On ‘Essence’ and ‘Appearance’

Marx once observed that ‘alle Wissenschaft wäre überflüssig, wenn die Erscheinungsform und das Wesen der Dinge unmittelbar zusammenfielen’ – that all science would be superfluous if the form of appearance and the essence of things coincided directly. If accepted as true, the remark would suggest that what science is is that which is necessary to bridge this non-coincidence of the essence and appearance of things (it should be remembered that the context of Marx’s comment is a scabrous criticism of ‘vulgar’ political economy for its inability to escape the ‘estranged world of appearances’ of economic conditions). But this definition of ‘science’ is of course in turn dependent on how we understand the terms ‘essence’ and ‘appearance’, and therefore on how we might conceive of how and why their non-coincidence might come about should it do so.

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