Rough Theory

Theory In The Rough

Much Ado About Nothing

So I’ve been feeling a bit retrospectively mortified for the past few days, over having written a post about nothing… ;-P It was one of those posts that seemed as though, really, it probably should have been kept to myself… But I’m currently feeling a bit better about the issue, having yesterday come across the following passage in Hegel’s Phenomenology (yes, LM, I’m behind in my reading… and writing… but today is devoted to Hegel – I promise…):

The completeness of the forms of unreal consciousness will be brought about precisely through the necessity of the advance and the necessity of their connection with one another. To make this comprehensible we may remark, by way of preliminary, that the exposition of untrue consciousness in its untruth is not a merely negative process. Such a one-sided view of it is what the natural consciousness generally adopts; and a knowledge, which makes this one-sidedness its essence, is one of those shapes assumed by incomplete consciousness which falls into the course of the inquiry itself and will come before us there. For this view is scepticism, which always sees in the result only pure nothingness, and abstracts from the fact that this nothing is determinate, is the nothing of that out of which it comes as a result. Nothing, however, is only, in fact, the true result, when taken as the nothing of what it comes from; it is thus itself a determinate nothing, and has a content. The scepticism which ends with the abstraction “nothing” or “emptiness” can advance from this not a step farther, but must wait and see whether there is possibly anything new offered, and what that is – in order to cast it into some abysmal void. When once, on the other hand, the result is apprehended, as it truly is, as determinate negation, a new form has thereby immediately arisen; and in the negation the transition is made by which the progress through the complete succession of forms comes about of itself. (79)

Lovely passage – with Hegel’s typical concern over how his form of presentation deviates from his content – expressed in his reminder that what he saying here is only “by way of preliminary”. Hegel focusses here (as in the surrounding paragraphs) on distinguishing scepticism from his own critical “scientific” approach. Scepticism figures here as an abstract negation – as a form of rejection that doesn’t comprehend the necessity of what is being rejected, and therefore fails to transcend what it criticises (an error, however, that Hegel characterises as more than a simple mistake – instead, Hegel suggests, this form of thought is immanently plausible, because it reflects a view “natural consciousness generally adopts”). Hegel’s approach, by contrast, seeks a determinate negation, in which critique builds precisely on its understanding of the necessity, and therefore the determinate limitation, of what is being critically transcended – and grasps its own relationship to the object of critique … Where an abstract negation allows no more than an endless chain of sceptical rejections of whatever content is presented to it – and thus remains bound intrinsically to what it rejects – Hegel understands his approach to enable critique to find its ground, and therefore drive toward something more substantive than the “abysmal void” to which scepticism leads.

I’ve made a commitment to write about this week’s Hegel readings at greater length – we’ll see how I go… But I couldn’t resist highlighting this passage in isolation, if only to point out that I’m not the only person trying to make the argument that nothing is, when you think about it, really something… ;-P

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