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The General Description of The Absolute

__/—The Absolute as Such—\__

Absolute as Process and Result

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Absolute vs. Relative

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

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

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

Negative and Positive Dialectics

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

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

Negative Dialectics

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Positive Dialectics

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

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

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

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

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? 

Hegelianism: Objectivity, Truth, and Universality.

One of the harder things that stands in the way of engaging Hegel fruitfully is his peculiar terminology, and while one can often find some short remarks scattered through papers and pages online regarding Hegel, many of these terms are not easy to grasp with the poor detail they are presented with in summary. This post isn’t to supplant a reading of these developments from Hegel but to at least provide a better summary resource than any I am aware of being available online for those interested in beginning to grapple with the concepts of Truth, Concept, and Objectivity as Hegel uses them.

Under common thinking conditions—what Hegel calls natural consciousness— there is a presumption that thinking and objective world relations are in a way unproblematically related despite a presupposition that consciousness and objects are utterly independent. Natural consciousness assumes that there are objects independent of consciousness—today we generally call them facts—and truth is considered the mere correspondence of thoughts and the world of facts. Just how it is possibly intelligible that thought and objects could coincide and form truth is forever deferred to assumptions of givens or of simple pragmatic convenience. In my prior blog post on a very basic notion of science and how Hegelianism can count as such, I vaguely gave an account of why and how objectivity and concept could coincide, but I’ll expand on that post in more proper detail here, this however is no exhaustive account of these terms.

Here I’m mainly following and putting forth Richard Dien Winfield’s summary account of the movement and relation of these concepts in his essay The Objectivity of Thought. I favor Winfield here mainly because he does a really nice job laying out the general logical form. It shall be easily apparent as you read on that there is a general form which runs through Truth, Concept, and Objectivity: Universality.

==The opposition of thought and object==

Thought is normally considered to be abstractly universal and fixed in character, while objectivity is individual and in constant change. Thought has no content of its own; it has no power to generate concepts other than what it can abstract from given experience of language or phenomena. Concepts, as abstract universals, merely externally subsume individuals that share a universal; e.g. red can be an abstract universal (as quality) which inheres in coats, cars, hair, cats, etc. Another type of abstract concept is class, which can be a collection of universals shared by a set of individuals, e.g. animals, but the class remains indifferent to all other characteristics that inhere in individuals that posses it and do not give any way to derive any further specifications of individuals and their relations to each other. Concepts as static definitions have no movement into other concepts and cannot through pure thought find a link to each other. The only option left is through the mediation of what is itself not thought: experiential intuitions. Thought itself, however, cannot explain why concepts should relate at all neither to other concepts nor to or through intuitions; it cannot ponder whether a thought itself is objective nor can it ponder the object which is external to thought in its own independence. All reason can do with such thoughts is to check their coherence when put together.

Because in such a situation of given thoughts reason can only check coherence and not question the universals themselves, it is a subjective arbitrary exercise of reason to pick and choose just what concepts will be input into its formal systems of logic to check coherence. From this results a plurality of equally coherent, plausible, yet contradicting claims such that one may just as coherently espouse monism or pluralism, atomism or internal relations, etc. As thought is normally considered, reason is incapable of justifying why this and not that should be the primary category or universal of the individual object against which all else is to hold coherence with.

==Objectivity==

Objectivity—as one of the ultimate aims of philosophical and scientific striving—is a category of prime importance, but what is objectivity as such? First in our common understanding is the aspect that objectivity is that which is what it is with or without us; it is indifferent to our relation to it, for it is what it is on its own account. The common sense understanding of the concept, however, tends to stop here. Objectivity is what is, but only as a generality considered without us; what this objectivity is in itself is an incoherent mess of supposedly independent atoms which yet are dependent on conditions of existence of many kinds. Objectivity is independent of us, but is only half-recognized as requiring independence from all other determinations external to the object. If an object is not determined by itself, but also by another, then that other must enter the account of the object itself.

Empirical science tends to think better of it, but not by much; e.g. in physics, what is objective is considered mostly as a system of related terms (forces/fields) which together constitute the foundation and engine of our experienced existence. This system, however— even if it was a unified mathematical system that cascaded out of its initial determination the spatial, temporal, and material dimensions of our every day experience, as some theoretical unifications deem to do—fails to provide complete explanation of phenomena such as life and consciousness, as well as a full explanation of itself through its own process; biology, chemistry, etc. suffer this same problem (the system remains founded on a given determination which is unintelligible in itself as well as giving no account of why it is at all). The objects of such science seem independent from each other, yet they only function in a dependence to other terms that are the experienced actuality of what underlies them, e.g. matter’s natural motion expresses the law of gravity, but gravity is only intelligible through matter and not in itself.

The scientific understanding comprehends objectivity only to the extent that it grasps that it must strive to find a unity in the multiplicity of experience which as one principle may explain out of itself all others. From this simple striving aim, such an understanding is doomed to fail, for it does not understand just what such a unity can even be conceived as. Therefore, it works in various models which posit underlying aspects which determine phenomena but which in themselves depend on the very phenomena they are supposed to ground and explain. Such an understanding alone can only grasp at the positing of an abstract unity, law, which from such principle alone cannot produce anything else it is supposed to explain.

Objectivity—when pushed to its conceptual limit beyond the scientific understanding—is that which is what it is wholly on account of itself and no other; it is self-determined. By this account the true object of knowledge for science is not this or that particular domain of abstract independent knowledge but the universe—the totality of reality as a whole. The true object is that which needs not even the external observer to consciously determine that it is indeed the true; it verifies itself from within.

==Truth==

Truth, as most understand it, is both simple and complex. The most popular theories of truth considered by most today are correspondence theories, coherence theories, and pragmatic theories. However, there are many more accounts of what constitutes truth in the modern day—many grounding the notion in different epistemological approaches concerned with social relations and perceptions, some grounding it on logical systems—but these aren’t all that popular, and I’d like to just compare the major notions to the Hegelian position.

Hegel, unsurprisingly, has a conception of truth that is familiar yet alien to us. First, it must be made clear that Hegel is concerned with Truth and not truth. In The Phenomenology of Spirit, §41, Hegel tells us that philosophy is not interested in historical or empirical truths; such truths are singular, unessential and contingent, of no interest to the mind which aspires to gain universal and necessary knowledge. What date the French Revolution began, how much volume a gram of sugar has, whether a goat is a four legged cute animal, or how many minutes are in a year. These are not the kind of truths philosophy is concerned with.

Hegel’s Truth is a priori and purely conceptual, requiring no empirical correlate. For Hegel, the Platonic notion that Truth must be what it is in itself eternally holds: a concept itself must be true, and it is the concept which is the criterion of empirical judgments of truth. Truth must be internally coherent in that it is not a contradiction of the kind of A=~A in the standard propositional sense. Hegel brings to light something not thought of by most (Plato, Spinoza, and some others had an inkling of it): Truth must be necessary in itself. This aspect is provided by the logic of concepts themselves, by how a genuine concept moves itself by its implicated relations to other concepts and eventually returns to itself.

This necessity, eternality, and coherence of Truth is familiar in that most do understand Truth as something which is what it is regardless of us. Truth is objective, Truth is always true, and Truth is not self-contradicting. Par the course for Hegel, even correspondence between concept and object is not excluded. The notion that judgments of truth are correspondence to concept is not unfamiliar. We say things like: they are a true friend; their aim is true; s/he is a real woman/man; this is real sport, etc. In such statements, the concept is the criterion of truth, and the empirical correlate is what is false in relation to it. We think and say things like this often, yet we seem to not realize what such language implies about Truth.

Along with this is the common difference between Truth and falsehood/appearance. For example, when we first encounter an object of experience, say for example, we are walking exhausted through the desert, and see that it is our great luck that we have come upon an oasis pool in our great hour of need. We rush to it, unquestioning of its existence—its ‘truth’—and as we get closer it begins to vanish. We stop, disappointed, and realize it was just a mirage—a mere appearance. The ‘truth’ of the object we chased was that it was not an oasis, but the mere appearance of one. Here, by truth, we mean the substantive reality. An appearance has only a superficial reality—a superficial truth—which upon inspection vanishes just as the mirage does and reveals its truth underneath, in this case the truth as hot sand and evaporating water. When Hegel says that something is the truth of another, he means it in this very same sense.

If Hegel adds anything new to the concept of Truth, it is that Truth is the whole. By this it is meant that Truth is a completed and self-grounding concept which attains absolute form, i.e. Truth is something that is what it is of its own account and completely independent from any external determination. Truth attains to objectivity when it has found its full determination within itself, and this is achieved through a systematic development, through a movement of concepts. Truth as such is not determined as a relation of our individual subjective claims against a world of given facts but a determination of itself; it is full of content developed in-and-for-itself. It is True because it is, not because we or anything else determine it to be so through an external criterion. This reiterates the independence of truth from our subjective position, which common understanding agrees with, so what is Hegel adding?

First is that Truth is the system of the totality of the world from matter to mind that knows matter, not a contingent conglomeration of independent plurality of atomistic Truths. Second, common understanding agrees that truth is what is, but either simply assumes we unproblematically have it, or denies that we can grasp it in-itself—that we can only have our subjective frame of knowledge without objectivity. Hegel claims we can indeed grasp Truth in-itself; not from our side, however, but from its side. This requires a new way of thinking which allows the concept of the object to develop itself before us without our subjective arbitrary inputs determining it. It requires that the very concept of a concept in general be changed.

==Universality==

In the opposition of consciousness and thought, there was a problem between the knower and the known. This appears in various forms in different philosophies, but the main focus there was on the mere character of the universal concepts used by common understanding. Such concepts are abstract—both as poor in specificity and being separated from other concepts—and rigidly defined; thus they are mysteriously and problematically connected to the particular instances which they subsume. Hegel spends some moments in the Phenomenology to critique these kinds of “universals/concepts” for this failure to unite in themselves what they are supposed to unite as all-encompassing universals. For him, the universal is truly Universal only when it fully can account for its particular and individual instances in itself. The universal isn’t simply something externally common to all particulars, but the truth of all particulars.

The Hegelian Universal is not like the standard universal as we understand it, but it is very specific as a category as to what it applies to. At best, we may talk of the standard account as one of abstract universals, but Hegel’s Universal is concrete. It is concrete for its very concept contains the particular individuals it aims to subsume in itself as its own particularizations, and it directly and explicitly logically links itself as concept to these subordinate concepts which it develops into. The Universal does not simply rigidly contain its particular instances, but it develops them from itself as its own inner differentiations. The true Universal appears as a living concept which is a self-generated  and self-differentiated unity which returns to itself as whole in all its parts.

hegelian-universal-2

The Universal, as abstractly posited, is intelligible first in necessary opposition to its Particular instances. The abstract universal, as abstracted, is in opposition to its Particular and finds itself thus not just as Universal, for it faces opposition of another concept and is not all encompassing, but as Particular against its Particular as well. One Particular is, however, indifferent from any other Particular. Hence, the Particular fails to properly differentiate the instances of the Universal from from one another and thus is itself also an abstract universality. Hegel introduces a new term in the relation of Universality and Particularity, Individuality, as the solution. The Universal (itself being Particular), and the Particular (itself being Universal), find their difference as Particulars in their Individuality. As this Particular and not some other, the Particular is Individual, thus the concrete Universal is finally completed—the Universal is abstract no longer. The Universal is Particular and Individual; the Particular is Universal and Individual; the Individual is Particular and Universal. The Universal does not underlie its Individuals, but rather the Individuals are the direct realization of Universality. To be Universal is to be a unity realized through Particular Individuals.

There can be no such thing as an abstract universal that has never been instantiated, and, interestingly, neither can there be such a thing as a universal that has and will only ever be instantiated in a single individual instance, for a universal is an aspect shared by a plurality of individuals. To give some examples of what the Universal is in our everyday thinking:

A rose is always a particular individual rose, whether it is in our mind or in the world—it is not just a rose, it is this specific individual rose even when a mere formal outline image in my mind. A human is always a particular individual human, it is this or that human, it is never just a human. Repeat for anything else.

This kind of everyday Universality, however fun, is not what Hegel is primarily concerned with ultimately comprehending. These kinds of universals are abstractly concrete, but Hegel aims to take Universality beyond what the vast majority of philosophers ever dare dream of. The Universal is a structure not just of our basic abstract thoughts, but of real things themselves—especially living things. It is the basic process and structure of living entities which are differentiated within themselves and partake in a process of genesis, dissolution, regeneration, and reproduction. Living beings share in a universal, the species as a specific genetic form, and individual members of the species are the existence of the species as species by 1) being its real existent form as concrete individuals 2) existing not only for their own individual sake, but also for the sake of reproducing the universal and keeping the species existent. Thus a species is a true Hegelian Universal in that they are a unitary whole that is self-differentiating, moving, and self-regenerating.

While we can easily conceive of, say, a cat as cat to be an independent being which lives more or less independently with respect to us and most other things, we cannot conceive the same of a car. Cars are not fully a universal like a cat is because a car is not a self-generating and reproducing kind of being. When we really conceive of a car, we cannot leave out that humans make cars and that they make them for utilitarian ends other than themselves. Cars find their existence wholly dependent on us unlike a real living entity which must and can fend for itself as an individual existent and as a reproducer of its species. While all things necessarily share universality in various ways and levels, not all universals are alike, and not all universals manage to exhibit the life of the full universal.

As one can see, the Universal determines itself to be Particular and Individual. It does not depend on any external determination or relation; it is what it is in-and-for-itself. As such, the Universal is the structure of objectivity itself in the realm of thought. The Universal, once developed, makes Objectivity intelligible as self-grounded and fully self-determined. This very Universality is thus the Concept of Objectivity itself.

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To reiterate on the opposition of thought to object, the common understanding of concepts is that they are abstract universals which are static and disconnected from individual instances which fall under them; they are also disconnected from other universals as such, connected only by synthetic judgments of experience and thus left to subjective whim. They are useful insofar as they can be used as categories to group many under one unifying term, but this only speaks to the sharing of one universal by many and does not deal with differentiating characteristics of the individual objects themselves. Concepts are not considered as having their ground in thought, but they originate from reflection of given experiential content of language or external stimuli.

For Hegel, Truth is Concept, and Concept is a self-developing and self-determining system of thoughts which unify and complete as and within the Absolute which is the final Truth and Universal. The necessity which moves concepts generates the system of the Absolute, and only when the Absolute is completed has Truth been accomplished. This is the meaning of “The true is the whole.” The Concept is the concept of the Object, but nonetheless there can be a disparity within Concept and the Object faced. Thus, Hegel terms the harmonious correlation of both as the Idea—i.e. the concept of the unity of Concept and Object. An Object which fully embodies its Concept is ideal; it is what it should be. Just as Truth can be incomplete, however, so can Objectivity and Concept be incomplete, and thus it should be no surprise that we find incomplete Universality in many thoughts and incomplete Objectivity in the objects of the world we face.

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.

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. This is not to say there is no method. What I mean to say, however, is that unlike the common understanding of what a method is, such that one merely has to follow the generally right form and steps and apply to content, Hegel’s method is no such thing. The first thing to do before considering this method, however, is to rid ourselves of this common notion of method as a correct general formula as helpful regarding what Hegel writes. There is a form we may give as description of method, but this will unfortunately prove a useless thing when it comes to being capable of thinking as Hegel does.

Concerning what we may properly term dialectical in Hegel at all we may more clearly begin with calling the method of dialectics as such immanent (internal) critique, but this is not the entire method which Hegel employs. 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 and speculation (Hegel’s term for the reasoning which follows after the dialectical contradiction moment) which is commonly reduced to the name dialectics and thus confused to be really only about dialectics (immanent critique). As a description of the process, the former formula 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 Hegel’s method and dialects are these descriptions 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. These multiple perspectives engage each other not simply in an attempt to supplant each other as the definitive truth, but to constructively come together as differences that may reveal themselves to be compatible, for they contain aspects of truth even if one-sided and incomplete. 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.

Dialectics as a method—not Hegel’s method as a whole—is properly to be 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. Immanent critique, however, only reveals the success or failure of meeting these demands, but does not and cannot provide for the advance beyond the moment of failure revealed in a dialectic.

Beyond the immanent critique of concepts is the speculative thinking which turns dialectical thinking itself into an object of inquiry. Speculation makes the turn beyond a dialectic, enables the sublation (the cancelling/suspending/preserving of the contradiction) of it, and is the advance towards a new dialectic. Hegel’s method thus advances through immanent critique and speculation as necessary moments.

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. Now, regarding ‘the dialectic’, what is often meant by this is actually not incorrect if we mean it in the Platonic dialectic sense, however, this is almost universally confused with dialectics in the very specific sense of contradiction which they have as a moment in Hegel. This equivocating confusion of the term expands 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. Because of this confusion, dialectics from here on is specifically concerning the second technical meaning of contradictory opposition. It is indeed partly 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 nor are they the entirety of it. The method discovers dialectics 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. This aspect of dialectics regarding thinking must be emphasized, for as mentioned earlier in the comparison to Platonic dialectic, there is a kind of moving discourse going on between the concepts caught in their immanent relation. A Hegelian dialectic is not a dialectic in merely being seen in their immanent contradiction, but is a dialectic also in the Platonic sense in that it is also a moving developing inner discourse of concepts such that they cannot help but become their opposite and their opposite become them and back again. This active and moving dialectic is best seen rather than described, and that shall be done in the examples later in this article. For now, 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, for insofar as anything is intelligible it is conceptual and it is its concept alone which we can elaborate in universal structure.

I here offer a static definition of the moment of internal contradiction in Hegel’s method that can be termed dialectical. Here I must emphasize this is only a moment, for as mentioned already dialectics include the movement of these contradictory ideas, but here I first want to deal with the static appearance of a dialectic prior to exposing its movements.

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} etc. One may want to add here the so-called dialectic of {base—superstructure} of the young Marx, but this is in fact a false dialectic since no such immanent contradiction exists between these terms.

The worker and the boss have no meaning or existence without each other, necessarily develop into each other in the thinking of their concept, 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, for what would it mean to consider products of labor to be use-values in an ahistorical categorial sense without the opposition to another value immanently contradictory to it which necessitates pointing out the difference? In material relations of this kind this means that a change in one is a change in its other, e.g. a change of one term may change an entire dynamic of relations by supplanting it with new terms, or that a change in relations may supplant terms with new ones—form and content are inseparable.

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, what some take as 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 (I will deal with this specific difference in another blog post one day). 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 important as moments to it. While from the standpoint of dialectics alone we do not get anywhere other than contradiction insofar as we remain within the dialectic’s content, whenever we are engaging in Hegel’s method as a whole and make the speculative step 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 onward insofar as the analysis generates more concepts to continue. This movement of concepts, however, is not merely our subjective movement in thought such as one imagines in a mere arbitrary given definition, but is the movement of an objective concept structure 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 insofar as we are thinking them we cannot stop thinking until they are fully rationalized.

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.

Speculation/Recollection

Mentioned earlier, after dialectics comes speculation. Dialectics corresponds to a mode of thinking which in German Idealism has a specific technical name: understanding. It is with this mode of thinking which immanent critique is carried out to its final limit in dialectical self-contradiction merely by what originally seems a simple analysis determining the specificity of a concept. This is self-contradiction because the concepts investigated undermine themselves and fall into their opposite in content and form in being thought through. Against the analytic thinking of understanding, speculation is a turn upon the process and product of the understanding—the dialectic as a whole—which takes as its object the thinking of the dialectic itself. For example: in the paradox of Being and Nothing’s assumed difference yet content/form identity, we find that the impasse of this would-be dialectic is overcome by turning to the movement occurring in the relation of these thoughts to each other, turning it into a concept as Becoming, and returning to understanding in order to differentiate it through analysis.

One can consider these as two ‘modes’ or moments in which the thinking of Hegel’s method may be said to function: immersive (understanding) and recollective (speculative). In the immersive mode of thinking one is engaged directly with the immediate content and form of what is being thought. For example, in thinking Being one is led to think of Nothing, and in thinking Nothing one is led to thinking Being. In this immersed mode, however, one is stuck forever bouncing from one thought to the other and back again endlessly. In the recollective mode of thinking one takes a step back from the immersed mode and looks upon its entire process structure as a whole—it is from this mode of thought that sublation often occurs. Stepping back from Being and Nothing, we see in their total system of movement the moment of vanishing which is called Becoming.

The Source of Dialectics: Negativity

Since I assume the reader here to be curious, let it be revealed that one of the mysteries regarding the why of dialectics is the power of negativity in thought. Thought has a power to negate, and this negation as activity can be carried out seemingly absolutely against all determination, but also in a manner which appears uniquely at the level of a Concept as a negation that determines itself and negates external factors. Thought has such an absolute negative power that it can even dare to negate the seemingly unnegatable: itself. It is negativity which is the moving and determining power which generates movement. Negativity, however, is more than the mere moment of negation, for negativity both generates positive affirmations as much as negative ones (determinate negation)—what thoughts and things are as much as what they are not; their unity and their diremption. The very having of a determinate thought or object whatsoever is an immediate instance of immanent negation as well as affirmation: things are themselves through not being others, yet they themselves are but mere others to others, thus one gets strange situations in which seeming nonsense is concluded in pure contradictions if that mere movement is all we stop at.

Negativity is, one may say in not too bad an analogy, activity. This activity, however, is, and as such the moment it turns its activity onto itself it petrifies the activity it has already carried out into inert Being, i.e. thinking necessarily turns itself into thought the moment it reflects upon itself. In the Science of Logic, for example, we begin with Being without any determination to define it. Being then is an object of thinking which in turn provides Nothing as a further thought by thinking upon thoughts. Negativity is so absolute that it can negate itself, and thus we have the negation of negation (the dialectic of the understanding) and positively affirms it in the speculative sublation. Because it is internal and constitutive of thought itself, in the movement of thinking it likewise appears as a reflexivity of thoughts which, in being themselves already have gone beyond themselves, and in going beyond themselves only return to themselves in this free movement of thinking. This reflexivity is seen in Being as its immediate content’s inversion to Nothing, and Nothing’s immediate form inversion to Being. Not only is this reflexivity seen in the immediate immanent negation of thought such as with Being and Nothing’s self-undermining, but also as the transcendental jump reflexive upon the whole thought process itself such as what is seen in the move to Becoming when one looks upon the thinking of Being and Nothing as a whole.

This shall be expanded in another blog post in the future, but for now it hopefully suffices superficial curiosity on why dialectics come to be at all in pure thinking, and why thought moves.

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 even in the most extreme indeterminacy, for indeterminacy is itself determinate against determinacy itself. 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 abstraction. As thought is shown to be unable to hold fast to itself in one sided moments if it is to be intelligible, 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. Here, hopefully, the activity of dialectic shall become apparent in the movements.

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 immediacy of thought such that it appears to us as an absolute abstraction and indeterminateBeing is the most immediate of all concepts for it lacks all mediation to it: all thoughts as concepts are and thus appear to be in fact mediated by Being which is itself absolutely simple and non-analyzable. This Being is not to be thought in contradistinction to anything at all for that would bring in mediation into its concept. It is not Being in contradistinction to Nothing nor to beings, and it is not even to be determined as indeterminate at all from its own standpoint for such would be a determinacy making the concept non-absolute and mediated. It is in this absoluteness of Being that the terms pure and indeterminate are used. It is not to say anything positive about it, but rather to disabuse us of the desire to think anything about it which assumes there is anything already beyond it to make any distinctions. Being is indeterminate to the degree that indeterminacy is not even a positive determination that can be made about it, it is meant to empty any determination whatever from consideration. This concept is all that we have access to as content to think through.

[Comment:] Following the structure of Hegelian science as an immanent development of concepts from abstraction to concreteness, we begin with the concept of Being as the first step of the the investigation of logic. At the beginning, however, this method of science is unjustified and unexplained, and indeed cannot be justified or explained for such would be to presuppose a method. Instead, Hegel tells us that the best he can do to persuade us of our starting point is that we should endeavor to start with something which we can only build up and thus not fall trap to having problematic presuppositions and unjustified concepts underlying our investigation such as what would be the case if we simply decided to begin somewhere more complex or advanced such as in syllogisms, concepts, essences, or what have you.

In thinking Being we find that the content, or definition, of pure Being is an absence of content, for there is nothing to distinguish Being with. One must take this train of thought literally. In thinking Being we have nothing to think. Nothing is the very thinking we carry out in the indeterminacy of Being. In attempting to think Being, we have in this thinking thought nothing, and we here turn this empty thinking into a thought itself, hence we now have the concept of Nothing. The difference from Being is made upon the thinking of Being and the result of thinking this thought as something different from this initial thought. This is a jump Hegel can make through his method of speculation, for in speculation we can think about thinking and thus make it into a thought, hence the thinking of nothing at all is transformed into Nothing. We thus have generated out of Being the concept of Nothing as the concept which notes the absence of any content in Being—contentlessness has itself been transformed by thinking into a content.

Nothing, like Being, is equally devoid of any determinacy, and has no content to distinguish from anything else. Hegel points out that:

In so far as mention can be made here of intuiting and thinking, it makes a difference whether something or nothing is being intuited or thought. To intuit or to think nothing has therefore a meaning; the two are distinguished and so nothing is (concretely exists) in our intuiting or thinking. (Science of Logic)

Drawing from the common notion of nothing as a determinate opposition to something, Hegel points out that 1) nothing has a specific meaning different from Being in its common conception, and 2) that in the determinate difference Nothing is and therefore itself partakes in Being. Given that, however, we cannot use that determinate distinction here, for we have no logical ground to do so. At best we can only accept that we intend something different from Being by Nothing, but what this difference is cannot yet be articulated with our conceptual tools for neither Being nor Nothing admit to any content that could differentiate them since that would bring in determinacy to them.

When we attempt to think Nothing, however, we think the same thought as Being. Nothing is Being in this equivalence of indeterminacy. While we may externally reflect upon them with advanced categories such as form and content to speak of their differentiation and similarity, such that Being’s content is Nothing, and Nothing’s form is Being, we cannot yet do so immanently. 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 lack of meaning, and it is only in this absence of determinacy that they are here one and the same. Being = indeterminateness = Nothing. A distinction has arisen which is as of yet no conceptual distinction other than an intended difference. We cannot say in what Being and Nothing are to be related as similar or different, only that we treat them as distinct in our intention pointing them out as separate.

[Comment:] As an external reflection we may consider in the relation of Being, Nothing, and their indeterminate content, that 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, a contentless Nothing. Nothing, however, faces an inverse contradiction. Nothing is in harmony with its contentlessness, but is in contradiction with its form, the form of Being, for if Nothing is the truth of Being which underlies it, then Nothing is Being. Further, Nothing is not simply the content result of thinking Being, but is itself a form intended to be distinguished from Being. The contradiction of form and content cannot be escaped, there cannot be form without content or the inverse; Being and Nothing can be seen as immediately moving from one to the other as their form and content forces the movement in their very thought. This seems to make sense of the dialectic, but this is not actually what Hegel has for us here at the beginning as what is to be thought.

A picture may help with understanding some of this movement though it is also misleading by making a determinate relation between Being and Nothing which is here not logically there at the beginning. 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 appear to be one and the same concept in separate moments that merely appear separate. We may in a way want to see them as the form and content of one concept: the Being of Nothing. We know, however, that this is ridiculous and nonsensical. We know we at least intend 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. Nonetheless, though we intend the difference we have so far no way to even conceptualize the distinction and keep it from collapsing.  Is there something more that can be used to determine the difference of Being/Nothing in this immediate movement?

Against all common understanding of Hegel let this be clear: Being and Nothing are not a dialectic, for they are not real concepts. Being and Nothing are one and the same only because they have the same indeterminate content in an intended difference that has two concepts that lack any determination in relation to themselves and to each other. Being and Nothing, in being thought, immediately (this is not temporal transition, but logical) transition into their opposite only in their lack of content being compared. This is actually not secret. Hegel tells us this in the paragraph right before he finally dives into the logical investigation. We derived Nothing from the thinking of Being,  the thinking of nothing at all, turned this thinking into another concept, and posited this as something else rather than falling back into Being. Nonetheless, given that we have made a distinction without logical warrant and find ourselves trying to think two thoughts which both contain nothing to think about, and which in relation to each other merely are a succession of supplanting term names for what we yet know not what, we still have a way to move from this seemingly inescapable empty beginning.

In transitioning Being disappears—Hegel calls this vanishing—into Nothing, and likewise Nothing vanishes into Being. This incessant immediate movement between Being and Nothing as a whole movement of 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 and can articulate that 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 thus finally 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. 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. Here we’re about to do something grand: from two pure indeterminacies we can and will lift indeterminate thought with its own bootstraps up into determinacy. From indeterminacy related to indeterminacy there is at least a minimal indeterminacy as their relation.

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.

[Now, where did this new concept, sublation, come from? The answer is simple: from the content we have developed. Sublation is a concept describing the relation which the structure of Becoming has towards Being and nothing; it unites, cancels, and preserves them all at once.]

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? So far we have merely defined one vanishing in the process of vanishing into yet another vanishing, however, this cannot do, for this would make vanishing endure substantively and thus cease to be a vanishing. 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. As moments of Becoming, Ceasing/Coming to be vanish. Into what? Being and Nothing, for they are the terms that make vanishing intelligibly possible. Becoming, because it is vanishing, vanishes itself into the background of Being and Nothing and leaves them in immediate unity once again, but just because Becoming has vanished into the background does not mean it no longer plays a role, far from it.

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.

In Becoming there is no escape from denying Being and Nothing for they are the necessary contents for Becoming, thus Ceasing/Coming to be are themselves not what Being and Nothing are. 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, for the vanishing has vanished itself into the background—this, however, is not a disappearance of Becoming, far from it. Think closely on what Becoming is, the vanishing transition between Being and Nothing, and you shall see an interesting truth: the transitioning differences and identities of all things are Becomings. At the edge of conception where this new Being/Nothing resulting from Becoming are is Becoming itself, the moment where we find that a Being has immanent contact with its Nothing. Thus, Determinate Being sublates Being, Nothing, and 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, 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. Notice also that a commodity necessarily implies a plurality of commodities, for in order to exchange it requires another commodity to relate to it. Implied in use-value, due to exchange-value, is the plurality of qualitative commodities, for one does not trade a quality for the same quality and quantity. 

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. However, let us recall the plurality of quality use-values available for exchange and we realize we have not yet exhausted the thinkable relations! We can relate one commodity to many and see one and the same value manifest in different qualities and quantities at once in the relative form of value (1 coat=20 linen; 10 carrots; 1 pound of iron etc.). From that relative form not only do we see one value capable of manifesting as multiple qualities and quantities, but we also grasp that one of the forms can be used to stand in to represent the value of all others in its own quality and quantity, and where do we end? With the appearance of the universal commodity form which directly embodies value in itself, a use-value of exchange-value itself, for all others to measure against as money.

The development goes on from there.

Example 3: Freedom of Speech

An example of a simple yet concrete analysis of only the negative dialectical analysis of the understanding is an blog I once 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.

The limits of free speech may make it seem weak, and its contradictions may make it seem like a useless practice and concept in all, but it is the reality of it. There is more to be said about it, but that shall suffice here.

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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.

We may easily say of Hegel’s method correct formulations of its general movements and result structures. {Abstract-negative}-concrete is correct. We can easily describe the movement also as one of {positing-understanding}-speculating, and we may describe it as {thought-thinking}-thinking of thinking thought. No matter how correct our description, however, it is for the intents of reading Hegel almost useless. I say almost because I do realize there is a value in at least providing the formulation as a springboard to then lead a direct dive into the actual thinking.

As Becoming shows, it is a myth that Becoming is the resultant sublation of Being and Nothing, it is the real first step as a sublation that transitions into Being and Nothing in unity which then sublate Becoming as a unity. 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.