Phos: Force and Understanding (pt.2)

Following from the collapse of Force as the unconditioned universal, we here begin with the Understanding’s second attempt at conceiving such universal. We shall tread the path through Law, see Force appear once more, and once again encounter collapse. From there we shall make a transition from the external object to the Understanding itself, from where a second Law shall be posited and the strange argument of the inverted world—the culmination of the structure of inversion—shall be laid out. The inverted world and the second Law shall then lay the way to transition from the preoccupation with external objectivity in Consciousness to Self-Consciousness.

This is a long one.

Transition From Force to Appearance

With the collapse of Force as the unconditioned universal into its pure movement as vanishing being-for-another, a rearticulation of terms occurs in the Understanding. Force—as the unconditioned universal—has shown its essence to be the concept of the Understanding and not the object itself. If the first universal, the oneness, in the relation of Force is considered the mere concept of the Understanding, the second universal, its actual existence as the play of Forces in the Expression, is “the essence as it exhibits itself in and for itself” as the perceived object. In the inverse view we can regard the first universal, Expression, as the immediately existing actual object for the perceiving consciousness, and the second universal, Force, as the negative of the first, i.e. as mediated and un-objective essence—what is the inner being of objects as inner; the concept of Force as concept. Nonetheless, the vanishing play of Forces remains, and the Understanding takes up the results of the ruin of its first attempt and rearticulates this result.

Because the true object of the Understanding is the concept of Force, which is the un-objective essence it posits through the objective being of this essence—the play of vanishing Forces—the genuine essence of the object is in truth not immediately existing for the Understanding. It is mediated by a term that stands between the inner essence and consciousness. The play of Forces is this mediating term—it is the developed being of Force—with its immediate vanishing into two extremes with no true being. This term is Appearance, for it is “being that is immediately in itself a non-being,” a mere seeming-to-be. This Appearance is not merely an appearance, but the totality of Appearance, i.e. this refers to no individual appearance, but to the very category of Appearance as such, therefore this is not the sensuous character of the object or merely the play of Forces before perception, but the universal concept and truth of this very play of Forces. The play of Forces appear now as the developed negative of the object—its incessant vanishing as the sensuous being of the perceived object—but Appearance is now the positive being of the object for the Understanding, the universal concept which is existing-for-itself and endures through this very vanishing.

Understanding and Appearance

Through Appearance, the Understanding reflects itself into itself as if it were reflecting itself into the truth of the object, i.e. the Understanding takes its own cognitive reflection to be the object’s own movement and inner truth rather than its own. The Appearance of the object is thus the mediator of the truth of the object for consciousness, yet the Understanding does not take itself to be a part of its knowing, instead considering it a purely objective truth in which it has no hand. The inner is the in-itself of the object and thus its being-for-itself and not its being-for-consciousness, however, the ground upon which this inner is being posited is Appearance itself. The Understanding does not yet recognize Appearance as itself being-for-itself (it is merely being-for-other); thus it is not acquainted with the true nature of its concept.

Because the true is now posited as the unconditioned universal in which the opposition of universal and individual are contained within once again—the truth being the universality as the concept of the shifting sensuousness of the world—a supersensible world is now posited as the true world above the sensuously Appearing world. This supersensible world is a stable and enduring “other-wordly beyond,” while the world of sensuousness is a vanishing impermanence upon this essence.


We see what Understanding does not, i.e. that it is as much a part of this so called truth as what it assumes is an external object. As the phenomenological observer we see that there is what Hegel here calls a syllogism of the [inner]-[Appearance]-[Understanding]. This syllogism maps not just the term relations to each other, and their movement, but also what the Understanding will learn from the experience of this relationship.

[Note:] Syllogism here must undoubtedly seem a bizarre term for Hegel to use. This is because it is indeed not a classical syllogism as it is conceived in formal logic. For Hegel, syllogisms are self-moving arguments that in each concept or proposition generate their subsequent term and conclusion. In the syllogism of the inner, Appearance, and Understanding the relation is such that the positing of an inner and an Appearance necessarily yields the conclusion that there is consciousness—here the Understanding—which apprehends such terms. The distinction of an inner behind an Appearance is only made by a consciousness, or, a consciousness which posits an Appearance before it must posit an inner behind it.


At this point in the chapter Hegel brings up a short critique of the Kantian position that in this relation of consciousness, Appearance, and the inner truth of the object. At this point the development of the inner is merely the negative of Appearance, i.e. it is merely the negation and opposite of this Appearance which is empty and undeveloped. Kant claims that it is impossible to get behind Appearance and know a thing-in-itself; all we can know is the Appearances before consciousness, thus the inner is necessarily opaque and empty for us. Against this claim Hegel makes the counterclaim that even if this were true, it is better for us to speculate emptily beyond these Appearances, which we know to be false, with Appearances created by consciousness, for daydreams of the mind are better than the emptiness of reality.

The First Law of Appearance: The Stable Image

The inner world as the supersensible world emerges out of Appearance. Appearance is both the mediation of the supersensible and its essence—its fulfillment and actual being. Nonetheless, “The supersensible is the sensuous and the perceived posited as they are in truth.” It is Appearance as Appearance, the enduring substance behind the flux. Remember, Appearance is not the sensuous world which is for immediate Sense Certainty and Perception, but its concept. It is the world as sublated, with the sensuous vanishing taken up into enduring supersensible universality.

Appearance is but the inner truth of the play of Forces perceived, which is nothing but the “absolute exchange of determinateness with constitutes the sole content of what is coming forth: To be either a universal medium or a negative unity.” In the play of Forces we already discovered there is no enduring substance in the moments, indeed we saw that there was not even a difference in the moments as they were both Force merely soliciting itself to express and retreat into itself through the other Force. The distinction of content and form itself collapses in Force as it is itself the passive medium which it solicits to express. All particular distinctions of the two Forces collapse at this point. All that remains in the alternating movement is the “distinction as the universal distinction, that is, as the kind of distinction into which the many oppositions have been reduced.” This distinction as itself universal is the simple unity of the play of Force and what is true in it, its enduring essence; it is the Law of Force. The true essence of the play of Forces is the law of distinction which endures unmoving in this movement. This has come about due to the relation of Appearance to the Understanding, whose inner simplicity is posited as the simple distinction of Appearance’s Law.

The Law and Appearance

The inner as Law is in-itself and simple, but is also the universal distinction of the flux of Appearance, and thus this flux is its essence. The Law, however, is the stable image of this flux and is at rest within the flux perceived. The law is supersensible and beyond the perceived world, but it is present within this world as its “immediately motionless likeness.”

The Law, however, is not yet the unconditioned universal. It does not truly subsume Appearance completely, for it does not yet take up the determinate distinction of Appearance; it merely posits in itself the universal indeterminate distinction, i.e. it merely states there must be a distinction, but not what distinction or why. Thus, the Law is not yet Appearance as Appearance which is for-itself the stable flux. In each moment of Appearance the Law has a different actuality which it yet cannot account for. One may here posit that each moment of Appearance corresponds to its own determinate Law, one Law of many, but this undermines the very concept of Law which is to unify these many moments of Appearance’s flux into a simple unity. Up to now we merely have the concept of Law, i.e. that “everything has a constant distinction with regard to everything else,” but not the Law which generates a determinate distinction itself.


The Understanding takes the Law it has found as one “which expresses universal actuality as such,” but while it has failed to attain a determinate Law that actually does this, it has inadvertently discovered in this thought that “actuality is in itself lawful.” Basically, the Understanding is at least insightful in seeing that the mere immediate being of Sense Certainty and Perception are mere appearances which have little value as truth themselves.

The Concept of Law

The Law as pure concept is the essence and truth of determinate Laws, but these determinate Laws owe their determinateness to Appearance, which owes its determinateness to the flux of sensuous being. The pure concept of Law does not just go beyond determinate Laws, however, it goes beyond itself as the law as such, for it determines itself to be more than the Law through its moments. The determinateness of Law and Appearance is itself merely a vanishing moment that seems unessential in the very concept of Law for they must ultimately depend on it as it is their truth and essence, and the Law itself is simple unity. However, since the Law contains in itself the distinction as immediately in the universal, these moments have enduring existence in it, for the Law expresses the relation of these moments as “indifferent essentialities existing in themselves.” Since these moments in the Law are themselves determinate, yet the Law itself is their simple unity, the pure concept of Law must be conceived in such a way that these determinate moments do not exist completely in-themselves, but return into the inner as simple unity, and in doing so the inner necessity of Law for its products and itself is shown in itself. That is to say, Law must somehow provide not only for its determinate self-differentiation, but also must determine these differences in such a way that their very determinateness returns these moments back into its simple universality and show the necessity of this Law as the unconditioned universal. 

[Note:] Hegel is here alluding to his concept of the concrete Universal which contains its determinate difference in it and in which each moment points back to the simple unity of the Universal moment.

Unification of Force and Law

Law has shown itself to have two moments: the Law as simple unity that is being-that-has-returned-into-itself, and the Law as expressed as independent moments. This should seem very familiar, for it is Force’s structure which has returned with a new face. The concept of Law is the moment of genuine Force as unconditioned universal returned in its apprehended truth as an abstraction which contains the distinctions of its moments and movement, but is itself not immediately these moments. The Understanding, seeing this, rearticulates its conception and posits Force once more as the passive universal medium as substance; Law in turn is now posited as the necessity of Force’s self-distinction in expression,i.e. Force’s self-soliciting to express is now externalized to the Law completely as pure independent expression of the unconditioned universal. Law is now a separate substantive moment that is, however, at the same time not a separate moment which solicits Force’s self-distinction, or what was prior known as its expression. Seem familiar? The only difference is that this time the moments are not explicitly structured by reference of being in the process of becoming the other like in Force and Expression; now Force and Law are posited as independent temporal moments supposedly linked in concept.

Force is the concept as such again, and the Law is the expressed determinate relation of independent terms related. Unity belongs to Force, but now the expression of distinction belongs to Law. The Understanding has once again committed itself to force a distinction where there is none. It brings together two concepts to explain the object, yet these concepts have no clear relation of need for each other.

The Indifference of Force and Law

When the relation of Force and Law is examined it is easy to see this as the Understanding’s mere positing without objective meaning. Hegel shows many examples of the disconnection of these terms and lack of any necessary relation. In the example of electricity, simple electricity is the Force, but the distinction of positive and negative charge belongs to its Law. The Law says Force must express itself in this way, but when it comes to determinate Forces and Laws we must ask why this Law for this Force and not some other combination? How does one go from the concept of electricity to the actuality of its inner distinction into positive and negative charge? Where is the necessity of the Law of electricity in the concept of electricity? This issue is not trivial and meaningless, for we know very well of terms which do have the necessity we’re seeking, the Law of electricity being just such an example. To posit positive charge is at one and the same time to necessarily posit negative charge in opposition to it, the distinction is in itself already. We may, Hegel tells us, just give up and say that the distinction itself is electricity as such, that it is its definition and there is nothing more, as such the existence of the Force is its concept and essence. However, if this is the case, then the existence of the Force itself becomes unnecessary and contingent, for the it relies either on our detecting it, or it relies on external conditions of existence which means its necessity is external. This cannot be the case, however, since this goes counter to the very concept of Force and Law which the Understanding has already developed out of its need to explain the object. It is clear that its attempts to discover the unconditioned universal has failed, the connection between Force and Law being unnecessary, i.e. the self-differentiation of the universal has not been achieved.

False Universals: The Indifference of Expressed Individuals

Hegel gives an interesting example of a concept which seems to be what is being sought, but in truth is not. Motion as a universal, he says, divides itself into time and space, or distance and velocity. Motion, however, is merely the relation of these terms; space, time, distance, and velocity themselves do not express any inner relation to any origin in motion as their universal. The terms are united in motion, but they are all independent and indifferent to each other, they have no necessary connection in this universal either to each other nor to the universal. Motion necessarily divides itself into its parts, but each part has no necessity for the other parts or for motion, and this is because motion is a false universal. It does not show itself to be the simple essence and origin of anything, it is already merely a superficial complex of divided independent terms. The truth of motion, says Hegel, is gravity, for it is the simple essence of motion as Force, but gravity does not contain these distinctions in itself.

Collapse of the Law of Force

The necessity of Force and Law  to each other has shown itself to be as unnecessary as the necessity of one expressed term to another. “The distinction is therefore in both cases no distinction in itself.” That is, the relation of terms is not an inner necessary distinction in the terms themselves. There is nothing within Force which necessarily posits its Law, nor is there anything in the Law which necessarily posits its Force just as there is nothing in the terms of motion which posit each other nor the universal of motion itself. The distinction and the relation are the positing of the Understanding and are not inherent to the object itself, thus their necessity is merely the necessity of the Understanding for simple unity. However, in the Law the Understanding already has the concept of this distinction in itself, i.e. as an inner existence-in-itself which is distinguished in itself.

The problem at hand is due to the Understanding’s stubbornness. It states this distinction in such a way that it is expressed as no distinction in the object itself, i.e. Force and Law are posited as different in one moment and then collapsed in a second moment as a unity of a single movement of the essence. Force is posited as the grounding essence of Law, but then this very Force is stated to be structured entirely in the same way as the Law. The ground and grounded collapse into one as the terms share one and the same structure (recall the structure of genuine Force and its mere doubling of the relation of its moments). In all this the Understanding believes itself to be explaining the object, but its explanations are empty tautologies. Not only do the distinctions of Force and Law have the same form, they have shown themselves to have the same content and thus they collapse. Nonetheless, the basic structural distinction remains, i.e. the distinction of the movement of the moments which immanently hold their other within themselves and find their essence outside in another.

Transition From the First Law to the Second Law

So far, the Understanding has taken its object to be a stable unity at rest, and therefore the movement of difference has taken place only in the Understanding itself. In the movement, however, we can see the essential piece that had been missing in the concepts of the unconditioned universal of the Understanding up to now: the flux of actuality. Standing back from the moments of the movement and looking at the movement itself we notice a structure of self-opposition: “It posits a distinction, which is not only no distinction for us but is a distinction which it itself sublates.” The movement itself posits a distinction which in its very realization is sublated back into a unity of no distinction and back again into distinction. In the explanation, then, the alternating flux is now finally taken into the supersensible world itself—the determinate distinction is no longer Appearance’s alone.

The Understandings enacts a shift away from the object to itself through its experience of repeating the same structural movement in every iteration of its explanation of the object—it becomes aware that the movement is so far only actual in itself. The first Law merely stated the being of a distinction, now a second Law comes forth which will make the structure of the movement into a Law itself.

The Second Law of Appearance: The Law of Inner Distinction

The alternating flux is yet to be posited in the object itself, but in virtue of this the object “turns out to be pure alternating fluctuation in that the content of the moments of the alternating fluctuations remains the same.” That is, The object is one and many at the same moment. The concept of the Understanding is still the inner of things; thus the flux becomes the inner Law of the Understanding. A second Law is now conceived in contrast to the first Law—the law of the external object—whose content was enduring distinction remaining selfsame. This second Law “expresses the becoming-non-selfsame of what is selfsame and the becoming-selfsame of the non-selfsame.” That is, the second Law is the conception of Understanding’s operation regarding the external object itself. Whatever the Understanding encounters in the external object, its truth is the opposite of what it appears. The concept demands that both laws be brought together and their opposition be recognized consciously, i.e. the Understanding is impelled by its own movement to bring them together.

The second Law, like the first, is also selfsame, but it is the selfsameness of the non-selfsame, “a constancy of inconstancy.” This is the structure which the play of Forces had, as such it is the very distinction in the object which has been at issue this entire time. The Understanding thus brings both laws together into opposition within the objective world.

plɹoM pǝʇɹǝʌuI ǝɥʇ }{ the Inverted World

The first supersensible world was the realm of selfsame laws at rest, the stable image of Appearance, i.e. the inversion of the perceived world of sensuousness. At first the supersensible world as the inner was opposed to Appearance; both remained selfsame and separate, but now we have the second Law as the inner truth of both; thus they are to an even greater degree the opposite of themselves, i.e. Appearance is in its inner truth the stable image, and the stable image is in its inner truth the flux perceived. It is only with the determination of the second Law that the inner distinction of the universal is truly made. A second supersensible world thus arises out of the first as its inversion, for it already had one moment of itself in it, i.e. the selfsame which now becomes non-selfsame. The first supersensible world took the alternating flux of appearance only into stable universality, but now the second supersensible world takes up the flux into itself and attains for itself the completion of the concept of Appearance as Appearance at last, i.e. it is the stable image that itself is fluctuation.

Here Hegel goes on to make a slew of examples of this absolute law of inversion,  but I shall not go into all of them here. In general, the point is that which is one thing in the first world of law is its opposite in the second: what is sweet in the first is sour in the next, what is positive in the first is negative in the second, etc. There is one specific example that drives home the point Hegel wants to make, and it is the example of law and punishment. In the immediate law of the first world revenge on an enemy is the satisfaction of the harmed individual who is not recognized as an essential self by the transgressor. This satisfaction is attained by way of showing one’s self to be the essential being by in turn not recognizing the enemy’s essential self through retribution, destroying them and sublating their essence by showing one as their true essence in return. In the second world this act is inverted and turns not into the reestablishment of the individual but to his own self-destruction. If this inversion, which is exhibited in the punishment of crime, is made into law, it is still merely a law of a world which has the second world standing in inverted opposition to itself.  Punishment according to the law of the first world dishonors and destroys a person, but in the inverted world this punishment is transformed into the pardon which preserves his essence and honors him. It is not hard to see that this opposition is united in the very truth of OUR world. The serving of the punishment of law is vengeance and forgiveness in one. Thus, the second supersensible world overreaches itself and sublates the first supersensible world as part of itself. The inverted world and the first world are not different, not separate, they are at one moment one and the same world. It is this world of ours which is in-itself inverted. Another way to put it is in terms of what we have already dealt with, e.g. the play of Forces and the first Law of Appearance were already both in the same world this entire time. The Understanding, however, does not see this.

The Actuality of Inverted Opposition

Now, superficially, the inverted world is the opposite of the first in that the first world is external to the second, and it repels that first world from itself as an inverted actuality. One is Appearance, the other the in-itself. One is being-for-others, the other is being-for-itself. This opposition has already shown itself to be impossible to work, for we have seen that the assumption that both sides of the inversion are separate substances or actualities cannot hold since they do not have substantial being in-themselves to support them independent of the other. The Understanding cannot turn back to these positions without falling into the same problems. In terms of actuality, the attempt to posit a distinction between an actual sensible world against an equally actual supersensible world itself does not work. If one moment of the duality is posited as substance in the perceived sensible world, then one of the two laws would be the case, and an inner world would be posited against it as the same kind of sensible world as the first, but which exists in the realm of representation. This second inner world cannot be pointed out or sensed with any of our senses, yet it would be represented in terms of the sensible world. “But if one posit is in fact something perceived and if its in-itself, as its [inversion], is likewise what is sensuously represented,” then the in-itself of the perceived would be just as actual as what is perceived, for it clearly has actually appeared through this sensuous actuality. One example is that in the first world something is sweet, and in the second inner world it is sour. This inner world, however, being the essence of the first, must be as actual as it, otherwise it is a mere fiction. If the inner is really represented in the outer, then the inner must be as actual as its outer appearance, i.e. the inner sourness must be an actual sourness just as actual as the outer sweetness.

Once again, the example of law and punishment helps illustrate the point: the actual crime has its full reality and inversion in its actual punishment by the law, not in some supersensuous punishment by a law that never reaches it in its own actuality. “The actual punishment has in it its own inverted actuality” in such a way that it is the actuality of the law itself despite being actual only in the moment of the very transgression which would seem to suspend law. Law is only actualized as law in its punishment of transgression against it as crime, and crime is only actually crime in its being punished in its transgression of law. Crimes which are never punished cannot be crimes, and laws that never actually punish cannot be laws. The inversion does not exist in separate alternating moments nor in separate world, but in one and the same moment and world.

This is the truth of the inverted world: that it is the absolute concept of distinction exhibited and grasped as inner distinction in which the selfsame repels itself into the non-selfsame and vice versa in one and the same world and moment. The opposing contradiction is within each moment of the fluctuation in the form of an opposite of an opposite in which the other is immediately already present within it. If one tries to take one of these opposites as in-and-for-itself and sets the other to one side, one finds its inner truth to be that it is the opposite of the opposite, i.e. the opposite of itself. This is how the second supersensible world, as inverted, overreaches itself and envelops the first world within itself. As the inverted world it is its own inversion and is both opposites in one unity. This is the true inner distinction, the distinction in itself, and thus is Infinity for its distinction, unity, and ceaseless movement is wholly within itself. It is what the Understanding has sought, the unity of unity and difference, what seems to be the unconditioned universal.

[Note:] This recategorization of the final Law is a bit strange, but not for Hegel. Now, the infinity referred to here is not just endless infinity, but absolute infinity which fully contains itself in itself, for it is as concept unbounded and no external limitation or difference enters into its determination. Infinity is also characteristic of Hegel’s concrete Universals.

From Consciousness to Self-Consciousness

Through infinity, we see that the Law of Appearance has acquired its necessity at last in all its moments. Hegel says that what is simple in Law is Infinity in the following ways, recounting the developments of Understanding’s concept of the object:

  1. What is selfsame, the unity of the object, is the distinction in itself.
  2. What was called simple, or genuine, Force doubles itself, and in its infinity is Law
  3. What is dirempted, which represent the individual parts or terms in the Law, turns out to be what is durably existing independent and indifferent to each other and Law
  4. By virtue of the concept of inner distinction, what is unlike and indifferent is a distinction that is no distinction, for they are as independent and indifferent like a distinction of the same magnetic pole, whose essence is unity. Just as poles that are “like” repel each other, so too are the indifferent repelled from each other. They are because they are not the others, and in doing so they only posit themselves to be in unity to an even greater degree. Both poles exist in themselves as opposites, and thus opposites of themselves in a unity.

Infinity has shown itself to be the essence of all the movements of the Understanding, and when it finally appeared it appeared as explanation of the unity of difference. This structure is the Understanding’s structure as well, and when this consciousness becomes aware of this it becomes self-conscious. The Understanding’s activity and necessity is this infinite movement of explanation, but at first in the movement of the first Law this movement is not its object. The objects of the Understanding are a myriad of objects which it considers external to itself, but in them it finds nothing but its own structure, in otherness it finds only itself.

[Note:] Just an interesting side bit—Hegel says that this fact is why explanation is so satisfying to consciousness, because in truth it only “consorts” with itself.

In the movement of the second Law infinity becomes the object of the Understanding, but the Understanding does not recognize infinity as such in the division of two worlds or substances, etc. For the Understanding the movement is as it is in experience, an event, in which the different moments are separate predicates of an existing substrate. The Understanding is unable to rid itself of the sensuous appearance of the object, and only we as the phenomenological observers grasp the pure concept as it is in-itself. Hegel says that the exposition of this concept belongs to science, meaning, its proper development shall only come in his future system beyond the Phenomenology itself.

Consciousness, however, has this concept immediately within it, and therefore returns as a new form of consciousness which looks at what has gone before it not as its own essence but as an other. The concept of infinity is in its view the object, and it is conscious of this distinction; thus the distinction is immediately sublated. Consciousness is itself the structure of infinity, and it is aware now that it is for-itself—it is a distinction from what is not distinct. Because what it faces is thus not distinct from it, it faces itself in the object,  it is self-consciousness. “I distinguish myself from myself, and in doing so, what is immediately for me is this: What is distinguished is not distinguished.” Consciousness of an other, of an object as such, is necessarily self-consciousness already. Consciousness of other things than consciousness is only possible for a self-consciousness. The truth of consciousness is thus self-consciousness. However, self-consciousness now first appears for itself, but not yet in unity with consciousness itself. It has not yet attained to the truth of its claim of being self-consciousness for it at first does not recognize the other as another self-consciousness as independent as itself.

[Note:] This is akin to a transcendental move, a chain of a condition of possibility. Self-consciousness thus must be developed into consciousness.

The syllogism of the [inner]-[Appearance]-[Understanding] has dissolved itself, for the inner and the Understanding are one and the same; likewise, the truth of Appearance is nothing but the truth of consciousness. Here the forms of Consciousness—this first section of the Phenomenology—must be left behind as their results have vanished their objects of knowledge and their ways of knowing alike. To know what consciousness knows we must know what consciousness knows in knowing itself.


PhoS: Force and Understanding (pt. 1)

Force and Understanding is considered the hardest chapter within the Phenomenology. Furthermore, its transition to Self-Consciousness through the Inverted World argument is considered one of the most strange arguments ever made and its meaning is highly contested. With this in mind, it is no easy task to provide a simple summary exposition. I will make a positive assertion here that, lack of consensus aside, the chapter has a logical development up to and even through the Inverted World, and I shall do my best to lay it out. In the original text Hegel uses Force often to mean both the totality of the movement of Force and the moment of Force within the totality of Force—an equivocation that points to the lack of true distinction—however, this can easily cause confusion without keeping in mind the distinction and paying attention to the context. I have here opted to use genuine Force to designate the totality of Force, and Force to point merely to the moment within the totality through the movements, but keep in mind that the distinction is ultimately false despite the initial attempts to maintain a difference.

Be forewarned that the movements of this chapter are tedious and repetitious, but this is in my view a necessary aspect. Prepare for a lot of “However…,” and a whole lot of Force.


Following from Perception, we now transition into Understanding, the form of consciousness which was implicit in the activity of Perception, but which was leashed by the arbitrary and sensuous distinctions of it. Understanding is aware that the truth of the object is universal through and through—that the unity of the object must be unconditioned universality (unity) which subsumes its individual expression. This universal object exists and is cognized as a movement in which the object has its being-for-other (the also) within itself.

Like Perception, Understanding stands back from its object once again and faces it as an external object fully independent of consciousness and as the essential in the relation of cognition. This object, unlike Perception’s object, is purely conceptual. Understanding faces the object and pretends to merely apprehend it.

The General Problem of Understanding

Understanding, having rid itself of the arbitrary distinctions and sensuousness of Perception’s object, accepts that universality (unity) and individuality (plurality) are unified in the object. Just like Perception, Understanding faces the challenge of cognizing this difference, but now in pure unconditioned universality. Understanding has come to grasp that there is a unity (unconditioned universal, being-in-and-for-itself) of difference (individuals existing in a universal medium, being-for-other) and unity (universal, being-for-self). To this end, Force and Law shall be posited by the Understanding as attempts of conceiving an unconditioned universal which carries difference in-itself as a conceptual movement of the universal as one to the universal as many . This difference, however, shall in its development show itself to be in essence no difference. Perception faced inversions in its conceptions; however, its inversions pale in comparison to the viciousness of the Understanding’s inverting structure.

The dissolution of Understanding shall arrive at last with the grasping of the first form of universality which can give an answer to a question that has been implicit through Sense Certainty, Perception, and Understanding: How can difference and unity be united? The resulting concept is such that the very problems of the forms of Consciousness will require a whole new framework to answer.

The Development of Force

The direct results of Perception were that of a dissolution of the difference of the moments of being-for-itself and the  being-for-other into an abstract unity. Perception could not conceive of the object as it truly is in-itself, for its distinctions erased such an inwardness of the object by subordinating it to an external other as its implicit essence. The distinction, nonetheless, exists as the universal medium and multiplicity of matters which Perception last dealt with, a distinction Perception was unable to conceive as a true distinction and thus collapsed. Understanding brings forward the new categories of form and content in order to explain the possibility of an unconditioned universality with difference. What Perception had conceived as the true is relegated to the category of mere form—the universal medium along with the multiple matters—both  which vanish into the unconditioned universal, whose content remains unchanging and self-same in the difference of its form.

Force first appears as the movement of the transition between Perception’s universal medium and its multiplicity of independent matters. Recalling said movement, the universal medium was posited as the also—a negative unity—which was merely a collection of independent matters. These independent matters, however, remained independent only through the universal medium and thus are in essence merely the medium, which itself is nothing in essence but this multiplicity of distinct and independent universals (matters) without which it does not exist—inversion occurs. The universal thus exists in-itself in undivided unity with this plurality which is within it, for the matters subsist in the universal medium. The matters are in the same place within the unity yet do not touch, for they are independent. However, as independent, each matter has being-for-itself, but this is nothing but by virtue of the medium which is the essential moment that grants their distinction and keeps them apart. The universal medium and matters engage in a constant movement of pointing to and dissolving into the other as the self-sufficient moment. Unity passes into multiplicity and multiplicity into unity endlessly; this movement is Force.


In Force, the terms of the movement are rearticulated. The movement from universal medium  to plurality of matters becomes the moment of Expression; the inverse movement becomes the moment of Force driven out of its expression back into itself—into its truth—as genuine Force (the unconditioned universal). Force must express itself, but in this Expression Force is no less within itself, for Expression is nothing external to Force, but internal to it; it is Force existing within itself. Defined in this way, Force is its vanishing into Expression and Expression  its vanishing into Force. This is an explicit self-sublation of the terms as their immanent linking to each other in their opposition—a link which does not allow their true separation. Nonetheless, the Understanding posits these two moments, Force and Expression, as different immediate unities instead of the unity their content suggests—two different forms of one content, or a being-for-itself that is a being-for-another—thus Force in truth belongs as concept to the Understanding and not to the object. The movement of Force is the movement of the Understanding’s cognition itself; as such, the Understanding is really the concept of this movement, i.e. the structures and movements of the concepts of Understanding are in truth its own structure and its own movement imposed on the supposed external object.

Force as Force (genuine Force) is posited as the unconditioned universal which is in-itself what it is for-another; thus the distinction is in itself. Because genuine Force is the existent truth of its moments—Force and Expression—it is set free from them and posited as their persisting substance in-and-for-itself, for it is their inner truth, essence, and substance. Genuine Force is Force and Expression.

Note: First, here we see the emergence of the moment of sophistry in the Understanding, for though genuine Force was derived in the moment of Force’s return from Expression, this moment in its return is arbitrarily lifted above itself and posited as a distinct third underlying its original existence. We will see Force flip flop on the question of what is essential just as Perception did. Second, notice that genuine Force conceptually appears through its Expression. Genuine Force Expresses itself as Force and Expression in one moment; thus it doubles the form of Force, and this is exactly what we see in the second diagram. Force and Expression are themselves the form of Expression, the plurality, of genuine Force.

As its moments, however, Force and Expression are in genuine Force and thus take on its enduring substantiality; they likewise exist for themselves. The moment of Force driven back into itself (Force for short) is the essence of an excluding one for which the Expression in many matters is another enduring essence. However, Genuine Force, as the movement of the whole and the unconditioned universal, “remains what it is according to its concept,” i.e. the distinctions are its mere forms and are superficial vanishing moments within it and not external to it, and thus cannot be truly substantive independent existences. However, the distinction between the moment of Force and its unfolding in its moment of Expression as independent matters could not exist if these moments did not have an enduring existence themselves, which further means that the genuine Force as the unconditioned unity would not exist if it did not exist in truly substantial and distinct forms, for their separate substantial existence is the essence of its substantial existence. Genuine Force must exist as these distinct forms of one content.


Recall now the movements of Perception and it is clear that the movement of medium and matters is repeated. Unity and difference are once again posited as independent and for-themselves at one moment, and dependent and for-another in the next. Force is, again, just this very movement of unfolding into many and collapsing into one within its unconditioned unity.

As such, genuine Force appears as a middle term of these two extremes as forms of itself. It, however, vanishes into these two extremes which are for-themselves only in this vanishing of genuine Force. As this entire movement, genuine Force is not merely its objective forms—object being here the object of perception—in the movement of Force and Expression. The unconditioned universal is un-objective, for it is the inner unity of things which goes beyond the mere form of the object.

Movements of Force

Note: as a reader you must keep in mind that all this Force talk is not in truth about anything specifically and only related to physics, nor is the movement between terms a physical process. Force, Expression, and later Law, are terms for Understanding’s attempt to get at the concept of an object as a Universal differentiated in-and-for-itself. The movements are conceptual movements of implicit essential or substantive positing, i.e. the shift of category due to one concept depending on another. Force is one and inner because Expression is many and outer and vice versa, etc. The terms, however, are not merely dressed in a physics garb; they truly are concepts of physics, but Hegel removes them from their usual perceptual form in which sensuousness blocks the view of just what these concepts as absolute explanations would entail. Force truly is the force of physics, the absolute force, which is posited as the origin and true substance of all real objects.

1st Major Movement: Force and Expression Solicited/Soliciting

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.

2nd Major Movement: Force Solicited by Force

Genuine Force as Force driven into itself seems unitary but in fact explodes the moment of absolute unity it seems to deliver. As a movement into itself, Force is a distinction against itself. Force must express itself, yet this Expression is merely Force itself. Force is simply the moment of Force as not yet its Expression, and its Expression is merely the moment of Force as not yet driven back into itself—the soliciting and solicited are one and the same Force, yet there is a difference. How is this possible? Force’s inner diremption as its moments shows itself to be not just superficial, but enters into a full duality of two fully independent Forces. As two Forces, however, there is no determination of conceptual difference between solicited and soliciting Force. The second Force—as a universal medium of many matters—at first appears as the solicitor of the first Force, but because it is a Force it shares in the exact fluctuating duality of expressing itself as such a universal medium of many matters and in such expression being driven back into itself. Both Forces solicit the other and are solicited in the same moment by virtue of their mutual soliciting. Both Forces enter into a play with each other in which they mutually determine each other as the opposite and reciprocally transition into the other determination, i.e. Force driven back into itself and Force as universal medium solicit each other to transition into the opposite moment.


Both Forces begin in mutual contrast: the first as Force as a one (or in-itself), the second as Force as the universal medium. They are each by virtue of this contrast and thus are  contrasted only in their being-for-each-other in which this determination occurs. The Force posited as universal medium, for example, solicits the Force in-itself. However, the former is universal medium by virtue of the other being the Force in-itself; thus the latter is in truth the one which solicits the former to solicit it, for it is the positor and determiner of the former. The first Force in-itself seems to be in an overdetermining role as absolute self-solicitor, but since both Forces share the same concept and moments both have already been in-itself and universal medium. The second Force as Expression is such because it had already solicited the first to solicit it to express. The movement of soliciting completed, the Forces do not just transition into the moment of the other, but already had passed over into the other. The second Force as universal medium is solicited by the first Force in-itself to solicit it, but this occurred only because the second Force had already as Force in-itself solicited the first to solicit it to express as universal medium. Force as Force shows itself to be the positor of the soliciting Force as its own essential determination, yet this shows Force is even more its soliciting Force through its own inner determination. Force is in truth the universal medium of independent matters through the very moment it seems to attain absolute self-unity. The Understanding’s sophistry begins to unravel as the truth of Force more and more appears to be merely the relation and self-othering movement.

General Movements of Form and Content

The distinctions of Force can be can be looked at from the lens of content and form. In content, Force is distinguished as its two extremes of Force reflected in-itself as a one and the medium of matters. In form, Force is distinguished as the soliciting (active) and solicited (passive) Force. In the distinction of content the moments are as such only distinguished as independent for the Understanding, for they have shown themselves to exist only in their movement into the other. In the distinction of form the moments are self-sufficient in their relation to each other, dividing themselves off from each other and contrasting through their positing of the other to solicit them. In the movement of force, the Understanding perceives that in this way the extreme terms of genuine Force are nothing in themselves—each moment is merely a vanishing into the other which it is contrasted with and posited as momentary essence. Force in-itself is only its vanishing into the universal medium, and the medium its vanishing into Force in-itself. For us, the phenomenological observers, there is also the acknowledgement that the distinctions of form and content in Force themselves vanish, and thus Force itself is left as a movement of vanishing.

The Collapse of Force

Developed as it has, Force as genuine Force faces immanent collapse into its moments, for its distinction from them is no distinction and its essence an ever shifting yet to be. Genuine Force becomes actual only in its being doubled into two Forces, and “it emerges just how it comes to be actual”, i.e. genuine Force only is posited through the relation of these Forces and in truth is only the movement of these two forces. These Forces seem to be essences existing for themselves, yet each proves to be utterly dependent and existing only in its being posited through the Force that opposes it. The being-for-itself of Force has proved to be its being-for-another in the play of Forces. In truth the two Forces are but one single movement and moment of being through another; they lack any true independent essence to preserve them as separate.

The concept of genuine Force at first appeared as the unconditioned universal represented within itself as Force separate from its Expression, but this has shown itself to be false. Genuine Force actually exists as Force in-itself purely in its Expression, which is nothing but the play of two Forces and their self-sublating inversion. Force in-itself, however, has already shown itself to be nothing but a moment of its Expression, i.e. Force as Force only exists in its Expression (which itself is the play of forces)—it does not truly underlie this duality as an unconditioned unity all. Force has failed to attain unconditioned universality, and its movement has collapsed it into its moments. It is merely a viciously circular opposing duality where no true essence or substance can be found to unify them within their circular unity.

[Note:] Recall back to the second diagram when genuine Force was introduced, and remember that all it did was double the form of Force. What applies to genuine Force also applies to Force in-itself, or simply Force, for they are one and the same. Force too is only actual in its Expression, but once again this Expression is nothing but the play of Forces. Recall now another thing, Force was posited as substance earlier on, and its moments took on substantive being, but there was found no stable substance to rely on in Force, for itself and its moments were merely yet to be. Force has shown that its being-in-itself was nothing but its being-for-another. This is very important! The truth of Force is that it is this pure movement of being-for-other. Force as the play of Forces vanishes itself and is not a concept of any true grounding substance or essence at all. The conceptual structure of Force, having no substance, points to a new category of substance outside itself to ground it, for what is vanishing must vanish into something else.

The truth of Force as Force is thus merely that it is the thought of the unity being-for-itself which underlies this actual circularity of being-for-another in the Expression which is perceived by the Understanding. There has been no true being-in-itself discovered in Force, but the Understanding does not give up on the conception of the unconditioned universal. A new universal category thus is attained in the Expression, a universal with a content of pure self-diremption and vanishing into two extremes, its being-for-itself being nothing but its being-for-another. Since Force is nothing but its Expression as two forces in play, and its moments are nothing but vanishing yet-to-bes, Force itself is nothing but a vanishing in its concept. The unconditioned universal is once again posited against its Expression as the inner truth of the object, but no longer as Force. Force now stands as a vanishing term between the inner of the object and the Understanding which perceives the object. As a vanishing, this universal is but a seeming—a mere Appearance—through which the Understanding must get behind to reach the true essence of the object, its Law, the true being-for-itself.

Logic of Being, Nothing, and Becoming

This was already part of my post introducing dialectics, but I’m making it its own post here just to aid with blog organization. Enjoy.


The dialectic of Being is very visible when it comes to giving 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 just {Being-Nothing}-Becoming, but rather it is this:

**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; in this closer determination as something reflected, it may fittingly be called a moment. – Hegel, Science of Logic


Now to break it down, if such a thing as simplifying what Hegel calls the already absolute simple is possible.

Being and Nothing

In the Science of Logic, for reasons ultimately only fully explained by the path of the Phenomenology, we begin in a pure immediacy of thought such that it appears to us as an absolute abstraction and indeterminateBeing is the most immediate of all concepts for it lacks all mediation to it: all thoughts as concepts are and thus appear to be in fact mediated by Being which is itself absolutely simple and non-analyzable. This Being is not to be thought in contradistinction to anything at all for that would bring in mediation into its concept. It is not Being in contradistinction to Nothing nor to beings, and it is not even to be determined as indeterminate at all from its own standpoint for such would be a determinacy making the concept non-absolute and mediated. It is in this absoluteness of Being that the terms pure and indeterminate are used. It is not to say anything positive about it, but rather to disabuse us of the desire to think anything about it which assumes there is anything already beyond it to make any distinctions. Being is indeterminate to the degree that indeterminacy is not even a positive determination that can be made about it, it is meant to empty any determination whatever from consideration. This concept is all that we have access to as content to think through.

[Comment:] Following the structure of Hegelian science as an immanent development of concepts from abstraction to concreteness, we begin with the concept of Being as the first step of the the investigation of logic. At the beginning, however, this method of science is unjustified and unexplained, and indeed cannot be justified or explained for such would be to presuppose a method. Instead, Hegel tells us that the best he can do to persuade us of our starting point is that we should endeavor to start with something which we can only build up and thus not fall trap to having problematic presuppositions and unjustified concepts underlying our investigation such as what would be the case if we simply decided to begin somewhere more complex or advanced such as in syllogisms, concepts, essences, or what have you.

In thinking Being we find that the content, or definition, of pure Being is an absence of content, for there is nothing to distinguish Being with and thus nothing to think in its thought. One must take this train of thought literally. In thinking Being we have nothing to think. Nothing is the very thinking we carry out in the indeterminacy of Being. In attempting to think Being, we have in this thinking thought nothing, and in turning towards our thinking we here turn this empty thinking into a thought itself, hence we now have the concept of Nothing. The difference from Being is made upon the thinking of Being, its content, and the result of thinking this thought as something different from this initial thought, or the difference between a form and content which in designating content as different from form takes content itself as another form. This is a jump Hegel can make through his method of speculation, for in speculation we can think about thinking and thus make it into a thought, hence the thinking of nothing at all is transformed into Nothing. We thus have generated out of Being the concept of Nothing as the concept which notes the absence of any content in Being—contentlessness has itself been transformed by thinking into a content.

Nothing, like Being, is equally devoid of any determinacy, and has no content to distinguish from anything else, and as such must not be thought as Nothing in contradistinction to Being—it is pure Nothing alone. Hegel points out that:

In so far as mention can be made here of intuiting and thinking, it makes a difference whether something or nothing is being intuited or thought. To intuit or to think nothing has therefore a meaning; the two are distinguished and so nothing is (concretely exists) in our intuiting or thinking. (Science of Logic)

Drawing from the common notion of nothing as a determinate opposition to something, Hegel points out that 1) nothing has a specific meaning different from Being in its common conception, and 2) that in the determinate difference Nothing is and therefore itself partakes in Being. While if we think Nothing we find we go nowhere else and do not return to Being as many who retell this movement think, the form of Being can be reflected on as Being. If, for example, in thinking Being we do so in the phrase “Being is..,” in thinking Nothing we likewise use the phrase “Nothing is…” and in reflection can realize we make a performative contradiction by doing so; thus, we get flung back to Being via the ‘is’.

This reflection of “Nothing is,” however, is an external return to Being rather than an immanent one of the content if we do not keep to the trick of a literal comprehension of the phrase. If we remain in the immanence of content the movement looks like:

Being is Nothing. Nothing is Nothing.

As one can see, the only way to return to Being is to take the ‘is’ as tell which hints at Being entering the content of Nothing. Without relying on this trick, at best we can only accept that Being and Nothing are one and the same precisely in their content despite their form differing in name. We intend something different from Being by Nothing, but what this difference is cannot yet be articulated with our conceptual tools for neither Being nor Nothing admit to any content that could differentiate them since that would bring in determinacy to them.

When we attempt to think Nothing we think the same thought as Being in the same lack of content. Nothing is Being in this equivalence of indeterminacy. While we may externally reflect upon them with categories such as form and content to speak of their differentiation or lack thereof, such that Being’s content is Nothing, and Nothing’s form is Being, we cannot yet do so immanently for that would be to make determinations of them when they admit to no such determinacy in themselves. Neither Being nor Nothing admit to having the determination of content or form. Here the peculiarity of pure Being and Nothing arises before us as an indistinguishable content: Being and Nothing are both indeterminate in content, they have the same lack of meaning, and it is only in this absence of determinacy that they are here one and the same. Being = indeterminateness = Nothing. A distinction has arisen which is as of yet no conceptual distinction other than an intended difference, an intention with which so far we cannot even properly determine a difference in form with the content denied to us. We cannot say in what Being and Nothing are to be related as similar or different, only that we treat them as distinct in our intention pointing them out as separate concepts.

[Comment:] As an external reflection we may consider in the relation of Being, Nothing, and their indeterminate content, that there is a further peculiarity: that of the strange contradiction of their form and content. Being has shown itself to have Nothing as its content. Its form, that of Being, is in contradiction to its content, a contentless Nothing. Nothing, however, faces an inverse contradiction. Nothing is in harmony with its contentlessness, but is in contradiction with its form, the form of Being, for if Nothing is the truth of Being which underlies it, then Nothing is Being. Further, Nothing is not simply the content result of thinking Being, but is itself a form intended to be distinguished from Being. The contradiction of form and content cannot be escaped, there cannot be form without content or the inverse; Being and Nothing can be seen as immediately moving from one to the other as their form and content forces the movement in their very thought. This seems to make sense of the dialectic, but this is not actually what Hegel has for us here at the beginning as what is to be thought.

A picture may help with understanding some of this movement though it is also misleading by making a determinate relation between Being and Nothing which is here not logically there at the beginning. Attempt to picture a singularity, a dimensionless point which is all there is. What is within such point? Nothing, there is no being within or outside the singularity, the singularity is dimensionless, it is only itself immediately and without separation. Since pure Being peculiarly contains (means) Nothing, it points us to an interesting thought: Nothing is what makes Being what it is. Nothing, hence, has now been positioned by Being itself as that which is more fundamental than it. Being is not absolute, but it points to Nothing as a new candidate for absolute truth and it must be investigated. Continuing the analogy of a singularity, since Nothing is the content of Being, makes Being what it is, Nothing itself is in the form of Being. Pay close attention to that, Nothing is and it is in the form of Being. Nothing is in Being for it is its content, yet Being is nothing but the form of Nothing itself. Neither Being nor Nothing are absolute, they are utterly dependent on the other, yet they are not separate as others for they are a  unity of form and content that is indistinguishable.

In fact, we find here something strange: Being and Nothing appear to be one and the same concept in separate moments that merely appear separate. We may in a way want to see them as the form and content of one concept: the Being of Nothing. We know, however, that this is ridiculous and nonsensical. We know we at least intend a real difference between Being and Nothing, they cannot be the same concept, we cannot accept the Being of Nothing as a valid concept since it is no concept at all, it is the mere empty tautology of indeterminacy. Nonetheless, though we intend the difference we have so far no way to even conceptualize the distinction and keep it from collapsing.  Is there something more that can be used to determine the difference of Being/Nothing in this immediate movement?

Against all common understanding of Hegel let this be clear: Being and Nothing are not a dialectic, for they are not real concepts. Being and Nothing are one and the same only because they have the same indeterminate content in an intended difference that has two concepts that lack any determination in relation to themselves and to each other. Being and Nothing, in being thought, immediately (this is not temporal transition, but logical) transition into their opposite only in their lack of content being compared. This is actually not secret. Hegel tells us this in the paragraph right before he finally dives into the logical investigation. We derived Nothing from the thinking of Being,  the thinking of nothing at all, turned this thinking into another concept, and posited this as something else rather than falling back into Being. Nonetheless, given that we have made a distinction without logical warrant and find ourselves trying to think two thoughts which both contain nothing to think about, and which in relation to each other merely are a succession of supplanting term names for what we yet know not what, we still have a way to move from this seemingly inescapable empty beginning.

In transitioning Being disappears—Hegel calls this vanishing—into Nothing, and likewise Nothing vanishes into Being. This incessant immediate movement between Being and Nothing as a whole movement of vanishing is what Hegel calls Becoming. Becoming is the sublation of Being and Nothing for it is their immediate unity as vanishing. This, however, is not enough to make Becoming intelligible as a genuine concept. In fact, we must realize there is a problem with our beginning. If pure Being and Nothing are both indeterminate and lack definition, just how is it that we know and can articulate that they are different?  We have up to now merely assumed they are different because we intend to mean something different by each, yet in this pure indeterminate beginning we find no conceptual resource to make this intelligible in concept.

Being and Nothing vanish ceaselessly into each other, and this vanishing is Becoming. Two indeterminacies vanishing into each other, however, provides no content to define their relation. Hegel thus finally reveals to us that this beginning which we made had been a false beginning, and laboriously spends 20 pages to convince us that there can truly be no such concept as pure Being or pure Nothing. The true beginning of the investigation 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, even if  we don’t know what their difference really is, Becoming can shed light on our indeterminate Being/Nothing. Now that we have Becoming, a retroactive 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. Here we’re about to do something grand: from two pure indeterminacies we can and will lift indeterminate thought with its own bootstraps up into determinacy. From indeterminacy related to indeterminacy there is at least a minimal indeterminacy as their relation.

Becoming and the redevelopment of Being/Nothing

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, it includes its opposite explicitly.

[Comment:] Now, where did this new concept, sublationcome 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.

Being and Nothing are now differentiated by this simple definition as being inverse moments in Becoming. The problem of definition, of a content/form that is one and the same seems to be solved; we finally have Being, Nothing, and Becoming as definite concepts, or so it seems until we think further. Being and Nothing, defined now as Ceasing/Coming to be which comprise Becoming, show a 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 yet again, content and form forces the incessant vanishing of Coming/Ceasing to be into each other again. The immediate unity and indifference which made the indeterminate Being and Nothing a problem reappears only in a duplicated unity of vanishings of inverse order. 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 this would make vanishing endure substantively and thus cease to be a vanishing. Through Becoming we determined (defined) Being and Nothing as moments, but now Becoming’s own moments are pointing us to Being and Nothing which lie outside Becoming as that which Becoming’s moments vanish into. As moments of Becoming, Ceasing/Coming to be vanish. Into what? Being and Nothing, for they are the terms that make vanishing intelligibly possible. 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.

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 for it is vanishing. 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, but it returns us back to pure Nothing and brings us back to the transition of Becoming again.

In Becoming there is no escape from denying Being and Nothing for they are the necessary contents for Becoming, thus Ceasing/Coming to be are themselves not what Being and Nothing are. The moments of Becoming point to the solution of their vanished distinctions by presupposing the distinction of Being and Nothing. Ceasing/Coming to be now carry out their full movement as vanishings: in Ceasing to be Being vanishes to Nothing; in Coming to be Nothing vanishes to Being. 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 that has each become. The vanishing of Being and Nothing has vanished, they are now a stable unity of distinct yet immediately united concepts. Being and Nothing now have distinct content, if only in that they became in inverse of each other, but now recall that Being and Nothing shared one other aspect: their form; both have the form of Being. Being and Nothing both are.

Concrete—or determinate—Being and Nothing

Once more Being and Nothing inherently relate, no longer as vanishing forced by their form/content contradiction, but as that which has become into the two stable concepts. What is their relation now? They are beings in immediate unity, beings which are in virtue of their not being the other. This is a unity that is, and as such the unity of Being/Nothing has the form of Being itself. Now 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. Thus, Determinate Being 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: a Being with a non-Being as part of its being. 

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 pure Being 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.

PhoS: Perception and Error (part 2)

Continuing from the prior post which developed the thing with properties, here we continue with the movements of Perception’s comprehension of its object.

Movements and moments of Perception

In §117 of the Phenomenology the general movement of Perception’s cycle of error is laid out as follows:

  1. The object is taken up and perceived as a simple pure individual thing (one) with property which itself has universality. By attributing to the one the property, its universality as a simple singular object is nullified. Perception has erred in its attribution of universal essence to the singular individual; the truth is that the universal unity is community (the continuous plurality as property).
  2. As a community, property is determinate and contrasted to an other and excludes it. As determinate, however, this property excludes and breaks apart the continuity of the object’s community into a broken plurality of properties by positing the excluding One as the essence of the object. Thus a second error has been made.
  3. As a One that excludes, the object is a plurality of separate and mutually indifferent properties. As such, the object is in truth a universal communal medium (an also) in which a plurality of determinate sensuous universalities exist indifferent to each other. Error has once more occurred.
  4. This communal medium, as contrasted to the properties in it, is itself an individual property like them and is equally indifferent to them. As a purely individual property, however, it loses all conceptual determinacy and cannot be a property at all, for it is neither in a One nor in a related plurality. As a pure self-relating indeterminate entity with no exclusive character (negation) the object now appears as pure sensuous being to which consciousness relates to merely as the “meaning of something“, thus stepping back from Perception only to reenact the process anew.

While Perception began with the act of an I and a sensuous being it wished to apprehend, its results are the vanishing of the object it originally determined. In its attempts to determine the truth of the object, consciousness merely moved away from the object and back into itself in the act of perception. Perception, however, becomes in this movement aware of its own act of perceiving the object only to return into itself. It learns from this that its thoughts are not a pure apprehension of the object, but the object is nonetheless truth. The object is self-same universality, and any appearance of a contradiction to this shall be taken on as Perception’s error. Perception now is aware it errs in its act, and by virtue of this awareness it believes it has the capacity to sift truth from falsity through its thoughts and once again gain a pure apprehension of the object through the correction of the mediating thoughts. The movement of Perception begins anew with the qualified limitation which Perception’s awareness of its role as perceiver plays.

In the 1st movement, Perception takes heed that the object is one, and when it notices the plurality of different properties it no longer attributes them to the object, but to its own doing. The object is white to my eyes, salty to my tongue, etc. Perception recognizes that it 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, 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. The thing is thus 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 the properties now exist in-themselves and independent from the each other and the universal medium itself. It is 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.

A second movement begins once again as Perception continues to attempt to understand the object. As the properties are independent they are, and in relation to other properties they are merely also with another, e.g. the thing is white also with cubical shape, etc.  Because each property is in-itself, the thing is white insofar as it is not cubical, or is white and cubical insofar as it is not salty, i.e. a property is in-itself insofar as it is not in relation to another. In this way the properties are kept apart.  Since the one has been seen by Perception as its own doing and not the thing’s, the properties cease to be properties of a one and are conceived as free-standing matters. However, as independent matters are all that are, the also is recognized as a mere collection of independent properties which form an enclosing surface; the also is their indifferent unity and itself has no positive existence.

Perception has gone from positing oneness in the thing itself and difference (the also) within its consciousness, to positing oneness in itself and difference in the object. Looking back on the process it sees that both the thing and itself have the one and the also. What it faces is a differentiated truth in itself and in the object. Perception and its object are both “one and also”. Not only is it in the act of Perception’s apprehending that there is diversity and the returning-into-self of this diversity into the object, but the thing itself has these aspects. The object exhibits itself by reflecting out of itself in a determinate way for the apprehending consciousness, but reflects back into itself what it originally reflected out of itself.  It first exhibited oneness in itself and seemed to reflect difference out of itself into consciousness, but in the act of perception the difference returns to the thing and the oneness is reflected out of it into consciousness. The object has both determinations and has a contrasted truth in itself.

In a third movement the thing is no longer simply true and selfsame. The thing is now non-selfsame and returns back into itself from out of selfsameness. The object is the movement of perception in itself.  As one the object is in-and-for-itself, but it also is for-another (also). As for-another it is itself an other for-itself. Perception is unwilling to allow this difference to inhere in the thing itself, so it attempts to place it outside it. As the moment of the also falls into the thing and its oneness, however, the also and oneness are different, thus the also falls into different things in doing so. The contradiction of the also and oneness is resolved by having two objects (things). The thing is for-itself and selfsame, but this unity is disturbed by other things (the also between them). The unity of oneness is preserved as the thing and consciousness in-itself; the also is preserved as separate from the thing and from consciousness as an external otherness to both as an indifferent relation of otherness of different things.

The in-itself of things which determines them as different is not a contrast within themselves; they are each a simple determinateness and are essentially such in their oneness. Within the thing, however, we already saw there was plurality and difference in its differentiated matters (properties). The diversity within the things is an actual distinction of multiple compositions in them, but because simple determinateness composes the essence of the thing, the multiple composition is unessential for the thing is one in its simple determinateness. Within the unity the thing possesses in itself a doubled insofarone insofar as not also (being-posited-into-one); also insofar as not one (being-posited-in-contrast)—but its contrast is not a contrast in the thing as one in itself. The oneness is taken as of higher value than contrast in the thing. As such, insofar as the thing comes into contrast through its absolute distinction as a simple determinateness in itself the distinction is external to it. The multiplicity necessarily in it is considered unessential due to this overvaluing of the oneness, thus the distinction outside and within it are both unessential to the thing. As a one through its simple determinateness, the thing contrasts itself with others and preserves itself. However, it is a one existing for itself insofar as it does not stand in relation to others, but it relates itself to others through this very absolute character as a one—for to be one is to exclude the others—thus the thing is merely this act of relating via negating others, and its independence perishes by virtue of what supposedly made it independent.  What was supposed to secure the truth of the unified object’s independence, its being-for-itself, has only shown that in truth its essence is an other.

Thus the object and truth of Perception dissolves itself away. What was supposed to be the essential for the object, being-for-itself, has shown itself to be just as unessential and essential as being-for-another. Perception’s concept of the object was nothing but a set of meaningless and empty differences first positing one aspect as essential and then another. As Hegel puts it: a mere show of sophistry claiming one thing as true, then its opposite as true, and back again. However, Perception’s dissolution is not empty. Its dissolution comes about because of the problem of conceiving the difference which is in the object, and despite its failure two things has been learned: 1) the difference is a difference of the object itself and not a fiction of perception; 2) the determinacy of the object cannot be captured by appealing to sensuous experience of individuality as opposed to the abstract universality of its unity.

If there is a way to capture the difference of one and many in the object it must be captured in a single movement of thought, a true universal unity which subsumes its individuals within itself. This insight and movement away from the perceived object’s essence lying in its sensuous character is the movement away from Perception to Understanding, a new form of consciousness which grasps that the truth of the object’s unified difference must be found within a realm of pure universality.

Hegelianism: Objectivity, Truth, and Universality.

One of the harder things that stands in the way of engaging Hegel fruitfully is his peculiar terminology, and while one can often find some short remarks scattered through papers and pages online regarding Hegel, many of these terms are not easy to grasp with the poor detail they are presented with in summary. This post isn’t to supplant a reading of these developments from Hegel but to at least provide a better summary resource than any I am aware of being available online for those interested in beginning to grapple with the concepts of Truth, Concept, and Objectivity as Hegel uses them.

Under common thinking conditions—what Hegel calls natural consciousness— there is a presumption that thinking and objective world relations are in a way unproblematically related despite a presupposition that consciousness and objects are utterly independent. Natural consciousness assumes that there are objects independent of consciousness—today we generally call them facts—and truth is considered the mere correspondence of thoughts and the world of facts. Just how it is possibly intelligible that thought and objects could coincide and form truth is forever deferred to assumptions of givens or of simple pragmatic convenience. In my prior blog post on a very basic notion of science and how Hegelianism can count as such, I vaguely gave an account of why and how objectivity and concept could coincide, but I’ll expand on that post in more proper detail here, this however is no exhaustive account of these terms.

Here I’m mainly following and putting forth Richard Dien Winfield’s summary account of the movement and relation of these concepts in his essay The Objectivity of Thought. I favor Winfield here mainly because he does a really nice job laying out the general logical form. It shall be easily apparent as you read on that there is a general form which runs through Truth, Concept, and Objectivity: Universality.

==The opposition of thought and object==

Thought is normally considered to be abstractly universal and fixed in character, while objectivity is individual and in constant change. Thought has no content of its own; it has no power to generate concepts other than what it can abstract from given experience of language or phenomena. Concepts, as abstract universals, merely externally subsume individuals that share a universal; e.g. red can be an abstract universal (as quality) which inheres in coats, cars, hair, cats, etc. Another type of abstract concept is class, which can be a collection of universals shared by a set of individuals, e.g. animals, but the class remains indifferent to all other characteristics that inhere in individuals that posses it and do not give any way to derive any further specifications of individuals and their relations to each other. Concepts as static definitions have no movement into other concepts and cannot through pure thought find a link to each other. The only option left is through the mediation of what is itself not thought: experiential intuitions. Thought itself, however, cannot explain why concepts should relate at all neither to other concepts nor to or through intuitions; it cannot ponder whether a thought itself is objective nor can it ponder the object which is external to thought in its own independence. All reason can do with such thoughts is to check their coherence when put together.

Because in such a situation of given thoughts reason can only check coherence and not question the universals themselves, it is a subjective arbitrary exercise of reason to pick and choose just what concepts will be input into its formal systems of logic to check coherence. From this results a plurality of equally coherent, plausible, yet contradicting claims such that one may just as coherently espouse monism or pluralism, atomism or internal relations, etc. As thought is normally considered, reason is incapable of justifying why this and not that should be the primary category or universal of the individual object against which all else is to hold coherence with.


Objectivity—as one of the ultimate aims of philosophical and scientific striving—is a category of prime importance, but what is objectivity as such? First in our common understanding is the aspect that objectivity is that which is what it is with or without us; it is indifferent to our relation to it, for it is what it is on its own account. The common sense understanding of the concept, however, tends to stop here. Objectivity is what is, but only as a generality considered without us; what this objectivity is in itself is an incoherent mess of supposedly independent atoms which yet are dependent on conditions of existence of many kinds. Objectivity is independent of us, but is only half-recognized as requiring independence from all other determinations external to the object. If an object is not determined by itself, but also by another, then that other must enter the account of the object itself.

Empirical science tends to think better of it, but not by much; e.g. in physics, what is objective is considered mostly as a system of related terms (forces/fields) which together constitute the foundation and engine of our experienced existence. This system, however— even if it was a unified mathematical system that cascaded out of its initial determination the spatial, temporal, and material dimensions of our every day experience, as some theoretical unifications deem to do—fails to provide complete explanation of phenomena such as life and consciousness, as well as a full explanation of itself through its own process; biology, chemistry, etc. suffer this same problem (the system remains founded on a given determination which is unintelligible in itself as well as giving no account of why it is at all). The objects of such science seem independent from each other, yet they only function in a dependence to other terms that are the experienced actuality of what underlies them, e.g. matter’s natural motion expresses the law of gravity, but gravity is only intelligible through matter and not in itself.

The scientific understanding comprehends objectivity only to the extent that it grasps that it must strive to find a unity in the multiplicity of experience which as one principle may explain out of itself all others. From this simple striving aim, such an understanding is doomed to fail, for it does not understand just what such a unity can even be conceived as. Therefore, it works in various models which posit underlying aspects which determine phenomena but which in themselves depend on the very phenomena they are supposed to ground and explain. Such an understanding alone can only grasp at the positing of an abstract unity, law, which from such principle alone cannot produce anything else it is supposed to explain.

Objectivity—when pushed to its conceptual limit beyond the scientific understanding—is that which is what it is wholly on account of itself and no other; it is self-determined. By this account the true object of knowledge for science is not this or that particular domain of abstract independent knowledge but the universe—the totality of reality as a whole. The true object is that which needs not even the external observer to consciously determine that it is indeed the true; it verifies itself from within.


Truth, as most understand it, is both simple and complex. The most popular theories of truth considered by most today are correspondence theories, coherence theories, and pragmatic theories. However, there are many more accounts of what constitutes truth in the modern day—many grounding the notion in different epistemological approaches concerned with social relations and perceptions, some grounding it on logical systems—but these aren’t all that popular, and I’d like to just compare the major notions to the Hegelian position.

Hegel, unsurprisingly, has a conception of truth that is familiar yet alien to us. First, it must be made clear that Hegel is concerned with Truth and not truth. In The Phenomenology of Spirit, §41, Hegel tells us that philosophy is not interested in historical or empirical truths; such truths are singular, unessential and contingent, of no interest to the mind which aspires to gain universal and necessary knowledge. What date the French Revolution began, how much volume a gram of sugar has, whether a goat is a four legged cute animal, or how many minutes are in a year. These are not the kind of truths philosophy is concerned with.

Hegel’s Truth is a priori and purely conceptual, requiring no empirical correlate. For Hegel, the Platonic notion that Truth must be what it is in itself eternally holds: a concept itself must be true, and it is the concept which is the criterion of empirical judgments of truth. Truth must be internally coherent in that it is not a contradiction of the kind of A=~A in the standard propositional sense. Hegel brings to light something not thought of by most (Plato, Spinoza, and some others had an inkling of it): Truth must be necessary in itself. This aspect is provided by the logic of concepts themselves, by how a genuine concept moves itself by its implicated relations to other concepts and eventually returns to itself.

This necessity, eternality, and coherence of Truth is familiar in that most do understand Truth as something which is what it is regardless of us. Truth is objective, Truth is always true, and Truth is not self-contradicting. Par the course for Hegel, even correspondence between concept and object is not excluded. The notion that judgments of truth are correspondence to concept is not unfamiliar. We say things like: they are a true friend; their aim is true; s/he is a real woman/man; this is real sport, etc. In such statements, the concept is the criterion of truth, and the empirical correlate is what is false in relation to it. We think and say things like this often, yet we seem to not realize what such language implies about Truth.

Along with this is the common difference between Truth and falsehood/appearance. For example, when we first encounter an object of experience, say for example, we are walking exhausted through the desert, and see that it is our great luck that we have come upon an oasis pool in our great hour of need. We rush to it, unquestioning of its existence—its ‘truth’—and as we get closer it begins to vanish. We stop, disappointed, and realize it was just a mirage—a mere appearance. The ‘truth’ of the object we chased was that it was not an oasis, but the mere appearance of one. Here, by truth, we mean the substantive reality. An appearance has only a superficial reality—a superficial truth—which upon inspection vanishes just as the mirage does and reveals its truth underneath, in this case the truth as hot sand and evaporating water. When Hegel says that something is the truth of another, he means it in this very same sense.

If Hegel adds anything new to the concept of Truth, it is that Truth is the whole. By this it is meant that Truth is a completed and self-grounding concept which attains absolute form, i.e. Truth is something that is what it is of its own account and completely independent from any external determination. Truth attains to objectivity when it has found its full determination within itself, and this is achieved through a systematic development, through a movement of concepts. Truth as such is not determined as a relation of our individual subjective claims against a world of given facts but a determination of itself; it is full of content developed in-and-for-itself. It is True because it is, not because we or anything else determine it to be so through an external criterion. This reiterates the independence of truth from our subjective position, which common understanding agrees with, so what is Hegel adding?

First is that Truth is the system of the totality of the world from matter to mind that knows matter, not a contingent conglomeration of independent plurality of atomistic Truths. Second, common understanding agrees that truth is what is, but either simply assumes we unproblematically have it, or denies that we can grasp it in-itself—that we can only have our subjective frame of knowledge without objectivity. Hegel claims we can indeed grasp Truth in-itself; not from our side, however, but from its side. This requires a new way of thinking which allows the concept of the object to develop itself before us without our subjective arbitrary inputs determining it. It requires that the very concept of a concept in general be changed.


In the opposition of consciousness and thought, there was a problem between the knower and the known. This appears in various forms in different philosophies, but the main focus there was on the mere character of the universal concepts used by common understanding. Such concepts are abstract—both as poor in specificity and being separated from other concepts—and rigidly defined; thus they are mysteriously and problematically connected to the particular instances which they subsume. Hegel spends some moments in the Phenomenology to critique these kinds of “universals/concepts” for this failure to unite in themselves what they are supposed to unite as all-encompassing universals. For him, the universal is truly Universal only when it fully can account for its particular and individual instances in itself. The universal isn’t simply something externally common to all particulars, but the truth of all particulars.

The Hegelian Universal is not like the standard universal as we understand it, but it is very specific as a category as to what it applies to. At best, we may talk of the standard account as one of abstract universals, but Hegel’s Universal is concrete. It is concrete for its very concept contains the particular individuals it aims to subsume in itself as its own particularizations, and it directly and explicitly logically links itself as concept to these subordinate concepts which it develops into. The Universal does not simply rigidly contain its particular instances, but it develops them from itself as its own inner differentiations. The true Universal appears as a living concept which is a self-generated  and self-differentiated unity which returns to itself as whole in all its parts.


The Universal, as abstractly posited, is intelligible first in necessary opposition to its Particular instances. The abstract universal, as abstracted, is in opposition to its Particular and finds itself thus not just as Universal, for it faces opposition of another concept and is not all encompassing, but as Particular against its Particular as well. One Particular is, however, indifferent from any other Particular. Hence, the Particular fails to properly differentiate the instances of the Universal from from one another and thus is itself also an abstract universality. Hegel introduces a new term in the relation of Universality and Particularity, Individuality, as the solution. The Universal (itself being Particular), and the Particular (itself being Universal), find their difference as Particulars in their Individuality. As this Particular and not some other, the Particular is Individual, thus the concrete Universal is finally completed—the Universal is abstract no longer. The Universal is Particular and Individual; the Particular is Universal and Individual; the Individual is Particular and Universal. The Universal does not underlie its Individuals, but rather the Individuals are the direct realization of Universality. To be Universal is to be a unity realized through Particular Individuals.

There can be no such thing as an abstract universal that has never been instantiated, and, interestingly, neither can there be such a thing as a universal that has and will only ever be instantiated in a single individual instance, for a universal is an aspect shared by a plurality of individuals. To give some examples of what the Universal is in our everyday thinking:

A rose is always a particular individual rose, whether it is in our mind or in the world—it is not just a rose, it is this specific individual rose even when a mere formal outline image in my mind. A human is always a particular individual human, it is this or that human, it is never just a human. Repeat for anything else.

This kind of everyday Universality, however fun, is not what Hegel is primarily concerned with ultimately comprehending. These kinds of universals are abstractly concrete, but Hegel aims to take Universality beyond what the vast majority of philosophers ever dare dream of. The Universal is a structure not just of our basic abstract thoughts, but of real things themselves—especially living things. It is the basic process and structure of living entities which are differentiated within themselves and partake in a process of genesis, dissolution, regeneration, and reproduction. Living beings share in a universal, the species as a specific genetic form, and individual members of the species are the existence of the species as species by 1) being its real existent form as concrete individuals 2) existing not only for their own individual sake, but also for the sake of reproducing the universal and keeping the species existent. Thus a species is a true Hegelian Universal in that they are a unitary whole that is self-differentiating, moving, and self-regenerating.

While we can easily conceive of, say, a cat as cat to be an independent being which lives more or less independently with respect to us and most other things, we cannot conceive the same of a car. Cars are not fully a universal like a cat is because a car is not a self-generating and reproducing kind of being. When we really conceive of a car, we cannot leave out that humans make cars and that they make them for utilitarian ends other than themselves. Cars find their existence wholly dependent on us unlike a real living entity which must and can fend for itself as an individual existent and as a reproducer of its species. While all things necessarily share universality in various ways and levels, not all universals are alike, and not all universals manage to exhibit the life of the full universal.

As one can see, the Universal determines itself to be Particular and Individual. It does not depend on any external determination or relation; it is what it is in-and-for-itself. As such, the Universal is the structure of objectivity itself in the realm of thought. The Universal, once developed, makes Objectivity intelligible as self-grounded and fully self-determined. This very Universality is thus the Concept of Objectivity itself.


To reiterate on the opposition of thought to object, the common understanding of concepts is that they are abstract universals which are static and disconnected from individual instances which fall under them; they are also disconnected from other universals as such, connected only by synthetic judgments of experience and thus left to subjective whim. They are useful insofar as they can be used as categories to group many under one unifying term, but this only speaks to the sharing of one universal by many and does not deal with differentiating characteristics of the individual objects themselves. Concepts are not considered as having their ground in thought, but they originate from reflection of given experiential content of language or external stimuli.

For Hegel, Truth is Concept, and Concept is a self-developing and self-determining system of thoughts which unify and complete as and within the Absolute which is the final Truth and Universal. The necessity which moves concepts generates the system of the Absolute, and only when the Absolute is completed has Truth been accomplished. This is the meaning of “The true is the whole.” The Concept is the concept of the Object, but nonetheless there can be a disparity within Concept and the Object faced. Thus, Hegel terms the harmonious correlation of both as the Idea—i.e. the concept of the unity of Concept and Object. An Object which fully embodies its Concept is ideal; it is what it should be. Just as Truth can be incomplete, however, so can Objectivity and Concept be incomplete, and thus it should be no surprise that we find incomplete Universality in many thoughts and incomplete Objectivity in the objects of the world we face.

PhoS: Perception and Error (Part 1)

Perception is the second of the forms of consciousness, and follows from the results of Sense Certainty. In Perception the mediation of thought and language have been acknowledged by the knower, but the experiential object of knowledge is still considered the essential substance of knowledge and the conceptual knowing as the inessential in the relation. All seeming contradictions or errors that Perception finds in its conceptions of the object of knowledge are considered by it solely its own error and are not ascribed as a reality of the object itself. Since mediation is allowed by Perception, this mediation shall prove itself problematic for it will stand between consciousness and its object. Hegel terms this particular form of consciousness the form of general common sense; it is not reducible to being any particular philosophy or philosopher’s epistemic framework despite having aspects that can be pinpointed to some philosophers. Just like Sense Certainty, Perception will be plagued by problems of inversion, but of a different kind.

In the first § of the chapter Hegel says something quite Hegelian concerning the I and the object perceived. The I and its object are both universals, and

“One of them [the I] is the very moment of “pointing out,” and the other is the same movement but as the “simple.” The former is the act of perceiving, the latter is the object. In terms of its essence, the object is the same as the movement; the movement is the unfolding and distinction of the moments, and the object is those moments as jointly grasped together.” (§111, Pinkard trns.)

Perception, then, shall show itself to be a single movement in which the perception of the object shall constitute the knowledge of the object itself; the sensuous object shall be shown to not be the essence of knowledge itself.

The general problems of Perception

The first general problem of Perception is the problem of the relation of the universal to individual in the form of the thing and its properties. The thing, the experiential singled this, is the universal for it is the unity of the different properties which inhere in the thing. Perception tries to first think the object by capturing its sensuous plural existence through an abstracted unity of thought. Because there is a clear difference in the thing between its unity (universality) and individuality (properties), and further between individuals themselves, Perception tries to articulate this difference through a third mediating term to do the work of negation (the One). Its failure shall be shown to be its inability to capture the complete unity and determinateness of the object. The object as a whole is fragmented in the categories of Perception as the medium (universal), the One (negation), and property (individual); all are perceptual perspectives of the unified object which alone cannot provide the conceptual coherency of the object, yet Perception can only conceive of the object from one of these categories and its primacy in relation to the others. As it cognizes the object from these categories they shall dissolve into each other.

The second problem is that of essential vs unessential. For Perception there is an ambivalence of just what its actual object of perception essentially is: Is the object truly the universal unity and the plurality of individual properties unessential, or is the object in truth the inverse, i.e. is it that the plurality of individuals is essential and singular unity unessential?

First, however, the transition from Sense Certainty (SC) and Perception must be fully articulated, and none should be amazed that this is no easy task.

Mediation and Determinateness

Perception begins with a reflection of the implied truth of Sense Certainty’s phenomenological experience of the many nows, heres, and thises. This result is that the object of knowledge must itself be a mediated universal: a this of many thises, a now of many nows, a here of many heres. This mediated universal, however, is not recognized as mediated by other universals, but as mediated by individual particular sensuous experiences. This mediated universal in general is a thing with many properties. This acknowledgement by Perception gives it a place as the first form of consciousness with determinate knowledge for it accepts mediation into its conceptual schema of the object and no longer rests happy with merely pointing to the object of experience.

Determinateness enters the this that resulted from SC by acknowledging its mediation through other thises. It is a this that is not this, i.e. a this that is not another this, a determinate this. What this is, however, is not yet itself determined, it is a conceptual nothing, and remains an abstract universal. The pure this is determined merely as the abstracted unity of the object before Perception.

The determination of the This into the Thing with many Properties

Recalling Sense Certainty, the sensuousness of the object it faced is retained, but now as the universal itself, i.e. sensuousness is the property of the this. The this retains the immediacy of Sense Certainty’s sensuousness as property—this is a sublation, for it explicitly unites the concretely sensuous and individual with the abstract universal. Because the this with property has immediacy it implies a multiplicity of properties, for as we saw at the end of Sense Certainty, immediacy is itself the mediation of one thing through another. Each property is like the this which merely is not another this, as such they are a simple abstract universal as such.

As universal the properties self-relate and exist independently and indifferent to all other properties. It must be noted that at this point there is here no talk about universals, only of the universal character of the this and properties. Property is itself universal as sensuousness as such, but Perception has not recognized this as a separate universality from the this. How can Perception not recognize that property itself is another universal against the the general unity of the this? Because it relies on the experiential sensuousness of the object for the determination of the individual properties which inhere in the this. The properties are determined through their sensuous existence, e.g. the whiteness, cubical shape, and taste of salt are recognized only as these individual experiential determinations whose mediation is the unity of the thing.

Because only the this has been properly recognized as universalas the unity (as medium) of these properties, but property as such has not been recognized as another universal unity itself, Perception conceives of the thing and its properties as a brute unity of universal and individual with no recognition that properties can relate to each other and be determined as much by their relation to each other as by their relation to the unity of the thing. Therefore, the this appears as the medium in which properties inhere and interpenetrate without affecting or relating to each other, e.g. in salt the color, shape, and taste seem to be utterly independent of each other in mere sense-experience; they merely relate to the this in which they are unified in one place. As the medium which unifies the many properties, the this functions as the ‘also‘ through which properties relate in their utter independence, e.g. in salt (thing) there is whiteness also with cubicalness also with hardness, etc. As is clear, Perception conceives of properties first as pure individualities with no independent universal character themselves, the universal character being the this’s  and not their own. This is why it is said that the self-related universality of properties is not their own, but is separate from them as the pure self-relating-itself-to-itself, i.e. the this is the universal (as unity of the object) as such which alone relates itself to itself, the properties relate to and through this as their own universality, but do not relate to each other. The this as universal is the unity and medium of the properties by being the one here and now where properties are assembled together, e.g. whiteness also with squareness are united here. The this is thus the pure thinghood and the first conception of the essence of the object of Perception.

One more specification of the object remains to be made by Perception: it must further specify how properties may be determinate without having universality or negation themselves. Properties cannot be indifferent to each other lest they lose their determinate character, they must relate as properties to each other as different, excluding, or negating, in order to be multiple properties, e.g. color that is not taste etc. However, Perception cannot acknowledge this determinate character—the having of positive being that negates others—of properties as inherent to properties themselves, for this would grant essentiality to what is not essential of the object. The first solution Perception attempts is to further specify the excluding character necessary for the determinateness of properties not in them as such, but in the thinghood, the universality, which is further determined to take on the role of exclusion (negation) as a moment of itself, this negating moment is the One which mediates the difference of individual properties and does the work of excluding for them; the One is negation as such. It becomes pure negation which separates the properties yet is itself separate from them and is self-related unitary essence; it is conceived as the thing alone without its unnecessary properties.

To finish this part off, here is Hegel’s articulation of the final assembly of the determinations of the general object of Perception:

“In these moments taken all together, the thing, as the truth of perception, reaches its culmination or at least insofar as it is necessary to develop such a culmination here. It is α) the indifferent passive universality, the “also” of the many properties, or, rather, matters; ß) likewise the negation as simple, that is, the one, the excluding of contrasted properties; and γ) the many properties themselves, the relation of the two first moments, namely, it is the negation as it relates itself to the indifferent element and extends itself within it as a range of distinctions; it is the point of individuality in the medium of durable existence radiating out into multiplicity.” (§115)


Phenomenology of Spirit: Sense Certainty

Sense Certainty (SC) is the first form of consciousness in the Phenomenology, and it’s relatively easy to understand. Sense Certainty posits itself as a completely passive I which immediately, without the mediation of thought, relates to its objects of knowledge by way of pointing either linguistically or literally. In this manner SC seems to circumvent the problem of knowing as a medium or instrument, for it has rejected all mediation and places its knowing in the immediacy of the object it knows. From the perspective of SC, it captures the purest knowledge in its activity of pointing to the concrete object itself without further additions. All who want to know the truths which SC wishes to convey must merely look towards the object which SC points out and immediately absorb the rich experiential manifold that is the object itself.

Who believes in Sense Certainty?

Before we engage the issue, I’d just like to make a tangent concerning just who in the world actually has ever believed knowledge is what is known in the manner of SC. Listening to Bernstein’s lectures on the chapter, he does not believe anyone has nor can possibly function with knowledge in the way that SC does, and that it is simply a primitive logical form for the sake of completeness of argument. While indeed, I don’t think anyone can function with knowledge and language like SC, I do think there is a surprisingly large minority that at least believes that knowledge functions like this, and here I’ll use myself as a fine anecdotal example. During my short lived year dipping into eastern philosophy and mysticism a few years back (hadn’t yet read Hegel directly) I reached a philosophical skepticism of the mediation of thoughts that is very much SC’s, and I even used similar language to argue for it: the truths which we wished to convey were not our concepts of things but the thing to which words pointed to. For example, I once actually did have a conversation with a friend regarding meaning and truth regarding a dinner table. Regarding meaning, I argued, we use the word table to point to the object which we really mean to draw to attention, and if one were to consider the question of what true was, the concept or the thing (this), it clearly was the thing which was before us here and now. I wasn’t alone in that kind of thinking, many a mystic and intuitionist at least believes that truth is ultimately like this, an immediate experiential encounter with the this which is only here and now. Anecdote aside, it just goes to show that yes, humanity does hold some strange ideas sometimes. While SC is part of what Hegel deems natural consciousness, and it logically is first for it is simplest, it isn’t common sense, indeed, it rests on a very intellectual basis and requires a rational and abstract thinking process to be convincing.

Sense Certainty


The problems of SC arise from its obstinate commitment to hold fast to what it believes is immediacy and concreteness in its knowing. It holds that it performs its act of pointing and knowing in the now, the here, and the this. For it these basic and seemingly singular and concrete categories guarantee it indeed does know the concrete object itself without the errors of thought. Hegel shortly introduces the common idea that truth is what it is forever, thus SC’s claims to truth shall be challenged on this account which it as well must agree to.

Despite SC’s beliefs, since knowledge is something the knower in SC has in their mind, we must question SC’s claim to knowing the objects. With the meager conceptual tools which it has limited itself to, SC cannot but hold the bare conceptual knowledge of this, a category merely pointing out a being before it here and now. What specific being is before SC, at what specific time, and at what specific place, it cannot say; it can only point to it. Different I’s in different places and times all claim the same: this is here now. The this is a plurality of the many things which the I’s have before them. The here is a plurality of places where they point. The now is a plurality of nows as the day goes by. The truths which SC claims to know seem to be ever changing and contradicting experiences. Now here is an apple; now here is a tree; now here is a cloud; now here is day; now here is night. The now and here are nothing and everything, changeless in abstraction, changing in every utterance repeated. SC’s knowledge claims seem to contradict themselves, to invert the truth it intends. Its truths change moment to moment and I to I because it refuses to acknowledge memory and conceptual specificity.

The knowledge of SC thus turns out to be bare and pure abstraction, not just of its object, but even of itself. To SC, the I and its object are not even conceptually differentiated in kind, both are mere thises here and now. It is so committed to this immediacy of knowing that it refuses to even acknowledge the past and its memory. All SC can truly know and communicate is that there is a being before it now and here, nothing else. One may retort, “But SC doesn’t care about conceptual knowledge, it cares about knowing the object in its pure manifold of experience.” Very well, what object is it that SC can know in its mere experience of the here and now? As was shown earlier, a changeless abstract universality with en ever changing experiential content. In what it utters, SC cannot capture the content to which it points.



Not only is SC’s knowledge poor and abstract, but its claim to immediacy is questionable. The following is what SC does when it makes a knowledge claim:

1) It points to the object before it now
2) It claims “This is here now”

In § 107 Hegel lays out formally what is implicitly wrong with SC’s own claim to immediacy. First, the I points out the now, but in the very pointing the now has moved. Second, the I claims the now which it pointed out but which has already passed; it sublates the now within itself for it unites the now which has been with the now that is. Third, in the very claiming that “this is now” the now has yet again moved and the now pointed to as well as the now claimed have passed away and been within the now as it keeps moving. What has been shown is that every now is not actually immediately apprehensible, that the now apprehended is always a plurality of nows, thus every claim made by SC is a now mediated by other nows. The this and here too are a plurality along with the now, as such they too are mediated.

SC has been shown to be unable to speak the truths it wishes to speak, it cannot convey the objects it wishes to know and communicate, for its meager concepts invert the object into abstractions. The analysis of SC ends with the realization by it that the truth of its knowing is its pointing to the objects of knowledge and attempting to conceive it in thought and express it in language, hence it has realized it perceives its object and that its mental content and its expression in language can err in conveying the object perceived.