Category Archives: Concepts

The General Description of The Absolute

__/—The Absolute as Such—\__

Absolute as Process and Result

The Absolute as such is everything with no remainder. It is the absolute sublation in which all determinations and their contradictions are cancelled and preserved in the ultimate unity of unity and difference. Cancelled because as particular determinations, they are shown to be false insofar as they are not the complete Truth, and thus, no single standpoint has the privilege of being the standpoint of Truth. Preserved because their finitude, relativity, and contradiction is itself a necessary piece, or moment, of the Absolute which alone stands as Truth as such.

Where can we begin to understand Hegel’s Absolute? Perhaps the best place is one of the famous sections from the Preface of the Phenomenology of Spirit:

The true is the whole. However, the whole is only the essence completing itself through its own development. This much must be said of the absolute: It is essentially a result, and only at the end is it what it is in truth. Its nature consists precisely in this: To be actual, to be subject, that is, to be the becoming-of-itself. —As contradictory as it might seem, namely, that the absolute is to be comprehended essentially as a result, even a little reflection will put this mere semblance of contradiction in its rightful place. The beginning, the principle, or the absolute as it is at first, that is, as it is immediately expressed, is merely the universal. But just as my saying “all animals” can hardly count as an expression of zoology, it is likewise obvious that the words, “absolute,” “divine,” “eternal,” and so on, do not express what is contained in them; – and it is only such words which in fact express intuition as the immediate. Whatever is more than such a word, even the mere transition to a proposition, is a becoming-other which must be redeemed, that is, it is a mediation. However, it is this mediation which is rejected with such horror as if somebody, in making more of mediation than in claiming both that it itself is nothing absolute and that it in no way exists in the absolute, would be abandoning absolute cognition altogether.

(Phenomenology of Spirit: §20; Miller Trns.)

The true is the whole.” The whole which the Absolute comprises is a whole not as a mere completed end as the final position, but as the very way the whole has come about; thus, the Absolute is the whole process of the Absolute. The Absolute by its own concept must include everything within itself—not even nothing (non-being) can be outside it. One cannot have the whole, the result, content, or unity on one side, and the parts, process, form, or difference on another. To grasp a concept which can contain everything in their full determinate difference and contradiction, yet is not an empty abstraction like pure being, is one of the great barriers to understanding Hegel’s philosophy. This whole is a whole that is only by virtue of its parts, and its parts are parts only by virtue of their respective place within the context of the whole; or, this unity is only by virtue of the differences which compose it, and said differences only are differences insofar as they find themselves in a united whole.

This ‘everything’ of the Absolute, however, is not the endless detail of empirical existence. This is not to say that the Absolute does not include nature’s existence, for the Absolute as thought determines itself against what is not a thought, i.e. sensuous existence. Given that the determinate content of sensuous experience is not itself a thought as merely mental image or conceptual linguistic articulation, it nonetheless has the structures of thought as concepts which in a literal sense ‘inform’ sense objects. We see in sense experience always something to conceive about it, some thought structure that minimally conveys a universal structures of things even if not the sensuous content itself, e.g. the color red at least can be spoken about as a quality if nothing else. The Absolute is not the complete grasping of all empirical facts or qualities, but rather of the intelligibility which inheres in all things and shows their essences and logical structures, even if all that is intelligible in an object is revealed only to be precisely its uninteligibility or contingency.

As such, the Absolute is the totality of what rationally is: how it has come to be, what it is, and what it is coming to be. Rational because it is intelligible; true being because it is what endures in vanishing appearances. All things partake in the Absolute, but no particular thing is the lone privileged ground of the Absolute. The Absolute as such is not a standpoint like the relative concepts that comprise it, for it is the absolute Concept, the whole, in which all others are relative as its parts. Its conceptual content is the entire system of fully developed scientific concepts, and thus, it has no definition other than this entire development. To those who have not endeavored to enter and work through the system the Absolute is nothing but an empty phrase, a nebulous shadow with the faintest shape.

Concepts, as unifying structures, are the intelligibility to everything which serves as such a structure, including non-mental things. When the development of Hegel’s science closes in on itself and finally points back to the beginning such that Absolute Spirit closes with the pinnacle of Philosophy and connects back to the Science of Logic, this closure of the systems of Logic, Nature, and Spirit is the concept of the Absolute finally come to its own as the Concept of which all other concepts are shown to be a part of. This concept, like all other concepts, is a unified structure consisting of systems (the concepts of Logic, Nature, Spirit) of concepts, and it is the most complex and mediated concept of them all. Its content is the entire developed system into which the thinker and thinking of the Absolute themselves are taken into. Unlike all other concepts which find themselves transcended as they are shown to be relative, the Absolute has no other transcendence beyond it. Its transcendence is an inner self-transcendence as finite and relative moments, but this self-transcendent process remains wholly within itself in all its developments. The Absolute thus shows itself to be a process with moments of identity and difference in respective views, a restless becoming that is in its restlessness at rest, and to be in its products the famous “circle of circles.”

To completely butcher it in order to give a summary: The Absolute is ultimately nothing but the completed process of the unity which dirempts itself, and which in its diremption returns to unity. The Absolute is a process which becomes other to itself in its own immanence, i.e. in being itself it becomes other than itself while remaining wholly itself. Its completion as system is nothing but the full course through the finite determinations which of their own immanent content and form go beyond themselves as the finite modes of the Absolute. The system is itself only the result of an absolute method with a unity of content and form which alone can yield the Absolute. For an absolute content only an absolute form and method can do. This process come to full closure, where it can generate nothing new within itself, is alone the true intelligible Absolute. From unities which show themselves relative and divided, to differences which show themselves necessarily united, the Absolute looms as their immanent true structure.

Process is, I think, one of the terms which best captures the strangeness of the Absolute. Process is both becoming and being, for in common understanding a being undergoes process. Hegel’s philosophy differs from common understanding in that there for it process and being are immanently united as being and becoming. Being becomes in being. In the Science of Logic this is epitomized in this: the thought of Being is necessarily the thinking of Being, and in thinking Being it has already Become Nothing. It is in the intimacy of thought and thinking that we find ourselves somehow both able and unable to split being and its becoming in the experience of thought as thinking, i.e. without thinking, a thought as concept is no thought at all.

It may be helpful to grasp the true Infinite and the Universal to grasp the Absolute.

Absolute vs. Relative

The Absolute as such is everything. However, it is not simply the totality of being, but also the point of reference and measure against which all things are compared to as relative. This is to say: The Absolute is eternal unchanging Truth, the relative is relative to it as incessant vanishings which are by virtue of partaking in the Absolute. Insofar as they are it is because they are a part and moment of Truth. How much Truth they attain is known only in comparison to its place in the process of development towards the Absolute. The Absolute is, one may say, the still image of the restlessness of every moment in the system—it is a ‘resting restlessness’. Without the relative moments which disappear into each other—this restlessness—however, we could not have the Absolute which is the restlessness at rest as the unifying structure of restlessness.

The Absolute itself includes the relative within itself and is not separate from it, neither as a separate grounding entity—such as being as something grounding yet separate from beings—nor as a fundamental concept such as matter which constitutes all else. To separate the Absolute from the relative moments as if they were independent, or as if one was more fundamental than the other, is itself a mistake which if carried out makes the Absolute relative to the relative, undermining its all encompassing absoluteness. As its individual moments, the Absolute is relative  and incomplete, but as the totality of individual relative moments, their generation out of and into each other, and their mutual structural determination and constitution, it is truly Absolute.

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There is more to say on the Absolute, especially concerning its deep connection to the basic concept of the Infinite, but that shall be expanded in another blog at a later date.

Negative and Positive Dialectics

People seem to have a confusion going on about dialectics, either in that they are not aware of what Hegel’s dialectics are about in general or because they’re confused as to which kind of Hegel’s dialectics are going on. On the first issue I’ve already written a blog post about, and if general online searches and discussions show anything, it’s that someone has to bring to awareness  the differences concerning the second.

Hegel can be said to use dialectics in two modes: negative and positive. Negative dialectics are mainly to be found mentioned outside the system which Hegel builds in the Logic and beyond—in the Phenomenology of Spirit—while positive dialectics are to be found in the system itself.

Negative Dialectics

As the name implies, negative dialectics negate their terms rather than sublate them. It must be stated: negative dialectics are not unique to Hegel—other philosophers, such as Plato and the Pyrrhonian skeptics use a similar method of drawing out inner contradictions. These types of dialectics are self-destructing—one could say they are ‘explosive’—and lead nowhere but to a skeptical state in knowledge, nullification of something, and if one wanted to talk of life they lead to death. The Phenomenology of Spirit is full of such dialectics; they are the bricks that form the highway of despair which Spirit traverses in its search for knowledge.

Negative dialectics are, for the most part, related concepts with content claims which are betrayed by their form and vice versa. To take the usual famous example: in the master-slave dialectic, the immanent content driving the relation, the desire and need for mutual recognition for self-consciousness, is in complete contradiction to the relational form of a master and slave. In such a relation, full recognition is impossible due to the inequalities of power as well as the self-undermining of the very possibility of recognition for each in their respective standpoint in the relation. What does this result in? It results in the dissolution of the master-slave social form as an answer to the problem it begins with in the struggle for recognition. The content and form are not in harmony and one must be cancelled eventually.

Another example: Force and its Expression are first posited by the Understanding as the answer to the problem arising from Perception: how can an object be understood to be one and many at the same time? Or: how is it intelligibly possible to conceive a unity of unity and difference? The answer to this problem is posed in the form of Force as an absolute universal principle underlying its differentiated Expression. Force is posited as an absolute content and Expression as a mere relative form of this content. Under speculative analysis, however, Force and Expression find themselves to be empty of intelligibility as different concepts for they each are defined merely as a moment of movement towards the other—the one is many is one is many… If we attempt to articulate the terms as rigid differences with Force and Expression as a dualism of substances, however, there is then an unintelligible connection between Force and Expression: Why does Force manifest as its Expression? How can Force be the essence of Expression, the only truth, yet have Expression be definitely not Force itself but rather something separate that merely seems to be? Force itself is unable to provide an answer; thus, its structure of concepts are discarded, but from its process there is a positive concept gleamed from its total activity. From the failures of Force, we find a movement of cognition which reveals a structure of the kind which is sought as an answer. Infinity appears as a concept which achieves the unity of unity and difference, and which explains how unitary oneness manifests as plural appearances. But this concept is only a new beginning, its structure goes beyond it and brings consciousness into the relation of infinity to infinity.

Were Hegel a mere skeptic, we would expect that the negative dialectic would simply end with dissolution. However, there is a positive moment to Hegel’s method in the Phenomenology of Spirit, the determinate negation left over from the cancellation of the terms of a form of consciousness. From Sense-Certainty the determinate negation is the sensuously mediated universal which was implicit to its activity. From Perception the determinate negation is the differentiated universal, and from Understanding what remains is Infinity—also implicit in the activities of these forms of consciousness.

The problem originally posed persists: What is the absolute and how can I know it with certainty? This question manifests with the absolute as the object of every form of consciousness, and its ways of knowing that presupposed object. Every form of consciousness in the book is posed to answer this question in the various general forms humanity has tried to answer it. Insofar as a form of consciousness advances this question, it comes into the inquiry and adds something, and insofar as it is revealed that it is vacuous and its form traps and conceals the positive content in it, it is dissolved and its structures/concepts are discarded and replaced with new forms of consciousness which provide concepts that are adequate to the concept structures left over from a dissolution.

The final negative result of the Phenomenology is: None of the forms of consciousness analyzed in the book offer a working structure that shows itself to be absolute and not self-destructing. They are all found to be insubstantial upon inquiry. 

The positive result is: Since all of these forms of consciousness exhaust the possibilities of knowledge in the form of something opposed as external to consciousness and unlike consciousness, the only remaining option is to discard the presupposition of the opposition of consciousness. The determinate negation of the opposition of consciousness as a whole is the remaining answer. We can begin without assuming any predetermined structure of knowing and its object as one assuming that the knower, knowing, and known are separate. This is what leads to the Science of Logic.

Beyond these results, however, are also the interesting results of the nature of phenomenal consciousness—its possible structures of self-understanding and its relation to others and to the world. In this manner, the entirety of the Phenomenology also reveals the fundamental possible structures which humans will develop in order to come to such understandings. In this none of the forms of consciousness are ever discarded. In self-consciousness, we apply sense-certainty, perception, and understanding. These are preserved as momentary structures of knowing which are limited to accessing an object only in some manner, and are recognized as not absolute. Not only are these forms of knowing not absolute, they are ultimately limited to the form of the knowing which assumes the opposition of consciousness and are themselves thus bracketed as mere moments leading to eventual conclusion of an inquiry that produces true scientific knowledge. All are possible forms of human consciousness, and all but one can function without prior forms available to them, hence the negation of the opposition of consciousness can only occur after such forms of consciousness are gone through in their complexity and show themselves to be inadequate as a whole.

Positive Dialectics

Opposed to the negative method, positive dialectics do not negate and dissolve the terms related. This type of dialectic is what is unique to Hegel in his particular way. It isn’t that no one else before had thought of concepts that unite seemingly contradictory ones, but rather that no one before Hegel had shown how these synthetic concepts managed to differentiate yet unify what seems contradictory. Everyone knew before Hegel that Becoming was an intermediary concept uniting Being and Nothing, yet apparently no one had quite known what to make of how this concept made sense in relation to Being and Nothing.

In the dialectics of the Science of Logic, Philosophy of Nature, and Philosophy of Spirit, every single moment is true and is maintained in every subsequent concept. The only general negation that goes on is the negation of the claim these concepts have to being absolute truths that explain everything. Negation as such, cancellation, happens in the very dialectics themselves where terms contradict each other while undermining themselves, but this contradiction does not dissolve these terms like the Phenomenology’s forms of consciousness seem to generally dissolve themselves as inadequate forms. Being is limited to what it applies to; Essence is limited to what it applies to; Concept is limited to what it applies to; Nature is limited to what it applies to.

In the dialectic of Becoming to Determinate Being, it is not the case that Becoming is ever discarded. In the dialectic of Something to Infinity, it is not the case that Something is ever discarded. In the Dialectic of Nature to Spirit, it is not the case that anything in Nature is ever discarded. Positive dialectics build upon concepts, showing limitations of concepts as their incompleteness and to the extent that they are incomplete they are untrue, but they are maintained through all subsequent developments.

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Perhaps it goes without saying, but it should be slightly clear that nothing in Hegel is quite one sided. Notice that in his negative dialectics he does not merely destroy the opposed incompatible terms, he has a positive moment in every dialectic of the Phenomenology just as much as he has the positive moment in the following system. Hegel himself tells us that the dialectical moment is itself the moment of negation and contradiction, but in a scientific inquiry such results themselves leave something positive. In truth, Hegel’s mature philosophy in the Phenomenology and onward always has his peculiar negatively positive dialectic in play.

Appearance & The Essence of Things

Phenomenology of Spirit: §143

This ‘being’ is therefore called appearance; for we call being that is directly and in its own self a non-being a surface show. But it is not merely a surface show ; it is appearance, a totality of show. (Miller trn.)

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For that reason, it is called appearance, for being that is immediately in itself a non-being is what is called seeming-to-be. However, it is not merely a seeming-to-be but rather an appearance, a whole of seeming-to-be’s. (Pinkard trn.)

 

From this quote, particularly from Miller’s translation, one can see a very interesting consequence from the concept of appearance, and that is that appearance as appearance in truth hides nothing underneath. In opposition to the Kantian problematic of our knowledge being limited to appearances and unable to access things-in-themselves, Hegel strongly and decisively argues the opposite: it is only because of appearances that we have access to things-in-themselves. The very fact and concept of an appearance is already the lifting of the veil, for in positing an appearance as that which is before us we necessarily posit that there is such a thing-in-itself hidden behind it as the reality which has shown itself to us as a moment of appearance. The essence of things which supposedly is veiled underneath momentary and ever vanishing appearance is in the end the enduring still image of this very vanishing as a whole, hence the totality of show. In this totality of show the essence of things fully shines through, every moment of appearance revealing one more moment of the intelligible rational principle which springs forth as this appearance, a principle only accessible to beings with the capacity to reason.

Though there is indeed a veil, this veil is the very thing which reveals the unseen that underlies it. Appearance is not the dark veil of space hiding essence underneath, but is instead the illuminating light which brings things-in-themselves into relation with us. In truth, appearance is not the total veil of a finite limited mind that keeps us apart from things-in-themselves as Kant thought, but rather the key to the total revelation of things-in-themselves or essence.

The Ideal in Absolute Idealism

_____Ideality_____

Something to keep in mind when dealing with Hegelian ideality is that thoughts are concepts, and concepts for Hegel are, as an analogy, ‘living’ and self-moving unifying processes. Activity and movement—process—is something inherent to Hegel’s conception of reality as a whole. Beings are active, Nature is active, thought is active, and Spirit is active. Hegel’s philosophy is no collection of definitions merely put together, but chained by a moving inner necessity. As an Idealist he is often attacked for his ‘abstraction’, meaning that he deals with and thinks that strange things like ideas are the ‘reality’ of the world and that ‘material’ is an illusion. On this particular attack Hegel is not guilty when this is meant in the typical Berkelyan sense of ideas, but in Hegel’s own technical meanings it is admittedly true that he held to such a claim.

Abstraction in the common understanding tends to mean two things: a vague concept or something that exists mentally. Hegel is not guilty on the first, and by common conception not guilty of the second insofar as Hegel’s “thoughts” are not simply mental representations. In method, Hegel is a complete opposite of vagueness; indeed, it’s the strongly interwoven concepts which cause much of the mental suffering to the new reader who mistakes him to be just another philosopher whose concepts can just be taken up as if his language has everyday meanings.

Finitude, Abstraction, Thought, and The Ideal

Ideality and abstraction are, as anything Hegelian, more than simple definitions or statements. While there is a connection between the common notion of ideality and Hegel’s, there is also a separation with his speculative meanings. The connection between them is this: in the common notion ideality has to do with abstraction, thought, and unification; this is also true for Hegel’s ideality. In the common notion the ideal unifies in thought by abstracting from concrete difference, hence its vagueness and lack of definite detail, and this is why it is called abstract universality. In Hegel’s philosophy, however, ideality is something quite more than in the common notion.

Ideality for Hegel is meant in multiple senses:

1—As that which is finite, that is, the finite as a literal abstraction that has no reality outside the Infinite/Absolute. By abstraction it is meant that a finite term is literally taken out of a concrete whole, it is abstracted from its relations and set apart from it.

2—As that which is thought itself as pure abstraction. This has to do with thought as concepts and not as mere representations.¹

3—As that which attains to its Concept, that is, an object that is true and what it should be in that it embodies its concept.

These aren’t actually fully separate senses, but it helps to consider each in context when Hegel speaks of the ideal. Hegel says:

1—“The proposition that the finite is ideal constitutes idealism. The idealism of philosophy consists in nothing else than in recognizing that the finite has no veritable being. Every philosophy is essentially an idealism, or at least has idealism for its principle…. Consequently, the opposition of idealism and realistic philosophy has no significance. This ideality of the finite is the most important proposition of philosophy, and for that reason every genuine philosophy is Idealism… Now above we have named the principle or the universal the *ideal* (and still more must the Notion, the Idea, spirit be so named); and then again we have described individual, sensuous things as *ideal* in principle, or in their Concept, still more in spirit, that is, as sublated; here we must note, in passing, this twofold aspect which showed itself in connection with the infinite, namely that on the one hand the ideal is concrete, veritable being, and on the other hand the moments of this concrete being are no less ideal—are sublated in it; but in fact what is, is only the one concrete whole from which the moments are inseparable.” (Science of Logic: §148-9)

2—“The durable existence, that is, the substance of an existence, is its selfsameness, for its non-selfsameness would be its dissolution. However, selfsameness is pure abstraction, but this pure abstraction is thought.” (Phenomenology of Spirit: §54)

3—The Idea is truth in itself and for itself—the absolute unity of the concept and objectivity. Its ‘ideal’ content is nothing but the concept in its detailed terms: its ‘real’ content is only the exhibition which the concept gives itself in the form of external existence, while yet, by enclosing this shape in its ideality, it keeps it in its power, and so keeps itself in it.” (Encyclopedia Logic: §213)

The ideal is finite insofar as it is a true abstraction which can sustain itself as an existent differentiated from, yet within and part of, the Absolute; it is a thought insofar as it is a unifying abstraction as Concept—an abstracting self-relating² unity. Returning to the finite, it may be seen as ideal in the common sense in that it seems that it is a vanishing figment or appearance of imagination/thought, for all that is finite has substance and essence that neither empirically nor conceptually has absolute grounding substantiality upon close inspection, but points beyond itself. However, this similarity is a mere surface resemblance, for this ideality is no mere vanishing figment for Hegel. This pointing beyond itself of finitude is itself a pointing towards an ideality of finite things themselves in another sense: it points towards their essence and truth which is an intelligible immaterial universal principle. Whether one calls the truth of things matter, spirit, energy, forces, laws of nature, et cetera, these truths are concepts unlike the immediate sensuous appearance of things.

This ideality, however, is not a mere dead abstract vague representation defined and done away with as in the common notion of ideality, but is a unifying structure called a concept. As concept it is a self-differentiated unity developed through other concepts internally related to each other in systematic fashion—it is concrete. Such concept is a unity of unity and difference, or a unity of identity and difference which links what is with what it is not. As concept which has a concrete universal structure, the ideal is the principle of development and existence of finite things, yet these finite things are themselves part of the ideal concrete structure into which they seem to vanish. As parts they are moments of it which themselves are as necessary and enduring as the totality which they comprise. With this in mind, the finite itself also is as ideal as the very beyond it points to, and the empirical sensuous existence of things is no less ideal, for though it is the external existence of the ideal, this external existence is itself immanently linked to and part of the concept it embodies.

For the third meaning, the Idea is the realization of what should be insofar as an object is the realization of its own freely self-determined concept—one may relate this to the common notion of the ideal of things, what they would be as ‘perfect’—and in so doing such an object is true in accordance to its concept. This ideal, however, is not simply a completed ‘perfection’, but also a developmental perfection insofar as concept and externally existent objectivity coincide.

As is often the case with Hegel, a term may be meant in all of its meanings even when one particular aspect is being emphasized, so it’s a good exercise to see what Hegel is pointing out on the surface while also being aware there are the other meanings right underneath.

Concreteness

Concreteness3 is often used to refer to the experienced empirical world which exists as it does in its fullness. For Hegel, concreteness is more akin to an accumulated ‘thickness’ of connections inhering in a concept; such thickness provides the solid contextual ground for concepts in the structure of systematic unity. Even so-called abstract concepts in the end show themselves to be concrete not simply because they have a place in a systematic whole, but because they form the ground as well as are results of such systematic whole. The empirical is concrete in that it is a totality that is already unified and thick with real connections. Thus, for external existents of nature, there seems to be no problem of abstraction like there seems to be for thought. Nonetheless, one may speak of spheres of nature as abstract in some senses. Concreteness, to butcher it a bit, is expressed in contextual thinking which considers the connections of things either logically as necessary or empirically as the temporospatial relation of things.

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  1. With concepts there is a necessary connection to yet another aspect of ideality as intelligibility, but I shall deal with that in another post.
  2. Self-relation almost always requires two concepts/determinations in order to make self-relation intelligible by providing the necessary basis for determining self-relation as opposed to other-relation. As such, self-relating often implies relation to at least one other. Self-relation as self-abstraction is the beginning of particularity and eventual individuality. That said, immediate self-relation is possible and itself intelligible such as in The One of Being-for-itself which is a totality that sublates all otherness within itself.
  3. A fun and short piece on this by Hegel is Who Thinks Abstractly? 

Why Self-Consciousness Needs Two

Why Are Two Consciousnesses Necessary For Self-Consciousness?

Hegel’s claim that self-consciousness requires two (self-)consciousnesses is something I don’t think anyone should find convincing at the face of it, for I myself do not find it convincing without elaboration. Part of the issue that I think highly confuses the understanding of the section is that Hegel brings up the “I am I” of the not-yet-self-conscious consciousness. Bringing this in ends up being confusing, for in the common understanding the “I am I” is considered a basic form of self-consciousness. But what does the ‘I am I’ say that makes us think this?

In §176 Hegel gives the following recap of self-consciousness:

A— The pure I without distinctions is its first immediate object.

B— This immediacy, however, is absolutely mediated, for it exist only in the act of sublating the independent object (life) before it, thus the I exists only as desire. The satisfaction of desire is the very reflection of self-consciousness into itself, that is, it is the certainty which has become the truth.”

C— The truth of the certainty gained in the sublation of the other (life), is only a reinforcement of the truth that consciousness is a doubled reflection as self-consciousness. “There is an object for consciousness which in itself posits its otherness, that is, which posits the distinction as a nullity and is therein a self-sufficient object.”

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Am I not self-conscious when I reflect on myself and claim “I am I”? It seems utterly ludicrous to say one is not self-conscious in such a situation, so what gives? Well, what does ‘I am I’ say in its mere claim? This claim by consciousness is merely the law of tautological self-identity which merely separates the I from all else as other to it—it is not yet a self-reflecting claim or awareness. The ‘I’ here is also not yet a universal kind differentiated between one particular instance and another, it is a pure immediate contentless individuality. This is to say, this claim is purely one without difference in that ‘I am I’ does not imply ‘I am not you’ or someone else.

When we make this claim it is very different to the claim of Hegel’s self-consciousness on its own. In our claim we implicitly carry universal notions of self and other. As language bearers and  developed cultural beings we have language, culture, and a divided consciousness. We carry an internal other within us from which we reflect: our conscience and our internalized imagination of how others view us. A consciousness with no such power of language, conceptual thought, cultural history, nor social existence has no concept of self for all it has is its own experienced pure empty individuality. ‘I am I’ as opposed to… what? You? There is no ‘you’ at such a point, for such a consciousness has no recognition of anything that is like itself. There is no community of ‘I’s, only the existence of I alone. All that I means and is at such a point is the power of negation of all before it. The I is nothing but pure desire, the consciousness which is at home with itself as desiring life and its endless task to negate all by consumption and nullification.

This I acts towards a world that faces it as other, but in the consumption of desire it attempts to prove to itself that nothing is truly other, that it is truth and essence alone, for there is nothing that withstands its negation. To it otherness is but an appearance whose truth is the I. The issue with “I am I” is not just its poverty as a claim, for it is a meaningless tautology, but also an ontological one. The ontology of self-consciousness is not simply a tautological declaration of self-relation, nor is the experience of self-consciousness simply such a declaration. To be capable of self-consciousness is not the capacity to simply recognize myself as an individuality, but to recognize consciousness in general, that is, to recognize other consciousnesses and their likeness and difference to mine. What does ‘I am I’ mean when I have no concept of other ‘I’s against which I differentiate? Nothing.

The problem with mistaking the claim of ‘I am I’ as a proof of self-consciousness lies in that for us it carries too many assumptions from our already deeply socially embedded self-awareness and the resulting internally self-reflective consciousness. To be genuinely self-conscious is to see my consciousness from the point of another consciousness while in the standpoint of my own consciousness. When we say we are very self-conscious about ourselves in any manner, Hegel means something deeply similar by his concept of self-consciousness. We mean by this that we are aware of how others are aware of us, and that we are aware of their actual or possible capacity  of being aware of our being aware of them.

Recall that consciousness is a cognition directed towards an outer other as object. Its awareness is always pointed outward and never is reflected back inwards. A self-consciousness can exist as a mere consciousness insofar as it does not have another self-consciousness to cause the cognitive awareness to reflect back inwards. Alone, two self-consciousnesses are mere consciousness, but when they encounter each other they have the capacity to recognize each other as self-consciousnesses. Like a light beam projected outwards from an infinitely deep and dark abyssal mirror, consciousness’s awareness reaches outward and grasps the other in its gaze. When two encounter, however, each is primed to detect and recognize the gaze, the emitted light beam, of the other impinging on it. Immediately consciousness recognizes consciousness at one and the same moment as 1) consciousness as its object of awareness 2) itself as the object of the other’s awareness 3) as being recognized as consciousness by the other.

The formula of self-consciousness is thus this: I am aware of you being aware of me being aware of you. Through you, I have been forced into becoming aware of myself as consciousness which is the object of consciousness, i.e. self-awareness has been achieved for both through a mediation of each other. In other words, self-consciousness is a reflective cognition between two genuine others in which the other is recognized as other yet as of the same kind. Self-consciousness is this closed circuit of recognition between two.

Comment: The Unity of Self, Concept, and the World

Bernstein, in the first lecture part on the “Introduction” chapter in the Phenomenology, has this very interesting bit about this quote from Hegel near the end:

The Concept, when it has developed into a concrete existence that is itself free, is nothing other than the I, or pure self-consciousness, but the I is first this pure self-related unity.”

Hegel, Science of Logic

[Bernstein:] “This sentence basically means the following: What he is claiming here is that the driving idea is that nothing can be of significance in my mind unless I can put it into functional conversation with everything else in my mind (call that the Holism requirement), hence the fundamental structures and principles of mind that Kant calls Categories and Hegel calls the Concept are functions of unity. So the unity of the Self and the unity of the Concept are the same, but since the work of unifying is the condition for anything being recognizable by the Human mind at all, then the unity of the subject is responsible for the unity of the world, or rather the world comes to appear as a world at all only if it can appear as in accord with the functions providing for the unity and freedom of subjectivity.

This is the principle of idealism (the unity of self = unity of concept = unity of the world). The principle of idealism simply states that we can have a world at all, and to represent the world to ourselves, only through conceptual unification where establishing such conceptual unification simultaneously yields the unity of the Self with itself. The world necessarily appears as my world. In generating the unity of itself with itself the Self is determining itself, it is acting in a free way, not following from without.

For Plato there is a unity to the world, but it is not the unity in my mind. First it’s the unity of the Ideas that maybe I can internalize to order my mind to get in accordance with, but for Hegel it’s the freedom of self-determining subjectivity itself that generates categorial unity and in so doing it is unifying itself with the world. Making the world determinate presupposes the self-determining act of Reason (that’s the principle of Idealism restated and the entire structure of the Logic).  This is all about ‘The space of Reason is the space of freedom”, and therefore just seems to be an objective Idealist claim. This is all about the mind securing itself, and in securing itself it secures the world, and that turns out to be not reductive or idealist.”

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The Unity of The Self and World

I would like to make a derivative comment on this by using the conceptual keys given to us by Hegel in the Phenomenology’s “Preface” itself on the very closely linked relation of Substance as Subject. From what I know so far, I think Bernstein here jumps the gun far too quickly to anthropomorphize the “self” being referred to in the quote. He assumes that one is well acquainted with Hegel’s meanings, otherwise what he says here can be very misinterpretative of Hegel. That is not to say, however, that I think anything he stated here is wrong, I find these thoughts very interesting examples of how Hegel’s conceptual structures scale through ontological levels.

The I is, yes, the human subject’s I, but Hegel also makes it clear that in a much broader sense the I is, as he states, “first this pure self-related unity.” Regarding concrete existence, in the Logic Hegel has a semi-famous (to Hegelians) line, “The Idea is, first of all, life.” That is to say, the objective form, the independent existence of the Concept as such—the concrete Universal—is life, and in the Philosophy of Nature‘s end, with the arising of life, consciousness arises simultaneously. Life is always already conscious life. This is to say, as a unified self-differentiated whole with parts, a living being has a unified locus of being, a self-identity in its determined organization as an extended body; it is a self in this manner. It is conscious in its living activity, it metabolizes its environment because it is driven by desire manifest in the unignorable impetus of feeling which dominates its existence.

Concept and self are functions of unity. Bernstein’s point that nothing can be of significance to us which cannot enter into the web of other things in our minds is a significant one. Things which have no universal character, which are pure individualities, enter into no relations to anything other than themselves—they have no internal reason to be connected at all. A self is already a unity—a universal—in which individuals are connected within the subject even if they themselves refuse this connection in themselves. The self not only unites seemingly external individuals, but also unites itself with itself. In the mind, when we lack concepts with which to subsume individualities, they are but flickers of experience which are meaningless series in consciousness. The self in such a scenario experiences its world as an unending flux of myriad expressions—to this self nothing in the world appears to it as enduring or essential except itself as the enduring locus of united experience.

A global flash of light in the middle of the night in a dark forest is conceptually meaningless and forgotten insofar as we find no relation in it to anything else, not even to our self. However, the moment a concept arises to grasp and hold fast to the individual, things become meaningful and enduring beyond the abstract self. In the concept of my “self” I already grasp at certain individual instances and unite them in my self to form a core concept, even if arbitrary, that nonetheless becomes meaningful to me and endures in me. In it I unite the experience of something I call my body, my memory, my feelings, and my dreams. In the experience of the random flash I may grasp it in no concept; thus it comes and disappears as yet another moment of flux. However, were I to grasp the individual experience in a concept, say an omen, then the flash gains significance and enters into my self, partaking in my cultural worldview.

When Bernstein says that the world cannot appear as a world without allowing for freedom and subjectivity this is not a statement about the world depending on our self unity, but rather on the very structure of self-related unity as such. This unity is not just the unity of the conscious living self, but also the unity of all things that exist; be they atoms, rocks, or stars. The universe is only possible because self-unity as such is possible. Concepts are also unities like self-relation, often thought of as purely mentally subjective, however, since Concepts have the structure of self-related unity, they allow for the intelligibility of real existing external self-related unities.

The Unity of Self and World

Bernstein’s formulation of the “principle of idealism” is interesting. The unity of self and unity of concept are visible in what Hegel says, but concerning the perception of a world there is a lot more to say in order to make explicit the connection which makes his claim convincing. When Bernstein says that we can only have a world at all when we can establish conceptual unification that simultaneously establishes the self, this is a claim that seems to boldly claim what now is called correlationism by some philosophers, i.e. that the world as it is cannot be what it is beyond what it is for us.

This claim, I think, makes more sense if we take it from the perspective of implicit meaning, and furthermore, by clarifying the subject as not necessarily being a conscious one.—”The world necessarily appears as my world.”—That is to say, the very appearing of a world already implies a self to which such world appears. Insofar as a world appears, it appears to someone, and as a consciousness contemplating this the world thus necessarily appears to me. However, is Bernstein making a more general point here about the concept of a world itself? Does the concept of world make sense when one considers a world without subjects to who it is represented? Of course it does, but I don’t think Bernstein is making a point about the world as such being dependent on our self.

To imply that a world is not a world without subjects to appear to is not something easily accepted. I cannot defend Bernstein’s phrasing, for I think it much too strongly implies something that seems wrong considering experience and concept, but I don’t think Bernstein is being a subjective idealist here—it’s also not implied by what Hegel says. I would like to offer a rephrasing to what I think makes it into a far more acceptable claim.

Recalling the earlier point about the self as a self-related unity, the self to which a world appears is not a consciousness which deals with representations, but rather, a self with connection to other things—as such, the concept of appearance is not proper here. Instead of representation as a relation, relation itself is what has to be considered. To have a world is to have an absolute totality as differentiated unity. The world does not arise without things related in a web of relations, but to what and how are these relations relating? To a “self”, the world self, a unified self-differentiated unity that holds fast to itself in self-relatedness. The world does not merely depend on an abstract unity of itself with itself, but on the unity of that which constitutes it as a myriad of selves that in their self-relating relate to others in myriad ways.

The issue of self and world seems, however, a mostly superficial point to what Hegel seems to be aiming at. While it is a relatable point of entry to the issue—it’s a catchy claim that hooks you—it does more to confuse. Bernstein’s talk of representation, self, and world tinges his account in this excerpted part of his lecture with subjective idealist flavor, betraying Hegel’s own dense intentions. As Bernstein closes the thought, comparing Plato’s ideas and their unity in relation to our own self-unity, the tinge of subjectivism is strong. To reiterate, the unity of self/subject Hegel is concerned with is something far more basic and universal than our human subjectivity. The world is not unified because my mind is unified; it is unified because it has a self-unity itself—it has subjectivity, i.e. active self-related unity.

What is Bernstein getting at in all of this? If it is obvious that the world is unified and existing for itself without our mind’s unification, what is at stake in what he is saying? The issue, I think, is intelligibility. His closing statement that the securing of the unity of the mind shall be the securing of the unity of the world is indeed in line with Hegel’s project: to decisively grasp the system of the mind as conceptual thought—to show that reason can ground itself and attain absolute knowledge of itself. If thought can grasp its own unity as intelligible to itself, it guarantees itself as the absolute against which all else is relative. As self-grounding, reason does not show itself to be determined by anything other than itself, thus it is free in that it is self-determined.

Hegel’s Form of Science

Following from my first post about dialectics as immanent critique, the most bare form of Hegel’s method, the second of my posts on this shall now concern one aspect of the general method. “But wait, A.W., didn’t you say that there isn’t a formulaic method to follow?” Why, yes I did, and that remains true. However,  you should not be surprised that something interesting comes up when looking back in retrospect: that though there was no method you could have assumed in the workings of the likes of the Science of Logic, there is indeed a general developmental form which appears retroactively. This form does not supplant the actual work of science, but serves as a formal pointer to certain characteristics which any science must have. What is it?

The Structure of Science

You may have come upon the formula of {Abstract->Negative->Concrete} as the supposed formula Hegel gives for his method in the Encyclopædia Logic. As I mentioned in my prior post on the introduction to dialectics, this formula is not really a formula for the immanently critical method itself; however, this formulation does actually tell us something important. It tells us of the structure of science (as Hegel conceives it). If we wish to generate any science at all, including one of an empirical phenomenon, what we first are to do is to take account of all of our concepts which have any necessary role to play in our science, within which we must find the simple abstract immediate concept which has for its content the generative contradiction which entails all the other concepts as its developments. After the beginning is discovered we can begin the immanent method of dialectical movement, bringing in the other concepts into consideration as they begin to fit moments of development. Science develops itself from the abstract to the concrete, fashioning itself as the organic and self-developing Universal.

History, Experience, And The
A Posteriori A Priori

This brings to mind something else of interest, that is, that sciences do not get generated a priori until we have already a posteriori generated or discovered the concepts which come together to form a science. This is an interesting link which is made by Hegel between two forms of knowledge sometimes considered incompatible; one of pure reason, the other of experience. Hegel here gives not just room, but a place of  powerful importance to empirical science in the process of Spirit’s knowledge generation. The mode of thinking of Understanding employed by the empirical scientist is uniquely fit for the work of discovery of necessary pieces of science despite the lack of the explicit knowledge of what a true science is or how it is to be developed. Once the general concepts of the system of a science are at hand after the empirical arising of their structures and discovery thereof—haphazard as such discoveries may be—we are capable of using the method of science to consider the concepts or categories in their pure logical (rational) form as they immanently relate to each other regardless of how they empirically appear.

All of Hegel’s sciences show themselves to be a posteriori a priori. The Phenomenology recounts forms of consciousness Spirit has already carried out, and a priori develops the forms of consciousness after the fact that Spirit has already undergone them all in its history, Absolute Knowing being a final recollection which looks upon the process and sees what has gone on. All forms of consciousness were first discovered in experience. The Science of Logic a priori develops the pure categories of thought after the fact that Spirit had already had the experience of a history of metaphysical speculation where each category had been at some point discovered, used, and exhausted in some way. Another interesting case of such science is Marx’s theory of Capital—only in the aftermath of classical political economy did the categories of economics as such finally come to be at hand for Marx the (Hegelian) scientist to study, arrange, and develop into a science.

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==

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==

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.

==Universality==

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.

hegelian-universal-2

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.

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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.

Phenomenology of Spirit: Substance as Subject

In the Phenomenology‘s “Preface” Hegel makes some quick, dense, and seemingly unintelligible equations of certain terms. In §22, 37, and 54  of the Miller translation Hegel makes a boggling rundown of conceptual equivalences that to the uninitiated must appear as utterly unintelligible.

Hegel basically ends up making this astonishing chain of equivalencies:

Reason=purpose= self-movement =Subject=Negativity=Being-for-self = Self=Immediacy=Becoming=Concept= Actuality=Substance=Being-in-itself

In §22, Hegel says Reason is purposive activity, and that purpose is what is both unmoved and is self-moving, and this is Subjectivity. Not only that, but this power of self-movement is negativity, and this negativity is the self.  This actually isn’t that unintelligible if one merely slows down.

That Reason is purpose is not a crazy idea; indeed, when you ask for the reason for something, you are usually asking for the purpose for which it is. Purpose being self-moving is also not strange, for purpose in a sense seems to be self-realizing in that something purposive begins with its purpose in potential and ends with its purpose actualized. That Hegel calls this self-movement Subjectivity, however, is definitely something that won’t find much traction in the section; we are told of it, and Hegel swiftly races onward. It isn’t an absurd notion, however, when we think of it in a very broad sense; our subjectivity as we understand it in regular life is fundamentally tied to our own self-movement as free agents to do whatever it is that we want to do; hence, that self-movement is in some basic sense Subjectivity is understandable. That self-movement is negativity is definitely strange if one is not thinking of negation and instead thinks of negativity in the sense of negative and positive, but with negation in mind it’s quite clear why this equivalence is made: that which moves itself must somehow be negating its state of being to change it. Negativity as the self-movement of purpose as a whole, Hegel tells us, is just what the self is. “The self is the sameness and simplicity that relates itself to itself.” Because purpose relates itself both as its beginning and end, and negativity likewise negates whatever it produces and in that sense also relates to itself, this equivalence is formally intelligible even if we have little clue what Hegel really means in these concepts.

In §37, Hegel brings all of what he states in §22 to continue the chain of conceptual connections.

He elaborates an addition to negativity; it is now the distinction between the I and the Substance it investigates. In this section, Hegel elaborates on the meaning of Substance as Subject. The negativity which separates  the I and Substance is the very power that is the I and the animating soul of Substance—this negativity constitutive of substance, though Hegel does not mention it, is at its most basic determinateness, the being of something by not being another something. Substance is “in disparity with itself,” shows negativity active within it, and negativity is constitutive of Substance’s very being; this is how Hegel cashes out the original enigmatic claim. Substance is Subject because it has negativity, i.e. it has the very same self-moving power as the I.

When it has shown this completely, Spirit has made its existence identical with its essence ; it has itself for its object just as it is, and the abstract element of immediacy, and of the separation of knowing and truth, is overcome. Being is then absolutely mediated ; it is a substantial content which is just as immediately the property of the ‘I’, it is self-like or the Notion.

To skip a bit ahead in the Phenomenology, Spirit in the end shall find nothing but itself in its objects of investigation. The reason is already clear in one sense, first because Spirit too is negativity and the I; secondly—and this shall be shown in the next section—because Spirit is thought and its knowledge of objects is their very Notion; and lastly, because as Hegel intends to show beyond the Phenomenology in his actual philosophy, the entire system of knowledge is one absolute system united and moved by negativity.

Lastly, in §54 Hegel brings forth for a moment the concepts of identity and thought.

The subsistence or substance of anything that exists is its self-identity ; for a failure of self-identity would be its dissolution. Self-identity, however, is pure abstraction ; but this is thinking.

Self-identity is the locus of being that keeps substance together. Self-identity is also pure abstraction in a literal sense: it rips substance away from any connections and determinations, and as Hegel has already told us earlier in the Preface, abstraction is thought. Being, he goes on, is thought. This is meant literally and not in any metaphorical way. Being really is thought for it is a concept of abstraction, yet it is a “thought” that certainly applies to existent beings despite its poverty of meaning. Here Hegel makes a claim that this is the solution to the problem of how Being and thought are one, a claim I’m not sure he keeps quite in this sense in his later system.

Now, since the subsistence of an existent thing is a self-identity or pure abstraction, it is the abstraction of itself from itself, or it is itself its lack of self-identity and its dissolution—its own inwardness and withdrawal into itself—its own becoming.

Here Hegel pulls a fast one on the reader, alluding to something he develops in the future Science of Logic, with becoming. Becoming is vanishing, and since self-identity in abstraction is its own dissolution, its own vanishing, the power of negativity appears freely from it. Substance’s self-identity is its own negativity, its own subjectivity. Substance, having Become, then attains to its own self-determination in accord with its own free self-movement and development via its negativity, a power which allows it to go beyond itself and link to what is different yet freely inherent to it. Thus, Substance constantly dissolves its boundaries—goes beyond itself—only to return to itself freely. This movement broadly maps the path of Spirit which goes beyond itself only to find itself.

Some of the equivalencies aside, it goes to show that Hegel really had something interesting to say in all these seemingly bizarre terms and phrases, however, he was unable to explain them due to the constraints of a Preface, and well… one should wonder what he was thinking when he decided it was a good idea to just throw them out considering the ignorance his readers suffer through no fault of their own on this part.

The Strangeness of Nothing

The ontological status of Nothing is very interesting, for there is in the common understanding an endless slew of problems in conceiving it. It is very likely that if you have ever had a discussion about Nothing with an average person it has basically ended in the strange predicament about the unintelligibility,  the ineffability, of Nothing. The very naming of Nothing seems to give it affirmation of Being which it does not logically allow. In my middle school and high school days I heard many-a-times the phrase, “Nothing can’t be Nothing, because calling it Nothing makes it something.” The apparent silliness of this seeming misunderstanding or obfuscation of language aside, what status does Nothing have in the world?

Logically, Nothing seems to be a negating term, an absence of Being. It has no positive existence itself, only Being does. We say, for example, that darkness is merely the absence of light, that cold is the absence of heat, etc. By definition negations, Nothings, obviously do not exist. The definition of Nothing is that it does not exist, that it has no Being for it is the absence of Being. Only being is; Nothing is not. Simple… or so it seems.

Language, and by extension thought itself, has a peculiar difficulty dealing with Nothing, with negations, absences. Because they are Nothings, and Nothings are not, language has had to develop rather strange and contradictory ways to refer to absences, to point to that which does not exist. We say “There is nobody at the door,” “There is nothing in my cup,” “There is nothing there.” We are naturally compelled to speak of absences in the affirmation of their Being. Some philosophers have considered this a mere example of the inadequacy of natural language and our animal intuitions for thinking properly about the world. According to such philosophers an ideal logical language purged of these confusions of natural language is required for thinking the world as it really is.

But why should we think that these natural developments of language are confused and wrong? Yes, by definition absences have no Being, but is this actually a tenable position? Is it not the case that when I notice and say, “There is nothing in my cup,” there really i Nothing in my cup? Isn’t it the case that there really is an absence there? Darkness may be an absence of light, yet I see darkness, I see the absence of light as its own Being. When there is an absence of heat i feel cold as a positive state. It seems strange that we conceive and interact with Nothings all the time, yet somehow we are to believe these are silly fictions.

Hegel’s conception of Being and Nothing is capable of making this strangeness intelligible. For Hegel the fact that we have had to develop language to speak of Nothing as we do is itself a pointer towards what this term really means. Being as such, pure Being, is nonsense. Likewise the idea of a pure Nothing that does not itself have Being is nonsense. As Parmenides believed, that ‘Only Being is; Nothing is not,’ we cannot help but think and speak from the side of Being and only from the side of Being, for if Nothing is really that which is utter non-Being, then it is logically unthinkable. Despite this, we clearly think of Nothing all the time, we speak of it all the time, we deal practically with it all the time. Being as pure Being doesn’t mean anything, just as Nothing as pure Nothing is meaningless, and this meaningless indeterminacy is what makes intelligible that Nothing already puts us in the form of Being for it is a meaningless and indeterminate emptiness. On the most abstract level Parmenides has touched on a truth that cannot be escaped, yet it’s also a truth that doesn’t tell us much of anything. If Nothing must Be, then the notion of Nothing as absolute negation of Being is not tenable. The solution Hegel offers in the Science of Logic is that Being and Nothing are concepts of relative position in a relation of Beings. Being and Nothing are in truth the perspective of Being this particular Being and not another. Where one Being meets another Being, there its non-Being, its Nothingness, begins.

For an expanded explanation of Being and Nothing as Hegel deals with it in the Science of Logic‘s first chapter, check out my post on the dialectic of Being, Nothing, and Becoming.