Dialectics of Reflection & Immanence

Have you had enough of dialectics yet? There was my post on dialectics in general, positive and negative dialectics, and here is now a third.

This fine point is something that has come to mind thanks to the comments of a professor on one of the Hegel FB groups considering the status of the first dialectic of the Logic, but also prompted by my rereading of the Science of Logic’s first chapter where Hegel makes quite a noticeable fuss about external reflections. The difference between reflective dialectics and immanent dialectics is a fine distinction that is imperceptible as a beginner, and yet once noticed seems like such a glaring difference that it is astounding one does not notice it to begin with.

Dialectics of Reflection

When we reflect on things, we stand back and use all we know to think about things. The defining difference of these types of dialectics is precisely this aboutness as opposed to immanence in thinking them. A reflected dialectic is no less legitimately a dialectic than an immanent one, for it is a contradiction, but often it is a paralyzed contradiction which goes nowhere unlike immanent ones.

Have you ever heard about performative contradiction? That is, that in doing or saying something the very thing intended is betrayed by its form or action? This kind of dialectic is one of the most prevalent kind of dialectic as contradiction. If you ever encounter a dialectical example it is highly likely to be of this sort. These dialectics are defined by their character of appearing dialectical only upon reflection, that is, the contradiction is not revealed without the subject stepping back and externally noticing a contradiction between some factor or another pertinent to the content investigated, e.g. form contradicting content is such a common reflection. Most often these are one-off contradictions which do not move back and forth like Hegelian immanent dialectics.

Example 1: Nothing

In the Science of Logic, Nothing, in its abstract indeterminate form, is a performative contradiction of form and content, as well as intention and action. It is a concept that is supposed to be the absence of Being, yet this absence which is intended to not be nonetheless must be stated as a positive being itselfIt is in our minds as the concept of this absence, and as concept is by virtue of its existence. Nothing as such, however, itself does not and cannot speak this contradiction from within, but it is something we notice of it in reflection. At such point in the Logic we have no warrant in calling upon Existence as a concept to apply to Nothing; as such, it is an external application. Likewise, it is an external reflection to compare the indeterminacy of Nothing and Being as their identity and in that manner create the contradictory judgment that “Being is Nothing” as a mere proposition.

Example 2: Marx’s contradiction of powers through money

Money is the alienated ability of mankind. . . . That which I am unable to do as a man, and of which therefore all my individual essential powers are incapable, I am able to do by means of money.”—Marx, Paris Manuscripts

This is simple: in that I can do what I cannot do through money, we see as an obvious contradiction of A is ~A. Marx notes various ways this contradiction manifests: an ugly man can get beautiful women through money (not really a contradiction…), an idiot can command the intelligent, and an uncreative buffoon can have the work of great artists as his own.

Money’s inversion is not one about ability or inability; however, Marx is close enough. With money, I can do what I do not do—content (what I do) and form (what gets done) are contradictory, i.e. I do nothing yet I have the products of things done. Whether I can or cannot mow my own lawn, if I pay someone else to do it, have done what I have not done. When we’re in a pinch and cannot personally get done what is required of us, sometimes we offload it to someone else and pay them. When asked if we got what we needed to do done, what do we say? ‘I got it done.’

This contradiction, however, is not money’s immanent contradiction, which is the contradiction of a use-value of pure exchange-value.

Example 3: The desire for money

Money is always fun and rather easy to notice contradictions with. Take the example of our desiring of money for its power to exchange for any commodity. Nobody sane desires money for the sake of its being as object, neither the paper bill, coin, or digital credit amountinstead we desire money because we don’t desire money. The use of money is to get rid of it in exchange for what we do desire, for the tangible objects of consumption.

Insofar as anyone seems to value money for its own sake, they value not the money itself, but rather its congealed social substance, for money holds a possible social power to command labor and its products. One doesn’t even have to spend it to get its social benefits, that others desire our money is enough to command their activity.

Dialectics of Immanence

Dialectics of immanence are different from reflected ones in that they are internally revealed. We need not step back to notice we have stepped into contradiction; the steps of thinking itself force us to see we have arrived at contradiction by bringing us to the opposite of what we originally intended. In immanence, we need only do one thing: think through.


Example: Force

Force, in being one, finds itself forced to express as many, and the many forced to express as one. Force, then, reveals itself as an incessant flux rather than a stable object.


Because genuine Force as such is represented and determined as reflected into itself, it is one aspect of its own concept. It is represented as the durable substantial extreme of Force determined as the moment of the “one.” As one, Force excludes its Expression (its unfolding into many matters) as another durable substance which is other to Force’s oneness. However, since Force must Express itself, but in-itself is not yet expressed, its Expression is represented as an external other to Force that “approaches” it—it is not just an inert other beside it—and solicits it to express itself. Thus, Force cannot truly be one, for its essence is the universal medium of many matters—its Expression. However, since Force is this Expression and the essence of the multiplicity of matters is the universal medium in which they inhere and are separated in, Force as Expression posits its oneness outside itself as Force that solicits Expression to drive back into itself as a one.

Genuine Force has shown itself to really be the reflection into itself as the movement of the oneness of Force and its Expression as many. These have shown to necessarily be what they are not yet posited as being, i.e. Force is not yet its Expression, and vice versa. The other approaches Force in this way, as its not yet being the other, and solicits it to make a reflective turn into itself as the other. Genuine Force as Force is solicited to Express, and Force as Expression is solicited to return into itself as Force. However, this other has already shown itself to be nothing but Force itself. Thus, genuine Force has shown itself to truly be this movement of being-reflected-into-itself and thus takes Expression into itself; it sublates what was other to it. The oneness of Force disappears in the way it appeared, for another Force is posited outside it as the very Expression which is its essential moment. Force is thus Force driven into itself by its positing itself externally to generate its movement into itself. Force merely moves from moment of Force to moment of Force.

Example 2: The Commodity

The commodity, in being singular, only reveals itself to necessarily be plural and self-opposed.


A commodity is a concept which is determined as having a use-value and exchange-value in unity. These values first appear as mutually exclusive values. If I have the use-value, I do not have its exchange-value and vice versa. Immanently, the concept of commodity duplicates itself (others itself) and differentiates its use-values by virtue of exchange-value’s implications. One does not logically exchange a quality for the same quality, a use-value for the same use-value; rather, one exchanges for an other use-value. Different qualities, however, do not have any immediate or given commensurability. Exchange of one use-value for another, then, is not set as 1:1 and can appear as any ratio which the persons engaging in exchange come to agree. In the agreement’s execution, however, a third concept is posited implicitly as the commensurability of the incommensurate qualities, and this third is value, an indeterminate immaterial substance which reveals itself in determinate exchange-value’s ratios.

Example 3: Perception’s One and Many

Through an immanent inquiry into the intelligibility of Perception’s conceptual distinctions, we begin with a judgment that in merely being thought through reveals the exact opposite conclusion to what we initially believed.


Perception first believes that its object, the thing, is one, and when it notices the plurality of different properties, it no longer attributes them to the object, but to its (Perception’s) own doing. The object is white to my eyes, salty to my tongue, etc. Perception recognizes that it itself is the universal medium (the also) which differentiates the one into the determinate and independent many through the given determinate difference of its sense organs. As determinate beings, properties exclude each other—white is in contrast to black, and one is in contrast to many. The thing, however, is one only through its exclusion of the many; this is its determinateness, and thus the properties must not merely be Perception’s, but must be part of the thing itself in order that it may indeed be determined as one against another. As in the thing, the properties are its essence for they are its inner being, i.e. the one depends on the many to be what it is; as the thing is itself the truth, it exists in-itself independent of others. As differentiated within the thing—as its essence—the properties exist in independent exclusion of each other, and thus exist in-and-for-themselves. This being the case, the thing is no longer one; it is perceived to be in truth the universal medium (the also) in which the properties exist indifferent to each other and the medium. A reversal of Perception’s first judgment has occurred, for the properties now exist in-themselves and independent from each other and the universal medium itself. It is now the unity of the object which is Perception’s doing, not the plurality, for the properties exist independent and indifferent to each other and are unified only in the perceiving consciousness.

Becoming, Nothing, and Being

I decided to split my original blog on Being-Nothing-Becoming into two since it was really long, there were also significant revisions in rearticulation in both sections and I focused each on particular comments I wanted to make of them.


 

The dialectic of Being is very visible when it comes to being given an example of dialectics online, many cite this rather short and dense dialectic to give a typical thesis-antithesis-synthesis example, but nothing could be further from the truth. The true order of the dialectic is not {Being-Nothing}-Becoming, but rather it is the inverse order. Becoming is intelligibly prior to Being and Nothing in their abstract forms, and it is the latter concepts that sublate Becoming as a unity of Existence (Determinate Being). In order to make intelligible how it is possible that Being and Nothing can become each other, we must consider them as they arise from Becoming rather than consider Becoming’s arising from them.

Sublation equally means “to keep,” “to ‘preserve’,” and “to cause to cease,” “to put an end to.” Something is sublated only insofar as it has entered into unity with its opposite. – Hegel, Science of Logic

[Comment:] Now, where did this new concept, sublation, come from? The answer is simple: from the content we have developed. Sublation is a concept describing the relation which the structure of Becoming has towards Being and nothing; it unites, cancels, and preserves them all at once.

Becoming and the redevelopment of Being/Nothing

The true beginning of the investigation of the Logic is Becoming, for in Becoming we now have the first proper concept in which the difference of Being and Nothing can be made in conceptual definition. Because Being and Nothing have already shown themselves to comprise Becoming in their vanishing into each other, Becoming can shed light on our indeterminate Being/Nothing and finally allow us to begin determining them. Now that we have Becoming, a definition of Being and Nothing by considering this movement as moments of Becoming can be carried out. The movement of Being and Nothing into each other itself sheds light on the form and content of Being and Nothing themselves, i.e. that they are themselves becomings.

In Becoming we immediately can discern two parts, Hegel calls them moments, that comprise the definition of the concept of Becoming: Being vanishes to Nothing, it is Ceasing to Be (Being); Nothing vanishes to Being, it is Coming to be (Nothing). Both Ceasing/Coming to be are sublations, immediate unities of Being and Nothing on their own, hence they self-sublate and are in internal unity with their opposite, e.g. Being is its vanishing from Being to Nothing (hence it is truly Ceasing to be), it includes its opposite explicitly and negates itself into it from within itself. [Ceasing to be] in itself becomes [Coming to be] and vice versa immediately, thus we have Ceasing to be (Being) and Coming to be (Nothing) transitioning in themselves simultaneously and immediately.

They have already been each other, and thus paralyze each other in their restlessness; this paralysis is the paralysis of Becoming as a whole being both of its moments at once. The moment they become the other they immediately are themselves again. This is to say: Being, in becoming Nothing, is merely itself again. In Becoming [Ceasing to be] and [Coming to be] do not happen such that we have one first, then the second and back again, but instead we have both together at the same moment as distinct moments which are also indistinct as both moments are Becoming itself in themselves. This is to say: Each moment of Becoming is already the totality of Becoming itself.

Being and Nothing are now differentiated by this simple definition as being inverse moments in Becoming. There is a problem, now clear, in that their difference has been collapsed by their definition. Being and Nothing, defined now as Ceasing/Coming to be which comprise Becoming, show another new problem: they presuppose a further determinate difference of Being and Nothing. If Being and Nothing are merely Coming/Ceasing to be, then we see that we in fact have not made a true separation of Being and Nothing yet. Being is defined as its mere vanishing to Nothing, and Nothing the mere vanishing to Being. We have lost Being and Nothing as distinct concepts, content and form forces the incessant vanishing of Coming/Ceasing to be into each other and erases their distinction in regard to each other. What is the Nothing that Being vanishes into, and what is the Being that Nothing vanishes into? So far we have merely defined one vanishing in the process of vanishing into yet another vanishing, however, this cannot do, for vanishing must vanish into the components that vanish.

[Comment:] As an external reflection, it is also a curious contradiction if vanishing is ceaseless and thus enduring. It would be like a restlessness which is at rest in restlessness. Becoming, in being what it is, would itself be, thus unending vanishing is the opposite of itself. The paralysis of Becoming is itself a tell of what Becoming in truth is.

Through Becoming we determined (defined) Being and Nothing as moments, but now Becoming’s own moments are pointing us to Being and Nothing which are beyond Becoming as that which Becoming’s moments vanish into. As moments of Becoming, Ceasing/Coming to be vanish. Into what? Being and Nothing. Becoming, because it is vanishing, vanishes itself into the background of Being and Nothing and leaves them in immediate unity once again, but just because Becoming has vanished into the background does not mean it no longer plays a role, far from it. But, you may wonder, how does this release us from falling back into Becoming when Being and Nothing were just Ceasing/Coming to be?

Here, a marvelous conceptual move has occurred: Becoming, the vanishing of Being and Nothing, themselves determined in it only as inverse vanishings into each other, vanishes itself. There are a few ways that Hegel gives us to comprehend this.

There is a possibility to err in this crucial movement, however, and what follows is why. Ceasing/Coming to be assume Being and Nothing to be distinct and separate in order to be vanishing into each other, but Being and Nothing in Becoming are nothing but vanishings into each other ceaselessly, but since Ceasing/Coming to be have vanished the distinction between Being and Nothing which they vanish into, now we see that this vanishes Being and Nothing themselves, and Ceasing/Coming to be vanish along with them. If Being and Nothing, which Ceasing/Coming to Be depend on to be at all, have vanished in general,  then the result of Becoming is a vanishing of the vanishing, and thus seems to just cancel everything by contradiction, return us to Nothing, and lead us back to Becoming again. If there is an advance, the result cannot be Nothing, but how do we make sense of Becoming’s vanishing in this seeming contradiction? One must not be surprised that Hegel’s contradiction is not here intended to function as formal contradiction and abstract negation. It’s actually functioning like mathematical negative multiplication.

The answer from the text is, if I may say, cheeky. It’s a literal consideration relying on key terms and phrases. Ceasing to be and Coming to be vanish, and in their vanishing Becoming vanishes. That is to say, their function is to vanish vanishing, to negate the negative, and thus they are the positive. Ceasing/Coming to be are Being and Nothing, for it is Being/Nothing which vanish Becoming. This is the immanent tell of the transition. If we wanted to make a reflective comprehension of the transition we would need nothing more than to note the function of vanishing, i.e. vanishings role is to vanish into stable elements, not to endure, thus Becoming must play out is function and becomes Being and Nothing. Notice that the becoming of Becoming, of vanishing vanishing, is stable resting elements of thought.

[Comment:]Notice too that this self-relating of Becoming in order to advance beyond itself is precisely following Hegel’s logic: we must exhaust all possible relations of thought from analysis, reflexive self-operation, and of implicit functionWhenever we run into a conceptual wall we must exhaust all the possibilities of thinking a thought by using all possible relations and operations thinking is capable of making with said thoughts. If it is possible and intelligible, then we must do it.

The vanishings complete and vanish themselves away into what they have become. It is the truth of Becoming that it become and vanish itself into Being and Nothing. The vanishing of Being and Nothing has vanished, they are now a stable unity of distinct yet immediately united concepts. Being and Nothing are not fully separate distinctions, but instead keep the truth of Becoming: they are unseparated and thus one and the same in this unseparation, yet both are and thus are distinct in their unity. To add, one could say they are the frozen image of Becoming. How? Being and Nothing both come and cease to be in relation to each other at the same moment and are mirrors of each other. Becoming appears in their mutual relation but never can appear as a being itself, it has always already vanished. The being of one is the non-being of the other, and it comes to be as the other ceases to be and vice versa. The result of Becoming is a unity of Being/Nothing, and thus this unity is. We now have a higher level of Being—Existence.

At last we have a Being whose being is the immediate unity of Being with a non-being (Nothing), i.e. a Being whose being is in virtue of its non-being. This new Being is the vanishedness of Becoming, for the vanishing has vanished itself into the background—this, however, is not a disappearance of Becoming, far from it. Think closely on what Becoming is, the vanishing transition between Being and Nothing, and you shall see an interesting truth: the transitioning differences and identities of all things are Becomings. At the edge of conception where this new Being/Nothing resulting from Becoming are is Becoming itself, the moment where we find that a Being has immanent contact with its Nothing, its negation. Thus, Existence sublates Being, Nothing, and Becoming.

Becoming’s inner movement’s vanishing has revealed a strange yet undeniable truth following from the logical movements that have developed thus far: Being and Nothing are one and the same, they are inseparable,  and they truly are different. Both Being and Nothing are ( they are the same);  both have Being. Now we can see Being is a being with a non-being, a Being with negation, and this negation is nothing other than another Being itself in its own right (they are different). Being is an immediate unity of beings which negate each other in virtue of being two beings which are not each other (they are inseparable). The entire development from Being/Nothing to the moments of Becoming have not been falsehoods or misunderstandings at all; on the contrary, they have further revealed the pieces to the baffling puzzle we started with and now allow us to further make sense of just how all of these aspects of Being and Nothing can be true. What vanishes in Becoming is also an incomplete concept of Being and Nothing as radically incommensurable concepts that cannot define themselves, and the resultant vanishedness makes way to the first real concept of Being as Existence.

As Hegel explains in the text, the absolute basic form of determination (definition) is negation, of Being which is negated. What negates Being? Nothing. But what is Nothing? A Being itself, but a being that is the non-being of the first Being. This unity of Being and Nothing is basic Determinate Being, or, general Existence. This is the first concept in which we can finally begin to think about  definable Being(s), however, there is at this point no difference between the determinateness of Being, and Being itself. Determinateness is, and Being is determinate. The contradiction of form/content forces thought’s movement onwards.

The form of the path of relations which Becoming has traversed, its dialectical development, is unique to itself. If one attempts to impose the form of relations which pure Being develops on its way to Existence one shall be terribly mistaken for Existence has its own peculiar form of development, one which is not unlike a hall of mirrors reflecting its content and form as multiple determinations of determinateness itself.

Why Hegel Is Difficult & Why It’s Good

About half a year ago I was contacted by a moderately big online intellectual e-zine asking if I was interested in writing a short piece on Hegel concerning his difficulty. I accepted the request and wrote a 1st draft of the piece, sent it in, and never got a response since despite shooting a few emails asking what was up. Since that is pretty much apparently not going to go anywhere, I’m posting a reworking of the material and idea of that piece here.


Learning is not merely the treasuring up of words in the memory; it is through thinking that the thoughts of others are seized, and this after-thinking is real learning.

—Hegel, Philosophy of Right

Hegel is difficult, this is no mystery to anyone who ever engages his writings, but for better or worse, he is difficult on purpose. The experience of many which is recounted in comments and remarks everywhere from books to online posts today is telling of two things: the terminology is a high barrier, and the “dialectical” style seems to not easily nor clearly flow from one proposition to the next when it comes to sublation.

Hegel, against what is the common belief, did not write his philosophy only for the already philosophical, but to teach others how to think for themselves by showing the work of thinking itself. To learn we must think, but what of learning to think? The Phenomenology of Spirit was originally meant to be one such lesson of learning to think philosophically… but we all know how that worked out.

Regarding the problem of terminology, it isn’t a major problem itself. For the vast part the issue is one of diligence and reading order. How can I say this? Well, because it’s actually true from my own experience. There are two books by Hegel that can be technically begun with no prior knowledge of Hegelianism: the Phenomenology of Spirit, and the Science Of Logic. The former requires a repertoire of some philosophical skills and term knowledge, but Hegel’s own meanings are slowly and subtly built up. You’re not supposed to know everything that is going on in your first pass. The latter actually provides explanations of certain fundamental terms which appear in the former, and does so more readily and clearly in pure conceptual form. Neither of these are easy reading, but both actually define things quite readily, the Science of Logic more so, and are not such a struggle if we don’t mind our definitions being a thinking exercise.

As to the style problem, there is no better example than Hegel’s short satirical essay “Who Thinks Abstractly?” to prove that Hegel was able to write clearly. Why then did he choose to write in the manner he did? Why not write clearly? Because, Hegel claimed, speculative thinking required the denseness and moment by moment exposition of his method. Hegel claimed to have found the truth in thinking itself, as such the thinking of a thought could not and should not be overlooked. As far as Hegel was concerned he was writing clearly. One may fault him for failing to consider the real usefulness of making clear the key to his philosophy, the method, but we must consider that Hegel thought the method could not be truly justified without first thinking through things and then realizing what we did. If the method were just given to us we would not appreciate why it was worth our use of it.

Here I must say I find myself agreeing and disagreeing with Hegel around the point of method. I agree, because none of Hegel’s philosophy is anything so special if it were just like other philosophies where things are merely claimed or formally argued. Hegel’s arguments are something unique and just aren’t what they are without being quite an intellectual effort to endure and work through.

I disagree on this: his never having given a simple clarity to his method so we could join his journey in thought sooner and more easily. My own experience was one of a burning desire to know just what the method was and why it was anything good. To this end I spent a not small amount of time considering what I read from and about his works, slowly coming to reflect more and more on what was happening in the thoughts I was working through. This journey of thought has molded my mind in ways I doubt would have happened had I simply encountered the answer from the get go, but I do question if the experience makes the comprehension that much better or unique. I disagree with Hegel’s choice on this because once I figured it out I frankly felt it was the most stupid waste of time, and I wish I could have saved myself so much trouble. Yeah, it’s not Hegel’s fault entirely thanks to a lot of bad pop literature on him, but he does have significant fault. I like immersive learning and figuring things out on my own, don’t get me wrong, but I don’t think I will ever again give a philosopher the time and place I’ve given Hegel on this matter.

Back to what I agree with, Hegel’s writing style is a style designed to force the reader to slow down and think about what they’re reading by exposing the reader to the experience of thinking a thought itself through the unpacking of its dense content. Whether one is reading the Phenomenology, The Science of Logic, or any other Hegelian work, one finds the exact same style of exposition more or less. Hegel’s method invites the reader to think along with Hegel and to further think about this thinking, not to merely take finished thoughts in formal order. He does not wish to present to us a philosophical doctrine, rather he wants to present to us the philosophical endeavor itself, the thinking which implicitly goes on in every genuinely philosophical development.

Here is an example from Hegel’s Philosophy of Right:

“Free speech is assured by the innocuous character which it acquires as a result of the stability of government.”

How are we to make sense of this? Now, this isn’t so hard, but my point here is that if you could decipher this you could decipher Hegel (if you felt like it). Freedom of speech is the freedom to say whatever one wants without threat of censorship. But who would be censored for what they say? People who are hold unpopular positions, have insulted someone or some group, or speak things that may lead to actual trouble for society or the powers that be. But why would unpopular speech be censored? Speech is just words, isn’t it? Well, words are not always just hot air. People don’t always just complain to complain; insults can have real consequences if left unchallenged, and words can lead to actions that may disrupt social order or inconvenience those in power. But if these words are not directly threatening or socially injurious they are protected as free speech regardless of popularity or power.

This is the thinking Hegel wishes us to perform. This thinking is reasoning. Whenever you assert anything, you are assuming many things implicit in that claim. To think about free speech is simply to think through what it implicitly means, or how it really makes sense as a concept, and you follow the chain of thought from one thought to the next. You think free speech, and you think of censorship. You then consider what is and isn’t censored and draw upon experience until you think of the myriad of unpopular positions put out into the social world, even crazy or seemingly dangerous ones, and you realize most are allowed because they are powerless and incapable of effective action, that is, they are “innocuous.”

Hegel’s teaching method is one in which the development of concepts flow into the next by their own content, but while the pieces of the movement swing freely before the reader, Hegel does not and will not hand to the reader the fully explicit movement that connects these thoughts. The full elaboration of the movement is the reader’s own labor in the work by unraveling what is implicit in the dense claims and seeing where they lead, thus making the thought their own thinking. Here, Hegel is a full believer that experience and practice is the greatest teacher.

Now, what does Hegel show in this activity he puts us through? That thinking does not need any special teaching, it is always already active and reveals itself in the very act of thinking. If only we stand back and look at the experience of thinking itself we would see just what reason and thought truly are. Against the common belief that thought is fixed and empty, and that reason is the privileged capacity of a natural elite few, Hegel’s philosophical exposition shows the opposite: all thought is a chain of thoughts, and all humans who can think already engage in reason—just not in a conscious and coherent manner. To reason is to think through thoughts that only appear fixed, but with observation and reflection show themselves not to be. In reasoning we naturally make mistakes, think further, and turn those mistakes into a path to correct thoughts. By paying attention to how thought leads from one to the next, and inquiring into this very movement up to the purest concepts, we engage in the highest power of reason.

Considering the history of reaction towards Hegel’s philosophy, does the teaching method succeed? If we take mass popularity as a measure, no, it does not. By that measure it could be said to be a catastrophic failure, but what of Hegel’s own metric for his success? After gaining his professorship positions, Hegel never again published a finished systematic work in full after the Science of Logic, focusing instead on his lecturing. What did he do in his lectures? Why, the exact same he did in his books: to recreate before his audience the odyssey of thought. Hegel’s style was not pretty, it was not pleasant, and yet he rose to such fame and acclaim that young students flocked even from beyond Germany to come and listen to the “Aristotle of Berlin.” In a written character portrait of Hegel by Heinrich Gustav Hotho, Hegel’s lectures are described as a performance which agonized the mind, yet resulted in the utmost clear thoughts imaginable.

“Even one who could follow with full insight and intelligence, without looking to the right or to the left, saw himself thrown into the most strange tension and agony of mind… What he uttered in such moments was so clear and exhaustive, of such simple self-evidencing power, that everyone who could grasp it felt as if he had found and thought it for himself; and so completely did all previous ways of thinking vanish, that scarce a remembrance remained of the days of dreaming, in which such thoughts had not yet been awakened.” —Hotho

The mark of a great teacher is striking their message into the heart of their students, however this is possible only if the student is willing to give it a chance. Hegel’s asks us to take up the task of thinking along with him, but this requires us to give him a chance to show us what he wants to show us. Half of Hegel’s success depends on our willingness to take up the challenge to think seriously and openly. If we allow ourselves to withhold judgments based on our prior positions, Hegel’s thinking comes to light as something not all his own, but also as ours. I do not think he asks us to think in an alien way, but to realize how we have always thought, to perfect it, and to take hold of this knowledge to comprehend ourselves and the world.

The General Description of The Absolute

__/—The Absolute as Such—\__

Absolute as Process and Result

The Absolute as such is everything with no remainder. It is the absolute sublation in which all determinations and their contradictions are cancelled and preserved in the ultimate unity of unity and difference. Cancelled because as particular determinations, they are shown to be false insofar as they are not the complete Truth, and thus, no single standpoint has the privilege of being the standpoint of Truth. Preserved because their finitude, relativity, and contradiction is itself a necessary piece, or moment, of the Absolute which alone stands as Truth as such.

Where can we begin to understand Hegel’s Absolute? Perhaps the best place is one of the famous sections from the Preface of the Phenomenology of Spirit:

The true is the whole. However, the whole is only the essence completing itself through its own development. This much must be said of the absolute: It is essentially a result, and only at the end is it what it is in truth. Its nature consists precisely in this: To be actual, to be subject, that is, to be the becoming-of-itself. —As contradictory as it might seem, namely, that the absolute is to be comprehended essentially as a result, even a little reflection will put this mere semblance of contradiction in its rightful place. The beginning, the principle, or the absolute as it is at first, that is, as it is immediately expressed, is merely the universal. But just as my saying “all animals” can hardly count as an expression of zoology, it is likewise obvious that the words, “absolute,” “divine,” “eternal,” and so on, do not express what is contained in them; – and it is only such words which in fact express intuition as the immediate. Whatever is more than such a word, even the mere transition to a proposition, is a becoming-other which must be redeemed, that is, it is a mediation. However, it is this mediation which is rejected with such horror as if somebody, in making more of mediation than in claiming both that it itself is nothing absolute and that it in no way exists in the absolute, would be abandoning absolute cognition altogether.

(Phenomenology of Spirit: §20; Miller Trns.)

The true is the whole.” The whole which the Absolute comprises is a whole not as a mere completed end as the final position, but as the very way the whole has come about; thus, the Absolute is the whole process of the Absolute. The Absolute by its own concept must include everything within itself—not even nothing (non-being) can be outside it. One cannot have the whole, the result, content, or unity on one side, and the parts, process, form, or difference on another. To grasp a concept which can contain everything in their full determinate difference and contradiction, yet is not an empty abstraction like pure being, is one of the great barriers to understanding Hegel’s philosophy. This whole is a whole that is only by virtue of its parts, and its parts are parts only by virtue of their respective place within the context of the whole; or, this unity is only by virtue of the differences which compose it, and said differences only are differences insofar as they find themselves in a united whole.

This ‘everything’ of the Absolute, however, is not the endless detail of empirical existence. This is not to say that the Absolute does not include nature’s existence, for the Absolute as thought determines itself against what is not a thought, i.e. sensuous existence. Given that the determinate content of sensuous experience is not itself a thought as merely mental image or conceptual linguistic articulation, it nonetheless has the structures of thought as concepts which in a literal sense ‘inform’ sense objects. We see in sense experience always something to conceive about it, some thought structure that minimally conveys a universal structure of things even if not the sensuous content itself, e.g. the color red at least can be spoken about as a quality if nothing else. The Absolute is not the complete grasping of all empirical facts or qualities, but rather of the intelligibility which inheres in all things and reveals itself as their essence and logical structures even if all that is intelligible in an object is revealed only to be precisely its uninteligibility or contingency. Even the acknowledgement of an empirical experience as a mere individual with no universal repetition, the notion of said individuality is universal.

As such, the Absolute is the totality of what rationally is: how it has come to be, what it is, and what it is coming to be. Rational because it is intelligible; true being because it is what endures in vanishing appearances. All things partake in the Absolute, but no particular thing is the lone privileged ground of the Absolute. The Absolute as such is not a standpoint like the relative concepts that comprise it, for it is the absolute Concept, the whole, in which all others are relative as its parts. Its conceptual content is the entire system of fully developed scientific concepts, and thus, it has no definition other than this entire development. To those who have not endeavored to enter and work through the system the Absolute is nothing but an empty phrase, a nebulous shadow with the faintest shape.

Concepts, as unifying structures, are the intelligibility to everything which serves as such a structure, including non-mental things. When the development of Hegel’s science closes in on itself and finally points back to the beginning such that Absolute Spirit closes with the pinnacle of Philosophy and connects back to the Science of Logic, this closure of the systems of Logic, Nature, and Spirit is the concept of the Absolute finally come to its own as the Concept of which all other concepts are shown to be a part of. This concept, like all other concepts, is a unified structure consisting of systems (the concepts of Logic, Nature, Spirit) of concepts, and it is the most complex and mediated concept of them all. Its content is the entire developed system into which the thinker and thinking of the Absolute themselves are taken into. Unlike all other concepts which find themselves transcended as they are shown to be relative, the Absolute has no other transcendence beyond it. Its transcendence is an inner self-transcendence as finite and relative moments, but this self-transcendent process remains wholly within itself in all its developments. The Absolute thus shows itself to be a process with moments of identity and difference in respective views, a restless becoming that is in its restlessness at rest, and to be in its products the famous “circle of circles.”

To completely butcher it in order to give a summary: The Absolute is ultimately nothing but the completed process of the unity which dirempts itself, and which in its diremption returns to unity. In the Absolute unity and difference are of equal importance; there is no unity without difference, and no difference without unity. The Absolute is a process which becomes other to itself in its own immanence, i.e. in being itself it becomes other than itself while remaining wholly itself. Its completion as system is nothing but the full course through the finite self-determinations which of their own immanent content and form go beyond themselves as the finite modes of the Absolute. The system is itself only the result of an absolute method with a unity of content and form which alone can yield the Absolute. For an absolute content only an absolute form and method can do. This process come to full closure, where it can generate nothing new within itself, is alone the true intelligible Absolute. From unities which show themselves relative and divided, to differences which show themselves necessarily united, the Absolute looms as their immanent truth and nature.

Process is, I think, one of the terms which best captures the strangeness of the Absolute. Process is both becoming and being, for in common understanding a being undergoes process. Hegel’s philosophy differs from common understanding in that for it process and being are immanently united as being and becoming. Being becomes in being. In the Science of Logic this is epitomized in this: the thought of Being is necessarily the thinking of Being, and in thinking Being it has already become Nothing. It is in the intimacy of thought and thinking that we find ourselves somehow both able and unable to split being and its becoming in the experience of thought as thinking, i.e. without thinking, a thought as concept is no thought at all.

It may be helpful to grasp the true Infinite and the Universal to grasp the Absolute.

Absolute vs. Relative

The Absolute as such is everything. However, it is not simply the totality of being, but also the point of reference and measure against which all things are compared to as relative. This is to say: The Absolute is eternal unchanging Truth, the relative is relative to it as incessant vanishings which are by virtue of partaking in the Absolute. Insofar as they are it is because they are a part and moment of Truth. How much Truth they attain is known only in comparison to its place in the process of development towards the Absolute. The Absolute is, one may say, the still image of the restlessness of every moment in the system—it is a ‘resting restlessness’. Without the relative moments which disappear into each other—this restlessness—however, we could not have the Absolute which is the restlessness at rest as the unifying structure of restlessness.

The Absolute itself includes the relative within itself and is not separate from it, neither as a separate grounding entity—such as being as something grounding yet separate from beings—nor as a fundamental concept such as matter which constitutes all else. To separate the Absolute from the relative moments as if they were independent, or as if one was more fundamental than the other, is itself a mistake which if carried out makes the Absolute relative to the relative, undermining its all encompassing absoluteness. As its individual moments, the Absolute is relative  and incomplete, but as the totality of individual relative moments, their generation out of and into each other, and their mutual structural determination and constitution, it is truly Absolute.

*********************

There is more to say on the Absolute, especially concerning its deep connection to the basic concept of the Infinite, but that shall be expanded in another blog at a later date.

A Critique of a Standard Misreading of Hegel

I was bored a few days ago and decided to put on a random Hegel lecture to listen to and waste away my time more than usual, but it happened that I found this lecture in many ways more amusing with how much is wrong coming from a professor whom, I had already assumed, must have studied Hegel with those people we call supposed experts. Unlike the hilariously bad “water + not-water = Water” from this gem(1:57:22-2:00:10) of a lecture that qualifies as not even wrong, this one is at least plausibly wrong for very understandable reasons… except for some parts which I’m puzzled as to their source. I don’t expect everyone who ever teaches a lecture on Hegel to be an expert and be up to date with Hegel scholarship and the ‘acceptable’ interpretations, but I do expect someone to at least teach me what the philosopher actually thinks rather than talk about and around what he or she thinks the philosopher thinks. Most of my problems with this lecture would frankly be solved if it was all qualified with ‘This is what I think Hegel means‘ rather than with ‘Hegel says/thinks…’

2:13—The knowledge (“fact”)/Being distinction set up by Kant. “It doesn’t make any sense if Being is real.” (according to “Hegel”)

I don’t get where this notion that Hegel is against Kant on the basis of the question of Being’s reality comes from considering Hegel tells us no such thing. The question is about the Absolute and the rational limits of our cognition and knowledge. Can we have ANY absolute knowledge whatsoever, or are we indeed stuck with opinions? This can be knowledge of Being itself or of beings of one kind or another. This has nothing to do with Being’s “reality.” One would be stupid to deny that there is whatever there is; Kant himself did not deny there is something, whatever it may be in-itself. The question is whether we can know the something without the doubts that maybe we’re muddling it up just with our mere determinate form imposing something upon it. Of course, being charitable here, Mr. Stroup likely means to convey the skeptical question of so-called external reality to the subject which was taken up by the likes of Fichte who denied the thing-in-itself in total—this, of course, cannot be understood as the denial of the reality of Being, but the denial of a reality of a certain kind of Being. The question is: can we know the absolute, whatever it may be, whether it is an epistemic framework or an ontological category, or are we stuck with mere opinions? Even Kant is ultimately under attack for being too satisfied to remain in opinion when he himself can explain neither the subject nor the categories of its objects. Schelling first offers the question of the unity of unity and difference, and though he is unable to answer it, this is the question of any conception of an absolute: how do we go from the complete in-itself (universal) to the obvious incompleteness of its manifestation (particular/individual)? How does that make sense? How can there be things that are connected yet are thought to be radically disconnected at the same time (neumena/phenomena, or the knower and the known)? That’s something Hegel quietly sets out to answer.

5:35—Reading from a textbook, he says “In part B of the Phenomenology, Hegel discusses a relationship that he calls Lordship and Bondage to illustrate how it is through conflict and struggle that the world evolves and moves forward by means of a synthesis of opposing forces. . . . What Hegel attempts to do here is something like a reconstruction of his own [mind] of events that have already been carried out over past philosophical history. The theme of Lordship and Bondage that he emphasizes appears to be his own subjective reconstruction of a process of thought beginning with Socrates and ending with Christian philosophy.”

The historical reading here is one of those common mistakes people obsess about when they learn that Hegel is very historically minded, thus there is a temptation to attempt to map the Phenomenology’s forms of consciousness onto historical eras or events despite there being very little purpose to apply it in such a way according to the work’s own epistemic and phenomenological aims—these are, after all, forms of consciousness, ways of thinking, and their resultant activities, not historical events. This is like the foolish attempt to read Sense Certainty as the caveman’s cognition, Perception as the Greek’s, and Understanding as the modern. In truth, this categorization makes little sense since all three are far more basic and universal to humans than people realize. Nobody can live with mere Sense Certainty, cavemen definitely needed to Perceive, and the Greeks, for all their errors, very much understood things. The Phenomenology of Spirit IS NOT The Philosophy of History, yet it is a common mistake to read it as if it were. The Phenomenology is, from Hegel’s own telling of it in the Introduction, about the journey of Spirit to discover what  scientific knowledge is. It’s not meant to explain to us the trajectory of our history except as a logical history of the progression of knowledge.

In this section, Mr. Stroup speaks of Self-consciousness in the mode of mere consciousness focused outwardly as the Greek form of consciousness, but this is a very broad paintbrush over Consciousness and why Hegel even gets to the master-slave position in the first placeReading the Phenomenology as if it were The Philosophy of History completely misses the point of what the Phenomenology itself is meant to show.

Here, there are quite the errors, mostly because what is claimed is simply not there and is being externally read into the argument. For one, Hegel doesn’t speak of the “revolt of the slave who then becomes the master of the master, and the master the slave of the former slave” or that this transitions to medieval Christianity from Greece/Rome because “Christianity is about the meek overcoming the strong.” His Nietzschean reading of this about force and weakness is just plain false in the text itself.  There is no passage about the weakness or meekness of a slave and its inversion into the dominant master form in this in the whole section. This section has nothing to do with the Nietzschean inversion of master and slave morality, and it is not Hegel’s point that “Christianity must be overcome” because of this.

What there is plenty of is about the slave’s fearful existence under the master and the ultimate master, death itself. There is also a lot on internal and structural contradiction: the slave is the master insofar as the master depends on them, and the master is the slave insofar as they need the slave. The slave is master of his desires, master of his craft, master of his knowledge of concepts—he is the master in content, but not master in form and vice versa. No one wins in this situation, for the next three forms of consciousness are all forms which slaves and masters alike may have. This relationship falls apart only to reappear right after as an internalized duality of a master aspect and slave aspect of all self-consciousnesses.

12:30—”Everything for Hegel is necessary.”

Everything logical is necessary for Hegel, not ‘everything empirical is necessary.’ There is a big difference between logical and empirical necessity—they don’t quite align. There is a real contingency in empirical Nature, and Hegel is not Spinoza and hasn’t much love for sufficient reason—Spirit can fail to achieve the logically necessary for a myriad of empirical contingent reasonse.g. we could indeed be stupid enough to nuke this world to oblivion. Mr. Stroup mentions the so-called necessity of Napoleon invading/conquering Germany and says that if Hegel can say that it was a historical necessity, then a Hegelian would say that Nazism was necessary because it happened. Stupidity and civilizational collapse sending us to the stone age can happen, but that’s not a logical necessity that will advance anything towards greater knowledge. If there were a metaphysical logical necessity for something like the Holocaust and WWII happening, we would not claim it had to happen just because it empirically happened, but have to prove some logical advance that comes with it, either as a negation or as a positive advancement towards some teleological end.

15:44—”Hegel is looking as history in terms of Being.”

No, Mr. Stroup, he certainly is not, and I have no idea where you got that notion. Hegel is not Parmenideshe’s not worried about substance or Being. Hegel is looking at the history of knowledge approaching scientific knowledge from the standpoint of those structures of knowing as they are in their abstracted and purified form. These forms of knowing match historical epochs because they are indeed real forms of knowing we have employed and keep employing. 

16:00—Genocide as necessary

The example of Nazism and genocide to show a point of “We needed a little bit of genocide to learn it was wrong” is a bit silly. Hegel has no monopoly on the wisdom that in order to answer a problem one has to have a problem to begin with. Jay Bernstein comments on the outright stupidity of this point by precisely pointing to the Holocaust and the “path of despair of Spirit” in order to get a much more interesting and fitting interpretation concerning the idea of total irretrievable loss: historically bad shit happens on individual and collective levels from which we unfortunately learn nothing, and all we have is a set of horrendous memories to keep—sometimes events really advance nothing, and this too is a Hegelian point about empirical existence. Everything makes sense on some level, but Hegel is not stupid enough to claim that everything makes complete sense at any particular level. If anything, the very system he builds is one in which this is a precluded possibility: the only thing that will ever make complete sense is Absolute Spirit itself; everything else is in one way or another more or less irrational, arbitrary, and contingent.

16:45—”Don’t worry; it’s all good in the end.”

While Hegel is an optimist, there is plenty in his philosophy which speaks quite against this. Let’s not forget this is one of the philosophers of endless despair and all things falling apart the moment things seem to get good and safely sublate. Logically, sure, it’s all good in the end, but empirically there is no guarantee of this. Modernity is not considered by Hegel to be nearing the “end of history” for an arbitrary reason of being a status quo lover, it’s actually because he sees structures of absolute self-determination begin to appear and match somewhat what they logically should look like insofar as we have logically derived them. This is good… because self-determination is the only logically valid normative rule. Try to derive any prior historical formation as a completely immanent and positively derived logical development, and you’ll see what happens in the Phenomenology: things will fall apart.

17:05—Marx on the master/slave

All I have to say is that, since Mr. Stroup misread the Master/Slave to begin with, this further misreading of Marx does not sit well with me. “The master will resist the slave revolt to overcome and become masters themselves”—truly, if that was the insight of Marx to destroy Hegelianism, I would think both to be thinkers so poor as to be banal. Marx’s refutation of Hegel is far more sophisticated than this, and Hegel’s argument in the master-slave is not that eventually one day we realized we were all equals and recognized each other, and that that is why slavery ended. It’s implied that the slaves may rise up and become masters to the master, but this is logically not an advance, and here Mr. Stroup is right. If the slave revolts, the real advance would be the dissolution of slavery in general, for the slave has gained and internalized the universal structure of self-consciousness and conceptual thinking—the slave can conceive of the universal required to recognize others like oneself unlike the master who treats them only as objects and denies their subjectivity.

19:30—Mr. Stroup interprets the dialectic to be primarily about faith and reason while still ignoring the onto-epistemic conceptions being carried out in each shape of consciousness on the way, each itself—including faith—a form of reason itself.  Somehow, he ends this with the resulting concept of Nothing “after reason and faith and spirit vanish.” This is what he takes to be the explication of Hegel’s reasoning for why we arrive at the notion that Being and Nothing are one and the same. This could not be farther from Hegel’s result of Absolute Knowing in the Phenomenology—it’s not about Nothing, but about the knowing of knowing. Once again, this is reading into the work what isn’t there.

21:50—Once again, the mistake is made from the textbook reading of thinking the Phenomenology to be the Philosophy of History. This ignores that the Phenomenology is about a logical history of consciousness’ KNOWING coming to scientific absolute knowing, not about explaining human history in general. Once again, the Phenomenology is about explaining how and why we were able to get from the mere appearance of knowledge to true absolute knowledge and how we had to go through these various forms due to the logical way they develop and interrelate despite not appearing in the order of our empirical historical meandering.

23:00—The myth of progress.

No, Hegel is not the source of the myth of progress. This myth was around long before Hegel, and it’s silly to blame Hegel for the misuse of his ideas others made through their own misunderstandings—that’s like blaming Marx for the USSR. No, wage work is not slavery by any stretch of conception; we make distinctions for a reason—slaves, serfs, and proletarians are not the same thing and do not exist in the same relation of domination. No, the master-slave dynamic does not continue forever between us—it continues within us. One merely has to read the section right after concerning Stoicism, Skepticism, and the Unhappy Consciousness to know that the dynamic of knowledge regarding recognition turns inward to an inner split self that enables internalized self-consciousness.

30:00—History proving Hegel, or Hegel using history to back himself up

Hegel never tries to explain our empirical history as empirical. Once again, the difference between logical and empirical history must be made. The reason for Hegel’s logical ordering of history and its difference from empirical history is ignored here, and unfortunately, it’s a very common point of ignorance.

32:00—Hegel describing modernity as just another contradiction, ‘predicting the next movement’

…except he doesn’t, and we can see this in the Philosophy of History and the Philosophy of Right. There is something unique about modernity which isn’t like what prior forms of society in history are like, that is, modernity shows an immanently systematic and organic logical structure unlike slave societies, feudalism, and what have you. Its foundations are not arbitrary like the others, and it is why modern structures can be developed in a positive internal dialectic instead of an internally self-undermining negative dialectic. Modernity for Hegel is a time in which legitimate structures of freedom are beginning to appear. Hegel is not in the business of prediction and says so himself. He is convinced of and logically develops a priori that the structures of self-determination and reason are arising in his day, but they are incomplete, and Hegel admits to not knowing how the system of society is to come to completionhowever, he does screw the dialectics up with injecting contingent historical bias in quite a bit, so I have to give Mr. Stroup that one. Though Marx assumes the modern state and economy are just another negative dialectic like any other, Hegel thinks no such thing, but is well aware that there are problems he does not know how to solve. He certainly would not predict a master-slave class struggle to keep occurring if the structures of self-determination are actually upheld in a society that is freely free. Of course, someone like Marx and many after Hegel question whether this society can be freely free, but one must first ask what that state of affairs would logically look like to make some judgment about that which wouldn’t be mere opinion.

34:00—Description of the diremption and unification

It seems Mr. Stroup completely misses the point of the ‘synthesis/unification’ as itself the structure of an absolute form of a specific total movement. He is unaware of the concrete universalwhat Hegel in the Phenomenology terms Infinityas the genuine basic conceptual structure which explicates the possibility of a unity of unity and difference, a self-differentiated whole that dirempts and in its diremption is unified. With this being missed, of course the endless diremption seems to arbitrarily be said to stop in a final synthesis of Absolute Spirit. For Hegel, the diremption never endsit just finds self-grounding systematic closure in which the process is absolute unto itself and fully self-contained in its total resulting structure. The Absolute isn’t a state of thingsit is a structure and process of the coming to be of that structure: ‘The Idea is Life.’

34:20—Mr. Stroup mentions: Being, Nothing, Existence as the realm of Becoming; life in the realm of Becoming; Being “wants to experience itself,” Being posits itself as Nothing, God posits something outside itself that isn’t him. How do you get movement in Being/Absolute Spirit? The Absolute posits necessity outside of itself, and that necessity must get back to the Absolute….

First off, no, Being does not posit Nothing and Becoming is not the return of Nothing back into Being. Where the hell did this come from? Being can’t posit anything because positing is a structure of Essence, the major logical form after the Doctrine of Being. See the Doctrine of Being. This is just textually outright wrong.

Second, everything is Becoming; Life is so far beyond simple Becoming it’s mind boggling—Life is in the “realm” of the Concept. Thinking there is anything that isn’t Becoming is to show you misunderstand what Becoming is as the very moment of all transitioning vanishing—the very differentiated unity of black text on white background is itself a Becoming. Third, Existence is NOT the “realm” of experience. What that ontological order is called is Nature. Mr. Stroup is not to blame here, I think, so much as the poor teaching his Hegel instructors gave. This mix-matching of categories is typical of people who are chronic superficial readers of Hegel who constantly read into his work rather than read out of it.

Being isn’t God and it doesn’t want anything in Hegel’s account… This is close to Schelling’s conception, except Schelling’s God does not posit something outside, and this seems far closer to Fichte, yet I do wonder if it’s right. Where, then, does this come from? Here, I think, one can find things hinting at this in the Philosophy of History. This reading, however, would miss Hegel’s points on teleology in the Science of Logic concerning immanent telos which is just…the principle of development of things. God no more wants to come into existence than an an electron wants to float around a positive atomic nucleus or matter wants to come together with other matter in gravitational attraction.

The Absolute does not posit anything outside itself to get motion going. This, again, misunderstands what the Absolute is. Hegel has no issues with change, it’s the very beginning of the system as Becoming in the Logic. Read the 1st chapter of the Doctrine of Being.

Finally, to respond to a comment reply of his to a comment I made: Hegel is not a “monist.” He’s not Spinoza, he’s not Parmenides, and he’s not Fichte. He’s not a metaphysical/ontological monist for there is more than one kind of thing around. If there is one thing one could say about his “monism” it would be epistemic monism: everything is understood relative to one normative standard, the Absolute (cf. James Kreines’ work on the issue of thinking Hegel is a metaphysical/ontological monist).

Negative and Positive Dialectics

People seem to have a confusion going on about dialectics, either in that they are not aware of what Hegel’s dialectics are about in general or because they’re confused as to which kind of Hegel’s dialectics are going on. On the first issue I’ve already written a blog post about, and if general online searches and discussions show anything, it’s that someone has to bring to awareness  the differences concerning the second.

Hegel can be said to use dialectics in two modes: negative and positive. Negative dialectics are mainly to be found mentioned outside the system which Hegel builds in the Logic and beyond—in the Phenomenology of Spirit—while positive dialectics are to be found in the system itself.

Negative Dialectics

As the name implies, negative dialectics negate their terms rather than sublate them. It must be stated: negative dialectics are not unique to Hegel—other philosophers, such as Plato and the Pyrrhonian skeptics use a similar method of drawing out inner contradictions. These types of dialectics are self-destructing—one could say they are ‘explosive’—and lead nowhere but to a skeptical state in knowledge, nullification of something, and if one wanted to talk of life they lead to death. The Phenomenology of Spirit is full of such dialectics; they are the bricks that form the highway of despair which Spirit traverses in its search for knowledge.

Negative dialectics are, for the most part, related concepts with content claims which are betrayed by their form and vice versa. To take the usual famous example: in the master-slave dialectic, the immanent content driving the relation, the desire and need for mutual recognition for self-consciousness, is in complete contradiction to the relational form of a master and slave. In such a relation, full recognition is impossible due to the inequalities of power as well as the self-undermining of the very possibility of recognition for each in their respective standpoint in the relation. What does this result in? It results in the dissolution of the master-slave social form as an answer to the problem it begins with in the struggle for recognition. The content and form are not in harmony and one must be cancelled eventually.

Another example: Force and its Expression are first posited by the Understanding as the answer to the problem arising from Perception: how can an object be understood to be one and many at the same time? Or: how is it intelligibly possible to conceive a unity of unity and difference? The answer to this problem is posed in the form of Force as an absolute universal principle underlying its differentiated Expression. Force is posited as an absolute content and Expression as a mere relative form of this content. Under speculative analysis, however, Force and Expression find themselves to be empty of intelligibility as different concepts for they each are defined merely as a moment of movement towards the other—the one is many is one is many… If we attempt to articulate the terms as rigid differences with Force and Expression as a dualism of substances, however, there is then an unintelligible connection between Force and Expression: Why does Force manifest as its Expression? How can Force be the essence of Expression, the only truth, yet have Expression be definitely not Force itself but rather something separate that merely seems to be? Force itself is unable to provide an answer; thus, its structure of concepts are discarded, but from its process there is a positive concept gleamed from its total activity. From the failures of Force, we find a movement of cognition which reveals a structure of the kind which is sought as an answer. Infinity appears as a concept which achieves the unity of unity and difference, and which explains how unitary oneness manifests as plural appearances. But this concept is only a new beginning, its structure goes beyond it and brings consciousness into the relation of infinity to infinity.

Were Hegel a mere skeptic, we would expect that the negative dialectic would simply end with dissolution. However, there is a positive moment to Hegel’s method in the Phenomenology of Spirit, the determinate negation left over from the cancellation of the terms of a form of consciousness. From Sense-Certainty the determinate negation is the sensuously mediated universal which was implicit to its activity. From Perception the determinate negation is the differentiated universal, and from Understanding what remains is Infinity—also implicit in the activities of these forms of consciousness.

The problem originally posed persists: What is the absolute and how can I know it with certainty? This question manifests with the absolute as the object of every form of consciousness, and its ways of knowing that presupposed object. Every form of consciousness in the book is posed to answer this question in the various general forms humanity has tried to answer it. Insofar as a form of consciousness advances this question, it comes into the inquiry and adds something, and insofar as it is revealed that it is vacuous and its form traps and conceals the positive content in it, it is dissolved and its structures/concepts are discarded and replaced with new forms of consciousness which provide concepts that are adequate to the concept structures left over from a dissolution.

The final negative result of the Phenomenology is: None of the forms of consciousness analyzed in the book offer a working structure that shows itself to be absolute and not self-destructing. They are all found to be insubstantial upon inquiry. 

The positive result is: Since all of these forms of consciousness exhaust the possibilities of knowledge in the form of something opposed as external to consciousness and unlike consciousness, the only remaining option is to discard the presupposition of the opposition of consciousness. The determinate negation of the opposition of consciousness as a whole is the remaining answer. We can begin without assuming any predetermined structure of knowing and its object as one assuming that the knower, knowing, and known are separate. This is what leads to the Science of Logic.

Beyond these results, however, are also the interesting results of the nature of phenomenal consciousness—its possible structures of self-understanding and its relation to others and to the world. In this manner, the entirety of the Phenomenology also reveals the fundamental possible structures which humans will develop in order to come to such understandings. In this none of the forms of consciousness are ever discarded. In self-consciousness, we apply sense-certainty, perception, and understanding. These are preserved as momentary structures of knowing which are limited to accessing an object only in some manner, and are recognized as not absolute. Not only are these forms of knowing not absolute, they are ultimately limited to the form of the knowing which assumes the opposition of consciousness and are themselves thus bracketed as mere moments leading to eventual conclusion of an inquiry that produces true scientific knowledge. All are possible forms of human consciousness, and all but one can function without prior forms available to them, hence the negation of the opposition of consciousness can only occur after such forms of consciousness are gone through in their complexity and show themselves to be inadequate as a whole.

Positive Dialectics

Opposed to the negative method, positive dialectics do not negate and dissolve the terms related. This type of dialectic is what is unique to Hegel in his particular way. It isn’t that no one else before had thought of concepts that unite seemingly contradictory ones, but rather that no one before Hegel had shown how these synthetic concepts managed to differentiate yet unify what seems contradictory. Everyone knew before Hegel that Becoming was an intermediary concept uniting Being and Nothing, yet apparently no one had quite known what to make of how this concept made sense in relation to Being and Nothing.

In the dialectics of the Science of Logic, Philosophy of Nature, and Philosophy of Spirit, every single moment is true and is maintained in every subsequent concept. The only general negation that goes on is the negation of the claim these concepts have to being absolute truths that explain everything. Negation as such, cancellation, happens in the very dialectics themselves where terms contradict each other while undermining themselves, but this contradiction does not dissolve these terms like the Phenomenology’s forms of consciousness seem to generally dissolve themselves as inadequate forms. Being is limited to what it applies to; Essence is limited to what it applies to; Concept is limited to what it applies to; Nature is limited to what it applies to.

In the dialectic of Becoming to Determinate Being, it is not the case that Becoming is ever discarded. In the dialectic of Something to Infinity, it is not the case that Something is ever discarded. In the Dialectic of Nature to Spirit, it is not the case that anything in Nature is ever discarded. Positive dialectics build upon concepts, showing limitations of concepts as their incompleteness and to the extent that they are incomplete they are untrue, but they are maintained through all subsequent developments.

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Perhaps it goes without saying, but it should be slightly clear that nothing in Hegel is quite one sided. Notice that in his negative dialectics he does not merely destroy the opposed incompatible terms, he has a positive moment in every dialectic of the Phenomenology just as much as he has the positive moment in the following system. Hegel himself tells us that the dialectical moment is itself the moment of negation and contradiction, but in a scientific inquiry such results themselves leave something positive. In truth, Hegel’s mature philosophy in the Phenomenology and onward always has his peculiar negatively positive dialectic in play.

Appearance & The Essence of Things

Phenomenology of Spirit: §143

This ‘being’ is therefore called appearance; for we call being that is directly and in its own self a non-being a surface show. But it is not merely a surface show ; it is appearance, a totality of show. (Miller trn.)

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For that reason, it is called appearance, for being that is immediately in itself a non-being is what is called seeming-to-be. However, it is not merely a seeming-to-be but rather an appearance, a whole of seeming-to-be’s. (Pinkard trn.)

 

From this quote, particularly from Miller’s translation, one can see a very interesting consequence from the concept of appearance, and that is that appearance as appearance in truth hides nothing underneath. In opposition to the Kantian problematic of our knowledge being limited to appearances and unable to access things-in-themselves, Hegel strongly and decisively argues the opposite: it is only because of appearances that we have access to things-in-themselves. The very fact and concept of an appearance is already the lifting of the veil, for in positing an appearance as that which is before us we necessarily posit that there is such a thing-in-itself hidden behind it as the reality which has shown itself to us as a moment of appearance. The essence of things which supposedly is veiled underneath momentary and ever vanishing appearance is in the end the enduring still image of this very vanishing as a whole, hence the totality of show. In this totality of show the essence of things fully shines through, every moment of appearance revealing one more moment of the intelligible rational principle which springs forth as this appearance, a principle only accessible to beings with the capacity to reason.

Though there is indeed a veil, this veil is the very thing which reveals the unseen that underlies it. Appearance is not the dark veil of space hiding essence underneath, but is instead the illuminating light which brings things-in-themselves into relation with us. In truth, appearance is not the total veil of a finite limited mind that keeps us apart from things-in-themselves as Kant thought, but rather the key to the total revelation of things-in-themselves or essence.

"There is no royal road to science, and only those who do not dread the fatiguing climb of its steep paths have a chance of gaining its luminous summits."-Karl Marx