Truth and Reality in Marx and Hegel: A Reassessment

Sidney Hook once wrote that to join the names of Hegel and Marx is not so much to express a plain relationship as “to raise a problem one of the most challenging problems in the history of thought”; affinities between them seem to go hand in hand with polar oppositions.

Hook is most vividly interested in the following formulation of the problem: “How did there develop from what was ostensibly the most conservative system of philosophy in western European tradition, the revolutionary ideology of the greatest mass movement since Christianity?” The same problem has found some other formulations as well. Such questions were raised as, for instance, what could these two philosophies have had in common, since one (Hegel’s) was viewed as more speculative and abstract than any other philosophy, the other (Marx’s) as distinctly concrete-materialist?; or, what was the common ground of these two doctrines one of which (Hegel’s) aimed merely at an interpretation or understanding of what is, while the other (Marx’s) aimed at a radical change of the existing world?

This study is an attempt at a new examination of the relationship between the two philosophies. The examination of the historical sequence and theoretical connection between Hegelianism and Marxism focuses on their respective approaches to the philosophically and practically fundamental question of truth. The results of this examination allow one to formulate the central problem more precisely, as well as to outline possible solutions to that problem.

The main sources of this study are Hegel’s writings dealing with the question of truth. To obtain some historical accuracy in our interpretation, special attention is paid to those of Hegel’s writings which were undoubtedly seriously studied by Marx and Engels and to which they made most frequent recourse: the third edition of the Encyclopaedia of the Philosophical Sciences (Engels’ favorite), Science of Logic, Phenomenology of Spirit, and Philosophy of Right. The first three of these writings deal with the question of truth more explicitly than Hegel’s other works.

The second set of sources for this study are the writings of Marx and Engels. To examine their entire oeuvre does not appear practically possible. The choice made is based on the following considerations. The texts submitted to an in-depth analysis should, of course, contain some material relevant to the question of truth. The selected texts should also be representative of what is now called “the young Marx” as well as of the later (“mature”) works of Marx and Engels.

The texts that best meet those qualifications are Theses on Feuerbach by the young Marx (1845) and Ludwig Feuerbach and the Outcome of Classical German Philosophy, written by Engels late in his career (1886). There is an additional circumstance for taking up these two studies together. It was during Engels’ work on a book edition of his study on Feuerbach (1888) that he found Marx’s manuscript of the Theses, was impressed with it, subjected it to some stylistic changes, and published the Theses on Feuerbach for the first time as a supplement (Anhang) to the book edition of his own study on Feuerbach and classical German philosophy (1888). Other works by Marx and Engels will also be referred to in our study, but only Marx’s Theses on Feuerbach and Engels’ Ludwig Feuerbach and the Outcome of Classical German Philosophy will be subjected to a thorough interpretational analysis.

The study begins with a consideration of Engels’ work on Feuerbach. In Engels’ work, the relevant passages dealing with the question of truth are perplexing. The problem is caused to a significant degree by Engels’ references to Hegel. If taken seriously, those references will lead to what at first may seem an incongruous picture of Engels’ views on truth. It becomes our task to determine whether or not these references to Hegel should be ignored as accidental, or taken seriously, that is, if they should be assumed to be indicative of a general tendency in Engels’ work on Feuerbach. To answer that question one has to undertake an analysis of Engels’ views on the philosophical traditions and sources of Marxism.

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