Understanding and Reason

The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Understanding and Reason


philosophical categories formed in pre-Marxist philosophy that express certain modes of theoretical thought. A distinction between understanding and reason as two “capacities of the soul” is already observed in ancient philosophy: understanding—the power of reasoning—grasps all that is relative, earthly, and finite, whereas reason, whose essence consists in the setting of goals, discovers the absolute, divine, and infinite. Nicholas of Cusa, G. Bruno, J. Hamann, F. Jacobi, F. von Schelling, and others developed the conception of reason as a higher cognitive capacity as compared to the understanding: reason directly “grasps” the unity of opposites, whereas the understanding separates them.

According to I. Kant, the basic cognitive function of the understanding is to provide a mental ordering of phenomena. Reason, using the resources of the understanding, seeks to grasp the thing-in-itself; it cannot attain this goal, however, and remains within the confines of the understanding.

G. Hegel defined the understanding as “a necessary component of reasoning” (Soch, vol. 3, Moscow, 1956, p. 278). According to Hegel, the dialectical method, at its highest level, appears as “reason which understands, or understanding which reasons” (Soch, vol. 5, Moscow, 1937, p. 4). However, Hegel identified the understanding with the metaphysical apprehension of reality and juxtaposed it to the dialectic of reason.

From the viewpoint of dialectical materialism, the development of theoretical thought presupposes an interrelationship between understanding and reason. With understanding is associated the capacity to carry out strict operations with concepts, to classify facts and phenomena correctly, and to organize knowledge into a definite system. Basing itself on understanding, reason emerges as a creative cognitive activity that reveals the essence of reality. Through reason, thought synthesizes the results of cognition and creates new ideas that go beyond the boundaries of the established systems of knowledge.

The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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