The Notion -|- Educational Philosophy Theory

The Notion

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In Hegel’s dialectic the supreme achievement of thought is the Notion. The development of the Notion is described by Hegel as a process which proceeds from abstract to concrete. It signifies a deepening of knowledge, and a development from a lower to a higher degree of understanding, of the development from potential to actual. At the beginning, the Notion is referred to as "in itself," or implicit. It is later developed, and becomes the Notion "for itself," or explicit. In its highest form it is the union of both these aspect, "in and for itself." In the Notion the process of development reaches its highest point. What was only implicit at the beginning now becomes explicit. It is a return to the starting-point, but on a qualitatively higher level.

In his main work, The Science of Logic, Hegel does not end with the Notion, but goes on to the Absolute Idea, of which all that can be said is that he tells us absolutely nothing about it. This is typical of the contradictions Hegel’s idealism landed him in. The dialectic cannot lead to an Absolute Idea, or any other final solution. To imply that there is an end to the process of human knowledge conflicts with the letter and spirit of dialectics. So the Hegelian philosophy ended up in an insoluble contradiction. This could only be solved by a radical break with all of previous philosophy.

The epoch-making quality of Hegel’s philosophy consisted in the fact that, by summing up the whole history of philosophy in such a comprehensive way, he made it impossible to proceed any further along the traditional philosophical lines. Secondly, the dialectical method, which he perfected, provided the basis for a whole new world outlook, one that did not confine itself to the analysis and criticism of ideas, but involved an analysis of the history of society and a revolutionary criticism of the existing social order. Hegel’s great contribution was well expressed by Engels in Anti-D¸hring:

"That [the] Hegel[ian system] did not solve the problem [it posed itself] is immaterial here. Its epoch-making merit was that it posed the problem. This problem is indeed one that no single individual will ever be able to solve. Although Hegel was—with Saint-Simon—the most encyclopaedic mind of his time, he was restricted, first, by the necessarily limited extent of his own knowledge and, second, by the limited extent and depth of the knowledge and conceptions of his epoch. To these limits a third must be added. Hegel was an idealist. To him the thoughts within his brain were not the more or less abstract images of actual things and processes, but on the contrary, things and their development were only the realised images of the ‘Idea,’ existing somewhere from eternity before the world existed. Consequently everything was stood on its head and the actual interconnection of things in the world was completely reversed.

"Although Hegel had grasped some individual interconnections correctly and with genius, yet for the reasons just given there is much that in point of detail necessarily turned out botched, artificial, laboured, in a word, upside down. The Hegelian system as such was a colossal miscarriage—but it was also the last of its kind. In fact, it was suffering from an internal and incurable contradiction. On the one hand, its essential postulate was the conception that human history is a process of development, which, by its very nature, cannot find its intellectual final term in the discovery of any so-called absolute truth. But on the other hand, it laid claim to being the very essence of precisely this absolute truth. A system of natural and historical knowledge which is all-embracing and final for all time is in contradiction with the fundamental laws of dialectical thinking; which by no means excludes, but on the contrary includes, the idea that systematic knowledge of the entire external world can make giant strides from generation to generation." (Engels, Anti-D¸hring, pp. 29-30.)

Hegel’s dialectic was brilliantly conceived, but ultimately deficient, because it was limited to the domain of thought. Nevertheless, it contained the potential for a major departure in thought, one that was to radically alter not just the history of philosophy, but that of the world. To paraphrase Hegel, what was present in itself (i.e., potentially) in his work became a realised idea—an idea in and for itself in the revolutionary doctrine of Marxism, where philosophy finally gives up its character as a one-sided abstract, mental activity, and enters the realm of practice.

Aristotle already explained the relationship between potential and actual. At all levels of nature, society, thought, and even the development of individual human beings from childhood to maturity, we see the same process. Everything that exists contains within itself the potential for further development, that is, to perfect itself, to become something different to what it is. The whole of human history can be seen as the struggle of humanity to realise its potential. Ultimately, the aim of socialism is to create the necessary conditions whereby this goal can be finally realised, that men and women can become actually what they always were potentially. Here, however, we have already left the dimly-lit study of the philosopher, and stepped out into the broad daylight of human life, activity and struggle.

"The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways; the point, however is to change it." (MESW, Theses on Feuerbach, no. 11, Vol. 1, p. 15.)

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