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:

1-logic-diagram-on-being-final
**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.

Advertisements

One thought on “Logic of Being, Nothing, and Becoming”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s