I had hoped to write a post tonight for the Science of Logic reading group on the first part of the discussion on Being. Unfortunately, I find myself in one of those vampiric states where, every time I try to sleep, I bounce back up again with something I feel I must jot down for the chapter I’m working on. This has built up an enormous sleep deficit, and I simply don’t feel I can write anything coherent until I’ve slept a bit more
I was, though, intensely enjoying the discussion of this section started by Alexei’s reflections over at Now-Times. There is some first-rate commentary from Alexei and Daniel around how to understand the relation between the Phenomenology and the Logic, as well as some material I wish I were awake enough to take up adequately here, around the “necessity” of the particular beginning Hegel uses in the Logic. Among many other fantastic points in this exchange, I am particularly interested in Daniel’s claim that:
For if the true starting-point of the Logic is not “merely” an abstract concept, but is our own thought of the abstract concept, then we can take a different tack on Hegel’s comment in ss98 of the Logic that “all that is present is simply the resolve, which can also be regarded as arbitrary, that we propose to consider thought as such.” We don’t have to start with “Being”! We can start anywhere, but regardless of where we choose to start, we can only end our inquiry into thought by canvassing the entire system of Logical categories. Thus the choice of a “starting point” is arbitrary; the only part of the beginning that is important as a beginning is the fact that (wherever we are starting off at), we are aiming to consider thought, here (as opposed to considering biology, or history, or sociology, or physics, or psychology, or some other such topic). So the “invocation of Being” here is just — an aesthetically pleasing way to start the book.
My own interpretation of the same passage isn’t quite the same (not that this should necessarily be seen as significant, as my reading of the text is very provisional). My impulse, though, is to think that it’s significant here that Hegel says the beginning can be regarded as arbitrary: my temptation is to take this phrasing as quite deliberate, and to read this is saying something like “sure, it may seem arbitrary now – but this doesn’t mean it actually is arbitrary”. I take it more that the non-arbitrariness of the beginning won’t be visible until the system as a whole has been developed – until that point, it may in fact look as though you could as well begin anywhere else. Hegel periodically challenges those who suggest that they could achieve something similar, from a different start, to go ahead and try (apologies – much too tired at the moment, or I would look up an example). So I think more is at stake here for Hegel than simple “aesthetics” (although I do agree with Daniel’s more general point about grasping this as a consideration of thought, which therefore intrinsically confronts the issue of how to consider something that is also carrying out that process of consideration…).
Nevertheless, I think Daniel is onto something – although my instinct was to see it as something of a tension in the work, rather than to take literally the statement about the arbitrariness of the starting point. I drew attention to a strange distinction Hegel makes in par. 102:
The essential requirement for the science of logic is not so much that the beginning be a pure immediacy, but rather that the whole of the science be within itself a circle in which the first is also the last and the last is also the first.
Hegel moves immediately from here, back to a defence of the claim that being must be the beginning, but there is a tacit disjoint here between the methodology and its content – a disjoint that I find interesting, in light of some of Hegel’s other methodological suggestions.
Much too tired to say anything of substance, but I did want to draw readers’ attention to a very good discussion-in-progress. While I’m at it, I also want to put in a plug for Daniel’s SOH-Dan blog – which I just discovered via this exchange, and which is a fantastic site, with some rich material up on Hegel, Brandom, McDowell and others – the site should be of great interest to readers here who haven’t yet discovered it.