Beginner’s Introduction to Dialectics


Though I 100% recommend the much longer intermediate introduction, I’ve decided to write a more basic ‘lesser’ introduction to Dialectics. Unlike the ‘greater’ introduction, this one is meant to be shorter and more to the point in a formulaic way which does not meander over the finer details. This is more to satiate the curious. Don’t mistake this being for beginners to mean this is an easy introduction. This is Hegel we’re talking about, and a method which fundamentally refuses abstract formulation indifferent to a content. There is only so much simplification one can make before just outright telling falsehoods.

Prefatory Note

I must make clear: This introduction cannot, nor can any other, make full sense without experiencing this method in a real way. No description can supplant the genuine experience that validates how most of what I am about to lay out truly works, how it flows so naturally, how it makes perfect sense. Insofar as you, the reader, only see this as something about the method, you unfortunately cannot know the reason which powers what I say here. If you are truly interested you must steel your mind, open your sails, and brave the storm of Hegel’s dialectical sea for yourself. If one resists the storm winds and does not flow with them where they lead, the experience is only one of irrational violence to the common way of understanding. This introduction cannot in fact be an introduction to the method, for the method is its own explanation, but merely things one can expect to see in the method once the genuine attempt is made.


Dialectical Moment
On Contradiction
A Priori and A Posteriori
On Formulas
What Is It Good For?
On Absolutes

What’s in a Method Name Anyway?

Calling the method as a whole ‘dialectics’ is by and large a problem when this is misunderstood by most. There is truth to the name, but it is also quite useful to differentiate moments (or parts) first before we start playing with the blurring of the line between moments of the method. Whether we give this method a name or not does not matter. Hegel intends his method to be an absolute method which produces absolute results, and once one gets a hang of it, the lines of moments are blurred as one sees the movements and relations as immanent (internal) to each other.

I shall use moment to refer to logical ‘parts’ or ‘pieces’ which we only think for a moment and then advance from, and movement to denote, well, the movement of thinking. By concept it must be understood that we are considering structures of unity, mental or otherwise.

The Method As Such

First off, forget whatever you have heard about the method; it often confuses more than helps. Hegel’s absolute method is concerned specifically with the primacy of thinking as the vehicle of knowing and knowledge. The Absolute is the object which we desire to know, but if such is possible, we require an absolute knowing, a method, to ensure that we acquire absolute knowledge. If there is an Absolute, only an absolute knowing could know it. Because of the nature of an Absolute, however, this knowing and knowledge have a peculiar appearance: they appear as a self-knowledge (the absolute refers to itself from within, and we likewise must think it from within) that structurally looks like identity just as much as non-identity: Being is Being/Nothing. Paradoxical? Yes. Unintelligible? No.

Logic, the science of the valid thinking of thinking, is where the pure method can appear for itself, although one can find it elsewhere in Hegel’s work with significantly more difficulty. The structure of the method of logic is peculiarly fit for an absolute, for it has an identity of knowing and knowledge. Logic begins with itself as thought and considers the thinking of thought, our thinking of our own thoughts from the standpoint of the thoughts, and thus a thinking of thinking—a self-thinking. What is known and what knows is one and the same, it is a self-knowing in this manner. We know what we produce (thoughts) and we produce what we know (thinking).

The method, if it can be called such, has two ways to look at it: an immanent doing and a reflective (external) description and formalization (I shall deal with form further below). From the side of immanence, of being immersed in the method, the method just looks like one thing: thinking, and the limits to which it can be done. There is no rule other than to think, and no assumed laws of thought, such as the law of non-contradiction, that can stop us from thinking in any way so long as we have thought only with what is available from what we develop ourselves. If we can engage a thought as thinking, we engage it. If we can think of this thinking, we do it. If we can relate the thoughts we have produced, we do it. If we can think of the thinking of these relations, we do it. If we notice prior thought structures apply to ones we just generated, we can do so and apply it. If we can apply a concept to itself, we do it. Why? Because we can, and there is no inconsistency in doing so as a process of thinking. When Hegel notes that ‘Nothing is‘ he is noting that Nothing, as a thought, has the structure of Being. Empty thinking, thinking of nothing at all, is at least thinking.

The Dialectical Moment

Dialectics is what the method is named by most, but it is also a specific moment of the method, and here I shall refer to it as only this moment. Hegelian dialectics are necessary internal contradictions, not just any relation of contradiction. This is best exemplified in the relations of: {inner—outer}; {essence—appearance}; {wholes—parts}. Each term implies the other; to think one easily leads to thinking of the other, and their meanings are tied from within their own definitions. What is it to be inside? To not be outside. What is it to be outside? To not be inside. This kind of back and forth is what happens in a dialectical contradiction when we think it. To give you a taste of how this appears as self-contradiction: what is an inside other than the outside of an outside? From the standpoint of the outside the inside is outside of the outside. The inside can be seen as the self-negation of outsidedness, and yet this is absolutely necessary, for to be an outside is to be the outside of an inside, and the inside is that which is outside of the outside in order to not fall into it.

How about another: To be living is to be dying, for life is a process of regeneration as parts constantly die in the maintenance of long enduring wholes of organs and structures.

Or how about this one: In a circle the departure from point A, which is the starting point and end point, is at the same time the movement towards A—as we get farther we only get closer. This depends on a perspective shift: we get farther from A as starting point, but closer to A as ending point. A is the same place on the circle, yet it has two functions as starting and ending point. A circle is a good visual example of absolute thinking: self-reference and self-opposition is inherent to the circle’s shape. Dialectical thinking is nothing but an endless circle of thinking spinning on its own axis.

Here’s one to show a common object of self-opposition: the commodity. What is a commodity? That which can be exchanged for another commodity. The commodity is what it is only as it relates to itself as something outside itself. The commodity is something that intrinsically as concept must be opposed to itself in exchange. There is more to the dialectics of a commodity, but isn’t it weird that its concept can never be one and isolated, nor can it be static and without motion? A commodity exists only as opposed to another commodity, and is actually itself only in exchange where its potential to exchange is confirmed and certifies that indeed we had a commodity in hand. A commodity is a thing, but it is a thing only in the movement of exchange.

Alright, one last one. How about a curve ball? To be other is to be other to something, but then this something is itself other to this other we begin with. We are caught in a strange relation of {other—other} where what an other is is simply to be other to an other. When considered as the absolute this other is then the other of itself. The absolute has otherness, but this otherness is simply an otherness to itself. While we may want to say that otherness is always outside itself, as an absolute it’s the case that otherness is within just as much as outside—that is, that the other is other to itself within itself. This is true and makes perfect sense: form and content, skin and flesh, mind and brain, etc. are forms of self-otherness, things which can only exist in a unified self-opposition.

On Contradiction

Does Hegel believe everything is contradictory? Yes. Does this mean that he holds that A is and is not A? Yes. Does this mean that A is both true and false? Yes—if by falsehood we understand incomplete truth. Is this insane? No. For one, formal contradiction is not Hegel’s interest, so don’t worry too much about this A is A and not A stuff. The concept of Hegel’s contradiction makes a lot more sense when we consider actual things and concepts.

Hegel’s logic is rigorous—ridiculously rigorous—and you’d be amazed that what seems like complete nonsense as a mere claim, once explained, actually makes perfect sense. Hegel’s contradictions aren’t merely bare faced contradictions, not mere claims of such simple stupidity such as: Today is not today, or, a male is a female. The reality of Hegel’s contradictions is one of perspective and position in an absolute context, such that we find moments as perspectives of the absolute we are trying to conceive. ‘This is a hose’ is just as much ‘This is not a hose’. What is a hose if not used as a hose? It can be a whip—a really crappy one, but painful nonetheless. A lake full of air is just as much a lake full of nothing. One man’s trash is another man’s treasure, and one person’s disgust is another one’s pleasure. Things are, and they are not, at different moments and from different perspectives, and yet they are what they are regardless of our subjective momentary perspective. It is in this very way that Being is and Nothing is not, while we may just as easily say that Being is not and Nothing is. We ask: If the universe ceased to be, would there be something? No, only nothing— as if we simply forget the implication of the being of this nothing. These are trivial assertions, however, and are only to give a sense of how what seems a blatant contradiction may be rationalized and made intelligible.

Perhaps a concrete example of these contradictions is in order, albeit it does not appear contradictory in the usual sense. Space is in regular thought considered as extensionality or externality, and in Hegel’s works it is the idea of self-externality as such. Space, in being absolute self-externality can only be external to itself; thus, it is the case that space is necessarily outside space. How can space be outside of itself, however? In mere absolute and abstract space the fact of space external to itself is the return of the same. For space to be outside of itself is to be self-external, but this is just what space as such is to begin with and thus we get nowhere. There is a way, however, to make sense of space as self-external: the point. The point is space which is external to space, or rather, space is external to it—but this is a contradiction! The point and space as such are indifferent to each other, each is a mirror of the other, for each is as much space and point—the being of a point constitutes the being of another point, and then these points are external to each other as point. The point is self-external; thus, it is space as such. Space as self-externality is constituted by an infinity of ideal points which are themselves external to it, yet in points being external to each other these points merely constitute space itself once more.

We say contradictory things all the time, and do just as much in contradiction. The curious interchangeability of the basic categories of Being and Nothing are easily applicable to anything because all things are unities of both, and it is no difficulty to think about anything from one perspective as much as the other. Don’t believe it? A glass half full is just as half empty. How about this one: “I am not myself today.” Or this one: “There is nothing here;” “I feel nothing;” “I am nothing,” etc. The contradictoriness of Being and Nothing are but child’s play to discover, we use them all the time. How about: “What should be is not what is,” a strange notion that there is something that in this very moment is not. Let’s use a physics one: matter is energy. Not a contradiction, right? Of course it is: energy is an immaterial relation which manifests between things in movement interaction, not a thing itself. Matter, as composite thing, is in reality not a thing but a relation of moving things… which seemingly are also just more relations of moving things themselves down to the natural category of self-moving rotating enclosing places.

A Priori & A Posteriori

Something else to note, just because you may have heard Hegel is a rationalist and that somehow this seems spooky. This may come as a surprise, but Hegel achieves the most satisfying unity of pure reason and experience. How? Reason itself is known experientially. Unless we engage in reasoning, we can’t know what genuine reasoning is. While rationalism is normally taken to be a prioristic (knowledge certified without empirical experience), Hegel’s a priori is a posteriori (after experience). For Hegel, the great construction of eternal reason is historical and requiring of a learning experience by humanity as a whole as much as by the individual. The knowing of what logic is requires, of course, a specific experience: the experience of pure reasoning in the realm of non-empirical thoughts—that is, concepts not derived from sense experience—the broad logical categories which order common thinking yet do not have any source in anything outside the mind itself. In this way, Hegel’s theory is, strangely, necessarily practical and experiential.

On Formulas

Formulas can only describe for us what we do; they’re only an aid to begin, and while you may think it the easier way into Hegel, I personally think it’s the harder way. With formulas, you become lazy and look for a given form without thinking things through well. With Hegel, it is far more important to first think what he says rather than look for a structure to what he says. If you get used to a formula, you’re not going to do much thinking, and it is thinking that is of value for logic, philosophy, and science alike.

That warning aside, let’s talk about formulas.

Formulas are helpful in Hegel, but sadly, it is almost entirely after the fact that one has managed to complete the task of thinking that they help us. There are various correct formulas we can state to describe the method. Here we go:

Thought—Thinking—Thinking of Thinking
Substance—Flexion—Reflexion (self-opposed movement)
Position—Opposition—Opposition of Opposition (self-opposition)

Not very helpful in themselves, are they? My personal favorite and the one I find most useful is this, which is one I have developed myself as an expansion of Hegel’s:


What does this mean?

  1. Abstract: We begin the method in abstraction. By abstraction, I mean nothing special; it’s a vague or undeveloped concept. Abstractions are immediate precisely in that they are not mediated by their content. We say: apple…and that’s it; that is apple in its immediacy. It is mediated when we say: apple is a fruit with a certain shape, sharing a certain genetic lineage…and so on and so on.
  2. Understanding: This is just your regular logical thinking. Understanding is the thinking which analyses and splits things into discrete different pieces. Understanding thinks through things and assumes the principle law of classical logic: the law of non-contradiction, A is A and not ~A (~=negation/not). With fundamental categories this thinking generates dialectics, self-contradictions, without ever intending to do so, and in thinking of its products it is perplexed at the seemingly illogical outcome of logical thinking. Why, in thinking of finitude, do we find ourselves considering infinity? Why, in thinking essence, do we find ourselves forced to think of appearances?
  3. Speculation: The name of a specific thinking, specifically the thinking of the thinking of the understanding as a wholeits thinking and thoughts as a dialectic. Speculation does not assume the law of non-contradiction and in fact works in the inverse through what may be called a law of contradiction. Speculation sees dialectics as the form of an absolute thinking—that is, that absolute knowledge is a self-contradiction in that it is a self-opposition by its own necessity, the necessity of absolute thinking. Absolute thinking generates contradictions and accepts that this is indeed so, makes no fuss about it, and moves on. In this moment of thinking we also find the famous “negation of the negation,” which in basic terms is quite what it seems, an affirmation. Just like in mathematics, where a negative applied to a negative yields a positive (-1 – 1= -2, negative addition; or, -1 x -1 = 1, positive inversion), the negation of negation functions similarly. Being is by Nothing’s non-being—that is, the non-being of non-being is Being. That’s the immediate appearance, but Hegel’s negation of negation is far more crafty and intricate than such a trivial application, it is a negation on the level of the inclusive absolute—that is, the absolute’s negation of that which seemed beyond it. The negation of negation means that what is other to the absolute, that which makes the absolute we begin with relative, itself is negated and made relative to the absolute. Nothing is first the other of Being, something beyond it which negates Being and supplants it, but in the negation of negation it is brought into unity with Being within Becoming—the negation has been negated and something more than just Being and Nothing results.
  4. Concrete: In concretion, we have the results of inquiry; we have fleshed out and developed what was first abstract. We have developed the apple from a mere name to a concept. An apple is an apple, but it is also not an apple, and this should make perfect sense. An apple is its peel, its flesh, its core, its seeds as a whole; these parts, however, are themselves not an apple despite being part of it, but neither is the apple just these parts. In concretion, however, we do not simply return to the apple as fleshed out, but we have new avenues of inquiry: the apple itself is not absolute, but belongs to the life process of a certain tree.

The example of the apple is meant to illustrate the point, albeit I must warn that it is not properly faithful to the point, especially beyond the concrete return. Examples of the method in a familiar everyday form are hard to give mainly because, as pure logical forms, there are actually very few of them that can be developed in this manner, and it is difficult to do it without a lot of information gathered to provide the content for the arrangement. In Hegel’s method, the moment of concretion is a double movement of concretion of the original abstraction and an emergence of something new in that return, but this is only clear in doing the logical inquiries.

Example: Being-Nothing-Becoming

Becoming diagram 1

Being, a completely immediate thought. There is nothing between it and us, no other thoughts we need to account for, no other experiences. It just is. Thoughts have one thing that they can be done with: thinking. We can think Being. In thinking the thought of Being we are faced with a peculiar experience: we have nothing to think, and we have an empty thinking or experience. This emptiness is the content of Being, but is not Being itself, and since it is the content, what is considered substantive in things, it is what Being truly is. In attempting to think immediate presence we only find immediate absence. Nothing is first not the thought, but the thinking. We can and do make the distinctions of form and content intuitivelywe simply do it and notice only afterwardso it is logical that we conceive the difference by thinking of this thinking.

This empty thinking is Nothing, non-Being, the negation of Being. Understanding produces Being’s empty thinking by engaging its content—it splits content from form—and speculation grasps this thinking as a new thought. What we mean by Nothing, normally, is exactly this emptiness, this absence of Being. This Nothing, however, is the absence, the non-Being, of thought in thinking, and itself is the thought of this thinking—Nothing is the thought of this emptiness; thus, Being is what Nothing truly is. We are back to Being, and the cycle repeats endlessly. Being is an empty thinking, it is Nothing. Nothing, however, is the thought of this empty thinking, it is Being. The movement of Being and Nothing is immediate, there is nothing between them, they immediately are supplanted by their opposite. By opposite, here I mean in the sense of ‘set against’ and not in an essential extreme incompatibility. They are opposed, but what this opposition consists of is nothing but two perspectives of one absolute movement: the thinking of thought, or what has been revealed to be two views of thinking. Thought is thinking statically frozen in its immediacy, thinking is thought moving in its immediacy.

In a second movement of speculation, we take this dialectic in its entirety. We think about the dialectical thinking. Being immediately is Nothing, and Nothing is immediately Being. This movement of immediate supplanting is termed  vanishing, or, Becoming. From Becoming, we can think Being and Nothing further, we return to understanding and analysis, there is more to think in this higher conception. The movement of thinking has a direction: From Being to Nothing, and from Nothing to Being. Being vanishing Nothing is Ceasing-to-be, and the movement of Nothing vanishing to Being is Coming-to-be. Being is its vanishing to Nothing, and Nothing is its vanishing to Being. Being and Nothing are inseparably united. Being is {Being->Nothing}; Nothing is {Nothing->Being}. The negation, Being and Nothing’s immediate supplanting and denial of compatibility, is negated. The absolute is not simply Being which is not Nothing, or Nothing which is not Being, but the internal unity of both.

How is that we can say this as if it makes sense? Well, it’s what these thoughts have simply been in being thought. When we think Being it immediately is Nothing, and Nothing is immediately Being. The very thinking of them is their vanishing, and thinking is what a thought truly is. It is no logical nonsense to say the truth we have experienced: Being is Being vanishing to Nothing, and vice versa.

As you can see, a bit of paradox happens. First is that Being is Nothing yet is not. This is paradoxical only because one does not notice the formal relation of thought and thinking, form and content, and realize that they too are paradoxes. Thought and thinking are the same and different just as form and content are the same and different. This is best explained with form and content, where we seem to never notice this because experiential objects are sensuously differentiated and defined such that we suffer no conceptual confusion. In pure concept, form and content are identical in that they are both forms, both concepts. They are also inseparable: forms are forms of contents, and contents are contents of forms. A content is a form, and a form is a content. 

The second of the paradoxes is built upon the first: Being is Being and Nothing and vice versa. In Becoming, as Ceasing-to-be, Being is Being vanishing to Nothing. Things are themselves and not themselves at the same time. I mentioned at the beginning that there is implicit in the concept of an absolute’s very structure the necessity of differentiating an absolute object from itself by opposing itself to itself in order to even conceive its identity. ‘Being is Being and Nothing’ is nothing insane, we know Nothing is just as much Being; thus, we can rephrase this in the following way: Being is Being and Being, or, Being is Being vanishing to Being. The first Being vanishing to the second Being, however, is not the same Being. Being is and is not itself. It is itself in that it is the same kind; it is not itself in that it is not the same individual Being. In this, we get a third paradox: Being (singular) is necessarily Beings (plural), or, thought is thoughts. These paradoxes are in fact not paradoxes, they make sense, the problem is merely one of perspective and understanding from what perspective we are coming at the Absolute from.

You can read further on this movement in more detail in the intermediate introduction.

What Is It Good For?

So what’s the deal with this logic in the end? What is it good for?

Well, for one, Marx admired it as the great philosophical undertaker of everything under the sun. Dialectics is the internal critique that just keeps on going and giving. Every category we generate submits its own critique in merely enacting the role it has in the system, and thus points to something further underlying it. In this way the method naturally generates a system with necessary connections which are in other methods left unexplained or dubious. Its constructive method has a peculiar look in its result: it looks like a transcendental deduction, meaning that it seems especially fit for logically deriving the conditions for the possibility of things you are investigating. What are the conditions for the possibility of generalized commodity exchange? Generalized commodity production, and this relies on conditions of a division of capital and labor, i.e. capitalism. What then results from the simple dynamics of capital accumulation is the imbalance and chaos we see in the real world, except here it’s a result of fully necessary logic itself. Marx’s thought was simple: if the very pure logic of capital is this contradictory and self-undermining, there is no saving the thing in part, let alone in whole.

The systematic character of the method is also useful for disentangling confusions. We find that in our world we come to dead ends and accept irrationality as the final end of things, just look at the utter nonsense which quantum mechanics and general relativity have made us believe of our world. We’ve been told to give up and accept nonsense such as particle-wave duality, time dilation, quantum superposition, etc. A lot of these ‘problems’ are not really problems of reality, but of our failure to acknowledge what our conceptions of things tell us. Waves are waves of mediums, not mediums themselves—if phenomena shows wave qualities and particle qualities the moments of wave and medium must be split, and thus we get de Brogli-Bohm mechanics which split particles and their wave character into the particles riding a pilot wave. One does not have to be a Hegelian to notice such possible corrections and advances, but it certainly helps a bit. There must be a drive to conceive and find necessary connections in the world, connections which are really there and not simply arbitrarily imposed because we give up and accept a ‘brute fact’ instead of inquiring further towards new things that truly explain. Necessity is guaranteed by the immanence of the content-forms, and systematicity is guaranteed in the conceptual closure of the object in its own self-determined limitation.

Most of the time you won’t get something as far reaching as the theory of capital, mostly because very few things have such a systematic existence in the first place. For most everyday theory you can simply employ immanent critique and the dialectical moment alone to just be the naysayer of just about everything you like. Nonetheless, the systematic impetus of the method and its practice, from my experience, makes one a much more careful thinker, and particularly makes one more aware of how things we encounter and engage have a unified aspect in their many different phenomena.

For Hegel, however, this method has an aim: to conceive the Absolute. There are normative and ethical implications to the results depending on where we are in the system. Hegel’s concepts, because of their development from within, have an objective status that on structural grounds halt most of the debate of what we mean by this or that category. For Hegel there is no question as to what we can really mean by Being, it is the structure of immediacy. There is no debate to be had on what existence means, it is a category of a more developed and actually definable Being due to its differential relation to Nothing. So, part of its use is in ending semantic debates once and for all.—We can only dream…

On the ethical side, Hegel’s concepts of the state and rights flesh out what Richard D. Winfield calls ‘the reality of freedom’—that is, the conditions for the possibility of freedom which is freely developed and freely maintained. Freedom in this case, however, has peculiar meaning which is near alien to most of us in its developed concrete forms, but its abstract methodological form is actually quite close to what we think it is: self-determination. By knowing how freedom’s structures logically look like we have the basis for something which we may say ‘should be’, and which has grounds to come to be in the society we live in.

Both Marx and Hegel see the developmental and immanently critical aspect of dialectics in favorable light, but both see it going different places from the same root. Besides the seemingly endless insights one can gleam from the generated philosophical developments of the works Hegel left behind, this method itself has virtually no heir to it other than Marx himself in the systematic work of Capital. Mostly it’s because it’s genuinely hard to do a systematic development, but it’s also because it seems that most genuinely have no idea how this method really works, and the few who know seem to find it difficult to explain why anyone should care.

Do you care about knowing absolutely, and knowing that which is absolutely? If so, this is your kind of thing.

On Absolutes

Since this method deals in absolutes, I’ll here give a short general introductory consideration of such from a logical standpoint—that is, from the standpoint of concepts/thoughts.

Today we live in a society that claims to no longer deal in absolutes, to be beyond the naïvete of believing it has a catch all for everything, or even if for anything at all. Hegel claims philosophy has always been, is, and will be seeking after the Absolute and claiming for itself the standpoint of what it has discovered and considers such. What is an absolute? Hegel takes it to be the standpoint which is the ultimate explanatory principle—that is, the thought/concept which explains all others. This form of absolute can take on an amazing variety of shapes ranging from abstract universal ideas to the everydayness of sense feeling. The absolute may be for us the Being of Parmenides, the Sunyata (emptiness) of Buddha, the Will of Schopenhauer, consciousness, the law of sufficient reason, power, love, genes (or memes), naturalism, the principle of deterministic mechanics, or the very nothingness of nihilism. The absolute is, to put it another way, the ultimate meaning of the world. It doesn’t matter what we say about our denial of the word absolute—we nonetheless in fact act, live, and judge according to unconscious absolute standpoints. The coward’s absolute is life above all; the lover’s absolute is the beloved above all; the capitalist’s absolute is profit above all; the relativist’s absolute may be the flat equality of all subjective standpoints which do not overbear on other subjects. The world is subsumed under the absolute principle, and all else is thrown into the abyss for its sake.

There is in all of these possible conceptions an open hole for attack: there are significant reasons to deny that these concepts really explain everything as they claim. There is more to our world than Being, Sunyata, Will, and consciousness—they do not in fact explain everything; external factors must be brought in or denied if needing explanation. For Being, non-being is illusion, and change is impossible. For Sunyata, the self is an illusion, and permanence or substance/essence is a figment, etc. The principle of sufficient reason likewise cannot explain everything, especially itself (nor can any of the others). Mechanism likewise cannot explain everything—certainly not chemistry, let alone life. Complete explanation, then, is one of the core structures of the absolute, if it is to serve the function we require of it.

The absolute must also have along with its completeness of explanation an objective universal claim over and against all other claims on its domain—that is, it must have the measure of reason which it and it alone can have to stand above all others. Were we to have more than one absolute principle with no common ground from which a criterion may be applied to judge which is best, or if equal at all, we would have from both a failure: the failure to explain the existence of the other—something outside their scope of explanation. We find in human experience this common ground in which the criterion must reside to be reason itself, for from it and it alone arises the very question of this criterion and justification of claims. To even deny that reason is the arbiter of truth is a self-defeating claim, for one has stepped into the realm of reason and justification, and one must provide rational justification for this. Whatever the absolute may be, reason is the one seeking it, and only it alone could speak of an absolute which can be accessed by all, not just by the lucky few who experience enlightening intuition.

As complete explanation, the absolute has yet another aspect: complete independence. The absolute must alone explain the entirety of all other things, and in the case of the concept of the absolute there cannot be dependence on external considerations to explain anything. This independence implies something further: the absolute, as complete explanation, necessarily must explain itself. Were it incapable of explaining itself, there would be either a further factor that would be implied to explain it or there would be a lack of universal rational force in it which would verify it as the absolute explanation for all rational subjects. Mystics and religious dogmatists, for this reason, fail to convince many of their claims to know the absolute, for their absolutes are in a literal sense a mystery to reason and supposedly knowable only for the blessed few who are allowed to step into the mystery and know it through feeling intuition rather than intellect.

As can be seen, an absolute method such as the Logic’s must of necessity produce self-referencing and self-thinking (thinking of thinking) movements and relations; after all, what else would we expect of any absolute other than that whatever it does be a self-movement, and that whatever it is be self-difference, a multiplicity in its unity? An absolute, by its basic concept, is something utterly self-contained and independent of external relations; thus this self-relation and self-negating movement is expected as necessary for any distinctions to be made at all. Perhaps we think we can be like Parmenides and simply end with the Absolute’s Being, but clearly there is more we can say of our absolute even when we do not know how to conceive how the unity of the Absolute becomes many in rational form.

If there is more to say about an absolute other than “The Absolute,” then whatever the Absolute is must be an intelligible difference within itself—content is something different to form. This is important: inner difference which is developed from within and thought from within is one of the key ways we must try to keep our frame of reference. Our thinking must be from within the absolute we consider.

One of the structures of absolutes which is discovered early in the Logic is that what we think to be an absolute is in fact relative to something else, so the absolute must subsume these differences as relative in order to remain self-contained. If anything is other to the absolute, then what we thought to be absolute is not absolute—the absolute is more than what we initially considered. In this manner, it is hard to speak of Hegel’s Absolute as simply the expansion of a category such that we may say that the Absolute is Being in its full ‘unfolding’ or emanation; rather it is the case that there is more to the Absolute than just Being. The Absolute has Being, but is more than mere Being.


7 thoughts on “Beginner’s Introduction to Dialectics

  1. I think that Hegel is talking about a thought that is not controlled by ‘the thinker’. A reflective thinking upon ones thinking as dialectical I think misses the signfifixance of the ‘reflected’ thought appearing despite what we are thinking, such that we can analyze it. The ‘other’ thought occurs without our consent, and does what it does To out thinking about it necessarily.

    I see Hegel as indicating this process.



    1. Yes, the thought is not controlled by the thinker, but the thinking is necessarily ours. If we do not step out of understanding into speculation we cannot advance. As a good Hegelian once told me: we must not fool ourselves into thinking that thoughts in the logic think themselves.

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      1. Towards whatever the Absolute is. The logic is a self-construction built on the thinking of thinking, a self-thinking as absolute thinking. It begins with exactly the identity and difference of thought and thinking, of Being and Nothing, of form and content.

        I find it hard to explain the initial impetus of the logic because it just happens, and we never see it until after the fact. Thinking is clearly different from thinking of past thinking. A thought that hasn’t been thought is different from one that has.

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  2. In Julian Jaynes’ “The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind” the brain is primitive and non-self-reflective. As the brain develops the division between the two halves “breaks down” into a self-reflective state, it begins to “hear” voices coming from rocks and rivers (“gods”) which are actually just the unconscious production from the other side of the brain. So the dialectic was not absolute at some stage of human development. The thoughts thunk themselves.


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