they are free to act in accordance with their own reasons; they cannot be forced to act morally. They are negatively free, that is free from coercion. On the other hand they are free to perform actions only insofar as they use reason to guide their conduct, they are positively free. They can act rightly.
Yet law is coercive. Just as it is essential to note the distinction between speculative and practical reason in order to overcome the antinomy between the principle of causation and the principle of freedom, we must distinguish between virtue and right (law) within moral philosophy to make sense of how coercion is inconsistent with the “Doctrine of Virtue” and Jurisprudence within the Metaphysics of Morals. The former deals with morality outside the realm of coercion, the latter with the moral foundation of legal coercion. How can we justify, that is make sense of, law as coercion? How can coercion promote freedom? Humans, as noted above, are only partially rational beings. They often act irrationally, that is in a manner inconsistent with morality. Sometimes when they do so they present obstacles to the freedom of others. There can be no good reason, given the categorical imperative, to diminish the freedom of others. So presenting obstacles to the freedom of others cannot be based on reason; it is inconsistent with the categorical imperative to do so. For some authority, the state, to remove obstacles to obstacles to freedom is not to limit, but to enlarge or promote freedom. Insofar as laws do this they are justified. In this sense the state, as for Rousseau, must reflect the will of the community if the law is to be just. The community must will its own freedom as well as the freedom of its members. To act in accordance with our common will, the law, is to act rationally. To act in opposition to this will is to act irrationally. Thus violating the law is to act irrationally, to act in opposition to one’s own will.
It is important to understand the status of this argument. Kant is not saying that all actual political systems in fact act justly, nor that every piece of legislation is consistent with the principle of law. He does argue that it is irrational to resist the sovereign authority since it is a manifestation of the common will. Thus revolution can never be rational. This is because it is irrational to resist the sovereign since the sovereign is a manifestation of our own will. To oppose our will to that of the sovereign is to oppose ourselves. Only if we understand this can we make sense of how the law and the state is rational. But if the individual must always obey the law what is the point of this philosophical argument?
Answering this question is facilitated by noticing two different aspects of Kant’s thought. The first is that he praised both the American and the French revolutions. This would seem to be in contradiction with his arguments that suggest that there can be right to revolution. But we must remember what philosophy can do for Kant, and thus what its limits are. Philosophy can only make clear the foundations of our substantive knowledge. It cannot tell us precisely what to do, it can only present us with formal principles of action. It is merely formal, it does not have any content in itself. To show how law is rational we must point out how it is the expression of a common will. If, in fact, some human situation is irrational it cannot be comprehended by philosophy. Thus there can be no unjust law, in principle. But there can be unjust actions that hide under the color of law. Historical actions can occur that are in a fundamental sense “irrational.” If human actions can eliminate this irrationality they will have restored rationality to the world. Similarly there can be no justification for revolution within the philosophy of law. But revolutions may, in fact, occur. It is not the job of philosophy to describe the ethical world, merely to portray it as rationa.l. If some event has the effect of maximizing freedom in the world we can praise it. But philosophy is not in the business of judging effects, it properly judges the principles of action. Retrospectively Kant can praise the American and French revolutions. Prospectively, within the philosophy of law and the state, he can provide no rational grounds for resisting legitimate political authority. For individuals to judge political authority, the sovereign, is to violate the principle of sovereignty itself. But in the world of only partially rational actors, the human world, people sometimes do this. It may be possible to judge their acts in some sense as good ones even though they violated the principle which makes law and political authority rational because the actual actors who presumably represented the idea of sovereignty did not in fact do so. A successful revolution produces a new sovereign in practice.
The second aspect of Kant’s thought that helps explain the point of the philosophy of law in spite of the idea that the individual must always obey the law is the matter of who is to receive guidance from legal philosophy. For Locke and for Rousseau it appears that individuals citizens are to receive guidance from political philosophy. An individual, for Locke, may judge that resistance is justified if civil government violates the right to property on a consistent basis. The individual is obligate to obey the law insofar as it is an expression of the “General Will” for Rousseau. So for both of these thinkers the social agreement (“compact” for Locke, “contract’ for Rouseau) While Kant discusses the idea of the social contract he argues that the origin of the state is none of the business of individual citizens and they must always obey the law, without regard to its origin. As he puts it

The origin of the supreme power is practically inscrutable by the people who are placed under its authority. In other words, the subject need not reason too curiously in regard to its origin in the practical relation, as if the right of the obedience due to it were to be doubted (jus controversum). For as the people, in order to be able to abjudicate with a title of right regarding the supreme power in the state, must be regarded as already united under one common legislative will, it cannot judge otherwise than as the present supreme head of the state (summus imperans) wills. The question has been raised as to whether an actual contract of subjection (pactum subjectionis civilis) originally preceded the civil government as a fact; or whether the power arose first, and the law only followed afterwards, or may have followed in this order. But such questions, as regards the people already actually living under the civil law, are either entirely aimless, or even fraught with subtle danger to the state. For, should the subject, after having dug down to the ultimate origin of the state, rise in opposition to the present ruling authority, he would expose himself as a citizen, according to the law and with full right, to be punished, destroyed, or outlawed. A law which is so holy and inviolable that it is practically a crime even to cast doubt upon it, or to suspend its operation for a moment, is represented of itself as necessarily derived from some supreme, unblameable lawgiver. And this is the meaning of the maxim, “All authority is from God”, which proposition does not express the historical foundation of the civil constitution, but an ideal principle of the practical reason. It may be otherwise rendered thus: “It is a duty to obey the law of the existing legislative power, be its origin what it may.”
So the social contract is not an idea of reason to be appealed to by individual citizens to determine whether the law is just. The point of the philosophy of law in this respect is not to provide criteria for obedience to law or for the possibility of disobedience. Law can meet disobedience only by coercion. It is, insofar as it make sense philosophically, an elaboration of the general will, of human reason applied to particular circumstances. Making sense of law philosophically requires us to understand it as rational, just as making sense of natural science requires us to understand it as rational. The law makes sense as the expression of the will of a united community. This cannot provide guidance outside of that community.
The philosophy of law, however, can provide practical guidance. It can show the legislator the criteria upon which rational law making can proceed just as the categorical imperative can show the individual how to assess proposed actions. If a proposed law is logically capable of being understood as the expression of the will of a community united by an original contract is can be a good law, it would be appropriate to adopt it as a matter of legislation. Again, philosophy is merely formal. It does not provide substantive guidance either to individuals as citizens or to legislators, it provides them with an understanding of the formal requirements of their actions. If someone with legislative power is contemplating enacting a particular statute s/he can decide whether it is consistent with the principle of law by asking whether it could be the expression of a united will. This is not an empirical question. The sovereign law maker does not merely reflect the will of individuals, s/he manifests that will. It is in determining what to do that a sovereign can use the criteria provided by the idea of the original contract. Once again the content is provided by what goes on in the world, the formal principles derive from theory.

Part II Hegel’s Critique of Formalism
Hegel’s philosophical system is often elaborated, especially by those who are interested in Marxism in terms of the abstract idea of “the dialectic.” Such an elaborations proceeds from the idea that history moves in dialectical terms. Each historical situations is taken to be a “thesis.” In each situation an “antithesis” arises in contradiction to the thesis. The contradiction between the two produces a “synthesis” which in turn breaks down into a thesis and an antithesis. While such a description of Hegel’s logic provides us with some illumination to offer such a description is to provide a formal understanding of logic. This looks like Kant’s idea of how form applies to content in human practice. Yet the most cursory glance at Hegel’s Science of Logic will show that he rejected the distinction between form and content. This should lead us to seek a more serious analysis than is provided by the simple tri-partite “thesis-antithesis-synthesis” analysis. Hegel says:
The hitherto accepted concept of logic rests upon the assumed separation of the content of knowledge and the form of knowledge (or truth and certainty)–a separation that is assumed once for all in ordinary consicousness. First, it is assumed that the material of knowledge is present in and for itself in the shape of a finished world apart from thinking, that thinking is in itself empty.

This is incomplete. What follows should be a lengthy quote from The Science of Logic
The lengthy quote:

In no science is the need to begin with the subject matter itself, without preliminary reflections, felt more strongly than in the science of logic. In every other science the subject matter and the scientific method are distinguished from each other; also the content does not make an absolute beginning but is dependent on other concepts and is connected on all sides with other material. These other sciences are, therefore, permitted to speak of their ground and its context and also of their method, only as premises taken for granted which, as forms of definitions and such-like presupposed as familiar and accepted, are to be applied straight-way, and also to employ the usual kind of reasoning for the establishment of their general concepts and fundamental determinations.
§ 34
Logic on the contrary, cannot presuppose any of these forms of reflection and laws of thinking, for these constitute part of its own content and have first to be established within the science. But not only the account of scientific method, but even the Notion itself of the science as such belongs to its content, and in fact constitutes its final result; what logic is cannot be stated beforehand, rather does this knowledge of what it is first emerge as the final outcome and consummation of the whole exposition. Similarly, it is essentially within the science that the subject matter of logic, namely, thinking or more specifically comprehensive thinking is considered; the Notion of logic has its genesis in the course of exposition and cannot therefore be premised. Consequently, what is premised in this Introduction is not intended, as it were, to establish the Notion of Logic or to justify its method scientifically in advance, but rather by the aid of some reasoned and historical explanations and reflections to make more accessible to ordinary thinking the point of view from which this science is to be considered.

§ 35

When logic is taken as the science of thinking in general, it is understood that this thinking constitutes the mere form of a cognition that logic abstracts from all content and that the so-called second constituent belonging to cognition, namely its matter, must come from somewhere else; and that since this matter is absolutely independent of logic, this latter can provide only the formal conditions of genuine cognition and cannot in its own self contain any real truth, not even be the pathway to real truth because just that which is essential in truth, its content, lies outside logic.®

§ 36

But in the first place, it is quite inept to say that logic abstracts from all content, that it teaches only the rules of thinking without any reference to what is thought or without being able to consider its nature. For as thinking and the rules of thinking are supposed to be the subject matter of logic, these directly constitute its peculiar content; in them, logic has that second constituent, a matter, about the nature of which it is concerned.

§ 37

But secondly, the conceptions on which the Notion of logic has rested hitherto have in part already been discarded, and for the rest, it is time that they disappeared entirely and that this science were grasped from a higher standpoint and received a completely changed shape.

§ 38

Hitherto, the Notion of logic has rested on the separation, presupposed once and for all in the ordinary consciousness, of the content of cognition and its form, or of truth and certainty. First, it is assumed that the material of knowing is present on its own account as a ready-made world apart from thought, that thinking on its own is empty and comes as an external form to the said material, fills itself with it and only thus acquires a content and so becomes real knowing.

§ 39

Further, these two constituents — for they are supposed to be related to each other as constituents, and cognition is compounded from them in a mechanical or at best chemical fashion — are appraised as follows: the object is regarded as something complete and finished on its own account, something which can entirely dispense with thought for its actuality, while thought on the other hand is regarded as defective because it has to complete itself with a material and moreover, as a pliable indeterminate form, has to adapt itself to its material. Truth is the agreement of thought with the object, and in order to bring about this agreement — for it does not exist on its own account — thinking is supposed to adapt and accommodate itself to the object.

§ 40

Thirdly, when the difference of matter and form, of object and thought is not left in that nebulous indeterminateness but is taken more definitely, then each is regarded as a sphere divorced from the other. Thinking therefore in its reception and formation of material does not go outside itself; its reception of the material and the conforming of itself to it remains a modification of its own self, it does not result in thought becoming the other of itself; and self-conscious determining moreover belongs only to thinking. In its relation to the object, therefore, thinking does not go out of itself to the object; this, as a thing-in-itself, remains a sheer beyond of thought.

§ 41

These views on the relation of subject and object to each other express the determinations which constitute the nature of our ordinary, phenomenal consciousness; but when these prejudices are carried out into the sphere of reason as if the same relation obtained there, as if this relation were something true in its own self, then they are errors — the refutation of which throughout every part of the spiritual and natural universe is philosophy, or rather, as they bar the entrance to philosophy, must be discarded at its portals.

§ 42 Ancient metaphysics had in this respect a higher conception of thinking than is current today. For it based itself on the fact that the knowledge of things obtained through thinking is alone what is really true in them, that is, things not in their immediacy but as first raised into the form of thought, as things thought. Thus this metaphysics believed that thinking (and its determinations) is not anything alien to the object, but rather is its essential nature, or that things and the thinking of them — our language too expresses their kinship — are explicitly in full agreement, thinking in its immanent determinations and the true nature of things forming one and the same content.

§ 43

But reflective understanding took possession of philosophy. We must know exactly what is meant by this expression which moreover is often used as a slogan; in general it stands for the understanding as abstracting, and hence as separating and remaining fixed in its separations. Directed against reason, it behaves as ordinary common sense and imposes its view that truth rests on sensuous reality, that thoughts are only thoughts, meaning that it is sense perception which first gives them filling and reality and that reason left to its own resources engenders only figments of the brain. In this self-renunciation on the part of reason, the Notion of truth is lost; it is limited to knowing only subjective truth, only phenomena, appearances, only something to which the nature of the object itself does not correspond: knowing has lapsed into opinion.

The point here is that Hegel is arguing that the very distinction between form and content that forms a fundamental element of Kant’s thought is a misconception. Or worse, it is something that does fundamental damage to philosophy. In fact, in Hegel’s view, the world and philosophy are both in a process of development in which they necessarily determine each other. In The Philosophy of Right he expresses this point in terms of law (“Recht”: meaning “right” but also more importantly for this purpose “law”):

Philosophy is, as I have already observed, an inquisition into the rational, and therefore the apprehension of the real and present. Hence it cannot be the exposition of a world beyond, which is merely a castle in the air, having no existence except in the error of a one-sided and empty formalism of thought. In the following treatise I have remarked that even Plato’s Republic, now regarded as the bye-word for an empty ideal, has grasped the essential nature of the ethical life of the Greeks. He knew that there was breaking in upon Greek life a deeper principle, which could directly manifest itself only as an unsatisfied longing and therefore as ruin. Moved by the same longing Plato had to seek help against it, but had to conceive of the help as coming down from above, and hoped at last to have found it in an external special form of Greek ethical life. He exhausted himself in contriving, how by means of this new society to stem the tide of ruin, but succeeded only in injuring more fatally its deeper motive, the free infinite personality. Yet he has proved himself to be a great mind because the very principle and central distinguishing feature of his idea is the pivot upon which the world-wide revolution then in process turned:

What is rational is real;
And what is real is rational.

Upon this conviction stand not philosophy only but even every unsophisticated consciousness. From it also proceeds the view now under contemplation that the spiritual universe is the natural. When reflection, feeling or whatever other form the subjective consciousness may assume, regards the present as vanity, and thinks itself to be beyond it and wiser, it finds itself in emptiness, and, as it has actuality only in the present, it is vanity throughout. Against the doctrine that the idea is a mere idea, figment or opinion, philosophy preserves the more profound view that nothing is real except the idea. Hence arises the effort to recognise in the temporal and transient the substance, which is immanent, and the eternal, which is present. The rational is synonymous with the idea, because in realising itself it passes into external existence. It thus appears in an endless wealth of forms, figures and phenomena. It wraps its kernel round with a robe of many colours, in which consciousness finds itself at home.

Through this varied husk the conception first of all penetrates, in order to touch the pulse, and then feel it throbbing in its external manifestations. To bring to order the endlessly varied relations, which constitute the outer appearance of the rational essence is not the task of philosophy. Such material is not suitable for it, and it can well abstain from giving good advice about these things. Plato could refrain from recommending to the nurses not to stand still with children, but always to dandle them in their arms. So could Fichte forbear to construe, as they say, the supervision of passports to such a point as to demand of all suspects that not only a description of them but also their photograph, should be inserted in the pass. Philosophy now exhibits no trace of such details. These superfine concerns it may neglect all the more safely, since it shows itself of the most liberal spirit in its attitude towards the endless mass of objects and circumstances. By such a course science will escape the hate which is visited upon a multitude of circumstances and institutions by the vanity of a better knowledge. In this hate bitterness of mind finds the greatest pleasure, as it can in no other way attain to a feeling of self-esteem.

This treatise, in so far as it contains a political science, is nothing more than an attempt to conceive of and present the state as in itself rational. As a philosophic writing, it must be on its guard against constructing a state as it ought to be. Philosophy cannot teach the state what it should be, but only how it, the ethical universe, is to be known.

Idou Podos, idou kai to pidima
Hic Rhodus, hic saltus. [NB]

To apprehend what is is the task of philosophy, because what is is reason. As for the individual, every one is a son of his time; so philosophy also is its time apprehended in thoughts. It is just as foolish to fancy that any philosophy can transcend its present world, as that an individual could leap out of his time or jump over Rhodes. If a theory transgresses its time, and builds up a world as it ought to be, it has an existence merely in the unstable element of opinion, which gives room to every wandering fancy.

With little change the above, saying would read:

Here is the rose, here dance

The barrier which stands between reason, as self-conscious Spirit, and reason as present reality, and does not permit spirit to find satisfaction in reality, is some abstraction, which is not free to be conceived. To recognise reason as the rose in the cross of the present, and to find delight in it, is a rational insight which implies reconciliation with reality. This reconciliation philosophy grants to those who have felt the inward demand to conceive clearly, to preserve subjective freedom while present in substantive reality, and yet thought possessing this freedom to stand not upon the particular and contingent, but upon what is and self-completed.

This also is the more concrete meaning of what was a moment ago more abstractly called the unity of form and content. Form in its most concrete significance is reason, as an intellectual apprehension which conceives its object. Content, again, is reason as the substantive essence of social order and nature. The conscious identity of form and content is the philosophical idea.

It is a self-assertion, which does honour to man, to recognise nothing in sentiment which is not justified by thought. This self-will is a feature of modern times, being indeed the peculiar principle of Protestantism. What was initiated by Luther as faith in feeling and the witness of the spirit, the more mature mind strives to apprehend in conception. In that way it seeks to free itself in the present, and so find there itself. It is a celebrated saying that a half philosophy leads away from God, while a true philosophy leads to God. (It is the same halfness, I may say in passing which regards knowledge as an approximation to truth.) This saying is applicable to the science of the state. Reason cannot content itself with a mere approximation, something which is neither cold not hot, and must be spewed out of the mouth. As little can it be contented with the cold scepticism that in this world of time things go badly, or at best only moderately well, and that we must keep the peace with reality, merely because there is nothing better to be had. Knowledge creates a much more vital peace.

Only one word more concerning the desire to teach the world what it ought to be. For such a purpose philosophy at least always comes too late. Philosophy, as the thought of the world, does not appear until reality has completed its formative process, and made itself ready. History thus corroborates the teaching of the conception that only in the maturity of reality does the ideal appear as counterpart to the real, apprehends the real world in its substance, and shapes it into an intellectual kingdom. When philosophy paints its grey in grey, one form of life has become old, and by means of grey it cannot be rejuvenated, but only known. The owl of Minerva, takes its flight only when the shades of night are gathering.

I rather like the Knox translation of this material but it is, I think copyprotected, unlike what I have produced here. The final line as Knox has it is “The owl of minerva takes its wings only at the falling of the dusk.” The significance of all of this is fundamentally that for Hegel Kant is wrong not only in separating form from content(as have all other philosophers it might seem) but also in denying that philosophy can have a normative function (“teaching us what the world should be”). Thus philosophy and history become merged. We cannot even tell what is to happen next. History itself, “embodied spirit,” determines what is to happen. As philosophers we can “only understand the world.”

As Hegel rejects Kant on fundamental grounds Marx rejects Hegel. As Marx says “philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways, the point, however is to change it.” (Eleventh Thesis on Fuerbach)  In order to do this Marx undertakes a fundamental critique of the philosophy of right from the point of view of Fuerbachian “materialism.”  This is not mere materialism in the common English sense of the term that might be connected with “empiricism.”  Marx’s materialism is “historical materialism.”  In this sense it retains the historical approach of Hegel but presumably moves away from the idealism of both Kant and Hegel.  It is only with this understanding that we can make sense of Marx as a philosopher, theorist and practical actor.  It will not do to wrest his work from the tradition of German thought though many of its critics have done so and continue to do so. It is in an effort to combat this error that I have undertaken this little piece.


About bruce wright

Professor Emeritus of Political Science
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