Saturday, January 30, 2021


(ca. 820 words)  A colleague in the Hegel Study Group on Facebook asked me in what way contemporary Continental and Anglophone commentators on Hegel fail to appreciate full freedom, as Hegel expounds it. I reply: The real and full freedom that Hegel outlines includes the sciences (which are aspects of Subjective Spirit), ethics, politics, and history (aspects of Objective Spirit), and the arts, religion, and philosophy (Absolute Spirit). (Full freedom also includes nature, insofar as nature has the selfhood that eventually gives rise to Spirit. But I won’t discuss nature in this brief essay. And I’ll skip over various complications of Spirit, as well.) A full account of Hegel's conception of freedom needs to explain why it has all of these parts and how they relate to each other. 

The sciences, ethics, politics, and history embody freedom insofar as they all seek to rise above our initial opinions and urges (which are likely to originate outside us, in one way or another), to a knowledge and action that  reflect our thought and thus are more "our own." To be free is to lead a life that is largely your "own," in the sense that what you think and do is determined by you, rather than by external forces that implant certain opinions and urges in you. You can lead this kind of life insofar as you think about what to believe and what to do, rather than just reacting to stimuli. This is Hegel's starting point, but he goes well beyond it in what he calls "Objective Spirit" and "Absolute Spirit." 

(1) The sciences are “subjective” Spirit in that they are knowledge that individuals possess. This knowledge reflects thought, and thus it's free in the way that I described. 

(2) Ethics, politics, and history are “objective” Spirit in that rather than being in us, they are things that we confront as institutions or processes in the world around us. But they contribute to our freedom insofar as they are grounded in reasons and not just in unprocessed opinions or urges; so that in dealing with them we aren’t dealing with brute contingency, but with something that embodies a degree of rational self-government. And this enables us to be more self-governing, in our dealings with them, than we would otherwise be. 

(3) But insofar as this brute contrast between “subjective” and “objective” Spirit persists, it still leaves a residue of unfreedom. Neither side can be fully self-determining, because it’s always confronted by the other side, standing over against it and limiting it. Absolute Spirit surpasses this contrast, by uniting interiority with external reality. 

(3a) The arts, which are the first phase of Absolute Spirit, are a mode of freedom insofar as they too seek to rise above our initial opinions and urges, through the “inner” logic or nisus that makes the object a work of art. They have this “inner” character like us (subjectivity), but they exist separately from us (objectivity). However, they are still unfree insofar as they are multiple, not integrated with one another but standing separately (and separately from us) and thus limiting each other and preventing each other (and us) from being fully self-determined. This leads us to the second phase of Absolute Spirit: religion. 

(3b) Religion is like an all-inclusive art-work, with no external boundaries to make it unfree. Without religion, Absolute Spirit is incomplete, and freedom is incomplete. That's why you see such a strong “religious” streak in the non-Christian broadly "Romantic" poets, such as Blake, Wordsworth, Emily Dickinson, R. M. Rilke, and Walt Whitman, and in non-Christian, broadly  "Romantic" thinkers like A. N. Whitehead, Michael Polanyi, and Iris Murdoch, as well as in Christian thinkers like Hegel. What is the “religion” that these poets and thinkers all share? Often described as pantheistic or (even more confusingly) “panentheistic,” it actually involves a genuine transcendence (true infinity: the self-surpassing of the finite), as opposed to the failed transcendence that we see in a “supreme being.” (A “supreme being” fails to be transcendent or supreme because it is bounded by the other beings over which it is supposed to be supreme, and thus it’s finite, so it doesn’t transcend the world that’s composed of finite beings. This is Hegel's critique of the “bad infinity.”) The true transcendence that we see in Hegel and in the non-Christian Romantic poets and thinkers and which is the self-surpassing or self-transcending of the finite is modeled on the transcendence that we see in the arts (Murdoch is great on this), but it seeks to be more comprehensive than any art work or collection of art works can be. It treats the whole of life as art, so to speak. This self-transcendence, Plato and Hegel and the broadly Romantic tradition suggest, is what religion was always really about, though wrapped in “images” (Vorstellungen) such as that of a “supreme being” which are, of course, highly misleading. 

(3c) Finally, “philosophy,” the third and final phase of Absolute Spirit, is what unifies this entire transcending effort—the sciences, ethics, politics, history, the arts, religion, and itself—by explaining how all of its parts contribute to freedom, so that none of the parts merely stand alongside the others and thus limit them and render them unfree. In this way, philosophy enables us to be fully free in all of these mutually supportive activities. Various commentators on Hegel, both Continental and Anglophone, have illuminated various parts of this story of Spirit, taken separately. But I’m not aware of a commentator who has grasped the story as a whole. 

I give a more detailed account of Hegel's articulation of freedom and Spirit in a 2016 talk, "How Plato and Hegel Integrate the Sciences, the Arts, Religion, and Philosophy":

Friday, June 26, 2020

Life, Freedom, and Infinity: A review discussion of Karen Ng, _Hegel's Concept of Life_ (Oxford, 2020)

(4,644 words)

Robert M. Wallace

Abstract: Karen Ng’s book is an ambitious and systematic interpretation of large portions of Hegel’s philosophy, from his Difference essay (1801) through his Phenomenology of Spirit (1807) to his Science of Logic (1812/1816). Ng shows how Hegel’s preoccupation with self-consciousness or the self is closely associated, throughout his major works, with his treatment of “life,” which derives (as did Schelling’s treatment of the same topic) from a critical appropriation of Kant’s attempts to understand life, in his Critique of Judgment. Ng particularly examines the notoriously obscure passage about “life” at the beginning of chapter 4 of the Phenomenology, as well as Hegel’s full-dress treatment of life in the context of “Objectivity” in the Science of Logic. No future attempt to interpret Hegel’s philosophical achievement should ignore the connections that Ng has unearthed, or her efforts to clarify them. However, I think that Ng misses an important opportunity to understand Hegel better. Ng gives no detailed account either of freedom (though it’s in her title) or of infinity, which Hegel associates closely with freedom (see Science of Logic, GW 21:125). I spell out an alternative interpretation of the end of chapter 3 and the beginning of chapter 4 of the Phenomenology, in terms of Hegel's concern with infinity, which explains the link between self-consciousness and life more clearly and perspicuously than I believe Professor Ng explains it.  

Karen Ng’s new book is an ambitious and systematic interpretation of large portions of Hegel’s philosophy, from his Difference essay (1801) through his Phenomenology of Spirit (1807) to his Science of Logic (1812/1816). I will outline some of the book’s major contributions, and, drawing on key passages in the Phenomenology and the Logic, register some reservations about Professor Ng’s interpretation of Hegel. 

Ng shows how Hegel’s preoccupation with self-consciousness or the self is closely associated, throughout his major works, with his treatment of “life,” which derives (as did Schelling’s treatment of the same topic) from a critical appropriation of Kant’s attempts to understand life, in his Critique of Judgment. Ng particularly examines the notoriously obscure passage about “life” at the beginning of chapter 4 of the Phenomenology, as well as Hegel’s full-dress treatment of life in the context of “Objectivity” in the Science of Logic. No future attempt to interpret Hegel’s philosophical achievement should ignore the connections that Ng has unearthed, or her efforts to clarify them. 

The main thing that I look for in books about Hegel is that they connect his actual texts with major problems that are addressed by other leading western philosophers. So I’m not a fan of books that don’t deal in any detail with Hegel’s actual texts or don’t analyze them in a way that makes evident their relevance to broader discussions. Ng does deal with Hegel’s texts in considerable detail and does state some of his arguments quite clearly and in a way that makes evident their relevance to broader discussions. So her book is one of a fairly small list of recent books that I would recommend to readers who really want to get Hegel’s relevance into focus.

As I’ll explain in some detail, though, I think that Ng misses an important opportunity to understand Hegel better. Ng gives no detailed account either of freedom (though it’s in her title) or of infinity, which Hegel associates closely with freedom (see Science of Logic, GW 21:125). I will outline an alternative interpretation of the end of chapter 3 and the beginning of chapter 4 of the Phenomenology, in terms of Hegel's concern with infinity, which explains the link between self-consciousness and life more clearly and perspicuously than I believe Professor Ng explains it.  

First, a bit of background. Kant intended his Critique of Judgment (1790) to bring together the two previous parts of his critical system, his account of our knowledge of the world (that is, natural science), in his Critique of Pure Reason (1781/1787) and his account of practical reason (that is, ethics) in his Critique of Practical Reason (1788). One of the main ways in which it was to do this was by examining the role of teleology, or purposiveness, in living things.

Teleology had not been a feature of science as Kant understood science in the Critique of Pure Reason, because the world of basically Newtonian cause and effect that Kant studied in that Critique contained no teleology, no purposes, as such. Practical reason, on the other hand, as Kant understood it, required us to go beyond Newtonian cause and effect, including our “inclinations,” as Kant called them, and treat rational agents as “ends in themselves.” This raised the difficult question of how the two views of the world, the Newtonian view and the practical and ethical view, could be connected with each other or reconciled. It’s the perennial problem in western philosophy, first discussed by Plato (Phaedo 97-99), of how freedom or rational self-determination fits into a world that in many respects seems to be non-rational or “mechanical.” Kant evidently hoped that his account of biological teleology, in the Critique of Judgment, would (to some degree) bridge his two previous accounts, by dealing with “ends” or purposes, as practical reason did, while at the same time dealing with the observable external world, as the natural sciences do.  

However, Kant’s strong attachment to the Newtonian view of nature led him to explicitly refrain, in the Critique of Judgmentfrom treating ends, purposes, or teleology as a part of the external world on a par with causes, effects, and substances, the topics of the natural sciences. Instead, he presented teleology as “not a constitutive conception either of understanding or of reason, but … a regulative conception for guiding our investigation of objects of this kind by a remote analogy with our own causality according to ends generally…” (§4). That is, neither understanding nor reason could assert that nature as such contained purposes; rather, the notion of purpose could somehow “regulate” our investigations of nature, without identifying a feature of nature as such. Kant left this distinction between “constitutive” and “regulative” conceptions obscure (as Ng brings out [p. 59]). And to the extent that the distinction remained obscure, Kant’s hope of integrating the two wings of his critical philosophy through the notion of biological teleology was apparently not fulfilled. 

Seeing that Kant had not been able to integrate his system fully, Kant’s successors proposed various remedies. F. W. J. Schelling and Hegel both found a promising avenue of revision in Kant’s own conception of biological teleology, which they separated from his (in their view) indefensible distinction between constitutive and regulative conceptions. This is where Professor Ng picks up the story. 

Kant had proposed in §3 of the “Critique of Teleological Judgement” in his Critique of Judgement that “a thing exists as a natural end if it is … both cause and effect of itself.” In his example, a tree is the cause of itself inasmuch as it grows, and it governs the interaction and mutual support of its parts, and it produces offspring. And it is also the effect of these processes. Hence, it is “cause and effect of itself.” Kant refers to this feature of organisms as their “self-organization” (§4) and “intrinsic purposiveness” (§5). (It was rediscovered by the biologists H. Maturana and F. Varela in their book, Autopoiesis [1973].) Ng suggests in her Chapter 3 that this self-organization and inner purposiveness gave Schelling his notion of the “objective subject-object,” and Hegel his notion of “the Concept” that is likewise self-organizing and internally purposive, while being only in one respect (that is, not in all respects) self-conscious. 

That is, I would add, Kant’s notion of the self-organizing organism presented, for Schelling and Hegel, a way in which nature as such, in the form of life, exhibits something like freedom or self-determination without (as yet) having the explicit self-consciousness that we see in practical reason and ethics. And thus the self-organizing organism shows us how the dichotomy of nature versus freedom, with which Kant’s first two Critiques appeared to leave us, is excessively abstract, obscuring transitional phases that are in some respects “natural” or mechanical and in some respects “free” or self-determining. So that one might anticipate that working out this thought, as Hegel does in his Logic and Encyclopedia, could ultimately integrate the contrasting domains that Kant, due to his inveterate Newtonianism, had failed to integrate. (And, I would also add, Plato and Aristotle may have integrated the same domains in ways that modern thinkers including Kant and many twentieth-century writers on “mind” and “matter” and freedom and determinism have failed to fully appreciate. Which would go a long way toward explaining the great respect that Hegel has for Aristotle [see Encyclopedia §§378 and 577].)  

Ng doesn’t spend much time on the sort of “big picture” that I just sketched.[1]Proceeding quickly to the texts, her Chapter 2 examines purposiveness in Kant’s first and third Critiques, and her Chapter 3 gives a rich account of details of (in particular) Schelling’s 1799 “Philosophy of Nature” and his 1800 System of Transcendental Idealism, Hegel’s Difference essay (The Difference Between Fichte’s and Schelling’s System of Philosophy [1801]) with its appropriation and critique of Fichte’s account of the “I,” and Chapters 3 and 4 of Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit.

The theme that Ng follows through these texts is what she calls “Hegel’s speculative identity thesis” of “the identity and non-identity between life and self-consciousness” (p. 81). Life and self-consciousness are not identical inasmuch as life is the “object” while self-consciousness is the subject that knows the object. But they are identical insofar as “life is what immediately opens up the possibility of being as intelligible, of being as a realm of objectivity knowable by a subject … [And] self-consciousness … is … fundamentally constituted by its awareness of life” (p. 78). 

How does life “immediately open up the possibility of being as intelligible,” in a way that mere being does not? I will summarize what I take to be Ng’s answer, which begins to emerge in her description of Hegel’s critique of Fichte, in the Difference essay. Fichte presents self-consciousness or the “I” not as an existing thing but as an act, a Tathandlung (p. 83), which aims to be self-determining or free. Being guided by a reason of some kind, an act is intelligible in a way that a mere being might not be. But against Fichte’s development of this notion, Hegel objects that Fichte presents natureas a mere “check” or “impetus” (Anstossto rational activity, and to that extent he leaves nature as “dead opposition” to reason (see p. 88 for Hegel’s liberal uses of the word, “death,” in connection with Fichte’s conception of nature)—in which case “self-consciousness in turn cannot determine itself as self-determining” (p. 90), because it is determined (in part, at least) by its opposition to this dead, merely external being, rather than by itself. Its options are either to be determined by nature or to “dominate” nature, neither of which Hegel regards as free because neither is fully self-determining. Whereas Hegel by contrast conceives of freedom as “being at home with oneself in one’s other” (same page, emphasis added), where one’s “other” includes nature. And he does this in large part by understanding nature as life. Where nature “opens up the possibility of being as intelligible” insofar as life is understood as self-governing, in the way that Kant sketched out in his Critique of Judgment, and as “intelligible” in terms of the principles by which it governs itself. 

In the previous paragraph I have summarized Ng’s story of these issues more explicitly than she does in her rather complex discussion of the Difference essay and Hegel’s critique of Fichte, and I hope I’ve caught her drift. I don’t think she ever fully explains what it would be like to be “at home with oneself in one’s other.” In particular, she doesn’t draw on Hegel’s account of “something,” the “other,” finitude, and freedom in the “Quality” chapter of the Science of Logic, which (as I argued in my Hegel’s Philosophy of Reality, Freedom, and God [2005]) provides the most important systematic clue to his formulation about being “at home with oneself in one’s other.” For it’s here that Hegel shows how the finite cannot be “with itself,” inasmuch as it’s determined by its limitation vis-à-vis others, so that it’s only the infinite, which has no “other,” that can embody full self-determination and freedom. And thus it’s only as infinite, that we can be fully free.[2]If one worked backward from this argument in the Science of Logic to the earlier works, one might well find that as anticipations of what is spelled out more clearly in the Logic, they are less confusing. 

Chronologically, the next major stage in Hegel’s development of his “speculative identity thesis” after the Difference essay is, of course, the Phenomenology of Spirit. Here, Ng does give a conspectus of the whole argument. It is composed of an “analogy,” a “transcendental argument,” and a “refutation of idealism” (p. 103). The analogy is between life and self-consciousness; the transcendental argument is from consciousness via life to self-consciousness; and the refutation of idealism is a “phenomenological” argument which strengthens the force of the transcendental argument by “bringing together theoretical and practical considerations that emerge in considering the actual experiential development of self-consciousness and spirit” (p. 115).

The analogy between life and self-consciousness is that both are active and self-relating. But the exact relation between the two is spelled out in the transcendental argument. The conclusion of the transcendental argument is that “The ambiguity, disparity, and negativity between life and non-life, and between life and self-consciousness, is the motor and structure—the method—of the experience of consciousness through which self-consciousness is continually actualized as a process of development” (p. 111). “In grasping the unity of this disparity, or the identity of this non-identity, consciousness attains self-consciousness”; but “the only object that displays the unity of this disparity, the object of experience as something that is in-and-for-itself (self-dividing yet self-relating, displaying a unity and distinction of inner and outer), is infinity, or life” (p. 110, first emphasis added). In this way, “infinity, or life” is the essential intermediary between consciousness and self-consciousness. 

In regard to this argument, one has to ask two questions. First, why does the “unity of this disparity” have to be displayed by an object? And second, why is the object that displays it described not only as “life,” but as “infinity”? In regard to the second question, Professor Ng is, of course, following Hegel’s description of the object in Phenomenology of Spirit §169 (Suhrkamp Werke, 3:140). But she needs to explain why he describes it in that way. She never presents an account of infinity as such, and consequently she doesn’t clarify its relation to “life.”

But the first question really goes to the heart of her project in this book. Why does the unity of the disparity of life and non-life, life and self-consciousness, or inner and outer have to be “displayed” by anything (and then specifically, as she and Hegel insist, by “life”)? Ng addresses this question with an argument that she finds in Schelling and which she calls a “refutation of idealism.” Schelling argues that an “intelligence will be able to intuit itself” as “active” in the world “only in an object that has an internal principle of motion within itself,” and that means, in something that’s “alive” (Ng, p. 113). That is, that in order to perceive itself as active, the intelligence must perceive itself externally, as an “object,” and an object that’s alive. 

Ng presents this argument of Schelling’s as resembling Kant’s “Refutation of Idealism” in the Critique of Pure Reason (B275-6), which appeals to one’s consciousness of oneself as determined in time, and therefore as relating to objects outside oneself that are not reducible to one’s perceptions. Schelling’s argument is certainly an interesting one. But if Hegel has something like this argument in mind, why, in all the twistings and turnings of Chapters 3 and 4 of the Phenomenology, does he never present it? 

It seems to me more plausible to suppose that Hegel is proceeding from the notion of “consciousness” that has been his topic throughout Chapters 1-3 of the Phenomenology, which all assume that in some way or other, one is conscious of a world that is not reducible to one’s perceptions. So subjective “idealism” is already off the table, from the beginning of the book. The theme of Chapters 3 and 4, then, is how the notion of a “self-conscious” mind can emerge from the consciousness that thinks of itself as dealing with an external world. Unlike Schelling in the passage that Ng draws on, Hegel here is not asking why I should suppose that I or “life” or anything else exists as an object that’s independent of my perceptions. Rather, he’s asking where does the notion of “me,” as possessing these perceptions, come from? That he is asking this, explains why the topic of Chapter 4 is “Self-Consciousness.”

If we allow ourselves to be guided, in this way, by the main topics of Chapters 1-4 of the Phenomenology (and Ng has given us no reason not to), then the question, why “life,” in particular? appears in a different light. It would now be the question, why should we understand some of the objects in the world, of which we are conscious, as self-governing in the way that “life” is self-governing, and possibly also as “self-conscious”? Hegel would be presenting “life,” in the sequence that he in fact follows, as an initial form of self-government, which, however, quickly becomes conscious of itself, and thus self-conscious. 

Why does life become conscious of itself? Because thinking of itself as self-governing, as “life” is according to the schema that Hegel has taken over from Kant, immediately directs one’s attention to the “self” that is supposed to be governing itself. This is the intimate connection between “life” and “self-consciousness.” The “ambiguity, disparity, and negativity between life and non-life, and between life and self-consciousness,” which Hegel and Ng foreground, is firstly the ambiguity, disparity, and negativity between objects of consciousness, merely as such, which consciousness does indeed tend to treat as “dead” or merely mechanical, and the living thing that consciousness discovers itself to be in the course of Chapters 2 and 3 of the Phenomenology. And secondly it is the ambiguity and disparity between life merely as such, and life that is conscious of itself, which we arrive at in Chapter 4. Schelling and Hegel focus on these ambiguities, and therefore make it a point always to connect self-consciousness with life rather than with mere “objects” which could be “dead,” because they are interested (as I suggested earlier) in exploring an intermediate realm between mere mechanical “Newtonian” objects, which are not self-governing, and the self-consciously self-governing subjects of practical reason and ethics. If we keep this elementary state of affairs before our minds, then Hegel’s twistings and turnings in Chapters 3 and 4 of the Phenomenology may be less obscure than they appear to be in Ng’s reconstruction of them. 

How does Hegel justify insisting that one’s world must contain not merely dead “objects,” but living ones (whether the living object is oneself or another self)? Why, as I asked earlier, does the unity of the disparity of life and non-life, life and self-consciousness, or inner and outer have to be “displayed” by anything (and then specifically, as Ng and Hegel insist, by “life”)? I will give my own answer to this question, which is an answer that Ng doesn’t give. Hegel justifies this with his appeal to “infinity” or freedom:
Infinity, or this absolute unrest of pure self-movement … this no doubt has been from the start the soul of all that has gone before … but it is as ‘explanation’ that it first freely stands forth [als Erklären tritt sie zunächst frei hervor]; and when infinity is finally an objectas that which it isfor consciousness, consciousness is thus self-consciousness. (PhG §163; Suhrkamp Werke 3:133; my translation)

When infinity becomes an “object” for consciousness, consciousness becomes self-consciousness. And it’s only when infinity does this that infinity “freely stands forth,” that is, that it emerges as free. Why is it not “free” before this, when it is only “inner” and not yet an object for consciousness? It isn’t free, in such a case, because it’s defined as not outer, and to that extent it’s determined by what it’s not, and thus it’s not self-determined or free. So what’s inner must also be outer, if it’s to be free. This is why the unity of the disparate (life and non-life, life and self-consciousness, inner and outer) has to be “displayed”—that is, it’s why that unity has to be an object for consciousness. 

And this unity is first displayed by life, when life is understood in the way that Kant proposed, as governing itself. For we can watch life, living things, governing themselves. I can watch myself, a living thing, alongside other living things, engaging in the kind of self-government that’s common to all living things. In this activity of self-government, life is “an object for consciousness,” and thus approaches the infinity that unites the inner and the outer, self-consciousness and consciousness, and that is thus truly infinite and truly free. All that life lacks, in this self-observing self-government, is the realization that what it is observing is infinite and fully free, which is the crowning accomplishment that is self-consciousness.

In this way, Hegel’s conception of freedom and self-consciousness as infinity connects life to freedom and self-consciousness, without making them identical. This is the primary issue that Ng addresses, without, as far as I can see, clarifying it as well as Hegel does in these passages of his Phenomenology.

I should add that Hegel’s notion of freedom as infinity also resolves another issue that hovers, unstated, beneath the surface of Professor Ng’s book, which is: Why should we take seriously the claims of rational self-government, in Kant’s ethics and in Hegel’s account of life and self-consciousness, to be real? Why shouldn’t we be satisfied, as many people claim to be, with Newtonian mechanism (or something like it) as an account of reality as a whole? Hegel addresses the claims of Newtonian mechanism and similar doctrines to be adequate accounts of reality as a whole with the first five chapters of the Phenomenology. Ng summarizes a good part of Hegel’s argument on pp. 105-107, but she presents it not as an argument that Newtonian mechanism isn’t the whole of reality, but as an argument that “The living object is … the object that provides consciousness with the resources to adequately grasp itself as self-consciousness” (p. 107). That is, Ng doesn’t directly address the challenge of mechanism as such. 

Hegel’s account of infinity addresses the challenge of mechanism by focusing on something that can’t be reduced to it. In Chapters 1-3,
What is true for consciousness is something other than itself. But the Concept of this truth vanishes in the experience of it. What the object immediately was in itself—mere being in sense-certainty, the concrete thing of perception, and for the Understanding, a Force—proves to be in truth, not this at all; instead, this in-itself turns out to be a mode in which the object is only for an other…. But now there has arisen what did not emerge in these previous relationships, namely, a certainty which is identical with its truth; for the certainty is to itself its own object, and consciousness is to itself the truth. (PhG §166; Suhrkamp Werke 3:137)
The “certainty which is identical with its truth” and “is to itself its own object” is, of course, self-consciousness, or freedom, or infinity. I am my own object, and therefore I can’t help being certain of this object. (We hear echoes of Descartes’s Cogito and of Fichte’s Tathandlung.) To deny this object would be to deny what I am doing in denying it; so I can’t, effectively, deny it. Thus in self-consciousness we have arrived at a certainty that is identical with its own truth—a reality that can’t be denied. So we can confidently rely on the reality of self-government, in ethics and in self-consciousness in general, and conclude that nothing like Newtonian mechanics is the whole of reality. 

The remainder of Ng’s book surveys Hegel’s treatment of life in the final section of his Science of Logic, in which Teleology and Life form the intermediate step between Mechanism, on the one hand, and (theoretical and practical) Cognition, on the other. So Hegel is explicitly laying out the ascending ladder of what we might call mechanical, biological, and human functioning. Prior to this final section, Ng also provides a detailed and illuminating account of the transition from substance to subject or “the Concept,” of which the Objective Concept (including Mechanism and Teleology) and the Idea (including Life and theoretical and practical Cognition) are aspects. 

I am not going to examine Professor Ng’s treatment of the Science of Logic in the detail that I gave to her treatments of the Difference essay and the Phenomenology, because no new issue of comparable importance arises in the later sections. Mostly, the same issue arises once again, that Ng again does not focus on or examine the relevance of Hegel’s distinctive notions of infinity and freedom to the aspects of the text on which she focuses. Ng quotes Hegel’s statement that the Doctrine of the Concept is “the realm of freedom,” but (as one might expect from her earlier discussions) neither freedom as such nor infinity is the theme of her treatment of this Doctrine. In particular, the way in which Life and Cognition introduce increasing degrees of freedom as self-government is not her theme, despite the way in which these sections expand upon and systematize the discussion of life and freedom that Hegel gave in Chapters 3 and 4 of the Phenomenology. 

Summing up his entire treatment of the “Idea” as the final stage of the “Concept,” Hegel writes that
the absolute Idea … is … on the one hand the return to life, but … the Concept is not merely soul [and thus life], but free subjective Concept that is for itself and therefore possesses personality. (GW 12:236)
The subjective Concept’s “freedom” is of course most evident in the theoretical and practical Cognition that immediately precede the absolute Idea. But in her treatment of the passage that I’ve quoted (Ng p. 288), Professor Ng focuses on the “return to life,” and doesn’t quote or elaborate on the part about “free subjective Concept.” Instead she emphasizes, quite appropriately, the way in which Cognition’s “return to life” in the absolute Idea excludes any one-sided emphasis merely on Cognition, by itself. “Cognition without life would be an empty affair devoid of determination” (same page). But with this emphasis, she overlooks the way in which Hegel’s formulations here explicitly give an enriched and more systematic version of the transition from life to self-consciousness (here called the “free subjective Concept”) that was the theme of the end of Chapter 3 of the Phenomenology.

Finally, Ng points out that in his culminating discussion of “method,” ”Hegel does not hesitate in making far-reaching claims concerning the scope of absolute method, calling it … ‘the universal absolute activity in which … the Concept is everything,’… and method ‘is reason’s highest and sole drive, to find and cognize itself by means of itself in everything’” (Ng p. 288, quoting GW 12:238). She comments that “the sheer outrageousness of these claims tries the patience of even the most generous reader” (p. 289). (To which I, at least, must object that rather than experiencing them as trying my patience, I find them exhilarating!) She seeks to explain Hegel’s “outrageous” claim as boiling down to this: 
“Having eliminated the thought that truth and goodness are beyond the grasp of reason in principle, the unity of theoretical and practical cognition is what allows Hegel to determine the scope of method as truly absolute, as having no meaningful ‘outside’… Hegel has finally produced the positive result of his long-stated position that method is not external to its content, but instead represents the essential form of its content…. Even the intelligibility of what falls below the processes of life and cognition—mechanism, chemism, and external purposiveness—are only intelligible asthe things that they are from within the bounds of method itself” (p. 289-290).
To this explanation I would add two further points of clarification. (1) The reason why what falls below the processes of life and cognition is only intelligible from within the bounds of method itself is that what is fully “real,” as itself, is infinite, not bounded below or anywhere else. So what falls below the processes of life and cognition must be understood through its contribution to those processes, and not merely through itself. For without its contribution to those processes it is unreal, or nothing. (“It is not the finite which is the real, but rather the infinite” [Science of Logic GW 21:136].) And thus (2), when we understand self-consciousness and thus the Concept and Cognition as infinite, it is clearly necessary that they will have no “outside,” but instead they will be “the essential form of [all] content,” and reason as infinite will necessarily be “in everything.” 

[1]Thomas Khurana, Das Leben der Freiheit: Form und Wirklichkeit der Autonomie (Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp, 2017) gives a more detailed account of Kant’s critical system and his treatment of teleology than Professor Ng gives. Khurana also gives a very illuminating analysis of Hegel’s account of life and freedom.

[2]In addition to my (2005) book, a recent paper in which I explore Hegel’s account of infinity is “Infinity and Spirit: How Hegel Integrates Science and Religion, and Nature and the Supernatural,” in B. Göcke and C. Tapp, eds., The Infinity of God (Notre Dame, IN: Notre Dame University Press, 2017); also on my blog. 

Sunday, May 10, 2020

Robert Wallace's Critique of Charles Taylor's Interpretation of Hegel, in his _Hegel_ (1975)

I believe that Charles Taylor’s well-known interpretation of Hegel, in his Hegel (Cambridge U. Press, 1975), is mistaken in a systematic way, which has not been adequately clarified in much of the literature that responds to his book. I devote five pages (pp. 122-126) of my Hegel’s Philosophy of Reality, Freedom, and God (Cambridge U. Press, 2005) to my critique of Taylor's book, and most of the book to expounding my alternative to Taylor’s interpretation. Since I haven’t laid out this critique online, I will give a brief summary of it here. 
According to one of the central themes of Taylor’s book, Hegel sees individual humans as “vehicles” for the embodiment of “cosmic spirit” (p. 89), or of a “cosmic reason” (p. 562). True infinity, Taylor also writes, is “an infinite life embodied in a circle of finite beings, each of which is inadequate to it and therefore goes under, but is replaced in necessary order by another” (p. 240). Thus cosmic spirit, cosmic reason, or true infinity evidently stands by itself, as the standard that finite beings try but fail to live up to, or as the agent that uses finite things as its vehicle. The result of these metaphors of the “vehicle” or the external standard is that Taylor’s account fails to articulate the unity or the identity of the finite with the infinite. Of course Taylor is aware that Hegel intends such a unity, but because Taylor doesn’t get into focus the arguments by which Hegel actually accomplishes it, Taylor’s own metaphors—the “vehicle” and the unreachable standard—end up taking over his presentation. 
The arguments that Taylor doesn’t get into focus are Hegel’s arguments for the failures of the “something,” the finite, and the spurious infinity to achieve “reality”—arguments that I analyze in sections 3.4 and 3.6-3.9 of my book. Taylor neither quotes nor interprets Hegel’s statements that true infinity “is only as a transcending of the finite” (Science of Logic GW 21:133, Suhrkamp edition 5:160, Miller translation p. 146), and that the true infinite is not “a power existing outside” the finite (same pages). These statements sum up Hegel’s alternative to the spurious infinity that presents itself as separate from and opposed to the finite. Hegel has shown, in his treatment of the something, the finite, and the spurious infinity, why and how the finite must transcend itself in order to achieve “reality.” It must do so in order to be “in itself,” as Hegel puts it in his introduction of “reality” (Realität) in section A of “Determinate Being (Dasein).” Anything that is determined by its relation to something other than itself, as the something, the finite, and the spurious infinity all are, isn’t fully “in itself” and thus isn’t “real.” (The spurious infinity is spurious, fails to be infinite, because it is determined by its relation to something that’s other than itself, namely, the finite.) So true infinity, the true “reality,” must “be only as a transcending of the finite,” and not as “a power existing outside” the finite.
This is Hegel’s demonstration of how the true infinity is identical with the finite—and by the same token how the Concept is identical with Being and Essence, and Spirit is identical with Nature, and Absolute Spirit is identical with Subjective and Objective Spirit. All of these relations embody the same pattern of identity in difference, or true infinity, which is why any interpretation of Hegel’s system that doesn’t get the pattern into focus will mislead its readers about what Hegel is up to in his entire system.
Taylor’s description of individual humans as “vehicles” for the embodiment of cosmic “spirit” doesn’t completely misrepresent Hegel, because “spirit” does transcend individual humans, but Taylor’s description does systematically overlook the fact that spirit does this only through the individual’s transcendence of her finite condition in pursuit of her own selfhood and reality—that is, it overlooks the side of Hegel’s true infinity that is critical of a “transcendence” that’s understood as a “power outside” the finite, or as a “beyond.” The key to understanding Hegel’s conception of true infinity in this way is seeing that his critique of Kant and Fichte, for allowing freedom to become mired in “spurious infinity,” overlies a fundamental agreement with Kant and Fichte about the importance of freedom as transcending finitude. In this way, interpreters of Hegel who emphasize the continuity of his thinking with Kant’s, as Robert Pippin does in contrast to Taylor, are quite right. Though they may not realize the full metaphysical significance of freedom’s transcending finitude—the way in which this transcending brings about something that’s “real” in a way that the finite is not. 
It is easy to suppose that the only way to take Hegel’s theological language and interests seriously is to assume, as Taylor does, that God (or Geist) for Hegel is the primary reality, whose existence is not an issue in the way that the existence of finite things like ourselves is an issue. But Geist cannot be simply other than us, opposed to us (as it would have to be if it “used” us as its “vehicles”), on pain of being finite, itself. It is also true that we cannot be simply other than it—we cannot be simply finite—on pain of being unreal. And it is also true that despite this absence of simple otherness between the finite and the infinite, there must be, and is, a significant difference between finite and infinite, in order for this whole issue of their “unity” or identity to arise. This mutual dependence or identity-in-difference of finite and infinite, which is required for their (“truly infinite”) reality, is what we must understand in order to see how Hegel supersedes both conventional theism (with its notion of God as “the supreme being,” which as “a being” contrasted to other beings is, in fact, inherently finite) and traditional atheism by finding some real truth in each of them but also definitively going beyond each of them, and (thus) beyond the opposition between them. The truth in conventional theism is its insistence on the reality of transcendence. And the truth in traditional atheism is its rejection of a dualism that opposes God to the world as a separate being. Hegel’s conception of the true infinity as the finite’s transcending of itself shows how these two truths can be combined in a perfectly intelligible way. Which, however, is still so unfamiliar that few theologians, few atheists or humanists, and few interpreters of Hegel ever really get it into focus. 
It is worth noting that while none of the major Anglophone interpreters of Hegel in the 45 years since Taylor wrote his book, interpreters such as Robert Pippin, Terry Pinkard, Robert Stern, Kenneth Westphal, Stephen Houlgate, Peter Hodgson, William Desmond, and Robert Brandom, has agreed with Taylor’s way of reading Hegel, none of them seems to have brought into focus the relation between finite and infinite, and nature and Spirit, that I have sketched. Of course most interpreters mention negativity, or identity in difference, or true infinity, at one point or another. But I’m not aware of an interpreter who has seen how they are the backbone of Hegel’s system, in the way that I’ve tried briefly to indicate here, and in more detail in my (2005). The habits of thought that Hegel is seeking to undermine, are very hard to shake. 
For more detail on my way of reading Hegel’s system, please see, in addition to my (2005), my Philosophical Mysticism in Plato, Hegel, and the Present (Bloomsbury Publishing, 2019) and the papers collected on my blog,

Friday, March 6, 2020

A Skeleton Key to Hegel’s _Science of Logic_


These are notes on and quotations from Hegel’s Science of Logic, structured according to the book’s table of contents. My aim is to bring out and briefly explain many of the book’s key concepts and transitions, and thus to help readers to see the overall structure in the book’s luxurious profusion of detail. 

The main accomplishments of the Science of Logic are that, by developing a more incisive and comprehensive conception of reality, 

(1) it establishes Hegel’s version of “idealism,” overcoming what we call the "subject/object divide," which Hegel often calls the "opposition of consciousness," 

(2) it unifies what we call “fact” and “value,” or “description” and “evaluation,”

(3) it integrates rational freedom with non-rational necessity and mechanism, 

(4) it shows how self-preoccupied “egoism” fails to be free, and 

(5) it provides a conception of a transcendent and rational divinity that is inseparable from a world of finite beings, and thus it integrates a rational religion with science. 

In fact, the Logic shows how these apparently separate issues are ultimately one issue, to be resolved by one solution, which the Logic propounds. I’ll suggest that this solution is prefigured especially in the works of Plato and Aristotle. 

I say more about the significance of the Logic’s accomplishment in my Hegel’s Philosophy of Reality, Freedom, and God (Cambridge U. Press, 2005) and my Philosophical Mysticism in Plato, Hegel, and the Present (Bloomsbury Publishing, 2019). The 2019 book gives an introductory account of Hegel’s work as a whole and its role in western philosophy. And in the 2005 book, I discuss some passages in the Logic in more detail than I do here. But my account of the beginning of the Logic, and of Essence and the Concept, and thus of the Logic as a whole, is more integrated and complete here than it was in either of the two books. And thus I think this outline brings out the overall structure of the Logic more clearly than I did in either of the books. 

I plan to revise and expand this Key as time permits, and I would be grateful for comments and questions. I have supplemented quotations from Hegel with my own italics, for emphasis. While omitting or preserving, as suits my purpose, italics that are in the original.

 Introduction [Hegel's]

After explaining that he can’t really “say what [logic] is in advance” (GW 21:28), but can only provide a sketch, Hegel says in agreement with the tradition that logic is about “thinking.” (GW=Hegel’sGesammelte Werke, volume and page number. These numbers are given in the margin of George DiGiovanni's translation of the Science of Logic [Cambridge U. Press, 2010].) But Hegel objects to the common idea that the thinking that logic is about can be separated, as “form,” from thinking’s “content,” and he says that “the older metaphysics had in this respect a higher concept of thinking,” according to which “thinking in its immanent determinations, and the true nature of things, are one and the same content” (GW 21:29). (I suspect that under “the older metaphysics,” Hegel has in mind at least Plato and Aristotle.)

Hegel says that in contrast to this remarkable traditional view, that “thinking in its immanent determinations, and the true nature of things, are one and the same content,” “the understanding’s [Verstand’s] reflection seized hold of philosophy, … turned against reason [Vernunft], [and asserted that] truth rests on sensuous reality, that thoughts are onlythoughts, that is, that only sense perception gives filling and reality to them.” And the result is that “in this self-renunciation of reason, the concept of truth is lost” (GW 21:29).  

The concept of truth, Hegel says, is however regained in his Phenomenology of Spirit, which overcomes the “opposition of consciousness” (the opposition between thoughts and reality, subject and object) and gives us “thought insofar as this thought is equally the fact [Sache] as it is in itself; or the fact in itself insofar as this is equally pure thought” (GW 21:33). Regarding this unity, Hegel tells us that “This realm is truth unveiled … the exposition of God as he is in his eternal essence before the creation of nature and of a finite spirit” (GW 21:34). Here we must understand that “before the creation” shouldn’t be understand as meaning “at a time that preceded” the creation, since as we learn from Hegel’s Encyclopedia, time is a part of nature and thus is not a feature of God, or of God’s activities, as such. So “before…” means something like “logically prior to….” The “exposition of God as he is in his eternal essence” is what Hegel’s Logic will present.

Concluding his Introduction, Hegel qualifies this dramatic statement about God, saying that while traditional metaphysics “sought to comprehend with the pure forms of thought such particular substrata, originally drawn from the imagination [Vorstellen], as the soul, the world, and God, and in this consideration the determinations of thought constituted the essential factor,”  “logic [on the other hand] considers these forms free of those substrata, which are the subjects of figurative representation [der Vorstellung], and considers their nature and value in and for themselves” (GW 21:49). This, then, is the reason why we won’t find the words, “soul,” “world,” or “God” in the main text of the Logic. What these words refer to is the substratum of—we might say, it “underlies”—the logical analysis, in the sense (I suggest) that the logical analysis identifies what’s true in them. The book is not literally about soul, world, or God, as such, because these are (partially) “figurative representations,” and not just concepts. Rather, the book is about the truth that’s contained in the figurative representations of soul, world, and God. What this truth is, the book will unfold.

And as to the pressing question of how “thinking in its immanent determinations, and the true nature of things, are one and the same content”—that is, how the “opposition of consciousness” can be overcome—Hegel doesn’t tell us very much in this Introduction. We will learn to understand these remarkable claims, and to see how they could be true, only in the course of the book itself. 


The Science of Logic then begins with the

“Objective Logic” (=Book One: Doctrine of Being + Book Two: Doctrine of Essence). The Objective Logic will be followed by the “Subjective Logic” (Book Three: Doctrine of the Concept). So first we have 


Book One: The Doctrine of Being


(introductory section) “With What Must the Beginning of Science Be Made?”

Hegel mentions the issue, first raised by Fichte, of whether the beginning should be from something mediated or something immediate (that is, non-mediated) (GW 21:53). His comment on this is that “there is nothing in heaven or nature or spirit or anywhere else that does not contain just as much immediacy as mediation, so that both these determinations prove to be unseparated and inseparable” (GW 21:54). He goes on: “Logic is the pure science, that is, pure knowledge in the full compass of its development. But in that result the idea has the determination of a certainty that has become truth; it is a certainty which, on the one hand, no longer stands over and against a subject matter confronting it externally but has interiorizedit, is knowingly aware that the subject matter is itself; and, on the other hand, has relinquished any knowledge of itself that would oppose it to objectivity and would reduce the latter to a nothing; it has externalized this subjectivity and is at one with its externalization” (GW 21:55). That is, logic is a certainty that has gone beyond the “opposition of consciousness,” between subjectivity and objectivity, the internal and the external, and by doing this has “become truth.” Knowledge that goes beyond the opposition of consciousness is no longer distinct from truth because it no longer distinguishes the thought of which it is composed, from the reality that it is “about.” 

Hegel says that this pure knowledge or truth was the “result” of his Phenomenology of Spirit, and in that sense his Logic presupposes that previous book (“To this extent, logic has for its presupposition…”; GW 21:54). But he goes on to say that logic’s beginning “must be absolute … must be an abstract beginning … and so there is nothing that it may presuppose… It must therefore be… immediacy itself” (GW 21:56). This is evidently an example of the inseparability of immediacy and mediation: the Logic is mediated by the Phenomenology, but it is also “immediacy itself.” 

The Phenomenology had in fact already claimed to overcome the opposition of consciousness, when it said that Spirit “concluded the movement in which it … shaped itself, insofar as this shaping was burdened with the difference of consciousness,” and “won the pure element of its Dasein, the Concept” (PhG §805 [Miller trans.], Suhrkamp Werke, p. 588). In this respect, the Logic does “presuppose” the Phenomenology. But rather than taking this overcoming for granted, the Logic will in fact offer a complete, independent argument for it, thus helping us to better understand the Phenomenology as well, by looking back at it in the light of what we learn from the Logic.  

So where will the Logic begin? “Starting with this determination of pure knowledge, all that we have to do is … simply to take up what is there before us. Pure knowledge, thus withdrawn into this unity, has sublated every reference to an other and to mediation … [and] as thus distinctionless it ceases to be knowledge; what we have before us is only simple immediacy” (GW 21:55). But simple immediacy which is not knowledge or anything else that involves a distinction, is “pure being” (GW 21:55). So, “being is what makes the beginning here” (GW 21:56). This is where the Logic will begin.

 Hegel does allow himself to consider various suggested alternatives to beginning with pure being, of which perhaps the most important is Fichte’s procedure of beginning with the “I” (GW 21:62). Hegel’s most important objection to Fichte’s procedure is that “the actual development of the science that proceeds from the ‘I’ shows that in the course of it the object has and retains the self-perpetuating determination of an other with respect to the ‘I’” (GW 21:64), so that the opposition of consciousness has not been overcome, and thus the “I” as a beginning is not simple. Hegel’s goal in proceeding from pure and simple “being” will be to show how the opposition of consciousness need not, in fact, be an obscure and confusing “given,” but can rather be seen to follow from mere “being,” by an intelligible development which will enable us in due course to go beyond that opposition. “If in the expression of the absolute, the eternal, or God … there is more than there is in pure being, then this moreshould first emerge [hervortreten] in a knowledge which is thinking and not figurative [denkendes, nicht vorstellendes]” (GW 21: 65). 

Section I. Determinateness (Quality)

Chapter 1. Being {Being, Nothing, Becoming};

Being, “the undetermined immediate, is in fact nothing,” GW 21:69.

Being is “nothing” because it’s undetermined; it’s nothing specific.

Nothing, on the other hand, “is the same determination, or rather lack of determination, as pure Being,” GW 21:70. Nothing, too, is nothing specific. So, the “truth” of these two is that they “have passed over into” each other. “They are absolutely distinct yet equally unseparated and inseparable” (GW 21:70). That is, their truth is:

Becoming [Werden], GW 21:70, that is, coming into being or ceasing to be (or “coming into nothing”). What these two “passings-over” have in common, and what seems therefore to survive the (as it were) “critical” comments that Hegel has made about each of them, is passing over itself, that is, what coming into being and ceasing to be have in common. Which Hegel entitles “becoming.”

1. First comment. This triad of being, nothing, and becoming has of course been the subject of much debate. Hegel’s contemporary and one-time friend F.W.J.  Schelling objected, in lectures after Hegel’s death, that Hegel appeared to be assuming, in unfolding this sequence, that being must be something more than mere “nothing,” and using his conception of this “more” to guide the development into becoming and the subsequent development of his system. However, when Hegel says that being and nothing have each passed over into the other, and that we can conclude from observing this “passing over” that something is happening (which he then interprets as “becoming,” the passing of being into nothing or the passing of nothing into being), he appears to be making a simple observation, rather than telling us what we must think in order to give being additional content. Schelling’s criticism appears to be based on his assumption that thought can only connect with being through some external process (what he calls “Vorstellung,” “presenting,” or sometimes “ecstasy”). Hegel of course does not accept the assumption that thought can only connect with being through an external process. (See Stephen Houlgate, “Schelling’s Critique of Hegel’s Science of Logic,” Review of Metaphysics 53 no. 1 [1999]: 99-128.) How can thought connect with being, if not through an external process? Hegel’s book will explain this, by explaining how we can avoid the “opposition of consciousness” by which thought is, from the beginning, opposed to or external to being. 

It may seem that it would be circular, for Hegel to respond to Schelling’s critique by claiming to overcome what Schelling assumes in his critique. For, if Schelling’s assumption is correct, then Hegel won’t in fact be able to overcome the opposition of consciousness. But Hegel could reply that Schelling is “begging the question” by assuming precisely what is in dispute, between them. The fact that (very likely) most of us do take the opposition of consciousness for granted, does not establish that it’s valid or necessary. Once we see that it can be questioned, a critique that’s based on it must provide grounds for accepting it. 

As Stephen Houlgate points out, a long series of critics of Hegel have followed Schelling in asserting that Hegel commits some fundamental error (often called “panlogism” or “logocentrism”) in supposing that thought on its own can give us knowledge of being or existence. Figures like Kierkegaard, Heidegger, Levinas, and Derrida agree on this. But if, as seems to be the case, they all assume in advance a duality of thought versus being, or the like, they all seem to beg the question against Hegel. 

2. Second comment. “Being” and “nothing” have been central issues for western philosophy since Parmenides, in the first half of fifth century BCE. Parmenides apparently said that the “path” of “what is not and needs must not be” is “unthinkable” (fragment 2 in G. S. Kirk and J. E. Raven, The Presocratic Philosophers [Cambridge U. Press, 1957]). So one must take the path of “what is.” Since this makes it difficult to see how one could “think” the transition between what is not and what is, or vice versa, which we call “coming into being” or “ceasing to be,” Parmenides’s provocative doctrine wasn’t accepted by major successors such as Plato and Aristotle. But they saw that they would need a systematic account of the relations between being, nothing, and becoming. In this first triad of his Science of Logic, Hegel is proposing such an account. 

Hegel’s next point is that “becoming,” as coming into being or ceasing to be, presupposes something that comes into being or ceases to be; and Hegel proposes to call this Dasein.

Chapter 2. Dasein [“being-there” or “presence.” DiGiovanni translates Dasein as “existence,” but he then has to translate Existenz, in the Doctrine of Essence, as “concrete existence,” which is complex in a way that Existenz is not, and raises distracting and irrelevant questions (why “concrete”? what does “concrete” mean? etc.). So it seems clearer to reserve “existence” for Existenz and use “being-there,” or “presence,” or simply “Dasein” for Dasein.] 

A. Dasein as such 

is Something [Etwas]. This “Something is only the beginning of the Subject,” GW 21:103; 

but it is the beginning of the Subject, even though we’re still early in the “Objective [not Subjective] Logic.” And the “beginning” of this “beginning” is clearly in the relation between Being and Nothing. Since the topic of the final part of the Logic is the Concept which Hegel also calls “Subjectivity,” it seems that the Logic as a whole is structured around the issue of subjectivity, or the Subject. Which is what we should expect, in view of the famous announcement in the Preface to the Phenomenology of Spirit that philosophy’s goal is to show how “Substance is essentially Subject” [§25].

Now Hegel poses the question, is the Something “in itself” (an sich) or is it “for-another” (that is, in or determined by its relation to an other)? GW 21:107. 

“What is truly in itself, is what Logic shows us,” GW 21:109.

Being for-another is a “limit” (GW 21:113), which prevents the something from being truly “in itself.” “Something posited with its immanent limit as the contradiction of itself by virtue of which it is directed and driven out and beyond itself, is the finite,” GW 21:116. 

B. Finitude:

The limit makes the something a “contradiction of itself” because the limit is “the middle point between the two” [somethings], and thus the “other of both” (GW 21:114), so that what is limited is (to that extent) determined by its other rather than by itself. Embodying this contradiction, the finite is “driven out and beyond itself” in that it isn’t self-determined or “in itself,” and it can be self-determined or “in itself” only by going beyond its finitude and in that sense beyond “itself.” This is the fundamental paradox of the Logic and of our experience: that insofar as we are finite beings, we cannot be fully and truly “in ourselves,” an sich, so it’s only by going beyond “ourselves,” qua finite, to the infinite, that we can be ourselvesSo that, as St Augustine put it, “You [God, the infinite] were more inward [to me] than my most inward part.” 

I suggest that we can “go beyond ‘ourselves,’ qua finite,” insofar as we seek fully adequate reasons for our beliefs and actions, rather than being satisfied to believe and act in ways that we are caused, by our environment or biological antecedents, to believe and act. Hegel is generalizing this experience of rational self-government, which Kant put in the foreground with his notion of rational autonomy, to reality as a whole. (I have elaborated on this experience and this generalization in both of my books and in various papers.) 

As Hegel observes, “finitude is the most obstinate of the categories of the understanding… the understanding persists in this sorrow of finitude… But all depends on whether in one’s view of finitude one insists on its being, and the transitoriness thus persists, or whether the transitoriness and the perishing perish” (GW 21:117). All depends on this; Hegel could hardly be more definitive. Inasmuch as the finite fails to be “in itself” and, in that sense, fails to be, Hegel will observe later that “finitude is only as going beyond itself” (GW 21:133) to infinity. When we recognize this, I would add, the transitoriness and perishing “perish” because they never managed to “be,” in the first place, in the full sense of the word, which Hegel is unfolding for us. 

How can the finite go beyond itself? How can “the perishing perish”? “The Ought [Sollen] is the beginning of going beyond the finite” (GW 21:121), because in the Ought we are called to something that goes beyond our finite limits and inclinations. 

Hegel is certainly thinking of Kant’s account of moral freedom as surpassing the individual’s natural and heteronomous inclinations. He is critical of Kant’s and Fichte’s conception of the “ought” because it fails, in fact, to go beyond the finite (GW 21:123). (It fails because in setting up a domain of moral obligation that’s separate from and opposed to the domain of finite natural things, it limitsthe first domain, by making it separate from and limited by its relation to the second one, and thus it makes the first domain finite.) But this doesn’t alter the fact that, as Hegel tells us, the Ought “is the beginning” of the project of going beyond the finite. 

Note how by introducing the Ought with its allusion to our moral experience, Hegel introduces an apparently “evaluative” element into a discussion of Being and Something and so forth which might previously have seemed merely “descriptive.” As we will see more explicitly in the “Idea of the Good” and ”Idea of the True” at the end of the Logic, Hegel is showing us how truth and goodness are, ultimately, inseparable. Whereas for Kant, the dualist, truth and goodness remained separate even in his Critique of Judgment, in which the Good and teleology play only a “regulative,” not a “constitutive” role in our understanding of nature. Which, indeed, is why Kant wasn’t able to “go beyond the finite.” The separation of regulative from constitutive, and knowledge from “practical faith,” creates a limit to each of these domains and thus makes them, and the experience and reality that each of them embodies, finite. By surpassing the boundaries between truth and goodness, and thus between “description” and “evaluation,” Hegel follows not Kant but Plato and Aristotle. (See, above all, the role of the “Form of the Good,” to which the things known owe their “being,” in Plato’s Republic [509b].)

Interpretations of Hegel’s Logic and Encyclopedia which overlook his surpassing of the boundaries between truth and goodness and description and evaluation fail to notice the full significance both of the “Ought” and of “infinity.” What Hegel is engaging in, in the Logic and Encyclopedia, cannot be reduced to what we think of in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries as “logic,” which focuses on truth as distinct from goodness. Throughout the Logic and the Encyclopedia, Hegel is addressing the Socratic question of “how we ought to live.” Which indeed, Hegel agrees with Plato and Aristotle in suggesting, is intimately tied up with the question of how we can truly “be,” which we can recognize as a question of “truth” and thus of logic, so that the Socratic question is part and parcel of what logic is or ought to be. But this integration of truth with goodness runs counter to entrenched modern ideas—the supposed separation of “fact” from “value” and description from evaluation—to such an extent that few commentators get into focus what Hegel is actually doing here. In modern times we assume that what “is,” simply “is,” so there’s no question of (as I just put it) “how we can truly ‘be.’” 

With the role that he gives to the “ought,” Hegel is following not only Kant and Fichte but also, and perhaps even more importantly, Aristotle. Or we could say, he is expressing an Aristotelian insight in Kantian language. For Aristotle, “Nature is a principle in the thing itself” (Metaphysics XII.3.1070a8). That nature is in the thing itself means that it is not primarily a set of laws that govern things from outside them. Karen Ng calls it “an internal normativity and necessity” (Hegel’s Concept of Life: Self-Consciousness, Freedom, Logic [2020], p. 55), and quotes Kant: “A teleological judgment compares the concept of a product of nature as it is with what it ought to be (was es sein soll)” (EE 20:240; “EE”=First Introduction to Critique of Judgment). A judgment about purpose measures the “product of nature” against a norm, an “ought” (Sollen), precisely as Hegel in his account of Dasein measures the something against what it is “in itself.” In the end, Kant’s commitment to a Newtonian conception of nature as mechanical prevents him from endorsing teleological judgment. He leaves it, as I said, in the limbo of a “regulative” but not ”constitutive” thought. But Hegel follows Aristotle (and via Aristotle, Plato), rather than Kant, on this crucial point.  

For details on how Hegel follows Plato and Aristotle on these issues, see my Philosophical Mysticism in Plato, Hegel, and the Present (2019), and “How G.W.F. Hegel’s Broadly Platonic Idealism Explains Knowledge, Value, and Freedom,” in B. Göcke and J. R. Farris, eds., Rethinking Idealism and Immaterialism(forthcoming from Routledge), and on my blog at

C. Infinity: 

Infinity is how Something will finally be “in itself.”

“With the name of the infinite…freedom“ comes to the fore, GW 21:125. (So here the “Subject” is emerging again.)

Because the finite is determined by its limit, which is not itself (so that the finite isn’t entirely “in itself”), “finitude is only as going beyond itself,” GW 21:133. Thus “not the finite, but the infinite, is the real [das Reale],” GW 21:136.

But the infinite can’t be merely “beyond” the finite, because then it would be limited by the finite, and thus not infinite, but a “spurious infinity,” schlechte Unendlichkeit; so “the finite is not sublated by the infinite as by a power that exists outside it; rather, its [true] infinity is that it sublates itself,” GW 21:133. Hegel conceives true infinity not as a separate realm or reality, but as the finite’s going beyond itself, beyond its finitude, to become truly “itself” (truly “in itself”) and thus truly real. That the true infinity is the finite’s sublation of itself, sums up the theme of all of Hegel’s thought—that what is “higher” or most real includes, while it goes beyond, what is lower and less real. This is what “sublation”/ Aufhebung is. In this connection we should remember, again, Plato’s distinction between “what purely is” and what “is and is not” [Republic 478d], the famous “degrees of reality” thesis, which Gregory Vlastos tried unsuccessfully to clarify in two papers in his Platonic Studies [1973 and 1981], which has not received much clarification since then, and which I discuss in my [2019], pp. 118-120. Hegel here is again following in Plato’s footsteps.) 

 Accomplishments of Chapters 1 and 2 of Section I of the Doctrine of Being.

I can sum up at this point the dramatic progress that Hegel’s first two chapters have made with regard to the five main accomplishments of the Science of Logic that I listed initially. I indicated in connection with Finitude and the “ought” how Hegel (following in the footsteps of Plato and Aristotle) is integrating fact and value, or description and evaluation, which was accomplishment (2) on my list. With regard to accomplishment (1), overcoming the “subject/object” divide or the “opposition of consciousness,” we can perhaps get some idea already of how Hegel will do this. He has shown us in these two chapters how “being,” which we might initially line up on the “object” side of the subject/object divide, is fully accomplished only through self-determination or freedom, which we would be most likely to line up initially on the ”subject” side of the subject/object divide. So that when we arrive at a conception of knowledge or cognition, later in the Logic, we shouldn’t be surprised to find that knowledge of “objects,” which are the successors of “being,” will turn out to be, in effect, the self-knowledge of the “subject” that is self-determining or free. This is the famous emergence of “Subject” from “Substance,” which Hegel foreshadowed both in the Preface to the Phenomenology of Spirit and in the Introduction to the Logic. 

This immediately points us also toward accomplishment (3), the integration of rational freedom with non-rational necessity and mechanism. If being is fully accomplished only in true infinity or self-determining freedom, there can be no ultimate conflict between freedom and other aspects of being. And with regard to accomplishment (4), showing that self-preoccupied egoism fails to be free, it seems clear that a “freedom” that regards the freedom of “others” with indifference or hostility is setting up a boundary wall that prevents itself from being infinite, or (therefore) fully free. 

And finally, regarding transcendence and divinity (5), if the divine is to be fully free and therefore infinite, it clearly cannot be a “separate being” from the world, for that would make it limited and finite. So “transcendence” must be the relationship by which true infinity is the finite’s going beyond itself. What is “higher” or most real, by being infinite, must include, while it goes beyond, what is lower and less real. A rational religion will be based on loyalty to this higher reality, rather than on the idolatrous projection of a separate and therefore finite “god” or “gods.” 

Having accomplished all of this, at least in principle, after two chapters, what work does the Logic still have to do? It will need to address explicitly multiplicity, magnitude, measure, potentiality or “essence,” the contradictory nature of what is merely finite, existence and appearance, causation, reciprocity, freedom and the “subject,” judgment and inference, objectivity, life, cognition, personhood, and the divine—all of which are aspects of “thought” (the traditional topic of “logic”), and of “God as he is in his eternal essence before the creation of nature and of a finite spirit,” the eternal essence with which Hegel will have shown that thought and full being are identical. This is all in keeping with his doctrine and conclusion that “thinking in its immanent determinations, and the true nature of things, are one and the same content” (GW 21:29). In elaborating on “being,” he will be elaborating on “the true nature of things,” before their “creation.”

Chapter 3. Being-for-self [Fürsichsein] [=“infinite being,“ GW 21:144].

Being-for-self as such; One and Many

Why does the Logic have further to go, after arriving at self-determination as true infinity? Hegel tells us that in its “immediate” form, infinite being, which he calls “being-for-self” because it is no longer “being-for-an-other” but self-determined, is “infinity that has sunk together into simple [einfaches, literally ‘one-fold’] being” (GW21:146). Its “moments … have sunk together into an indifferentiation,” so that “its inner meaning vanishes,” and it is “the totally abstract limit of itself—the one” (GW 21:150-151). This one distinguishes itself into One and the Empty, and then into Many, as in atoms (GW 21:153-155).

That is, being-for-self as the One claims to be “in itself” or a Subject without remembering the “moments,” namely, the self-surpassing of the finite, which had made the infinite truly so, that is, had enabled it to go beyond being for-another and thus be “in itself.” Being-for-self as the One claims to be “in itself,” without remembering the finitude and the work that this entails.

Hegel tells us what this forgetfulness produces when he says that the “independence [Selbständigkeit, literally ‘self-standingness’] that is driven to the extreme of the One that is for-itself, is an abstract, formal independence that destroys itself: the highest, most obstinate error that regards itself as the highest truth—it appears in more concrete forms as abstract freedom, the pure I, and eventually as wickedness” [GW 21:160]. “The simple fact [dieses einfache Faktum]” is that the many ones “are all the same,” though the understanding is correct in insisting that they are also “different” [GW 21:161]. Hegel will analyze the terminology of “sameness” and “difference” exhaustively in his account of the “reflection-determinations” in the Doctrine of Essence. Here he adds: “Fleeing does not liberate one from what one rejects and flees; that which excludes [that is, excludes the other “ones”] is still connected to what it excludes” [GW 21:163]. It’s the same issue as with Something’s being “in itself” or “for-another”: “fleeing” or numerical multiplicity does not generate something that is “in itself.” As I explain in my 2005 book, this treatment of the One and the Many or “atoms” is where Hegel’s approach to issues like social atomism and egoism, versus ethics and social solidarity, begins. This is Hegel’s version of Plato’s and Aristotle’s response to Glaucon’s challenge to Socrates in Republic book ii, that he should show them why a rational agent must act justly. “The One that is for-itself,” this “abstract, formal independence … destroys itself” because “that which excludes is still connected to what it excludes”: by excluding, it is defined as “for-another” (“for” that which it excludes), and thus it isn’t fully “in itself” or real. 

Repulsion and Attraction

But the first step beyond the mutual repulsion and attraction of these “ones” is that they resolve themselves into sheer Quantity, “the determinateness that has become indifferent to being… the repulsion [separation] of the many ones which is immediately their non-repulsion or continuity,” GW 21:173. This combination of separation and continuity is “indifferent to being” in the sense that there is no issue, for it, of self-determination or being “in itself.” There is, in effect, no self or subject at all—no innerness. (Just as is the case in Nature, which Hegel describes in the Encyclopedia as being initially “the Idea in the form of otherness … [or] externality” [§247].) The remainder of the Doctrine of Being, in II. Magnitude (Quantity) and III. Measure, will be the return of innerness as Essence. 


Section II. Magnitude (Quantity)

Chapter 1. Quantity 

is “the determinateness that has become indifferent to being… the repulsion [separation] of the many ones which is immediately their non-repulsion or continuity,” GW 21:173. 

Chapter 2. Quantum 

is “quantity with a determinateness or boundary, [and thus, ultimately,] number” GW 21:193;

Chapter 3. Quantitative Relation or Ratio {Verhältnis}

is where a reality in the form of a (direct, inverse, or power) ratio can persist as itself regardless of change in the particular numbers within the ratio. “Quantum is henceforth no longer an indifferent or external determination but is sublated as such, and it is a quality and that by virtue of which anything is what it is; the truth of quantum is to be measure,” GW 21:320. This is the return of a “qualitative moment” in the realm of quantity, GW 21:321. This yields:


Section III. Measure (Maß), which is “quality and quantity united,” GW 21:323.

Chapter 1. Specific quantity; temperature, falling bodies;

Chapter 2. Real measure 

“real [reales] being-for-self … Something…completely self-standing,” GW 21:344; examples from chemistry;

Chapter 3. Becoming of Essence; that is, of

“being that is one-fold with itself through the sublation [Aufhebung, suspension or superseding] of being,” GW 21:383, final sentence.

Having found something completely self-standing, in Measure, that appears not to be being, as such, but “the sublation of being,” Hegel will turn to that sublation: “Essence,” potentiality, or interiority.


Book Two. Doctrine of Essence (Wesen {=Aristotle’s dunamis, “potentiality” or “capacity”})


Section I. Essence as Reflection Within [=Erinnerung, GW 11:241] [=”being-for-self” rendered more complex by its transition through Quantity and Measure; we might call it ”innerness” or “interiority,” where the issue of “being,” as such, is suspended or sublated, as Hegel said at the end of the Doctrine of Being.]

(introductory) “Since the goal of knowledge is the truth, knowledge does not stop at the immediate [that is, being] and its determinations, but penetrates through it on the presupposition that behind this being there still is something other than being itself, and that this background constitutes the truth of being…. Only insofar as knowledge recollects or inwardizes itself [erinnert sichinto itself out of immediate being, does it find essence through this mediation” (GW 11:241). With “recollection,” Hegel means us to think of Plato’s “anamnesis”; but Hegel’s German word is erinnert, which taken quite literally would be “inwardizes.” This makes one think of Plotinus’s interpretation of Plato’s recollective “ascent” as also a journey inward. And this inwardizing, Hegel tells us, isn’t merely what knowledge does; it is “the movement of being, itself” (GW 11:241), which we have been observing in the Doctrine of Being. 

At the end of this introductory passage we get Hegel’s anticipatory summary of the whole Doctrine of Essence: “First, essence shines within itself or is reflection; second, it appears; third, it reveals itself [offenbart sich].” In the first case, essence “remains within itself”; in the second case, it “emerges into Dasein,” as “existence” and as “appearance”; and in the third case it is “one with its appearance, as actuality” (GW 11:243). These correspond to the three Sections of the Doctrine of Essence: “Essence as Reflection Within,” “Appearance,” and “Actuality.” The sequence of “within itself,” “appearing,” and “revealing itself” is, of course, highly suggestive. “Appearing” is opposed to “reflection within.” But “actuality,” evidently, goes beyond that opposition, because one’s actuality “reveals” oneself in a way that one’s “appearing” does not. The “inwardizing” of being, in essence, will be subsumed within its self-“revelation.”

Chapter 1. Shine (Schein

In the brief introduction to Section I of the Doctrine of Essence, entitled “Essence as Reflection Within,” Hegel summarizes the three phases of this Section. “First, essence is reflection”: it is entirely “within itself,” as he said earlier. Secondly, this “reflection” will take the form of several “reflection-determinations,” or ways in which reflection becomes determinate. (These will be identity, difference, and contradiction.) And thirdly, “as the reflection of its immanent determining, essence turns into Ground (Grund), and passes over into Existence and Appearance” (GW 11:244). This is how we will get from the first to the second Section of the Doctrine of Essence: from “within itself” to “appearance.”

A. The Essential and the Unessential. 

If essence had something immediate over against it, Hegel points out, the two would be “other” to each other in the manner of the something and its other in Quality. He calls them then “the essential and the unessential.” But essence, he says, isn’t simply the negation of being; it is the “negativity” of being, the negation of being’s negation as well as merely of being. So what remains of being, in essence, “is not just an unessential Dasein but an immediate which is null in and for itself; it is only a non-essence [an Unwesen],” which Hegel dubs “Shine” (Schein, GW 11:246). 

B. Shine. 

Note that we can’t translate Schein as “appearance,” which appears later in Essence as Erscheinung; and we can’t translate it as “illusory being,” as A.V. Miller does, because there’s no implication here of an illusion that’s taking place; so we’re stuck with this neologism, “shine.” See DiGiovanni’s discussion, lxxii-lxxiii; and Hegel’s discussion, in the Introduction to the Logic, of “the objectivity of reflective shine,” GW 21:40, which seems pretty well to exclude what we think of as “illusion.” 

“Since the unessential no longer has a being, what is left to it of otherness is only the pure moment of non-Dasein; shine is this immediate non-Dasein, a non-Dasein in the determinateness of being, so that it has Dasein only with reference to another, in its non-Dasein” (GW 11:246). Now Hegel makes the very interesting comment that shine, “this immediacy which is not a something nor a thing,” is “what skepticism called the ‘phenomenon,’ and also what idealism called ‘appearance’ [Erscheinung]…. Skepticism did not allow itself to say ‘It is’ [so in that way it agreed with the upshot of Hegel’s Doctrine of Being—his doctrine of the “is”], and the more recent idealism did not permit itself to regard cognitions as a knowledge of the thing-in-itself” (GW 11:246). “Skepticism lets the content of its shine be given to it,” and similarly for Leibnizian, Kantian, and Fichtean idealism (GW 11:247). The content, in each case, is “not an indifferent being that would exist apart from its determinateness and connection with the subject” (GW 11:246). We might think also of the “qualia” that have been so much discussed in recent philosophy of mind (see Thomas Nagel’s paper, “What is it like to be a bat?”), which likewise seem not to exist apart from their “connection with the subject” who experiences them.

Now “the task,” Hegel says, “is to demonstrate that … this determinateness of essence, which shine is, is sublated in essence itself” (GW 11:247). That is, we have to show how this “shine,” this “non-essence [Unwesen]” really is essence. Essence, Hegel concludes from what he has been saying, “is … the identical unity of absolute negativity [the negativity by which it went beyond being] and immediacy” (GW 11:248). “Essence is an infinite self-contained movement which determines its immediacy as negativity and its negativity as immediacy, and is thus the shining of itself within itself” (GW 11:249).It is “movement” because immediacy hardly seems to be negativity, and negativity hardly seems to be immediacy, and yet they’re necessarily united, in essence. Hegel captures the “movement” of each into the other by turning “shine” into the verb, “shining” [scheinen]. And he has an additional new term for us as well: “In this, in its self-movement, essence is reflection” (GW 11:249). 

C. Reflection. 

Remembering the prominence that Hegel gave to “the understanding’s [Verstand’s] reflection,” as his primary opponent, in the Introduction, we can expect that his diagnosis of reflection in Essence will be a major event. “Essence is reflection, the movement of becoming and transition which remains within itself, wherein that which is distinguished is determined simply and solely as the negative in itself, as shine” (GW 11:249). “In essence, therefore, the becoming, the reflective movement of essence, is the movement from nothing to nothing, and thereby back to itself” (GW 11:250).

Remember how Hegel said earlier that shine is what skepticism called the ‘phenomenon,’ and also what idealism called ‘appearance’ [Erscheinung]…. Skepticism did not allow itself to say ‘It is,’ and the more recent idealism did not permit itself to regard cognitions as a knowledge of the thing-in-itself” (GW 11:246). Skepticism’s and idealism’s content, Hegel said, was “not an indifferent being that would exist apart from its determinateness and connection with the subject” (GW 11:246). Rather, everything depended upon its “connection with the subject.” But in that sense, Hegel is saying now, everything amounted to “nothing”—to “the movement from nothing to nothing, and thereby back to itself.” That is, “essence” and “reflection,” and skepticism and “idealism,” accept as real or discussable only what is (as it were) “within their sphere.” They don’t allow themselves to say, “It is,” or to say anything else that’s positive about the “thing-in-itself,” which is not connected to the subject. 

Thus, for “reflection” as we see it in skepticism and in the “idealism” of Leibniz, Kant, and Fichte, everything depends upon the “subject,” and one can’t say anything useful about “an indifferent being that would exist apart from its determinateness and connection with the subject.” Down to our own time, this is indeed the most common understanding of what “idealism” asserts. But Hegel here is associating this “idealism” with a “reflection” that (as we will see) he claims to go beyond. That is, he is going to find a truth in “It is” and in the “thing-in-itself” that is not captured by Essence, reflection, skepticism, or the Leibniz/Kant/Fichte kind of “idealism.” In this way, he is going to (as he told us in the Introduction) go beyond the “opposition of consciousness” which we might well think is presupposed by the attitude that says that we can’t say anything useful about “an indifferent being that would exist apart from its determinateness and connection with the subject.” To say that one can’t say anything useful about such a being, is to say that there is something that one can’t say anything useful about, and in that way such a statement embodies the “opposition” (between consciousness and the “something that one can’t say anything useful about”) that Hegel sees in the “opposition of consciousness.” Whereas Hegel’s own “idealism,” the replacement of Substance by Subject, in which he finds, in both sides of every opposition, a truth about which one can say something useful, is going to be quite different from this idealism of “the understanding’s reflection.” While still capturing, of course, what is true in the “opposition of consciousness” itself, and thus not itself getting mired in an unresolved opposition (to the opposition of consciousness).

Next, Hegel tells us that there are three kinds of “reflection”: positing reflection, external reflection (which “takes as its starting point the immediate that’s posited in advance” [vorausgesetzt]), and determining reflection (which “sublates this … positing in advance, but in this sublating at the same time posits in advance”) (GW 11:250). (I translate voraussetzen as “posit in advance” rather than, as DiGiovanni and others translate it, as “presuppose,” because “posit in advance” makes more evident its overlap with “posit,” setzen. The two are intimately connected, in a way that Hegel will now show us.)

1. Positing Reflection. 

“Shine is a nothingness or a lack of essence. But … its being is its own equality with itself…” But this self-equality or immediacy “is the self-equality of the negative and hence self-negating equality … its being is to be what it is not. The self-reference of the negative is therefore its turning back into itself” (GW 11:250-251). Thus “far from being able to begin with this immediacy, the latter … is as the turning back” into itself, so the immediacy is a “positing” (setzen) (GW 11:251).

“Positing” was Fichte’s term for the cognitive activity of the “I.” But Hegel here emphasizes that “there is not an other beforehand, one either from which or to which it would turn back” (GW 11:251). There is no “other” which “posits” it; its “positedness” is simply its turning back from its supposed immediacy. (The reason there is no other which posits it, is that unlike Fichte, Hegel in the Doctrine of Essence makes no reference to any “I.” At this point in his train of thought, an “I” would be something extraneous, brought in from outside. He will arrive at the “I” only in the Doctrine of the Concept.) 

But because shine’s immediacy “is thus immediacy as a turning back, the going together of the negative with itself, it is equally the negation of the negative as negative. And so it is positing in advance [Voraussetzen]” (GW 11:251). Because shine’s immediacy is a “turning back” (into itself), and thus “goes together with itself,” it “posits” itself “in advance” as something that was there all along, and is not “posited.” “Reflection thus finds an immediate before it which it transcends and from which it is the turning back.” (GW 11:252) 

That is, reflection doesn’t simply project what it “reflects”; it finds it as something that was there all along. In this way, it is “determined as a negative, as immediately in opposition to something, and hence to an other. And thus reflection is determined. [Because] reflection [in this way] has something posited-in-advance and takes its start from the immediate as its other” (GW 11:252), Hegel will call it “external reflection.” 

2. External Reflection. 

As external, reflection is “the positing of the immediate which [as such] becomes the negative or the determined; but it is immediately also the sublating of this positing, for it positsin advance the immediate…. [The] immediate is determined by reflection as the negative of the latter or as the other of it, but it is reflection itself which negates this determining. … It thus transpires that external reflection is not external… [Instead] it is determining reflection.” 

3. Determining Reflection. 

”Determining reflection is in general the uniting of positing and external reflection.” (GW 11:255)  “The posited is an other [this is the “external” aspect]but in such a manner that the self-equality of reflection is retained [this is the “positing” aspect]; for the posited is only as sublated, as reference to the turning back into itself” (ibid.), which was the original feature of “positing.” 

Hegel proceeds to some very strong statements about this “determining reflection,” which he going to dissect at length under the headings of identity, difference, and contradiction. “Because of this reflection into themselves [that is, the ‘turning back into itself’], the reflection-determinations appear as free essentialities, sublated in the void without reciprocal attraction or repulsion. In them the determinateness has become stabilized and infinitely fixed by virtue of the reference to itself” (GW 11:256) “Quality, through its reference, passes over into another… The reflection-determination, on the contrary, has taken its otherness back into itself. It is positedness—negation which has however deflected the reference to another into itself, and negation which, equal to itself, is the unity of itself and its other…. It is therefore positedness, negation, but as reflection into itself it is at the same time the sublatedness of this positedness, infinite reference to itself” (GW 11:257). 


Chapter 2. The reflection-determinations {identity, difference, contradiction}

“The reflection-determinations have customarily been … said to have the status of universal laws of thought… [Such as] ‘Everything is equal to itself; A=A.’” But “although the reflection-determinations have the form of self-equality and are therefore unconnected to an other and without opposition, they are in fact determinate against one another…. On closer examination, the several propositions that are set up as absolute laws of thought are opposed to each other: they contradict each other and mutually sublate each other. —If everything is identical with itself, then it is not different, is not opposed, has no ground. … The thoughtless examination of them [of the ‘laws of thought’] enumerates them one after the other, so that they appear unconnected; it merely adverts to their reflectedness without paying attention to their other moment, to the positedness, or the determinateness as such which propels them on to transition or to their negation” (GW 11:258-260). So Hegel is making the radical suggestion that none of the logical concepts or “laws” that are traditionally enumerated should stand on their own; that they in fact form a progression, each giving way to the next, and leading eventually to such metaphysical (and not traditionally “logical”) concepts as “actuality,” “substance,” and “the Idea.” In what follows, Hegel will be exploring this progression. He will be showing how what is “identical with itself” is “different,”is “opposed,” and does have a “ground.” 

A. Identity. “This identity with self … is not the equality with self that being or even nothing is, but the equality with self that brings itself to unity [sich zur Einheit herstellend],” GW 11:260;

B. Difference. “This identity is … a non-being and difference that disappears as it comes to be, or a differentiation by which nothing is differentiated … so we have here a difference that refers to itself, a reflected or pure, absolute difference,” 11:261-262. “Nothing is differentiated” in this “difference” because …  m (It would be rewarding to compare Hegel’s treatment of “difference,” here, with Deleuze’s in his Difference and Repetition.) 

Difference, Hegel goes on to say, “is complete in opposition [Gegensatz],” which is “the unity of identity and difference,” GW 11:272; but

C. Contradiction. “When the self-standing reflection-determination that containsthe opposite determination, and is self-standing in virtue of this inclusion, at the same time also excludesit,” then we have “contradiction [Widerspruch],” GW 11:279. And in fact:

“All things are inherently contradictory,” GW 11:286. 

Why are all things contradictory? Remember how Hegel described the “finite” as “something posited with its immanent boundary as the contradiction of itself, through which it is directed and driven beyond itself,” GW 21:116. The finite contradicts itself because while aiming to be “in itself,” it in fact is “for-others” through its limit.

Now, having arrived at the topic of contradiction, Hegel writes that “Infinity is contradiction as displayed in the sphere of Being,” GW 11:287. Not only the finite, but infinity too is contradictory because infinity must be “true”: “the finite is not sublated by the infinite as by a power that exists outside it; rather, its infinity is that it sublates itself,” GW 21:133. That is, infinity depends upon the finite’s going beyond itself. So the true infinity, which contains this contradictory finite in this way (the finite’s being itself by going beyond itself), is thereby shot through with contradiction.

And if infinity is contradiction as displayed in the sphere of Being, I think we can conclude that “contradiction” is infinity as it’s displayed in the sphere of Essence. As true infinity was the finite’s going beyond itself, so Sections I and II of Essence are reflection going beyond itself.

Since all things are contradictory, in the way that we understand from the Doctrine of Being,

Motion is contradiction as existent,” GW 11:287; 

“something is alive only insofar as it contains contradiction within itself,” GW 11:287; and

a thing, a subject, a concept… is something inherently self-contradictory but it is no less the resolved contradiction, it is the ground [Grund, reason] that contains and supports its determinations,” GW 11:289. 

“Ground,” we might say, is the ultimate reason for the contradictions; it’s the Something, the “in-itself,” the original Subject, that is seeking itself, through the contradictions…. Hegel goes on to identify the emergence of “ground” as the emergence of “existence” [Existenz].

Chapter 3. Ground {Hegel enumerates: absolute Ground, determinate Ground, and Bedingung or “condition” [which in turn is: relatively unconditioned; absolutely unconditioned; emerging into existence] [note how Bedingung incorporates the Ding, the “thing,” which will emerge in the next section of Essence as “Essence that has come forth into immediacy”]}. 

“Ground,” which “contains and supports its determinations,” as the reason for them, is the version of “essence” that has to appear, as “existence.” (I take it that essence “has to appear” because essence is “the sublation of being” [GW 21:383], and what we have seen in identity, difference, contradiction, and ground is how this “being,” of which essence is the sublation, reasserts its role as the ground, the basis, of this sublation.) So Hegel begins Section II of the Doctrine of Essence, which is entitled “Appearance,” with the announcement that “Essence must appear.”


Section II. Appearance/Erscheinung


Essence must appear. … The Doctrine of Being contains the first proposition, ‘being is essence.’ The second proposition, ‘essence is being’ [or, in other words, ‘essence must appear’], constitutes the content of the first section of the Doctrine of Essence” (which, with Ground, has just been completed). “But this being into which essence makes itself is essential beingexistencea being which has come forth out of negativity and inwardness” [GW 11:323]. 

We should again consider the parallel between Hegel’s account of “essential being”’s “coming forth out of negativity and inwardness” and Aristotle’s account of substantial form as enacting the “power” that he associates with “matter.” “Matter” for Aristotle is likewise connected to being—it has to be actualized—but at the same time it isn’t being: as matter, it is not yet actualized, it is mere “potentiality.” This doctrine was one of Aristotle’s most important additions to Plato’s categorial thinking. In his Doctrine of Essence, Hegel appears to be offering an elaborate version of Aristotle’s doctrine of “power” as “potentiality.”

“Everything that is, exists. The truth of Being is to be … essence that has come forth into immediacy,” as existence; GW 11:324. 


Chapter 1. Existence [Existenz, translated by DiGiovanni as “concrete existence”] and what exists.

A. Thing [Ding] and properties (Thing-in-itself [Ding-an-sich…]).

The inadequacy of Kant’s transcendental idealism consists in the fact that “it holds fast to the abstract thing-in-itself as an ultimate determination, and opposes to the thing-in-itself reflection or the determinateness and manifoldness of the properties; whereas in fact the thing-in-itself essentiallypossesses this external reflection within it, and determines itself to be a thing with its owndeterminations, a thing endowed with properties, thus demonstrating that the abstraction of the thing as a pure thing-in-itself is an untrue determination,” GW 11:332. The “thing-in-itself possesses this external reflection [its ‘properties’] within it” by virtue of the argument for “Ground” or “Existence,” that “everything that is” must “come forth into immediacy.” A ”thing” cannot be merely “in itself”; it must have (“immediate”) “properties,” which belong to it.

B. Matters.

“Luminous matter, coloring matter, odorific matter … electrical, magnetic matter…,” GW 11:334. Things are conceived as composed of these. 

C. Dissolution of Ding

But then the thing becomes a “merely external collection of independent matters,” GW 11:336. Thus “the truth of existence is to have its being-in-itself in unessentiality, or its subsisting in an other … that it has its own nullity for substrate. It is, therefore, Appearance,” GW 11:337. Since the “being-in-itself” of these “existing” “things” is not in them but in “an other,” they fail, just as the “something” did in the Doctrine of Being, to be “in themselves.” And consequently they are mere

Chapter 2. Appearance/Erscheinung

I emphasize the “schein”in “Erscheinung” so as to bring out the connection, which Hegel undoubtedly intends, between Erscheinung which we translate as “appearance,” and the initial versions of “reflection” or interiority that Hegel put under the rubric of Schein(“Shine”)His point is presumably that this reflection or interiority, Schein, inevitably “appears as” something external, Erscheinung.

Chapter 3. Essential Relation {whole and parts; force and its expression; outer and inner}.


(In this section II of Essence, the “existing thing” is interpreted as an outer expression, and thus no longer “immediate.” This progression in Section II from outer [Existence, Thing] to inner [Appearance and Essential Relation] reverses the progression in Essence’s Section I from inner [Reflection-into-itself] to outer [Existence, Thing]—the “emerging into immediacy,” as it was called at GW 11:324. So Essence as a whole up to this point seems to have gone in a full circle, which Hegel sums up as “actuality,” or the “unity of the inner and the outer,“ GW 11:369.) 


Section III. Actuality 

Actuality, Wirklichkeit=Aristotle’s Energeia; this section integrates Essence’s Section I. Reflection-into-itself and Section II. Appearance/Erscheinung. That is, it integrates the progression from inner to outer with the progression from outer to inner. It takes the circle that’s made up of these two progressions, as itself the true reality.

Chapter 1. The Absolute 

As I said, Hegel describes Actuality as the “unity of the inner and the outer,“ GW 11:369. It unites the dunamis or potentiality, which Hegel describes as “reflection-into-itself” and which was the theme of Essence’s Section I, with the thing or (outer) existence, which was the theme of Essence’s Section II. It is “absolute” (“freed”), because having subsumed inner and outer, it has nothing either inside or outside it.

Against Spinoza’s conception of the Absolute (or, as Spinoza also calls it, deus sive natura, “God or nature”) as “substance,” Hegel objects that it lacks the “inner” aspect, the dunamis or “reflection-into-self” which Hegel has been developing in and as Essence. “Of course, substance [as Spinoza understands it] is the absolute unity of thought and being or extension; it therefore contains thought itself, but only in its unity with extension, that is to say, not as separating itself from extension and hence, in general, not as determining and forming, nor as a movement of return that begins from itself…. [Cognition, here] is an external reflection that fails to comprehend [begreifen] what appears as finite—that is, the determinateness of the attribute [extension or thought] and the mode [possibility, necessity], and in general itself as well—by not deriving them from substance; it behaves like an external understanding, taking up the determinations as given and reducing them to the absolute but not taking their beginning from it” (GW 11:376). Hegel himself will derive “cognition,” as an aspect of subjectivity, in the doctrine of the Concept, and thus derive it from (among other things) the absolute. And he will do the same with the attributes (as subjectivity and objectivity in the Concept, and as thought and extension or space in the Encyclopedia) and the modes (in the immediately succeeding section 2 of the Absolute). Thus his account of the Subject, beginning (as we saw) in the Doctrine of Being, provides the missing foundation for and explication of Spinoza’s account of substance. 

Chapter 2. Actuality [and the modalities: possibility, contingency, relative necessity, absolute necessity]. “Actuality, as itself immediate form-unity of inner and outer, is … in the determination of immediacy as against the determination of reflection-into-itself; or it is an actuality as against a possibility. [Then it’s ‘contingent,’ or ‘accidental’: zufällig.] The connection of the two [of immediacy and reflection-into-itself] to each other is the third, the actual determined both as being reflected into itself and as this being immediately existing. This third is necessity.” (GW 11:381) The contingent insofar as it is “immediate” has no “ground” (GW 11:384). But insofar as it is only possible, it is only “posited,” and thus it has a ground—in something other than itself. So it both has no ground, and has a ground (ibid.). The random conversion (Umschlagen) of ground and groundlessness into each other, here, “rejoins itself,” Hegel says, as “necessity” (GW 11:384). What he means is that the identical thing that is either grounded or groundless or both, is, in a way that’s not merely contingent. There is no way to talk about anything, without talking about this thing. So in that sense it’s “necessary.” 

The first form of this necessity is “relative necessity” or “real actuality”: it derives its actuality from the relevant “determinations, circumstances, and conditions” (GW 11:387). 

Chapter 3. Absolute Relation/Ratio {Verhältnis} {substantiality, causality, reciprocity}.

Hegel’s development of the categories of modality (contingency, necessity, etc.) and relation (substantiality, causality, reciprocity), is meant to explain the relationship between the categories that Kant listed in his Critique of Pure Reason A80/B106, but whose systematic relationship Kant did not explain. Again, see Chapter 4 of my 2005 book. 


The articulation of Actuality (which was the upshot of Essence as a whole) via modality and relation brings us to 


Volume Two. The Science of Subjective Logic or the Doctrine of the Concept [Begriff]. 

Begriff is the substantive form of begreifen, to grasp, conceive, or comprehend. The Latin root of “concept,” namely, concipere, has the same range of meaning. But we shouldn’t think of the “Concept” only as approaching an object from outside it, in the manner of the “opposition of consciousness.” The other side of begreifen and concipere is to “comprehend” in the sense of including or comprising, in the way that a universal includes its instances. And the trajectory of the Logic has been to show how a certain kind of “grasp” or “comprehension” is inherent in the Something (as its “in itself”), in Being-for-self (via the finite’s transcendence of itself), and in Actuality (via Reflection-into-itself)In all of these stages, Hegel has been showing us how an inner “self” can and does determine and be present in outer appearance. Or to put it differently, he has been showing us how what he will shortly call a “universal” is at work in the “particular” finite thing or actuality. Just as Plato saw Forms as at work (through “participation”) in the physical world that we perceive, and Aristotle saw them as actualized in what he called energeia (which Hegel echoes with his “Actuality”). And through this form, actuality, or as Hegel now dubs it, “Concept,” the particular thing is “itself,” an sich, in a way that something that’s merely finite, external, or apparent cannot be

In the terms of the Logic, this “Concept“ is Actuality (the Relation of B.I. Reflection-into-self and B.II. Appearance) that has been enriched by Contingency, Necessity, Substantiality, Causality, and Reciprocity (cf. Kant’s categories of modality and relation, Critique of Pure Reason A80/B106). Since the Concept is Actuality’s integration of B.I. Reflection-into-self and B.II. Appearance, and these are versions of B. Essence and A. Being, respectively, the Concept integrates these, Essence and Being, as wellThis is how the Concept is the appropriate culmination of the entire Logic.

Note that unlike Kant’s deduction of the categories, Hegel’s derivation of the modalities and “Relation” (substance, causality, and reciprocity) in Essence places them ahead of any explicit subjectivity, self-consciousness, or “I.” Instead, the latter, in the Concept and in the Encyclopedia, are built upon the former. Unlike Descartes, Kant, and Fichte, who take the “I” as their point of departure, Hegel works up to it from Being. He follows, as it were, the Platonic upward path, from appearances to self-governing reality, with Aristotelian elaborations. (On the Platonic parallel, see again my “How G.W.F. Hegel’s Broadly Platonic Idealism Explains Knowledge, Value, and Freedom,” on my blog at; and my Philosophical Mysticism in Plato, Hegel, and the Present.)

The result of Hegel’s taking this opposite, non-“modern” path in the Logic is that he avoids the entire modern problem—the “opposition of consciousness,” as he calls it—of how to bridge the apparent gap between subjectivity, self-consciousness, or the “I,” and objectivity or “reality.” Having shown us how the fullest “reality,” which is being “in itself,” is to be found in what is self-governing and thus (implicitly at first, and then more and more explicitly) a Subject, Hegel has shown us how there is in fact no gap between subjectivity and objectivity or reality. Leaving behind the “opposition of consciousness,” or the subject/object divide, as it’s often called, by showing us that the most real thing is the fully self-governing Subject, Hegel has shown us how, as he said in his Introduction, “thinking in its immanent determinations [that is, subjectivity], and the true nature of things [that is, objectivity], are one and the same content” (GW 21:29). This is the fundamental accomplishment of “absolute idealism,” which Hegel anticipated in the Preface to the Phenomenology of Spirit, in his Introduction to the Science of Logic, and in “With What Must the Beginning of Science Be Made?” and which he will spell out in detail in the Doctrine of the Concept, with its sections on Subjectivity, Objectivity, and the integration of the two as “The Idea.” (And then in still more detail under the headings of Nature and Spirit, in the Encyclopedia.) 

So the Concept sums up the entire trajectory of the Logic up to this point. As I just indicated, this explains why in its further development the Concept will take the forms of (I) Subjectivity (the successor of Something, Being-for-self, and Essence/Interiority; “Something is … the beginning of Subject,” GW 21:103), (II) Objectivity (the successor of Being, Magnitude/Quantity, and Thing/Existence), and finally (III) “The Idea,” in which Subjectivity and Objectivity are integrated. Thus, The Concept is a working-out of the Relation between Essence and Being; it is Essence that is Being, and Being that is EssenceHence it is freedom, as Hegel tells us explicitly at GW 12:15 (“in the Concept … the kingdom of freedom is disclosed”). 


I. Subjectivity

1. Concept;

2. Judgment;

3. Inference


II. Objectivity

1. Mechanism;

2. Chemism;

3. Teleology


III. The Idea

1. Life;

2. Cognition/Erkenntnis {Idea of the True, Idea of the Good};

3. Absolute Idea