Born in 1770 in Stuttgart, Hegel spent the years 1788–1793 as a student in nearby Tübingen, studying first philosophy, and then theology, and forming friendships with fellow students, the future great romantic poet Friedrich Hölderlin (1770–1843) and Friedrich von Schelling (1775–1854), who, like Hegel, would become one of the major figures of the German philosophical scene in the first half of the nineteenth century. These friendships clearly had a major influence on Hegel’s philosophical development, and for a while the intellectual lives of the three were closely intertwined. After graduation Hegel worked as a tutor for families in Bern and then Frankfurt, where he was reunited with Hölderlin. Until around 1800, Hegel devoted himself to developing his ideas on religious and social themes, and seemed to have envisaged a future for himself as a type of modernising and reforming educator, in the image of figures of the German Enlightenment such as Lessing and Schiller. Around the turn of the century, however, under the influence of Hölderlin and Schelling, his interests turned more to issues arising from the critical philosophy initiated by Immanuel Kant (1724–1804) and developed by J.G. Fichte (1762–1814). In the 1790s the University of Jena had become a center for the development of critical philosophy due to the presence of K.L. Reinhold (1757–1823) and then Fichte, who taught there from 1794 until his dismissal on the grounds of atheism at the end of the decade. By that time, Schelling, who had first been attracted to Jena by the presence of Fichte, had become an established figure at the university. In 1801 Hegel moved to Jena to join Schelling, and in same year published his first philosophical work, The Difference between Fichte’s and Schelling’s System of Philosophy, in which he argued that Schelling had succeeded where Fichte had failed in the project of systematizing and thereby completing Kant’s transcendental idealism. In 1802 and 1803 Hegel and Schelling worked closely together, editing the Critical Journal of Philosophy, and on the basis of this association Hegel came to be dogged for many years by the reputation of being a “mere” follower of Schelling (who was five years his junior).
By late 1806 Hegel had completed his first major work, the Phenomenology of Spirit (published 1807), which showed a divergence from his earlier, seemingly more Schellingian, approach. Schelling, who had left Jena in 1803, interpreted a barbed criticism in the Phenomenology’s preface as aimed at him, and their friendship abruptly ended. The occupation of Jena by Napoleon’s troops as Hegel was completing the manuscript restricted the activities of the university and Hegel departed. Now without a university appointment he worked for a short time, apparently very successfully, as an editor of a newspaper in Bamberg, and then from 1808–1815 as the headmaster and philosophy teacher at a gymnasium (high school) in Nuremberg. During his time at Nuremberg he married and started a family, and wrote and published his Science of Logic. In 1816 he managed to return to his university career by being appointed to a chair in philosophy at the University of Heidelberg, but shortly after, in 1818, he was offered and took up the chair of philosophy at the University of Berlin, the most prestigious position in the German philosophical world. In 1817, while in Heidelberg he published the Encyclopaedia of the Philosophical Sciences, a systematic work in which an abbreviated version of the earlier Science of Logic (the Encyclopaedia Logic or Lesser Logic) was followed by the application of its principles to the philosophy of nature and the philosophy of spirit. In 1821 in Berlin Hegel published his major work in political philosophy, Elements of the Philosophy of Right, based on lectures given at Heidelberg but ultimately grounded in the section of the Encyclopaedia Philosophy of Spirit dealing with objective spirit. During the following ten years up to his death in 1831 Hegel enjoyed celebrity at Berlin, and published subsequent versions of the Encyclopaedia. After his death versions of his lectures on philosophy of history, philosophy of religion, aesthetics, and the history of philosophy were published.
After Hegel’s death, Schelling, whose reputation had long since been eclipsed by that of Hegel, was invited to take up the chair at Berlin, reputedly because the government of the day had wanted to counter the influence that Hegelian philosophy had exerted on a generation of students. Since the early period of his collaboration with Hegel, Schelling had become more religious in his philosophising and criticised the rationalism of Hegel’s philosophy. During this time of Schelling’s tenure at Berlin, important forms of later critical reaction to Hegelian philosophy developed. Hegel himself had been a supporter of progressive but non-revolutionary politics, but his followers divided into factions broadly groupable as those of the left, right and centre (Toews 1985); from the left, Karl Marx was to develop his own purported scientific approach to society and history which appropriated many Hegelian ideas into a materialistic outlook. (Later, especially in reaction to orthodox Soviet versions of Marxism, many so-called Western Marxists re-incorporated further Hegelian elements back into their forms of Marxist philosophy.) Many of Schelling’s own criticisms of Hegel’s rationalism found their way into subsequent existentialist thought, especially via the writings of Kierkegaard, who had attended Schelling’s lectures. Furthermore, the interpretation Schelling offered of Hegel during these years itself helped to shape subsequent generations’ understanding of Hegel, contributing to the orthodox or traditional understanding of Hegel as a metaphysical thinker in the pre-Kantian dogmatic sense.
In academic philosophy, Hegelian idealism had seemed to collapse dramatically after 1848 and the failure of the revolutionary movements of that year, but underwent a revival in both Great Britain and the United States in the last decades of the nineteenth century. In Britain, where philosophers such as T.H. Green and F.H. Bradley had developed metaphysical ideas which they related back to Hegel’s thought, Hegel came to be one of the main targets of attack by the founders of the emerging “analytic” movement, Bertrand Russell and G.E. Moore. For Russell, the revolutionary innovations in logic starting in the last decades of the nineteenth century with the work of Frege and Peano had destroyed Hegel’s metaphysics by overturning the Aristotelian logic on which, so Russell claimed, it was based, and in line with this dismissal, Hegel came to be seen within the analytic movement as an historical figure of little genuine philosophical interest. To some degree, analogous things could be said of Hegel’s reception from within the twentieth-century phenomenological tradition that developed in continental Europe, but although marginalized within such core areas of mainstream academic philosophy, Hegel nevertheless continued to be a figure of interest within other philosophical movements such as existentialism and Marxism. In France, a version of Hegelianism came to influence a generation of thinkers, including Jean Hyppolite, Jean-Paul Sartre and the psychoanalyst, Jacques Lacan, largely through the lectures of Alexandre Kojève. However, a later generation of French philosophers coming to prominence in the 1960s tended to react against Hegel in ways analogous to those in which early analytic philosophers had reacted against the Hegel who had influenced their predecessors. In Germany, having lapsed in the second half of the nineteenth century, interest in Hegel was revived at the turn of the twentieth with the historical work of Wilhelm Dilthey, and important Hegelian elements were incorporated within the approaches of thinkers of the Frankfurt School, such as Theodor Adorno, and later, Jürgen Habermas, as well as within the Heidegger-influenced hermeneutic approach of H.-G. Gadamer. In Hungary, similar Hegelian themes were developed by Georg Lukács and later thinkers of the Budapest School.
In the 1960s the German philosopher Klaus Hartmann developed what was termed a non-metaphysical interpretation of Hegel which, together with the work of Dieter Henrich and others, played an important role in the revival of interest in Hegel in academic philosophy in the second half of the century. Within English-speaking philosophy, the final quarter of the twentieth century saw something of a revival of serious interest in Hegel’s philosophy with important works appearing such as those by H.S. Harris, Charles Taylor, Robert Pippin and Terry Pinkard in North America, and Stephen Houlgate and Robert Stern in Great Britain. By the close of the twentieth century, even within core logico-metaphysical areas of analytic philosophy, a number of individuals such as Robert Brandom and John McDowell had started to take Hegel seriously as a significant modern philosopher, although generally within analytic circles a favorable reassessment of Hegel has still a long way to go.
Hegel’s own pithy account of the nature of philosophy given in the Preface to his Elements of the Philosophy of Right captures a characteristic tension in his philosophical approach and, in particular, in his approach to the nature and limits of human cognition. “Philosophy”, he says there, “is its own time comprehended in thoughts”. On the one hand we can clearly see in the phrase “its own time” the suggestion of an historical or cultural conditionedness and variability which applies even to the highest form of human cognition, philosophy itself. The contents of philosophical knowledge, we might suspect, will come from the historically changing contents of its cultural context. On the other, there is the hint of such contents being raised to some higher level, presumably higher than other levels of cognitive functioning such as those based in everyday perceptual experience, for example, or those characteristic of other areas of culture such as art and religion. This higher level takes the form of conceptually articulated thought, a type of cognition commonly taken as capable of having purportedly eternal contents (think of Plato and Frege, for example, who both have the truths of mathematics in mind). In line with such a conception, Hegel sometimes referred to the task of philosophy as that of recognising the concept (Der Begriff) in the mere representations (Vorstellungen) of everyday life.
This antithetical combination within human cognition of the temporally-conditioned and the eternal, a combination which reflects a broader conception of the human being as what Hegel describes elsewhere as a “finite-infinite”, has led to Hegel being regarded in different ways by different types of philosophical readers. For example, an historically-minded pragmatist like Richard Rorty, distrustful of all claims or aspirations to the so-called God’s-eye view, could praise Hegel as a philosopher who had introduced this historically reflective dimension into philosophy (and set it on the characteristically romantic path which has predominated in modern continental philosophy) but who had unfortunately still remained bogged down in the remnants of the Platonistic idea of the search for ahistorical truths (Rorty 1982). Those adopting such an approach to Hegel tend to have in mind the (relatively) young author of the Phenomenology of Spirit and have tended to dismiss as “metaphysical” later and more systematic works like the Science of Logic. In contrast, the British Hegelian movement at the end of the nineteenth century tended to ignore the Phenomenology and the more historicist dimensions of his thought, and found in Hegel a systematic metaphysician whose Logic provided the basis for a definitive philosophical ontology. This latter traditional metaphysical view of Hegel dominated Hegel reception for most of the twentieth century, but from the 1980s came to be challenged by scholars who offered an alternative non-metaphysical, post-Kantian view. By “non-metaphysical” these thinkers had in mind metaphysics in the sense that Kant had been critical of, a point sometimes missed by critics. But in turn, this post-Kantian reading has been challenged by a revised metaphysical view, critical of the purported over-assimilation of Hegel to Kant by the post-Kantians. In the revised metaphysical view, appeal is often made to Aristotelian or Spinozist conceptual realist features of Hegel’s thought, as well as to features of recent analytic metaphysics. Before surveying these competing views, however, something needs to be said about the confusing term “idealism”, and about the variety of idealism that is characteristic of Hegel and other German idealists.
“Idealism” is a term that had been used sporadically by Leibniz and his followers to refer to a type of philosophy that was opposed to materialism. Thus, for example, Leibniz had contrasted Plato as an idealist with Epicurus as a materialist. The opposition to materialism here, together with the fact that in the English-speaking world the Irish philosopher and clergyman George Berkeley (1685–1753) is often taken as a prototypical idealist, has given rise to the assumption that idealism is necessarily an immaterialist doctrine. This assumption, however, is mistaken. With the possible exception of Leibniz, the idealism of the Germans was not committed to the type of doctrine found in Berkeley according to which immaterial minds, both infinite (God’s) and finite (those of humans), were the ultimately real entities, with apparently material things to be understood as reducible to states of such minds—that is, to ideas in the sense meant by the British empiricists. As Leibniz’s use of Plato to exemplify idealism suggests, idealists in the German tradition tended to hold to the reality or objectivity of ideas in the Platonic sense, and for Plato, it would seem, such ideas were not conceived as in any mind at all—not even the mind of Plato’s god. The type of picture found in Berkeley was only to be found in certain late antique Platonists and, especially, early Christian Platonists like Saint Augustine, Bishop of Hippo. But especially for the German idealists like Hegel, Plato’s philosophy was understood through the lenses of more Aristotelian varieties of neo-Platonism, which pictured the thoughts of a divine mind as immanent in matter, and not as contained in some purely immaterial or spiritual mind. It thus had features closer to the more pantheistic picture of divine thought found in Spinoza, for example, for whom matter and mind were attributes of the one substance.
Even for Leibniz, whose later monadological metaphysics was perhaps closer to Berkeley’s immaterialist philosophy, an opposition to materialism didn’t necessarily imply immaterialism. Leibniz had resisted Descartes’ postulation of distinct spiritual and material substances, treating corporeal bodies as inseparable combinations of form and matter after the manner of Aristotle. The materialists to which he was opposed (mechanistic corpuscularists of his time) conceived of unformed matter as a type of self-subsistent substance, and it seems to have been that conception to which he was opposed, at least in some periods of his work, not the reality of matter per se. Leibniz’s combination of Platonic and Aristotelian notions played a role in the thought of the later idealists, giving their opposition to materialism its distinctive character. These anti-immaterialist features of the idealism of the Germans became more prominent in the post-Kantian period as they moved progressively away from the more subjectivistic features of Leibniz’s thought.
Given the understanding of Hegel that predominated at the time of the birth of analytic philosophy, together with the fact that early analytic philosophers were rebelling precisely against Hegelianism so understood, the interpretation of Hegel encountered in discussions within analytic philosophy is often that of the late nineteenth-century interpretation. In this picture, Hegel is seen as offering a metaphysico-religious view of God qua Absolute Spirit, as the ultimate reality that we can come to know through pure thought processes alone. In short, Hegel’s philosophy is treated as exemplifying the type of pre-critical or dogmatic metaphysics against which Kant had reacted in his Critique of Pure Reason, and as a return to a more religiously driven conception of philosophy to which Kant had been opposed. There is much that can be found in Hegel’s writings that seems to support this view. In his lectures during his Berlin period one comes across claims such as the one that philosophy “has no other object but God and so is essentially rational theology”. Indeed, Hegel often seems to invoke imagery consistent with the types of neo-Platonic conceptions of the universe that had been common within Christian mysticism, especially in the German states, in the early modern period. The peculiarity of Hegel’s form of idealism, on this account, lies in his idea that the mind of God becomes actual only via its particularization in the minds of “his” finite material creatures. Thus, in our consciousness of God, we somehow serve to realize his own self-consciousness, and, thereby, his own perfection. In English-language interpretations, such a picture is effectively found in the work of Charles Taylor (1975) and Michael Rosen (1984), for example. With its dark mystical roots, and its overtly religious content, it is hardly surprising that the philosophy of Hegel so understood has rarely been regarded as a live option within the largely secular and scientific conceptions of philosophy that have been dominant in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries.
An important consequence of Hegel’s metaphysics, so understood, concerns history and the idea of historical development or progress, and it is as an advocate of an idea concerning the logically-necessitated teleological course of history that Hegel is most often derided. To critics, such as Karl Popper in his popular post-war The Open Society and its Enemies (1945), Hegel had not only advocated a disastrous political conception of the state and the relation of its citizens to it, a conception prefiguring twentieth-century totalitarianism, but he had also tried to underpin such advocacy with dubious theo-logico-metaphysical speculations. With his idea of the development of spirit in history, Hegel is seen as literalising a way of talking about different cultures in terms of their spirits, of constructing a developmental sequence of epochs typical of nineteenth-century ideas of linear historical progress, and then enveloping this story of human progress in terms of one about the developing self-conscious of the cosmos-God itself. As the bottom line of such an account concerned the evolution of states of a mind (God’s), such an account is clearly an idealist one, but not in the sense, say, of Berkeley. The pantheistic legacy inherited by Hegel meant that he had no problem in considering an objective outer world beyond any particular subjective mind. But this objective world itself had to be understood as conceptually informed: it was objectified spirit. Thus in contrast to Berkeleian subjective idealism it became common to talk of Hegel as incorporating the objective idealism of views, especially common among German historians, in which social life and thought were understood in terms of the conceptual or spiritual structures that informed them. But in contrast to both forms of idealism, Hegel, according to this reading, postulated a form of absolute idealism by including both subjective life and the objective cultural practices on which subjective life depended within the dynamics of the development of the self-consciousness and self-actualisation of God, the Absolute Spirit.
Despite this seemingly dominant theological theme, Hegel was still seen by many as an important precursor of other more characteristically secular strands of modern thought such as existentialism and Marxist materialism. Existentialists were thought of as taking the idea of the finitude and historical and cultural dependence of individual subjects from Hegel, and as leaving out all pretensions to the Absolute, while Marxists were thought of as taking the historical dynamics of the Hegelian picture but reinterpreting this in materialist rather than idealist categories. As for understanding Hegel himself, the traditional metaphysical view remained the dominant interpretative approach of Hegel scholars throughout much of the twentieth century. In the last quarter of the century, however, it came to be vigorously questioned, with a variety of interpreters putting forward very different accounts of the basic nature of Hegel’s philosophical project. While a number of interpretations of Hegel have emerged during this period in an effort to acquit him of implausible metaphysico-theological views, one prominent tendency has been to stress the continuity of his ideas with the “critical philosophy” of Immanuel Kant.
Least controversially, it is often claimed that either particular works, such as the Phenomenology of Spirit, or particular areas of Hegel’s philosophy, especially his ethical and political philosophy, can be understood as standing independently of the type of unacceptable metaphysical system sketched above. Thus it is commonly asserted that implicit within the metaphysical Hegel is an anti-metaphysical philosopher struggling to get out—one potentially capable of beating the critical Kant at his own game. More controversially, one now finds it argued that the traditional picture is simply wrong at a more general level, and that Hegel, even in his systematic thought, was not committed to the bizarre, teleological spirit monism that has been traditionally attributed to him because he was free of the type of traditional metaphysical commitments that had been criticized by Kant. Prominent among such interpretations has been the so-called post-Kantian interpretation advanced by North American Hegel scholars Robert Pippin and Terry Pinkard. From an explicitly analytic perspective, broadly similar views have been put forward by Robert Brandom and John McDowell. Thus while the traditional view sees Hegel as exemplifying the very type of metaphysical speculation that Kant successfully criticised, the post-Kantian view regards him as both accepting and extending Kant’s critique, ultimately turning it against the residual dogmatically metaphysical aspects of Kant’s own philosophy.
In Hegel, the non-traditionalists argue, one can see the ambition to bring together the universalist dimensions of Kant’s transcendental program with the culturally contextualist conceptions of his more historically and relativistically-minded contemporaries, resulting in his controversial conception of spirit, as developed in his Phenomenology of Spirit. With this notion, it is claimed, Hegel was essentially attempting to answer the Kantian question of the conditions of rational human mindedness, rather than being concerned with giving an account of the developing self-consciousness of God. But while Kant had limited such conditions to formal abstractly conceived structures of the mind, Hegel extended them to include aspects of historically and socially determined forms of embodied human existence.
Not surprisingly, the strong post-Kantian interpretation of Hegel has been resisted by defenders of the more traditional approach, who have argued against the plausibility of attempting to rehabilitate Hegel’s philosophy by divesting it of any purportedly unacceptable metaphysical claims of projecting onto Hegel views they would like to find there rather than what is actually to be found. However, the strong post-Kantian interpretation has also been challenged by a somewhat different version of the metaphysical reading by interpreters who, while recognizing the influence of Kant’s critical philosophy of Hegel, emphasize Hegel’s critique of Kant and affirm the irreducible role played by a form of metaphysics in Hegel’s philosophy. Nevertheless, they share the post-Kantians’ attempts to separate Hegel’s views from the extravagant views traditionally ascribed to him and generally argue for the broad acceptability of Hegel’s views from the perspective of the present. Here one tends to find interpreters attributing to Hegel some type of conceptual realism, sometimes appealing to contemporary analytic metaphysics for the legitimacy of metaphysics conceived as inquiry into the fundamental features or structures of the world itself. Among the interpreters advancing something like this revised metaphysical view might be counted Stephen Houlgate, Robert Stern, Kenneth Westphal, James Kreines and Christopher Yeomans.
On a number of points, the proponents of the revised conceptual realist metaphysical interpretation will agree with advocates of the post-Kantian non-metaphysical approach. First, they tend to agree in dismissing much of the extravagant metaphysics traditionally ascribed to Hegel. Generally they don’t find in Hegel the type of classical teleological spirit monism central to, say, Taylor’s interpretation. Next, they stress the importance for Hegel of Kant’s critique of metaphysics. Both think that Hegel took Kant’s critique seriously, and in turn subjected that critique itself to a telling meta-critique, showing that Kant himself was not free from the sorts of ungrounded metaphysical assumptions he criticized in others. However, while the post-Kantians interpret Hegel’s criticisms of Kant as suggesting that Hegel thereby realized or completed Kant’s critical intention, creating a form of philosophizing purged of metaphysics, proponents of the revised metaphysical interpretation typically see his criticism of Kant as involving a rejection of Kant’s anti-metaphysical attitude, and as reestablishing, on a new basis, a metaphysical program originally derived from Aristotle (e.g., Stern) or Spinoza (e.g., Houlgate). While it is for the most part clear what sets both post-Kantians and conceptual realists against the traditional view, it is still not clear which issues dividing them are substantive and which are ultimately verbal. Brandom, for example, while often classed with the post-Kantians, also construes Hegel as a conceptual realist, while Redding, appealing to the earlier work of J. N. Findlay, attempts to combine the post-Kantian approach with what he calls an actualist rather than a realist interpretation of Hegel. In recent work, both Pippin and Pinkard, the major representatives of the post-Kantian position, have insisted that their own interpretations are compatible with many of the Aristotelian features of Hegel to which conceptual realists allude. In relation to such debates it must be remembered that Kant himself was not critical of metaphysics per se. His claim was that existing (so-called dogmatic) metaphysics was in a state analogous to that in which, say, physics had been in before the scientific revolution of sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Rather than wanting to eliminate metaphysics, after the style, say, of Hume or the modern logical positivists, Kant had wanted to put metaphysics itself on a secure scientific basis analogous to what Galileo and Newton had achieved for physics. Thus the very idea of an Hegelian metaphysics is in no way straightforwardly incompatible with the project of a post-Kantian completion of Kant’s critical program.
Hegel’s Science of Logic is divided into three books, dealing with the topics of being, essence, and the concept, which appeared in 1812, 1813, and 1816 respectively. For most of the 20th century it was not received with the enthusiasm that often marked the reception of Phenomenology of Spirit. First, as a work of logic most have regarded it as radically outdated and relying on an Aristotelian approach that was definitively surpassed in the later nineteenth century—a view promoted especially by Bertrand Russell in the early years of the twentieth. Thus many readers sympathetic to particular doctrines in Hegel have attempted, contrary to Hegel’s insistence, to quarantine his philosophical approach to particular areas from it. Recently, this skepticism has started to change. Some advocate that the Science of Logic be read as a first-order ontological doctrine (Doz 1987) or as a category theory that simultaneously represents structures of being and thought (Houlgate 2005b), and so as having very little to do with what has traditionally been known as logic. Others argue that in contrast to the project of formal (or general) logic, it is best understood as a version of what Kant had called “transcendental logic” (di Giovanni 2010). In this sense it should thereby be thought of as a successor to Kant’s “transcendental deduction of the categories” in the Critique of Pure Reason in which Kant attempted to derive a list of those non-empirical concepts, the categories, which he believed to be presupposed by all empirical judgments made by finite, discursive knowers like ourselves. In short, taking the logic as a category theory opens up two general lines of interpretation: should the categories be understood as primarily ontological categories, as found in Aristotle, or as primarily categories revealing the necessary structure of thought, as in Kant? Those, such as the advocates of the revised metaphysical interpretation, interpreting Hegel as basically a metaphysician, typically stress the former, while post-Kantian interpreters typically stress the latter.
A glance at the table of contents of Science of Logic reveals the same triadic structuring among the categories or thought determinations discussed that has been noted among the shapes of consciousness in the Phenomenology. At the highest level of its branching structure there are the three books devoted to the doctrines of being, essence, and concept, while in turn, each book has three sections, each section containing three chapters, and so on. In general, each of these individual nodes deals with some particular category. In fact, Hegel’s categorial triads appear to repeat Kant’s own triadic way of articulating the categories in the Table of Categories, in which the third term in the triad in some way integrates the first two. (In Hegel’s terminology, he would say that the first two was sublated in the third—while the first two is negated by the third, they continue to work within the context defined by it.) Hegel’s later treatment of the syllogism found in Book 3, in which he follows Aristotle’s own three-termed schematism of the syllogistic structure, repeats this triadic structure as does his ultimate analysis of its component concepts as the moments of universality, particularity, and singularity.
Reading into the first chapter of Book 1, Being, it is quickly seen that the transitions of the Logic broadly repeat those of the first chapters of the Phenomenology, now, however, as between the categories themselves rather than between conceptions of the respective objects of conscious experience. Thus, being is the thought determination with which the work commences because it at first seems to be the most immediate, fundamental determination that characterises any possible thought content at all. (In contrast, being in the Phenomenology’s Sense-certainty chapter was described as the known truth of the purported immediate sensory given—the category that it was discovered to instantiate.) Whatever thought is about, that topic must in some sense exist. Like those purported simple sensory givens with which the Phenomenology starts, the category being looks to have no internal structure or constituents, but again in a parallel to the Phenomenology, it is the effort of thought to make this category explicit that both undermines it and brings about new ones. Being seems to be both immediate and simple, but it will show itself to be, in fact, only something in opposition to something else, nothing. The point seems to be that while the categories being and nothing seem both absolutely distinct and opposed, on reflection (and following Leibniz’s principle of the identity of indiscernibles) they appear identical as no criterion can be invoked which differentiates them. The only way out of this paradox is to posit a third category within which they can coexist as negatedReading into the first chapter of Book 1, Being, it is quickly seen that the transitions of the Logic broadly repeat those of the first chapters of the Phenomenology, now, however, as between the categories themselves rather than between conceptions of the respective objects of conscious experience. Thus, being is the thought determination with which the work commences because it at first seems to be the most immediate, fundamental determination that characterises any possible thought content at all. (In contrast, being in the Phenomenology’s Sense-certainty chapter was described as the known truth of the purported immediate sensory given—the category that it was discovered to instantiate.) Whatever thought is about, that topic must in some sense exist. Like those purported simple sensory givens with which the Phenomenology starts, the category being looks to have no internal structure or constituents, but again in a parallel to the Phenomenology, it is the effort of thought to make this category explicit that both undermines it and brings about new ones. Being seems to be both immediate and simple, but it will show itself to be, in fact, only something in opposition to something else, nothing. The point seems to be that while the categories being and nothing seem both absolutely distinct and opposed, on reflection (and following Leibniz’s principle of the identity of indiscernibles) they appear identical as no criterion can be invoked which differentiates them. The only way out of this paradox is to posit a third category within which they can coexist as negated moments. This category is becoming, which saves thinking from paralysis because it accommodates both concepts. Becoming contains being and nothing in the sense that when something becomes it passes, as it were, from nothingness to being. But these contents cannot be understood apart from their contributions to the overarching category: this is what it is to be negated within the new category. moments. This category is becoming, which saves thinking from paralysis because it accommodates both concepts. Becoming contains being and nothing in the sense that when something becomes it passes, as it were, from nothingness to being. But these contents cannot be understood apart from their contributions to the overarching category: this is what it is to be negated within the new category. In general, this is how the Logic proceeds: seeking its most basic and universal determination, thought posits a category to be reflected upon, finds then that this collapses due to a contradiction generated, like that generated by the category being, and so then seeks a further category with which to make retrospective senses of those contradictory categories. However, in turn the new category will generate some further contradictory negation and again the demand will arise for a further concept that can reconcile these opposed concepts by incorporating them as moments.
The method Hegel employs here, determinate negation, is often compared with Spinoza’s principle that “all determination is negation”, but while Hegel’s is related to Spinoza’s thought, it cannot be identified with or reduced to it. Spinoza’s top-down determination starts with a single category (in his case, divine substance) that is then progressively divided by the application of concepts—the model being Plato’s method of division in which a genus concept is divided into particular species by the presence or absence of some differentiating property. From Hegel’s point of view, however, this cannot capture individuals as other than parts of that greater whole—a metaphysical picture in relation to Spinoza he refers to as acosmism. So Hegel will balance this type of determination by negation, with a different type of negation modeled on that which holds between incompatible properties of some object (for example, red and blue as incompatible colors) and that is reflected in the term negation of Aristotle’s logic. This allows Hegel to go beyond the determination of something as particular (suggesting the part-whole relation) to a more robust sense of singularity —the sense of the pure thickness seen initially in the Phenomenology’s Sense-certainty chapter, the truth of which was then shown to be Aristotle’s idea of an individual thing’s substantial form in the Perception chapter. It is in terms of this category that we can think, along with Aristotle, of a thing having an underlying substrate within which properties in here and which, unlike the properties themselves, cannot be thought in general terms, but only in terms of the category of singularity. And yet this will encounter a problem for the determinacy of this underlying substrate—it will have to find determining contrasts that allow it to be determinately conceived. (In Book 2 of the Logic we will learn that the category of singularity will rely on particularity just as particularity has been shown to rely on singularity. Singular substrates or “essences” can only be known in relation to the general properties that constitute their appearances).
Attempting to unravel the intricacies of the patterns of dependence between such categories will be task of this mammoth work, but here a general point might be made. If Hegel’s thought here is considered to be, like Spinoza’s, holistic, it is only so at a higher level of abstraction, such that these determinations of singularity, particularity and universality cannot themselves be understood in isolation from each other but only via their complex interactions. Hegel only explicitly explores the details of the interactions of these determinations of conceptuality in his discussion of judgments and syllogisms in Book 3, The Doctrine of Concept, suggesting that concerns of logic as traditionally conceived are not as irrelevant to the Science of Logic as often thought. However, the general point separating his approach from that of Spinoza clearly emerges earlier on. Determinate negation is not Spinoza’s principle as Spinoza’s presupposes a whole that precedes its parts, and that all negations are negations of something that is primitively positive. In contrast, Hegel’s negations will be negations of determinations that are already to be conceived as themselves negations.
The other basic methodological principle of the Logic will be that this categorical infrastructure of thought is able to be unpacked using only the resources available to thought itself: the capacity of thought to make its contents determinate (in a way somewhat like what Leibniz had thought of as making clear but confused ideas clear and distinct), and its capacity to be consistent and avoid contradiction. Again, for some readers, this makes Hegel’s logic akin to Kant’s transcendental logic that, rather than treating the pure form of thought abstracted from all content, treats thought as already possessing a certain type of self-generated content, (in Kant’s terminology, “transcendental content”) that is presupposed by the subsequent acquisition of all empirical content. But if Hegel’s is akin to Kant’s transcendental logic, it has clear differences to it as well. For Kant, transcendental logic was the logic governing the thought of finite thinkers like ourselves, whose cognition was constrained by the necessity of applying general discursive concepts to the singular contents given in sensory intuitions, and he contrasted this with the thought of a type of thinker not so constrained—God—a thinker whose thought could directly grasp the world in a type of intellectual intuition. While opinions divide as to how Hegel’s approach to logic relates to that of Kant, it is important to grasp that for Hegel logic is not simply a science of the form of our thoughts. It is also a science of actual content as well, and as such has an ontological dimension.
The thought determinations of Book 1 lead eventually into those of Book 2, The Doctrine of Essence. Naturally the logical structures and processes implicit in essence-thinking are more developed than those of being-thinking. Crucially, the contrasting pair essence and appearance of Essence-logic allow the thought of some underlying reality that manifests itself through a different overlying appearance, in the way that the forces posited by the operations of the Understanding (explored in the Phenomenology’s Chapter 3) are grasped through the appearances they explain. In contrast, the categories of Being-logic seem to govern thought processes that are restricted to qualitative phenomena and their co-ordinations. But distinction between essence and appearance must itself instantiate the relation of determinate negation, and the metaphysical tendency to think of reality as made up of some underlying substrates in contrast to the superficial appearances will itself come to grief with the discovery that the notion of an essence is only meaningful in virtue of the appearance that it is meant to explain away. (In terms of the ultimate conceptual categories of singularity, particularity and universality, this discovery would be equivalent to grasping the idea that the singularity of the underlying, non-perceivable substrate or substantial form is meaningful only in relation to something that can bear the particular qualities that constitutes its worldly appearance.) For Hegel it is the complex modern, but pre-Kantian, versions of substance metaphysics, like those of Spinoza and Leibniz, that bring out in the most developed way the inherently contradictory nature of this form of thought.
Book 3, The Doctrine of Concept, effects a shift from the Objective Logic of Books 1 and 2, to Subjective Logic, and metaphysically coincides with a shift to the modern subject-based category theory of Kant. Just as Kantian philosophy is founded on a conception of objectivity secured by conceptual coherence, Concept-logic commences with the concept of concept itself, with its moments of singularity, particularity and universality. While in the two books of objective logic, the movement had been between particular concepts, being, nothing, becoming etc., in the subjective logic, the conceptual relations are grasped at a meta-level, such that the concept concept treated in Chapter 1 of section 1 (Subjectivity) passes over into that of judgment in Chapter 2. It is important to grasp the basic contours of Hegel’s treatment of judgment as it informs his subsequent treatment of inference.
Reprising an etymological point made by Hölderlin, Hegel notes that a judgment (Urteil) involves a separation (Teilung) of parts: in basic terms a predicate is said of some subject giving the judgment the grammatical form “S is P”, but in saying “S is P”, the judging subject affirms the unity existing between the parts. S and P are thus meant (1) to be diverse, but (2) to form a unity—a situation we are now familiar with in terms of the Aufhebung of parts in a whole. Hegel takes this as signaling two ways of thinking of the relation of subject and predicate in the judgment. One can take subject and predicate terms as self-subsistent entities that are joined in the judgment, or one can take the judgment itself as the primary unit that splits into subject and predicate terms. This in fact coincides with the two different ways in which logical relations have been conceived in the history of philosophy: the former represents the term-logical approach characteristic of Aristotle, while the latter represents the propositional approach characteristic of the Stoics and much recent philosophy. From the former point of view one thinks of the subject term as designating a substance, typically grasped as an instance of a kind, in which properties, designated by predicate terms, inhere. From the latter point of view, one thinks of predicate terms as abstract universals that subsume or are satisfied by entities to which the subject terms refer, an approach which conceives of the propositional content, in Stoic terminology—the lecton, the what-is-said—as having a primacy over the parts. Using a distinction from the Medievals, we can describe the first type of judgments as de re (about things) and the second as de dicto (about sayings). These alternative joining and splitting approaches can in turn be applied to the relationship of judgments within inferences or syllogisms. While it is more common for inferences to be thought of as composed of judgments which have their own truth values, the judgments themselves can be thought of as gaining their meaning via the role they play in inferences, parallel to the way that the parts of the judgment can be thought of as resulting from the judgment’s splitting. Within recent semantic theory, Robert Brandom has argued for such an inferentialist analysis and has suggested this way of understanding Hegel’s logic, a view that fits with Hegel’s idea that the syllogism is the “truth of the judgment”. Thought of in terms of the framework of Kant’s transcendental logic, Hegel’s position would be akin to allowing inferences—syllogisms—a role in the determination of the transcendental content of judgments, a role that is not allowed in Kant.
As we have said, Hegel’s logic is meant somehow to generate a content—to produce a type of ontology—and this comes into explicit focus with Hegel’s puzzling claim in Book 3 concerning a syllogism that has become “concrete” and “full of content” that thereby has necessary existence. In contrast with Kant, Hegel seems to go beyond a transcendental deduction of the formal conditions of experience and thought and to a deduction of their material conditions. Traditionalists will here point to Hegel’s allusions to the ontological proof of medieval theology in which the existence of God is seen as necessitated by his concept—an argument undermined by Kant’s criticism of the treatment of existence as a predicate. In Hegel’s version, it is said, the objective existence that God achieves in the world is seen as necessitated by his essential self-consciousness. Non-traditional readings, in contrast, would have to interpret this aspect of Hegel’s logic very differently. Brandom’s inferentialist interpretation of Hegel, when joined to ideas taken from Hegel’s treatment of self-consciousness in the Phenomenology, suggests a way forward here.
The first thing to be emphasized here is that we shouldn’t think of judgments and their contents as something like mental contents—subjective or psychological states of a thinker’s mind. Such a psychologistic attitude was opposed by Hegel just as it was opposed by a figure as central to modern logic as Gottlob Frege. For Frege, thoughts are not mental, rather they are abstract entities like numbers, so the problem facing us is not how to go from mental contents to the concrete world, it is how to go from abstract to concrete ones. But here we must keep in mind Hegel’s two-fold way of thinking about judgments, de dicto and de re, and while it is usual to think of the contents of de dicto judgments as abstract (here to think of the content as propositional is usual), some have thought of the contents of de re judgments as including the thing itself (the “re”) that the judgment is about. (In fact Bertrand Russell had, at points in his career, entertained such an idea of propositional content itself.) Thus when Hegel characterizes some judgment structures (typically perception based judgments) as judgments of existence one might take the perceived thing itself as straightforwardly part of the content of the judgment. It is a concrete object, but not grasped as a concrete simple, but grasped in relation to what is judged of it in the predicate. And to the extent that judgments can be considered components of syllogisms, we might appreciate how syllogisms might have become contentful in a process that has culminated in the concrete syllogism of necessity.
If the concrete object of a de re judgment is effectively what had been under consideration in Chapter 2, Perception, in the Phenomenology (the thing with properties), we now might envisage where Hegel’s thought is headed in these sections of the subjective logic. In the Phenomenology it turned out that the capacity for a subject to entertain objects of consciousness such as perceptual ones was that such a subject was capable of self-consciousness. It then turned out that to be capable of self-consciousness the subject had to exist in a world with other embodied subjects whose intentions it could recognize. It is here that we might pick up Robert Brandom’s suggestion, following Sellars, that we should think of the existence of inferential processes or processes of reasoning as presupposing participation within social communicative interactions in which the making of an assertion is considered as a move in a language-game of the “giving and asking for reasons”. In short, we may think of Hegel’s syllogism of necessity, which constitutes the ground or “truth” of the earlier formal conception of syllogisms, as a type of inter-subjective practice embodying thought—a type of syllogising practice that is by necessity inter-subjective and recognitive. Formally considered we might think of this syllogism as the logical schematization of the most developed form of recognition in which thinkers acknowledge others as free thinkers.
I have suggested that in the syllogism of necessity with which Hegel’s treatment of inference terminates we get a glimpse of a type of contentful and dynamic rational process unfolding in the midst of the recognitive and communicative interactions between finite living and intentional beings. What we see here is a reprise of the conception of logos as an objective process running through the world as had been conceived by the ancient Stoics and neo-Platonists. But it is now embedded not simply in the world as such—in nature—but in objectivized spirit, in human communities of thinkers. We are now returned to the domain of objectivity that had characterized Books 1 and 2 of the Science of Logic, but we might expect such a return from subjectivity to have effected a change in objectivity as earlier understood. To cross straight into a consideration of the objectivity of the human world of action and thought—spirit—would be to break the developmental pattern of the logic because thought about such a complex form of objective existence will presuppose thought about simpler forms. And so the starting point for the consideration of objectivity will again be that of the simple object as something immediately grasped by thought. But this object can now be developed with that elaborate conceptual apparatus that has emerged in the preceding section. Progression here will be from a naïve and immediate concept of an object as simple self-sufficient thing, a thing with its identity centered on itself, through the more complex idea of an object as grasped from within the interstices of physical and chemical thought, to the models of teleological and living systems. The Logic then transitions into a consideration of the “adequate concept, the objectively true, or the true as such”. This adequate concept is the Idea, which, after tracking through considerations of the living individual and theoretical and practical cognition, emerges as the Absolute Idea.