We are publishing a transcript of Dr. Anthony Monteiro’s opening remarks from the Saturday Free School’s April 15, 2023 session on Hegel’s Science of Logic and Artificial Intelligence. The Free School meets every Saturday at 10:30 AM, and is streamed live on Facebook and YouTube.
Artwork by Serafina Harris
I just wanted to say a few things about why Hegel, why we’re reading Hegel and how we want to read Hegel and the context for our reading of Hegel, and for a reading of Du Bois or anything – what is the ideological and political context?
We’re in a moment of what is perhaps the most consequential ideological struggle in the modern epoch and maybe in the ideological history of humanity. In part, this is so because of the sheer magnitude and numbers of people involved, literally billions of people. Now the fact that the masses of humanity are no longer passive, ignorant and unconscious of this great ideological struggle – and they are [conscious], and of course we must begin, unlike let us say, revolutionaries of the past who had to assume that the majority of people were not themselves conscious of the revolutionary struggle. And so the idea that a few people would storm the barricades, or storm the Winter Palace – that approach is radically, even fundamentally different from what must be assumed in these times.
We must assume, as I think it is a fact, that the majority of humanity – the majority of the eight billion human beings that constitute humanity in one or another way – are conscious of the world that they live in, are conscious of ideas, and are in one or another way conscious of the consequences of ideas and of themselves as agents of history.
This has never been the case. Most people lived in isolation from the main currents of ideas up until the present time, and by the present time I’m talking of the last 125 years.
Why and what brought about this change? There are, I think, two fundamental reasons. A lot of people, you’ll hear talk – “Well it’s social media – oh, it’s the Internet that has awakened the consciousness of the broad masses of people.” And that’s a form of what we would call technological determinism. It is not that. It is the socialist revolutions and the anti-colonial struggles that freed the vast majority of humanity to be makers of history. And by makers of history we mean in the sense of not just acting upon other people’s plans but themselves having a consciousness and understanding and a plan. So it is fatal to assume that the majority of mankind is ignorant and unconscious of where history is and where history might go.
To put it another way, the majority of humanity has an imaginary, a futuristic outlook that things as they are today can change. If we went back over a hundred years ago, most people believe that the way their ancestors, their great-great-grandparents, their grandparents had lived – they too would live that way. Today people don’t think that way. And while I mentioned the Socialist Revolutions, of course the Russian Revolution, Chinese Revolution and going forward, and the anti-colonial struggles – we must also indicate, and this is the greatest part of the great scientific value of [Du Bois’s] Black Reconstruction – the awakening of the enslaved proletariat who were being told over and over again – and I would say the majority of human beings on the planet to the extent they knew about it, believed that slavery was natural, and that Africans were naturally inferior.
What Du Bois establishes is that the enslaved proletariat itself, in its consciousness of itself, was in the vanguard of the human struggle for liberation. It is also the black freedom movement that as well awakens humanity not only to the fact that things could change, but that things inevitably will change. As King often quotes from the abolitionist preacher Theodore Parker, “The arc of the moral universe is long and it bends to justice.” The concept of freedom as an inevitable part of the human condition.
Most human beings on the planet now would believe that in one or another way. I don’t care where you go. So the ideological struggle is inevitable and central to the radical and revolutionary remaking of the planet. To put it another way, no ruling class, including the ruling class of the United States, can assume that they can just dictate to people what should be and what they should do and what they shouldn’t do. They have to at least make an effort to ideologically win people to their side.
Well, to say that for today, we also have to say that even the bourgeois democratic revolutions – when the bourgeoisie was weak and a small part of the population of let us say France or Germany or England or of even of the United States, the bourgeoisie had to convince the people that they the bourgeoisie as opposed to the aristocrats and the kings and the landowners and the the popes and the bishops, that they, the bourgeoisie could bring into existence another system that would establish liberty, what we today would call freedom, and emancipate the masses from the the drudgery, the misery, of the old feudal system.
We see the same thing in the Indian independence movement where Gandhi took on the garments of the peasantry and lived like a peasant, went among the peasants and day-by-day won them to the struggle for independence from British rule. The same thing with the Chinese revolutionaries, when Mao said we have to go to the countryside ‘cause that’s where the people are. It was a strategy of winning the majority of people to the cause of revolution, not the dogmatic idea that the working class will lead the peasantry, enter into an alliance but lead the peasantry. What Mao ‘n those were saying is that the peasantry on its own is a revolutionary force and the fact is the majority can and should be won to the cause of democratic change in China.
So today we’re talking about processes, which Hegel could never have imagined – the Hegelian idea that the history of humanity is the history of ideas, that human beings were the manifestation, human societies were the manifestations of great ideas, et cetera. He could have never imagined the majority of humanity being involved, first of all and its own liberation, but also in the struggle of ideas. So again, to understand how we got to a point in a matter of a brief period, I mean we could say 125 years, we could say maybe a little bit longer if you include the civil war and black reconstruction and that kind of thing.
What we call the ideological struggle, which is maybe not the best way to talk about this thing, the word ideology or ideological comes from the German. And ideology in German philosophy and political theory is what we would call ideas, big ideas. So the ideological struggle is really the struggle over ideas and more importantly, the human future.
Therefore the struggle of ideas or the ideological struggle must be broadly conceived and not narrowly, as in a conflict between “left” or “revolutionary groups” about who is more pure in their ideology. That is a superficial way, but it’s really a trivialization of the magnitude of what we’re talking about, and of course it is a throwback to a situation that existed over 150 years, 200 years ago, where the majority of human beings were not involved. So the question of “ideological purity” or “ideological correctness” of a “revolutionary vanguard” is so out of step with where humanity is at this point as to literally be something that would fit more and into a Saturday Night Live, or what we used to call a black exploitation film, it’s a joke. It is not serious.
What we’re talking about in terms of ideas and the struggle of ideas is ultimately the struggle of the people. Hence, for us we talk about the centrality of the ideological struggle. Now a lot of people would say, and they say it all the time, the so-called left – and whenever you say left you always have to put quotations around it or the word so-called – a lot of this is a joke, frankly. They will say for example, “well, the people are not interested in your ideas – the people are not interested in you reading Hegel. What black people are interested in that?” Well first of all, you don’t know what black people are interested in, and just because you’re not [interested], you might be an outlier. You might not represent black folk or the working class. “They’re more interested in putting food on their tables, and therefore they’re interested in activism, it is the activist that has the greatest appeal to the masses of people.” Well I can tell you from my own experience of course here in Philadelphia, but I think it’s other places, that a lot of people don’t trust activists, especially those who proceed from a “woke” or “identity politics” position. People are interested in a future, hence they are interested in ideas. And they’re interested in ideas in the organic sense. They’re interested in ideas in the same ways that we are interested in ideas.
The sites of the struggle that we’re talking about, the ideological struggle, are everywheres but some of them – philosophy, art literature and science, often or most times in academic circles, philosophers or professors of literature and art will say that we’re not doing ideology, we’re doing deep readings and deconstructive readings, et cetera. That we’re not bringing any externalities or biases to the question. Most philosophers would say that what we’re doing is a reconsideration based upon our own time and all of that of the great philosophers, and so on. And to claim that, for example, as we claim that philosophy is politics by other means, they would find that not only transgressive but demeaning of the high calling of what they do. And of course all professors think they’ve been summoned by a higher calling, something greater than any of us can understand, and they’re not driven by money and other things, crude things like that.
And certainly when you get to science, especially the Natural Sciences, most theoretical or experimental physicists, biologists, chemists, act like and will dispute anyone who would make the argument that science, and especially at the theoretical level, is a branch of philosophy and hence of ideological engagement. In other words the experiments that they do, the instruments that they build, are not the result of just the internal dialectics of their particular discipline and groups of theorists and scientists that they interact with. What we are saying is that as parts of societies, they are as ideologically shaped as anybody else. And so the work of theoretical physics, including quantum mechanics or relativity theory, or string theory, the way these things are thought about, talked about are really philosophical questions, which again are ideological questions.
Our return to Hegel and philosophy through Hegel – not exclusively Hegel, and I want to underline that – not exclusively Hegel – is our doing in another way what we did with Black Reconstruction, and what we’ve done with so many other things, and what we plan to do going forward with the year of James Baldwin and all of that type of thing. We are doing ideology and in substance doing, or participating, I should say, in the great work of the people to free themselves from a system that has no way out for them.
Frankly any ethnography, that is to say, the sociological work of going among the people, observing them, talking to them – always shows a profound interest, especially that mature part of the working class – a profound interest in ideas. And always seeking out honest thinkers that are not using ideas to make them themselves the “thinker” – look smarter than everybody else. That’s why people are so interested in a person like Baldwin and wanting to know him better, are so interested in King, and to the extent that we make it available, Du Bois and so on, Gandhi, et cetera.
Being concerned with philosophy brings us into certain areas of knowledge that are central to what philosophy does. Let me just name a few of them: logic, and I want to return to this because that’s a big question as we get into AI and even quantum mechanics. Logic, methodologies, methods. Logic and methodology I don’t think are that separate, at least in Hegel’s sense. They are ways of knowing, of discovering truth.
Phenomenology, and again I find Hegel’s definition of phenomenology to be the best, although it is not the only one – where he defines phenomenology as a science of human consciousness. The existentialist would define phenomenology as the science or study of being, or what they would call existence. We’ll come back to that. And there’s an important separation between existentialist phenomenology and Hegelian phenomenology.
I would just throw one other philosopher’s name in here when we get to this kind of existential phenomenology and that is Frederick Nietzsche. He could be the start of that kind of phenomenology. But nonetheless, phenomenology. And the other which is bound up with phenomenology and logic and that is epistemology, or theories of philosophies of knowledge, how we know. Epistemology is very connected to so much going on in the fields again of quantum physics and string theory.
String theory is one of those areas that has been mathematized. In other words, physicists that work in string theory talk to each other through mathematical equations, which means the rest of us don’t know what the hell they’re talking about. And I think they like it like that. But string theory is sometimes called a “theory of everything.”
Can there be a huge theory which unites classical physics? That is, the physics of Isaac Newton and Albert Einstein, rooted in an understanding of gravity. And for Einstein, a theory of time really – can that school of physics, the physics of large bodies, be united with a physics of subatomic particles? Thus far, as far as science is concerned to my knowledge, theoretical physics is concerned, the behavior of subatomic particles goes against the theories of gravity that apply to large bodies.
And so the challenge is, can there be a steering to unite these two apparently disparate, two conflicting things, and thus it is called string theory, or better, a theory of everything, or a unifying theory of Einstein and quantum mechanics? Relativity theory and quantum mechanical theory. This is huge and has gone unsolved since – well, the real great meeting to see if there could be some reconciliation occurred in 1925 in Copenhagen. We talked about that before. Up to this point they have not been reconciled; there has not been a unified theory of everything. In fact, there seems to be among theoretical physicists who deal with particle physics or quantum mechanics, a movement away from a recognition of the existence of a world outside of the human consciousness.
In other words, there are people in recent times who get Nobel prizes in theoretical physics who have made the claim that subatomic particles do not exist in and of themselves. They exist because our consciousness brings them into existence. This is a huge assertion because it would deny the existence of a world outside of consciousness. The consequences of that, ultimately for the transformation of the world in a sense from the epoch of Western hegemony to the epoch of humanity is not possible and can only be seen as a dead end. I’ll explain that a little bit more. I would say that that type of philosophy – the philosophy of this is not new – the philosophy that they’re asserting – the claims that they are making have a philosophical history going back to what we call British empiricism and the first philosopher Berkeley and then of course the major one in the British empiricist tradition David Hume, who said we can only claim the existence of the world as a result of our consciousness. We’ll come back to that.
If there is no world outside of our consciousness, then what is truth? This philosophical problem, or as I would say the geography, the structure of this problem of the existence of the world outside of consciousness, has its reflection in the discussion of artificial intelligence.
Again, not a small matter. A very important matter because of the conclusions that they are drawing, because AI through the devices of the internet and iPhones and other things is a greater reality in the lives of everyday people than quantum mechanics – the type of philosophical assertions that they make either openly or as subtext, has greater influence upon the ways that billions of people will view themselves and their futures.
Our approaches in philosophy and of course Hegel, and again I want to emphasize, not as the last word – we are not making a god of Hegel the way some people in AI want to make a god of AGI, that is artificial intelligence that becomes God-like, or artificial intelligence which through the evolution of machine intelligence can arrive at absolute truths, a kind of an end game where God-like means all-knowing. But even they in the AI discourse say that in arriving at that civilization itself will be destroyed. We’ll come back to that. A lot of these guys I don’t take too seriously, the chatter as it were. We’ll come back to that.
We are concerned with logic and phenomenology. We are concerned first of all with Hegel’s assertion and maybe one of the most important claims in the history of modern philosophy,that Aristotle did not have it right, that the substance of the logic of real things in the real world is dialectical and not formal.
Formal logic is that logic associated most with Aristotle. Aristotle established that the laws of logic were laws designed to bring clarity to philosophical and other claims, and to establish what in fact were the logical conditions of truth. No small matter, not to be trivialized. Nor because of Hegel’s dialectic can we dispense with Aristotelian logic. We cannot, for all kinds of reasons, including that science is so bound up with Aristotelian logic. The ways that scientists think, the ways that experiments are constructed, the ways that they evaluate truth, et cetera, are all bound up strongly with Aristotelian logic and not with Hegelian dialectics.
There are philosophers of science and of mathematics, for instance Bertrand Russell, who will say – and I think he was all out of school on this one – “I never read Hegel’s Science of Logic and I don’t think it’s worth reading. It’s conflicted and confused.” And then he goes on to attempt to establish a system whereby logic could clarify the statements of philosophy. This is a kind of symbolic or mathematical logic – a lot of people try to replace ordinary language with mathematical formula and therefore you would have a committee of philosophers let us say and linguists who would take all of the statements – I guess this is part of what they think AI will do – take all the statements ever made by philosophy, all the statements ever made by anybody and use a criteria of mathematics to clarify what those statements really meant, to indicate what the contradictions in this statement versus the other statement a person made. In other words, a return to what Aristotle wanted to achieve. Logic as a way of achieving clarity about truth claims.
Now there are three laws of Aristotelian logic. And it’s very simple, but in its evolution very complex because it relates so much to all fields of mathematics as far as I can see, or can apply to all fields of mathematics, including calculus and geometry and algebra. You know, these simple laws. First of all, the law of identity: a thing is always itself. The second is the law of negation: a thing cannot be itself and its opposite at the same time. And the third is the most fascinating of them, and that is the law of the excluded middle, which is kind of a combination of the two previous ones. Nothing can exist as itself and its opposite at the same time – the law of excluded middle. Which, for Aristotle to base logic on anything but the law of identity would mean to clutter knowledge with other types of claims and contradictions. Remember, logic in this sense is to bring clarity and to eliminate all contradictions. The law of the excluded middle is a denial of the existence of contradiction and statements of truth or methods seeking to know the truth.
However, Hegel in his logic says that in fact, all things exist in a state of contradiction and that the principal law of logic is the law of negation. Or to put it another way, the negation of the negation. That seems so odd or so out of bounds because we don’t talk about things in that way, but that is where Hegel begins and that in the end is the subversive and revolutionary character of his thinking
Hegel is a student of Immanuel Kant – by the way, Immanuel Kant is my favorite modern philosopher. I use my favorite for several reasons, not because I agree with him more than I agree with Hegel. But Hegel comes forward with what in fact is a revolutionary proposition, that the logic of real things, the logic of real ideas, the logic of things that we live with, the logic of what we are is grounded in the unity of opposites. Hegel therefore proposed a logic of things in motion and change, as opposed to a logic of things in a static and lifeless existence
I’ve already mentioned about phenomenology, I won’t go back to that except to say that there is a kind of empty and an infantile, childish, more popular existentialism today associated with the word wokeness, identity, associated with pop psychology, intersectionality. And we should be very clear, intersectional analysis is not a dialectical analysis. This existential phenomenology centers upon the individual, is ahistorical, is unable to deal with the great philosophical questions. In a lot of ways identity politics and the philosophies of it and intersectionality are distractions from the great struggles of this time. It is completely subjective and self-oriented, egotistical in the sense of the self – the individual is the main center of philosophy. Isn’t that a real backward move from Hegel?
But it is not an unusual evolution in Anglo-American philosophy. I’m of the opinion that people like John Stuart Mill would be very comfortable with this outcome. And there are philosophers who from an “existentialist” point of view analyze everything from hip-hop to gender sexuality, through the lens of identity and frankly of Aristotelian logic. There are so many ironies with this – these people who are so much against white men who said anything in the past are really basing their philosophy, their theories in Aristotle and John Stuart Mill and maybe John Locke if you will.
The other application of phenomenology which is not Hegel necessarily is Immanuel Kant and I would say even David Hume, who use phenomenon to mean our sensual experiences. Sensual, that feeling, tasting, seeing, etcetera experience. And Kant made a distinction between what he called phenomena: those things that are available to our reasoning process, our logical process. And noumena: those things beyond our feeling or experience.
Phenomena, where all of those things that are available to us through our experience and are available to knowledge, to reason. Noumena is that universe, that world which is beyond anything we can experience, hence beyond anything we can know. So the world of knowledge is the world of phenomena.
Hegel, on the other side, said that because we and all things exist in time. Because of that, and because all things exist in motion, while we might never get to be absolute, i.e. we become God, we can increasingly know not only our experiences but that which is beyond our experience, perhaps in the realm of the abstract. I don’t want to get into that right now, but Hegel excoriated and criticized Kant for limiting the possibilities of knowledge to our immediate experience. We can come back to that.
As I said already, we’re going back into this philosophical thing as a way to engage the ideological struggle and the ideological struggles today. I don’t know how you do it without philosophy. A lot of this is empty, uninformed discourse by poorly educated professors and others. A lot of it wouldn’t be acceptable to Kant or Hegel or Du Bois or Baldwin, or anybody. It’s so empty, so superficial.
To think that you can have a discourse on gender and race over here, and a discourse on quantum mechanics and AI over here, and they have nothing in common. My argument is they have a whole lot in common and each of them in their logics, in their methods, in the phenomenologies weigh in heavily upon humanity’s future, or the majority of humanity’s imaginary of their future. Woke identity politics is a way of in fact taking billions of people out of the struggle for their own future. AI discussions do the same thing – well, what links them? I think there are common philosophical assumptions, whether stated or not. Common philosophical assumptions, and that at one cannot effectively wage the struggle for ideas without getting at the deep structure of ideas. Kant called it a transcendental logic. Aristotle is right – there’s something more to this than just what you say or how you construct your argument. What are the assumptions grounding what you say and grounding your argument?
Again, whenever you deal with Hegel, you’re gonna get all the blowback in the world. From every anti-revolutionary force no matter where they are in academic disciplines or in public discourse, they will blow back against Hegel as unrealistic, unworkable and confused. And again it is because of the two things. Time, which is indispensable in Hegel, not just as a structure, but time as inseparable from the existence of things themselves – things exist in time and motion. But also the fundamental law of Hegelian dialectics: the negation of the negation. That just doesn’t sit well with a lot of people. You know, you say “Well it’s a logic based in the negation of the negation.” “Oh there you go again, you’re negative.” “No, I’m not negative at all.” You see what I’m saying?
So, the liberal mind, they have this happy-happy positive thing. No, we’re not talking about your personal feeling, we’re talking about the way things exist in motion. What Hegel said is the logic of actual existing things is a logic based upon negation. The new emergence from the old. And the two become a synthesis. You know, in social philosophy, social theory, revolutionary thinking. If one does not engage that or acknowledge that, one is condemning oneself to dogmatism and repeating over and over and over again formulations that may have applied adequately and scientifically to one set of circumstances but might not apply in this. In the realm of theory and ideas, to deny dialectics in my estimate is to deny the creative potential of all great ideas to birth new ideas. Out of the old comes the new. The old is not completely destroyed, it is synthesized with the new to produce something new. It is a creative process, the unity of opposites leads to a higher synthesis.
We’re reading the Science of Logic in the same way we read Black Reconstruction. We read the Science of Logic the way not that Bertrand Russell read it – or didn’t read it – but the ways that Marx and Lenin, among others, have read Science of Logic. We read Science of Logic and Hegel’s Phenomenology of Mind the way Du Bois did, and the ways that Hegel is implemented and deployed in Black Reconstruction. If you know Hegel, you can see Du Bois working through a dialectical logic to explain reconstruction and the anti-slavery struggle. And in fact, reading Black Reconstruction the way we read him, creates creative possibilities to think about the world. We read Hegel the way the now-defunct Soviet Academy of Philosophy did. In other words, we read him in a revolutionary way, and why shouldn’t we? We’re not anti-revolutionary.
And frankly I don’t think there’s a moral way to exist in the world – and I get this from Baldwin – if you’re not revolutionary in revolutionary times, that is in times of revolutionary change in technology, philosophy, systems of governance and et cetera. We do not read Hegel in the limited bourgeois way – we do not read Hegel or Black Reconstruction in a way to uphold the rule of the current so-called liberal bourgeois elite. We do not read Hegel the way Bertrand Russell or John Stuart Mill did, or more recently the way George di Giovanni, the translator and writer of the introduction in the current Cambridge edition of Science of Logic. Di Giovanni says in his introduction, “Let’s be real, the Science of Logic is antiquated; it has no relevance to now.”
Well, if your standpoint is the permanence, end-of-history permanence of liberal bourgeois rule then of course it’s antiquated. Any philosophy that talks about the inevitability of change would not be to your personal liking because you see this system as the best representation of human aspiration. A person like di Giovanni would provide a great deal of argumentation and support to a person like Joe Biden. That seems strange, doesn’t it. Or at least his speech writers, who would say that the struggle on the world scale is between democracies and autocracies, and once you get up off the floor having fell on the floor laughing at such nonsense, and especially coming out of the mouth of a warmonger like Joe Biden, you know, you have to say, well let’s be more sober about this question. Is that, as you stated, Joe Biden, the fundamental dialectic of this time? Since you want to say that there is a dialectic in world history, at least at this time, and if you want to say that – well Joe Biden, are you prepared to embrace the law of the excluded middle? That all things exist as a negation of negation, and is the negation of the current system something completely different from it, leading to a new synthesis?
Hence, even in your broke-down ignorant way, or your speechwriters, you have to acknowledge that history and time compel all matter, all things, including human consciousness, to exist in a state of movement. Why do we have time, anyway? In this sense, I guess it’s fair for us to say that we take a stance against the privileging, without contextualizing, of mathematical and symbolic logics, or linguistic logics. In other words, the great achievements of mathematics and mathematical logic and linguistic theories are undeniable, but is that the end of the story, is that the final say?
There are those who operate on behalf of, and are themselves a part of the ruling elite who are waging an existential battle for their existence in a time where they have fallen into a crisis of legitimacy – the people don’t believe them and don’t want to hear much that they have to say. That they come forward suddenly with a new technology. That if you think you people are like us, or average people, that you were so smart – we now have technology that will replace you with a quickness. And it’s known as artificial intelligence. And if you think you’re so smart, I’m using their words, if you think you are so smart – this technology can go through its own evolutionary process, on its own, producing a form of superhuman intelligence that is “God-like.” And if you eff with us, the liberal bourgeois elite, we will unleash God-like intelligence on all of y’all and destroy civilization as such. Listen to some of the Lex Fridman discussions with these MIT engineers and tech entrepreneurs and AI experts and all-around near-God intellects. If you can listen to that for any length of time, you will literally hear them literally saying something close to what I’m saying. We got the technology to take most of your fucking asses out of history, and it’s called AI. If you mess with us for too long, we’re going to unleash God-like intelligence on your buns. You think Francis Fukuyama had something to say about the end of history – we can do it now, and it’s known as AGI – artificial general intelligence or otherwise referred to as God-like intelligence.
This is an ideological question. It’s a money question too because Silicon Valley, they have to market themselves and get people to invest in them. But anyway, I’ll just say my last thing. Look, even if you put aside woke and identity politics which is, you know – it’s a weak hand for the bourgeoisie, very weak hand, and the thinkers in that field are so weak that they didn’t stay around too long and almost self-destructed and you don’t really hear too much from them. But it’s a weak hand. The strong hand from the standpoint of the bourgeoisie, of the ruling class which must be concerned with not just ruling the United States, or ruling France, but managing humanity – their strongest hands are in quantum mechanics, string theory, and in artificial intelligence, and this is the context, the framework that shapes and in a sense organizes our approach to the reading of Hegel’s Science of Logic.
Dr. Anthony Montiero is a long-time activist in the struggle for socialism and black liberation, scholar, and expert in the work of WEB Dubois. In fact, he is one of the most cited Dubois scholars in the entire world. He’s worked and taught longer than most of us have been alive. Currently, he organizes with the Saturday Free School for Philosophy and Black Liberation in Philadelphia.
This article was republished from Positive Peace Blog.