A Note on Dialectics (Marcuse, 1960)


[In 1941, Herbert Marcuse published Reason and Revolution: Hegel and the Rise of Social Theory. In 1960, he added this new preface, which briefly explains the underlying basis of Hegel’s philosophy, and why Marcuse considers dialectics such a powerful approach to theory and politics. All genuine progress, he insists, requires the recognition of the negative as a social force and reality.]

By Herbert Marcuse

This book [Reason and Revolution] was written in the hope that it would make a small contribution to the revival, not of Hegel, but of a mental faculty which is in danger of being obliterated: the power of negative thinking. As Hegel defines it: “Thinking is, indeed, essentially the negation of that which is immediately before us.” What does he mean by “negation,” the central category of the dialectic?

Even Hegel’s most abstract and metaphysical concepts are saturated with experience—experience of a world in which the unreasonable becomes reasonable and, as such, determines the facts; in which unfreedom is the condition of freedom, and war the guarantor of peace. This world contradicts itself. Common sense and science purge themselves from this contradiction; but philosophical thought begins with the recognition that the facts do not correspond to the concepts imposed by common sense and scientific reason—in short, with the refusal to accept them. To the extent that these concepts disregard the fatal contradictions which make up reality, they abstract from the very process of reality. The negation which the dialectic applies to them is not only a critique of conformist logic, which denies the reality of contradictions; it is also a critique of the given state of affairs on its own ground—of the established system of life, which denies its of promises and potentialities.

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