From the Writings of Raya Dunayevskaya: Hegel’s Third Attitude today

May 18, 2022

From the May-June 2022 issue of News & Letters

Editor’s note: Thought disjointed from objective truth is running amok today—even including self-described Marxists who oppose self-determination of Ukraine and side with Putin, the avowed enemy of Lenin. This compels a new look at Hegel’s category philosophically comprehending that phenomenon, which he called “The Third Attitude of Thought toward the Objective World” (or, in a newer translation, “The Third Position of Thought with Respect to Objectivity”). Raya Dunayevskaya repeatedly drew from Hegel’s category to confront retrogression and in her work on Dialectics of Organization and Philosophy. We present excerpts of (1) her commentary on the section in her 1961 summary of the Logic from Hegel’s Encyclopedia of the Philosophical Sciences (original in The Raya Dunayevskaya Collection, #2806); (2) Philosophy and Revolution, ch. 1, “Absolute Negativity as New Beginning,” section B, “The Science of Logic, or Attitudes to Objectivity”; and (3) Dunayevskaya’s Feb. 16, 1987, letter to Louis Dupré (RDC, #11235-36). Parenthetical references are to the paragraph numbers found in all editions of Hegel’s Encyclopedia Logic. All footnotes are Dunayevskaya’s.

Notes on the Smaller Logic

To me, this chapter on what Hegel calls “Immediate or Intuitive Knowledge” and which is nearly entirely devoted to Jacobi, is the most important and essentially totally new as distinguished from the manner in which Hegel deals with the other schools of thought in his larger Logic.

The newness comes not from the fact that he does not criticize Jacobi (and Fichte and Schelling), as devastatingly in the Larger Logic, but in the sense that he has made a category out of it by devoting a chapter and by making that chapter occur when, to the ordinary mind, it would have appeared that from Kant he should have gone to his own dialectical philosophy.

Hegel is telling us that one doesn’t necessarily go directly to a higher stage, but may suddenly face a throwback to a former stage of philosophy, which thereby is utterly “reactionary” (that’s his word, reactionary).

The first critique of Jacobi’s philosophy is the analysis that even faith must be proved….

“Murió la verdad” (truth has died), etching by Francisco Goya circa 1810-20, part of his “Disasters of War” series. (Trustees of the British Museum, CC BY-NC-SA 4.0)

You may recall (those of you who were with us when we split from Johnson [C.L.R. James]) that we used this attitude as the thorough embodiment of Johnsonism [as seen in] the series of letters he issued on the fact that we must “break with the old” and stick only to the “new” without ever specifying what is old and what is new, either in a class context or even in an immediate historic frame.

This is what Hegel calls “exclusion of mediation,” and he rises to his highest height in his critique of Jacobi when he states: “Its distinctive doctrine is that immediate knowledge alone, to the total exclusion of mediation, can possess a content which is true” (¶65). He further expands this thought (¶71):

The one-sidedness of the intuitional school has certain characteristics attending upon it, which we shall proceed to point out in their main features, now that we have discussed the fundamental principle. The first of those corollaries is as follows. Since the criterion of truth is found, not in the character of the content, but in the fact of consciousness, all alleged truth has no other basis than subjective knowledge, and the assertion that we discover a certain fact in our consciousness. What we discover in our own consciousness is thus exaggerated into a fact of the consciousness of all, and even passed off for the very nature of the mind.

A few paragraphs later (¶76) is where Hegel uses the term “reactionary”—“reactionary nature of the school of Jacobi. His doctrine is a return to the modern starting point of the metaphysics in the Cartesian Philosophy.” You must remember that Hegel praises Descartes as the starting point of philosophy, and even shows a justification for any metaphysical points in it just because it had broken new ground. But what he cannot forgive is that in his own period, after we had already reached Kantian philosophy, one should turn backward:

The modern doctrine on the one hand makes no change in the Cartesian method of the usual scientific knowledge, and conducts on the same plan the experimental and finite sciences that have sprung from it. But, on the other hand, when it comes to the science which has infinity for its scope, it throws aside the method, and thus, as it knows no other, it rejects all methods. It abandons itself to the control of a wild, capricious and fantastic dogmatism, to a moral priggishness and pride of feeling, or to an excessive opining and reasoning which is loudest against philosophy and philosophic themes. Philosophy of course tolerates no mere assertions, or conceits, or arbitrary fluctuations of inference to and fro (¶77).

The Science of Logic, or Attitudes to Objectivity

To comprehend fully the movement of “pure thought,” we must see why Hegel singled out Jacobi. He did so first in his Observations on Being, and then, more than a decade later, devoted the entire Third Attitude to Objectivity to Jacobi’s Intuitionalism. Obviously, though in 1812 he had referred to Jacobi’s views as “perhaps already forgotten,”[1] by 1827 he had decided that such an attitude to objectivity would always recur when, in the process of battling contradiction, the Subject becomes impatient with the seemingly endless stages of negation it must suffer through, and therefore, instead, slides backward into Intuition.

Because nothing is more cogent for the impatient ones of our day than the Third Attitude to Objectivity, we will here turn to the Smaller Logic, in which Hegel created no fewer than three chapters devoted to “Attitudes of Thought Towards the Objective World.”

The Third Attitude to Objectivity, far from signifying any sort of “synthesis,” signals a dismemberment. There is a forward movement from the First Attitude, which covers all pre-Kantian thought—simple faith, the old metaphysics, abstract understanding, scholasticism, and dogmatism—to the Second Attitude, devoted both to Empiricism and Kantianism.

Instead of an uninterrupted forward movement from Empiricism and the Critical Philosophy to the Hegelian Dialectic, Hegel traces a retrogression into Intuition, “the school of Jacobi which rejects all methods” (¶77). Nothing appears more incomprehensible to Hegel than absence of method. So deep are the roots of Hegelian thought in the objective world that nothing so enrages him as intuition gone “wild.” It is this, he maintains, which forced Jacobi to return to the “dogmatic metaphysic of the past from which we started.” In that, its “reactionary Nature” (¶76) was disclosed.

This retrogressive step is seen in the fact that Jacobi has reduced “mediation to the immediate, the intuitive” with “its passwords, ‘Either-Or’” (¶66). Hegel draws a sharp line between such reductionism and his own Doctrine of Essence, which he considers wholly “a discussion of the intrinsically self-affirming unity of immediacy and mediation.”

The sensitive reader can hear Hegel’s anger rising to a crescendo at the “one-sidedness” of the Intuitionalists, whom he sees reducing Truth itself from something arising from the “nature of the content” to pure subjectivism….

In short, the trap that awaits all who fail to grapple with what transforms philosophy into a science, how it all emerges from actuality—the historic process—is that of the transformation of the personal consciousness “into a fact of consciousness of all and even passed off for the very nature of the mind.”[2]

Letter to Louis Dupré

[In a Dec. 8, 1986, letter on the same subject to George Armstrong Kelly (RDC, #11223-24), Dunayevskaya had begun:

Despite the acknowledged gulf between us on the Absolute Method, may I discuss with you (and may I hope for a comment from you?) my latest self-critique on Organization? On that question I also see Hegel in a new way.

That is to say, the dialectical relationship of principles (in this case the Christian doctrine) and the organization (the Church) are analyzed as if they were inseparables. All this occurs, not in the context of a philosophy of religion so much as in the context of the great dividing line between himself and all other philosophers that he initiated with the Phenomenology of Mind, on the relationship of objectivity/subjectivity, immediacy/mediation, particular/universal, history and the “Eternal.” This addition to the Logic—the Third Attitude to Objectivity—I see in a totally new way.]

I can’t hide the fact that I’m enamored with that early section of the Encyclopedia outline of Logic, because it was written after Hegel had already developed Absolute Knowledge, Absolute Idea, Absolute Method.

In a word, by no accident, History makes its presence felt not only before but after the Absolutes have been dialectically worked out both in the Phenomenology and in the Science of Logic, as well as in anticipation that he is finally ready to trace the dialectic flow in the Philosophy of Nature and the Philosophy of Mind. Indeed, that, to me, is what made possible the very form of compression of those innumerable polemical observations on other philosophers and philosophies into just three attitudes to objectivity.

Though an atheist, I’ve never gone in for joining a “society” of atheists; to me that is only one more form of godliness without God. Put differently, my passion for Hegel’s category of the Third Attitude to Objectivity was not merely due to the fact that it was directed against those who place faith above philosophy, the Intuitionalists. Rather, the attraction for me continues to be the Dialectic.

Far from expressing a sequence of never-ending progression, the Hegelian dialectic lets retrogression appear as translucent as progression and, indeed, makes it very nearly inevitable if one ever tries to escape regression by mere faith.

Here again, history enters, this time to let Hegel create varying views of Intuitionalism, depending on which historic period is at issue. Intuitionalism is “progressive” in the period of Descartes because then empiricism opened the doors wide to science. On the other hand, it became regressive in the period of Jacobi.

[At this point in the letter to Kelly, Dunayevskaya wrote: It is here that I saw a different concept of Organization when it comes to the Church than in all of Hegel’s many oppositions to the clergy’s dominance in academia. Do please follow my strange journeys that I identify as the self-determination of the Idea.

The Third Attitude begins (¶61) with a critique of Kant, whose universality was abstract so that Reason appeared hardly more than a conclusion with “the categories left out of account.” Equally wrong, Hegel continues, is the “extreme theory on the opposite side, which holds thought to be an act of the particular only, and on that ground declares it incapable of apprehending the Truth.”

In praising Descartes, Hegel points not only to the fact that empiricism opened the door to science, but that Descartes clearly knew that his famous “Cogito ergo sum” wasn’t a syllogism, simply because it had the word “therefore” in it. This becomes important because Hegel’s critique could then be directed against the one-sidedness of Intuitionalists, for equating mind to mere consciousness, and thus “what I discover in my consciousness is thus exaggerated into a fact of consciousness of all, and even passed off for the very nature of mind” (¶71). That too is by no means the whole of the critique. What excited me most about this attitude to objectivity is the manner in which Hegel brings in Organization.]

As early as ¶63 Hegel had lashed out against Jacobi’s faith, in contrast to Faith: “The two things are radically distinct. Firstly, the Christian faith comprises in it an authority of the Church; but the faith of Jacobi’s philosophy has no other authority than that of personal revelation.”

As we see, Hegel has now equated Organization to Principle, Doctrine: “And, secondly, the Christian faith is a copious body of objective truth, a system of knowledge and doctrine; while the scope of the philosophic faith is so utterly indefinite, that, while it has room for faith of the Christian, it equally admits belief in the divinity of the Dalai Lama, the ox, or the monkey. . . .”

Hegel proceeds (¶75): “And to show that in point of fact there is a knowledge which advances neither by unmixed immediacy nor unmixed mediation, we can point to the example of the Logic and the whole of philosophy.”

In a word, we’re back at the Dialectic, and it’s only after that (¶76) that Hegel uses the word reactionary[3] in relationship to the whole Intuitional school, that is, to the historic period of “The Recent German Philosophy”: “Philosophy of course tolerates no mere assertions or conceits, and checks the free play of argumentative see-saw” (¶77).

Freedom and Revolution (the latter word I “borrowed” from Hegel’s very first sentence on “Recent German Philosophy” in his History of Philosophy) will hew out a new path.

In this I see the dialectic flow in the “Third Attitude to Objectivity” from a critique of the one-sidedness of the Intuitionalists to organizational responsibility for the “self-determination of the Idea”—as “I” would call it, thus committing the great theft of Hegel’s original category.

It is this same “self-determination of the Idea” with which I see Marx[4] shouting down determinists and vulgar materialists—those post-Marx Marxists, beginning with Engels—as he develops “revolution in permanence.”

Despite your rejection of my interpretation of “revolution in permanence,” may I hope to hear your comments on “Third Attitude to Objectivity”? Why has academia made so few serious commentaries on this section of the Logic?

[1] The Science of Logic by G.W.F. Hegel (Macmillan, 1951), Vol. I, p. 107.

[2] See chapter 5, “The Thought of Mao Zedong,” where I try to show how this applies to our age.

[3] The German original has no such word, and in general that 1892 Wallace translation is altogether too loose. I cannot for the life of me understand why a 1975 English publication would still use that translation. I’m in correspondence with A.V. Miller on this subject [RDC #11239]….

[4] People may die, but ideas don’t. I keep up communication with a number of people, and none more so than Hegel and Marx.

Read Raya Dunayevskaya’s Marxist-Humanist trilogy of revolution for yourself

Marxism and Freedom dialectically presents history and theory as emanating from the movement from practice, re-establishing the American and world humanist roots of Marxism.

“Cooperation is in itself a productive power, the power of social labor. Under capitalistic control….Its function is confined to the production of value. It cannot release its new, social, human energies so long as the old mode of production continues.”


Philosophy and Revolution shows the integrality of philosophy and revolution as characteristic of the age, tracing it through historically, and shows that Marx’s philosophy of liberation merges the dialectics of elemental revolt and its Reason.

“The days are long since past when these voices from below could be treated, at best, as mere sources of theory. The movement from practice which is itself a form of theory demands a totally new relationship of theory to practice.”


Rosa Luxemburg, Women’s Liberation, and Marx’s Philosophy of Revolution discovered a trail to the 1980s in Marx’s “new moments” on new paths to revolution, on new concepts of man/woman relations, and on philosophy of revolution as inseparable from organization.

What became as translucent…was Marx’s concept of permanent revolution. This made clear, at one and the same time, how very deep must be the uprooting of class society and how broad the view of the forces of revolution.”

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