Rough Theory

Theory In The Rough

Science of Logic Reading Group: Countdown

It’s been ages since I’ve written a proper update post for the Science of Logic reading group, which continues to meet in person, albeit with a hiatus around the recent conference. This week and next we are tackling the mammoth section on Quantum and the not-quite-so-mammoth section on Quantitative Relation. The online discussion has been a bit quiet as everyone has been busy with the beginning of the term, other writing commitments, and similar distractions. I’ve added occasional posts, but mostly in the form of comments on isolated paragraphs or short passages. Tom Bunyard, however, has leapt into the breach, offering a fantastic overview post on the structure of the Logic – initially in the comments here, but now cross-posted to his blog Monagyric. In the discussion following Tom’s overview, Tom and I have also managed to replicate the major lines of discussion that have preoccupied the local reading group, so those who are curious to get a rough sense what we talk about in person, might want to peek in on the comments from around here.

The discussion with Tom below may not give a completely accurate sense of the local discussion, however: someone sitting in on the group for the first time last week, commented afterwards that it was like attending the Vienna Circle – so perhaps I should say, if you want a sense of how our discussions go in person, then read the discussion I’m having with Tom in the comments section below, but then imagine that discussion taking place among a group of positivists. Hmmm… I’m not sure even I can imagine that, and I attend these discussions every week… L Magee has generously offered, however, to take the blame for this association, believing that recent thesis work on document formats may have caused a certain positivist air to rub off on the group… Perhaps all this will be useful in the end, as LM and I are hoping finally to get around to our much-delayed project of writing something on The Positivist Dispute in German Sociology, for a conference later this year…

Moving right along… Some background on the group, since I haven’t posted details in quite a while, and an updated list of contributions to the online discussion:

Joining the Fray:

Anyone reading on who would like to contribute some material to the online discussion, but who would like a bit of background on the reading group first, can find some here. Note that, for whatever reason, I’m not finding pingbacks all that reliable lately, so, if you do write something, and I don’t pick up on it here, please email me to let me know.

Online texts of Science of Logic can be found:

In English: from MIA

In German: from Project Gutenberg

Posts so far in the online discussion:


Logic Sketch, Monagyric, Tom Bunyard – a follow-up discussion on Tom’s post can be found at Rough Theory


What in the hell… is the spirit of practicality?, what in the hell…, Nate, on the first Preface

What in the hell… happens next?!, what in the hell…, Nate, on the second Preface

Opening Discussions, Rough Theory, N. Pepperell, on the first Preface and a fragment of the Second (Note that I’ve reprised some of this material in the conference paper here – the paper covers a lot of ground on Marx and also on Hegel’s Phenomenology, but ties the comments on the Prefaces I make in the original posts, together with a more extensive commentary on Hegel’s method.)

Preparing for Being, Now-Times, Alexei, commentary on the other contributions on the first Preface

Masters and Slaves, Now-Times, Alexei, commentary on the second Preface, with reference to the issue of emancipatory possibilities

Transformative Negativity, against the Abstract Ought, Now-Times, Alexei, continuation of post above, with specific reference to the ethical import of Hegel’s approach, and with comparisons between Phenomenology and Logic


Hegel’s Science of Logic: Introduction, Perverse Egalitarianism, Mikhail Emelianov

Introduction (Some More Random Observations), Perverse Egalitarianism, Mikhail Emelianov


With What Must the New Year Begin?Rough Theory, N. Pepperell, on “With What Must the Science Begin” (Note that I’ve reprised this material in the conference paper here – the paper covers a lot of ground on Marx and also on Hegel’s Phenomenology, but the section on the method of the Logic is more accurate and complete than the material in the original post from which it was redrafted.)

Concretion and Appearance, Now-Times, Alexei, reflections on the relationship between appearance and Concept, spanning Phenomenology and Logic

Let It Be, Rough Theory, N. Pepperell, reflection on one aspect of the discussion of the “Concretion and Appearance” discussion at Now-Times

Not Adding Up, Rough Theory, N. Pepperell, reflection on the remark on “The Kantian Antinomy of the Indivisibility and the Infinite Divisibility of Time, Space and Matter” from the section on Pure Quantity

Mini-Posts and Tangents

The Most Stubborn Error, Rough Theory, N. Pepperell, comment on par. 356, on approaches that regard their own essence as a negation

From Something, Nothing Comes, Rough Theory, N. Pepperell, comment on par. 130-131, on the way in which indeterminacy can be a form of determinacy

Background and General Comments

Online Resources on Hegel – English, Now-Times, Alexei

Online Resources on Hegel – German, Now-Times, Alexei

The Comfort of DeterminismPerverse Egalitarianism, Mikhail Emelianov, reflections on Kant, Leibniz and Hegel’s desire to erase the distinction between form and content

10 responses to “Science of Logic Reading Group: Countdown

  1. Mikhail Emelianov March 4, 2008 at 6:25 am

    great summary – Logic is still on my desk and I’m chipping away, however, I got distracted and am slowly re-reading Kant’s first critique (for fun, ha ha) and I’m teaching Descartes’ Meditations so there are plenty of ideas flying around, so just wanted to let you know I’m still game, but sort of a quiet one at this point…

  2. Tom Bunyard March 4, 2008 at 10:46 pm


    I’m sorry for not replying directly to your last response, but as I’m very keen to work out how ‘my’ Hegel differs from ‘your’ Hegel it seemed more productive if I was to try and characterise him, anf for yuo to then present some objections to that characterisation. You mentioned the discussion we were having in the post above, so I thought I’d stick this response as a comment here rather than as a continuation of our past discussion.

    Also, as a disclaimer, I’ve typed most of this while at work, and as such it might not be very coherent. I hope however that it gives a sense of the Logic-as-ontology reading that I subscribe to.

    If I understood your recent comments correctly, you don’t subscribe to this; rather than viewing the Logic as an ontology as well as an epistemology, and as describing the rational nature of being itself, I took it that you hold it to have rather more humble ambitions, and to present only the categories by which we make being intelligible.

    This position, according to which the Logic presents a coherently organised schema by which being (understood as a world of objects and relations that is given to us, and which is thus other to thought) is made intelligible, seems to me to offer no significant advance beyond Kant’s position.

    I think this position is also rendered problematic by the presuppositionless nature of the Logic (at least as I understand it). On your reading, the unfolding categories of the Logic are structured in a ‘presuppositionless’ and immanent way, and are therefore justified on the basis of the internal coherence that this gives to the system. If I’m reading you correctly, the implication is that other sets of categories and concepts could also be related in this way from the same root concept of being, and different results could be produced at other times in history. Also, the subject matter of the Logic, on this reading (which I ascribe possibly incorrectly to you) is not being, in the sense of concrete objects, reality itself, but rather Spirit and mind – thought, not concrete reality.

    I’ll come back to that issue of subject matter, but as a first comment it seems to be that this reading erodes the ‘Absolute’ nature of the Truth (big T) that Hegel wants to arrive at: it would seem to imply that all the presuppositionless method provides is internal consistency, which would then mean that any set of concepts could be arranged in this way – which in turn means that the whole thing becomes contingent on the agency of the philosopher, and not necessarily, apodeictically True.

    As I understand it, Hegel wants to relate God to man, the universal to the particular, the Absolute to the everyday. The method of presuppositionless thought allows him to resolve the problem that he identifes in Kant – namely that of adequately setting out precisely what true reason actually is (as discussed in the summary I posted the other day). The only presupposition involved here is the need to do so – and this is a need specific to the modern, historical need to work out precisely what freedom is by working out reason is in a complete and final sense. If we figure out what reason is we know what we ourselves are, as it is our reasoning that characterises us – so if we know reason we are self-conscious, and thus able to determine ourselves according to our own nature.

    In this sense I read the Truth that Hegel wants to get at as being a definite, ultimate, Absolute truth – not one that is valid only for one particular historical moment, but one that is Absolutely true for all historical moments. The concepts with which human beings operate certainly evolve through time, but as they do so they get ever closer to the Truth. With Hegelian, speculative logic our concepts finally match up to the true nature of reason, and to the true nature of the reason that underpins existence itself. Whilst he himself stated that he was unsatisfied with the Logic and wanted to re-write the Phenomenology, I think it remains the case that Hegel thought such a Truth to be attainable, and also thought that his system had pretty much got hold of that Truth

    Presupposionless thought is able to do this precisely because it (supposedly) imports no extraneous content or influence whatsoever; it is pure reason operating within its own element, completely undisturbed by any outside influence – and if we make any assumption about the subject matter of the project (i.e. that it only relates to the mind) or use it as a means of structuring an existing body of arguments, it ceases to be presuppositionless and the entire project thus becomes invalid and somewhat pointless.

    The Logic starts out from the thought of being, because although we want to think without any presuppositions we must at the very least think something. We must at least think that thinking is, that it exists – and as such the starting point is pure, indeterminate being.

    Now comes the move that I find problematic:

    The presuppositionless nature of the enterprise means that we are not in any position to make any claims whatsoever as regards whether the being that we start off with just relates to the mind, or whether it relates to matter too: to do so would be to import a distinction, and to make a presupposition. We cannot assume at this point that the Logic only deals with thought, because the being that we start off with is just pure, unqualified, abstract being. To say that it speaks only of the being of thought would be to make a presupposition.

    If the Logic describes the categories by which thought about objects is possible, thereby enabling a correspondence with thought and object, we also have a presupposition as we have presupposed the independence of thought and object (i.e. that we can work out the concepts required independently of the objects). For the same reason, the subject matter of the Logic cannot be confined to Spirit, thought, or to any pre-given assumption about what the Absolute is. Rather, the Logic is not just epistemology, but an ontology at the same time: it does not provide concepts that can be applied to given being, but IS that being unfolding and determining itself in thought.

    The unfolding and self-determination of this being proves that being must be qualitatively and quantitatively determinate; substantial; rational, or the Idea. In the next step the Idea then proves to be self-external, or spatio-temporal; being-as-Idea turns out to be nature. This leads to physical, chemical and organic structures, and eventually the emergence of consciousness. Finally, conscious is shown to be subjective, to be free, aesthetic, religious – and, ultimately, philosophical – thus concluding the circle.

    So, Logic is ontology, and the Truth that Hegel provides through presuppositionless thought is an Absolute one.

    This isn’t to say that I don’t have problems with these claims; I can’t help but think that dismissing the distinction of mind from matter on the grounds that it presupposes their difference is itself a presupposition, as it presupposes their identity. According to Hegel this objection is inadmissable, however, as we can only make claims that arise from pure being, and not from any outside positions (i,e the common sense distinction between thought and object). Such objections aside, however, I think this is what Hegel is saying.

    As you have a different perspective on these issues it would be great if you could set out your objections to this reading.

  3. N Pepperell March 5, 2008 at 2:07 pm

    Hey Mikhail – No worries – as and when you can contribute, that would be great. I haven’t had time recently to do more than very isolated comments myself (someone I don’t know actually sent an email complaining that I didn’t seem to be running this whole reading group thing in a very organised way ;-P).

    Hey Tom – I’m sorry my time for posting has been restricted recently – our term has just begun, and I’ve been caught up in the normal chaos that happens this time of year.

    In terms of working out the differences between our respective Hegels, happy to keep trying, but with the caveat that I’m very unlikely to have “a” Hegel in quite the same way that you might? I tend to approach complex texts in a very specific way, where I develop something like a very loose working hypothesis, which includes a great many of what I think of as “brackets” around concepts or terms or moves whose meaning I don’t feel I’ve nailed down securely – it’s a bit like trying to remain extremely conscious that there are fuzzy and unclear boundaries around the terms with which I’m trying to think, when I try to inhabit a theorist’s thought-space. I turn the whole apparatus around in my head as a I read, and in between readings: will a certain category make more sense if I think it in this way, rather than that, if I relate categories in a different way, if I think of the problem this whole system is intended to address as the following, etc. I basically keep rotating things around, like a sort of very complex conceptual puzzle, seeing how much of the solution I can bring into focus at particular times. I maintain a very strong hypothetical orientation toward texts and try to suspend judgment as long as I can – which doesn’t mean I have no perspective on the text at any given moment – only that I’m very reluctant to claim it as a reading in any strong sense.

    I also rely very little on secondary materials in interpreting texts – I tend to turn to them, in a sense, when I feel relatively secure in my own working hypothesis. This doesn’t mean that I don’t read secondary materials at all, but that I tend to read them relatively late in my own work process, and then tend to look very strategically for the moments that remain ill-focussed, in spite of my best attempts to make sense of them. It’s really only at this point that I feel able to make use of secondary materials, as it’s only at this point that I feel I can evaluate the merits of a secondary interpretation.

    I don’t particularly recommend this reading strategy – I’m just describing it to explain that I have a different sort of relationship to my reading, than it sounds that you have, where you have a decided affiliation to a particular interpretation – an affiliation you’ve clearly supported with reference to your own wrestling with the text. I don’t have similarly strong commitments: Hegel is still a “live” problem for me, and so there’s a strong sense in which defending a particular interpretive strategy already sort of misrepresents my current relationship to the text, and – more importantly – can risk a sort of openness I want to maintain as I read. Too strong a defence of what I think about the text now, could result in desensitising me to other things the text has to say…

    With those sorts of caveats in play, I want to pick up on the points you’ve raised above – but in the spirit of exploring the potentials of an interpretive approach, rather than standing in battle to defend the honour of “my” Hegel, if this makes sense 😉

    I want to start toward the middle of your comment – where you mention that the Logic starts with being because thought, in order to think itself, must think that thinking is. I’m not actually sure this is quite how Hegel rationalises his choice of being as his beginning (he contrasts his starting point to that of Descartes in the discussion of “With What Must the Science Begin”), but I’ll leave this aside for the moment: the issue is what the category of being is – what the principle of the philosophy is.

    In some of your comments, you’ve written as though it is important to Hegel to derive all of his other categories from being, in order to demonstrate their timeless validity (at least as a sort of telos toward which history tends) – their Aboluteness. His approach, however, isn’t intended as a derivation from a dogmatic, arbitrary category that sits outside the system – being doesn’t function in his work in that way. Instead, being is the category the entire work sets out to express: each subsequent determination is a further determination and specification of what being is – it’s less that everything else is deduced or derived from being, as that everything is an increasingly elaborate specification of being. This does mean that the Logic is “doing ontology” – but what it means to “do ontology” is itself the central thing the work demonstrates.

    So my very initial reaction to the reading you are presenting, is that it feels to me that you are, so to speak, “trying to discuss ontology outside the ontology” – that you are bringing a sense of what ontology is (and understanding ontology as talking about objects or nature, understood in a sort of Kantian sense), and therefore hear me as saying that I don’t think Hegel is doing ontology, because I am saying I don’t think he’s doing ontology in that way. I do think he believes he’s doing ontology and epistemology at the same time – it’s just that I think he means something different by ontology. Again: I’m speaking very very provisionally – but I do think, at the very least, that Hegel is quite clear that we will not be able to grasp the meaning of he starting category, until we have situated this category in the context of the network of relationships that is the full development and expression of that category – the specification of the beginning, is the system as a whole.

    The first steps he makes with the category of being are then very interesting ones: he specifically doesn’t make the “Cartesian” move of saying, e.g., that we cannot doubt that thinking is – what he does, instead, is something more like telling us that thought cannot rest in being – that “being”, stripped of any determinations, actually specifically does not provide a certain ground, but something more like an infinitely slippery surface: try as you might, you actually cannot think it – indeterminate being slides into nothing – which also, as it turns out, cannot be thought – if you think you are thinking nothing, this is because you are confusing indeterminate nothing with determinate nothing – which is not the opposite of being, but the opposite of something (I’m writing this from memory, without the text handy – hopefully I’m not butchering the argument too badly…), etc.

    So Hegel doesn’t begin with a firm ground on which to anchor our conviction – he begins with a slippery slope on which our thoughts can find no purchase – an unstable, restless oscillation from being to nothing. Is there a way to transcend this oscillation, to comprehend this restlessness? Yes – for what is becoming, if not a transcendence of being and nothing that preserves both of these categories as simultaneously distinct and yet unified at a higher level. Etc.

    This structure repeats through the text, and I personally find many of the moves rather forced, but this is how Hegel propels the text along – why he regards the categories as connected to one another intrinsically, rather than externally: he repeatedly demonstrates that thought fails in trying to grasp particular categories in their unity – that this unity dissolves and what initially appeared as a simple, unmediated, firm ground, on reflection splits apart into conflictual categories, whose conflict and unity can be preserved in a higher category. The “earlier” moments of the analysis are preserved and translated into the later moments, and the demonstration eventually loops back to show why the initial abstract category of being was the necessary starting point for the whole process, as thought is eventually propelled back to this starting point through the very restless process that drove it from the starting point in the first place.

    So, yes, there is a movement here to something more Absolute – but it’s a strange absolute. Hegel may have thought it was the final absolute, a place thought could reach the end of its restlessness – but that absolute is still not the sort of a priori ground that sits outside all the restless movement Hegel analyses in the text: the absolute is generated nowhere else than in and through this flux and restlessness – it is an immanent order.

    This begins to get us back to why Hegel might think he’s gone beyond Kant. Hegel argues (and, again, I don’t myself believe he is terribly fair to Kant) that Kant wants reason to stop at the boundaries of what can be confirmed by the senses – he consistently claims that Kant is too afraid that going beyond this point, will result in nothing more than “fantasies of the brain” (again, I don’t have access to the text here, so I’m speaking from memory). So Kant erects a barrier to reason (according to Hegel), and places the thing in itself on the other side of this barrier.

    Hegel says: Kant’s argument relies on a very narrow conception of reason. There is more to reason than can be encompassed by perception (restricted to sensuous knowledge) or understanding (grasping laws that transcend the sensuous, but still fixing its terms in static antinomies): there is speculative reason that grasps the higher unity within which understanding’s antinomic elements can be seen as moments of a unified dynamic process). What to Kant remains either a mystery or a “fantasy of the brain” can be grasped by speculative reason as a kind of immanent reality – a reality, however, that exists nowhere else, other than in phenomena.

    This isn’t necessarily the same as an argument that thought creates phenomena in a material sense, and therefore knows them as itself. This can be an argument that the truth of something, the being of something, is what can be grasped by speculative reason – and then a criticism of the Kantian notion of noumena, as a misstep that derives from Kant’s dualistic presuppositions and arbitrary reduction of reason to the sensible. This sort of reading makes more sense of what Hegel might mean, when he talks about nature as “irrational” – and yet still positions categories that seem to be categories “of” nature, inside his rational system. It also makes sense of why he will talk about the object changing along with the subject, in passages where he doesn’t seem to mean that the physical world literally transforms itself with transformations of subjectivity: what we can grasp, speculatively, as the inner essence of things, transforms when we do…

    Hegel seems to think that it is possible to “order” transformations of subjectivity (for that matter, so do contemporary theorists like Habermas) – to demonstrate a “rational” principle for treating something as a more adequate concept. And he may well think that a process of the development of reason has reached its apex in contemporary history. Certainly he does think that judgments can be made about the adequacy of concepts and theoretical systems in his own and other times: his system in this sense has normative implications, and defends these norms by trying to demonstrate that concepts have an intrinsic relationship to one another such that it becomes possible to compare them to one another based on how adequate they are to immanently-derived normative standards.

    There is nothing in this reading, to me, that prevents the Logic from being an ontology and epistemology at the same time – it’s just an ontology and epistemology pointed to a very particular kind of immanent reality that Hegel wants to argue has rational, ordered characteristics that can be known to reason, even if these characteristics do not exist in some separate substance or world to the apparently chaotic and irrational flux of change that confronts our sensuous perception…

    This is all very very provisional for me. I may not stay with this reading and, if I do, I would hope I eventually come up with a clearer and more adequate way to express it. I also realise I haven’t picked up on all of your points above – I was basically trying to wrestle with the things that perhaps strike me as most contrastive about the two readings: to my ear, it sounds overly… materialist to speak as though Hegel is trying to talk about the creation of matter (in general, I don’t take him to be interested in origins, but rather in logic – these are separable issues for Hegel, as they are for Marx), and it sounds a bit also as though, in your reading, the initial category of Being is perhaps interpreted as though this category is situated within a much more traditional method, whereby a system is derived from an arbitrary starting point that stands outside the system, such that it sounds a bit as though our everyday intuitive notions of why someone would start a system with Being (that Being is timeless, unchanging, transcendent, etc.) are being inappropriately imported into Hegel’s argument, and therefore perhaps missing the ways in which Hegel, in my reading, is trying to change the terms of the debate in a much more fundamental way.

    None of this is intended as an advocacy of what Hegel is doing – just as a stumbling around, trying to work out what’s going on. But my coffee is getting cold 🙂 And I need some caffeine for a meeting I need to attend… Hopefully this isn’t too confusing – and, again, I can’t stress strongly enough how… hypothetically I prefer to approach complex texts until I’ve lived with them for much longer than I’ve lived with Hegel…

  4. Tom Bunyard March 5, 2008 at 6:33 pm


    Cheers for that – I’ll get back to you later today. …and I’m certainly not challenging you to a battle over which Hegel is ‘right’! I ask these questions purely because I’m interested in checking my own reading, and in seeing what other people make of the same material.

    AS regards secondary reading: yes, I totally agree; but although I have tried to stick to Hegel himself, there have been times, oiften caused by the difficulty of the texts themselves, when I’ve looked at other interpreters in the hope that they could help me out. …and as I think I said in a previous comment, everyone seems to have a slightly different idea of what Hegel’s up to.

    Got to run – will get back to you later.



  5. N Pepperell March 5, 2008 at 6:55 pm

    Hey Tom – Please trust me that I wouldn’t push anyone away from secondary reading – I just have trouble making sense of secondary material until I’ve almost gotten to the point that I don’t need it. Also, I have read secondary material on this text, so I’m not trying to claim I’ve just sat down in a blank room with the Logic – it’s more that I’m profoundly agnostic about the secondary material that I’ve read – it’s just become one more vast array of stuff that I’m “bracketing”… I’m not at all critical of the use of secondary material – I’m just weird (and… er… really inefficient…) in my personal approach to texts like this…

    I just worry that I might come across as having a firmer position on the text than I do – it’s hard for me to voice the tentativeness that I feel, while trying to have any useful degree of clarity… And so the long digressions on how I read, which I’m sure are what everyone most looks for in a blog entry… ;-P

    I’ll be trying to put up something between today and tomorrow for the reading group – apologies in advance that this might mean that I may not have much time to reply – I’m trying to write a bit more consistently on the reading group materials – particularly since I think everyone locally took one look at the section on Quantum, and started planning trips to Hawaii… ;-P (I’m sure whatever I end up writing tomorrow will help so much in convincing them to stick with the text… ;-P)

  6. Tom Bunyard March 6, 2008 at 12:01 am


    OK – so the main issues are the sense of an ‘external’ starting point in being, and the ontology issue.

    As regards the former, I certainly don’t think that the “system is derived from an arbitrary starting point that stands outside the system”, as if that were the case it wouldn’t be presuppositionless at all. The Logic must be self-grounding, must provide its own starting point, and will go on to deduce categories that are immanent to that starting point.

    The only presupposition for the Logic is the historical imperative to figure out what reason and freedom really are. That’s just the motivation to begin the enterprise – other than that there are (or should be) no other presuppositions. I described the starting point of being above in terms of the certainty of thought’s own existence, and you seem to be saying that my choice of words implies that the Logic begins with a given, existent being – that of thought – which can stand outside of and independent to the process of the Logic. I can understand why you’re picking up on that, and it’s a bad choice of words on my part – but I think I meant something slightly different.

    We want to figure out what reason is on its own terms, and with no external content at all. That means we need to think about reason per se, and not reason as it reasons about any presupposed and given content. But that’s paradoxical, as reason always reasons about something. So, we need a content of sorts, but this is going to have to be the most abstract, bare, indeterminate content that we can come up with. AS such, we start with bare, abstract, indeterminate ‘being’. Or, in other words, the being of reason itself; reason is reasoning about itself, but it’s making no presuppositions about what it might be. Instead, we think the most minimal possible content possible – being. We could phrase this differently, and say that because reason must reason about something, and because we’re starting off with the most indeterminate and bare something that reason can reason about, we’re essentially starting off with the existence of reason.

    I think that’s what you were picking up on, and what I should have done was clarify that this does not mean that we start after having established the Cartesian cogito; we don’t do the ‘I think therefore I am’ thing and then elaborate on our assumptions as to what I am, what thinking is, and indeed what it means to be. The Logic (or rather its further determinations in the Encyclopaedia) will answer all those questions, but it will do so without taking any of them as a starting point. We’re only concerned with reason, and at the very outset we don’t know what reason is. We know that we have a faculty of reason, for sure, as that’s partly the motivation for the whole project – but a further motivation is that we can’t assume what reason is, and as such we start off with reason reasoning about the most indeterminate thing it can reason about – being.

    All further determinations that arise from this initial starting point are developments from it, and are entirely immanent to it – and in this respect I certainly wouldn’t hold that he starts with a foundation external to these further determinations, and agree entirely with your claim that “being is the category the entire work sets out to express: each subsequent determination is a further determination and specification of what being is.”

    I got a bit lost in your comments about ontology, though; is it the case that you think I’m saying Hegel starts off with a notion of what being is – real, concrete, existent being – and then determines its rational necessity? I think that’s certainly what Marx says about Hegel, but I think taking Hegel on his own terms the answer is no – as if he did do so, he’d be starting off with a presupposition. He’s able to end up deducing the rational necessity for concrete, existent reality, but he does so by letting the concept of being develop from itself. Because we can make no assumptions about a mind-matter dichotomy (as that would be a presupposition itself), if our successive conceptual determinations of being do end up developing into matter, chemistry, organisms, religion, philosophy and eventually the necessity of this thought process itself, then we are deducing the rational necessity of the being, the existence of matter, chemistry, organisms, religion and ultimately speculative philosophy.

    So, where you write the following:

    “yes, there is a movement here to something more Absolute – but it’s a strange absolute. Hegel may have thought it was the final absolute, a place thought could reach the end of its restlessness – but that absolute is still not the sort of a priori ground that sits outside all the restless movement Hegel analyses in the text: the absolute is generated nowhere else than in and through this flux and restlessness – it is an immanent order.”

    I’d reply by saying that I only partially agree – because the Absolute that Hegel gets at is the truth of existent reality. We only figure this out at the end of the process, but we’re able to deduce that truth because we are part of being, because all being is rational, and because we are thus inherently rational. The successive conceptual paradigms by which we understand the world which develop throughout history are all developing to the point where our concepts match up to the conceptual structure of existence itself, at which point we human beings effectively become the self-consciousness of being itself. So, there is indeed an a priori Absolute existing before and after human beings, as it’s the true nature of existent being. Because we are rational, and because we let reason determine itself without any presuppositions as to what that Absolute might be, we are eventually able to grasp it.

    So, I’m not arguing that the Logic is a Creation story; it’s not the case that the Concept exists prior to Nature, etc, as if it was some kind of God who could exist prior to His creation. Nor am I arguing that being itself, in the form of existent matter, mutates along with our concepts. Instead, I’m claiming that by letting reason do its thing, and by letting it develop through the successive categories that unfold from it, we end up with the necessary, grounded and coherent concepts that allow true identity in difference between existent matter and our minds.



  7. Tom Bunyard March 6, 2008 at 12:04 am

    As regards the a priori but un the second to last paragraph – a priori is obviously the wrong term to use, as we can’t knwo the Absolute beforehand, but only when we get there. despite this, on my reading it exists as the truth of existence itself, and is not limited to human thought.

  8. N Pepperell March 6, 2008 at 4:23 pm

    Hey Tom – Many thanks for this. Today is a zoo – let’s see how much progress I can make, and apologies in advance for things inevitably left hanging…

    The clarifications on the cogito were helpful – there was something in the phrasing of the last post that suggested this. Aside from phrases that suggested starting from an “I think therefore I am” – and I accept you aren’t intending to suggest this – there’s also something to me that sounds linear in the way in which you’re talking about Hegel’s method – when I mentioned that it sounds a bit like you conceptualise it as deduction from an external starting point, I do understand that you aren’t trying to claim the starting point is external (otherwise, neither of us with be talking about Hegel’s approach attempting to be presuppositionless), but there is something, to me, that still sounds – to me, and this may not be at all what you intend – as though you are conceptualising Hegel’s method in a way that still sticks too close to the method of a deductive theory?

    So, for example, when you talk about starting from the most indeterminate thing we can think about – being – in order to avoid presuppositions: I don’t actually think this is how Hegel justifies his starting point – and this still sounds to me, if this makes sense, like a… “Cartesianisation” of the argument – as though you are conceptualising the argument as if Hegel tries to work out a sort of external justification for the starting point (which is, as you’ve presented it above, that this is the most indeterminate thing we can think), and then derives everything from there. You then present further developments as immanent to this starting point and as developments from it, but you don’t talk about the way in which the account is meant to loop back on itself. These two points are related.

    What Hegel says in the section on “With What Must the Science Begin” is that it is impossible, at the beginning of the system, to have a sense of why that particular beginning was chosen. Although he will suggest some intuitive justifications for why one might want to start there (including the sort of justification you’ve provided above – the “most indeterminate thing” justification), Hegel is very self-critical of the fact that he’s indulging in this sort of discussion – the discussion he has in this section is, in a sense, a performative contradiction of his own methodology – and he knows it. He engages in it just to help the reader anticipate enough of what he is about to do, that they can follow the system.

    The actual reason for the starting point is not that it’s the most indeterminate thing we can think: it’s that it wouldn’t be possible to unfold the system from any other starting point. Hegel thinks he demonstrates this by (literally) “closing the loop” – demonstrating, through the unfolding of the system, that the system necessarily leads back to the very point with which he begins. It is this demonstration of necessary self-referentiality that makes the system “presuppositionless” – Hegel sees this as a means to render explicit the immanent order in what otherwise might appear as a set of arbitrarily and externally connected categories.

    This is also why the issue of the preservation of categories is important for Hegel – why later categories must be shown to suspend the earlier ones: it is this step that makes the later categories further specifications of the earlier categories – and is also the “speculative” step, the step that requires the demonstration that there is some sense in which categories can be ordered according to how they can be shown to suspend within themselves terms that appeared contradictory at the previous level.

    The “methodological” requirements of this form of argument are therefore more onerous than those of deduction from a first principle, and are geared to allow the system to specify its own first principle immanently, via the necessary relations that connect all its moments. The starting point – being – is what is progressively specified over the course of the account – and is therefore not known at the outset – and must also be shown through the unfolding of the system to be the necessary product of the system as a whole. In a sense, you can say the starting point is deduced or derived from the system, rather than the system being deduced or derived from the starting point – it’s just that there is no way to express this at the outset, and therefore (as Hegel comments before he begins the system) the beginning can initially only look arbitrary, and the only way to know that it hasn’t simply been presupposed, is to follow the argument through.

    Something about the way you present the argument, sounds as though some of this “methodology” isn’t quite being expressed? But this may simply be that we speak about the same thing in different ways. I’m hearing your phrasing as suggestive of a much more standard concept of deriving arguments from first principles – and I’m not hearing how you understand the system to loop back on itself – and therefore your account of Hegel doesn’t sound “presuppositionless” in the sense in which I take Hegel to have meant this term. (Both of us would, I take it, be somewhat sceptical about Hegel’s claims about his own presuppositionlessness, but I’m just reaching at the moment for an adequate description of how he understands his method/content in the Logic, rather than evaluating his claims.)

    I think I basically agree with your concluding claims, phrased as you’ve put them above – that Hegel is aiming for the truth of existent reality. There is still something about this phrasing that strikes me as though you are… substantialising? the Absolute – tossing it into a separate substance or world, at least by implication? – in a way that I don’t think Hegel would. This may again just be a different way of phrasing things or a different vocabulary preference. I think it is significant though, for Hegel, that the absolute is immanent – that it is implicit – and it “matters” – and the process of rendering it explicit is a transformation of sorts. But we will probably have to tease around this a bit to out where any differences might lie.

    I’d like to have looked up some quotations to show what I’m thinking about in the discussion of method above – apologies – I just don’t have the time today. Hopefully this doesn’t leave things too opaque. The most accessible thing I have on the issue of method in the Logic is the conference piece here – unfortunately, though, since this was a talk (being revised for publication, but that’s still on the “to do” list), I was very minimal with quotations and the blog version has no references… So that may not be any further help in figuring out what I’m trying to say. (And the paper rambles on about other things, as it needed to address the conference theme and such…) Some things are probably clearer in the paper; others clearer in this discussion (and clarified for me because of this discussion…).

    At any rate: your turn 🙂

  9. Tom Bunyard March 8, 2008 at 12:00 am


    Sorry for the delay in replying.

    OK – I guess we’re both pretty much saying the same thing, but with a slightly different gloss on some of it. I didn’t say much about the circular issue last time as i wanted to concentrate on clarifying my previous points, but I certainly agree that it’s important.

    When we get to the end of the process we know more about the beginning than when we started off. In fact, we’re not only returned to the beginning; in addition, we realise it’s necessity.

    I think you might be reading that issue slightly differently to me. On my reading, we start the Logic because of the historical, philosophical imperative to figure out what reason and freedom are, and our beginning concept is being for the reasons set out above. But when we begin from that point we don’t only end up figuring out what was immanent within that originary concept and get a more developed version of that originary concept. We get a lot more than that: that return doesn’t just give us the self-contained coherence of a system in a philosopher’s mind, but in fact explains the necessity of a philosopher developing that system in the first place. When the process loops back to the beginning, the originary concept of being is shown to hold immanent within itself the necessity of its consideration by ontic, real, concrete and rational beings.

    It seems that the implication of your presentation above is that the conclusion of the system provides its own starting point – and as such, where you read my previous post as a linear movement from a start to a finish, it seems that this account makes the return to the beginning into an equally linear retracing of steps that have already been taken: i.e. Hegel’s already reached the Absolute, and figures out from this answer what the appropriate question would have to be in order to reach it. (That may be an unfair reading of what you’re suggesting, and if so I’m sorry).

    This reading turns the end into the presupposition for the beginning, and goes against the assertions that we can have no idea of where the dialectic will lead us when we begin the project.

    Of course, it will turn out when we get to the end that the Absolute, the truth of existence, is indeed the ultimate cause and the necessity for the project – but I don’t think that should be read as implying that the sequence of concepts that Hegel describes have been deliberately laid out so as to reach a predetermined goal, as that would mean that the Logic isn’t presuppositionless at all.

    True Hegelian dialectic, as I understand it, can have absolutely no assumption about what it’s going to end up with. It’s not even a method as such, as to speak of a method is to imply something fixed and predetermined. So, when we begin the Logic we can’t know what we’re going to end up with, and we can’t have chosen this particular originary concept because it will lead to a goal that we already know.

    This is why I was stressing the sense in which beginning with being responds to philosophical and historical concerns (the need to establish what reason and freedom are). The beginning is grounded in the concerns of existent reality, not in an arbitrary, given goal that has already been established. So, starting with the concerns of existent reality we’re necessarily led to the Absolute truth of that reality. The Absolute doesn’t just appear out of the blue (like the ‘pistol shot’ that Hegel jokes about in the Phenomenology’s preface). We’re not led to it solely through the Logic itself (in which case the whole thing would be arbitary and disconnected from actuality), but also through the labour of history which has necessitated the project of speculative philosophy.

    You draw attention to the fact that Hegel does make comments suggesting where the whole thing is going to lead to, thus contradicting all this to an extent. I’m not sure how it works in the Science of Logic, as I’ve only dipped into it, but in the Encyclopaedia Logic all such comments are completey separate from the major statements themselves; he’ll have a paragraph or so discussing the concept in question, but makes additions and comments to these paragraphs for the benefit of the reader. The Enc. Logich was originally a teaching aid; he’d have the paragraphs on the blackboard, and then talk around then and comment on them. The comments that we get in the books are much the same, and are distinct from the genuinely speculative material.

    Finally, as to ‘substantialising the absolute’ – I’m not sure whether this means that I’m saying that the Absolute is a true fact that we find in matter, or whether I’m presenting it as a Spinozist substance. If the former, no – the Concept is the shared identity of both reason and concrete reality, and the Idea is the harmony between them. If the latter, yes, I guess – but I think that’s fair, and I also hold that Hegel’s account is not all too dissimilar from Spinoza’s pantheism.



  10. Pingback: » Anticipating Hegel

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