On Hegel’s Project in the Science of Logic

The Science of Logic is a giant tome of what some may consider pure arcane abstraction. A work that bills itself the science of pure thinking of thoughts, one question that inevitably arises regarding  it is what purpose it serves. Hegel refuses to tell us much of what the purpose of the Logic is beyond two basic things: it has to do with the concept of the Absolute, and the derivation of valid thinking from pure presuppositionless thought itself.

It is clear from the very concepts used in the Logic that the work was intended to function in multiple roles within philosophy in general. Not only is the Logic about logic as the thinking of valid thinking, but also about the objects which logic is meant to investigate, hence we see metaphysics and ontology as its conceptual content, for these are the general concepts of thought itself, and this makes sense when one gives just a little thought to it. What else could logic be about if not the very general object kinds, structures, and relations of reality itself? If the necessity of logical determinations is not the same necessity of the world itself, what value do the results of logic have for determining anything but arbitrary and subjective mental fictions? Logic and ontology must be identical in some key manner in order for objectivity and normative judgments to be fully intelligible, and the Logic is meant to show just how this is possible through the connection of concept and objectivity.

Jumping ahead into the thinking which occurs within the Logic itself, one can begin to see a bit more of what this project entails. First is that the Logic has to do with the relation of ontological categories to each other. As each category develops itself it does so through analytic definition, yet this analytic definition presupposes or posits another concept and synthetically relates what is not itself as constitutive of itself. This analytic and synthetic expansion of conceptual relations allows for an inner relation between them in a growing chain of concepts building upon each other such that one can go from abstract Being to Existence to Essence, etc. and see the direct chain that makes intelligible their exact relation.

Second, the Logic concerns the relation of thought to itself as thought. From the beginning of the project until its end, by looking at the process by which one thought moves to another, thought shows a power of self-determination, self-mediation, and self development through its analytic/synthetic expansion, its self-oppositions, and its unifications. This self-expansion of thought and its capacity to mediate its contradictions into intelligible unity, its capacity to go beyond itself through a renewed expansion of content, shows thought as having content in itself and points to the boundlessness of thought by this process of self-differentiating expansion and self-mediation.

Third, looking at the skeletal categorial framework of the Logic one can see that the penultimate major category is the Idea. The Idea is the concept in which an object and concept correspond. When an object corresponds perfectly with its concept then we may say it is ideal. Against the common-sense notion that it is ideas that must correspond to objects, Hegel puts forth the doctrine that the determination of truth is the inverse: it is objects, insofar as they are actually objective, that must correspond to concepts (ideas). Part of the results of the Logic is the derived proof of the identical structure of objects and concepts through the necessary aspect of self-determination inherent to the concept of objectivity itself, and as the Logic shows, concepts share this very key aspect of self-determination. This capacity of concepts to self-determine is what allows Hegel to claim that there is no issue in thought grasping true objectivity in itself. When the concept in its self-development matches the object as it is in its living development, from genesis to completion, we can say not only that we have grasped its truth in thought, but that the object itself has become what it should be in virtue of this same correspondence. If a concept shows a logical development which the object does not, then this object is judged as lacking full reality.

Fourth, because of the role which concepts have in Hegel’s system as the measure of truth, the normative dimension of reality becomes intelligible only as an object being in agreement with its concept. Recalling Aristotle’s ancient teleology, Hegel brings back the sense of normativity in Aristotle as the measure of good being the accordance of object to its telos, but Hegel reformulates it as the accordance of object to concept. For Hegel the one normative rule to settle all questions of ultimate good is the form of the universal which self-determines, which is what it is of its own developmental freedom, and as such shares the structure of objectivity. An organic being, for example, is freely what it is and becomes what it is of its own inner constitution and teleological development, but only to a certain point. The ultimate truth and therefore the measure of what ultimately should be, what is the highest good of all reality, is the Absolute. When judged from the Absolute standpoint all other things are relative and are objectively inferior, false, or incomplete in kind by failing to live up to the Absolute’s complete self-determination (freedom).

The Absolute is the completed system as it is from Logic to Spirit, completed in the final concept of Absolute Spirit which knows itself completely. In the Logic the Absolute Idea is just as it says: it is only the idea of the Absolute, the general logical character of it. What this idea shows itself to be, however, is nothing less than the consummate process of the Logic‘s self-developing concepts. Hegel equates the Absolute with freedom, for it is the concept of that which is what it is in-and-for-itself and not merely by a given determining compulsion external to it.

Fifth, the totality of the process of the Logic, because it is the pure process of thought in-itself as pure universality, shows the way to answering the question of what logic is as logic. Valid and true thought follow not just the structure of the Logic’s pure concept; it is not formal, but is ordered and systematized according to the products of the inner development of any content it is applied to. This aspect sets the first rule of valid thinking: necessity. There is, however, something more that the Logic shows about a general structure of conceptual thinking. Until Hegel concepts were encountered and developed unsystematically and haphazardly, but each concept is nothing less than the very general process of the Logic‘s categorial determinations and their progression. As is argued by Andy Blunden in some of his papers regarding the topic, when we first encounter a new and true object that embodies a genuine concept we develop the concept first in its immediate appearance using determinations of the logic of Being, and having exhausted such a poor conception we are forced to eventually conceive of further determinations behind appearances through the logic of Essence, from which we eventually develop further determinations through the logic of the Concept once systematic development is possible. Often determinations of a concept will be discovered in experience in a disconnected  order and disarray with no clear necessary unity other than that we observe these determinations to be in some kind of relation. It is the work of the logician to penetrate through the arbitrary order of experience and see into the necessary logical conceptual relations and developments as a specific systematic and unitary organic whole. It must be said that one must not mistake this general conceptual developmental description as the development of all concepts. The Logic‘s own development and categories are unique to itself and not not merely make an abstract form through which empirical concepts are filtered through, rather, empirical concepts have their own logical development which only follows the broad structures of the Logic.

It is also interesting, as Markus Gabriel notes, that the Logic can, because it is logic, be understood as the very principle of intelligibility in all things. Insofar as anything is thinkable (conceptualizable) it must conform to some categorial determination in the Logic. That which fails to enter the system of the Logic is, quite literally, unthinkable. Whether this is understood to point to a reality beyond thought that is ineffable yet existent, or the inverse, that what is ineffable is so because it really lacks ontological reality, such as James Kreines argues in his reading of the Logic as ontologically pluralistic due to the existent domains of reality that are ontologically incomplete via the fact that they are logically incomplete, is up to the reader’s interpretation. Suffice to say, a lot of interesting thoughts arise when one considers the totality of the Logic as logic and as ontology.

These are but a few of the general projects which run through the Logic and you can be sure there is far more that can be gleamed in the detailed examination of the text itself. Overall it’s one hell of a project, and if you’re fascinated by systematic philosophy like I am, it’s well worth giving it a chance.

Why You Should Read the Science of Logic Before the Phenomenology

The Science of Logic (simply the Logic from here on) is G.W.F. Hegel’s most important work, at least according to him. After Hegel’s death and the reaction against Hegelianism there was a cold period after which the Phenomenology of Spirit made a sudden surge from obscurity and it has been a mainstay of Hegelianism since. The Phenomenology has in the last century dominated the reception of Hegel in the continental and analytic philosophy circles and is considered Hegel’s greatest masterpiece, a strange thing considering that Hegel seemed to consider it less and less the more he taught the system based on his Logic.

Hegel is, in my experience, a philosopher that is monumentally difficult and yet offers incredibly accessible and clear points that require no background or skill other than the capacity to think. There is a surface to Hegel’s system which is, because of its logical nature, very accessible to any thinker who is open to tread the path of a thought alongside Hegel, but at the same time there is the depth beneath the surface which reveals a set of interconnections beyond what is apparent in the path of the straight logical steps on the surface. This depth is a result of ‘recollection’, of reflective thought about the reflexivity of thought which went on in its logical mode. The more life experience, and the more intellectual breadth and depth, the richer the recollection’s insights. First, however, one must have a grasp of how to think along with Hegel, and the Phenomenology does not actually make clear just what Hegel’s famous core method (dialectics) is supposed to be, but worse, it has the phenomenological method in play alongside the dialectical method and the confusion increases. Though logically and historically the Phenomenology is prior to the Logic, I strongly suggest one to read part of the Logic before engaging the Phenomenology.

The Phenomenology was originally intended to be the “introduction” to Hegel’s system, particularly his Logic, by way of a negative dialectical argument. It aimed to eliminate all possible avenues for foundational philosophy to provide a ground for knowledge, and was to decisively leave Hegel’s own take on the problem of knowledge as the only remaining possibility for moving on and doing Philosophy at all once he negated the opposition of consciousness to an absolute external object in all its forms. The final result was a moment of Absolute Knowing where Spirit would gain the knowing of knowing by way of the reader’s own realization of it—this knowing would merely give the starting point of science as its abstract indeterminate beginning. The book is written in such an abstract way that one should not need any background for it, and while one can certainly go at it this way, it doesn’t help that Hegel wrote it as if the intent was to force you to reread the book multiple times in order to reach its intellectual depths. He mentions terms which he never defines: the Concept (translated as Notion by Miller), the Idea, and Spirit very early on and maintains their use as if the reader just knows what he means despite his meaning being utterly unknown at such points beyond contextual hints. Due to the difficulty and seemingly winding arguments of the book very few ever make it through this initiation, and fewer still seem to remember what it is that Hegel intended to teach them at the end. The book is certainly worthy of praise and with many insights as well as fascinating literary, cultural, and conceptual analyses and interpretations, but it is written in such a manner that no novice to philosophy could ever understand much of its significance without expertise to guide them in the intricate backgrounds of references of arguments, the dense and sometimes obscure phrasing, and the sometimes obscure transitional arguments which move the story of Spirit’s experience along.

As an introduction the Phenomenology is as difficult an introduction as could have ever been designed, an obstacle that a reader must willingly put themselves through wholeheartedly and lose themselves to in order to reap the benefit of its conclusion: the full realization that the opposition of consciousness presupposed by almost all of philosophy prior to and after Hegel cannot lead anywhere fruitful in the end. The Phenomenology ends in Absolute Knowing, a form of consciousness which has gone beyond the opposition of consciousness to its object. It sees that all along it had merely faced itself in its object; it is an indeterminate end where nothing but the identity of consciousness and its object is known—thought faces itself as all it knows (make of that what you will for now). As a popular introduction to Hegel’s system the Phenomenology is a failure as historical experience shows most simply do not understand its language, argumentation style, and what it is meant to conclude. The Phenomenology may be said to be the most immediately interesting and readable of Hegel’s works, yet one of the least immediately comprehensible since Hegel seems to be all too happy to use terms he never defines—at least not straightforwardly—and an argumentation method that has popularly come to be unfortunately known as the ‘dialectic’, which seems to resist any clear definition if the popular understanding of it is anything to go by. In contrast, the Logic is Hegel’s most immediately comprehensible yet least immediately interesting or readable work. This is a very strange affair for people are constantly told of the necessity of the Phenomenology to understand the (supposedly) even less understandable Logic. If the Phenomenology is this difficult, it’s no surprise the vast majority avoid the Logic since it is considered even more so.

The Logic is the “sequel” to the Phenomenology, the first part of the system it is meant to introduce. For a few years in Jena Hegel taught material similar to what later would be in the Phenomenology, but once he had settled his account of the matters he ceased to teach it in favor of expanding his positive system. He hardly mentions the book ever again in lecture or writing. Despite the seeming abandonment of it to history, the work, in its function, is ever a necessary part for understanding Hegel and his thought. The Phenomenology, or something akin to it in scope and function, is necessary to fully break the spell of wandering natural consciousness that presupposes that it is a knower that faces an object different from itself, and which must answer the dual problem of ontology and epistemology which elude unification in a coherent account of their relation to each other and to consciousness as a knowing. While some may easily accept Hegel’s claims against the opposition of consciousness to an object of knowing, the real argument and proof against it is in the completed path of the Phenomenology of Spirit. While we do not submit ourselves to its path of despair we are always left to the nagging doubt and temptation that perhaps there may be a way to work epistemology/ ontology/ ethics/ aesthetics/ etc. as first foundational philosophy despite Hegel’s claims against such a possibility.

Despite what most say about the difficulty of the Logic and its status as the result of the Phenomenology, you should actually read a very small part of it before reading the Phenomenology. Reading the Logic in its entirety is a big commitment if what you really are interested in is the Phenomenology, but reading the first few chapters will help greatly in following Hegel’s argument style in its predecessor. The Logic is where Hegel’s method is in its most clear and obvious form, even if you only read the first chapter it is sufficient to see what the so-called method is. If one reads the chapters on Being and Existence/Determinate Being carefully, then the reading of the Phenomenology isn’t as mysterious or difficult due to his method being clarified. Not only is the method clear, but it shall be made clear what some otherwise seemingly unclear terms have to do with the developments that Hegel takes us through in the Phenomenology, e.g. if one has read the chapter on Existence it shall be clear as day what one of the major formal problems  dominating the three chapters of Consciousness is. Now, it’s not that it’s impossible to discern the logical train in the Phenomenology, but it takes an incredible memory and constant hindsight to maintain logical chains in mind and remember that that one seemingly random sentence about Being and thought 40 pages ago is a key to understanding why a Being with immediacy is mediated and therefore is determinate and implies a plurality—this disconnection of underlying logical forms, unfortunately, is a product of the phenomenal presentation.

The Logic is a bit more merciful on the reader concerning its developments, and maintains its concept developments directly connected in the chain you follow.  The beginning of the Phenomenology is rather simple and the arguments in it quite easy to follow, but even in the second chapter the argument begins hinging on logical moves which already depend on a supremely careful eye to the terms used, how they’re used, and what is being related—I actually consider the second chapter’s beginning to be one of the hardest parts in the first three chapters. There is chapter 3, “Force and the Understanding”, which is a bit of a maze of many dialectical moves ending in the dissolution of Consciousness, the mode of cognition which takes knowing as merely the confronting of an external object and the correspondence of thought to such object.

Besides being able to notice the logical moves underlying the phenomenal aspects of the Phenomenology, you’ll also be able to take notice of what is going on in the phenomenal aspects themselves—you’ll be able to comprehend and appreciate just why every form of consciousness comes up in the order that it does. While every form of consciousness faces destruction with its own immanent negative dialectic, each dialectic unfurls a positive logical concept immanent in the structure of a form of consciousness. These positive results, which are the end of every form of consciousness, are key to grasping why the work flows the way it does.

Now, there are two prefaces and two introductions to the Logic since it was clear many would simply not read the Phenomenology or understand it. These essays in a way attempt to give some justification of the project of the Logic, and all amount to repeating two central points: 1) formal logic isn’t logic since logic is the thinking of thinking which establishes the validity of valid thinking and as such has itself as the content and form of its inquiry, and 2) we must start with indeterminacy, without givens of any kind, so forget everything you think you know. In this regard the Logic is certainly very readable in that it is very intelligible, in fact it is surprising how readable it is for a book by the supposedly obscure Hegel. Because of the presuppositionless aspect of the work one can jump in and merely focus on what is built up in the work itself in order to comprehend it. Though it is very intelligible (usually), its subject matter is very dry and abstract, and because it only deals with thought itself there is no escape for any kind of picture/metaphorical thinking with examples we are accustomed to. Very few will find much to excite them in the book if they are not interested in metaphysics and categories of thought as such.

To say something brief on the value of the Logic itselfit is the systematic development of valid thinking which can prove itself to be valid thinking. The only rule on the ground at the beginning of it is that we think, and that we think only what is thinkable in and through the content with which we begin. This demand for thinking only with what is available and its relations, if it have any, is merely the first demand of all valid thinking: necessity. If we are to discover anything else about valid thinking we must at least discover these new insights necessarily following from our concepts inner contents. The Logic goes on to develop and move as thought shows itself to be at once both analytic and synthetic, for by analytic definition it points beyond itself and determines itself further through what is not immediately itself.

highly suggest you to read the Logic‘s first two chapters to get a sense of Hegel’s actual method in its purest practice as well as to know two of the fundamental structures which appears throughout the Phenomenology over and over again—the something/other relation, and more importantly the concept of  Infinity. This alone will help immensely with increasing your comprehension in a reading of the Phenomenology of Spirit and every other of Hegel’s works.

On the ‘scientific’ character of Hegel’s dialectical method.

Hegel uses the term ‘science’ not only to qualify his philosophy; he claims that his philosophy is the very concept of valid science. Science had not yet been reduced to the current restriction to empirical science at the time, it roughly meant systematic knowledge well into the 1800s, thus it isn’t too strange that something like philosophy could be considered a science.

An interesting thing I have noticed reading the Science of Logic directly is that there is one thing in common with Hegel’s conception of science and the current popular understanding of it: that science directly accesses its object without subjective aspects entering into the matter investigated and discovered. Because Hegel’s method is to investigate the necessary universal character of objects, their concepts, as they self-determine and generate themselves of their own accord, the method is ‘objective’. This objectivity is the same objectivity which the common understanding knows: that which is objective is that which is what it is in its own right, and not because of anything else. This, of course, destroys most of the objectivity we presume to exist in the world. Most things are not what they are in their own right, they are what they are through relation to myriad of external factors, some of them being our own subjective determinations upon the objects.

When we investigate objects of the material kind we often find no rational explanation for them but the whole of the universe of matter and forces, and thus the object we begin trying to know finds itself disappearing into a system of dependencies which compose it. At such points of inquiry we find that what we thought were objects were not objects, but merely arrangements of the true objects which constitute them. Not only do we lose the original object being explained, but as far as empirical sciences can go we also lose the criterion of objectivity itself: we posit forces and concepts which are unintelligible to us and which have no necessity we can see other than that they are useful for our relative manipulation of the material world. Why are there only so many laws of nature? We don’t know. Why are the laws of nature what they are? We don’t know. What is gravity? We don’t know. What is positive or negative charge? We don’t know. Why is it that atoms have specific electron shell arrangements and bond with other atoms according to these electron arrangements? We don’t know. Our theories are subjectively posited and the world arranged into them, but we have no clue why these arrangements and objects should have any unity at all, and even if we somehow do know a necessary unity we do not know why it is as it is at all.

Take for example a piece of chalk. What are its objective features? Certainly not its shape, color, etc. for these are subjective determinations not intrinsic to its substance as chalk. Even the measure of material of the chalk is not objective to its being as chalk, for chalk as chalk is merely its chemical composition as calcium carbonate. Does calcium carbonate as such exist? It is a synthetic compound of elements, calcium and carbon, each which in turn is a compound of protons, neutrons, electrons, etc. Some of these particles, protons and neutrons, are themselves further compounds of what are now called quarks. The real substance, many would say, the real objects of the world, are these fundamental particles and their interaction with forces. In certain theories a further reduction is attempted and matter/space itself is dissolved as an objective being in its own right and pure forces are posited as the real objective being of the world, but what are these forces? We find no answer for empirical science which rests upon given assumptions cannot offer it. It cannot give an account of forces as such, it cannot give an account as to what they are in themselves nor why they are as they are. Empirical physics can only posit these fundamental forces and their mathematical character as given, it cannot explain what they are, how they are, why there are as many as there are, and why they should relate in the way that they do. As far as we are able to know with this method, the laws are what they are and relate as they do because we judge them to be so. Such science relies on subjectively determined dogmatic presuppositions of objects of knowledge and how knowing meets the object.

Hegel’s methodology does lead to the necessary knowledge of how and why an object is what it is in its own right for it holds itself to following the development of a concept of its own power of self-generating determinations. If objectivity is that which is what it is in its own right and not because of anything else, whatever object we encounter must be the full source of itself from start to finish. If we are to hold the object as it is in itself in the mind we must likewise meet this freely self-developed and determined object with an equally self-developed and determined concept. The encounter of both as corresponding to each other is what Hegel calls the Idea of an object: an actualized concept. Just as empirical science shows that most things we think are real objects are actually not, so does Hegel’s science. The difference is that Hegel’s objectivity is not a reductive objectivity to that which appears to be what it is in its own right because it is has no further inner constitution. Objectivity for Hegel is not that which has no further inner constitution, is unintelligible, and as such no longer explainable according to anything else, but objectivity is rather that which is most fully intelligible and explainable according to its inner constitution from its simple parts to the whole. For Hegel it is not the laws and matter of physics or of chemistry which are most objective and knowable, but organic life, and above that thinking life, which are the most substantial and objective existences. We can be certain of our objective knowledge with Hegel’s method because it is simply the free development of the concept of the object itself.

That empirical science cannot meet the task of objectivity is not to deny its pragmatic usefulness. There is unquestionable functional truth to the products of empirical scientific inquiry, and because we value practical technology we should hopefully never abandon empirical science. That said, currently science oversteps its bounds in many areas and attempts to do the work of metaphysics in ignorance of its own presuppositions and the problems of its conception of objectivity which causes it to so invert the world as to lose sight of the most obvious existences: that of organic self-organized life and of mind.

"There is no royal road to science, and only those who do not dread the fatiguing climb of its steep paths have a chance of gaining its luminous summits."-Karl Marx