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The Ideal in Absolute Idealism


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.


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.


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

Why Self-Consciousness Needs Two

Why Are Two Consciousnesses Necessary For Self-Consciousness?

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

PhoS: The Master and Slave [Prt. 1]

Following from the development of life and self-consciousness, we now are at Hegel’s most well known and famous philosophical passage, the Master/Slave dialectic of self-consciousness. Like prior sections, this is going to be a long one. There is much here that deals with some very dense phenomeno-logical developments.

One thing to comment here is that there is a vast misinterpretation of this section by most readers. Many take the account given in this section to be Hegel’s positive account of how we become self-conscious, however, this is not the case. The logic of self-consciousness,  found in the Philosophy of Spirit, is something different than the account of the master/slave. This is by and large an account of how the coming to be of recognition and self-consciousness appears to a self-consciousnesses.

The Conclusion of Life and
The Appearance of Spirit

At the end of the prior section Hegel tells us that the concept of Spirit in its most basic form is properly at hand in the concept of self-consciousness as the divided existence of mind in unitary form. Self-consciousness is an “I that is a we, and a we that is an I”. Not only that, but we have also stumbled on the first formulation of the substance as subject: The object of self-consciousness is another subject to whom itself it is an object. 

From here on the forms of consciousness are all expositions and unfoldings of Spirit’s inner development of its self-knowledge as knowledge of self-consciousnesses in relation to themselves and the world. These shall all be subject forms that are embedded in inter-subjective relations and norms. They are all cultural, social, and historical insofar as they build upon a legacy of thought and activity carried and transmitted by communities of individuals. Insofar as this holds, even the ‘objective’ knowledge claims of so-called reason in the objective mode of world observation—such as in empirical science—shall be shown to be grounded in Spirit’s conception of itself.


The Logic of Recognition

Self-consciousness only exists in being recognized. It exists in and for itself only for an other. As a realization of the concept of Infinity, i.e. as an empirically determinate form of it, self-consciousness must be taken in its opposed meanings of a self-differentiated unity in which the differences are real and independent, yet dependent and the same. By this it is meant that if self-consciousness is posited as the united universal, it must be thought as the divided plurality of self-consciousnesses, and if posited as plurality of self-consciousnesses, it must be thought as the immanently necessary universal unity of this plurality.

Recognition is a movement, that is, it is an activity and not simply a state of mere being—it is a process. Empirically, consciousness does not simply just recognize another consciousness, there is a process to the coming about of this recognition. Consciousness must be forced to recognize the other as one like itself and become self-conscious, and only a self-consciousness like itself may inflict upon it the experience of an independent other which denies the negation imposed by another.

As the concept of it shows, the essence or source of self-consciousness is outside it in another self-consciousness. This, however, is at first not seen as another, but as itself. As self-consciousness faces another self-consciousness as its essence, it must sublate the otherness to be certain it is the essence, but in doing so it thus only sublates itself, for the other was its essence.

The sublation is double-edged in multiple senses.

1) Self-consciousness is outside itself; the other is itself

2) The sublation of another is only a sublation of itself

3) The sublation of its other gets the essence of self-consciousness back into itself, yet this return is a letting go, for it requires that the other indeed be recognized as the essence of self-consciousness, a free self-consciousness itself. This is to say, since the other is the essence in which self-consciousness exists for itself, self-consciousness thus sublates itself into the other, and thus the other is free as well. One cannot be self-conscious without recognizing the other as a self-consciousness and giving it its due as well.

The prior exposition is from one standpoint of one self-consciousness, but the other is self-consciousness as well, thus it also carries on this activity of recognition. Thus, the activity of one is the activity of the other for they are both independent self-sufficient beings that carry out the same activity in relating to the other for themselves. The other is also itself in-itself, thus it does not exist merely as an object that is initially and foremost for the desire of the first. The first self-consciousness cannot penetrate into the other self-consciousness and make it do anything unless the other does in-itself what another does to it.

[Comment:] This is to say this much: In my consciousness nothing can enter that I do not allow to be there for myself. No amount of physical coercion nor enticement can make any consciousness recognize anything or anyone within itself. You may make me say things and do things out of forced capitulation in the face of negative consequences, but never can you make me believe, respect, or recognize anything I refuse to. In my consciousness I have a being which seems immune to the penetration of any kind of other by any means external to my will, thus I have the power to deny all power over me—even my life itself.

In seeing the other do as one does, and recognizing the other to be as one is, one does what one demands of the other, i.e. by demanding recognition one has already recognized the other as the kind like one’s self. We only recognize insofar as we are recognized. I demand you to submit to me, and you do the same. I wager my life as proof of my absolute independence, and you do the same. I struggle, and you do likewise. Recognition as a movement is only possible with two self-consciousnesses, it would be pointless, useless, and meaningless for one consciousness to do such alone. To demand an entity incapable of recognition to recognize us is an empty act. The activity of recognition is double-edged in the sense that it is as much directed towards the other as it is to oneself. To demand recognition from you presupposes recognizing you.

—The analogy to the play of forces—

Hegel comments that this recalls the disintegration of Genuine Force into Force and Expression as the play of forces; each was nothing but the transition into its opposite and the endless circular movement shifting to the other. Expression was the becoming of Force, and Force the becoming of Expression. Self-consciousness finds its essence only in another consciousness, in its circular movement in the activity of recognition which shifts from self to other and back to self.

Self-consciousness as consciousness is outside itself for it faces another consciousness as its object. As self-consciousness however, its being is this very external relation which allows for self-reflection, hence the externality is internal to it, in it, and for it—as such it is outside of itself in-and-for-itself. The other immediately is and is not another consciousness, for it exists only in the relation of two self-consciousnesses. Each side of the difference requires the other to exist-for-itself as an independent entity which nonetheless is only being-for-itself insofar as the other is in relation to it. Self-consciousness thus finds itself self-mediated in its two existent extremes.

Each is the middle term to the other, through which each mediates itself with itself and integrates itself with itself. Each is, in its own eyes and in that of the other, an essence immediately existing for itself which at the same time exists for itself in that way only by way of this mediation. They recognize themselves as mutually recognizing each other.” (§184)

Hegel’s Form of Science

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

The Structure of Science

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

History, Experience, And The
A Posteriori A Priori

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

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

PhoS: Life, Desire, and Self-Consciousness

The end of Force and the Understanding yielded the concept of Infinity, the self-differentiated unconditioned universal (what is later to be termed in the system as the concrete Universal). Not only did the object of the Understanding have the form of Infinity, but the consciousness which faces this object finds itself caught in the structure of Infinity as well. The structure of Infinity is one in which differences are no differences, hence what is on one side is not different from what is on the other, as such consciousness faces itself in the object opposed to it, and in Infinity we find Infinity doubled against itself in opposition. Consciousness as a section was concerned with knowledge of an other that was not consciousness, but Self-Consciousness as a section is concerned with knowledge of itself.

This section on life is the most brutally dense in the text so far.

The Problem of Self-Consciousness

The beginning of Self-Certainty starts with what seems like a peculiar and radical shift from the type of knowledge which Consciousness dealt with. Self-consciousness splits into the moments of consciousness facing an external object—the object is life. We shall see here a phenomenological development of the categories of life, desire, and self-consciousness. The aim of the section is to show by logical development through the structure of Infinity that self-consciousness requires at minimal two consciousnesses

As the moment of absolute negative unity, self-consciousness as consciousness is desire, which seeks to nullify all distinctions against its absolute unity. The object of desire is life, which first appears externally against independent desire.

[Comment:] Why is the object of desire life? Because life is a necessary condition for self-consciousness that is embodied despite its former ignorance of such. There is also a developmental necessity for the concept of life, for no object like the inert objects of Consciousness can advance the knowing of self-consciousness. Life is brought in as the phenomenological factor which enables the further development of the knowledge of consciousness. Extending the “Why life?” issue, life must be developed to consciousness for what seems to me a metaphysical point swinging around a phenomenal point. It seems Hegel wants to take self-consciousness in a direction familiar and radically new. For one, consciousness will only attain self-consciousness in the recognition that there is another consciousness like itself which shall be an external object of itself. Second, it seems that Hegel wants to show us that the recognition of another consciousness is what takes us from an external relation of you and I, to an internal reflection of I am I. This is to say: So long as I face a world which I not only do not recognize as different from me, but also do not recognize in that world anything other than me that is like me,  I really do not know I am a specific self, that I am not the universal consciousness of the world as a whole, thus “I am I” is first an empty claim that is not making a difference amongst different selves.

In desire’s attempt to nullify life and assert itself as the negative unitary truth and essence of all things before it, it shall learn from experience that it is incapable of nullifying life without nullifying itself. On the other hand, life shall show in its development to be composed of a genus (universal) with differentia (individuals), repeating the structure of Infinity determinately in itself. In its own moment as genus—the universal negative unity—life and self-consciousness share the same structure. It is in this logical equivalence that self-consciousness as a living desire meets self-consciousness as another living desire—a predicament in which neither can nullify the other. Since the equivalence is total, living consciousness meets living consciousness.

The Meaning of Self-Certainty

The concept of Infinity attained at the end of Understanding has a peculiar kind of certainty, for it is not a certainty about something external to itself, but certainty of itself—it is a certainty that is the same as its truth.

Note: This character of self-certain truth should to be kept in mind, even if merely in the background for now. This characteristic is one which belongs to Absolute Knowing, however, self-certainty obviously shall somehow fail to attain to this character.

What does self-certainty look like? If the movement of knowledge is the Concept (the movement of moments in the cognition of the object), and the object is knowledge as unity at rest (in the case of self-consciousness this is the I, but it is also the negative unity of Infinity which is the restlessness at rest), then the object corresponds to the Concept, not only for us but also for the knowledge itself. This is otherwise said as the following: Knowledge and knowing are one and the same, or, knower and known are one and the same. The knowing and the object are the same structural relation like Infinity. I remind you that the forms of consciousness have shown themselves to be knowings, and as we found in the Understanding, these knowings only find themselves in their objects. In Infinity and self-consciousness self-certainty is found explicitly.

Put in the usual charm of Hegelese: If Concept is the in-itself of the object, and the object is as object what the in-itself is for-an-other, then the in-itself and being-for-other are the same. Why? For one, this is just what Infinity already hinted at in the impossibility of splitting its inner opposite moments, e.g. the one and the many were what they were only because of their relation and opposition to their other. Because the in-itself being dealt with in this section is consciousness, Hegel tells us that we shall see consciousness is necessarily in-itself what it is for an other by observing its development.

Note: Self-certainty in the speculative spirit of its meaning here is taken from Fichte’s “First Absolutely Unconditioned Principle” in the Science of Knowledge. It is a very dense but short 11 page essay which makes a more expanded argument of just why this equivalence of certainty and truth—existence in the Fichte’s argument—is the case specifically for the self. Hegel will show why this self-certainty fails for self-consciousness.

False Self-Consciousness

Hegel makes the case that self-consciousness is not yet self-conscious when it only takes its reflection to be only a mere appearance of itself. Why? Though at the end of Understanding we ended with the truth of the reflection of consciousness which faced an object no different in kind to itself, the phenomenal consciousness comprehends this truth differently than we and Hegel do. While consciousness became self-conscious when the object was logically revealed to be of its own kind, and it seemed it was forced to be self-conscious, phenomenally the first moment of encounter has no such actual result. In order for self-consciousness to be it must recognize that indeed it does face another consciousness, however our observed consciousness has recognized no such thing. In Infinity it does not see against it a genuine other like itself, but rather sees a false other and takes only the first moment of Infinity to be the truth: What is different is self-same; thus the moment of oneness prevails against differences. Since consciousness at this point only takes itself to only have access and certainty of its own being, it takes this to mean that everything only appears different from it, and thus everything is in truth only this single consciousness itself.

The distinction of “I am I” is the tautology of self-consciousness, of the difference that is no difference. The distinction itself does not exist for self-consciousness for there is only it, and it alone is truth, as such it is not yet really self-consciousness for in truth it does not face itself—it has not truly gone out of itself and returned out of otherness. It is only consciousness, and we must recall that consciousness is consciousness of external objects, hence consciousness is merely the consciousness of its awareness of external otherness, but not truly of itself. It has a double object: the external object of perception, and consciousness as the object’s essence. In the first moment the other exists as a distinguished being, and in a second moment it exists as the unity and non-distinction with the self. The first moment is consciousness, but this moment exists only in relation to the second moment, the unity of self-consciousness with itself, i.e. self-consciousness only is when it genuinely distinguishes itself from itself yet remains in unity in this existing distinction. The self must encounter a self which it first recognizes as not itself,  yet also as like itself, for only in the knowing of this otherness is it given the necessary mirror to turn onto itself and gain self-knowledge and awareness.

[Comment:] Hegel does not spell it out for us, but there is a straightforward answer to the question of why self-consciousness is not had by the ‘I am I’. Consciousness, let us not forget, as a general form of consciousness was a consciousness of external objects, i.e. an awareness or knowledge always directed outwards. If a consciousness is capable of self-consciousness, it is able to know/recognize an object which is a consciousness, but being that as a singular consciousness it is merely consciousness directed outwards, without another consciousness it has no impetus to turn that outward attention inwards toward itself. When consciousness which can be self-conscious encounters another consciousness it recognizes it as consciousness, i.e. its outward awareness is aware of a being which is also outwardly aware. Both consciousnesses are aware of the outward attention of the other, and immediately they recognize that they are the object of the other’s awareness—in being aware of the other’s awareness of them, they are aware of themselves. This is true self-consciousness.

Consciousness and Its Object

In the beginning of the transition we return to the opposition of consciousness to an object. From the perspective of consciousness the object is at first an object-for-consciousness with no true being or essence. Now, consciousness is that for which an other in-itself exists, but this other is not yet the other-for-itself. It is only for consciousness that the other exists in-itself and as a being-for-other. In facing the object, consciousness recognizes itself not as a genuine other of its own kind, but as merely its own unitary reflection in a false appearance, i.e. for it self-consciousness means its consciousness of merely itself, “I am I”, not of an other like itself.

For self-consciousness the sensible world is a durable existence of mere appearance. In the opposition between appearance and truth, however, only truth is the essence, and the truth is the unity of self-consciousness with itself. The unity must become essential to self-consciousness. As such a unity with itself, self-consciousness is also desire itself, i.e. desire is the moving drive towards unity which in Infinity is the driving back to unity from difference, the infinite negative unity.

As consciousness, self-consciousness has a doubled object: the sensible immediate object which is merely negative to it and has no true being; and second, itself as the true essence which is at the outset only in mere opposition to the sensible object. Self-consciousness shows itself in the movement in which this opposition is sublated, Infinity, and within which it comes to see for itself the selfsameness of itself with its object come to be, i.e. self-consciousness does not begin in full knowledge of its self-consciousness, but must become aware through experience.

==The Concept of Life==

Just as consciousness turns inward to itself to be self-consciousness, the object turns inward to itself—to our perspective as the phenomenological observer—and becomes life; Infinity’s poles themselves become infinite in themselves. This is due to the inherent inner reflective structure of Infinity into itself (a structure of necessary determinacy found in the sections on Determinate Being in the future Science of Logic). Because what is other is truly the same as consciousness, and because it exists just as independently, it carries all the modes of consciousness up to now in itself: Sense Certainty, Perception, and Understanding. The object of desire (consciousness) is living because it itself has the structure of Infinity, the unity of unity and difference, the structure of an organism, true universality. This is coming from Hegel’s romantic views and organicism, it is a phenomenological rearticulating shift of the concept.

The structure of Infinity is the self-repelling of the the selfsame, and this self-repelling creates the opposition within self-consciousness; the opposition between consciousness and life which is no true opposition. Consciousness is the infinite unity for which the infinite unity of distinctions exist, but life is the infinite unity itself which is not yet for-itself. Consciousness takes itself to be independent being, and life is also thus independent on its own side of Infinity. Self-consciousness is utterly for-itself and considers the object the mere negative moment of it, but it will learn from experience that this object is just as independent as it.

Development of the Moment of Inorganic Nature

[Comment:] The following paragraphs are a bit confusing, mainly because it is a determination of what life is through a developing of the necessary preconditions of life in nature, these conditions being the spatial and temporal substance from which life arises from. Hegel does not explicitly tell us this, but I must infer §169 concerns something not yet specifically living because of the developments of §171, where Hegel tells us of the consumption of the inorganic nature of the universal medium which sustains the independent shapes. If it were not the case that this first section concerns the universal substance of inorganic nature upon which life depends, then I could not make sense of the phenomenal injection of inorganic nature into the development of that section.

The essence of life is Infinity as the unconditioned universal which is sublation of all distinctions; it is at rest in absolute restlessness; at unity in absolute diremption. It is self-sufficient because it contains itself and its distinctions entirely. Life is characterized as the essence of Time, the non-selfsameness of the selfsame endlessly, to which the moment of selfsameness is the pure shape of Space. In the simple universal medium the distinctions within it exist as true distinctions, the universal medium existing as their mutual negation by sublating them in their truly existing distinction. The universal fluid medium is independent as the universal moment in selfsameness, however, its durable existence is  also the durable existence of its individual distinctions; it is their substance, in which they are distinct members/parts where each is existing-for-itself as this very substance.  Being no longer means “the abstraction of being”, and this abstraction is no longer the pure essence as the abstraction of universality. Being is now the simple fluid substance of organic life/Infinity which is distinct and moving in-itself. The members within the fluid medium, however, are distinct from each other only in the determinateness resulting from the moments of Infinity’s pure movement of self-diremption into independent moments, for it cannot remain the one without the many.

[Comment:] These equivalencies of life, Infinity, space, and time, appear as if for no reason other than to show how Hegel’s logic can structurally link such seemingly disconnected concepts. I think Hegel is actually being brutally dense in §169-171, providing absolutely minimal links between these determinations, only giving enough to hint at the fact that he has implicitly—and at one moment explicitly—provided for a distinction between a simple infinity of inorganic being within which life exists, and the infinity of life which exists as the distinction for itself within said inorganic being. The reason to mention space and time in relation to life as essences of life is not simply just because they are determinations which are themselves also infinite in relation to each other, but that life is an object that exists temporally and spatially. The reason for mentioning a simple universal medium in which the distinctions exist as distinctions to each other and to the simple universal is to implicitly set up the distinctions of the infinite organic substance as the distinctions within the universal material medium. The universal inorganic substance as a logical moment is an existing universal medium we can consider spatio-temporal substance and not an abstract concept. Just as life and consciousness are opposed in their infinite structure, life in itself is now in a new structure of infinite opposition against the simple universal substance, from which it has repelled itself as an other which is not truly other, for life itself is spatio-temporal substance.

Development of Life and Its Parts

The natural ground of life having been developed, we leave the universal fluid medium and turn our focus to the independent distinctions in their independence—it is these distinctions, which inhere in the universal  inorganic fluid medium, that are now the true shift towards the concept of life proper. The independent members exist for-themselves, but as we already know from Infinity this immediately brings them into unity just as much as the unity splits into the members again. The unity is absolutely negative unity, Infinite unity, which is durably existing, and thus the distinction of individual parts only is independent in this negative unity. The independence of the parts is determinate and for-another, and through this immanent relation to another the negative unity results. The sublation of the distinction as one and many is Infinity itself, which is the substance of the independent shapes. The substance is Infinite, as such in its durable existence it is the diremption into the distinction in itself from itself, the sublation of its being-for-itself and back again in the movement and structure of the universal and particular individuals, of the one to many.

Movements of Life

Life now being structured as a whole with parts, and Infinity having been recapped, Hegel takes us in the development of life as Infinity in a determinate phenomenal form.

1st Movement – Life as Process

In the first movement, the independent parts—”shapes” Hegel calls them—clearly have durable existence-for-themselves within the universal fluid medium. This moment suppresses the act of distinguishing in-itself, an act which is their being-for-another—this suppressed moment betrays their independence and denies their durable existence in-themselves. In a second movement, however, these independent shapes are subjugated (sublated) by the negative unity of their distinction. In the first moment these determinate independent shapes of the universal substance confront the universal substance as such, the previously developed fluid medium of spatio-temporal nature, as other to them and deny its fluidity and continuity with them; they assert themselves as not dissolved within it by virtue of their separation from this universal inorganic nature by consuming this inorganic nature—this is the fact of life’s basic form and minimal subsistence. Life as these independent shapes in the universal fluid medium was first in its motionless elaboration of itself, but we see now that the shapes cannot help but move in their consuming; thus life becomes the movement of these shapes—life becomes a process.

[Comment:] The process of consumption here is a very apt phenomenological shift that gives a specific determinate form of the way the logic of the one and many works. The individuals “consume” the universal in the process of how individuals sustain themselves against the universal in the process of thinking, they hold fast to their being in negating the universal moment of the one, and it is this process of negating that is what consumption is a concrete determinate form of.

2nd Movement – From Simple Living Things to Complex Life

The universal fluidity (the universal medium) appears first as the in-itself of life’s distinct shapes, and the distinction among shapes is the other. As we already know from what was learned from Infinity, the in-itself and being-for-other are two sides of the same coin. Because of the distinction within it, the fluidity is itself inverted into the other, since it now exists for the distinction which exists in-and-for-itself, i.e. the one/universal becomes other and subservient to its particulars. The distinction of the particular shapes of life exists in-and-for-itself and is the infinite movement that consumes the fluid medium—life is living things, for in the distinction of the shapes there is a plurality. This is by virtue of the structure of Infinity in which the in-itself/for-other are the self-repelling self-same, i.e. life opposes itself as another life.

The distinction, which is now a plurality of living things, subsist by consuming the passive medium. However, the inversion which has occurred with fluidity and the independent shapes of life is itself now inverted in-itself. In the shapes of individual life what is consumed is essence in order to maintain life’s individual unity with itself, i.e. life finds itself tied to the universal inorganic fluidity as an other which is not alien to it, thus the distinction with it is sublated—individual independent existence-for-itself is tied in a radical dependence on the universal. This very fluidity is what allows for the moment of independent existence of the individual shape in-itself, and thus the life comes into unity with itself in the consumption of its own essence, the other to it which is no other. This process of consumption, the unity of life with itself, manifests as the fluidity of the distinctions, i.e the distinction itself is no distinction just as we should expect of Infinite structures. The power of negation which is this fluidity of distinction is the universal dissolution of all distinctions and similarities alike. This dissolution is of the same manner as the in-itself vanishing into being-for-another, and the way the many vanish into one and vice versa.

This sublation of the individual durable existence with the essence is as much its dissolution as its generation through its fluidity. Since the essence of the individual shape is universal life, and this essence and what exists-for-itself are in-themselves the simple substance (i.e. universal life is the simple substance that exists-in-itself), the other of universal life—the independent shapes—are posited within it. In this way life sublates its simplicity, yet in this sublation it equally repels it and estranges it from itself in order to posit its individuality as the independent shapes. This point is seemingly primarily a logical point: about the universal that exists only in its differentiated individual shapes and not as abstract concept. We can, however, take this logical development to also take on a phenomenal form that is not explicitly said by Hegel. Here we have arrived at the more complex life within life in which a living whole is itself constituted by inner living beings existent-in-themselves yet in mutual dependence with the whole which is a living individual being itself.

The Completed Concept of Life

The simple substance of life has shown itself to be the estrangement of itself into distinct shapes and their dissolution back into one. The dissolution of the distinction is itself an estrangement, however, and returns back to the division into distinct shapes. Both aspects of the entire movement collapse into one another, repeating Infinity’s determinate structure—this time in triadic, not in dialectical, form. Life is both shapes motionlessly in the universal self-sufficient medium and the process of life which collapses into one another (dissolution and generation of fluidity). The process of life is as much a taking shape as it is the sublating of shape (being-in-itself and for-another), and the taking shape is as much a sublating into one as it is a division into shapes. The fluid element, the universal life, is merely the abstraction of essence, i.e. it is only actual as a shape. The whole cycle of estrangement from abstract universal whole to determinate individual shapes—their motionless enduring and their dissolution in developmental process—is what life is. Life is the whole developing itself, dissolving its development, and in this total movement being the simple whole sustaining itself through this restless development.

==Living (Self-)Consciousness==

The Other for consciousness was at first merely an immediate unity of being, but now both moments have fully been developed as independent and returned to unity once more; it is a reflected unity that is different in kind to the first immediate unity. The first unity was expressed as merely a being, but this second unity is the universal which contains its independent moments sublated in itself. The universal is the simple genus which is not yet present in the movement of life for it does not exist for itself as this “simple”, it lacks the determination of the genus which will give it true independence from its other—at this point life is merely the living shapes which are only for consciousness. As life does not yet exist for-itself as the “simple” pure negative unity, it points towards something other than itself in order to achieve developmental completion—it points towards consciousness, which has taken itself to be absolute and for-itself up to now, the infinite negative unity from which the independent shapes arise, and to it we now turn in order to finish the development.

Since what faces consciousness is an other which is not an other, and as such consciousness is just as much like this other, consciousness is life as well. In developing its object consciousness developed itself, but it is not yet cognizant of this for it holds itself in its own eyes to merely be the simple essence of the pure I. Consciousness will now learn from experience what has been developed logically about the abstract object, life.

The genus is the simple universal, and the I is this genus for which the distinctions before it are no distinctions at all. The genus is the negative essence of the independent shapes of life. Self-consciousness is therefore only certain of itself in the act of sublating this other, which is independent life. Self-consciousness is desire which nullifies its object; it is certain of the nullity of this other, and posits for itself this nullity as its truth (i.e. self-consciousness is this negation of the other), and thus it destroys the independent object and gives itself the certainty of itself as true certainty which in its eyes has come to be in an objective manner by this actual nullification of the other. In the satisfaction of nullifying its other, however, self-consciousness learns about the independence of the object, for it learns it cannot eliminate it without eliminating itself as desire and its certainty in negation. Because self-consciousness is the genus itself, it generates its object anew in order to reassert itself as desire and its certainty. This experience shows self-consciousness that the object of desire is truly something other than itself; self-consciousness has learned it is not alone and not the singular absolute essence of its world. Its desire is not solipsistically for itself, but for an independent other which is the essence of desire.

The other thus has asserted its being just as independent and durably existing as self-consciousness; it resists self-consciousness’s complete negation of it. However, self-consciousness is desire (the absolute negative unity); it exists absolutely for itself only by sublating (negating and preserving) the other before it, and this sublation is its truth. Negation must be the case for self-consciousness to be; it is desire, and it must be satisfied. If self-consciousness’s desire needs the negation of the object , yet negation of the object cannot be effected by self-consciousness’s absolute negation since such destroys it, then the negation must be effected by the other in itself in order that self-consciousness may find satisfaction in the negation of the object while at the same time preserving it. Only the Genus of life, the infinite negative unity, can effect such an absolute negation that also preserves the object. Negation in the other already was developed such that its negation was found in an other (in desire), or as its determinateness of independent shapes, or in the universal inorganic nature; these, however, are not the negations which can satisfy the conditions of the life’s independent self-negation. Life is thus in itself the negative, it must effect in itself the negativity of desire. Now it is seen that it effects negation in itself independent from self-consciousness—it does so for-itself. It now shows itself to also contain its genus. As the genus it is the infinite negative unity, and as such it is consciousness as well. It is for-itself what it is for its other—it is consciousness for itself and for the other; it and the other are now truly self-consciousness“Self-consciousness attains its satisfaction only in another self-consciousness.”

[Comment:] What does it mean for self-consciousness to find satisfaction only in another of its kind? Why in the world does desire only find satisfaction in an object that negates itself? This is my interpretation: This whole last section about desire and its satisfaction in negation of the other is a purely abstract development of something we all are familiar with: The search for a source of satisfaction that can keep us desiring while at the same time providing satisfaction without being exhausted.

Insofar as we keep chasing objects of desire which in satisfaction are destroyed, we are left empty and forced to keep seeking anew as the genus recreates desire as yet another object—existing physically or as an ideal. The only desire that can endure in satisfaction is one that can negate without destroying the object of desire, and the only way to achieve such negation is by allowing the object to negate itself. This is to say, we only find maximum and enduring satisfaction in the recognition of another self-consciousness which willingly negates itself for us, which of its own free activity generates and gives us what we want without our having to force ourselves on it as we do with dead objects. Because the other is a desiring living consciousness as well, they too desire, and they willingly negate themselves to satisfy us for no other reason than to satisfy our desire, finding satisfaction in satisfying our desire—they desire our desire, and we desire theirs.

Recap on Self-Consciousness

Self-consciousness and life find their completion in a final differentiated unity of both. The movement in general went as follows:

1) The I without distinctions was the first immediate object.

2) This immediacy showed itself to be absolute mediation. This is so because the I exist only as desire that is mediated by the “independent” objects it is impelled to sublate to attain its own certainty of being-for-self. The satisfaction of desire is the “very reflection of self-consciousness into itself, that is, it is the certainty which has become truth.” That is, self-consciousness takes itself to be the essence and truth, yet must prove this in destroying the object of desire in satisfaction an only in this does it attain to the truth of its certainty.

3) The truth of that certainty is to a greater degree the doubled reflection of living self-consciousness, i.e. there is another self-consciousness. “There is an object for consciousness which in itself posits its otherness, that is, which posits the distinction as a nullity and is therein a self-sufficient object.” Desire cannot endure

The living shape that does not contain its own genus also sublates its independence in the process of life, but it ceases to be in its very distinctions, which dissolve in this process. The object of self-consciousness is not a mere living shape, but another independent genus, a living self-consciousness.

Fichte’s Science of Knowledge: On The Self’s Necessary Necessity For Itself

Our task is to discover the primordial, absolutely unconditioned first principle of all human knowledge. This can be neither proved nor defined, if it is to be an absolutely primary principle.

—Fichte,  Fundamental Principles Of The Entire Science Of Knowledge

Outside of German Idealism enthusiasts, mainly scholars, there isn’t that much about ol’ Fichte out there online nor in books. While I’m not deeply interested in Fichte’s own system, I am curious about his philosophy and took the opportunity to read a small snippet because I just happened to read somewhere that said snippet was pertinent to understanding the section on Self-Certainty in the Phenomenology. Pertinent it was, for this small section sets some background on what Self-Certainty as such is, and elucidates a bit on some claims Hegel just asserts.

It is very interesting that Fichte puts great emphasis on activity, telling us that the first principle of philosophy expresses an act which “does not and cannot appear among the empirical states of our consciousness, but rather lies at the basis of all consciousness and alone makes it possible.” What we seek is a proposition which will express this act, and if said proposition must be granted to us, then the act is necessarily also granted along with it. This proposition must be one of the greatest possible reflective abstraction, the most general one in order to be the basis of all following propositions in the system.

He tells us something else of great interest, to put it in my own paraphrasing: philosophy must lift itself up by its own bootstraps. It must at first assume certain things, such as the laws of logic—which he assures us he will prove later upon the principle that assumes them, making a logical circle. Circles aren’t anything new—not particularly scary—for those who are familiar with Hegel. One can only hope it is a nice virtuous circle, and not a vicious one.

Without further ado, this is my summary of Fichte’s argument for the absolute necessity of the self for itself.

The meaning of A=A, or A is A

The process of abstraction aside, Fichte gets right to business and asserts that the highest point of abstraction is the proposition of identity, A is A, or more commonly known in the form of A=A. No one can deny this principle is “perfectly certain and established.” If anyone asks for proof of this, Fichte tells us, we should not embark on such an attempt since it is a proposition of absolute certainty grounded by nothing else. In asserting this absolute certainty as characteristic of the proposition we ascribe “to ourselves the power of asserting something absolutely.”

Now, in insisting that the proposition is absolutely certain we do not assert that A is the case. A=A is not equivalent to A exists. Even if A is defined as something specific, though A is A remains true, it still does not entail that A exists. What A=A means is only the possibility of A being A if it exists, i.e. that if A exists, then A exists. The existence of A is irrelevant to the necessity, the connecting is/= in the proposition. In the proposition the form is all that is relevant, not the content, for A is an indeterminate universal abstraction. It is “not of that about which you know something, but of what you know about anything at all.” Now, if A itself is not absolutely certain and necessarily self grounded…what is it in the proposition that is absolutely certain without external ground? Fichte makes an interesting observation that borders on the cusp of the most obvious obviousness that may seem laughable at first: What is absolutely certain is the connection between the if and then of the A—it is a necessary connection.  This necessary connection is symbolized by X. A necessarily is A.

This being the case—that A=A on its own tells us nothing of much interest—how does Fichte move along? By making a transcendental turn.

Under What Condition Does A Exist?

A problem is posed: Under what condition is A necessarily, i.e. exists? Under condition that it is posited by the self in the self.

How do we get there? Recall that in asserting that A=A is an absolute certainty with no external ground we ascribed ourselves the power to assert something absolutely. A is only a possibility, it can only assert its own necessity if it is posited, but clearly we have no grounds to consider that A has any power of self-positing. Luckily for us, we already granted ourselves the power to posit something. The necessary connection of A to itself, X, is the absolutely certain piece of the proposition. As it is our self that judges the proposition A=A according to the law of X, X must be a law which the self gives to itself whether A is or is not posited.

“Whether, and how, A is actually posited we do not know,” but since X is a connection between a possibly posited A absolutely asserted as A, and since X is posited in the self, A is necessarily posited in the self as well—so far so good. In the proposition A=A, the first A occupies the logical position of subject, the second A the predicate position; X connects and unites subject and predicate. If X is posited, then the first A is posited, and necessarily and absolutely the second as well, i.e. if A as subject, then A is predicate of A. More formally: If X, then A=A; or, if A is posited in the self, then A is A; or more simply, A is (exists).

So far we know: The self asserts through X that A exists absolutely for the judging self which posits A, i.e. X, therefore A, therefore ‘A=A’. Fichte says this can also be said as: “It is asserted that within the self… there is something that is permanently uniform, forever one and the same.” From here Fichte makes what seems as his first leap of logic, from the assertion of permanently uniform something in the self to, “hence the X that is absolutely posited can also be expressed as I=I; I am I.” This problem of a leap aside, Fichte continues. The proposition ‘I am I’ is equivalent to ‘I am‘; this expresses not an act, but a fact—we do not want to mistake this as the first principle Fichte is after.

[Note:] Now, Fichte is right, can be expressed as I=I, but this is something entirely different and not necessarily derived from the argument which has developed from A=A. The new proposition, I=I, though it does not contradict the first, does not necessarily follow from the first as a determinate form of A=A. This I=I seems to be a bold and bald assertion coming from nowhere as far as the argument goes, but there may yet be a way to save this from being a groundless leap. ‘A=A’ as posited is an assertion that there is something within the self that is permanently uniform. Fichte may here be appealing to an empirically given minimal determinate content of A which can be identified as this something—this something is the self; the I.

X has already been shown to be posited absolutely by the self, but now X is equivalent to the proposition ‘I am I,’ which is therefore also asserted absolutely. Here Fichte explains that he’s no fool equivocating ‘A is A’ with ‘I am I,’ they are different in important ways. ‘A is A’ is only a possibility, a contentless form which only exists under a certain condition if it is posited as a content, but the proposition does not tell us whether it is posited as subject nor whether it has any particular predicate necessarily attached, i.e. whether A is posited at all as A, or A as B/C/D/etc. 

‘I am I’ is different from ‘A is A’ in that it is “unconditionally and absolutely valid, since it is equivalent to the proposition X (X therefore A); it is valid not merely in form but also in content.” That is to say, Fichte tells us in a footnote, that “I, who posit A in the predicate position, necessarily know, because the same was posited in the subject position, about my positing of the subject, and hence know myself, again contemplate myself, am the same with myself.” That is, in the proposition of ‘I am I’ within the self the I is posited absolutely with the predicate of equivalence to itself by the self. That isI posit ‘I am I’ and in my positing’s necessary connection I likewise find a necessary connection to myself as its positing subject just as one would find in the predicate A the necessary connection to the subject Atherefore the I “really is posited, and the proposition can also be expressed as I am.

[Note:] In ‘I am I’ the I is posited as subject and predicate of itself by the self, and can be expressed in the simpler form of ‘I am’ because,  to put another way with consideration to the equivalence to X: ‘I am I’ is necessarily necessary because there is necessity in the connection of the subject and predicate which the I posits.

‘I am,’ as a determinate form of ‘A is A’ is merely a fact and only has factual validity, however should the proposition A=A—more precisely X—be certain, then ‘I am’ is also certain, i.e. if necessity is certain then the propositions are certain. Fichte here claims that it is a fact of empirical consciousness that we are compelled to regard X as absolutely certain, i.e. that necessary connection connects things necessarily is certain, therefore ‘I am’ is also certain. “Hence it is a ground of explanation of all the facts of empirical consciousness, that prior to all postulation in the self, the self itself is posited.” That is, if necessary connection is certain, then I am certain I exist by virtue of my necessary connection to my positing of A, for in positing A I necessarily pre-posit myself as its positor.—[Fichte tells us that this all hinges on X indeed is the highest fact of empirical consciousness which underlies and contains all others, a fact which might be conceded to him without proof yet which his system will nonetheless attempt to prove.]

The Primordial Act: The Self’s Positing Of Itself

After such an arduous journey of the mind, we have finally arrived at the doorstep of the principle being sought after, the primordial act upon which all things rest, and this act shall be nothing less than the act of the I positing itself and therefor guaranteeing its own existence.—[This reminds me of the old ontological proof, and I would not be surprised at all if Fichte did have this in mind, for this is seeking after the proposition/concept which in itself provides for its own necessary existence.]

X being given, A being given through X, and now the I being given through X and A together…

Once more Fichte pushes us forward. A=A, we are reminded, is a judgment, and judgments are an activity of the human mind which presupposes all the conditions of activity which are known and established for purposes of reflection, e.g. logic. This activity rests on the ultimate ground of X=I am, therefore we at least know judgment as one particular activity which is grounded by X (but it is all activity, Fichte tells us, that is grounded in X). In knowing this activity of judgment we thus know of the pure character of X’s activity as such in abstraction from empirical conditions. What is this activity?

“The self’s own positing is thus its own pure activity. The self posits itself, and by virtue of this mere self-assertion it existsand conversely, the self exists and posits its own existence by virtue of merely existing. It is at once the agent and the product of action; the active, and what the activity brings about; action and deed are one and the same, and hence the ‘I am’ expresses an Act, and the only one possible, as will inevitably appear from the Science of Knowledge as a whole.”

[Note:] This is where Hegel draws the structure of his notion of self-certainty from, the proper concept in which content and form, certainty and truth, etc. are one and the same.

After this bold declaration from the prior results, Fichte asks us to consider the proposition ‘I am I’ once more, this time considering what is absolutely posited as the first I in the position of formal subject, while the second I is in the position of predicate representing that which exists. If this is the case, then we can absolutely assert the valid judgment: The self exists because it has posited itself.—[This seems like a bit of what Wittgenstein would call language gone on holiday. Just because we can say this does not mean it has any actual meaning. Fichte here is drawing upon notions of an essence in potential being to essence in actual being.]

In a footnote he adds that the general form of all propositions plays out this fundamental movement of positing when we reflect on the activity which occurs in A=A, i.e. that the first A is posited in the self—which is absolute subject—as a posited subject, and the second A designates what the self finds present in itself after having posited it. None of this movement is really pertinent of A, but is really the self’s for the self posits something of itself, a predicate to it, within itself, this predicate being A, i.e. the self posits A, and in reflecting upon the presence of the posited A becomes aware of A as its own predicate;  the “is expresses the passage of the self from positing to reflection on what has been posited.”

Fichte concludes thus:

The self in the first sense, and that in the second, are supposed to be absolutely equivalent. Hence one can also reverse the above proposition and say: the self posits itself simply because it exists. It posits itself by merely existing and exists by merely being posited.”—[A claim that is not convincing in the slightest in the form he presents it here, however, once more, there is a way to redeem the claim in a more reasonable form, and Fichte shall quickly supply it.]

Once more he continues:

And this now makes it perfectly clear in what sense we are using the word ‘I’ in this context, and leads us to an exact account of the self as absolute subject. That whose being or essence consists simply in the fact that it posits itself as existing, is the self as absolute subject. As it posits itself, so it is; and as it is, so it posits itself; and hence the self is absolute and necessary for the self. What does not exist for itself is not a self.”

[Note:] Here we see where Hegel’s theory of the self draws heavily on Fichte’s internal reflection in the self. Hegel not only takes up but also adds to that last statement the inverted equivalent beyond consciousness’s form: What is not a self does not exist for itself, i.e. what is not a subject cannot be an independent substance.


If the self exists only insofar as it posits itself, then it exists only for that which posits, and posits only for that which exists. The self exists for the self—but if it posits itself absolutely, as it is, the it posits itself as necessary, and is necessary for the self. I exist only for myself; but for myself I am necessary… To posit oneself and to be are, as applied to the self, perfectly identical…’I am absolutely, because I am’… Furthermore, the self-positing self and the existing self are perfectly identical… The self is that which it posits itself to be; and it posits itself as that which it is. Hence I am absolutely what I am.

To finally conclude: “I am absolutely, i.e. I am absolutely BECAUSE I am; and am absolutely WHAT I am; both FOR THE SELF.” That is, “The self begins by an absolute positing of its own existence.”

Fichte has just attempted to derive something the vast majority except the most die hard and stubborn skeptics have thought necessary: an argumentative proof of Descartes’ famous “I think, therefore I am.” To put it in normal terms:

The self exists in a moment which is unique in the realm of existence and logic alike—it exists because it posits itself, i.e. it reflects itself within itself and recognizes itself in this reflection, the self exists because it is self-conscious; however, it only posits itself because it already first exists as self-consciousness, then posits itself and becomes aware of its self-consciousness. Its positing and existence occur in one and the same moment.

To summarize: I am certain that I am because I am aware that I am when I posit that I am, and because that awareness is necessarily my awareness, for I posit what I am aware of, I am absolutely certain that I necessarily am absolutely… if necessity is indeed absolutely certain.

Phos: Force and Understanding (pt.2)

Following from the collapse of Force as the unconditioned universal, we here begin with the Understanding’s second attempt at conceiving such universal. We shall tread the path through Law, see Force appear once more, and once again encounter collapse. From there we shall make a transition from the external object to the Understanding itself, from where a second Law shall be posited and the strange argument of the inverted world—the culmination of the structure of inversion—shall be laid out. The inverted world and the second Law shall then lay the way to transition from the preoccupation with external objectivity in Consciousness to Self-Consciousness.

This is a long one.

Transition From Force to Appearance

With the collapse of Force as the unconditioned universal into its pure movement as vanishing being-for-another, a rearticulation of terms occurs in the Understanding. Force—as the unconditioned universal—has shown its essence to be the concept of the Understanding and not the object itself. If the first universal, the oneness, in the relation of Force is considered the mere concept of the Understanding, the second universal, its actual existence as the play of Forces in the Expression, is “the essence as it exhibits itself in and for itself” as the perceived object. In the inverse view we can regard the first universal, Expression, as the immediately existing actual object for the perceiving consciousness, and the second universal, Force, as the negative of the first, i.e. as mediated and un-objective essence—what is the inner being of objects as inner; the concept of Force as concept. Nonetheless, the vanishing play of Forces remains, and the Understanding takes up the results of the ruin of its first attempt and rearticulates this result.

Because the true object of the Understanding is the concept of Force, which is the un-objective essence it posits through the objective being of this essence—the play of vanishing Forces—the genuine essence of the object is in truth not immediately existing for the Understanding. It is mediated by a term that stands between the inner essence and consciousness. The play of Forces is this mediating term—it is the developed being of Force—with its immediate vanishing into two extremes with no true being. This term is Appearance, for it is “being that is immediately in itself a non-being,” a mere seeming-to-be. This Appearance is not merely an appearance, but the totality of Appearance, i.e. this refers to no individual appearance, but to the very category of Appearance as such, therefore this is not the sensuous character of the object or merely the play of Forces before perception, but the universal concept and truth of this very play of Forces. The play of Forces appear now as the developed negative of the object—its incessant vanishing as the sensuous being of the perceived object—but Appearance is now the positive being of the object for the Understanding, the universal concept which is existing-for-itself and endures through this very vanishing.

Understanding and Appearance

Through Appearance, the Understanding reflects itself into itself as if it were reflecting itself into the truth of the object, i.e. the Understanding takes its own cognitive reflection to be the object’s own movement and inner truth rather than its own. The Appearance of the object is thus the mediator of the truth of the object for consciousness, yet the Understanding does not take itself to be a part of its knowing, instead considering it a purely objective truth in which it has no hand. The inner is the in-itself of the object and thus its being-for-itself and not its being-for-consciousness, however, the ground upon which this inner is being posited is Appearance itself. The Understanding does not yet recognize Appearance as itself being-for-itself (it is merely being-for-other); thus it is not acquainted with the true nature of its concept.

Because the true is now posited as the unconditioned universal in which the opposition of universal and individual are contained within once again—the truth being the universality as the concept of the shifting sensuousness of the world—a supersensible world is now posited as the true world above the sensuously Appearing world. This supersensible world is a stable and enduring “other-wordly beyond,” while the world of sensuousness is a vanishing impermanence upon this essence.


We see what Understanding does not, i.e. that it is as much a part of this so called truth as what it assumes is an external object. As the phenomenological observer we see that there is what Hegel here calls a syllogism of the [inner]-[Appearance]-[Understanding]. This syllogism maps not just the term relations to each other, and their movement, but also what the Understanding will learn from the experience of this relationship.

[Note:] Syllogism here must undoubtedly seem a bizarre term for Hegel to use. This is because it is indeed not a classical syllogism as it is conceived in formal logic. For Hegel, syllogisms are self-moving arguments that in each concept or proposition generate their subsequent term and conclusion. In the syllogism of the inner, Appearance, and Understanding the relation is such that the positing of an inner and an Appearance necessarily yields the conclusion that there is consciousness—here the Understanding—which apprehends such terms. The distinction of an inner behind an Appearance is only made by a consciousness, or, a consciousness which posits an Appearance before it must posit an inner behind it.


At this point in the chapter Hegel brings up a short critique of the Kantian position that in this relation of consciousness, Appearance, and the inner truth of the object. At this point the development of the inner is merely the negative of Appearance, i.e. it is merely the negation and opposite of this Appearance which is empty and undeveloped. Kant claims that it is impossible to get behind Appearance and know a thing-in-itself; all we can know is the Appearances before consciousness, thus the inner is necessarily opaque and empty for us. Against this claim Hegel makes the counterclaim that even if this were true, it is better for us to speculate emptily beyond these Appearances, which we know to be false, with Appearances created by consciousness, for daydreams of the mind are better than the emptiness of reality.

The First Law of Appearance: The Stable Image

The inner world as the supersensible world emerges out of Appearance. Appearance is both the mediation of the supersensible and its essence—its fulfillment and actual being. Nonetheless, “The supersensible is the sensuous and the perceived posited as they are in truth.” It is Appearance as Appearance, the enduring substance behind the flux. Remember, Appearance is not the sensuous world which is for immediate Sense Certainty and Perception, but its concept. It is the world as sublated, with the sensuous vanishing taken up into enduring supersensible universality.

Appearance is but the inner truth of the play of Forces perceived, which is nothing but the “absolute exchange of determinateness with constitutes the sole content of what is coming forth: To be either a universal medium or a negative unity.” In the play of Forces we already discovered there is no enduring substance in the moments, indeed we saw that there was not even a difference in the moments as they were both Force merely soliciting itself to express and retreat into itself through the other Force. The distinction of content and form itself collapses in Force as it is itself the passive medium which it solicits to express. All particular distinctions of the two Forces collapse at this point. All that remains in the alternating movement is the “distinction as the universal distinction, that is, as the kind of distinction into which the many oppositions have been reduced.” This distinction as itself universal is the simple unity of the play of Force and what is true in it, its enduring essence; it is the Law of Force. The true essence of the play of Forces is the law of distinction which endures unmoving in this movement. This has come about due to the relation of Appearance to the Understanding, whose inner simplicity is posited as the simple distinction of Appearance’s Law.

The Law and Appearance

The inner as Law is in-itself and simple, but is also the universal distinction of the flux of Appearance, and thus this flux is its essence. The Law, however, is the stable image of this flux and is at rest within the flux perceived. The law is supersensible and beyond the perceived world, but it is present within this world as its “immediately motionless likeness.”

The Law, however, is not yet the unconditioned universal. It does not truly subsume Appearance completely, for it does not yet take up the determinate distinction of Appearance; it merely posits in itself the universal indeterminate distinction, i.e. it merely states there must be a distinction, but not what distinction or why. Thus, the Law is not yet Appearance as Appearance which is for-itself the stable flux. In each moment of Appearance the Law has a different actuality which it yet cannot account for. One may here posit that each moment of Appearance corresponds to its own determinate Law, one Law of many, but this undermines the very concept of Law which is to unify these many moments of Appearance’s flux into a simple unity. Up to now we merely have the concept of Law, i.e. that “everything has a constant distinction with regard to everything else,” but not the Law which generates a determinate distinction itself.


The Understanding takes the Law it has found as one “which expresses universal actuality as such,” but while it has failed to attain a determinate Law that actually does this, it has inadvertently discovered in this thought that “actuality is in itself lawful.” Basically, the Understanding is at least insightful in seeing that the mere immediate being of Sense Certainty and Perception are mere appearances which have little value as truth themselves.

The Concept of Law

The Law as pure concept is the essence and truth of determinate Laws, but these determinate Laws owe their determinateness to Appearance, which owes its determinateness to the flux of sensuous being. The pure concept of Law does not just go beyond determinate Laws, however, it goes beyond itself as the law as such, for it determines itself to be more than the Law through its moments. The determinateness of Law and Appearance is itself merely a vanishing moment that seems unessential in the very concept of Law for they must ultimately depend on it as it is their truth and essence, and the Law itself is simple unity. However, since the Law contains in itself the distinction as immediately in the universal, these moments have enduring existence in it, for the Law expresses the relation of these moments as “indifferent essentialities existing in themselves.” Since these moments in the Law are themselves determinate, yet the Law itself is their simple unity, the pure concept of Law must be conceived in such a way that these determinate moments do not exist completely in-themselves, but return into the inner as simple unity, and in doing so the inner necessity of Law for its products and itself is shown in itself. That is to say, Law must somehow provide not only for its determinate self-differentiation, but also must determine these differences in such a way that their very determinateness returns these moments back into its simple universality and show the necessity of this Law as the unconditioned universal. 

[Note:] Hegel is here alluding to his concept of the concrete Universal which contains its determinate difference in it and in which each moment points back to the simple unity of the Universal moment.

Unification of Force and Law

Law has shown itself to have two moments: the Law as simple unity that is being-that-has-returned-into-itself, and the Law as expressed as independent moments. This should seem very familiar, for it is Force’s structure which has returned with a new face. The concept of Law is the moment of genuine Force as unconditioned universal returned in its apprehended truth as an abstraction which contains the distinctions of its moments and movement, but is itself not immediately these moments. The Understanding, seeing this, rearticulates its conception and posits Force once more as the passive universal medium as substance; Law in turn is now posited as the necessity of Force’s self-distinction in expression,i.e. Force’s self-soliciting to express is now externalized to the Law completely as pure independent expression of the unconditioned universal. Law is now a separate substantive moment that is, however, at the same time not a separate moment which solicits Force’s self-distinction, or what was prior known as its expression. Seem familiar? The only difference is that this time the moments are not explicitly structured by reference of being in the process of becoming the other like in Force and Expression; now Force and Law are posited as independent temporal moments supposedly linked in concept.

Force is the concept as such again, and the Law is the expressed determinate relation of independent terms related. Unity belongs to Force, but now the expression of distinction belongs to Law. The Understanding has once again committed itself to force a distinction where there is none. It brings together two concepts to explain the object, yet these concepts have no clear relation of need for each other.

The Indifference of Force and Law

When the relation of Force and Law is examined it is easy to see this as the Understanding’s mere positing without objective meaning. Hegel shows many examples of the disconnection of these terms and lack of any necessary relation. In the example of electricity, simple electricity is the Force, but the distinction of positive and negative charge belongs to its Law. The Law says Force must express itself in this way, but when it comes to determinate Forces and Laws we must ask why this Law for this Force and not some other combination? How does one go from the concept of electricity to the actuality of its inner distinction into positive and negative charge? Where is the necessity of the Law of electricity in the concept of electricity? This issue is not trivial and meaningless, for we know very well of terms which do have the necessity we’re seeking, the Law of electricity being just such an example. To posit positive charge is at one and the same time to necessarily posit negative charge in opposition to it, the distinction is in itself already. We may, Hegel tells us, just give up and say that the distinction itself is electricity as such, that it is its definition and there is nothing more, as such the existence of the Force is its concept and essence. However, if this is the case, then the existence of the Force itself becomes unnecessary and contingent, for the it relies either on our detecting it, or it relies on external conditions of existence which means its necessity is external. This cannot be the case, however, since this goes counter to the very concept of Force and Law which the Understanding has already developed out of its need to explain the object. It is clear that its attempts to discover the unconditioned universal has failed, the connection between Force and Law being unnecessary, i.e. the self-differentiation of the universal has not been achieved.

False Universals: The Indifference of Expressed Individuals

Hegel gives an interesting example of a concept which seems to be what is being sought, but in truth is not. Motion as a universal, he says, divides itself into time and space, or distance and velocity. Motion, however, is merely the relation of these terms; space, time, distance, and velocity themselves do not express any inner relation to any origin in motion as their universal. The terms are united in motion, but they are all independent and indifferent to each other, they have no necessary connection in this universal either to each other nor to the universal. Motion necessarily divides itself into its parts, but each part has no necessity for the other parts or for motion, and this is because motion is a false universal. It does not show itself to be the simple essence and origin of anything, it is already merely a superficial complex of divided independent terms. The truth of motion, says Hegel, is gravity, for it is the simple essence of motion as Force, but gravity does not contain these distinctions in itself.

Collapse of the Law of Force

The necessity of Force and Law  to each other has shown itself to be as unnecessary as the necessity of one expressed term to another. “The distinction is therefore in both cases no distinction in itself.” That is, the relation of terms is not an inner necessary distinction in the terms themselves. There is nothing within Force which necessarily posits its Law, nor is there anything in the Law which necessarily posits its Force just as there is nothing in the terms of motion which posit each other nor the universal of motion itself. The distinction and the relation are the positing of the Understanding and are not inherent to the object itself, thus their necessity is merely the necessity of the Understanding for simple unity. However, in the Law the Understanding already has the concept of this distinction in itself, i.e. as an inner existence-in-itself which is distinguished in itself.

The problem at hand is due to the Understanding’s stubbornness. It states this distinction in such a way that it is expressed as no distinction in the object itself, i.e. Force and Law are posited as different in one moment and then collapsed in a second moment as a unity of a single movement of the essence. Force is posited as the grounding essence of Law, but then this very Force is stated to be structured entirely in the same way as the Law. The ground and grounded collapse into one as the terms share one and the same structure (recall the structure of genuine Force and its mere doubling of the relation of its moments). In all this the Understanding believes itself to be explaining the object, but its explanations are empty tautologies. Not only do the distinctions of Force and Law have the same form, they have shown themselves to have the same content and thus they collapse. Nonetheless, the basic structural distinction remains, i.e. the distinction of the movement of the moments which immanently hold their other within themselves and find their essence outside in another.

Transition From the First Law to the Second Law

So far, the Understanding has taken its object to be a stable unity at rest, and therefore the movement of difference has taken place only in the Understanding itself. In the movement, however, we can see the essential piece that had been missing in the concepts of the unconditioned universal of the Understanding up to now: the flux of actuality. Standing back from the moments of the movement and looking at the movement itself we notice a structure of self-opposition: “It posits a distinction, which is not only no distinction for us but is a distinction which it itself sublates.” The movement itself posits a distinction which in its very realization is sublated back into a unity of no distinction and back again into distinction. In the explanation, then, the alternating flux is now finally taken into the supersensible world itself—the determinate distinction is no longer Appearance’s alone.

The Understandings enacts a shift away from the object to itself through its experience of repeating the same structural movement in every iteration of its explanation of the object—it becomes aware that the movement is so far only actual in itself. The first Law merely stated the being of a distinction, now a second Law comes forth which will make the structure of the movement into a Law itself.

The Second Law of Appearance: The Law of Inner Distinction

The alternating flux is yet to be posited in the object itself, but in virtue of this the object “turns out to be pure alternating fluctuation in that the content of the moments of the alternating fluctuations remains the same.” That is, The object is one and many at the same moment. The concept of the Understanding is still the inner of things; thus the flux becomes the inner Law of the Understanding. A second Law is now conceived in contrast to the first Law—the law of the external object—whose content was enduring distinction remaining selfsame. This second Law “expresses the becoming-non-selfsame of what is selfsame and the becoming-selfsame of the non-selfsame.” That is, the second Law is the conception of Understanding’s operation regarding the external object itself. Whatever the Understanding encounters in the external object, its truth is the opposite of what it appears. The concept demands that both laws be brought together and their opposition be recognized consciously, i.e. the Understanding is impelled by its own movement to bring them together.

The second Law, like the first, is also selfsame, but it is the selfsameness of the non-selfsame, “a constancy of inconstancy.” This is the structure which the play of Forces had, as such it is the very distinction in the object which has been at issue this entire time. The Understanding thus brings both laws together into opposition within the objective world.

plɹoM pǝʇɹǝʌuI ǝɥʇ }{ the Inverted World

The first supersensible world was the realm of selfsame laws at rest, the stable image of Appearance, i.e. the inversion of the perceived world of sensuousness. At first the supersensible world as the inner was opposed to Appearance; both remained selfsame and separate, but now we have the second Law as the inner truth of both; thus they are to an even greater degree the opposite of themselves, i.e. Appearance is in its inner truth the stable image, and the stable image is in its inner truth the flux perceived. It is only with the determination of the second Law that the inner distinction of the universal is truly made. A second supersensible world thus arises out of the first as its inversion, for it already had one moment of itself in it, i.e. the selfsame which now becomes non-selfsame. The first supersensible world took the alternating flux of appearance only into stable universality, but now the second supersensible world takes up the flux into itself and attains for itself the completion of the concept of Appearance as Appearance at last, i.e. it is the stable image that itself is fluctuation.

Here Hegel goes on to make a slew of examples of this absolute law of inversion,  but I shall not go into all of them here. In general, the point is that which is one thing in the first world of law is its opposite in the second: what is sweet in the first is sour in the next, what is positive in the first is negative in the second, etc. There is one specific example that drives home the point Hegel wants to make, and it is the example of law and punishment. In the immediate law of the first world revenge on an enemy is the satisfaction of the harmed individual who is not recognized as an essential self by the transgressor. This satisfaction is attained by way of showing one’s self to be the essential being by in turn not recognizing the enemy’s essential self through retribution, destroying them and sublating their essence by showing one as their true essence in return. In the second world this act is inverted and turns not into the reestablishment of the individual but to his own self-destruction. If this inversion, which is exhibited in the punishment of crime, is made into law, it is still merely a law of a world which has the second world standing in inverted opposition to itself.  Punishment according to the law of the first world dishonors and destroys a person, but in the inverted world this punishment is transformed into the pardon which preserves his essence and honors him. It is not hard to see that this opposition is united in the very truth of OUR world. The serving of the punishment of law is vengeance and forgiveness in one. Thus, the second supersensible world overreaches itself and sublates the first supersensible world as part of itself. The inverted world and the first world are not different, not separate, they are at one moment one and the same world. It is this world of ours which is in-itself inverted. Another way to put it is in terms of what we have already dealt with, e.g. the play of Forces and the first Law of Appearance were already both in the same world this entire time. The Understanding, however, does not see this.

The Actuality of Inverted Opposition

Now, superficially, the inverted world is the opposite of the first in that the first world is external to the second, and it repels that first world from itself as an inverted actuality. One is Appearance, the other the in-itself. One is being-for-others, the other is being-for-itself. This opposition has already shown itself to be impossible to work, for we have seen that the assumption that both sides of the inversion are separate substances or actualities cannot hold since they do not have substantial being in-themselves to support them independent of the other. The Understanding cannot turn back to these positions without falling into the same problems. In terms of actuality, the attempt to posit a distinction between an actual sensible world against an equally actual supersensible world itself does not work. If one moment of the duality is posited as substance in the perceived sensible world, then one of the two laws would be the case, and an inner world would be posited against it as the same kind of sensible world as the first, but which exists in the realm of representation. This second inner world cannot be pointed out or sensed with any of our senses, yet it would be represented in terms of the sensible world. “But if one posit is in fact something perceived and if its in-itself, as its [inversion], is likewise what is sensuously represented,” then the in-itself of the perceived would be just as actual as what is perceived, for it clearly has actually appeared through this sensuous actuality. One example is that in the first world something is sweet, and in the second inner world it is sour. This inner world, however, being the essence of the first, must be as actual as it, otherwise it is a mere fiction. If the inner is really represented in the outer, then the inner must be as actual as its outer appearance, i.e. the inner sourness must be an actual sourness just as actual as the outer sweetness.

Once again, the example of law and punishment helps illustrate the point: the actual crime has its full reality and inversion in its actual punishment by the law, not in some supersensuous punishment by a law that never reaches it in its own actuality. “The actual punishment has in it its own inverted actuality” in such a way that it is the actuality of the law itself despite being actual only in the moment of the very transgression which would seem to suspend law. Law is only actualized as law in its punishment of transgression against it as crime, and crime is only actually crime in its being punished in its transgression of law. Crimes which are never punished cannot be crimes, and laws that never actually punish cannot be laws. The inversion does not exist in separate alternating moments nor in separate world, but in one and the same moment and world.

This is the truth of the inverted world: that it is the absolute concept of distinction exhibited and grasped as inner distinction in which the selfsame repels itself into the non-selfsame and vice versa in one and the same world and moment. The opposing contradiction is within each moment of the fluctuation in the form of an opposite of an opposite in which the other is immediately already present within it. If one tries to take one of these opposites as in-and-for-itself and sets the other to one side, one finds its inner truth to be that it is the opposite of the opposite, i.e. the opposite of itself. This is how the second supersensible world, as inverted, overreaches itself and envelops the first world within itself. As the inverted world it is its own inversion and is both opposites in one unity. This is the true inner distinction, the distinction in itself, and thus is Infinity for its distinction, unity, and ceaseless movement is wholly within itself. It is what the Understanding has sought, the unity of unity and difference, what seems to be the unconditioned universal.

[Note:] This recategorization of the final Law is a bit strange, but not for Hegel. Now, the infinity referred to here is not just endless infinity, but absolute infinity which fully contains itself in itself, for it is as concept unbounded and no external limitation or difference enters into its determination. Infinity is also characteristic of Hegel’s concrete Universals.

From Consciousness to Self-Consciousness

Through infinity, we see that the Law of Appearance has acquired its necessity at last in all its moments. Hegel says that what is simple in Law is Infinity in the following ways, recounting the developments of Understanding’s concept of the object:

  1. What is selfsame, the unity of the object, is the distinction in itself.
  2. What was called simple, or genuine, Force doubles itself, and in its infinity is Law
  3. What is dirempted, which represent the individual parts or terms in the Law, turns out to be what is durably existing independent and indifferent to each other and Law
  4. By virtue of the concept of inner distinction, what is unlike and indifferent is a distinction that is no distinction, for they are as independent and indifferent like a distinction of the same magnetic pole, whose essence is unity. Just as poles that are “like” repel each other, so too are the indifferent repelled from each other. They are because they are not the others, and in doing so they only posit themselves to be in unity to an even greater degree. Both poles exist in themselves as opposites, and thus opposites of themselves in a unity.

Infinity has shown itself to be the essence of all the movements of the Understanding, and when it finally appeared it appeared as explanation of the unity of difference. This structure is the Understanding’s structure as well, and when this consciousness becomes aware of this it becomes self-conscious. The Understanding’s activity and necessity is this infinite movement of explanation, but at first in the movement of the first Law this movement is not its object. The objects of the Understanding are a myriad of objects which it considers external to itself, but in them it finds nothing but its own structure, in otherness it finds only itself.

[Note:] Just an interesting side bit—Hegel says that this fact is why explanation is so satisfying to consciousness, because in truth it only “consorts” with itself.

In the movement of the second Law infinity becomes the object of the Understanding, but the Understanding does not recognize infinity as such in the division of two worlds or substances, etc. For the Understanding the movement is as it is in experience, an event, in which the different moments are separate predicates of an existing substrate. The Understanding is unable to rid itself of the sensuous appearance of the object, and only we as the phenomenological observers grasp the pure concept as it is in-itself. Hegel says that the exposition of this concept belongs to science, meaning, its proper development shall only come in his future system beyond the Phenomenology itself.

Consciousness, however, has this concept immediately within it, and therefore returns as a new form of consciousness which looks at what has gone before it not as its own essence but as an other. The concept of infinity is in its view the object, and it is conscious of this distinction; thus the distinction is immediately sublated. Consciousness is itself the structure of infinity, and it is aware now that it is for-itself—it is a distinction from what is not distinct. Because what it faces is thus not distinct from it, it faces itself in the object,  it is self-consciousness. “I distinguish myself from myself, and in doing so, what is immediately for me is this: What is distinguished is not distinguished.” Consciousness of an other, of an object as such, is necessarily self-consciousness already. Consciousness of other things than consciousness is only possible for a self-consciousness. The truth of consciousness is thus self-consciousness. However, self-consciousness now first appears for itself, but not yet in unity with consciousness itself. It has not yet attained to the truth of its claim of being self-consciousness for it at first does not recognize the other as another self-consciousness as independent as itself.

[Note:] This is akin to a transcendental move, a chain of a condition of possibility. Self-consciousness thus must be developed into consciousness.

The syllogism of the [inner]-[Appearance]-[Understanding] has dissolved itself, for the inner and the Understanding are one and the same; likewise, the truth of Appearance is nothing but the truth of consciousness. Here the forms of Consciousness—this first section of the Phenomenology—must be left behind as their results have vanished their objects of knowledge and their ways of knowing alike. To know what consciousness knows we must know what consciousness knows in knowing itself.


PhoS: Force and Understanding (pt. 1)

Force and Understanding is considered the hardest chapter within the Phenomenology. Furthermore, its transition to Self-Consciousness through the Inverted World argument is considered one of the most strange arguments ever made and its meaning is highly contested. With this in mind, it is no easy task to provide a simple summary exposition. I will make a positive assertion here that, lack of consensus aside, the chapter has a logical development up to and even through the Inverted World, and I shall do my best to lay it out. In the original text Hegel uses Force often to mean both the totality of the movement of Force and the moment of Force within the totality of Force—an equivocation that points to the lack of true distinction—however, this can easily cause confusion without keeping in mind the distinction and paying attention to the context. I have here opted to use genuine Force to designate the totality of Force, and Force to point merely to the moment within the totality through the movements, but keep in mind that the distinction is ultimately false despite the initial attempts to maintain a difference.

Be forewarned that the movements of this chapter are tedious and repetitious, but this is in my view a necessary aspect. Prepare for a lot of “However…,” and a whole lot of Force.


Following from Perception, we now transition into Understanding, the form of consciousness which was implicit in the activity of Perception, but which was leashed by the arbitrary and sensuous distinctions of it. Understanding is aware that the truth of the object is universal through and through—that the unity of the object must be unconditioned universality (unity) which subsumes its individual expression. This universal object exists and is cognized as a movement in which the object has its being-for-other (the also) within itself.

Like Perception, Understanding stands back from its object once again and faces it as an external object fully independent of consciousness and as the essential in the relation of cognition. This object, unlike Perception’s object, is purely conceptual. Understanding faces the object and pretends to merely apprehend it.

The General Problem of Understanding

Understanding, having rid itself of the arbitrary distinctions and sensuousness of Perception’s object, accepts that universality (unity) and individuality (plurality) are unified in the object. Just like Perception, Understanding faces the challenge of cognizing this difference, but now in pure unconditioned universality. Understanding has come to grasp that there is a unity (unconditioned universal, being-in-and-for-itself) of difference (individuals existing in a universal medium, being-for-other) and unity (universal, being-for-self). To this end, Force and Law shall be posited by the Understanding as attempts of conceiving an unconditioned universal which carries difference in-itself as a conceptual movement of the universal as one to the universal as many . This difference, however, shall in its development show itself to be in essence no difference. Perception faced inversions in its conceptions; however, its inversions pale in comparison to the viciousness of the Understanding’s inverting structure.

The dissolution of Understanding shall arrive at last with the grasping of the first form of universality which can give an answer to a question that has been implicit through Sense Certainty, Perception, and Understanding: How can difference and unity be united? The resulting concept is such that the very problems of the forms of Consciousness will require a whole new framework to answer.

The Development of Force

The direct results of Perception were that of a dissolution of the difference of the moments of being-for-itself and the  being-for-other into an abstract unity. Perception could not conceive of the object as it truly is in-itself, for its distinctions erased such an inwardness of the object by subordinating it to an external other as its implicit essence. The distinction, nonetheless, exists as the universal medium and multiplicity of matters which Perception last dealt with, a distinction Perception was unable to conceive as a true distinction and thus collapsed. Understanding brings forward the new categories of form and content in order to explain the possibility of an unconditioned universality with difference. What Perception had conceived as the true is relegated to the category of mere form—the universal medium along with the multiple matters—both  which vanish into the unconditioned universal, whose content remains unchanging and self-same in the difference of its form.

Force first appears as the movement of the transition between Perception’s universal medium and its multiplicity of independent matters. Recalling said movement, the universal medium was posited as the also—a negative unity—which was merely a collection of independent matters. These independent matters, however, remained independent only through the universal medium and thus are in essence merely the medium, which itself is nothing in essence but this multiplicity of distinct and independent universals (matters) without which it does not exist—inversion occurs. The universal thus exists in-itself in undivided unity with this plurality which is within it, for the matters subsist in the universal medium. The matters are in the same place within the unity yet do not touch, for they are independent. However, as independent, each matter has being-for-itself, but this is nothing but by virtue of the medium which is the essential moment that grants their distinction and keeps them apart. The universal medium and matters engage in a constant movement of pointing to and dissolving into the other as the self-sufficient moment. Unity passes into multiplicity and multiplicity into unity endlessly; this movement is Force.


In Force, the terms of the movement are rearticulated. The movement from universal medium  to plurality of matters becomes the moment of Expression; the inverse movement becomes the moment of Force driven out of its expression back into itself—into its truth—as genuine Force (the unconditioned universal). Force must express itself, but in this Expression Force is no less within itself, for Expression is nothing external to Force, but internal to it; it is Force existing within itself. Defined in this way, Force is its vanishing into Expression and Expression  its vanishing into Force. This is an explicit self-sublation of the terms as their immanent linking to each other in their opposition—a link which does not allow their true separation. Nonetheless, the Understanding posits these two moments, Force and Expression, as different immediate unities instead of the unity their content suggests—two different forms of one content, or a being-for-itself that is a being-for-another—thus Force in truth belongs as concept to the Understanding and not to the object. The movement of Force is the movement of the Understanding’s cognition itself; as such, the Understanding is really the concept of this movement, i.e. the structures and movements of the concepts of Understanding are in truth its own structure and its own movement imposed on the supposed external object.

Force as Force (genuine Force) is posited as the unconditioned universal which is in-itself what it is for-another; thus the distinction is in itself. Because genuine Force is the existent truth of its moments—Force and Expression—it is set free from them and posited as their persisting substance in-and-for-itself, for it is their inner truth, essence, and substance. Genuine Force is Force and Expression.

Note: First, here we see the emergence of the moment of sophistry in the Understanding, for though genuine Force was derived in the moment of Force’s return from Expression, this moment in its return is arbitrarily lifted above itself and posited as a distinct third underlying its original existence. We will see Force flip flop on the question of what is essential just as Perception did. Second, notice that genuine Force conceptually appears through its Expression. Genuine Force Expresses itself as Force and Expression in one moment; thus it doubles the form of Force, and this is exactly what we see in the second diagram. Force and Expression are themselves the form of Expression, the plurality, of genuine Force.

As its moments, however, Force and Expression are in genuine Force and thus take on its enduring substantiality; they likewise exist for themselves. The moment of Force driven back into itself (Force for short) is the essence of an excluding one for which the Expression in many matters is another enduring essence. However, Genuine Force, as the movement of the whole and the unconditioned universal, “remains what it is according to its concept,” i.e. the distinctions are its mere forms and are superficial vanishing moments within it and not external to it, and thus cannot be truly substantive independent existences. However, the distinction between the moment of Force and its unfolding in its moment of Expression as independent matters could not exist if these moments did not have an enduring existence themselves, which further means that the genuine Force as the unconditioned unity would not exist if it did not exist in truly substantial and distinct forms, for their separate substantial existence is the essence of its substantial existence. Genuine Force must exist as these distinct forms of one content.


Recall now the movements of Perception and it is clear that the movement of medium and matters is repeated. Unity and difference are once again posited as independent and for-themselves at one moment, and dependent and for-another in the next. Force is, again, just this very movement of unfolding into many and collapsing into one within its unconditioned unity.

As such, genuine Force appears as a middle term of these two extremes as forms of itself. It, however, vanishes into these two extremes which are for-themselves only in this vanishing of genuine Force. As this entire movement, genuine Force is not merely its objective forms—object being here the object of perception—in the movement of Force and Expression. The unconditioned universal is un-objective, for it is the inner unity of things which goes beyond the mere form of the object.

Movements of Force

Note: as a reader you must keep in mind that all this Force talk is not in truth about anything specifically and only related to physics, nor is the movement between terms a physical process. Force, Expression, and later Law, are terms for Understanding’s attempt to get at the concept of an object as a Universal differentiated in-and-for-itself. The movements are conceptual movements of implicit essential or substantive positing, i.e. the shift of category due to one concept depending on another. Force is one and inner because Expression is many and outer and vice versa, etc. The terms, however, are not merely dressed in a physics garb; they truly are concepts of physics, but Hegel removes them from their usual perceptual form in which sensuousness blocks the view of just what these concepts as absolute explanations would entail. Force truly is the force of physics, the absolute force, which is posited as the origin and true substance of all real objects.

1st Major Movement: Force and Expression Solicited/Soliciting

Because genuine Force as such is represented and determined as reflected into itself, it is one aspect of its own concept. It is represented as the durable substantial extreme of Force determined as the moment of the “one.” As one, Force excludes its Expression (its unfolding into many matters) as another durable substance which is other to Force’s oneness. However, since Force must Express itself, but in-itself is not yet expressed, its Expression is represented as an external other to Force that “approaches” it—it is not just an inert other beside it—and solicits it to express itself. Thus Force cannot truly be one, for its essence is the universal medium of many matters—its Expression. However, since Force is this Expression, and the essence of the multiplicity of matters is the universal medium in which they inhere and are separated in, Force as Expression posits its oneness outside itself as Force that solicits Expression to drive back into itself as a one.

Genuine Force has shown itself to really be the reflection into itself as the movement of the oneness of Force and its Expression as many. These have shown to necessarily be what they are not yet posited as being, i.e. Force is not yet its Expression, and vice versa. The other approaches Force in this way, as its not yet being the other, and solicits it to make a reflective turn into itself as the other. Genuine Force as Force is solicited to Express, and Force as Expression is solicited to return into itself as Force. However, this other has already shown itself to be nothing but Force itself. Thus, genuine Force has shown itself to truly be this movement of being-reflected-into-itself and thus takes Expression into itself; it sublates what was other to it. The oneness of Force disappears in the way it appeared, for another Force is posited outside it as the very Expression which is its essential moment. Force is thus Force driven into itself by its positing itself externally to generate its movement into itself. Force merely moves from moment of Force to moment of Force.

2nd Major Movement: Force Solicited by Force

Genuine Force as Force driven into itself seems unitary but in fact explodes the moment of absolute unity it seems to deliver. As a movement into itself, Force is a distinction against itself. Force must express itself, yet this Expression is merely Force itself. Force is simply the moment of Force as not yet its Expression, and its Expression is merely the moment of Force as not yet driven back into itself—the soliciting and solicited are one and the same Force, yet there is a difference. How is this possible? Force’s inner diremption as its moments shows itself to be not just superficial, but enters into a full duality of two fully independent Forces. As two Forces, however, there is no determination of conceptual difference between solicited and soliciting Force. The second Force—as a universal medium of many matters—at first appears as the solicitor of the first Force, but because it is a Force it shares in the exact fluctuating duality of expressing itself as such a universal medium of many matters and in such expression being driven back into itself. Both Forces solicit the other and are solicited in the same moment by virtue of their mutual soliciting. Both Forces enter into a play with each other in which they mutually determine each other as the opposite and reciprocally transition into the other determination, i.e. Force driven back into itself and Force as universal medium solicit each other to transition into the opposite moment.


Both Forces begin in mutual contrast: the first as Force as a one (or in-itself), the second as Force as the universal medium. They are each by virtue of this contrast and thus are  contrasted only in their being-for-each-other in which this determination occurs. The Force posited as universal medium, for example, solicits the Force in-itself. However, the former is universal medium by virtue of the other being the Force in-itself; thus the latter is in truth the one which solicits the former to solicit it, for it is the positor and determiner of the former. The first Force in-itself seems to be in an overdetermining role as absolute self-solicitor, but since both Forces share the same concept and moments both have already been in-itself and universal medium. The second Force as Expression is such because it had already solicited the first to solicit it to express. The movement of soliciting completed, the Forces do not just transition into the moment of the other, but already had passed over into the other. The second Force as universal medium is solicited by the first Force in-itself to solicit it, but this occurred only because the second Force had already as Force in-itself solicited the first to solicit it to express as universal medium. Force as Force shows itself to be the positor of the soliciting Force as its own essential determination, yet this shows Force is even more its soliciting Force through its own inner determination. Force is in truth the universal medium of independent matters through the very moment it seems to attain absolute self-unity. The Understanding’s sophistry begins to unravel as the truth of Force more and more appears to be merely the relation and self-othering movement.

General Movements of Form and Content

The distinctions of Force can be can be looked at from the lens of content and form. In content, Force is distinguished as its two extremes of Force reflected in-itself as a one and the medium of matters. In form, Force is distinguished as the soliciting (active) and solicited (passive) Force. In the distinction of content the moments are as such only distinguished as independent for the Understanding, for they have shown themselves to exist only in their movement into the other. In the distinction of form the moments are self-sufficient in their relation to each other, dividing themselves off from each other and contrasting through their positing of the other to solicit them. In the movement of force, the Understanding perceives that in this way the extreme terms of genuine Force are nothing in themselves—each moment is merely a vanishing into the other which it is contrasted with and posited as momentary essence. Force in-itself is only its vanishing into the universal medium, and the medium its vanishing into Force in-itself. For us, the phenomenological observers, there is also the acknowledgement that the distinctions of form and content in Force themselves vanish, and thus Force itself is left as a movement of vanishing.

The Collapse of Force

Developed as it has, Force as genuine Force faces immanent collapse into its moments, for its distinction from them is no distinction and its essence an ever shifting yet to be. Genuine Force becomes actual only in its being doubled into two Forces, and “it emerges just how it comes to be actual”, i.e. genuine Force only is posited through the relation of these Forces and in truth is only the movement of these two forces. These Forces seem to be essences existing for themselves, yet each proves to be utterly dependent and existing only in its being posited through the Force that opposes it. The being-for-itself of Force has proved to be its being-for-another in the play of Forces. In truth the two Forces are but one single movement and moment of being through another; they lack any true independent essence to preserve them as separate.

The concept of genuine Force at first appeared as the unconditioned universal represented within itself as Force separate from its Expression, but this has shown itself to be false. Genuine Force actually exists as Force in-itself purely in its Expression, which is nothing but the play of two Forces and their self-sublating inversion. Force in-itself, however, has already shown itself to be nothing but a moment of its Expression, i.e. Force as Force only exists in its Expression (which itself is the play of forces)—it does not truly underlie this duality as an unconditioned unity all. Force has failed to attain unconditioned universality, and its movement has collapsed it into its moments. It is merely a viciously circular opposing duality where no true essence or substance can be found to unify them within their circular unity.

[Note:] Recall back to the second diagram when genuine Force was introduced, and remember that all it did was double the form of Force. What applies to genuine Force also applies to Force in-itself, or simply Force, for they are one and the same. Force too is only actual in its Expression, but once again this Expression is nothing but the play of Forces. Recall now another thing, Force was posited as substance earlier on, and its moments took on substantive being, but there was found no stable substance to rely on in Force, for itself and its moments were merely yet to be. Force has shown that its being-in-itself was nothing but its being-for-another. This is very important! The truth of Force is that it is this pure movement of being-for-other. Force as the play of Forces vanishes itself and is not a concept of any true grounding substance or essence at all. The conceptual structure of Force, having no substance, points to a new category of substance outside itself to ground it, for what is vanishing must vanish into something else.

The truth of Force as Force is thus merely that it is the thought of the unity being-for-itself which underlies this actual circularity of being-for-another in the Expression which is perceived by the Understanding. There has been no true being-in-itself discovered in Force, but the Understanding does not give up on the conception of the unconditioned universal. A new universal category thus is attained in the Expression, a universal with a content of pure self-diremption and vanishing into two extremes, its being-for-itself being nothing but its being-for-another. Since Force is nothing but its Expression as two forces in play, and its moments are nothing but vanishing yet-to-bes, Force itself is nothing but a vanishing in its concept. The unconditioned universal is once again posited against its Expression as the inner truth of the object, but no longer as Force. Force now stands as a vanishing term between the inner of the object and the Understanding which perceives the object. As a vanishing, this universal is but a seeming—a mere Appearance—through which the Understanding must get behind to reach the true essence of the object, its Law, the true being-for-itself.

Logic of Being, Nothing, and Becoming

This was already part of my post introducing dialectics, but I’m making it its own post here just to aid with blog organization. Enjoy.


The dialectic of Being is very visible when it comes to giving an example of dialectics online, many cite this rather short and dense dialectic to give a typical thesis-antithesis-synthesis example, but nothing could be further from the truth. The true order of the dialectic is not just {Being-Nothing}-Becoming, but rather it is this:

**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.

(Abstract) Being and Nothing

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

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

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

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

Becoming and the redevelopment of Being/Nothing

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

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

Concrete—or determinate—Being and Nothing

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

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

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

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.

PhoS: Perception and Error (part 2)

Continuing from the prior post which developed the thing with properties, here we continue with the movements of Perception’s comprehension of its object.

Movements and moments of Perception

In §117 of the Phenomenology the general movement of Perception’s cycle of error is laid out as follows:

  1. The object is taken up and perceived as a simple pure individual thing (one) with property which itself has universality. By attributing to the one the property, its universality as a simple singular object is nullified. Perception has erred in its attribution of universal essence to the singular individual; the truth is that the universal unity is community (the continuous plurality as property).
  2. As a community, property is determinate and contrasted to an other and excludes it. As determinate, however, this property excludes and breaks apart the continuity of the object’s community into a broken plurality of properties by positing the excluding One as the essence of the object. Thus a second error has been made.
  3. As a One that excludes, the object is a plurality of separate and mutually indifferent properties. As such, the object is in truth a universal communal medium (an also) in which a plurality of determinate sensuous universalities exist indifferent to each other. Error has once more occurred.
  4. This communal medium, as contrasted to the properties in it, is itself an individual property like them and is equally indifferent to them. As a purely individual property, however, it loses all conceptual determinacy and cannot be a property at all, for it is neither in a One nor in a related plurality. As a pure self-relating indeterminate entity with no exclusive character (negation) the object now appears as pure sensuous being to which consciousness relates to merely as the “meaning of something“, thus stepping back from Perception only to reenact the process anew.

While Perception began with the act of an I and a sensuous being it wished to apprehend, its results are the vanishing of the object it originally determined. In its attempts to determine the truth of the object, consciousness merely moved away from the object and back into itself in the act of perception. Perception, however, becomes in this movement aware of its own act of perceiving the object only to return into itself. It learns from this that its thoughts are not a pure apprehension of the object, but the object is nonetheless truth. The object is self-same universality, and any appearance of a contradiction to this shall be taken on as Perception’s error. Perception now is aware it errs in its act, and by virtue of this awareness it believes it has the capacity to sift truth from falsity through its thoughts and once again gain a pure apprehension of the object through the correction of the mediating thoughts. The movement of Perception begins anew with the qualified limitation which Perception’s awareness of its role as perceiver plays.

In the 1st movement, Perception takes heed that the object is one, and when it notices the plurality of different properties it no longer attributes them to the object, but to its own doing. The object is white to my eyes, salty to my tongue, etc. Perception recognizes that it is the universal medium (the also) which differentiates the one into the determinate and independent many through the given determinate difference of its sense organs. As determinate, properties exclude each other—white is in contrast to black, and one is in contrast to many. The thing, however, is one only through its exclusion of the many, this is its determinateness, and thus the properties must not merely be Perception’s, but must be part of the thing itself in order that it may indeed be determined as one against another.  As in the thing, the properties are its essence for they are its inner being, i.e. the one depends on the many to be what it is; as the thing is itself the truth it exists in-itself independent of others. As differentiated within the thing—as its essence—the properties exist in independent exclusion of each other, and thus exist in-and-for-themselves. The thing is thus perceived to be in truth the universal medium (the also) in which the properties exist indifferent to each other and the medium. A reversal of Perception’s first judgment has occurred, for the the properties now exist in-themselves and independent from the each other and the universal medium itself. It is the unity of the object which is Perception’s doing, not the plurality, for the properties exist independent and indifferent to each other and are unified only in the perceiving consciousness.

A second movement begins once again as Perception continues to attempt to understand the object. As the properties are independent they are, and in relation to other properties they are merely also with another, e.g. the thing is white also with cubical shape, etc.  Because each property is in-itself, the thing is white insofar as it is not cubical, or is white and cubical insofar as it is not salty, i.e. a property is in-itself insofar as it is not in relation to another. In this way the properties are kept apart.  Since the one has been seen by Perception as its own doing and not the thing’s, the properties cease to be properties of a one and are conceived as free-standing matters. However, as independent matters are all that are, the also is recognized as a mere collection of independent properties which form an enclosing surface; the also is their indifferent unity and itself has no positive existence.

Perception has gone from positing oneness in the thing itself and difference (the also) within its consciousness, to positing oneness in itself and difference in the object. Looking back on the process it sees that both the thing and itself have the one and the also. What it faces is a differentiated truth in itself and in the object. Perception and its object are both “one and also”. Not only is it in the act of Perception’s apprehending that there is diversity and the returning-into-self of this diversity into the object, but the thing itself has these aspects. The object exhibits itself by reflecting out of itself in a determinate way for the apprehending consciousness, but reflects back into itself what it originally reflected out of itself.  It first exhibited oneness in itself and seemed to reflect difference out of itself into consciousness, but in the act of perception the difference returns to the thing and the oneness is reflected out of it into consciousness. The object has both determinations and has a contrasted truth in itself.

In a third movement the thing is no longer simply true and selfsame. The thing is now non-selfsame and returns back into itself from out of selfsameness. The object is the movement of perception in itself.  As one the object is in-and-for-itself, but it also is for-another (also). As for-another it is itself an other for-itself. Perception is unwilling to allow this difference to inhere in the thing itself, so it attempts to place it outside it. As the moment of the also falls into the thing and its oneness, however, the also and oneness are different, thus the also falls into different things in doing so. The contradiction of the also and oneness is resolved by having two objects (things). The thing is for-itself and selfsame, but this unity is disturbed by other things (the also between them). The unity of oneness is preserved as the thing and consciousness in-itself; the also is preserved as separate from the thing and from consciousness as an external otherness to both as an indifferent relation of otherness of different things.

The in-itself of things which determines them as different is not a contrast within themselves; they are each a simple determinateness and are essentially such in their oneness. Within the thing, however, we already saw there was plurality and difference in its differentiated matters (properties). The diversity within the things is an actual distinction of multiple compositions in them, but because simple determinateness composes the essence of the thing, the multiple composition is unessential for the thing is one in its simple determinateness. Within the unity the thing possesses in itself a doubled insofarone insofar as not also (being-posited-into-one); also insofar as not one (being-posited-in-contrast)—but its contrast is not a contrast in the thing as one in itself. The oneness is taken as of higher value than contrast in the thing. As such, insofar as the thing comes into contrast through its absolute distinction as a simple determinateness in itself the distinction is external to it. The multiplicity necessarily in it is considered unessential due to this overvaluing of the oneness, thus the distinction outside and within it are both unessential to the thing. As a one through its simple determinateness, the thing contrasts itself with others and preserves itself. However, it is a one existing for itself insofar as it does not stand in relation to others, but it relates itself to others through this very absolute character as a one—for to be one is to exclude the others—thus the thing is merely this act of relating via negating others, and its independence perishes by virtue of what supposedly made it independent.  What was supposed to secure the truth of the unified object’s independence, its being-for-itself, has only shown that in truth its essence is an other.

Thus the object and truth of Perception dissolves itself away. What was supposed to be the essential for the object, being-for-itself, has shown itself to be just as unessential and essential as being-for-another. Perception’s concept of the object was nothing but a set of meaningless and empty differences first positing one aspect as essential and then another. As Hegel puts it: a mere show of sophistry claiming one thing as true, then its opposite as true, and back again. However, Perception’s dissolution is not empty. Its dissolution comes about because of the problem of conceiving the difference which is in the object, and despite its failure two things has been learned: 1) the difference is a difference of the object itself and not a fiction of perception; 2) the determinacy of the object cannot be captured by appealing to sensuous experience of individuality as opposed to the abstract universality of its unity.

If there is a way to capture the difference of one and many in the object it must be captured in a single movement of thought, a true universal unity which subsumes its individuals within itself. This insight and movement away from the perceived object’s essence lying in its sensuous character is the movement away from Perception to Understanding, a new form of consciousness which grasps that the truth of the object’s unified difference must be found within a realm of pure universality.