cover of One-Dimensional Man, 1964 edition

Herbert Marcuse: One-Dimensional Man
(Boston: Beacon, 1964)

Part II: One-Dimensional Thought
Chapter 5. Negative Thinking:
The Defeated Logic of Protest

to contents, intro, chap: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10; Publications Page, Homepage

"... that which is cannot be true." To our well-trained ears and eyes, this statement is flippant and ridiculous, or as outrageous as that other statement which seems to say the opposite: "what is real is rational." And yet, in the tradition of Western thought, both reveal, in provocatively ..bridged formulation, the idea of Reason which has guided its logic. Moreover, both express the same concept, namely, the antagonistic structure of reality, and of thought trying to Understand reality. The world of immediate experience-the world in which we find ourselves living-must be comprehended, transformed, even subverted in order to become that which it really is.

In the equation Reason = Truth = Reality, which joins the subjective and objective world into one antagonistic unity, Reason is the subversive power, the "power of the negative" that establishes, as theoretical and practical Reason, the truth for men and things—that is, the conditions in which men and things become what they really are. The attempt to demonstrate that this truth of theory and practice is not a subjective but an objective condition was the original concern of Western thought and the origin of its logic—logic not in the sense of a special discipline of philosophy but as the mode of thought appropriate for comprehending the real as rational.

The totalitarian universe of technological rationality is the latest transmutation of the idea of Reason. In this and the following chapter, I shall try to identify some of the main stages in the development of this idea—the process by which logic became the logic of domination. Such ideological analysis can contribute to the understanding of the real development inasmuch as it is focused on the union (and separation) of theory and practice, thought and action, in the historical process—an unfolding of theoretical and practical Reason in one.

The closed operational universe of advanced industrial civilisation with its terrifying harmony of freedom and oppression, productivity and destruction, growth and regression is pre-designed in this idea of Reason as a specific historical project. The technological and the pre-technological stages share certain basic concepts of man and nature which express the continuity of the Western tradition. Within this continuum, different modes of thought clash with each other; they belong to different ways of apprehending, organising, changing society and nature. The stabilising tendencies conflict with the subversive elements of Reason, the power of positive with that of negative thinking, until the achievements of advanced industrial civilisation lead to the triumph of the one-dimensional reality over all contradiction.

This conflict dates back to the origins of philosophic thought itself and finds striking expression in the contrast between Plato’s dialectical logic and the formal logic of the Aristotelian Organon. The subsequent sketch of the classical model of dialectical thought may prepare the ground for an analysis of the contrasting features of technological rationality.

In classical Greek philosophy, Reason is the cognitive faculty to distinguish what is true and what is false insofar as truth (and falsehood) is primarily a condition of Being, of Reality—and only on this ground a property of propositions. True discourse, logic, reveals and expresses that which really is as distinguished from that which appears to be (real), And by virtue of this equation between Truth and (real) Being, Truth is a value, for Being is better than Non-Being. The latter is not simply Nothing; it is a potentiality of and a threat to Being—destruction. The struggle for truth is a struggle against destruction, for the "salvation" (sozein) of Being (an effort which appears itself to be destructive if it assails an established reality as "untrue": Socrates against the Athenian city-state). Inasmuch as the struggle for truth "saves" reality from destruction, truth commits and engages human existence. It is the essentially human project. If man has learned to see and know what really is, he will act in accordance with truth, Epistemology is in itself ethics, and ethics is epistemology.

This conception reflects the experience of a world antagonistic in itself—a world afflicted with want and negativity, constantly threatened with destruction, but also a world which is a cosmos, structured in accordance with final causes. To the extent to which the experience of an antagonistic world guides the development of the philosophical categories, philosophy moves in a universe which is broken in itself two-dimensional. Appearance and reality, untruth and truth, (and, as we shall see, unfreedom and freedom) are ontological conditions.

The distinction is not by virtue or by fault of abstract thought; it is rather rooted in the experience of the universe of which thought partakes in theory and practice. In this universe, there are modes of being in which men and things are "by themselves" and "as themselves," and modes in which they are not—that is, in ,which they exist in distortion, limitation, or denial of their nature (essence). To overcome these negative conditions is the process of being and of thought. Philosophy originates in dialectic; its universe of discourse responds to the facts of an antagonistic reality.

What are the criteria for this distinction? On what ground is the status of "truth" assigned to one mode or condition rather than to another? Classical Greek philosophy relies largely on what was later termed (in a rather derogative sense) "intuition," i.e., a form of cognition in which the object of thought appears clearly as that which it really is (in its essential qualities), and in antagonistic relation to its contingent, immediate situation. Indeed this evidence of intuition is not too different from the Cartesian one. It is not a mysterious faculty of the mind, not a strange immediate experience, nor is it divorced from conceptual analysis. Intuition is rather the (preliminary) terminus of such an analysis—the result of methodic intellectual mediation. As such, it is the mediation of concrete experience.

The notion of the essence of man may serve as an illustration. Analysed in the condition in which he finds himself in his universe, man seems to be in possession of certain faculties and powers which would enable him to lead a "good life," i.e., a life which is as much as possible free from toil, dependence, and ugliness. To attain such a life is to attain the "best life": to live in accordance with the essence of nature or man.

To be sure, this is still the dictum of the philosopher; it is he who analyses the human situation. He subjects experience to his critical judgment, and this contains a value judgment—namely, that freedom from toil is preferable to toil, and an intelligent life is preferable to a stupid life. It so happened that philosophy was born with these values. Scientific thought had to break this union of value judgment and analysis, for it became increasingly clear that the philosophic values did not guide the organisation of society nor the transformation of nature. They were ineffective, unreal. Already the Greek conception contains the historical element—the essence of man is different in the slaves and in the free citizen, in the Greek and in the Barbarian Civilisation has overcome the ontological stabilisation of this difference (at least in theory). But this development does not yet invalidate the distinction between essential and contingent nature, between true and false modes of existence—provided only that the distinction derives from a logical analysis of the empirical situation, and understands its potential as well as its contingency.

To the Plato of the later dialogues and to Aristotle, the modes of Being are modes of movement—transition from potentiality to actuality, realisation. Finite Being is incomplete realisation, subject to change. Its generation is corruption; it is permeated with negativity. Thus it is not true reality—Truth. The philosophic quest proceeds from the finite world to the construction of a reality which is not subject to the painful difference between potentiality and actuality, which has mastered its negativity and—is complete and independent in itself—free.

This discovery is the work of Logos and Eros. The two key terms designate two modes of negation; erotic as well as logical cognition break the hold of the established, contingent reality and strive for a truth incompatible with it. Logos and Eros are subjective and objective in one. The ascent from the "lower" to the "higher" forms of reality is movement of matter as well as mind. According to Aristotle, the perfect reality, the god, attracts the world below os eromenon; he is the final cause of all being. Logos and Eros are in themselves the unity of the positive and the negative, creation and destruction. In the exigencies of thought and in the madness of love is the destructive refusal of the established ways of life. Truth transforms the modes of thought and existence. Reason and Freedom converge.

However, this dynamic has its inherent limits insofar as the antagonistic character of reality, its explosion in true and untrue modes of existence, appears to be an immutable ontological condition. There are modes of existence which can never be "true" because they can—never rest in the realisation of their potentialities, in the joy of being. In the human reality, all existence that spends itself in procuring the prerequisites of existence is thus an "untrue" and unfree existence. Obviously this reflects the not at all ontological condition of a society based on the proposition that freedom is incompatible with the activity of procuring the necessities of life, that this activity is the "natural" function of a specific class, and that cognition of the truth and true existence imply freedom from the entire dimension of such activity. This is indeed the pre- and anti-technological constellation par excellence.

But the real dividing line between pre-technological and technological rationality is not that between a society based on unfreedom, and one based on freedom. Society still is organised in such a way that procuring the necessities of life constitutes the full-time and life-long occupation of specific social classes, which are therefore unfree and prevented from a human existence. In this sense, the classical proposition according to which truth is incompatible with enslavement by socially necessary labor is still valid.

The classical concept implies the proposition that freedom of thought and speech must remain a class privilege as long as this enslavement prevails. For thought and speech are of a thinking and speaking subject, and if the life of the, latter depends on the performance of a superimposed function, it depends on fulfilling the requirements of this function—thus it depends on those who control these requirements. The dividing line between the pre-technological and the technological project rather is in the manner in which the subordination to the necessities of life—to "earning a living"—is organised and, in the new modes of freedom and unfreedom, truth and falsehood which correspond to this organisation.

Who is, in the classical conception, the subject that comprehends the ontological condition of truth and untruth? It is the master of pure contemplation (theoria), and the master of a practice guided by theoria, i.e., the philosopher-statesman. To be sure, the truth which he knows and expounds is potentially accessible to everyone. Led by the philosopher, the slave in Plato’s Meno is capable of grasping the truth of a geometrical axiom, i.e., a truth beyond change and corruption. But since truth is a state of Being as well as of thought, and since the latter is the expression and manifestation of the former, access to truth remains mere potentiality as long as it is not living in and with the truth. And this mode of existence is closed to the slave—and to anyone who has to spend his life procuring the necessities of life. Consequently, if men no longer had to spend their lives in the realm of necessity, truth and a true human existence would be in a strict and real sense universal. Philosophy envisages the equality of man but, at the same time, it submits to the factual denial of equality. For in the given reality, procurement of the necessities is the life-long job of the majority, and the necessities have to be procured and served so that truth (which is freedom from material necessities) can be.

Here, the historical barrier arrests and distorts the quest for truth; the societal division of labor obtains the dignity of an ontological condition. If truth presupposes freedom from toil, and if this freedom is, in the social reality, the prerogative of a minority, then the reality allows such a truth only in approximation and for a privileged group. This state of affairs contradicts the universal character of truth, which defines and "prescribes" not only a theoretical goal, but the best life of man qua man, with respect to the essence of man. For philosophy, the contradiction is insoluble, or else it does not appear as a contradiction because it is t structure of the slave or serf society which this philosophy does not transcend. Thus it leaves history behind, unmastered, and elevates truth safely above the historical reality. There, truth is reserved intact, not as an achievement of heaven or in heaven, but as an achievement of thought—intact because its very notion expresses the insight that those who devote their lives to earning a living are incapable of living t human existence.

The ontological concept of truth is in the centre of a logic—which may serve as a model of pre-technological rationality. It is the rationality of a two-dimensional universe of discourse which, contrasts with the of thought and behaviour that develop in the execution of the technological project.

Aristotle uses the term "apophantic logos" in order to distinguish a specific type of Logos (speech, communication)—that which discovers truth and falsehood and is, in its development, determined by the difference between truth and falsehood. It is the logic of judgment, but in the emphatic sense of a (judicial) sentence: attributing (p) to (S) because and insofar as it pertains to (S), as a property of (S); or denying (p) to (S) because and insofar as it does not pertain to (S) etc. From this ontological basis, the Aristotelian philosophy proceeds to establish "pure forms" of all possible true (and false) predications; it becomes the formal logic of judgments.

When Husserl revived the idea of an apophantic logic, he emphasised its original critical intent. And he found this intent precisely in the idea of a logic of judgments—that is, in the fact that thought was not directly concerned with Being (das Seiende selbst) but rather with "pretensions", propositions on Being. Husserl sees in this orientation on judgments a restriction and a prejudice with respect to the task and scope of logic.

The classical idea of logic shows indeed an ontological prejudice—the structure of the judgment (proposition) refers to a divided reality. The discourse moves between the experience of Being and Non-being, essence and fact, generation and corruption, potentiality and actuality. The Aristotelian Organon abstracts from this unity of opposites the general forms of propositions and of their (correct or incorrect) connections; still, decisive parts of this formal logic remain committed to Aristotelian metaphysics.

Prior to this formalisation, the experience of the divided world finds its logic in the Platonic dialectic, Here, the terms "Being" "Non-being" "Movement," "the One and the Many" "Identity" and "Contradiction" are methodically kept open, ambiguous, not fully defined. They have an open horizon, an entire universe of meaning which is gradually structured in the process of communication itself, but which is never closed. The propositions are submitted, developed, and tested in a dialogue, in which the partner is led to question the normally unquestioned universe of experience and speech, and to enter a new dimension of discourse—otherwise he is free and the discourse is addressed to his freedom. He is supposed to go beyond that which is given to him—as the speaker, in his proposition, goes beyond the initial setting of the terms. These terms have many meanings because the conditions to which they refer have many sides, implications, and effects which cannot be insulated and stabilised. Their logical development responds to the process of reality, or Sache selbst. The laws of thought are laws of reality, or rather become the laws of reality if thought understands the truth of immediate experience as the appearance of another truth, which is that of the true Forms of reality—of the Ideas. Thus there is contradiction rather than correspondence between dialectical thought and the given reality; the true judgment judges this reality not in its own terms, but in terms which envisage its subversion. And in this subversion, reality comes into its own truth.

In the classical logic, the judgment which constituted the original core of dialectical thought was formalised in the propositional form, "S is p." But this form conceals rather than reveals the basic dialectical proposition, which states the negative character of the empirical reality. judged in the light of their essence and idea, men and things exist as other than they are; consequently thought contradicts that which is (given), opposes its truth to that of the given reality. The truth envisaged by thought is the Idea. As such it is, in terms of the given reality, "mere" Idea, "mere" essence—potentiality.

But the essential potentiality is not like the many possibilities which are contained in the given universe of discourse and action; the essential potentiality is of a very different order. Its realisation involves subversion of the established order, for thinking in accordance with truth is the commitment to exist in accordance with truth. (In Plato, the extreme concepts which illustrate this subversion are: death as the beginning of the philosopher’s life, and the violent liberation from the Cave.) Thus, the subversive character of truth inflicts upon thought an imperative quality. Logic centers on judgments which are, as demonstrative propositions, imperatives,—the predicative "is" implies an. ought.

This contradictory, two-dimensional style of thought is the inner form not only of dialectical logic but of all philosophy which comes to grips with reality. The propositions which define reality affirm as true something that is not (immediately) the case; thus they contradict that which is the case, and they deny its truth. The affirmative judgment contains a negation which disappears in the propositional form (S is p). For example, "virtue is knowledge"; "justice is that state in which everyone performs the function for which his nature is best suited"; "the perfectly real is the perfectly knowable"; "verum est id, quod est"; "man is free"; "the State is the reality of Reason."

If these propositions are to be true, then the copula "is" states an "ought," a desideratum. It judges conditions in which virtue is not knowledge, in which men do not perform the function for which their nature best suits them, in which they are not free, etc. Or, the categorical S-p form states that (S) is not (S); (S) is defined as other-than-itself. Verification of the proposition involves a process in fact as well as in thought: (S) must become that which it is. The categorical statement thus turns into a categorical imperative; it does not state a fact but the necessity to bring about a fact. For example, it could be read as follows: man is not (in fact) free, endowed with inalienable rights, etc., but he ought to be, because be is free in the eyes of God, by nature, etc.

Dialectical thought understands the critical tension between "is" and "ought" first as an ontological condition, pertaining to the structure of Being itself. However, the recognition of this state of Being—its theory—intends from the beginning a concrete practice. Seen in the light of a truth which appears in them falsified or denied, the given facts themselves appear false and negative.

Consequently, thought is led, by the situation of its objects, to measure their truth in terms of another logic, another universe of discourse. And this logic projects another mode of existence: the realisation of the truth in the words and deeds of man. And inasmuch as this project involves man as societal animal," the polis, the movement of thought has a political content. Thus, the Socratic discourse is political discourse inasmuch as it contradicts the established political institutions. The search for the correct definition, for the "concept" of virtue, justice, piety, and knowledge becomes a subversive undertaking, for the concept intends a new polis.

Thought has no power to bring about such a change fireless it transcends itself into practice, and the very dissociation from the material practice, in which philosophy originates, gives philosophic thought its abstract and ideological quality. By virtue of this dissociation, critical philosophic thought is necessarily transcendent and abstract. Philosophy shares this abstractness with all genuine thought, for nobody really thinks who does not abstract from that which is given, who does not relate the facts to the factors which have made them, who does not—in his mind—undo the facts. Abstractness is the very life of thought, the token of its authenticity.

But there are false and true abstractions. Abstraction is a historical event in a historical continuum. It proceeds on historical grounds, and it remains related to the very basis from which it moves away: the established societal universe. Even where the critical abstraction arrives at the negation of the established universe of discourse, the basis survives in the negation (subversion) and limits the possibilities of the new position.

At the classical origins of philosophic thought, the transcending concepts remained committed to the prevailing separation between intellectual and manual labour to the established society of enslavement. Plato’s "ideal" state retains and reforms enslavement while organising it in accordance with an eternal truth. And in Aristotle, the philosopher-king (in whom theory and practice were still combined) gives way to the supremacy of the bios theoreticos which can hardly claim a subversive function and content.

Those who bore the brunt of the untrue reality and who, therefore, seemed to be most in need of attaining its subversion were not the concern of philosophy. It abstracted from them and continued to abstract from them.

In this sense, "idealism" was germane to philosophic thought, for the notion of the supremacy of thought (consciousness) also pronounces the impotence of thought in an empirical world which philosophy transcends and corrects—in thought. The rationality in the name of which philosophy passed its judgments obtained that abstract and general purity" which made it immune against the world in which one had to live. With the exception of the materialistic "heretics," philosophic thought was rarely afflicted by the afflictions of human existence.

Paradoxically, it is precisely the critical intent in philosophic thought which leads to the idealistic purifications critical intent which aims at the empirical world as a whole, and not merely at certain modes of thinking or behaving within it. Defining its concepts in terms of potentialities which are of an essentially different order of thought and existence, the philosophic critique finds itself blocked by the reality from which it dissociates itself, and proceeds to construct a realm of Reason purged from empirical contingency. The two dimensions of thought—that of the essential and that of—the apparent truths—no longer interfere with each other, and their concrete dialectical relation becomes an abstract epistemological or ontological relation. The judgments passed on the given reality are replaced by propositions defining the general forms of thought, objects of thought, and relations between thought and its objects. The subject of thought becomes the pure and universal form of subjectivity, from which all particulars are removed.

For such a formal subject, the relation between on and mi on change and permanence, potentiality and actuality, truth and falsehood is no longer an existential concern; it is rather a matter of pure philosophy. The contrast is striking between Plato’s dialectical and Aristotle’s formal logic.

In the Aristotelian Organon, the syllogistic "term" (horos) is "so void of substantial meaning that a letter of the alphabet is a fully equivalent substitute." It is thus entirely different from the "metaphysical" term (also horos) which designates the result of the essential definition, the answer to the question: "ti estin?" Kapp maintains against Prantl that the "two different significations are entirely independent of one another and were never mixed up by Aristotle himself." In any, case, in formal logic, thought is organised in a manner very different from that of the Platonic dialogue.

In this formal logic, thought is indifferent toward its objects. Whether they are mental or physical, whether they pertain to society or to nature, they become subject to the same general laws of organisation, calculation, and conclusion—but they do so as fungible signs or symbols, in abstraction from their particular "substance." This general quality (quantitative quality) is the precondition of law and order—in logic as well as in society—the price of universal control.

"The general concept which discursive logic had developed has its foundation in the reality of domination" [Horkheimer and Adorno]

Aristotle’s Metaphysics states the connection between concept and control: the knowledge of "first causes" is—as knowledge of the universal—the most effective and certain knowledge, for disposing over the causes is disposing over their effects. By virtue of the universal concept, thought attains mastery over the particular cases. However, the most formalised universe of logic still refers to the most general structure of the given, experienced world; the pure form is still that of the content which it formalises. The idea of formal logic itself is a historical event in the development of the mental and physical instruments for universal control and calculability. In this undertaking man had to create theoretical harmony out of actual discord, to purge thought from contradictions, to hypostatise identifiable and fungible units in the complex process of society and nature.

Under the rule of formal logic, the notion of the conflict between essence and appearance is expendable if not meaningless; the material content is neutralised; the principle of identity is separated from the principle of contradiction (contradictions are the fault of incorrect thinking); final causes are removed from the logical order. Well defined in their scop and function, concepts become instruments of prediction and control. Formal logic is thus the first step on the long road to scientific thought—the first step only, for much higher degree of abstraction and mathematisation is still required to adjust the modes of thought to technological rationality.

The methods of logical procedure are very different in ancient and modern logic, but behind all difference is the construction of a universally valid order of thought, neutral with respect to material content. Long before technological man and technological nature emerged as the objects of rational control and calculation, the mind was made susceptible to abstract generalisation. Terms which could be organised into a coherent logical system, free from contradiction or with manageable contradiction, were separated from those which could not. Distinction was made between the universal, calculable, "objective" and the particular, incalculable, subjective dimension of thought; the latter entered into science only through a series of reductions.

Formal logic foreshadows the reduction of secondary to primary qualities in which the former become the measurable and controllable properties of physics. The elements of thought can then be scientifically organised—as the human elements can be organised in the social reality. Pretechnological and technological rationality, ontology and technology are linked by those elements of thought which adjust the rules of thought to the rules of control and domination. Pre-technological and technological modes of domination are fundamentally different—as different as slavery is from free—wage labor, paganism from Christianity, the city state from the nation, the slaughter of the population of a captured city from the Nazi concentration camps. However, history is still the history of domination, and the logic of thought remains the logic of domination.

Formal logic intended universal validity for the laws of thought. And indeed, without universality, thought would be a private, non-committal affair, incapable of understanding the smallest sector of existence. Thought is always more and other than individual thinking; if I start thinking of individual persons in a specific situation, I find them in a supra-individual context of which they partake, and I think in general concepts. All objects of thought are universals. But it is equally true that the supra-individual meaning, the universality of a concept, is never merely a formal one; it is constituted in the interrelationship between the (thinking and acting) subjects and their world. Logical abstraction is also sociological abstraction. There is a logical mimesis which formulates the laws of thought in protective accord with the laws of society, but it is only one mode of thought among others.

The sterility of Aristotelian formal logic has often been noted. Philosophic thought developed alongside and even outside this logic. In their main efforts, neither the idealist nor the materialist, neither the rationalist nor the empiricist schools seem to owe anything to it. Formal logic was nontranscendent in its very structure. It canonised and organised thought within a set framework beyond which no syllogism can pass—it remained "analytics." Logic continued as a special discipline alongside the substantive development of philosophic thought, essentially unchanging in spite of the new concepts and new contents which marked this development.

Indeed, neither the Schoolmen [scholastics?] nor the rationalism and the empiricism of the early modern period had any reason to object to the mode of thought which had canonised its general forms in the Aristotelian logic. Its intent at least was in accord with scientific validity and exactness, and the rest did Yet interfere with the conceptual elaboration of the new experience and the new facts.

The contemporary mathematical and symbolic logic is certainly very different from its classical predecessor, but they share the radical opposition to dialectical logic. In terms of this opposition, the old and the new formal logic express the same mode of thought. it is purged from that "negative" which loomed so large at the origins of logic and of philosophic thought—the experience of the denying, deceptive, falsifying power of the established reality. And with the elimination of this experience, the conceptual effort to sustain the tension between "is" and "Ought", and to subvert the established universe of discourse in the name of its own truth is likewise eliminated from all thought which is to be objective, exact, and scientific. For the scientific subversion of the immediate experience which establishes the truth of science as against that of immediate experience does not develop the concepts which carry in themselves the protest and the refusal. The new scientific truth which they oppose to the accepted one does not contain in itself the judgment that condemns the established reality.

In contrast, dialectical thought is and remains unscientific to the extent to which it is such judgment, and the judgment is imposed upon dialectical thought by the nature of its object—by its objectivity. This object is the reality in its true concreteness; dialectical logic precludes all abstraction which leaves the concrete content alone and behind, uncomprehended. Hegel detects in the critical philosophy of his time the "fear of the object", and he demands that a genuinely scientific thought overcome this position of fear and comprehend the "logical and the pure-rational" in the very concreteness of its objects. Dialectical logic cannot be formal because it is determined by the real, which is concrete. And this concreteness, far from militating against a system of general principles and concepts, requires such a system of logic because it moves under general laws which make for the rationality of the real. It is the rationality of contradiction, of the opposition of forces, tendencies, elements, which constitutes the movement of the real and, if comprehended, the concept of the real.

Existing as the living contradiction between essence and appearance, the objects of thought are of that "inner negativity" which is the specific quality of their concept. The dialectical definition defines the movement of things from that which they are not to that which they are. The development of contradictory elements, which determines the structure of its object, also determines the structure of dialectical thought. The object of dialectical logic is neither the abstract, general form of objectivity, nor the abstract, general form of thought—nor the data of immediate experience. Dialectical logic undoes the abstractions of formal logic and of transcendental philosophy, but it also denies the concreteness of immediate experience. To the extent to which this experience comes to rest with the things as they appear and happen to be, it is a limited and even false experience. It attains its truth if it has freed itself from the deceptive objectivity which conceals the factors behind the facts—that is, if it understands its world as a historical universe, in which the established facts are the work of the historical practice of man. This practice (intellectual and material) is the reality in the data of experience; it is also the reality which dialectical logic comprehends.

When historical content enters into the dialectical concept and determines methodologically its development and function, dialectical thought attains the concreteness which links the structure of thought to that of reality. Logical truth becomes historical truth. The ontological tension between essence and appearance, between "is" and "ought" becomes historical tension, and the "inner negativity" of the object-world is understood as the work of the historical subject-man in his struggle with nature and society. Reason becomes historical Reason. It contradicts the established order of men and things on behalf of existing societal forces that reveal the irrational character of this order—for "rational" is a mode of thought and action which is geared to reduce ignorance, destruction, brutality, and oppression.

The transformation of ontological into historical dialectic retains the two-dimensionality of philosophic thought as critical, negative thinking. But now essence and appearance, "is" and "ought," confront each other in the conflict between actual forces and capabilities in the society. And they confront each other, not as Reason and Unreason, Right and Wrong—for both are part and parcel of the same established universe, both partaking of Reason and Unreason, Right and Wrong. The slave is capable of abolishing the masters and of cooperating with them; the masters are capable of improving the life of the slave and of improving his exploitation. The idea of Reason pertains to the movement of thought and of action. It is a theoretical and a practical exigency.

If dialectical logic understands contradiction as "necessity" belonging to the very "nature of thought" it does so because contradiction belongs to the very nature of the object of thought, to reality, where Reason is still Unreason, and the irrational still the rational. Conversely, all established reality militates against the logic of contradictions—it favours the modes of thought which sustain the established forms of life and the modes of behaviour which reproduce and improve them. The given reality has its own logic and its own truth; the effort to comprehend them as such and to transcend them presupposes a different logic, a contradicting truth. They belong to modes of thought which are non-operational in their very structure; they are alien to scientific as well as common-sense operationalism; their historical concreteness militates against quantification and mathematisation on the one hand, and against positivism and empiricism on the other. Thus these modes of thought appear to be a relic of the past, like all non-scientific and non-empirical philosophy. They recede before a more effective theory and practice of Reason.

top of page
Part I
Part II
Part III
Homepage; Publications Page

archived by Harold Marcuse, May 30, 2005, last updated: June 18, 2005
back to top