Science and Society 64 (4):489 - 496 (2000)

Tony Smith
University of Georgia
In a world where exploitation and uneven development condemn billions to suffering, the proper understanding of the intellectual relationship between Hegel and Marx appears a small matter indeed. Marx‟s Capital, however, remains the single most important text for comprehending the system that generates this suffering. The question of the proper reading of this work thus remains important. Sooner or later this brings us to the Hegel/Marx question. In a recent article in Science and Society John Rosenthal forcefully argues that there is one and only one place where Hegelian themes play a role in Capital (Rosenthal 1999). In Rosenthal‟s view, Marx‟s description of the relationship between money and ordinary commodities deliberately echoes the relationship between universals and finite things in Hegel‟s system of idealism. The fact that Marx found this aspect of Hegel‟s thought useful is not at all to Hegel‟s credit. According to Rosenthal, Hegel‟s thought perversely grants abstractions priority over flesh and blood human subjects in a way that exactly parallels the way money, a “real abstraction,” perversely dominates social agents in capitalism. Apart from this, Rosenthal insists, Marx abandons his earlier experiments with Hegelian motifs in Capital. In specific, nothing like Hegelian dialectics can be found, a “methodology” based on bad puns and spurious reasoning. In order to justify this thesis Rosenthal attacks on two main fronts. First, he hopes to convince the reader that Hegel‟s use of the key terms “universality,” 1 “particularity,” and “individuality” is irredeemably flawed. Rosenthal complains that Hegel‟s term “universality” is systematically ambiguous, sometimes referring to the relatively more inclusive, on other occasions to the all-inclusive. The sense of the term “particularity” shifts in Hegel‟s writings between what is relatively unique (“bare” particularity) and what is relatively more determinate (“specificity”). And the notion of “individuality” jumps between the absolutely unique (bare particularity again) and the fully determinate system (“totality”)..
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