|Rene Magritte, Applied Dialectics (1945)|
It is in the second section, when Engels begins to speak of Hegel and dialectics, that I discerned echoes of Goethe. Engels criticizes the metaphysician, for whom "a thing either exists or does not exist. ... Positive and negative absolutely exclude one another; cause and effect stand in a rigid antithesis to one another." He goes on to say, of the metaphysical mode of thought, that it forgets the connection between individual things; in the contemplation of their existence, it forgets the beginning and the end of that existence; of their repose, it forgets their motion." It was after reading the following paragraph that I wrote in the margin, "I can see why Marx was attracted to Goethe." Here is what Marx's partner wrote:
"Further, we find upon closer investigation that the two poles of an antithesis, positive and negative, e.g., are as inseparable as they are opposed, and that despite all their opposition they mutually interpenetrate."
I won't go on, but he is describing the principle of dialectics, of which nature is the proof. Nature works dialectically, not metaphysically.
|Rene Magritte, In Praise of Dialectics (1937)|
Characteristic of Goethe's morphology is an aversion to isolation of facts and "mere empirical treatment." As Treptow points out, Goethe applies metamorphoses to the "natural world," organic and inorganic. Variations and manifestations, from the simplest to the compounded, progress according to laws (though excluding a telos of final causes). The foundational law is "Gleichgewicht": nothing can be added to one part that is not subtracted from the other.
Goethe, as Treptow also points out, did not conceptualize human history in morphological terms (though Herder does refer to metamorphosis in his philosophy of the history of humanity). He posited no social "Grundform" that would correspond, e.g, to the "Urpflanze." And while Goethe does not mingle nature and art, art's productive "Formieren" stands in direct connection with nature's likewise productive "Formieren," namely, via "Bildungstrieb." And it is this that influenced Marx, according to Treptow, particularly the concept of "Formenwandel."
Looking back on his Strassburg days, Goethe wrote of his revulsion at the materialism of Holbach's La System de la natur. According to the Wikipedia entry on this work, "mind is identified with brain, there is no 'soul' without a living body, the world is governed by strict deterministic laws, free will is an illusion, there are no final causes, and whatever happens takes place because it inexorably must." But Marxism is materialism with a twist: it has a soul! It was from Hegel, not Goethe, that Marx and Engels drew their notion of "Geist" directing history. Otherwise, I can't see much difference from Holbach's materialism.
There are more echoes of Goethe in Engel's piece. Treptow also mentions that Marx writes of economic "Keimform" or "Zellenform," of the "sinnlichen übersinlichen Wertdings," and of the "Verwandlung" of goods into money and money into goods. Goethe's "structural-genetic" morphology, however, has its "Fundament" in real processes of nature; Marx's is genetic only in terms of logic, or dialectics.
Picture credit: 4 x Complementary