Tag Archives: Absolute Idealism

The General Description of The Absolute

__/—The Absolute as Such—\__

Absolute as Process and Result

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Absolute vs. Relative

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

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

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

The Ideal in Absolute Idealism

_____Ideality_____

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

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

Finitude, Abstraction, Thought, and The Ideal

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

Ideality for Hegel is meant in multiple senses:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Concreteness

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

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