BECOMING XII: THE THING The reflection-on-another of the existent is however inseparable from the reflection-on-self
: the ground is their unity, from which existence has issued... The existent is, when so described, a Thing (124). This Hegel identifies with the “thing-by-itself”, the Kantian Ding-an-sich shown here “in its genesis”. “It is seen to be the abstract reflection-on-self, which is clung to, to the exclusion of reflection-on-other-things and of all predication of difference.” The Thing in-itself of Hegel, that is (to which he will come here), is not the abstract Kantian thing-in-itself, which Hegel calls Thing by-itself. Thus in the "mental" as opposed to the "natural" World" the in-itself, by which we are "meant to understand" what objects "strictly and properly are", is not an apprehension of an object "in its truth". It has to become for-itself, or him- or herself. So the existent, seen here as Thing, “includes relativity”. Relativity is not attached to it as an afterthought but is a proprium rather than an “accidental” property and even more than such. That is, the very conception of a presupposed and therefore distinct substrate or underlying individual “bearer” must be given up. “The thing-by-itself therefore is the empty substratum for these predicates of relation.” It is “thing in the abstract”, a clinging falsity of the Understanding like predication itself. So, the “thing-by-itself... must certainly be as unknowable as it is alleged to be”, i.e. it has no “concrete character” in which to be comprehended (124, Zus.). This judgement refers to what is falsely presumed as implicit to any particular cognition, as “lying behind”. It has no concrete character because any such, by the development of thought here outlined, will be relational. The situation is in fact no different with other categories, such as Quality or Quantity. They are not either finally to be taken in their “abstract immediacy, apart from their development and inward character”. So with the Thing as here understood. A reflective judgement upon ordinary discourse is implied. Nothing is “in or by-itself” in this way; this is not its truth, is abstract. Even the child, Hegel now interestingly says in what is not mere illustration, has to “rise out of” this undeveloped and abstract “in itself”. The very child as such is abstract, deeply viewed and taking account of the unreality of time and change. For absolute Mind the child is a Moment in our conceptual process, to be “put away”. The child is not a child, is, as it were, set "for the fall and rise of many", but only because he or she is that ideally.1 The “in itself” must become the “for-itself”, the “free and reasonable” being. On a deeper reading of Hegel only such are seen to be “beings” at all. Along with the child as “abstract”, the plants and the animals are finally revealed as the outside that is inside, or part of our self-conception in the
I do not here "theologise" but draw rather analagous support from the well-known Biblical text (St. Luke, ch.2) which for Hegel, belongs to "absolute religion" as possessing, in figurative or "imperfect" mode, the same Content, in its entirety, he would have to say. The contradiction there will lie in the term "absolute religion". But it is a contradiction of the type that "moves" reality and not, therefore, a simple error of Understanding. In this sense Hegel praises, for sure he does, Leibniz's philosophy as "contradiction in its complete development".
full unity of the Notion. I anticipate a little, but that is the very method of this text, this thinking, in which each element is a mirror reflecting all the others in self and as self. Indeed, the Notion is the Method, Hegel will say, as God, nous, for Aristotle or Aquinas, is “pure Act”. This is the final sense of Augustine’s non aliquo modo est, sed est, est, which by some yardsticks might well be reckoned as “atheistic”. We need only certain critical representations concerning Spinoza in this regard. So too the state-in-itself, immature, patriarchal, does not yet correspond to its notion, in which alone it is concretely realised, as “the logic of political principles demands”. This applies to all growth from germ-like beginnings or indeed our own process of successive concept-formation. “All things are originally inthemselves, but that is not the end of the matter.” “The thing in general passes beyond” this, “the abstract reflection on self”. As being what it essentially is it manifests itself as a reflection, and that upon “other things” which in turn thus manifest themselves. In this sense “it has properties”. The Thing, as here spoken of, becomes the “explicit unity” of ground and existence. It is a concrete thing in virtue of its differences from, its reflections on, other such things. These Properties are “expressed by the word ‘have’”. This is different though from the having of qualities in “the sphere of being”. The quality there “is directly one with the somewhat” (etwas), which “ceases to be when it loses the quality”. But the thing “is an identity which is also distinct from the difference”; “also”, i.e. as well as being one with it! These properties or “attributes” share something of the removal from reality, the abstractness, of the Past qua Past, which is “absorbed or suspended being”, proper to the mind only as “its reflection-into-self”, since “in the mind only it continues to subsist”. In this sense absolute Mind does not, cannot, re-member. It cannot even forget what is not, though it perfectly perceives and determines us as performing such operations (upon what is not). Hegel does not really take us far afield here. He merely reminds us of the field in its entirety. Identity is never found without difference. So the properties “are the existent difference in the form of diversity”. In “the thing we have a bond which keeps the various properties in union”, properties, not qualities. The Somewhat, by contrast, is “directly identical” with its quality, does not merely “have” it, as here: Somewhat is what it is only by its quality: whereas, though the thing indeed exists only as it has its properties, it is not confined to this or that definite property, and can therefore lose it, without ceasing to be what it is. There is no contradiction in saying that. We might wonder if we have returned to, or by a roundabout route arrived at, a sheer Aristotelianism after all. However, as in the Ground still, “the reflection-on-something-else is directly convertible with reflection-on-self" (126). What’s yours is mine! The properties, therefore, are “not merely different from each other” but are also self-identical, independent even, not attached to the thing and yet “not themselves things”, not “concrete” but “abstract characters” of the thing. They are called Matters, Hegel now writes, as
distinct from “things”. Thus “magnetic and electric matters” are “qualities proper, a reflected being”, character as no longer abstract, since they are immediate and existent “entities”, these matters, which somehow recall the Wesen (essence) which is press, post or revenue as spoken of earlier (112, Zus.). Thus elevating properties to this independent position, of matters “or materials of which it (sc. The Thing) consists”, is “based upon the notion of a thing”, as in empirical science where we get down to genes and vitamins. But even if colour or smell can be explained as pigments and particles, say, such disintegration of things, of the thing, is not final or permanent. The colour of the chair is not the paint slapped on but belongs to the chair in identity and is not therefore a “part” of it. Things do not have parts. Such thinking belongs properly to inorganic mixtures, not to compounds, organic or such as those including the “acid base” already spoken of, which goes up out of itself into the compound. Electrical or magnetic matters, he now says, “are at the best figments of understanding”, apparently contradicting or, better, situating what he said earlier. “Wherever there is organic life” this category, Matters, is obviously inadequate. The way that an animal “consists” of nerves, bones etc. is equivocal with how granite consists of “quartz, feldspar and mica”. The elements of granite could subsist without it whereas the “members of an organic body... subsist only in their union.” A dead hand is not a hand, we recall from Aristotle. In experience all the same there might be continuous grades of this equivocation, as when failing eyesight starts to turn an eye to a free-standing “vile” or useless “jelly” (King Lear). Thus we still honour these dead and equivocal “parts” of the former union where alone they were themselves.
Thus Matter is the mere abstract or indeterminate reflectioninto-something-else, or reflection-into-self at the same time as determinate; it is consequently Thinghood which then and there is, - the subsistence of the thing. Since Matters is marked as a category, under which therefore it is finitely possible to think everything, this should not really surprise us. Thus "the thing has on the part of the matters its reflection-into-self (the reverse of §125)". For there the Properties or "characters of the thing", with which Matters are identified (126), "have their reflection-into-self not on their own part, but on the part of the thing." Thus the relation between matters (here properties) and thing is reciprocal and, moreover, essential to each. Neither, that is, is a "thing-in-itself” nor could be. The relativity, "included" in existence, itself includes relation-to-self, reflection-into-self, as superseding abstract thinghood. Matter, in fact, we have just noted, is thinghood, but matter as here relativistically understood. The advance, however, at 127, is that the thing now "subsists not on its own part, but consists of the matters, and is only a superficial association between them" which Hegel here calls "external".
Here we might recall Daniel Kolic's thesis, in his I am You, or McTaggart's, that each person has the unity of all, all "others" and hence all that is, "in" himself. Is it not even, we might ask, on the part of his or her virtues, taken as "characters of the thing", that the thing/person has its reflectioninto-self, is itself, though subsisting "not on its own part"? This is a situation well represented in religion ("I live yet not I") but, in all consistency with Hegel's view of absolute spirit and its three forms, to be taken, this too, as capable of elevation into the perfect form of philosophy. Hegel has turned here, however, somewhat tacitly, to using "matter" in the singular. As "the immediate unity of existence with itself" the Thing, now become Matters or matter, "the subsistence of Thinghood", "is also indifferent towards specific character". That is why "the numerous divers matters coalesce into the one Matter or", he adds as equivalent, "into existence under the reflexive characteristic of identity", a kind of characteristic of having no "characters", namely. We might think of those famous bed-socks, remaining the same though repaired or replaced at every part of the wool, even with cotton perhaps. Examples in philosophy, however, can more distort than they clarify. These "distinct properties and their external relation which they have to one another in the thing, constitute the Form" (my stress). This is "the reflective category of difference, but a difference which exists and is a totality" as, in Aristotle, Form (morphe, forma) is what makes a thing to be what it is, giving it its entelechy or actuality. Forma dat esse. Hegel might seem, again, to be reverting to Aristotle here, but it is an Aristotelianism in line with the most searching interpretations of it in our own day. The form is in a real sense the whole of the thing. Matter, as Aristotle too goes on to analyse, is not some "stuff" with which a composite is thus formed but, rather, possibility itself, the Ground in Hegel, even, taking it more "physically", perishability or mutability, beyond, as the "ground", the particles of physics and their behaviour. Matter is "featureless", like the original Thing-in-itself but not so much posited as abstract as made into an object for separate consideration merely. For it "implies relation to something else, and in the first place to the Form." We recall that in the Philosophy of Spirit, succeeding upon this as Part III of the same work, Hegel speaks of Aristotle's De anima as just about the only book worth reading on the subject. There, incidentally, Aristotle speaks of the soul or mind (which is for him "form" and the final from, become Mind, nous, of psyche, in what we might see as biology's self-suspension) as "all things", omnia. Hence Form is here made a category, through which everything can be thought, like Being or, finally, as taking up all the other categories from which it results, like the Notion.
…the form does not supervene upon matter from without, but as a totality involves the principle of matter in itself (128, Zus.).
This seems to be the verdict of Aristotle's Metaphysics VII. It is in any case Hegel's verdict. In Christian theology it corresponds, at least as being implied in it, to the perhaps picturesque doctrine, emerging as termination of a fourteenth century controversy, that the souls of departed saints, even "before" reunion with their bodies at "the last day", enjoy perfect happiness, identified with the visio beatifica. What is also implied, in Hegelian mode, is rejection of the Scotistic "bundle" theory of forms in favour of the purer Aristotelian doctrine of the unicity (unicitas in Aquinas) of the "substantial" or defining form.2 Hegel is concerned to dispense with a "mythical… unformed substratum of the existing world", subject to a "world-moulder". According to this we should not think even of evolution as moulding matter, so often the thoughtless assumption of "science". It would rather be formal process as a or the whole, a category for Hegel however surely requiring Aufhebung. I prescind here, though, for now, from what he says about actual evolutionary hypotheses. "This free and infinite form will hereafter come before us as the notion."
The various matters of which the thing consists are potentially the same as one another. Thus we get one Matter in general to which the difference is attached externally and as a bare form (128 Zus.).
Thus every difference or characterisation of matter is a formal characterisation and this says it all, as we say. Marble, as matter for the form of the statue, has itself form as marble, and not something else, before the sculpture is begun. It "is an abstraction of the understanding which isolates matter into a certain natural formlessness" and certainly
For Scotus, for example, a subordinate but continuingly actual forma corporeitatis (as distinct from corporis habitually used when meaning soul as form of a man) seemed necessary for making it possible to say that the dead body of Christ in the tomb remained hypostatically united with the divinity. This though would entail an "essentialist" deconstruction of Aristotelianism such as Hegel, in his Doctrine of Essence, avoids through, one might prefer to add, more perfectly superseding and thus fulfilling or "accomplishing" it.
today's physicists do not do that. They search rather for the form of matter. But then they do not mean the matter as contrasted with form that is here considered as a category, but some aboriginal stuff merely, pure extension for Descartes, which would return us to Hegelian Quantity. But "no formless matter appears anywhere even in experience as existing." “Thus the Thing suffers a disruption into Matter and Form. Each of these is the totality of thinghood and subsists for itself.” Matter “contains, as an existence, reflection-on-another, every whit as much as it contains selfenclosed being.” It is “indeterminate” existence, the Ground, again. This makes it though “the totality of form”. Form, however, involves reflectioninto-self just as much, thus having “the very function attributed to matter”. Thus it was possible for Aquinas, reasoning hylomorphically, to postulate angels, equated with the Aristotelian “separated substances”, as existent forms. “Both are at bottom the same”, though “no less distinct”. The disruption, that is, is dialectical, and so "The Thing, being this totality, is a contradiction." By this route we will progress from Thing, as category, to Appearance or Phenomenon, the second major division of Essence after “Essence as Ground of Existence” and before, finally, “Actuality”, leading us into “The Doctrine of the Notion”. For the Thing, Hegel concludes, "is an Appearance or Phenomenon" and just, as such, more than the "mere whim of the Understanding" which the Ding-an-sich had represented, though, we might think, less in respect of what it purports to be. Here Hegel refers us to the contemporary physical theory of "porosity". By this each of the several "separate" matters or properties (of the Thing) are negated in and by their inter-penetration. This seems to exactly mirror, though not as literally duplicating, his doctrine of a universal relativity of existents. These are in or, indifferently, emerge from the Ground in a universal ideality including even the idea of Existence, needing qua category to embrace all, even the non-existent or, in an older terminology, the pure entia rationis). The theory falls short of as concealing the final negation of any and every matter in its separateness. The same "imbroglio" occurs, Hegel adds, where we "hypostatise" mental faculties or activities in abstraction from "their living unity". In fact, for him, all is included in this ideal unity. Ultimately, both matter and form as separated from one another are, taken together, "a product of the reflective understanding… creating a metaphysic, bristling with contradiction of which it is unconscious", while professing merely to record "what is observed". Aristotle, I take it, is here implicitly praised as a conscious metaphysician. Reality, anyhow, is for Hegel always "concrete", as Spirit, on McTaggart's interpretation supremely, is necessarily differentiated into
"persons", subjects. This necessity, though, Hegel will finally stress, is one with the perfect or infinite Freedom of Spirit. This Freedom is the final nec plus ultra, not properly to be predicated of some other element, even, it would follow, of "Mind" or "Spirit". The defining "thinking itself" therefore goes up beyond any conceivable substantiality or, still less, objecthood into this activity which can therefore no longer be even thus characterised (as "thinking") without being reified or "thinged" away from Freedom and thus set within the bounds of this category which we now leave. Conversely, however, there is no final freedom outside of this unspeakable activity.