Ascent From the Abstract to the Concrete

Ascent From the Abstract to the Concrete


a method of studying reality whose essence lies in the consecutive transition from abstract and one-sided conceptions of reality to progressively more concrete reproductions in theoretical thought. As a structural principle, this method was first used by Hegel for the construction of his philosophical system as a whole and for the development of its separate, independent, and integral parts. In order to establish a foundation for such a method of investigation, Hegel worked out a new theoretical conception of the relationship between the categories of abstract and concrete. Expounding the principle of the ascent from the abstract to the concrete, Hegel, in his characteristic panlogistic spirit, ontologizes it. He transforms the principle into an independent entity, having its own existence—into the self-development and self-realization of the World Spirit, the Absolute Idea. K. Marx, overcoming the ontologism and teleologism of the Hegelian interpretation of the principle of the ascent from the abstract to the concrete, gave it a materialist character. In Marx this principle was realized in the course of his analysis in Das Kapital of the bourgeois economic system. The methodological basis of Marxist analysis consisted of the singling out of commodity as the elementary “cell” and initial abstraction on which investigation could be built.

The interpretation of the ascent from the abstract to the concrete as a special method of cognition of reality as a whole rests on a special conception of the relationship of the concrete to the abstract. The philosophical category of the concrete can be understood in two senses. In one sense, the concrete is the reality itself which is to be investigated—that which must be studied. In this instance, the concrete is perceived by the investigator through his experiences—direct emotional experience and pictorial conceptions—as an entity made up of “sense objects” and not yet broken down in theoretical analysis. The concrete (in such an interpretation) is the point of departure of investigation. The directly perceived whole is broken down, and out of it individual aspects and interconnections are isolated for special study. The goal is the derivation of general abstract knowledge. In comparison with such an interpretation of the concrete, the abstract is both poorer and richer than the concrete: it is only one aspect of the cognition of the diversity of sense impressions, but it is also the penetration into this isolated aspect and its internal principle. In another sense the category of the con-crete characterizes the degree and depth of reflection in theoretical reasoning of reality as a system of essential inter-connections. In this interpretation the concrete is a characteristic of knowledge. The definition of knowledge as either concrete or abstract is relative and has meaning only when contrasting two forms of knowledge relating to the same reality. For example, the knowledge stated in Clapeyron’s equation on the relationship between the volume, pressure, and temperature of gas is abstract in relation to the knowledge expressed in van der Waals equation insofar as in the latter the forces of attraction among molecules is taken into ac-count, whereas Clapeyron’s equation does not consider these forces. The aim of investigation is the acquisition of progressively more concrete knowledge. The ascent from the abstract to the concrete as a method of investigation is applicable only to the study of the whole, presented as an organic system of interconnections. The first step is to single out the basic or original link and to investigate it by abstracting, or isolating, this link from other essential links. The subsequent study of connections—the concretization of the object of study—now takes place not in isolation but takes into account the results of the preceding analysis. The specific character of the object under study determines the way in which the connections being subjected to analysis may be taken into account as well as their sequence.


Marx, K. “K kritike politicheskoi ekonomii.” In K. Marx and F. Engels, Soch., 2nd ed., vol. 13.
Marx, K. “Vvedenie” (from the economic manuscripts of 1857-58). Ibid., vol. 12.
Marx, K. Kapital, vol. 1. Ibid., vol. 23.
Il’enkov, E. V. Dialektika abstraktnogo i konkretnogo v “Kapitale” Marksa. Moscow, 1960.
Grushin, B. A. Ocherki logiki istoricheskogo issledovaniia. Moscow, 1961.
Naumenko, L. K. Monizm kak printsip dialekticheskoi logiki. Part 3. Alma-Ata, 1968.