Karl Marx
Original publication: marxists.org

Critique of Hegel’s Dialectic and General Philosophy (1844)

The remaining part of the Third Manuscript. — R. D. [1]

This is, perhaps, the place to make a few remarks, by way of explanation and justification, about the Hegelian dialectic — both in general and in particular, as expounded in the Phenomenology and Logic, as well as about its relation to the modern critical movement.

Modern German criticism was so pre-occupied with the old world, and so entangled during the course of its development with its subject-matter, that it had a completely uncritical attitude to the method of criticism, and was completely unaware of the seemingly formal but in fact essential question of how we now stand in relation to the Hegelian dialectic. The lack of awareness about the relation of modern criticism to Hegelian philosophy in general and to the dialectic in particular has been so pronounced that critics like Strauss and Bruno Bauer are still, at least implicitly, imprisoned within Hegelian logic, the first completely so and the second in his Synoptiker (where, in opposition to Strauss, he substitutes the “self-consciousness” of abstract man for the substance of abstract nature) and even in his Das entdeckte Christentum. For example, in Das entdeckte Christentum we find the following passage:

As if self-consciousness, in positing the world, that which is different, and in producing itself in that which it produces, since it then does away with the difference between what it has produced and itself and since it is only in the producing and in the movement that it is itself — as if it did not have its purpose in this movement… [2]

Or again:

They [the French Materialists] could not yet see that the movement of the universe only really comes to exist for itself and enters into unity with itself as the movement of self-consciousness. [2]

These expressions are not even different in their language from the Hegelian conception. They reproduce it word for word.

How little awareness there was of the relation to Hegel’s dialectic while this criticism was under way (Bauer’s Synoptiker), and how little even the completed criticism of the subject-matter contributed to such an awareness, is clear from Bauer’s Gute Sache der Freiheit, where he dismisses Herr Gruppe’s impertinent question “and now what will happen to logic?” by referring him to future Critics.

But, now that Feuerbach, both in his “Thesen” in the Anekdota and in greater detail in his Philosophie der Zukunft, has destroyed the foundations of the old dialectic and philosophy, that very school of Criticism, which was itself incapable of taking such a step but instead watched while it was taken, has proclaimed itself the pure, resolute, absolute Criticism which has achieved self-clarity, and in its spiritual pride has reduced the whole process of history to the relation between the rest of the world, which comes into the category of the “masses,” and itself. It has assimilated all dogmatic antitheses into the one dogmatic antithesis between its own sagacity and the stupidity of the world, between the critical Christ and mankind — the “rabble.” It has daily and hourly demonstrated its own excellence against the mindlessness of the masses and has finally announced that the critical Day of Judgment is drawing near, when the whole of fallen humanity will be arrayed before it and divided into groups, whereupon each group will receive its certificate of poverty. The school of Criticism has made known in print its superiority to human feelings and the world, above which it sits enthroned in sublime solitude, with nothing but an occasional roar of sarcastic laughter from its Olympian lips. After all these delightful capers of idealism (Young Hegelianism) which is expiring in the form of Criticism, it (the critical school) has not once voiced so much as a suspicion of the need for a critical debate with its progenitor, the Hegelian dialectic. It has not even indicated a critical attitude to Feuerbach’s dialectic. A completely uncritical attitude towards itself.

Feuerbach is the only person who has a serious and critical attitude to the Hegelian dialectic and who has made real discoveries in this field. He is the true conqueror of the old philosophy. The magnitude of his achievement and the quiet simplicity with which he presents it to the world are in marked contrast to the others.

Feuerbach’s great achievement is:

  1. To have shown that philosophy is nothing more than religion brought into thought and developed in thought, and that it is equally to be condemned as another form and mode of existence of the estrangement of man’s nature.
  2. To have founded true materialism and real science by making the social relation of “man to man” the basic principle of this theory.
  3. To have opposed to the negation of the negation, which claims to be the absolute positive, the positive which is based upon itself and positively grounded in itself.

Feuerbach explains the Hegelian dialectic, and in so doing justifies taking the positive, that is sensuously ascertained, as his starting-point, in the following way:

Hegel starts out from the estrangement of substance (in logical terms: from the infinite, the abstractly universal), from the absolute and fixed abstraction. In ordinary language, he starts out from religion and theology.

Secondly, he supercedes the infinite and posits the actual, the sensuous, the real, the finite, the particular. (Philosophy as supersession of religion and theology.)

Thirdly, he once more supersedes the positive, and restores the abstraction, the infinite. Restoration of religion and theology.

Feuerbach, therefore, conceives the negation of the negation only as a contradiction of philosophy with itself, as philosophy which affirms theology (supersession, etc.) after having superseded it and, hence, affirms it in opposition to itself.

The positing or self-affirmation and self-confirmation present in the negation of the negation is regarded as a positing which is not yet sure of itself, which is still preoccupied with its opposite, which doubts itself and therefore stands in need of proof, which does not prove itself through its own existence, which is not admitted. It is, therefore, directly counterposed to that positing which is sensuously ascertained and grounded in itself. (Feuerbach sees negation of the negation, the concrete concept, as thought which surpasses itself in thought and as thought which strives to be direct awareness, nature, reality.)

But, since he conceives the negation of the negation from the aspect of the positive relation contained within it as the true and only positive and from the aspect of the negative relation contained within it as the only true act and self-realizing act of all being, Hegel has merely discovered the abstract, logical, speculative expression of the movement of history. This movement of history is not yet the real history of man as a given subject, it is simply the process of his creation, the history of his emergence. We shall explain both the abstract form of this movement and the difference between Hegel’s conception of this process and that of modern criticism as formulated in Feuerbach’s Das Wesen des Christentums, or, rather, the critical form of a movement which in Hegel is still uncritical.

Let us take a look at Hegel’s system. We must begin with his Phenomenology, which is the true birthplace and secret of the Hegelian philosophy.


  1. Self-consciousness.
    1. Consciousness.
      1. Certainty in sense experience, or the “this” and meaning.
      2. Perception or the thing with its properties and illusion.
      3. Power and understanding, phenomena and the super-sensible world.
    2. Self-consciousness. The truth of certainty of oneself.
      1. Independence and dependence of self-consciousness.
      2. Freedom of self-consciousness. Stoicism, scepticism, the unhappy consciousness.
    3. Reason. Certainty and truth.
      1. Observational reason; observation of nature and of self-consciousness.
      2. Realization of rational self-consciousness through itself. Pleasure and necessity. The law of the heart and the madness of self-conceit. Virtue and the way of the world.
      3. Individuality which is real in and for itself. The spiritual animal kingdom and deception or the thing itself. Legislative reason. Reason which tests laws.
  2. Mind.
    1. True mind, morality.
    2. Self-estranged mind, culture.
    3. Mind certain of itself, morality.
  3. Religion.
    • Natural religion, the religion of art, revealed religion.
  4. Absolute knowledge.

Hegel’s Encyclopaedia begins with logic, with pure speculative thought, and ends with absolute knowledge, with the self-conscious, self-comprehending philosophical or absolute mind — i.e., super-human, abstract mind. In the same way, the whole of the Encyclopaedia is nothing but the extended being or philosophical mind, its self-objectification; and the philosophical mind is nothing but the estranged mind of the world thinking within its self-estrangement — i.e., conceiving itself abstractly. Logic is the currency of the mind, the speculative thought-value of man and of nature, their essence which has become completely indifferent to all real determinateness and hence unreal, alienated thought, and therefore though which abstract from nature and from real man; abstract thought. The external character of this abstract thought… nature as it is for this abstract thought. Nature is external to it, its loss of self; it grasps nature externally, as abstract thought, but as alienated abstract thought. Finally mind, which is thought returning to its birthplace and which as anthropological, phenomenological, psychological, moral, artistic-religious mind, is not valid for itself until it finally discovers and affirms itself as absolute knowledge and therefore as absolute, i.e., abstract mind, receives its conscious and appropriate existence. For its real existence is abstraction.

Hegel commits a double error.

The first appears most clearly in the Phenomenology, which is the birthplace of Hegelian philosophy. When, for example, Hegel conceives wealth, the power of the state, etc., as entities estranged from the being of man, he conceives them only in their thought form… They are entities of thought, and therefore simply an estrangement of pure — i.e., abstract — philosophical thought. Therefore, the entire movement ends with absolute knowledge. What these objects are estranged from and what they confront with their claim to reality is none other than abstract thought. The philosopher — himself an abstract form of estranged man — sets himself up as the yardstick of the estranged world. The entire history of alienation, and the entire retraction of this alienation, is, therefore, nothing more than the history of the production of abstract (i.e., absolute) thought, of logical, speculative thought. Estrangement, which thus forms the real interest of this alienation and its supersession, is the opposition of in itself and for itself, of consciousness and self-consciousness, of object and subject — i.e., the opposition within thought itself of abstract thought and sensuous reality, or real sensuousness. All other oppositions and the movements of these oppositions are only the appearance, the mask, the exoteric form of these two opposites which are alone important and which form the meaning of these other, profane oppositions. It is not the fact that the human essence objectifies itself in an inhuman way, in opposition to itself, but that it objectifies itself in distinction from and in opposition to abstract thought, which constitutes the essence of estrangement as it exists and as it is to be superseded.

The appropriation of man’s objectified and estranged essential powers is, therefore, firstly only an appropriation which takes place in consciousness, in pure thought — i.e., in abstraction. In the Phenomenology, therefore, despite its thoroughly negative and critical appearance, and despite the fact that its criticism is genuine and often well ahead of its time, the uncritical positivism, and equally uncritical idealism of Hegel’s later works, the philosophical dissolution and restoration of the empirical world, is already to be found in its latent form, in embryo, as a potentiality and a secret. Secondly, the vindication of the objective world for man — e.g., the recognition that sensuous consciousness is not abstractly sensuous consciousness, but humanly sensuous consciousness; that religion, wealth, etc., are only the estranged reality of human objectification, of human essential powers born into work, and therefore only the way to true human reality — this appropriation, or the insight into this process, therefore appears in Hegel in such a way that sense perception, religion, the power of the state, etc., are spiritual entities, for mind alone is the true essence of man, and the true form of mind is the thinking mind, the logical, speculative mind. The humanity of nature and of nature as produced by history, of man’s products, is apparent from the fact that they are products of abstract mind and therefore factors of the mind, entities of thought. The Phenomenology is therefore concealed and mystifying criticism, criticism which has not attained self-clarity; but insofar as it grasps the estrangement of man — even though man appears only in the form of mind — all the elements of criticism are concealed within it, and often prepared and worked out in a way that goes far beyond Hegel’s own point of view. The “unhappy consciousness,” the “honest consciousness,” the struggle of the “noble and base consciousness,” etc., etc., these separate sections contain the critical elements — but still in estranged form — of entire spheres, such as religion, the state, civil life and so forth. Just as the entity, the object, appears as a thought-entity, so also the subject is always consciousness of self-consciousness; or rather, the object appears only as abstract consciousness and men only as self-consciousness. The various forms of estrangement which occur are therefore merely different forms of consciousness and self-consciousness. Since abstract consciousness, which is how the object is conceived, is in itself only one moment in the differentiation of self-consciousness, the result of the movement is the identity of self-consciousness and consciousness, absolute knowledge, the movement of abstract thought no longer directed outwards but proceeding only within itself; i.e., the result is the dialectic of pure thought.

The importance of Hegel’s Phenomenology and its final result — the dialectic of negativity as the moving and producing principle — lies in the fact that Hegel conceives the self-creation of man as a process, objectification as loss of object [Entgegenstandlichung], as alienation and as supersession of this alienation; that he therefore grasps the nature of labor and conceives objective man — true, because real man — as the result of his own labor. The real, active relation of man to himself as a species-being, or the realization of himself as a real species-being — i.e., as a human being, is only possible if he really employs all this species-powers — which again is only possible through the cooperation of mankind and as a result of history — and treats them as objects, which is at first only possible in the form of estrangement.

We shall now demonstrate, in detail, the one-sidedness and the limitations of Hegel, as observed in the closing chapter of the Phenomenology. This chapter (“Absolute Knowledge”) contains the concentrated essence of the Phenomenology, its relation to the dialectic, and Hegel’s consciousness of both and their interrelations.

For the present, let us observe that Hegel adopts the standpoint of modern political economy. He sees labor as the essence, the self-confirming essence, of man; he sees only the positive and not the negative side of labor. Labor is man’s coming to be for himself within alienation or as an alienated man. The only labor Hegel knows and recognizes is abstract mental labor. So that which above all constitutes the essence of philosophy — the alienation of man who knows himself or alienated science that thinks itself — Hegel grasps as its essence, and is therefore able to bring together the separate elements of previous philosophies and present his own philosophy as the philosophy. What other philosophers did — that they conceived separate moments of nature and of man’s life as moments of self-consciousness, indeed, of abstract self-consciousness — this Hegel knows by doing philosophy. Therefore, his science is absolute.

Let us now proceed to our subject.

“Absolute Knowledge.” The last chapter of the Phenomenology.

The main point is that the object of consciousness is nothing else but self-consciousness, or that the object is only objectified self-consciousness, self-consciousness as object. (The positing of man = self-consciousness.)

It is, therefore, a question of surmounting the object of consciousness. Objectivity as such is seen as an estranged human relationship which does not correspond to human nature, to self-consciousness. The reappropriation of the objective essence of man, produced in the form of estrangement as something alien, therefore means transcending not only estrangement but also objectivity. That is to say, man is regarded as a non-objective, spiritual being.

Hegel describes the process of surmounting the object of consciousness in the following way:

The object does not only show itself as returning into the self, (according to Hegel that is a one-sided conception of the movement, a conception which grasps only one side). Man is equated with self. But the self is only abstractly conceived man, man produced by abstraction. Man is self [selbstisch]. His eyes, his ears, etc., have the quality of self; each one of his essential powers has this quality of self. But therefore it is quite wrong to say that self-consciousness has eyes, ears, essential powers. Self-consciousness is rather a quality of human nature, of the human eye, etc.; human nature is not a quality of self-consciousness.

The self abstracted and fixed for itself is man as abstract egoist, egoism raised to its pure abstraction in thought. (We shall come back to this later.)

For Hegel, human nature, man, is equivalent to self-consciousness. All estrangement of human nature is therefore nothing but estrangement of self-consciousness not as the expression, reflected in knowledge and in thought, of the real estrangement of human nature. On the contrary, actual estrangement, estrangement which appears real, is in its innermost hidden nature — which philosophy first brings to light — nothing more than the appearance of the estrangement of real human nature, of self-consciousness. The science which comprehends this is therefore called phenomenology. All reappropriation of estranged objective being, therefore, appears as an incorporation into self-consciousness; the man who takes hold of his being is only the self-consciousness which takes hold of objective being. The return of the object into the self is therefore the reappropriation of the object.

Expressed comprehensively, the surmounting of the object of consciousness means [the following eight points taken almost verbatim from Phenomenology, chapter “Absolute Knowledge”]:

  1. That the object as such presents itself to consciousness as something disappearing.
  2. That it is the alienation of self-consciousness which establishes thingness [Dingheit].
  3. That this alienation has not only a negative but also a positive significance.
  4. That this significance is not only for us or in itself, but for self-consciousness itself.
  5. For self-consciousness the negative of the object, its own supersession of itself, has a positive significance — or self-consciousness knows the nullity of the object — in that self-consciousness alienates itself, for in this alienation it establishes itself as object of establishes the object as itself, for the sake of the indivisible unity of being-for-itself.
  6. On the other hand, this other moment is also present in the process, namely, that self-consciousness has superseded and taken back into itself this alienation and objectivity, and is therefore at home in its other-being as such.
  7. This is the movement of consciousness, and consciousness is therefore the totality of its moments.
  8. Similarly, consciousness must have related itself to the object in terms of the totality of its determinations, and have grasped it in terms of each of them. This totality of determinations make the object intrinsically [an sich] a spiritual being, and it becomes that in reality for consciousness through the apprehending of each one of these determinations as determinations of self or through what we earlier called the spiritual attitude towards them.

As to 1,

That the object as such presents itself to consciousness as something disappearing is the above-mentioned return of the object into self.

As to 2,

The alienation of self-consciousness establishes thingness. Because man is equivalent to self-consciousness, his alienated objective being or thingness (that which is an object for him, and the only true object for him is that which is an essential object — i.e., his objective essence; since it is not real man, and therefore not nature, for man is human nature, who becomes as such the subject, but only the abstraction of man, self-consciousness, thingness can only be alienated self-consciousness) is the equivalent of alienated self-consciousness, and thingness is established by this alienation. It is entirely to be expected that a living, natural being equipped and endowed with objective — i.e., material — essential powers should have real natural objects for the objects of its being, and that its self-alienation should take the form of the establishment of a real, objective world, but as something external to it, a world which does not belong to its being and which overpowers it. There is nothing incomprehensible or mysterious about that. It would only be mysterious if the contrary were true. But it is equally clear that a self-consciousness, through its alienation, can only establish thingness — i.e., and abstract thing, a thing of abstraction and not a real thing. It is also clear that thing-ness is therefore in no way something independent or substantial vis-a-vis self-consciousness; it is a mere creature, a postulate of self-consciousness. And what is postulated, instead of confirming itself, is only a confirmation of the act of postulating; an act which, for a single moment, concentrates its energy as product and apparently confers upon that product — but only for a moment — the role of an independent, real being.

When real, corporeal man, his feet firmly planted on the solid earth and breathing all the powers of nature, establishes his real, objective essential powers as alien objects by externalization [Entausserung], it is not the establishing [Setzen] which is subject; it is the subjectivity of objective essential powers whose action must therefore be an objective one. An objective being acts objectively, and it would not act objectively is objectivity were not an inherent part of its essential nature. It creates and establishes only objects because it is established by objects, because it is fundamentally nature. In the act of establishing, it, therefore, does not descend from its “pure activity” to the creation of objects; on the contrary, its objective product simply confirms its objective activity, its activity as the activity of an objective, natural being.

Here we see how the constant naturalism or humanism differs both from idealism and materialism and is at the same time their unifying truth. We also see that only naturalism is capable of comprehending the process of world history.

Man is directly a natural being. As a natural being, and as a living natural being, he is on the one hand equipped with natural powers, with vital powers, he is an active natural being; these powers exist in him as dispositions and capacities, as drives. On the other hand, as a natural, corporeal, sensuous, objective being, he is a suffering, conditioned, and limited being, like animals and plants. That is to say, the objects of his drives exist outside him as objects independent of him; but these objects are objects of his need, essential objects, indispensable to the exercise and confirmation of his essential powers. To say that man is a corporeal, living, real, sensuous, objective being with natural powers means that he has real, sensuous objects as the object of his being and of his vital expression, or that he can only express his life in real, sensuous objects. To be objective, natural, and sensuous, and to have object, nature, and sense outside oneself, or to be oneself object, nature, and sense for a third person is one and the same thing. Hunger is a natural need; it therefore requires a nature and an object outside itself in order to satisfy and still itself. Hunger is the acknowledged need of my body for an object which exists outside itself and which is indispensable to its integration and to the expression of its essential nature. The Sun is an object for the plant, an indispensable object with confirms its life, just as the plant is an object for the Sun, as expression of its life-awakening power and its objective essential power.

A being which does not have its nature outside itself is not a natural being and plays no part in the system of nature. A being which has no object outside itself is not an objective being. A being which is not itself an object for some third being has no being for its object, i.e., it is not objectively related. Its being is not objective.

A non-objective being is a non-being.

Suppose a being which is neither an object itself, nor has an object. Such a being, in the first place, would be the unique being; there would exist no being outside it — it would exist in a condition of solitude. For as soon as there are objects outside me, as soon as I am not alone, I am another, a reality other than the object outside me. For this third object I am therefore a reality other than it — i.e., its object. A being which is not the object of another being therefore presupposes that no objective being exists. As soon as I have an object, this object has me for its object. But a non-objective being is an unreal, non-sensuous, merely thought — i.e., merely conceived — being, a being of abstraction. To be sensuous — i.e., to be real — is to be an object of sense, a sensuous object, and thus to have sensuous objects outside oneself, objects of one’s sense perception. To be sensuous is to suffer (to be subjected to the actions of another).

Man as an objective sensuous being is therefore a suffering being, and because he feels his suffering [Leiden], he is a passionate [leidenschaftliches] being. Passion is man’s essential power vigorously striving to attain its object.

But man is not only a natural being; he is a human natural being; i.e., he is a being for himself and hence a species-being, as which he must confirm and realize himself both in his being and in his knowning. Consequently, human objects are not natural objects as they immediately present themselves, nor is human sense, in its immediate and objective existence, human sensibility and human objectivity. Neither objective nor subjective nature is immediately present in a form adequate to the human being. And as everything natural must come into being, so man also has his process of origin in history. But for him history is a conscious process, and hence one which consciously superseded itself. History is the true natural history of man. (We shall return to this later.)

Thirdly, since this establishing of thingness is itself only an appearance, an act which contradicts the nature of pure activity, it must be superseded once again and thingness must be denied.

As to 3, 4, 5, 6,

  1. This alienation of consciousness has not only a negative but also a positive significance, and
  2. it has this positive significance not only for us or in itself, but for consciousness itself.
  3. For self-consciousness, the negative of the object or its own supersession of itself has a positive significance — or self-consciousness knows the nullity of the object — in that self-consciousness alienates itself, for in this alienation it knows itself as object or, for the sake of the individisible unity of being-for-itself, the object as itself.
  4. On the other hand, the other moment is also present in the process, namely, that self-consciousness has superseded and taken back into itself this alienation and objectivity, and is therefore at home in its other-being as such.

To recapitulate: The appropriation of estranged objective being or the supersession of objectivity in the form of estrangement — which must proceed from indifferent otherness to real, hostile estrangement — principally means for Hegel the supersession of objectivity, since it is not the particular character of the object but its objective character which constitutes the offense and the estrangement as far as self-consciousness is concerned. The object is therefore negative, self-superseding, a nullity. This nullity of the object has not only a negative but also a positive significance for consciousness, for it is precisely the self-confirmation of its non-objectivity and abstraction. For consciousness itself, the nullity of the object therefore has a positive significance because it knows this nullity, the objective being, as its self-alienation, because it knows that this nullity exists only as a result of its own self-alienation…

The way in which consciousness is, and in which something is for it, is knowing. Knowing is its only act. Hence, something comes to exist for consciousness insofar as it knows that something. Knowing is its only objective relationship. It knows the nullity of the object — i.e., that the object is not direct from it, the non-existence of the object for it, in that it knows the object as its own self-alienation; that is, it knows itself — i.e., it knows knowing, considered as an object — in that the object is only the appearance of an object, an illusion, which in essence is nothing more than knowing itself which has confronted itself with itself, and hence a nullity, a something which has no objectivity outside knowing. Knowing knows that when it relates itself to an object it is only outside itself, alienates itself; that it only appears to itself as an object, or rather, that what appears to it as an object is only itself.

On the other hand, says, Hegel, this other moment is also present in the process, namely, that self-consciousness has superseded and taken back into itself this alienation and objectivity, and is therefore at home in its other-being as such.

This discussion is a compendium of all the illusions of speculation.

Firstly, consciousness — self-consciousness — is at home in its other-being as such. It is therefore, if we here abstract from Hegel’s abstraction and talk instead of self-consciousness, of the self-consciousness of man, at home in its other-being as such. This implies, for one thing, that consciousness — knowing as knowing, thinking as thinking — claims to be the direct opposite of itself, claims to be the sensuous world, reality, life — thought over-reaching itself in thought (Feuerbach). This aspect is present insofar as consciousness as mere consciousness is offended not by estranged objectivity but by objectivity as such.

Secondly, it implies that self-conscious man, insofar as he has acknowledged and superseded the spiritual world, or the general spiritual existence of his world, as self-alienation, goes on to reaffirm it in this alienated form and presents it as his true existence, restores it and claims to be at home in his other-being as such. Thus, for example, having superseded religion and recognized it as a product of self-alienation, he still finds himself confirmed in religion as religion. Here is the root of Hegel’s false positivism or of his merely apparent criticism; it is what Feuerbach calls the positing, negating, and re-establishing of religion or theology, but it needs to be conceived in a more general way. So reason is at home in unreason as unreason. Man, who has realized that in law, politics, etc., he leads an alienated life as such. Self-affirmation, self-confirmation in contradiction with itself and with the knowledge and the nature of the object is therefore true knowledge and true life.

Therefore there can no longer be any question abut a compromise on Hegel’s part with religion, the state, etc., since this untruth is the untruth of his principle.

If I know religion as alienated human self-consciousness, then what I know in it as religion is not my self-consciousness but my alienated self-consciousness confirmed in it. Thus I know that the self-consciousness which belongs to the essence of my own self is confirmed not in religion but in the destruction and supersession of religion.

In Hegel, therefore, the negation of the negation is not the confirmation of true being through the negation of apparent being. It is the confirmation of apparent being or self-estranged being in its negation, or the negation of this apparent being as an objective being residing outside man and independent of him and its transformation into the subject.

The act of superseding therefore plays a special role in which negation and preservation (affirmation) are brought together.

Thus, for example, in Hegel’s Philosophy of Right, private right superseded equals morality, morality superseded equals family, family superseded equals civil society, civil society superseded equals state, and state superseded equals world history. In reality, private right, morality, family, civil society, state, etc., continue to exist, but have become moments and modes of human existence which are meaningless in isolation but which mutually dissolve and engender one another. They are moments of movement.

In their real existence this character of mobility is hidden. It first appears, is first revealed, in thought and in philosophy. Hence, my true religious existence is my existence in the philosophy of religion, my true political existence is my existence in the philosophy of right, my true natural existence is my existence in the philosophy of nature, my true artistic existence is my existence in the philosophy of art and my true human existence is my existence in philosophy. Similarly, the true existence of religion, state, nature, and art is the philosophy of religion, nature, the state and art. But if the philosophy of religions, etc., is for me the true existence of religion, then I am truly religious only as a philosopher of religion, and I therefore deny real religiosity and the really religious man. But at the same time I confirm them, partly in my own existence or in the alien existence which I oppose to them — for this is merely their philosophical expression — and partly in their particular and original form, for I regard them as merely apparent other-being, as allegories, forms of their own true existence concealed under sensuous mantles — i.e. forms of my philosophical existence.

Similarly, quality superseded equals quantity, quantity superseded equals measure, measure superseded equals essence, essence superseded equals appearance, appearance superseded equals reality, reality superseded equals the concept, the concept superseded equals objectivity, objectivity superseded equals the absolute idea, the absolute idea superseded equals nature, nature superseded equals subjective spirit, subjective spirit superseded equals ethical objective spirit, ethical spirit superseded equals art, art superseded equals religion, religion superseded equals absolute knowledge.

On the one hand, this act of superseding is the act of superseding an entity of thought; thus, private property as thought is superseded in the thought of morality. And because thought imagines itself to be the direct opposite of itself — i.e., sensuous reality — and therefore regards its own activity as sensuous, real activity, this supersession in thought, which leaves its object in existence in reality, thinks it has actually overcome it. On the other hand, since the object has now become a moment of thought for the thought which is doing the superseding, it is regarded in its real existence as a continuation of thought, so self-consciousness, of abstraction.

From one aspect the existence which Hegel superseded in philosophy is therefore not real religion, state, nature, but religion already in the form of an object of knowledge — i.e., dogmatics; hence also jurisprudence, political science, and natural science. From this aspect, he therefore stands in opposition both to the actual being and to the immediate non-philosophical science or non-philosophical concepts of being. He therefore contradicts their current conceptions.

From the other aspect the man who is religious, etc., can find his final confirmation in Hegel.

We should now examine the positive moments of the Hegelian dialectic, within the determining limits of estrangement.

(a) The act of superseding as an objective movement which re-absorbs alienation into itself. This is the insight, expressed within estrangement, into the appropriation of objective being through the supersession of its alienation; it is the estranged insight into the real objectification of man, into the real appropriation of his objective being through the destruction of the estranged character of the objective world, through the supersession of its estranged mode of existence, just as atheism as the supersession of God is the emergence of theoretical humanism, and communism as the supersession of private property the vindication of real human life as man’s property, the emergence of practical humanism. Atheism is humanism mediated with itself through the supersession of religion; communism is humanism mediated with itself through the supersession of private property. Only when we have superseded this mediation — which is, however, a necessary precondition — will positive humanism, positively originating in itself, come into being.

But atheism and communism are no flight, no abstraction, no loss of the objective world created by man or of his essential powers projected into objectivity. No impoverished regression to unnatural, primitive simplicity. They are rather the first real emergence, the realization become real for man, of his essence as something real.

Therefore, in grasping the positive significance of the negation which has reference to itself, even if once again in estranged form, Hegel grasps man’s self-estrangement alienation of being, loss of objectivity, and loss of reality as self-discovery, expression of being, objectification and realization. In short, he sees labor — within abstraction — as man’s act of self-creation and man’s relation to himself as an alien being and the manifestation of himself as an alien being as the emergence of species-consciousness and species-life.

(b) But in Hegel, apart from or rather as a consequence of the inversion we have already described, this act appears, firstly, to be merely formal because it is abstract and because human nature itself is seen only as abstract thinking being, as self-consciousness.

And secondly, because the conception is formal and abstract, the supersession of alienation becomes a confirmation of alienation. In other words, Hegel sees this movement of self-creation and self-objectification in the form of self-alienation and self-estrangement as the absolute and hence the final expression of human life which has itself as its aim, is at rest in itself and has attained its own essential nature.

This movement in its abstract form as dialectic is therefore regarded as truly human life. And since it is still an abstraction, an estrangement of human life, it is regarded as a divine process, but as the divine process of man. It is man’s abstract, pure, absolute being (as distinct from himself), which itself passes through this process.

Thirdly, this process must have a bearer, a subject; but the subject comes into being only as the result; this result, the subject knowing itself as absolute self-consciousness, is therefore God, absolute spirit, the self-knowing and self-manifesting idea. Real man and real nature become mere predicates, symbols of this hidden, unreal man and this unreal nature. Subject and predicate therefore stand in a relation of absolute inversion to one another; a mystical subject-object or subjectivity encroaching upon the object, the absolute subject as a process, as a subject which alienates itself and returns to itself from alienation, while at the same time re-absorbing this alienation, and the subject as this process; pure, ceaseless revolving within itself.

First, the formal and abstract conception of man’s act of self-creation of self-objectification.

Because Hegel equates man with self-consciousness, the estranged object, the estranged essential reality of man is nothing but consciousness, nothing but the thought of estrangement, its abstract and hence hollow and unreal expression, negation. The supersession of alienation is therefore likewise nothing but an abstract, hollow supersession of that hollow abstraction, the negation of the negation. The inexhaustible, vital, sensuous, concrete activity of self-objectification is therefore reduced to its mere abstraction, absolute negativity, an abstraction which is then given permanent form as such and conceived as independent activity, as activity itself. Since this so-called negativity is nothing more than the abstract, empty form of that real living act, its content can only be a formal content, created by abstraction from all content. Consequently there are general, abstract forms of abstraction which fit every content and are therefore indifferent to all content: forms of thought and logical categories torn away from real mind and real nature. (We shall expound the logical content of absolute negativity later.)

Hegel’s positive achievement in his speculative logic is to present determinate concepts, the universal fixed thought-forms in their independence of nature and mind, as a necessary result of the universal estrangement of human existence, and thus also of human thought, and to comprehend them as moments in the process of abstraction. For example, being superseded is essence, essence superseded is the concept, the concept superseded is… the absolute idea. But what is the absolute idea? It is compelled to supersede its own self again, if it does not wish to go through the whole act of abstraction once more from the beginning and to reconcile itself to being a totality of abstraction which comprehends itself as abstraction knows itself to be nothing; it must relinquish itself, the abstraction, and so arrives at something which is its exact opposite, nature. Hence the whole of the Logic is proof of the fact that abstract thought is nothing for itself, that the absolute idea is nothing for itself, and that only nature is something.

The absolute idea, the abstract idea which “considered from the aspect of its unity with itself in intuition [Anschauen],” and which “in its own absolute truth resolves to let the moment of it s particularity or of initial determination and other-being, the immediate-idea, as its reflection, issue freely from itself as nature,” this whole idea, which conducts itself in such a strange and baroque fashion, and which has caused the Hegelians such terrible headaches, is purely and simply abstraction — i.e., the abstract thinker; abstraction which, taught by experience and enlightened as to its own truth, resolves under various conditions — themselves false and still abstract — to relinquish itself and to establish its other-being, the particular, the determinate, in place of its self-pervasion [Beisichsein], non-being, universality, and indeterminateness; to let nature, which is concealed within itself as a mere abstraction, as a thing of things, issue freely from itself — i.e., to abandon abstractions and to take a look at nature, which exists free from abstraction. The abstract idea, which directly becomes intuition, is quite simply nothing more than abstract thought which relinquishes itself and decides to engage in intuiting. This entire transition from logic to philosophy of nature is nothing more than the transition — so difficult for the abstract thinker to effect, and hence described by him in sich a bizarre manner — from abstracting to intuiting. The mystical feeling which drives the philosopher from abstract thinking to intuition is boredom, the longing for a content.

The man estranged from himself is also the thinker estranged from his essence — i.e., from his natural and human essence. His thoughts are therefore fixed phantoms existing outside nature and man. In his Logic, Hegel has locked up all these phantoms, conceiving each of them firstly as negative — i.e., as alienation of human thought — and secondly as negation of the negation — i.e., as supersession of this alienation, as a real expression of human thought. But since this negation of the negation is itself still trapped in estrangement, what this amounts to is in part a failure to move beyond the final stage, the stage of self-reference in alienation, which is the true existence of these phantoms.

[Marx note: That is, Hegel substitutes the act of abstraction revolving within itself for these fixed abstractions; in so doing he has the merit, first of all, of having revealed the source of all these inappropriate concepts which originally belonged to separate philosophers, of having combined them and of having created as the object of criticism the exhaustive range of abstraction rather than one particular abstraction. We shall later see why Hegel separates thought from the subject; but it is already clear that if man is not human, then the expression of his essential nature cannot be human, and therefore that thought itself could not be conceived as an expression of man’s being, of man as a human and natural subject, with eyes, ears, etc., living in society, in the world, and in nature.]

Insofar as this abstraction apprehends itself and experiences an infinite boredom with itself, we find in Hegel an abandonment of abstract thought which moves solely within thought, which has no eyes, teeth, ears, anything, and a resolve to recognize nature as being and to go over to intuition.

But nature, too, taken abstractly, for itself, and fixed in its separation from man, is nothing for man. It goes without saying that the abstract thinker who decides on intuition intuits nature abstractly. Just as nature lay enclosed in the thinker in a shape which even to him was shrouded and mysterious, as an absolute idea, a thing of thought, so what he allowed to come forth from himself was simply this abstract nature, nature as a thing of thought — but with the significance now of being the other-being of thought, real, intuited nature as distinct from abstract thought. Or, to put it in human terms, the abstract thinker discovers from intuiting nature that the entities which he imagined he was creating out of nothing, out of pure abstraction, in a divine dialectic, as the pure products of the labor of thought living and moving within itself and never looking out into reality, are nothing more than abstractions from natural forms. The whole of nature only repeats to him in a sensuous, external form the abstractions of logic. He analyzes nature and these abstractions again. His intuiting of nature is therefore only the act of confirmation of his abstraction from the intuition of nature, a conscious re-enactment of the process by which he produced his abstraction. Thus, for example, Time is equated with Negativity referred to itself. In the natural form, superseded Movement as Matter corresponds to superseded Becoming as Being. Light is the natural form of Reflection-in-itself. Body as Moon and Comet is the natural form of the antithesis which, according to the Logic, is the positive grounded upon itself and the negative grounded upon itself. The Earth is the natural form of the logical ground, as the negative unity of the antithesis, etc.

Nature as nature — i.e., insofar as it is sensuously distinct from the secret sense hidden within it — nature separated and distinct from these abstractions is nothing, a nothing proving itself to be nothing, it is devoid of sense, or only has the sense of an externality to be superseded.

In the finite-teleological view is to be found the correct premise that nature does not contain the absolute end within itself.

Its end is the confirmation of abstraction.

Nature has revealed itself as the idea in the form of other-being. Since the idea in this form is the negative of itself, or external to itself, nature is not only external relative to this idea, but externality constitutes the form in which it exists as nature. [3]

Externality here is not to be understood as the world of sense which manifests itself and is accessible to the light, to the man endowed with senses. It is to be taken here in the sense of alienation, of a mistake, a defect, which ought not to be. For what is true is still the idea. Nature is only the form of the idea’s other-being. And since abstract thought is the essence, that which is external to it is by its essence something merely external. The abstract thinker recognises at the same time that sensuousness — externality in contrast to thought shuttling back and forth within itself — is the essence of nature. But he expresses this contrast in such a way as to make this externality of nature, its contrast to thought, its defect, so that inasmuch as it is distinguished from abstraction, nature is something defective. An entity which is defective not merely for me or in my eyes but in itself — intrinscially — has something outside itself which it lacks. That is, its essence is different from it itself. Nature has therefore to supersede itself for the abstract thinker, for it is already posited by him as a potentially superseded being.

For us, mind has nature as its premise, since it is nature’s truth and, therefore, its absolute primus. In this truth, nature has disappeared, and mind has yielded as the idea which has attained being-for-itself, whose object as well as subject is the concept. This identity is absolute negativity, for, whereas in nature the concept has its perfect external objectivity, in this its alienation has been superseded and the concept has become identical with itself. It is this identity only in that it is a return from nature. […]

Revelation, as the abstract idea, is unmediated transition to, the coming-to-be, nature; as the revelation of the mind which is free it is the establishing of nature as its own world; an establishing which, as reflection, is at the same time a presupposing of the world as independently existing nature. Revelation in its concept is the creation of nature as the mind’s being, in which it procures the affirmation and truth of its freedom. […]

The absolute is mind; this is the highest definition of the absolute. [4]

  1. Karl Marx, 1844. Third Manuscript. [web] 

  2. Bruno Bauer, Das entdeckte Christentum, Eine Erinnerung an das achtzehnte Jahrhundert une ein Beitrag zur Krisis des neunzehnten, Zurich and Winterthur, 1843, p. 113-114. 

  3. Hegel, p. 225. 

  4. Hegel, p. 392, 393.