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For the album by The Brian Jonestown Massacre, see Aufheben (album).

Aufheben or Aufhebung[1] is a German word with several seemingly contradictory meanings, including "to lift up", "to abolish", "cancel" or "suspend", or "to sublate".[2] The term has also been defined as "abolish", "preserve", and "transcend". In philosophy, aufheben is used by Hegel to explain what happens when a thesis and antithesis interact, and in this sense is translated mainly as "sublate".[1]

The German philosopher Walter Kaufmann argues that the word Aufhebung literally translates into English as "pick up" and that it is quite common in ordinary German speech: "it is what you do when something has fallen to the floor. Something may be picked up in order that it will no longer be there; on the other hand, I may also pick it up to keep it."[3] When Hegel uses the term in its double meaning, he usually expressly informs the reader that he does so. Kaufmann also claims that "Hegel may be said to visualize how something is picked up in order that it may no longer be there just the way it was, although, it is not cancelled altogether but lifted up to be kept on a different level." [3]

The British Marxian journal Aufheben takes its name from this concept.


In Hegel, the term Aufhebung has the apparently contradictory implications of both preserving and changing, and eventually advancement (the German verb aufheben means "to cancel", "to keep" and "to pick up"). The tension between these senses suits what Hegel is trying to talk about. In sublation, a term or concept is both preserved and changed through its dialectical interplay with another term or concept. Sublation is the motor by which the dialectic functions.

Sublation can be seen at work at the most basic level of Hegel's system of logic. The two concepts Being and Nothing are each both preserved and changed through sublation in the concept Becoming. Similarly, determinateness, or quality, and magnitude, or quantity, are each both preserved and sublated in the concept measure.

Hegel's philosophy of history stresses the importance of negative (the antithesis) in history—negative includes wars, etc., but not only. His conception of historical progress follows a dialectic spiral, in which the thesis is opposed by the antithesis, itself sublated by the synthesis. Hegel stated that Aufheben is uniquely exempt from the historical process in that it is supposed to be true for all time and never changes or develops further as in das absolute Wissen ("absolute knowledge"). The synthesis both abolishes and preserves the thesis and the antithesis, an apparent contradiction which leads to difficulties in interpreting this concept (and to translate Aufheben).[citation needed] In Hegel's logic, self-contradiction is legitimate and necessary.

For Hegel, history (like logic) proceeds in every small way through sublation. For example, the Oriental, Greek and Roman Empires (in which the individual is ignored or annihilated, then recognized, and finally suppressed by the States) are preserved and destroyed in the First French Empire, which, for Hegel, placed the individual in harmony with the State.

At the level of social history, sublation can be seen at work in the master-slave dialectic.[4][clarification needed]

Hegel approached the history of philosophy in the same way, arguing that important philosophical ideas of the past are not rejected but rather preserved and changed as philosophy develops.

In Hegel's view, one can always find another thing in reflective philosophy upon which some "absolute" ground relies. With Fichte's ultimate ground, the "I" or "ego", for example, one can immediately see the reliance upon the "non-I", which allows Fichte to distinguish what he means by the "I". Reflection is circular, as Fichte unapologetically acknowledged.

For Hegel, reflective thought is to be avoided due to its circularity. It leads to covering the same problems and ground ever and anon for each philosophical generation. It is a philosophia perennis.

Instead, Hegel calls on speculative thought: two contradictory elements are held together, uplifted and sublated without completely destroying one another. Speculative thought seeks to avoid the idealism inherent in reflective thought and allows one to think in concrete terms about how things work, both in the present, real world and in history.


Whereas, in Hegel, sublation shows the movement of Geist, often translated as mind or spirit, Marx identifies it as the manner of development of material conditions.

See also


  1. 1.0 1.1 Froeb, Kai. "Sublation". Archived from the original on 6 July 2011. Retrieved 27 June 2011. 
  2. "LEO Dictionary". Retrieved 21 February 2013. 
  3. 3.0 3.1 Walter Kaufmann, Hegel: A Reinterpretation, 1966, Anchor, p. 144
  4. Hegel, Georg (1978). The Difference Between the Fichtean and Schellingian Systems of Philosophy. New York: Ridgeview Pub Co. ISBN 978-0917930126. 

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