Category Archives: Concepts

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.”

x

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 is 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 time 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 to 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 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.

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. This reiterates the independence of truth from us, 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 denies that we can grasp it in-itself—only as it is from our subjective frame. Hegel claims we can indeed grasp Truth in-itself; not from our side, however, but from its side. However, this requires a new way of thinking which allows the concept of the object to develop itself before us without our subjective 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 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. 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 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 itself is 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. 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 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.

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. 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. 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.

Dialectics: An Introduction

Hegel is a philosopher known for his difficulty and speculative depth, but finding a mere entry point from which to learn the system is itself a difficult endeavor when the most fundamental aspect of his system, his method, is obscure. I hope that this article accomplishes the aim of clarifying dialectics in a way that very few articles do. What I write here is in no way an original conception or secret knowledge. A few authors have written on this topic with clarity. However, these authors are not known in popular discourse, nor are their works the first to come up in a search engine inquiry. As such, I set my task here merely as a condensed exposition of dialectics for others in hopes of sparing them from what should not be a long arduous road just to reach the door. Credit, first and foremost, goes to Hegel himself, who despite all claims made to the contrary is not mysterious or secretive about his “method” at all.

The So-Called “Method”

There truly is no such thing as dialectic as a method in the usual sense that people think of a method. Immanent (internal) critique is immanent critique, and insofar as Marx and Hegel engage in such an activity there is no difference, there is no ‘idealist’ or ‘materialist’ dialectical method. This is not to say there is no fundamental difference between Marxists and Hegelians, but that difference is certainly not dialectics themselves; not if Marx is using such a method as that which Hegel himself uses. I shall expand on this later on, but for now the focus shall be on dialectics as such.

What is often called ‘dialectical method,’ I must repeat, is a method that exists neither in Marx nor in Hegel like the likewise mythical scientific method of hypothesis-experiment-conclusion does not exist for science in general. There is no formula to this ‘logic’no set of rules to apply over and over. There is no {thesis-antithesis}-synthesis, nor {abstract-negative}-concrete. What is wrong with these formulas is not so much that they are just plain wrong, but that they serve to confuse the matter for someone who does not already know the logic of immanent critique. As a description of the process, the former is understandable to some degree, and the latter is even correct to a high degree in that it describes a pattern relation between the results produced. The issue, however, is that people generally don’t understand that these are mere descriptions and not the process itself. They conflate a processed result for the process that creates those results, and in thinking that dialectics is this description, they are led to misunderstand that the form that results is the method itself.

In one sense, one can look to Socratic/Platonic dialectic and its process of attempting to arrive at truth through a thorough and multifaceted inquiry into a concept by mutual interrogation between interlocutors demanding justification of claims by grounding in universal reason as a form of dialectical method akin to Hegel’s. In such dialectic, a knowledge claim is put through a gauntlet of merciless interrogation by reason from all available points of views in order that clarification by clarification those in conversation may come to agreement of the universal truth contained in the nebulous shadows of regular thought. In Plato’s dialogues, the most interesting of these concepts are those like truth itself, justice, the good, beauty, et cetera. Like these dialectical dialogues, Hegel’s dialectics involve multiple perspectives, a demand for coherence, and a demand for definitively final reasons.

What is often called dialectics as a method is more properly understood as immanent critique, i.e. critical analysis of concepts/objects from within. This kind of analysis does not use any conceptual resources outside of its concept/object to critique it; it does not presuppose a form it must  conform to. By this, it is meant that one basically follows the train of thought set by the concept, the relations already within it, and those that it brings up of its own content and their relations. The content being investigated leads the investigation itself, and the immanent critic is more like a detective observing carefully for their suspect to justify or incriminate themselves, yet never once stepping in so that it remain clear to all that it was indeed all the suspect’s doing. In simplified terms, what is aimed at by such an analysis can be considered three things: testing coherency, testing stability, and testing for a claim to logical/material independence, in other words testing for a claim of being a coherent absolute.

Dialectics

That there is no dialectical method as a formula is not to deny that there are such things as dialectics. Dialectics is the plural of dialectic. This may seem like a strange or pedantic point, but it seems many do not understand this; most people speak of the dialectic or dialectics as the name and form of the method. These two uses of the term expand dialectics too far, and it is this expansion to the level of Hegel’s entire method and system which makes it become so general as to be meaningless. It is indeed true that dialectics drive the method and as such can be understood as the method in a way, but the method of Hegel does not presuppose dialectics as its motor, it discovers them in the content it investigates; dialectics are a result themselves. It is, therefore, best to be introduced to the method through the abstraction of the dialectical moment. By a dialectic it is to be understood that this must always mean a relation of inner contradiction, and only inner contradiction; dialectics are not about contradictions in general, but only these necessary inner contradictions.  For clarification’s sake, let us say that a dialectic is shorthand for a dialectical relationship. To think dialectically is to think in and through internal contradictions of concepts. I shall continue using the term concept exclusively as the object of dialectics because even material objects and activities are only intelligible as concepts which we think through to comprehend the world. I here offer a static definition of the moment of internal contradiction in Hegel’s method that can be termed dialectical.

Dialectical relationships: Such relations are of the kind of contradictory  concepts that in their meaning, or existence, necessarily presuppose and require their opposite. To have one is to have the other. To think through one leads to thinking of the other. To change one is to change the other. This is the famous unity of opposites dialectics is described as by many Marxists. Such ‘materialist’ relations are: {Worker—capitalist}; {[use-value]—[exchange-value]}; {material—ideal}; {base—superstructure} etc.

The worker and the boss have no meaning or existence without each other, and if you have one you know you have the other. The distinction of use-value and exchange-value requires that each presuppose the other in order to mean anything, etc. In material relations of this kind this means that a change in one is a change in its other, e.g. a change in the economic base leads to changes in the ideological superstructure and vice versa even if not immediately.

Now—if you’re a Marxist—you may wonder how this fits in with something like a commodity being dialectical. By this all that can be meant is that the thing/concept contains a dialectic as its content. This is much like a version of Hegel’s sublation term, a concept that cancels yet preserves a contradiction by suspending and mediating it to avoid the mortal problem of immediacy (according to most popular accounts of sublation anyway, not quite according to Hegel’s own use of the term), of unavoidable contradiction, a metaphor of a struggle to the death. This movement towards mediation, of avoiding contradictions, is one of the key elements in which Marx turns away from Hegel. Generally, ‘idealist’ dialectics are thought to be far more abstract ones such as {Being-Nothing}, but in truth Hegel gets very concrete and materialist in certain dialectical chains.

This relation of inner contradiction, in a strict sense, is all that a dialectic can be as merely a moment of Hegel’s method. Hegel’s method is more than just the dialectics that arise, though they are central as moments to it. Whenever we are engaging in dialectics we know that we are dealing with the study of a plurality or series of dialectical relationships. The logical movement from one dialectic to another occurs, to our conscious perspective, by an inner analysis of these contradictory relationships, the inner development of one from the other and back again, and this very movement between concepts as a concept itself, is what pushes thought onwards insofar as the analysis generates more concepts to continue. This movement of concepts, however, is not our subjective movement in thought, it is the movement of the concept itself, something that will become apparent in the examples. Why does thought move from dialectic to dialectic, contradiction to contradiction? The reason is simple: because they are contradictions.

In the sphere of thought the clash of contradiction forces thought to move of its own accord by the power of reason, the drive of thought to find ultimate reasons to ground itself, and insofar as a concept points itself to reasons within and beyond it it moves on. In the sphere of materiality contradiction manifests as clashing forces which in their relation and contact inherently destabilize by their very concept and nature. Dialectics may end in a constructive sublation or dissolution, the first the path of the dialectics of the Science of Logic, the latter the path of the dialectics of the Phenomenology of Spirit.

About Contradiction

The contradiction which dialectics deals with is often treated by many philosophers as if it is the contradiction which formal logic terms as the law of non-contradiction: A cannot be A and not-A at the same time, or A cannot be true and false at the same time, or, in the case of what Paul Redding calls the Aristotelian concept of contradiction in term logic,  A cannot instantiate a property/attribute and its opposite at the same time. Hegel does not deny any of these laws, but rather considers contradictions as multiple points of views on the same thing. Being and Nothing are indeed separate and different, yet they are each aspects (moments) of understanding the Absolute of which they form and are a part of, and thus they are also the same and united. Contradiction exists insofar as there are multiple and opposing positions from which things can be looked at and comprehended, and things can materially be only insofar as there really are different things in unity. When we think of A, yes, we really do think of A, it just so happens that the whole truth of A is also what A is not, its non-being, its opposite, and this too must be looked at and comprehended as part of A’s totality and ultimate truth. In order to think at all thought must develop through one sided determinations which define each side of A momentarily. A and not-A indeed cannot be thought at one single moment from one single perspective, but we can see that A and not-A are both aspects of A from different perspectives at different moments.

Dialectics and Thought

Dialectics are a result, yet though they are a result the structure of dialectical opposition is inherent to thought itself. In pure concepts Hegel believes he shows the immanent character of thought itself as dialectical. In thinking anything at all, even the abstraction of thought itself, we cannot help but think by and through reflexive difference which in pure form is direct opposition. The first dialectic of thought, pure abstract Being, cannot help but immediately move and grasp towards its opposition to attain determinate content. Pure Being and Nothing are there to show it is impossible to think without oppositional difference—all thought is already oppositional and determinate. One may want to say it is the experience of our mind that cannot hold fast to a thought and that it is silly to say thought itself must move to opposition, but Hegel intends to show us that it is indeed a thought which necessarily moves and demands oppositional content, for a thought is only a thought in the opposition which makes it differentiated, determined, and therefore minimally defined. If a thought as concept is to be at all it must be determinate, already in any still moment calling forth from within itself the minimal requirement of its other which defines it as a thought at all. A thought is always already this specific thought and not another thought, never an empty universal abstraction. As thought is shown to be unable to hold fast to itself in one sided moments, it shows itself to be a thinking.

It is said by some that dialectical thinking is best learned by observing it in action, so here are three examples of a very basic level.

Example 1: Being And Nothing

A classical Hegelian dialectical development is the famous {Being-Nothing}-Becoming dialectic. Now, this dialectic is actually very different to what most will encounter regarding it; it is not as simple as this formula makes it seem. The full development of it is actually this:

1-logic-diagram-on-being-final
**Sublation: equally means “to keep,” “to ‘preserve’,” and “to cause to cease,” “to put an end to.” Something is sublated only insofar as it has entered into unity with its opposite; in this closer determination as something reflected, it may fittingly be called a moment. – Hegel, Science of Logic

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

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

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

A picture may help with understanding this movement. Attempt to picture a singularity, a dimensionless point which is all there is. What is within such point? Nothing, there is no being within or outside the singularity, the singularity is dimensionless, it is only itself immediately and without separation. Since pure Being peculiarly contains (means) Nothing, it points us to an interesting thought: Nothing is what makes Being what it is. Nothing, hence, has now been positioned by Being itself as that which is more fundamental than it. Being is not absolute, but it points to Nothing as a new candidate for absolute truth and it must be investigated. Continuing the analogy of a singularity, since Nothing is the content of Being, makes Being what it is, Nothing itself is in the form of Being. Pay close attention to that, Nothing is and it is in the form of Being. Nothing is in Being for it is its content, yet Being is nothing but the form of Nothing itself. Neither Being nor Nothing are absolute, they are utterly dependent on the other, yet they are not separate as others for they are a  unity of form and content that is indistinguishable. In fact, we find here something strange: Being and Nothing are one and the same concept. We may see them as the form and content of one concept: the Being of Nothing. We know, however, that this is ridiculous and nonsensical. There is a real difference between Being and Nothing, they cannot be the same concept, we cannot accept the Being of Nothing as a valid concept since it is no concept at all, it is the mere empty tautology of indeterminacy. Being and Nothing immediately move to each other due to the contradiction of form and content which is immediate and forces an immediate logical move to the opposite concept. Is there something more that can be used to determine the difference of Being/Nothing in this immediate movement?

We see in this simple beginning of the Logic already arise the strange and irreducible dialectic of just these two simple concepts. Being is Nothing is Being is Nothing is… ad infinitum. Being and Nothing, in being thought, immediately (this is not temporal transition, but logical) transition into their opposite by either content or form. Being disappears, vanishes, into Nothing, and likewise Nothing vanishes into Being. This incessant immediate movement between Being and Nothing as vanishing is what Hegel calls Becoming. Becoming is the sublation of Being and Nothing for it is their immediate unity as vanishing. This, however, is not enough to make Becoming intelligible as a genuine concept. In fact, we must realize there is a problem with our beginning. If pure Being and Nothing are both indeterminate and lack definition, just how is it that we know they are different?  We have up to now merely assumed they are different because we intend to mean something different by each, yet in this pure indeterminate beginning we find no conceptual resource to make this intelligible in concept. Being and Nothing vanish ceaselessly into each other, and this vanishing is Becoming. Two indeterminacies vanishing into each other, however, provides no content to define their relation. Hegel here reveals to us that this beginning which we made had been a false beginning, and laboriously spends 20 pages to convince us that there can truly be no such concept as pure Being or pure Nothing. The true beginning of the investigation is Becoming, for in becoming we now have the first proper concept in which the difference of Being and Nothing can be made in conceptual definition. Because Being and Nothing have already shown themselves to comprise Becoming, even if  we don’t know what their difference really is, Becoming can shed light on our indeterminate Being/Nothing. Just as Being and Nothing were related as a contradiction of form and content which forces a movement into each other, now that we have Becoming a retroactive definition of Being and Nothing by considering this movement as moments of Becoming can be carried out. The movement of Being and Nothing into each other itself sheds light on the form and content of Being and Nothing themselves.

In Becoming we immediately can discern two parts, Hegel calls them moments, that comprise the definition of the concept of Becoming: Being vanishes to Nothing, it is Ceasing to Be (Being); Nothing vanishes to Being, it is Coming to be (Nothing). Both Ceasing/Coming to be are sublations, immediate unities of Being and Nothing on their own, hence they self-sublate and are in internal unity with their opposite, e.g. Being is its vanishing from Being to Nothing, it includes its opposite explicitly. Being and Nothing are now differentiated by this simple definition as being inverse moments in Becoming. The problem of definition, of a content/form that is one and the same seems to be solved; we finally have Being, Nothing, and Becoming as definite concepts, or so it seems until we think further. Being and Nothing, defined now as Ceasing/Coming to be which comprise Becoming, show a new problem: they presuppose a further determinate difference of Being and Nothing. If Being and Nothing are merely Coming/Ceasing to be, then we see that we in fact have not made a true separation of Being and Nothing yet. Being is defined as its mere vanishing to Nothing, and Nothing the mere vanishing to Being. We have lost Being and Nothing as distinct concepts yet again, content and form forces the incessant vanishing of Coming/Ceasing to be into each other again. The immediate unity and indifference which made the indeterminate Being and Nothing a problem reappears only in a duplicated unity of vanishings of inverse order. What is the Nothing that Being vanishes into, and what is the Being that Nothing vanishes into? Through Becoming we determined (defined) Being and Nothing as moments, but now Becoming’s own moments are pointing us to Being and Nothing which lie outside Becoming as that which Becoming’s moments vanish into, yet as moments of Becoming Being and Nothing as Ceasing/Coming to be vanish. Being and Nothing vanish into what? Each other! Ceasing/Coming to be vanish into Nothing/Being. Becoming, because it is vanishing, vanishes itself into the background of Being and Nothing and leaves them in immediate unity once again.

Here, a marvelous conceptual move has occurred: Becoming, the vanishing of Being and Nothing, themselves determined in it only as inverse vanishings into each other, vanishes itself for it is vanishing. There is a possibility to err in this crucial movement, however, and what follows is why. Ceasing/Coming to be assume Being and Nothing to be distinct and separate in order to be vanishing into each other, but Being and Nothing in Becoming are nothing but vanishings into each other ceaselessly, but since Ceasing/Coming to be have vanished the distinction between Being and Nothing which they vanish into, now we see that this vanishes Being and Nothing themselves, and Ceasing/Coming to be vanish along with them. If Being and Nothing, which Ceasing/Coming to Be depend on to be at all, have vanished in general,  then the result of Becoming is a vanishing of the vanishing, but it returns us back to pure Nothing and brings us back to the transition of Becoming again. Pure Being’s content pointed to pure Nothing, and there it can be seen that there is no escape, no denying of Being or Nothing, for they are a necessary form/content to each other, likewise in Becoming there is no escape from denying Being and Nothing for they are the necessary contents for Becoming. The moments of Becoming point to the solution of their vanished distinctions by presupposing the distinction of Being and Nothing. Ceasing/Coming to be now carry out their full movement as vanishings: in Ceasing to be Being vanishes to Nothing; in Coming to be Nothing vanishes to Being. The vanishings complete and vanish themselves away into what they have Become. It is the truth of Becoming that it become and vanish itself into Being and Nothing that has each become. The vanishing of Being and Nothing has vanished, they are now a stable unity of distinct yet immediately united concepts. Being and Nothing now have distinct content, if only in that they became in inverse of each other, but now recall that Being and Nothing shared one other aspect: their form; both have the form of Being. Being and Nothing both are.

Once more Being and Nothing inherently relate, no longer as vanishing forced by their form/content contradiction, but as that which has become into the two stable concepts. What is their relation now? They are beings in immediate unity, beings which are in virtue of their not being the other. This is a unity that is, and as such the unity of Being/Nothing has the form of Being itself. Now at last we have a Being  whose being is the immediate unity of Being with a non-being(Nothing), i.e. a Being whose being is in virtue of its non-being. This new Being is the vanishedness of Becoming.

Becoming’s inner movement’s vanishing has revealed a strange yet undeniable truth following from the logical movements that have developed thus far: Being and Nothing are one and the same, they are inseparable,  and they truly are different. Both Being and Nothing are ( they are the same);  both have Being. Now we can see Being is a being with a non-being, a Being with negation, and this negation is nothing other than another Being itself in its own right (they are different). Being is an immediate unity of beings which negate each other in virtue of being two beings which are not each other (they are inseparable). The entire development from Being/Nothing to the moments of Becoming have not been falsehoods or misunderstandings at all; on the contrary, they have further revealed the pieces to the baffling puzzle we started with and now allow us to further make sense of just how all of these aspects of Being and Nothing can be true. What vanishes in Becoming is also an incomplete concept of Being and Nothing as radically incommensurable concepts that cannot define themselves without transitioning into the other, and the resultant vanishedness makes way to the first real concept of Being: a Being with a non-Being as part of its being. 

As Hegel explains in the text, the absolute basic form of determination (definition) is negation, of Being which is negated. What negates Being? Nothing. But what is Nothing? A Being itself, but a being that is the non-being of the first Being. This unity of Being and Nothing is basic Determinate Being, or, general Existence. This is the first concept in which we can finally begin to think about  definable Being(s), however, there is at this point no difference between the determinateness of Being, and Being itself. Determinateness is, and Being is determinate. The contradiction of form/content forces thought’s movement onwards.

The form of the path of relations which pure Being has traversed, its dialectical development, is unique to itself. If one attempts to impose the form of relations which pure Being develops on its way to Existence one shall be terribly mistaken for Existence has its own peculiar form of development, one which is not unlike a hall of mirrors reflecting its content and form as multiple determinations of determinateness itself.

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

Example 2: The Commodity

A classical Marxian analysis is the commodity-{(use-value)-(exchange-value)} dialectic. A commodity, as an already empirically given and determinate concept, contains within it a tense contradiction between two concepts of value in the economic sphere: use-value, what we desire a commodity for in use, and exchange-value, what we can trade or exchange it for. How do we know that commodities contain these two concepts? Because they are necessary presuppositions for commodities to serve the actual economic role they do, that is, the meaning of a commodity is to be a use-value with exchange-value. A commodity is something which someone has a use or need for, but which has no use for its holder other than to exchange for what they need.

These two values cannot be had at the same time. If we want the use-value we must give up the exchange-value and vice versa. The consuming aspect of the market wants use-value, the selling side wants exchange value. Not only do commodities presuppose their own inner relation of value, but they presuppose the social structure of private property and the institution of right, as well as a system of social dependency in which persons are in need of the commodities of others while others are in need of the commodities which they hold, and thus they are driven to the agreement of exchange to satisfy their needs. Quite a lot is presupposed in the mere concept of commodities, and quite a lot follows from its own specific development as the category of economic value.

Let us develop this concept of the commodity further. Commodities are use-values which can exchange for other use-values. In the relation of different qualities and quantities, however, how is this very exchange intelligible? If the direct substances and quantities in the exchange are themselves not directly comparable, a third term must be in operation in the relation which is equal; this third term is the concept of value. The development goes on from there.

Example 3: Freedom of Speech

An example of a simple yet concrete analysis of this kind is an article I wrote on the concept of free speech. A simple summary of the analysis is that free speech is contradictory in its idea and its reality. Free speech, as a right, upon analysis leads us to ask what kind of speech actually enacts its condition of protection, and we find it is only dissenting speech of those in minorities or outside the status quo power that actually falls under the need of such a protection of speech. Insofar as one speaks things in the acceptable range of popular or power discourse there is no need for protection. The analysis moves forward and questions why speech, mere words, should give ground for censorship at all.

One finds that speech is not mere words, hot air, but is also activity with practical purpose to convey messages, to create responses and actions. This action related aspect of speech is what censorship aims to stop. If speech were mere words nobody should ever fear speech, but speech has actual capacity to be a force that moves people to action, and action in the social sphere means real struggle for changing the dominant power and the structures of power themselves. Free speech as it is known in the west only protects dissenting speech as mere words, but it does not and cannot protect dissenting speech that aims to make action to change the status quo fundamentally.

Free speech in the end does not concern itself with speech as a medium of social activity at all, only mere words spoken to the wind. This is the contradiction: we are free to say what we want insofar as it doesn’t lead to undesired results to the status quo. Free speech, when it is claimed to exist, only exists as empty speech for those who need it most, mere words in the wind with no power, no capacity to make movement happen. This is why being a socialist during most of the last century was grounds for censorship and even imprisonment in the US, because there was a real danger that socialist speech would be a force and spark a revolution if ignored. There is nothing more dangerous than ideas of dissent in a time where critical minds provide fertile soil to push contradictions to breaking points of action. Free speech, as such, is not an absolute right and exists within limitations of social and legal context.

That free speech is contradictory as a concept is, however, not to imply that dissenters cannot leverage it to their advantage, indeed in reality many people successfully do so precisely because the state apparatus, though it is a tool of the ruling class, is not a conscious machine of perfect repression. An important point about this contradiction, however, is that as dissidents against capitalism we will ultimately lose this card to stay the hand of the ruling class and will have to openly fight to regain and reassert this freedom in a new society.

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As can be seen, the moments of abstraction-negation-concretion more or less show up, but this formulation is itself a dead abstraction that can tell us nothing about how to carry out a dialectical investigation and understanding of any subject matter. Dialectics are uniquely determined in form by their content, and their content by their form. No half baked idea the likes of an abstract unity of opposites such as the eternal unity of Yin and Yang, good and evil, light and darkness, being and nothing, etc. can pass itself off as a dialectical comprehension of the united terms. Only the penetrating power of reason focused on conceptual purity and holding steadfast to a development of a concept from its inner structure can properly make intelligible why such terms are inextricably united at all, and what could logically follow from their contradictory unity.

As Becoming shows, it is a myth that Becoming is the sublation of Being and Nothing, in fact it is Being and Nothing in unity which sublate Becoming. The path from Being and Nothing through Becoming back to Being and Nothing is a conceptual ride that requires focus and patience to think through in order to comprehend how these ontological categories relate to each other, and what they mean in themselves.

For a broader overview of Hegelianism I suggest that one read James Kreines’ articles, available online, and also to check out Richard Dien Winfield’s various lectures on Hegel’s works. Andy Blunden, a Marxist, provides some very good essays concerning the use of the Logic and dialectics for ‘materialist’ purpose. Hegel’s Philosophical Development by Richard Kroner is a great overview essay covering Hegelianism’s genesis, aims, and structure.