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.

(Abstract) Being and Nothing

In the Science of Logic, for reasons ultimately only fully explained by the path of the Phenomenology, we begin in pure abstraction and indeterminacy. The most bare and abstract indeterminacy we can think is the general form of pure Being for the indeterminacy we begin with is indeterminacy. The content, or definition, of pure Being is nothing. There is no definition one can give for pure Being which is universal and indeterminate. That which means everything can only mean nothing. If all things, say, are known and understood as “Apple”, there is nothing specific Apple means, and as such it is indeterminate, it has no definition, and it means Nothing. Nothing is the very thought we think in the indeterminacy of Being.

Pure Nothing, like pure Being, is indeterminate and has no definition to be given. Nothing, however, is this indeterminacy, and thus it is Being. Here the peculiarity of pure Being and Nothing arises before us as an indistinguishable content: pure Being and pure Nothing are both indeterminate in content, they have the same meaning. Being = indeterminateness = Nothing. But in the relation of Being, Nothing, and their indeterminate content, 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, that of indeterminateness, Nothing. Nothing, however, faces an inverse contradiction. Nothing is in harmony with its indeterminate content, but is in contradiction with its form, the form of Being, for if Nothing is the case, the truth of Being, then Nothing is Being. The contradiction of form and content cannot be escaped, there cannot be form without content or the inverse; Being and Nothing are immediately moving from one to the other as their form and content forces the movement in their very thought.

A picture may help with understanding this movement. 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 are one and the same concept. We may see them as the form and content of one concept: the Being of Nothing. We know, however, that this is ridiculous and nonsensical. There is 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. Being and Nothing immediately move to each other due to the contradiction of form and content which is immediate and forces an immediate logical move to the opposite concept. Is there something more that can be used to determine the difference of Being/Nothing in this immediate movement?

We see in this simple beginning of the Logic already arise the strange and irreducible dialectic of just these two simple concepts. Being is Nothing is Being is Nothing is… ad infinitum. Being and Nothing, in being thought, immediately (this is not temporal transition, but logical) transition into their opposite by either content or form. Being disappears, vanishes, into Nothing, and likewise Nothing vanishes into Being. This incessant immediate movement between Being and Nothing as 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 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 here 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. Just as Being and Nothing were related as a contradiction of form and content which forces a movement into each other, 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.

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. 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? 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, yet as moments of Becoming Being and Nothing as Ceasing/Coming to be vanish. Being and Nothing vanish into what? Each other! Ceasing/Coming to be vanish into Nothing/Being. Becoming, because it is vanishing, vanishes itself into the background of Being and Nothing and leaves them in immediate unity once again.

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. Pure Being’s content pointed to pure Nothing, and there it can be seen that there is no escape, no denying of Being or Nothing, for they are a necessary form/content to each other, likewise in Becoming there is no escape from denying Being and Nothing for they are the necessary contents for Becoming. 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.

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 without transitioning into the other, 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 onward.

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.

As to what this development of abstract concepts becoming more determinate, or concrete, is necessary for… I’ll leave that to your curiosity.

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