Hegel-by-HyperText Resources


§Absolute Idea

The “Absolute Idea” is both the apex and foundation of the philosophical system of Hegel. It includes all the stages of the Logic leading up to it; it is the process of development with all its stages and transitions. The Absolute Idea, or “World Spirit”, plays the same kind of role for Hegel as a deity “History is the Idea clothing itself with the form of events” (Philosophy of Right, § 346), and Marx rejects the need for any such concept since history is the product of people, not the other way around. Like "Absolute truth" knowledge of the Absolute Idea is an unattainable ideal, representing the whole of Nature which has developed to the point where it is conscious of itself, or the concept of Nature developed to such a degree of concreteness that it has “returned to itself” - an absolutely comprehensive, practical and concrete concept of the world.

Hegel defines the Absolute Idea as the “unity of the Theoretical Idea and the Practical Idea". The Theoretical Idea is the completed Notion or concrete concept of the world or object; the Practical Idea is the activity expressing this concept (practice); the unity of the two means fully “conscious practice”, people acting in true accord with their own nature.

See Hegel’s exposition in the Shorter Logic or in the Science of Logic, or Lenin’s annotations on the Science of Logic. See also the Philosophy of Right and Marx’s comments on Absolute Knowledge in his Critique of Hegel’s Dialectic.


§Absolute Truth

currents outside of religious fundamentalism. Absolute Truth means an ideal which is completely in correspondence with Nature, a synonym for God. While it is obvious that human thought cannot attain Absolute truth, it would be a mistake to deny that there is an absolute within every relative truth. See Absolute & Relative. See also dogmatism, relativism and scepticism.


§Abstract and Concrete

Abstract and Concrete are philosophical concepts concerned with the development of conceptual knowledge. A proper understanding of what is meant by “abstract” and “concrete” is vital to making sense of dialectics. For Hegel and for Marx, the contrast between abstract and concrete does NOT mean the contrast between ideal Rather ‘A concrete concept is the combination of many abstractions’. A concept, such as a number or a definition, is very abstract because it indicates just one of millions of aspects of a concrete thing, ignoring all other aspects. A concept like ‘colonialism’ or ‘the British working class’ is very concrete if (and only if) it includes a long and thoughtful experience of the object. If we say "The British working class is those who work for a wage and live in the UK", then that is a very abstract concept, because it it is very poor in the way of concepts. To "concretise" is to show the many aspects of something; to ‘abstract’ is to single out just one aspect of a thing from its context of interconnections with other things.

See Marx on the The Method of Political Economy, Geoff Pilling's explanation of method, Hegel on Immediate or Intuitive Knowledge on the "Abstract Universal" and Knowledge proceeds from the abstract to the concrete.

See Hegel on The Notion and on abstract generality and Immediate or Intuitive Knowledge.



A philosophical concept concerned with the development of processes and conceptions. In social and natural processes, Actuality refers to all the conditions for something, both essential and inessential coming together, and a thing going beyond being a potentiality and becoming a “reality” [ — Reality is a synonym for Actuality].

In Hegel’s Logic, as the third stage of Essence, Actuality is the completion of the genesis of the Notion, in which all the contradictions of this genesis are concentrated leading up to the formation of the Notion. Hegel sees Actuality as the dialectic of possibility & contingency, of Cause & Effect and ultimately of Freedom & Necessity.

In cognition, Actuality refers to understanding something to the point where all the causes and effects are understood in their interconnection with each other and the immediate given form of the thing is understood fully as identical to its existent essential content.

See the section on Actuality in Hegel’s Logic, or Hegel’s Outline of Logic and Actuality (Cause & Effect).


§With What must Science Begin?

What Hegel is saying about how thought begins, how the perception and cognition of an object begins, is equally true of how a social movement or natural process begins, how an individual human begins to learn. Read what follows with this kind of metaphor in mind. But, primarily, we are talking about how you come to know something new, if you do have a body of knowledge, but it is a new "thing".
See Hegel's section: With What must Science Begin? and a brief recap under the Absolute Idea.



In the writing of Hegel, Being is the first of the three divisions of the Logic; for the philosophical materialism of the 19th century, “being” refers to the totality of material and social conditions, in contrast to the consciousness of the subject; 20th century Phenomenology and Existentialism recognise multiple grades of “being” largely developed in opposition to the conceptions of Hegel and of philosophical materialism.

In reading Hegel, you can think of “Being” in the context of perceiving and a thing, as that very initial stage when you have not yet recognised it as anything and see only a multitude of events, etc., ‘one damn thing after another’, and you cannot yet distinguish the essential from the inessential. “Being” equally well characterises the process itself, objectively, in that stage when it has not yet "become", when it is still "indeterminate".

In the Shorter Logic §86n Hegel says: ‘whatever else you may begin with (the I = I, the absolute indifference, or God himself), you begin with a figure of materialised conception, not a product of thought; and that, so far as its thought-content is concerned, such beginning is merely Being.’, and here “being” has a meaning similar to that which it has for the materialists.

In Engels' famous formulation in “Ludwig Feuerbach & the End of Classical German Philosophy”: ‘The great basic question of all philosophy, especially of more recent philosophy, is that concerning the relation of thinking and being’, Engels uses the term “being” as synomymous with 'outside world', 'nature' or 'the real world'. See Materialism.

20th century philosophers like Heidegger or Husserl, use a multiplicity of words such as Dasein or "being there", or Existenz are used in addition to Sein or Being, none of which have the meaning it has for materialism, but refer to different grades of conception.

See section in Hegel's Outline of Logic or in the Shorter Logic, the distinction between Being and Essence and Being described from the position of the Absolute Idea., and "modifications of Being" below.

See also Quality - Quantity - Measure, Being - Essence - Notion, Being - Essence - The Notion, Being - Notion - Absolute Idea, Being - Notion - Idea and Being in Natural and Social Movements.


§Cause & Effect

Understanding of Cause and Effect is a basic mode of scientific investigation, the discovery of the specific causes of phenomena and the complete cause: “When all the conditions of a fact are present, it enters into Existence”. However, the fixed opposition between cause and effect is limited, since every effect also a partial cause of its own conditions of existence. The concept of reciprocity arises from an understanding of the whole network of cause-effect leading to an understanding of "complete cause".

Scepticism says that Causality is simply a subjective construction, which flies in the face of the obvious successes of industry and natural science. However, the limitation of the standpoint of Causality is shown in the inability to conceive the world and humanity's part in it as a single whole.

See Hegel's Outline of Logic, the Shorter Logic and in the Science of Logic, Hegel on “When all the conditions of a fact are present, it enters into Existence”, “In reciprocity, therefore, necessity and causality have vanished”, “Causality as simply a subjective construction”, “Effect contains nothing whatever that cause does not contain”, and Lenin's comment on the place of Causality in Hegel's Logic.



Chemism is the second grade of The Object, the second stage of the Doctrine of the Notion in Hegel's Logic. Chemism refers to the development of mechanism in which the objects not only interact and influence one another, but pass into one another, neutralise one another and in general pass into things other than themselves. Hegel admits, in the section on Chemism in the Shorter Logic, that the elevation of Chemism to a qualitatively different stage over Mechanism is unusual, but, he says, justified. Indeed, in general, the movement from understanding Nature as composed of processes rather than things, does represent a qualitative step forward in the history of science.

See the section on Chemism in the Science of Logic and the Shorter Logic and Engels' observations in "Ludwig Feuerbach" part 2 and part 4 or Chemism - Chemical Object, Chemical process - Absolute Chemism.



A notion begins to emerge when we 'identify' 'different' things and begin to observe the relations between them. Hegel points out that the natural science of his time was largely at that stage, 'classifying' things, and either identifying or differentiating, but not yet understanding Opposition and Contradiction, and thus missing Transition and real immanent relation. This stage of the development of natural science lends itself to abstract formal logic and methods of formal comparison.

See Hegel on:



Difference is part of the very first stage of Essence in the genesis of a Notion in the grade of Reflection. Difference is the negation of Identity. The identity of something is defined by what is deemed to be not-equal to it, different. But Difference soon cancels itself through the discovery that 'everything is different', which is the "maxim of Diversity" (inessential difference). Difference is only meaningful where the objects considered are also in some sense identical, and thus passes over into Opposition (essential difference) and Contradiction, the unity of identity and difference.

In recent European philosophy, especially Derrida, quite of lot is made of Difference, but it is noteworthy that Difference is given a systematic development by Hegel in the earliest most abstract part of the Logic. Marx can be seen developing the concept of Difference in Chapter 3 of Capital.

See Hegel on Difference in the Shorter Logic.


§The Maxim of Diversity

The maxim of Diversity — ‘There are no two things completely like each other’ is attributed to Leibnitz.

This maxim is dealt with in Hegel's Doctrine of Essence as part of a series of “Laws” beginning with the Law of identity - ‘everything is equal to itself’, the Maxim of Diversity (or Variety), Opposition, Contradiction and Ground, in which understanding of the essentially contradictory sides of a concept is successively deepened.

See Hegel on the Law of Identity in the Science of Logic and Trotsky's ABC of Materialist Dialectics. See also Essential Identity.



See "Means & Ends" below.

Means and Ends are terms concerned with Will or intention. The End is the state of affairs which it is desired to bring about, and Means is the state of affairs it is intended to rely upon in order to achieve the End.

The End is firstly the the Subjective End — a desired change in the objective world, but subsequently becomes the Realised End — the, usually unexpected, result of the Means adopted. For Hegel, the dialectics of Means and Ends is part of the first part of the sub-division of Teleology and is the penultimate stage before the Idea.

See Engels’ comment on the difference between subjective intention and its outcome.

See End, Means and Realised End in the Science of Logic and Life in the Shorter Logic.



“Essence” has quite different meanings throughout the history of philosophy. For ancient philosophy, Essence referred to something beyond and behind the phenomenal form of a thing which gives it is ultimate and unique character. For Hegel, Essence is the genesis of the Notion out of Being, the second of the three parts of the Logic.

Hegel describes Essence as ‘the most difficult branch of logic’ (§ 114), however, we could think of Essence as the conflict between our existing (past) body of knowledge of the thing and the data impinging on consciousness from sense perception and the contradictory unfolding of understanding as we come to grips with things. Thus, Hegel says that Essence is characterised by "reflection" - when you recognise something, the thing finds its "identity" in the body of knowledge you have as a result of past experience, but then immediately brings out the differences, and so on. Essence is the recognition of all the different aspects of the thing, deeper and deeper.

See definition in Science of Logic, Objective Logic below, the distinction between Being and Essence and the section in Hegel's Outline of Logic.

See also Essence in Natural and Social Developments, Essence - Simple Essence (Reflection) - Appearance - Actuality and Essence.



See Examples from History and Society and Examples from Personal Life.


§Form and Content

See Hegel in the Shorter Logic and Content in the Glossary.


§France in 18th Century

The French Revolution of 1789 which overthrew the French monarchy and the feudal order in France was preceded by a "philosophical revolution" including The Enlightenment (Voltaire, Rousseau, Diderot, et al), in which the moral, social and political faults of the existing social order were mercilessly attacked by the leading thinkers of the day.


§Genus [or Kind]

The Genus is made of up of individuals and exists in and through the life and death of the individuals; individuals live only in and through their connection with the Genus (“in the kind the individual animal has its notion”). Genus is about the dialectic of the cell and the whole living organism. For example, “the working class” cannot know anything (since knowing is an attribute only of individuals); but “working class consciousness” cannot exist, as such, in any individual person. “Class consciousness” arises through the dialectic of conscious individuals and their collective struggle as a class. The dialectical concept of Genus contrasts with the abstract general categories of bourgeois sociology, for example, defined by possession of a common attribute.

See Marx’s remarks in Theses on Feuerbach IV.


§Germany in 19th Century

The Democratic Revolution of 1848 in Germany was preceded by a development of philosophy which culminated in Hegel. While the conditions of repression and censorship under the absolutist monarchy obliged all political criticism to be disguised in the form of discussions about religion and philosophy, it remained the case that the leading lights of this philosophical movement were respectable figures of the establishment, such as Kant and Hegel.


§God, or The Absolute

The various divisions of logic, Hegel says, may be looked upon as metaphysical definitions of God: ... "For a metaphysical definition of God is the expression of his nature in thoughts as such: and logic embraces all thoughts so long as they continue in the thought-form."
See one of Lenin's many comments on Hegel's references to God. See the sampler for definitions of the Absolute.


§The Good

In the structure of the Science of Logic, Hegel rigidly subdivides everything by triads, but in the penultimate chapter, he breaks from this pattern. Chapter Two of section Three of Book III, Cognition is divided into two, not three parts - "The Idea of the True" and the "Idea of the Good". [This is because Chapter 3 of Section Three of Book III, the "Absolute", and does not "prove to be something else"].
In the Shorter Logic Hegel says that in the Idea of the True (Cognition proper), the subject tries to mould itself in the image of the world, whereas in the Idea of the Good, the subject tries to mould the world in the image of itself. Thus, in the Shorter Logic, the Good comes under Volition, as opposed to Cognition proper.
See also Good.


§The Greeks

SeeSampler for list of Greek Philosophers.


§The task of the Historian

This observation shows Hegel's idealism: no "Idea" can exist outside of the material process; the historian's theme may only more or less precisely approximate the "real", material evolution. For Hegel, the material process is a "expression" of the Absolute Idea, but rather, the Absolute Idea is an abstraction - a very true and useful one - from the material evolution of all the processes of nature, history, etc.
See Engels on this point and Ilyenkov's essay: Logical Development and Concrete Historicism.


§History of philosophy

According to Hegel, “History is mind clothing itself with the form of events or the immediate actuality of nature. ... In the course of this work of the world mind, states, nations, and individuals arise animated by their particular determinate principle which has its interpretation and actuality in their constitutions and in the whole range of their life and condition.” [Philosophy of Right] With this conception, Hegel sought to ‘make sense’ of history, and he used the same categories to understand the various forms of social organisation and historic struggles as he used in his Logic to understand rational thought.

Marx criticised this approach on the grounds that although human consciousness was shaped by what Hegel called “objective thought-forms”, i.e. institutions, language, law, and so on, these were themselves the products of people, not the other way around.

See Engels’s criticism of Hegel’s approach in Ludwig Feuerbach, part 4 and Hegel's comment about the history of philosophy, Lenin suggestion for the study of the history of various branches of science.


§The Idea

In the system of Hegel’s Logic, the “Idea” is the unity of the Subject and the Object and develops up to the Absolute Idea, the unity of the Being and the Notion.

In the development of a science for instance, there is always a vast gap between the initial theory which forms the basis of a science (its Notion), and the whole body of scientific knowledge which bears on the particular object. Once formulated, the Notion of the thing must undergo a process of concretisation of the concept to build an adequate practical theory, or Idea of the thing.

The Idea may also be seen as the development of theory through the unity and conflict of theory and practice, with theory being improved in the light of practical experience and practice being made more conscious in the light of theory. We could describe the Idea as “conscious practice”.

See section in Hegel’s Outline of Logic and Life and Cognition, and Life, Cognition and the Absolute Idea.


§The Law of Identity

The Law of Identity is expressed as “A=A”, which in symbolic logic is nothing more than one of the axioms defining the behaviour of the "=" sign, but applied generally in Formal Logic , says that all concepts and things are “self-equal”. In this form it is the basis of the “metaphysical” approach to understanding the world as separate, unchanging things. This contrasts with the dialectical approach in which the world is conceived as interconnected, self-contradictory, mutable things and processes.

The Identity of A can only have meaning by means of defining what is different from A, “not-A”. We find that in fact everything is “not-A” including the same thing a second later, and thus arises the “Maxim of Diversity”.

See Hegel in the Shorter Logic, in the Science of Logic, Hegel's criticism of the natural science of his time as the Philosophy of Identity and on A=A; see Lenin's comments on Hegel's concept of the Law of Identity, Trotsky's explanation of dialectics based on a critique of "A=A" and C L R James on Identity, Difference and Contradiction.

See also Identity, Difference, Opposition and Contradiction, Ground and Identity.


§"In Itself"

See Thing-in-itself and Thing-in-itself in the Glossary.
See Lenin's annotations.



A synonym for Genus (according to the translation from the same German word).


§The Three Laws of Dialectics

The Three Laws of Dialectics were enunciated by Engels in his article Dialectics, published with Dialectics of Nature. The Laws were formulated in an effort to popularise the ideas of dialectics in the workers' movement, but do not really do justice to the profundity of Engels' own understanding of dialectics and their importance should not be exaggerated. See Lenin's Philosophical Notebooks.

(1) The Law of the Unity (Interpenetration) of Opposites: “the two poles of an antithesis, positive and negative, e.g., are as inseparable as they are opposed, and despite all their opposition, they mutually interpenetrate”. [Engels, Socialism, Utopian & Scientific]

See Lenin's Philosophical Notebooks.

(2) The Law of Transformation of Quality into Quantity and vice versa.

“in nature, in a manner exactly fixed for each individual case, qualitative changes can occur only by the quantitative addition or quantitative subtraction of matter or motion (so-called energy)”. (Engels)

See Hegel on Quantity and Quality in Chemistry.

See Quality below, and in the Glossary.

(3) The Law of the Negation of the Negation.

Negation of the Negation expresses the connection of the old and the new, and the repetition at a higher stage of development of some properties of the lower stage of a process.

See Negation in the Glossary and Negation of the Negation below. and Lenin's understanding in his annotations.



In Hegel’s system of Logic, Life is the first sub-division of the Idea. Life is included within the domain of Logic by Hegel, because “if absolute truth is the subject matter of logic, and truth as such is essentially in cognition, then cognition at least would have to be discussed”, and he goes on to say that whereas after expounding Logic, other writers branch off into psychology or anthropology, but these, he says, are not the proper subject matter of Logic. Thus, for Hegel Life is a logical category.

Life is the first sub-division of the Idea and is the dialectic of the Living Individual and the Life Process, the synthesis of which is Genus [or Kind]. The negative of Life is Cognition; the unity of Cognition and Life is the Absolute Idea.

It is in the section in the Shorter Logic where Hegel says "A hand when hewn off from the body is a hand in name only, not in fact". See also the section in the Science of Logic and The Living Individual & the Life Process, or the Personal & the Political.



The problem of the limit of things, beyond which they become something else, has long been a focus of dialectical thinking.

Hegel says: “The very fact that something is determined as a limitation implies that the limitation is already transcended”, in the same sense that we say that something is known only by what it is not, that its being is equal to its not-being. In the passage just referred to, Hegel goes further, to the effect that the mere consciousness that a limit exists creates the impulse to go beyond it; the poor person who has never seen wealth will be content, but once having become conscious of the limitation, the impulse to transcend it comes into being.

Limit is part of the dialectics of the finite and infinite; See Science of Logic.



Marxism is described as having three sources and three component parts: "German philosophy", philosophical materialism and dialectics, "English political economy", Marx's economic theory elaborated in Capital; and "French Socialism", the struggle of the working class to overthrow capitalism, establish the dictatorship of the proletariat and lay the basis for a classless society. Thus Marxism, is not just a philosphical trend, since it embodies the positive scientific work to which Marx devoted the majority of his life in writing Capital, and, aims not just to interpret the world, but actually seeks and works for the overthrow of capitalism.


§Means and Ends

For Hegel, the dialectics of Means and Ends is part of the first part of the sub-division of Teleology, the purposive activity of the subject against, but as part of the object, out of which arises Life and Cognition. For example, the contradiction between the realised end and the subjective (intended) end is, as everyone knows, is the basic source of “lessons” - unintended results, which change practice and provide a deeper knowledge of the object and its relation to the subject.

The dialectic of Means and Ends is a subject of deep historical and political significance. Some say “The End justifies the Means”, which is invariably the signal for the most opportunist and cynical political practices. It is also said that “Everything is in the process”, but if the End is reduced to a nothing, then the process cannot negate what is. If the End is properly understood and is true, then there can be no contradiction between Means and End. Such an identity of Means and Ends presupposes the long drawn out process of cognition and the development of a theory and practice which enables the subject to concretely see how Means & Ends already exist or are in the process of becoming.

See Shorter Logic and Means and Ends.



Measure means the unity of quantity and quality, a dialectic popularised by Engels as one of the Laws of Dialectics. In Hegel’s Logic, Measure appears as the third term in the Doctrine of Being. Quality is change which by which a thing becomes something else; Quantity is change wherein something still remains what it is. The concept which encompasses quantitative and qualitative change, to “have the measure of the thing”, means to know just how much change it will take to make it something else. For example, we know the measure of water: at normal pressures it turns to ice at 0°C and steam at 100°C.

See the Shorter Logic or Hegel’s Outline of Logic.



In Hegel’s system, the first concept of Objectivity is Mechanism. Mechanism is the understanding of the object in terms of the system of things, relations, forces, etc by which it acts. In the history of science it corresponds to the philosophical position of Mechanical Materialism and is supplanted by the conception of Nature as composed not of things and forces but of processes, or in Hegel’s Logic, by Chemism. Seeing the “mechanism” by which something happens is a necessary step towards understanding it, but leaves out of account the life processes of thing and its parts; in a sense it answers the question “How?”, but not the question "Why?".

See Engels in "Ludwig Feuerbach" part 2 and Hegel in The Shorter Logic and Mechanical Object, Mechanical process - Absolute Mechanism.



In philosophy, "method" refers to how new knowledge is arrived at. Hegel's method, the "dialectical method", is demonstrated in The Logic in his way of uncovering the internal contradictions in concepts (thesis) and showing how they pass over into their opposites (antithesis) and give rise to new richer concepts embodying the synthesis of both thesis and antitheses. Hegel's method is contrasted with his "system" - the intricate structure of concepts outlined in the triads of The Logic. See the discussion of system and method in Ludwig Feuerbach. See also system below.


§Modifications of Being

Hegel uses this rather unusual expression for the various 'stages of the Idea' or 'divisions of Logic' to emphasise that they are all being, they all repeatedly both 'show themselves to be an other', (or 'turn out to be ...') and then 'become immediate'. A social class is also thousands of individuals; a chemical compound is also atoms and an animal is also organic chemicals.
See Hegel's explanation of Actuality
See how Hegel explains that Essence is (the truth of) Being, for example. The converse applies as well.



See Hegel's comment on Zeno's paradox in the Doctrine of Being.
The important distinction between the mechanical or metaphysical concept of motion and the dialectical concept of motion is that for dialectics motion essentially arises from the internal contradictory nature of things, and not just the external action of things one upon another. In fact, formal logic cannot grasp motion. See "Motion is the unity of time and space."


§Natural Science - comments by Hegel

Hegel makes frequent comments and criticism of the methods and concepts of the natural science of his time, see Sampler for references.



Nature is the whole of the world other than that which is produced by human labour. Human beings are part of Nature and have arisen out of Nature by acting upon it with Labour — this is the materialist view on the basic origin of knowledge and thought. The early Empiricists turned towards Nature as the source of knowledge, and Spinoza was the first to equate God with Nature. Marxism understands that we live in a predominantly human world, and that consciousness is not a direct reflection of Nature, but rather a human, social product. Naturalism is the tendency which emphasises the natural over the social aspect of the human condition.

See Marx's Critique of Hegel's Philosophy in General, including Marx on Man and Nature and Capital, Chapter VII, The Labour Process.

See Hegel, on understanding things in their own being and movement, that Nature is as much the subject of Philosophy as ideas, that Chance and Necessity exist in Nature, rather than being relevant only to knowledge.

Nature is, in fact, the last word in Hegel's Logic - for materialism, it is the first word. See Lenin's comment on this.


§Negation of the Negation

See Laws of Dialectics above and Negation in Glossary.
The following are references in Hegel to 'negation-of-the-negation', which is close to the Hegelian "triad" of thesis-antithesis- synthesis :
(1) Hegel explains that in Essence, Being is negated (reflected in an image, "recognised") but as Being is "reconstructed" as the "sum of essence" it is again "immediate", and we have Being again, but mediated through an other-world of itself in which it is reflected.
(2) Hegel explains how essence - the reflection of being - "turns out to be appearance", but then that "appearance" is not "mere" appearance but is "the proximate truth of Being". In other words, contrary to Kant, Hegel asserts that appearance, while it is transitory and purely relative, contains Essence and is objective. Thus Appearance is the negation of the negation of Being, Being at a higher level.
(3) The negation of essence (the inward) is appearance (the outward); the negation of the outward appearance comes about by means of discovering that it is identical with the inward, and the completion of this identity between inward and outward is Actuality. Actuality is thus the negation of the negation of Essence. Actuality is also the negation (Essence) of the negation of Being, since in Actuality, the immediacy of Being has returned, though as mediated.
(4) Essence is the negation of Being, the negation of Essence is The Notion. The negation of the negation of Being is the Notion, and Hegel shows that while the Notion " is not palpable to the touch, ... yet, the notion is a true concrete; for the reason that it involves Being and Essence, and the total wealth of these two spheres with them, ..."
(5) In section C of the Doctrine of the Notion, The Idea, Hegel explains that the Notion proves to be theTheoretical Idea (the world 'reconstructed' in the form of theoretical concepts), but also the "Practical Idea" (the activity of conscious human beings), but this is again the immediate, but conscious of itself - the Absolute Idea. This is the sense on which Marxists say that the criterion of Truth is Practice. See Marx's criticism of Feuerbach's view of Negation of the Negation.
See Marx's summary of this "hierarchy":



“Nothing” we can liken to the awareness that Being is undetermined, that something exists but we do not know what it is.

See Hegel's discussion o f Nothing in relation to early Greek philosophy in the Shorter Logic.


§The Notion

The Notion (or concept of something) is people’s generalised image of the thing, held in the mind without the immediate action of the thing upon the senses, which are shaped through the interaction of people with things and each other in social practice.

We can think of the Notion as the main principle of understanding a thing, the basic principle of a science, the core of someone’s personality, the key role of a social process or movement in history, etc.. In dialectics, the Notion is a unity of opposites if it is to capture both the inner contradictions which motivate the thing and constitute its life-process, and its connection with its Other.

A Notion is always the outcome of a long process of development and emerges as the ‘truth’ of a genesis in which a series of opposite forms are successively sublated. In this sense, Hegel says that the Notion is concrete. On the other hand, the Notion is the simple, abstract ‘germ’ which must be developed and merged with other notions in the course of the development of a genuinely concrete Idea of the thing.

For metaphysics, the Notion of something is arrived at by the activity of Reason to determine the key property of a thing which gives it its specific character. Thus “Notion” was akin to “Definition”, but “Definition” implies an abstract approach in accord with formal logic.

Whereas for formal logic and metaphysics, the Notion is arrived at by “stripping away” all that is inessential, Hegel shows that such an approach leads only to a meaningless “thing-in-iself”.

In Hegel's Logic, the whole of the “Objective Logic” (The Doctrine of Being and the Doctrine of Essence) is about how the initial concept of a thing is formed, in which initial inexact and inadequate definitions are replaced by others, through the interaction of opposite, contradictory definitions.

The dialectic of the Notion itself is called “Subjective Logic” and in it the processes more usually associated with logic are found. The Notion could be defined as the unity of Being and Essence, or the unity of analysis and synthesis. This is the process whereby the essential “germ” of a Notion becomes concrete; the initial Notion is tested out and as a result is qualified and further subordinate Notions included in it.

One of Marx's major achievements is his discovery of the Commodity as the “germ” of capitalism. See Chapter One of Capital. Marx defines the commodity as the unity of concrete labour (use-value) and abstract labour (exchange-value). Marx discusses the place of the Notion in the development of a science in The Method of Political Economy.

See section in Hegel’s Outline of Logic, the Science of Logic and in the Shorter Logic: that the “position taken up by the Notion is that of absolute idealism”, on the “unity of Being and Essence” and the “unity of analysis and synthesis”.

See C L R James on the Notion, and Abstract Universal and Notion in Hegel's Logic and the Notion in Nature and Society and Unity of Opposites and Equally Analytic and Synthetic and Truth of Actuality and The Truth of its Genesis and Judgment and Syllogism and Subject - Object - Idea.


§Objective Logic

The first part of Hegel’s Logic (i.e. Being and Essence) he calls the “Objective Logic” as opposed to the Doctrine of the Notion, which he called the Subjective Logic.

The objective logic is that process by means of which a notion or hypothesis (or organisation) comes into consciousness. For example, when a scientific treatise makes a critique of the foregoing literature on the subject, this forms part of the “objective logic”, as would the assembling of empirical data and its analysis in the terms of existing concepts. Objective Logic thus deals with a process of development which is not yet conscious of itself and is therefore determined independently of the subject. Hegel says that the objective logic is the Genetic exposition of the Notion.

See Hegel's Science of Logic and particularly The Notion in General and Ilyenkov's explanation.



Objectivity refers to that aspect of cognition which pertains to the Object itself, rather than the Subject. Over-emphasis on objectivity leads to a position of powerlessness and “Objectivism”. See Subjectivism. In Hegel's system, Objectivity refers to the second Division of Notion (i.e. the Subjective Logic, NB), where a new Notion confronts the entire existing body of theory with which it must merge if it is to become a mature theory or Idea.

Objectivity in Hegel's system is the second part of The Notion, after Subjectivity and followed by The Idea. The Notion (Subjectivity = the abstract notion, the Judgement and the Syllogism) is the domain of "Pure Reason" and confronts itself in Objectivity = independent existence outside the subject in the objects, processes and life of the world outside thought and subjectivity. The synthesis or resolution of the contradiction between subjectivity and objectivity takes place through The Idea - Life, Cognition and The Absolute Idea (conscious practical activity).

To stop at objectivity is the standpoint of "Objectivism", withholding critical appraisal and partisan intervention, abstaining from life, though Hegel assigns it to Leibnitz or superstition. See summary of The Object in the Shorter Logic.
See also Mechanism - Chemism - Teleology and Mechanism, Chemism and Teleology.


§Examples in Personal Life and Development

See Sampler for references to Hegel's illustrations of dialectics by examples in personal life.



Philosophy is the study of objective thought-forms; that is to say it differs from psychology and the social sciences in that it considers abstractions as abstractions, rather than studying the material forms they take in the the brain and society.. Marx's famous Thesis XI: “Hitherto philosophers have only interpreted the world; the point however is to change it”, was interpreted by many of his followers to mean that philosophy was ‘dead’, however, so long as people live in a world where we are dominated by thought-forms, philosophy will be a necessary pursuit. Once the contradictions within human society have been overcome and human labour is no longer ‘ alienated’ from human-beings, philosophy will become a thing of the past.

See Hegel’s Introduction to the Logic, Marx’s Theses on Feuerbach and Engels’ Ludwig Feuerbach, part 4


§Practical Idea

In Hegel’s system, the Practical Idea is the penultimate stage of development of the Idea, the Absolute Idea being the unity of the Theoretical Idea and the Practical Idea. In his characteristic “upside down” way, for Hegel, practice is the criterion of truth. In the Practical Idea, Cognition (knowledge) and Volition (will or intention) are synthesised; the subjective Notion is merged with Objectivity, Means is identical with Ends.

See also Practical Idea.



The theme of Marx's Theses on Feuerbach is that practice is the criterion of truth. Thesis I: "The chief defect of all hitherto existing materialism (that of Feuerbach included) is that the thing, reality, sensuousness, is conceived only in the form of the object or of contemplation, but not as sensuous human activity, practice, not subjectively." Thesis II: "The dispute over the reality or non-reality of thinking that is isolated from practice is a purely scholastic question."
By practice we mean real - social, purposive, sensuous - human activity, activity directed at changing the object. Practice is in particular to be distinguished from Reason (see Rationalism), Observation (see Empiricism) and Experiment (see Experimental Method).
After observation and reason, experiment obviously plays a vital and historically developed role in scientific cognition. The distinction between Experiment and Practice is that in experiment, the "observer" deliberatively isolates the object, whereas practice is essentially real.
In Hegel's idealist system, the concept of Practical Idea approximates to the dialectical materialist concept of Practice. In Thesis VIII, Marx says: "All mysteries which lead theory to mysticism find their rational solution in human practice and in the comprehension of this practice," and it is the latter point which emphasises the distinction between practice and the anti-theoretical application of "what works". See Pragmatism, Ilyenkov's explanation, Theory and Ilyenkov on human activity as the real manifestation of thought and subject of Hegel's Logic.


§"Being is Pure thought"

To say that "Being is pure thought" seems like arrant nonsense. Of course Hegel IS an objective idealist so he does not have the same problem with this statement that we would. However, we have to see the truth in what he is saying; we have to read this materialistically. The instant before you "notice" or "recognise" something, you have two things: the Thing in its immediacy - sensations on your eyes, ears, etc; and your "pure thought, which is "equal" to it and will very soon "recognise" it. But as yet, there is just the one and the other, no "reflection".


§Quantity and Quality, Law of Transformation

See section in Hegel's Outline of Logic.
Hegel presents the relation between Quantity and Quality as follows:

See Laws of Dialectics above
See also the Glossary.


§The First Section in each Division

The one-paragraph section at the beginning of each division of Hegel's Shorter Logic is usually a very brief summary of the concept and is often very obscure. Don't trouble too much about them, come back to them later. On the other hand, the Notes such as "§99n", are often much much clearer. If you're not grasping a section, hang on till you can have a read of the Note immediately following.



Hegel frequently refers to a concept being “Self-identical” or “equal to itself”. By this he means that the concept is lacking in any internal contradiction and is therefore abstract and motionless and generally isolated from connection with other things. For example, a body of water in which the temperature has become equal throughout (something which is impossible in reality) will have no convection currents within it; a society with no internal contradictions would be static and lifeless, etc., etc.

See Identity in the Doctrine of Essence and “Law of Identity”.


§Social and Historical Examples

See Sampler for references to Hegel's illustrations of dialectics by examples in history and social relations.


§Subjective Logic

Subjective Logic is that part of Hegel's Logic which deals with a notion or what we could call a hypothesis. It includes formal logic as a subordinate part, but unlike formal logic is not indifferent to the truth of the hypothesis, which is the outcome of the Objective Logic. In the subjective logic, a notion or hypothesis is concretised and developed so as to more and more adequately comprehend the object.

See Hegel’s essay on The Notion in General.



Subjectivity, refers to that aspect of perception or activity which pertains to the Subject. In Hegel’s system Subjectivity is the first part of The Notion, followed by Objectivity and The Idea. Subjectivity is the domain of “logic”, as commonly understood and its parts are Notion, Judgment and Syllogism.

According to Hegel, the philosophical standpoint which stops at subjectivity is Subjectivism or Idealism. In Subjectivity, the Notion exists “for itself”, but is yet to overcome, comprehend and merge with the objective world which confronts it and become “in-and-for-itself“.

See Hegel in the Shorter Logic and Individual, Universal and Particular.


§System & Method

In philosophy, System and Method refer to two complementary aspects of a philosopher's work, the Method the philosopher used in their work, and which can be emulated, and the System of concepts which was the product of the philosopher's work, which can be used.

Hegel's ‘Method’ for example, the ‘dialectical method’, is demonstrated in The Logic in his way of uncovering the internal contradictions in concepts (thesis) and showing how they pass over into their opposites (antithesis) and give rise to new richer concepts embodying the synthesis of both thesis and antitheses. Hegel's ‘System’ is the intricate sequence and structure of concepts outlined in the triads of The Logic. We can see the same aspects of the work of Marx or any other writer.

Prior to Hegel, all philosophers built a “system” of concepts and this is true of Hegel too (“The Absolute Idea”). Inasmuch as his system “includes” all previous systems as stages or moments of the Idea, Marx and Engels say that Hegel’s system is by far the superior of its predecessors. However, once Hegel’s system is “turned on its head” and the Idea replaced by the historical process itself, there was now no need of a special “system” of philosophy and the real value of Hegel lay in his method. See the discussion of this in Ludwig Feuerbach, part 1.

See also System and Method.



Teleology means purposive activity, activity directed towards an "End". Inorganic matter, it is said, is capable of mechanical and chemical, but not purposive activity. Hegel divides the second part of the Doctrine of the Notion, "Objectivity" into three divisions: Mechanism (things), Chemism (processes) and Teleology (purposes), as the basis of The Idea — which is Life, Cognition and the Absolute Idea.

The stages of Teleology are “Subjective End” (intention), Means (which must be objective) and “Realised End”.

See Science of Logic, Shorter Logic on "Inner Design" and section in Hegel’s Outline of Logic and Means & End.

While this is a schema, it is remarkable that in constructing a system which represents the idealistic development of "The Absolute Idea", which is therefore to Hegel, also how Nature itself become "conscious of itself", Hegel has produced such an excellent description of the process of cognition. Indeed, the unconscious but purposive striving of people is the basis of real life and cognition; teleology, the dialectic of subjective ends and subject-object means, is how an abstract notion begins to become concrete.


§Theoretical Idea

Theoretical Idea is a category of Hegel's Logic, which according to Hegel stands opposed to actuality, but its concretisation up to the Practical Idea means the raising of the theoretical negation of the object from the essential to the actual, so that the abstract notion has itself become actual — “confronts the actual as an actual“.

See Hegel in Science of Logic.



For dialectics, it is not the distinction or comparison between this and that concept which is essential but the transition from one to the other. The understanding of a contradiction, and unity of opposites, means the understanding of how one becomes the other — the transformation of opposites. Transition is contrasted on the one hand with series in which one thing follows another without mutual relation, and on the other hand with Development in which a concept or thing “absorbs” another into itself, concretises itself.

See Hegel in the Science of Logic and particularly on Division of the subject matter of science.



All Hegel’s writing is structured around "triads". A well-known formulations of the triad is ‘thesis — antithesis — synthesis’, or negation and negation-of-the-negation. The basic triad of the Shorter Logic is Being - Essence - Notion. Hegel would say that the Notion is the unity of Being and Essence, and that Essence is the negation of Being and Notion the truth of Essence, and that the Notion is a return to Being, but mediated rather than immediate. In history, we could say that primitive communism — civilisation or class society — Communism form a triad in the same way.

However, some warnings need to be made: firstly, Hegel was not the inventor of the 'triad' which was known long before; secondly, even though Hegel is famous for the way he structured his work around triads, much of the Shorter Logic, for instance, deviates markedly from the triadic structure; fourthly, Hegel never mentions ‘thesis — antithesis — synthesis’ in his writing and every triad in his work is a little different from every other; finally, even so, Hegel has been much criticised for the rigidity of this structure, and no-one today would write in such rigid triads.

See Hegel crediting the “triad” form to Kant. See also Triads

In reading Hegel, it is essential to ‘know where you are’ in the triadic structure. The Table of Contents of the Science of Logic and Table of Contents of the Shorter Logic may help keep you oriented. The structure of the documents and sections and sub-sections in the Hegel documents also reflect the major triads of Hegel's structure, so browsing through selecting "next section" and next "sub-section" may also help.


§Unity of Opposites

‘Unity of Opposites’ is a term used by Marxists such as Engels and Lenin to popularise the dialectical way of understanding things. For example, in his Summary of Dialectics, Lenin refers to the ‘unity, identity, struggle and transformation of opposites’. Many of the concepts in this glossary are unities of opposites, such as Analysis & Synthesis, Absolute & Relative, Finite & Infinite, Form & Content, Means & Ends, Quality & Quantity, etc.

See for example Marx on Abstract v Concrete, Analysis v Synthesis, on Private and Common property and Individual and Social and his treatment of the concepts of political economy in the Grundrisse.

See Hegel’s comment on Kant’s failure to understand the unity of opposites, and why “unity expresses an abstract and merely quiescent identity”.

See the Sampler for references to Hegel's treatment of a number of concepts as a "unity of opposites".


§Upside Down

This refers to Engels' saying that Marx "turned Hegel on his head". See Ludwig Feuerbach Part IV
See the sampler for comparisons of Hegel and Marx.


MIA Glossary