Lenin and the Hegelian Conception of Thinking

Evald Ilyenkov, D. Sc. (Philos.)


The materialist refashioning of Hegel’s dialectic s was the point of departure in the emergence of the philosophy of Marxism. Both Marx and Engels considered the Hegelian doctrine as the acme in the development of all preceding philosophy, as a peak from which any further advance called for a radical turn from idealistic dialectics towards dialectical materialism.

What was begun by Marx and Engels was carried on by Lenin, who devoted so much attention to a critical analysis of Hegel’s philosophy. A comparison between Hegelian idealism and the idealistic trends dominant in bourgeois philosophy at the end of the 19th and the early years of the 20th century was one of the fundamental subjects that interested Lenin during his work on Hegel’s writings and was reflected in his Philosophical Notebooks.

Two problems are brought to the fore in the notes Lenin made in the course of his critical refashioning of the Hegelian system. The first of these is the interrelation between “logicˮ and “epistemologyˮ; the second was his understanding of dialectics as a science within which alone could be found the theoretical solution to the problem traditionally separated from it in the form of “logicˮ and the “theory of knowledgeˮ. These two intersecting and interlinked problems run through the entire text of Philosophical Note-

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books. Of course, the passages quoted denote the line of the development of Lenin’s thinking merely in a general way, so that it is very important to reconstruct the line of thinking that led up to the emergence of ultimate formulas (dialectics is the selfsame logic, as well as the theory of knowledge in present-day materialism; these cannot in any way be seen as different sciences; “these are the same thingˮ; these are not an “aspectˮ of the matter, but its essence).

Although the Hegelian conception is first and foremost the immediate object of critical analysis registered in Philosophical Notebooks, it would, of course, be wrong to see them only as critical comment to Hegel’s works. No doubt, Lenin was interested not so much in Hegel himself as in the actual content of the problems whose urgency continue to this day. It is perfectly natural that the problem of knowledge stands in the foreground in this connection, more precisely, the problem of scientific cognition, which was the hub—the more so with the passage of time—of worldwide philosophical thinking at the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th centuries. The first note made in this connection in Philosophical Notebooks: “The theme of logic. To be compared to present-day ‛epistemology’ˮ [1] describes the initial principle in whose light Lenin read those pages in Hegel that deal with the question of what logic as a science is all about.

The quotation marks enclosing the word “epistemologyˮ are in no way fortuitous here. That is because the bracketing together of a number of old philosophical problems into a special philosophical science (irrespective of whether the latter is recognised as the sole present-day form of scientific philosophy, or else as only as one of the many departments of philosophy) is a fact of recent origin. The very word “epistemologyˮ (the theory of knowledge) gained currency only towards the end of the 19th century, as the designa-

1 V. I. Lenin, Collected Works, Vol. 38, p.103.

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tion of a special science, a specific area of research, which was not distinctly denoted within the classical systems, though it would be patently absurd to assert that cognition in general; and scientific cognition in particular, became the object of special attention only with the emergence of “epistemologyˮ.

Epistemology as constituting a separate science was linked both historically and in essence with the extensive spread of neo-Kantianism, which, throughout the final third of the 19th century, became one of the most influential trends in European philosophical thought. What marked neo-Kantianism was not, of course, the discovery of the problem of cognition as focal in philosophy, but that specific form in the posing of this problem which, despite all the differences between the various ramifications of that school, could be reduced to the following:

“The doctrine of knowledge, which explores the conditions thanks to which indisputably existing knowledge becomes possible and, according to these conditions, establishes the borderlines of any kind of knowledge, beyond which there is an area of equally unprovable opinions, is usually called the ‛theory of knowledge’, or “epistemologyˮ. . . Of course, apart from this particular task, the theory of knowledge has the right to set itself other, supplementary tasks. However, if it is to become a science that makes sense, it should first and foremost engage in elucidating the question of the existence or non-existence of the borders of knowledge. . . .ˮ [2]

The Russian Kantian A. Vvedensky, the author of this definition of “epistemologyˮ, provided a precise and clear-cut formulation of the science usually “designatedˮ by the term in the neo-Kantian literature and in all schools that have arisen under its predominant influence. Dozens of similar formulations might be quoted, coming from the classics of

2 A. I. Vvedensky, Logic as Part of the Theory of Knowledge, Petrograd, 1923, p. 29 (in Russian).

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neo-Kantianism such as Rickert, Wundt, Kassirer, and Windelband as well as from representatives of its various offshoots such as Schuppe, Vaihinger and so on. Despite all the various shades and differences, that understanding of the special task pursued by the theory of knowledge (thanks to which alone it can be regarded as a special theory, as a special science) remains invariable in the main thing emphasised in Vvedensky’s definition. That task is seen in the establishment of the “borders of cognitionˮ—a boundary which cognition is unable to cross in any circumstances, irrespective of the level achieved by man’s cognitive capacities, or by the techniques of scientific research and experimental technology. “The borders of cognitionˮ separate the sphere of what is cognisable in principle from the sphere of what is incognisable in principle. They exist, not because of the restrictedness of human experience in time and space (in which case the extension of the sphere of experience would also broaden the boundaries of cognition, turning them into a line of division between what has already been cognised and what has not yet been cognised but is cognisable in principle) but because of the specific features of the “capacity for cognitionˮ itself , the specific forms of that capacity, i. e., the activity which refashions into “experienceˮ the constantly succeeding subject’s states, refashioning them into definitive ideas and into a system of interlinked ideas (“notionsˮ), i. e., into “knowledgeˮ.

This distinction between the cognisable (the immanent) and the incognisable (the transcendental) paved the way for the “theory of knowledgeˮ to become individualised as a special science, contrasting itself to “metaphysicsˮ or “ontologyˮ. If this distinction—made in its classical form by Kant—is rejected, then it no longer remains necessary to distinguish “epistemologyˮ as a special science, inasmuch as the object which that science can study, as distinct from “metaphysicsˮ, disappears.

The Kantian understanding of metaphysics assumes that all human science has always been and will always be merely

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a systematised description of events that take place exclusively in our own experience, and that any assertion made by science should be interpreted just as an assertion about what takes place in the sphere of experience, in the sphere of ideas and notions. As soon as science makes so bold as to assert (or deny) anything in the world of “things-in-themselvesˮ, it immediately ceases to be a science and turns into “metaphysicsˮ. Of course, the reference here is not only to such things as “Godˮ, the “immortality of the soulˮ or “freedom of willˮ, but also to any ideas existing in present-day natural or social sciences. The same also holds true of such ideas as causality and quantity, law-governed pattern and probability, the part and the whole and so on, i.e., of any idea that forms part of scientific knowledge. Therefore, in the Kantian understanding, metaphysics is in no way a specific and individual science that, unlike the “particularˮ sciences, deals only with the overall and universal “principles of beingˮ. Metaphysics is the selfsame physics, the selfsame chemistry or political economy as interpreted as knowledge of things-in-themselves, as knowledge of reality, outside the consciousness of man and mankind.

On this plane, the ideas and laws of physics are in no way different from those of logic. In equal measure both are the forms and laws of the link between phenomena, i. e., things in the way they are given in our own consciousness, in the course of their realisation, perception, and understanding. Logical forms and laws may differ from physical laws only in the degree of their universality, only quantitatively, but never in the object in which they reveal themselves.

Any Kantian understands that logical forms and laws can be established and formulated only in the process of research into actual scientific thinking as those overall schemes and rules which equally obey the thinking of the physicist, the chemist or the economist, inasmuch as there exists no kind of thought which is not the one, the second or the third,

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but exists particularly, prior to, outside of and independently of all its own manifestations. Logical forms and laws, just like the ideas and laws of physics, are schemes of the analysis and synthesis of phenomena given to man in his experience: in contemplation, in representation and in experiment. Logical forms and rules can, therefore, be established and understood only as universal forms and schemes that remain invariable in any sphere of phenomena; in other words, these are forms and laws that are universal in the areas of physical, chemical, biological and economic phenomena, in short, in the “thinkable world in generalˮ, that very “worldˮ that is the object of study and thought to the physicist, the chemist, the biologist, the economist and so on.

That the “forms and laws of thoughtˮ are merely another designation for the forms and laws of the “thinkable worldˮ itself will not arouse the least doubt in any neo-Kantian (neither in the Humist, Berkeleian, nor in the Machist); no philosopher has harboured any doubt on that score. The logical (i. e., the universal) forms and schemes of thought processes (theoretical consciousness) are given to the logician only as forms and schemes of the thinkable—cognised and cognisable—world, or, in other words, of the world as depicted by science. In this sense, the expression “the general principles of cognitionˮ are fully equivalent to the expression “the general principles of the worldˮ.

That is why it has never occurred to any philosopher to construct two different sciences standing side by side—one of them dealing with the principles of the cognition of the world, the other with the principles of the world as cognised by that science. To any Kantian, and first and foremost to Kant himself, it is obvious that two different sciences are impossible here in principle—this is one and the same science, both in its object (we have one and the same object) and in the make-up of the notions expressing that object (these are the selfsame notions that Kant considers

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in his “transcendental logicˮ: the categories of quality, quantity, necessity, substance, causality and so on). Considered as principles of judgements with an objective significance, as schemes of the synthesis of representations in scientific cognition, categories operate as forms of the organisation of the data of experience into a scientific picture of the world.

To Kant, these were indeed “principles of cognitionˮ, or, more precisely, of theoretical cognition, universal schemes of linking up representations in the scientific picture of the world.

There is absolutely nothing specifically Kantian or specifically idealistic in this view of categories; it is merely a neatly expressed understanding of the active role played by universal categories (and, in the broader sense, of notions in general) in the process of cognition, the construction of a scientific picture of the world, of a scientific world-outlook. This feature of the Kantian understanding of categories was never subsequently disputed by anyone, neither by Fichte, Hegel, Feuerbach, nor by Marx.

Specific in Kant is something else—a principled and categorical denial of the possibility of building up an integral scientific world-outlook, or, what amounts to the same thing, a denial of science (or the totality of sciences) being able to play the role of a world-outlook.

It was this trend in Kant‛s thinking that was taken up by the neo-Kantians, who, in different variants, developed the view that science will never be able to create, by its own forces, a “picture of the worldˮ that would meet its own principles and, first and foremost, the supreme principle of any “unity of phenomena in the consciousnessˮ—the principle of banning contradictions in definitions.

The same principles of cognition, which are conditions for the possibility of any scientific synthesis of representations in notion, judgement and inference, i. e., in category, also prove to be the conditions for the impossibility of

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achieving a complete synthesis of all scientific representations in a single coherent and non-contradictory picture of the world. This means, in the language of the Kantians, that a world-outlook based on scientific principles—or, more simply, a scientific world-outlook—is impossible in principle. Within a scientific world-outlook—not fortuitously, or because of any lack of information but with the force of necessity inherent in the very nature of thought as expressed in categorical schemes—there always remain contradictions that split up that “integral world-outlookˮ into fragments which cannot be joined together without a flagrant violation of the supreme principle of all analytical judgements—a ban on any contradiction within scientific definitions that can be linked together in a unity of notions.

There is only one way for man to link together the scattered fragments of a scientific picture of the world in order to obtain a supreme unity (i .e. , a world-outlook): he can do that “by violating his own supreme principles in these particular points of the synthesis, or, which is the same thing, by turning other—and this time unscientific—schemes of the necessary linkage of representations into principles of synthesis.

What kind of principles are these? They are principles of faith, which, in terms of science, are equally unprovable, and irrefutable postulates and axioms that are accepted exclusively because of an irrational proclivity, a liking, a sense of conscience, and so on and so forth. With the aid of such postulates, which do not come under the jurisdiction of science, a single coherent picture of the world, a world-outlook can be built up.

Inasmuch as a coherent world-outlook has always been an insatiable need of any thinking subject, that world-outlook must blend within itself the principles of scientific cognition and the irrational postulates of faith, whether religious, purely moral, aesthetic or any other.

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Hence the Kantian call for a blending of science and faith, of the logical principles of a scientific picture of the world, and irrational (logically unprovable and irrefutable) attitudes that compensate for the impotence inbuilt in the intellect in respect of the achievement of a supreme synthesis of knowledge. Without due account of this point, so focal in all Kantianism, it is quite impossible to understand the meaning of the Kantian posing of the question regarding the relation between logic and the theory of knowledge (epistemology), that posing of the question that Lenin had in mind when he wrote: “The theme of logic. To be compared to present-day ‛epistemology ’.ˮ

Logic as such is interpreted by all Kantians as part of the theory of knowledge; for them the main question in the latter consists in the erection of an insurmountable barrier between the cognisable and the incognisable, the restriction of the sphere of the cognisable to immanent objects, a sphere beyond the confines of which there begins, according to the Kantian doctrine, the transcendental world of “things-in-themselvesˮ, i. e., a world completely blocked to scientific understanding. That is why logic and its principles are applicable only and exclusively within the confines of the world in the way it is represented within our own consciousness (individual or collective).

It is the task of logic to provide a rigorous analysis of images already present in the consciousness, i. e., their reduction to simple components, expressed in strictly definite terms, and also the reverse operation: the synthesis or linking together of these simple components into complex systems of definitions (notions, systems of notions and theories), but again according to strictly established rules.

Thinking (as the object of logic) even within the “borders of cognitionˮ as established by the theory of knowledge in general has, in its turn, been assigned a restricted area of application, within the confines of which its rules are lawful and obligatory. However, the laws and rules

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of logic are not applicable in respect of images of perception as such, or sensations, ideas and phantoms of the mythologising consciousness—including the idea of God, the immortality of the soul and the like. Of course, these do and should serve as a kind of sieve to prevent all such images of the consciousness from entering scientific knowledge in the capacity of scientific notions. But this is not all. Thought grounded in logic has neither the possibility nor the right to judge of the correctness of these images as such. Consequently, there is not, neither can there be, any rationally grounded and scientifically tested stand in respect of any image of the consciousness, if the latter has arisen prior to and independently of any specifically logical activities of the mind, prior to and outside of science.

The presence of such images is impermissible in science, within its specific borders as established by logic. Beyond those confines, their existence is autonomous, not subject to rule of the intellect or to any notion, and is, therefore, “epistemologicallyˮ inviolable. Herein lies the essence of the Kantian stand in the question of the relation between logic and the “theory of knowledgeˮ, or epistemology.

In view of the Kantian interpretation of the relation between logic and epistemology, one can readily understand the close attention Lenin devoted to the Hegelian solution of this problem—the relation of thinking (the object of logic) to man’s all other cognitive capacities.

In the Hegelian understanding of the question, logic takes in, fully and without the least irrational residue, the entire range of problems of cognition, without leaving outside its confines the images of contemplation or the imagination. It includes their consideration within itself, and does so on the ground that the images of contemplation, ideas and fantasy are nothing but “externalˮ products (realised in sensuously perceived material) of the active force of thinking. This is the selfsame thinking (the object of logic), only reified, not in words, judgements or con-

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clusions, but in things that are sensuously contraposed to the individual consciousness (acts, events and so on). Here logic merges totally and without any residue with the theory of knowledge, because all other cognitive abilities are regarded as kinds of thinking, as the same thinking which has not yet achieved an adequate form of expression.

Here we seem to come up against an extreme expression of Hegel’s absolute idealism, according to which the whole world, and not merely the “other cognitive capacitiesˮ are interpreted as alienated and reified thinking that has not yet arrived at its own self, has not yet returned to within itself. Of course, Lenin as a consistent materialist could not agree with this. However—and this is worthy of note—Lenin formulated his attitude to the Hegelian solution very cautiously:

“In this conception [i. e., in the Hegelian understanding as set forth above—E.I.], logic coincides with the theory of knowledge. This is, in general, a very important question.ˮ [3]

The Kantian understanding of logic as “part of the theory of knowledgeˮ in no way remained an abstract philosophical construction. The Kantian theory of knowledge determined, not something in general but the limits of science’s competence in general, of the scientific approach and of judgement in general, leaving beyond the confines of these borders, and calling “transcendentalˮ to logical thinking, i. e., theoretical cognition, the most burning problems of the world-outlook, and declaring as not only permissible but even necessary the union of scientific research and faith, this being the condition for the possibility of a world-outlook in general. It was under the flag of Kantianism that the revisionist stream initiated by E. Bernstein and K. Schmidt burst into the socialist movement. Here the Kantian theory of knowledge was directly oriented towards a fusion (actually towards a watering down) of “rigorously

3 V. I. Lenin, Collected Works, Vol. 38, p. 175.

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scientific thinking" (according to E. Bernstein, the thinking of Marx and Engels was not rigorously scientific, being debilitated by Hegel’s vague dialectics) with “ethical valuesˮ, with an unprovable and yet irrefutable faith in the transcendental postulates of “the goodˮ, “the consciousˮ, “love of one’s fellowmenˮ and “the entire human raceˮ, and so on and so forth.

The harm of the Kantian idea, of fusing “scienceˮ with a “system of supreme ethical valuesˮ lies, in principle, in its having shifted the ideas in the mainstream of the development of theoretical thought, the roads along which a scientific solution to the actual problems of our times can and should be sought.

Inasmuch as attempts were made to develop it, not with the aid of dialectics but of “up-to-dateˮ logical means, Marxian political economy could not but be debased into a superficial classifying description of present-day economic phenomena, i. e., into their absolutely uncritical acceptance, an apologia. Here the road led straight to Karl Renner, with his Theory of the Capitalist Economy, which, in respect of the method of thinking, of the logic of research, was directly oriented towards a vulgar, positivist epistemology. Here is Karl Renner’s philosophical credo: “. . . Marx’s Capital, which was written in an epoch far removed from us, one whose mode of thinking and exposition differed from today’s and was not carried through to the end, presents ever new difficulties to the reader, with the passage of every decade. . . . The way in which the German philosophers set forth their ideas has become foreign to us. Marx is rooted in an epoch that was for the most part philosophical. Not only in its description of phenomena but also in theoretical research, present-day science uses the inductive method, not the deductive; it proceeds from the facts of experience as immediately observed, systematises them and then gradually raises them to the degree of abstract notions. To a generation that has become accustomed to thinking and reading in

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this way, the first section of Marx’s main work presents insurmountable difficulties. . .ˮ [4]

In fact, this orientation towards the “present epoch of scienceˮ, the “present-day manner of thinkingˮ, has, beginning with E. Bernstein, proved an orientation towards modish idealistic and agnostic interpretations of that “present-day scienceˮ and “manner of thinkingˮ, an orientation towards a Humist-Berkeleian and Kantian epistemology. Lenin saw this very clearly. Since the middle of the 19th century, bourgeois philosophy had been openly turning “back to Kantˮ, Hume and Berkeley; in that context, Hegel, despite all his absolute idealism, was more and more clearly seen as the acme in the development of all pre-Marxist philosophy in the area of logic, understood as the theory of the development of scientific cognition.

Lenin frequently returned to such an appraisal of the place and role of Hegelian logic, emphasising that from Hegel the advance could be made only along a single road—that of a materialistic rethinking of his achievements, since Hegel’s “absoluteˮ idealism had indeed absolutely exhausted all the possibilities of idealism as a principle of the understanding of thinking, cognition and scientific consciousness. However, only Marx and Engels could follow that road. They revealed the genuine meaning, the “down-to-earth contentˮ of dialectics as Hegel’s main achievement: thereby they brought out not only the constructive but also the revolutionarily destructive force of its principles.

This urge to negate became quite obvious as soon as it transpired that the dialectical schemes and Categories found by Hegel in the history of the Spirit (i. e., mankind’s spiritual culture) were not merely active forms of the construction of the “kingdom of the spiritˮ but also forms of

4 Karl Renner, The Theory of Capitalist Economy (Russian trans.), Moscow, 1926, pp. XVII-XIX.

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people’s real activities, forms of the constant renovation and transformation of the world, within which these vital activities are carried on, a world which is its object and material.

An understanding of this decisive circumstance, i. e., the link between the activities of the Spirit and the forms of actual human activities which change the real world—the world of “things-in-themselvesˮ—was the most important forward step that Hegel made in comparison with Kant.

The neo-Kantians and all their followers to this day have unanimously condemned Hegel for his having “impermissibly extendedˮ the very concept of logic including in it, beside the forms and laws of thinking, the totality of the forms and laws of the development of the existing world outside of and prior to man—all of metaphysics, all of ontology.

On this point, too, Lenin resolutely and categorically took the side of Hegel against Kant and Kantianism, which has sinned in the reverse direction by psychologising, without exception and without any remainder, all the forms and laws of the real world as cognised by man, interpreting them as pure forms of the mind, as transcendental schemes in the linking together of ideas into notions and nothing more.

Why was it that Lenin, who waged a struggle against Hegel’s absolute idealism, nevertheless sided with him in that very point at which that idealism seems to become absolute. After all, it was an understanding of logic as a science whose principles embrace, not only human thinking, but also the real world outside of man’s consciousness that was linked with the “pan-logicismˮ of his philosophy, with an understanding of the forms and laws of the real world as “alienatedˮ forms of thinking, and the latter itself as an absolute force and power that organises the world.

The gist of the matter is that the Hegelian understanding of “thinkingˮ as an active force that transforms and even creates the world outside of man’s consciousness gave

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an idealistically inverted expression to the real circumstance towards which Kant was always tragically blind and from which neo-Kantianism turned away quite consciously. That circumstance, expressed in the Hegelian definition of thinking (and thereby of logic as a science and of its subject), consists in the following simple fact: “thinkingˮ as a subjectively human mental ability is effected, not only as a series of successive “mental conditionsˮ but also as real actions, i. e., man’s practical operations changing the form and location of things outside of his consciousness. In this respect Hegel viewed things infinitely more realistically and soberly than Kant and Kantianism.

Hegel was and remains the only pre-Marxian thinker who consciously brought practice into logic as a criterion of truth, a criterion of the correctness of operations carried out by man in the sphere of the verbo-symbolic explanations of his mental states.

Hegel identified logic with “epistemologyˮ for the reason that man’s practice—the senso-object realisation of the aims of the Spirit in natural material—is introduced as a phase in the logical process, is regarded as thinking in its external revelation, in the course of the verification of its results through direct contact with “things-in-themselvesˮ, with things outside of man’s consciousness and will.

Lenin was very thorough in following up the development of Hegel’s thinking in this direction. “That is, the practice of man and of mankind is the test, the criterion, of the objectivity of cognition. Is that Hegel’s idea? It is necessary to return to this.ˮ [5]

Returning to the matter somewhat later, Lenin made the following fully categorical statement: “Undoubtedly, in Hegel, practice serves as a link in the analysis of the process of cognition, and indeed as the transition to

5 V. I. Lenin, Collected Works, Vol. 38, p. 211.

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objective (‘absolute’, according to Hegel) truth. Marx, consequently, clearly sides with Hegel in introducing the criterion of practice into the theory of knowledge: see the Theses on Feuerbach.ˮ [6]

Operating as a “practical actˮ, thinking brings things themselves into its movement; outside of human consciousness; in the course of that act, it appears that “things-in-themselvesˮ are subordinated to the dictate of thinking (thinking man) and obediently move and change in accordance with laws and schemes dictated by that thinking. It is this that proves that logical schemes are such according to which, not only the Spirit but also the world of “things- in-themselves ˮ move.

Consequently, logic proves to be the theory of knowledge of such things as well, and not only the theory of the “self-knowledgeˮ of the Spirit. That is why things in their universal definitions are presented in logic as things, included in the logical process, drawn into it and orbiting according to schemes of thinking.

It is for this reason that logic proves, not only the science of purely “transcendental-psychologicalˮ schemes of the thinking process but also (and even primarily) of schemes of thinking which, as borne out by practice, are at the same time schemes of the movement of things outside of the individual’s consciousness and will. That is what Hegel’s thought consists in.

Here is how Lenin formulated the “rational coreˮ in Hegel’s conception of the object of logic as a science:

“Logic is the science, not of external forms of thought but of the laws of development ‘of all material, natural and spiritual things’, i. e., of the development of the entire content of the world and of its cognition, i. e., the sum-total, the conclusion of the History of knowledge of the world.ˮ [7]

6 Ibid., p. 212.

7 Ibid., pp. 92-93.

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There is no such formulation, no such understanding, of the object of logic in Hegel himself. From the orthodox Hegelian point of view, this definition lacks precision, since Hegel himself did not, and could not, make mention of the laws of the development of material things as such, and, consequently, of the laws of development common both to the world of material and that of spiritual things. According to Hegel, it is not things that “developˮ but only their notions, things in the thinking, in the way they are represented in the logical process.

Therefore, the formulation just mentioned is not simply a rewording of Hegel’s thought but a materialistically reworked Hegel’s thought; in other words, the thought expressed by the German thinker is represented in its rational content, which was not very clear to Hegel.

The difference between Hegel’s and Lenin’s formulations is one of principle, so that it is deeply erroneous to think that the definition of logic as the science of the laws of development of “all material and spiritual thingsˮ is simply a “thought of Hegel’sˮ, simply conveyed or even simply cited by Lenin. This thought belongs to Lenin himself, and he formulated it in the course of his critic al reading of Hegel’s texts.

Logic is Hegel’s theory of knowledge because that logic (the science of thinking) is deduced by him from research into the history of the Spirit’s cognition of itself, and thereby of the world of natural things, inasmuch as those things are regarded as moments in the logical process, as schemes of thinking, “alienated" into natural material.

Logic is Marxism’s theory of knowledge, but already for another reason, because the “forms of the Spirit’s activitiesˮ themselves—the categories and schemes of logic—are deduced, according to Lenin, from a study of the history of mankind’s cognition and practice, i. e., from a process in which thinking man (more precisely, mankind) cognises and transforms the material world. From this viewpoint, logic

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cannot be anything else but a theory that ascertains the universal schemes of the development of social man’s cognition and transformation of the material world. As such logic is the theory of knowledge.

According to Lenin, logic and the theory of knowledge are in no way two distinct sciences. From this point of view, there are even less grounds to determine logic as part of the theory of knowledge, because such an understanding of logic inescapably leads to its being converted into a department of psychology, which is called upon to study man’s “other cognitive capacitiesˮ: contemplation, perception, memory, imagination and also “thinkingˮ, regarded here as a “cognitive abilityˮ peculiar to the individual.

In the field of logic, thinking should never be regarded as follows: contraposed to it as its “othernessˮ are not the other “cognitive capacitiesˮ but its object—objective reality in the most precise and broad sense of the words. That is why the categories and laws (schemes) of the development of the objective world in general as cognised in the course of the age-old development of scientific culture and verified by man’s social practice, form part of the logical definitions of thinking; such schemes are common both to natural and to socio-historical development. Reflected in social consciousness—in mankind’s spiritual culture—these universal schemes of “any developmentˮ perform the role of active logical forms of the operation of thinking.

In this kind of understanding, however, logic (i. e., the materialist theory of knowledge) merges with dialectics, in the very definition of its object and tasks. Again, these are not two different, if closely interlinked, sciences, but one and the same science, both in its object and in the composition of its notions. This is not an “aspectˮ of the matter but its “essenceˮ, as Lenin emphasised.

Logic (the theory of knowledge) has the same “relationˮ to dialectics. According to Lenin, this is a relation of complete identity, of complete coincidence in the object and

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make-up of the categories reflecting that object. Dialectics has no object distinct from that of the theory of knowledge (logic), in just the same way as logic (the theory of knowledge) has no object of study that is distinct from that of dialectics, from universal forms and laws of development in general, as reflected in the consciousness as logical forms and laws of thinking through definitions of categories.

That is why such categories as “the schemes of the synthesis of the data of experience in notionsˮ have a quite objective significance; the same kind of significance also attaches to “experienceˮ as reworked with their aid, i. e., science, a scientific picture of the world, the scientific world-outlook.

Kantians believe that a world-outlook should not fail to include a non-scientific component—ethical, moral, irrationally aesthetic or frankly religious—in other words, some present-day variety of Kant’s “practical reasonˮ. In this point too, Hegel, as Lenin kept on underlining, has proved to be an ally of present-day materialism in its struggle against Kantianism, Humanism and Berkelianism, and thereby against those philosophical constructions that underlie all “present-dayˮ bourgeois conceptions of logic, epistemology, and dialectics.

“Dialectics is the theory of knowledge of (Hegel and) Marxism. This is the ‛aspect’ of the matter (it is not ‛an aspect’ but the essence of the matter) to which Plekhanov, not to speak of other Marxists, paid no attention.ˮ [8] This is what Lenin wrote in his On the Question of Dialectics, in which he summed up his work on the materialistically critical reworking of Hegel’s conception of logic.

8 Ibid., p. 362.

- 173 -


SOURCE: Ilyenkov, Evald. “Lenin and the Hegelian Conception of Thinking,” in Marxist Dialectics Today, 2nd ed., edited by P. V. Fedoseev et al (Moscow: “Social Sciences Todayˮ Editorial Board, USSR Academy of Sciences, 1979), pp. 155-173. (Problems of the Contemporary World; 30.) (1st ed., 1974.)

First published in Social Sciences [USSR Academy of Sciences], vol. 5, no.4 (18), 1974, pp. 52-63.


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