On Hegel’s Project in the Science of Logic

The Science of Logic is a giant tome of what some may consider pure arcane abstraction. A work that bills itself the science of pure thinking of thoughts, one question that inevitably arises regarding  it is what purpose it serves. Hegel refuses to tell us much of what the purpose of the Logic is beyond two basic things: it has to do with the concept of the Absolute, and the derivation of valid thinking from pure presuppositionless thought itself.

It is clear from the very concepts used in the Logic that the work was intended to function in multiple roles within philosophy in general. Not only is the Logic about logic as the thinking of valid thinking, but also about the objects which logic is meant to investigate, hence we see metaphysics and ontology as its conceptual content, for these are the general concepts of thought itself, and this makes sense when one gives just a little thought to it. What else could logic be about if not the very general object kinds, structures, and relations of reality itself? If the necessity of logical determinations is not the same necessity of the world itself, what value do the results of logic have for determining anything but arbitrary and subjective mental fictions? Logic and ontology must be identical in some key manner in order for objectivity and normative judgments to be fully intelligible, and the Logic is meant to show just how this is possible through the connection of concept and objectivity.

Jumping ahead into the thinking which occurs within the Logic itself, one can begin to see a bit more of what this project entails. First is that the Logic has to do with the relation of ontological categories to each other. As each category develops itself it does so through analytic definition, yet this analytic definition presupposes or posits another concept and synthetically relates what is not itself as constitutive of itself. This analytic and synthetic expansion of conceptual relations allows for an inner relation between them in a growing chain of concepts building upon each other such that one can go from abstract Being to Existence to Essence, etc. and see the direct chain that makes intelligible their exact relation.

Second, the Logic concerns the relation of thought to itself as thought. From the beginning of the project until its end, by looking at the process by which one thought moves to another, thought shows a power of self-determination, self-mediation, and self development through its analytic/synthetic expansion, its self-oppositions, and its unifications. This self-expansion of thought and its capacity to mediate its contradictions into intelligible unity, its capacity to go beyond itself through a renewed expansion of content, shows thought as having content in itself and points to the boundlessness of thought by this process of self-differentiating expansion and self-mediation.

Third, looking at the skeletal categorial framework of the Logic one can see that the penultimate major category is the Idea. The Idea is the concept in which an object and concept correspond. When an object corresponds perfectly with its concept then we may say it is ideal. Against the common-sense notion that it is ideas that must correspond to objects, Hegel puts forth the doctrine that the determination of truth is the inverse: it is objects, insofar as they are actually objective, that must correspond to concepts (ideas). Part of the results of the Logic is the derived proof of the identical structure of objects and concepts through the necessary aspect of self-determination inherent to the concept of objectivity itself, and as the Logic shows, concepts share this very key aspect of self-determination. This capacity of concepts to self-determine is what allows Hegel to claim that there is no issue in thought grasping true objectivity in itself. When the concept in its self-development matches the object as it is in its living development, from genesis to completion, we can say not only that we have grasped its truth in thought, but that the object itself has become what it should be in virtue of this same correspondence. If a concept shows a logical development which the object does not, then this object is judged as lacking full reality.

Fourth, because of the role which concepts have in Hegel’s system as the measure of truth, the normative dimension of reality becomes intelligible only as an object being in agreement with its concept. Recalling Aristotle’s ancient teleology, Hegel brings back the sense of normativity in Aristotle as the measure of good being the accordance of object to its telos, but Hegel reformulates it as the accordance of object to concept. For Hegel the one normative rule to settle all questions of ultimate good is the form of the universal which self-determines, which is what it is of its own developmental freedom, and as such shares the structure of objectivity. An organic being, for example, is freely what it is and becomes what it is of its own inner constitution and teleological development, but only to a certain point. The ultimate truth and therefore the measure of what ultimately should be, what is the highest good of all reality, is the Absolute. When judged from the Absolute standpoint all other things are relative and are objectively inferior, false, or incomplete in kind by failing to live up to the Absolute’s complete self-determination (freedom).

The Absolute is the completed system as it is from Logic to Spirit, completed in the final concept of Absolute Spirit which knows itself completely. In the Logic the Absolute Idea is just as it says: it is only the idea of the Absolute, the general logical character of it. What this idea shows itself to be, however, is nothing less than the consummate process of the Logic‘s self-developing concepts. Hegel equates the Absolute with freedom, for it is the concept of that which is what it is in-and-for-itself and not merely by a given determining compulsion external to it.

Fifth, the totality of the process of the Logic, because it is the pure process of thought in-itself as pure universality, shows the way to answering the question of what logic is as logic. Valid and true thought follow not just the structure of the Logic’s pure concept; it is not formal, but is ordered and systematized according to the products of the inner development of any content it is applied to. This aspect sets the first rule of valid thinking: necessity. There is, however, something more that the Logic shows about a general structure of conceptual thinking. Until Hegel concepts were encountered and developed unsystematically and haphazardly, but each concept is nothing less than the very general process of the Logic‘s categorial determinations and their progression. As is argued by Andy Blunden in some of his papers regarding the topic, when we first encounter a new and true object that embodies a genuine concept we develop the concept first in its immediate appearance using determinations of the logic of Being, and having exhausted such a poor conception we are forced to eventually conceive of further determinations behind appearances through the logic of Essence, from which we eventually develop further determinations through the logic of the Concept once systematic development is possible. Often determinations of a concept will be discovered in experience in a disconnected  order and disarray with no clear necessary unity other than that we observe these determinations to be in some kind of relation. It is the work of the logician to penetrate through the arbitrary order of experience and see into the necessary logical conceptual relations and developments as a specific systematic and unitary organic whole. It must be said that one must not mistake this general conceptual developmental description as the development of all concepts. The Logic‘s own development and categories are unique to itself and not not merely make an abstract form through which empirical concepts are filtered through, rather, empirical concepts have their own logical development which only follows the broad structures of the Logic.

It is also interesting, as Markus Gabriel notes, that the Logic can, because it is logic, be understood as the very principle of intelligibility in all things. Insofar as anything is thinkable (conceptualizable) it must conform to some categorial determination in the Logic. That which fails to enter the system of the Logic is, quite literally, unthinkable. Whether this is understood to point to a reality beyond thought that is ineffable yet existent, or the inverse, that what is ineffable is so because it really lacks ontological reality, such as James Kreines argues in his reading of the Logic as ontologically pluralistic due to the existent domains of reality that are ontologically incomplete via the fact that they are logically incomplete, is up to the reader’s interpretation. Suffice to say, a lot of interesting thoughts arise when one considers the totality of the Logic as logic and as ontology.

These are but a few of the general projects which run through the Logic and you can be sure there is far more that can be gleamed in the detailed examination of the text itself. Overall it’s one hell of a project, and if you’re fascinated by systematic philosophy like I am, it’s well worth giving it a chance.

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