The Concrete and the Abstract

"[Moving from the abstract to the concrete] is obviously the scientifically correct method. The concrete is concrete because it is the concentration of many determinations, hence unity of the diverse. It appears in the process of thinking, therefore, as a process of concentration, as a result, not as a point of departure, even though it is the point of departure in reality and hence also the point of departure for observation [Anschauung] and conception. Along the first path the full conception was evaporated to yield an abstract determination; along the second, the abstract determinations lead towards a reproduction of the concrete by way of thought... For example, the simplest economic category, say e.g. exchange value, presupposes population, moreover a population producing in specific relations; as well as a certain kind of family, or commune, or state, etc. It can never exist other than as an abstract, one-sided relation within an already given, concrete, living whole." -- Karl Marx, Grundrisse


  1. "Certain thinkers have a tendency to believe that the concrete is the symbol of the abstract. The truth, the truth at the root of all mysticism, is quite the other way. The abstract is the symbol of the concrete. This may possibly seem at first sight a paradox; but it is a purely transcendental truth. We see a green tree. It is the green tree that we cannot understand; it is the green tree which we fear; it is the green tree which we worship. Then, because there are so many green trees, so many men, so many elephants, so many butterflies, so many daisies, so many animalculae, we coin a general term “Life”. And then the philosopher comes and says that a green tree symbolizes life. It is not so. Life symbolizes a green tree. Just in so far as we get into the abstract, we get away from the reality, we get away from the mystery, we get away from the tree. And this is the reason that so many transcendental discourses are merely blank and tedious to us, because they have to do with Truth and Beauty and the Destiny of the Soul and all the great faint, jaded symbols of the reality. And this is why poetry is so interesting to us, because it has to do with skies, with woods, with battles, with temples, with women and with wine, with the ultimate miracles which no philosopher could create. The difference between the concrete and the abstract is easy to state. God made the concrete, but man made the abstract."

    1. Bernardo, whom are you quoting?