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A note on reification in Hegel’s logic
Hegel was a late developer. He was 37 when the Phenomenology of Spirit was published; and his Science of Logic followed only when he was 42. It was his third book, written in serious professional difficulties. He still had no university position, and was not really suited to the Gymnasium directorship he currently occupied. The reception of the Phenomenology, on its publication in 1807, was disappointing; indeed, this book will not achieve the centrality it has for us today until the work of Dilthey in the late nineteenth century. It was rather around the Logic that what we call Hegelianism began to be organised, it was the Logic that underwrote his eventual professorships at Heidelberg (1816) and then Berlin (1818). The Science of Logic – the so-called greater logic – was in fact only the first of Hegel’s publications on the subject. A second, smaller version appeared in the three-part Encyclopedia of the Philosophical Sciences in 1817. These works were meant to be student handbooks, and to accompany the professor’s lectures on the subject; fortunately the modern editions contain many of Hegel’s oral commentaries on the individual entries, and offer a more accessible approach to them than the monumental Greater Logic itself (in what follows, it will essentially be the Encyclopedia Logic that is referenced, in William Wallace’s attractive Scottish translation). Today, however, after the emergence of symbolic logic and all the complexities of modern mathematics (whose discovery by Boole in 1847 Hegel did not live to see), the originality of Hegel’s transformation of traditional logic may not be so apparent. Still, the flavour of what happened to Aristotelian logic in the schools may be conveyed by the way in which all the possible forms of the syllogism were given proper names in the Middle Ages; thus, Derit or Cemestres, Featino or Darapti, Patiat, Bocardo, Ferison and Fesapo, all name specific syllogistic formulae (one readily imagines the pedagogical practices learning such a list encouraged!).
This text constitutes introductory remarks to a long chapter on Hegel in my forthcoming Valences of the Dialectics.
vol. in German. it has the temporal sense of the English moment. then. The categories of Being are those of common sense or a daily life among objects. To see what is really at stake here we would have to take into account the issue of ‘presentation’ or Darstellung – how to lay all this material out. this is the world of Verstand or Understanding (in the philosophical jargon of the day). and the degree to which each ‘moment’ cannot stand on its own. There remains. What is sequential in Hegel’s series of categories is their progressive enlargement. I propose to translate the first of these Hegelian figures into the language of the logos. the way in which categories act and react upon each other within the mind. Spinoza’s ‘god or nature’ would be an appropriate analogy. and it will be more thoroughly dealt with in what follows. but when neuter. However we wish to see Hegel’s progression of forms. in current philosophical language. Begriff) in his terminology – designate dimensions of life and thought we might describe as follows. a reified thought which must reify itself in order to grasp its reified objects. the more general outline of both Logics is clear: the three parts – entitled Being.34 Critical Quarterly. The realm of Essence is. Essence. but also to come to terms with the concluding term of the notion – the Begriff or Absolute Spirit – which is not. a temporal idea or a historical stage (the German word Moment is ambiguous: when masculine. finally. it simply means an aspect). in which we become aware to what degree ‘definition is negation’ (Spinoza again) and each thought is linked to its opposite. This area may be said. to be that of reflexivity or self-consciousness. and indeed Hegel thought of himself as a competitor of Spinoza who attempted to factor subjectivity and consciousness (‘system or subject’) into the latter’s extraordinary vision of totality. inasmuch as it is a thought of extension and objectivity. the Notion itself. 3 Hegel hit on the idea of translating the elements of the Aristotelian logical mechanism back into genuine philosophical conceptualities. Momente) are then lined up in what looks like a sequential or even teleological series. 50. The ultimate ‘notion’ or Begriff is then a fully self-sufficient concept which is a kind of ‘causa sui’ or cause of itself. as though he had somehow suppressed the method and the mechanics which made it ‘logic’ in the first place. which is divided into two zones: the Syllogism and Life. in which the law of non-contradiction holds sway. but is dependent on another feature or ‘seme’ outside itself which has to be factored back into the process of thought. and the Notion (Sein. this is more properly the realm of the dialectic itself. I would argue. So successful was this operation indeed that Hegel is scarcely ever mentioned in the history of logic. Wesen. whose movement and . no. These various elements (or aspects.
two co-terminous and parallel dimensions or codes into which all realities can be translated back and forth. or terminological negligence results from my assumption that the Logic is Hegel’s continuation of the great Kantian insight about the deeper organisation of Aristotle’s haphazard list of categories. on my repeated use of the term ‘category’ to characterise the structures at stake in this text. to which I add a remark on idealism. That he himself knows this may be deduced from his insistence on calling this third section of the Logic ‘speculative thought’. In that case. the second two in the Doctrine of Essence). which in effect project Kant’s spatial groups onto temporality itself (of which more in a moment). The Absolute is then the Deleuzian ‘fold’ between these two parallel dimensions.A note on reification in Hegel’s logic 35 dynamism organises the world itself and its time. the sense in which he has attempted to give ‘content’ to the abstract form of his thinking: or ‘meaning’ to its grammar and syntax. Reciprocity. Although he does not use the term as such. quality. The first. in the Logic. as a greatly enlarged list of categories on the Kantian or Aristotelian mode. It would be of much interest to examine Kant’s arrangement in its own right (its fourfold organisation cries out for interpretation). and the like. such as Limit. All we can do here is to take note of Hegel’s extraordinary modifications in the scheme. it seems fair to describe the moments of the Logic – which range from topics like Being or Necessity to seemingly more minor matters. in which the categories were sorted out in four groups: quantity. rather than dialectics: by which he seems to have meant that the affirmation of the identity between thinking and its object could never be proven but only asserted by way of a leap of reason. It is that leap (or its figural content) which we must designate as metaphysical in all its contemporary senses. which in my opinion correspond to what Spinoza called the two ‘attributes’ of cogitatio (thought) and extensio (extension). The idea of life. This seems to me what one might want to call the ‘metaphysics’ of Hegel. are supposed to produce themselves and to generate their own succession in some kind of dialectical time. These notes on the Encyclopedia Logic need to be prefaced by three observations. Accident. then – we are still in a pre-Darwinism context. in which reference to vitalism or the Bergsonian life force would be anachronistic – is I believe Hegel’s way of rescuing the world of matter from mechanical materialism and designating the organisation of the objective universe (or Nature in its largest sense). relationship and modality (Hegel deploys the first two groups in the Doctrine of Being. as well as on my treatment of that temporality traditionally imputed to the way in which those categories. Kant’s insight was essentially a spatial one. should there not be a category of the Category itself (a popular idea during the .
then what are they exactly? It is a question which raises even more general questions about the space in which such ‘categories’ develop. So they seem relatively placeless and disembodied: they are not the thoughts of a Mind.36 Critical Quarterly. In this way.or event-specific. all the while acknowledging the evident fact that whatever ‘space’ or ‘context’ may be invoked. or however Hegel’s combination of Substance and Subject may be understood. those are not the ‘places’ in which his categories evolve. This makes the categories in Hegel far more situation. such that Being – if a category at all – is not meant at all to be the same kind of category as the Notion which concludes the series. whatever Absolute Spirit may be. For the latter. questions we did not have to pose for Kant or Aristotle. Yet Aristotle did himself already locate them in speech (even if he failed to raise the issue of the epistemological relativity of languages as such). insofar as it is precisely the space of the categories which will be called on to define Spirit in the first place. they are not yet even thoughts as such). it is not an omniscient and anthropomorphised narrator of some sort. As for Kant. he disposes of some fairly recognisable traditional ‘space’ – the mind – in which. they are simply the various things that can be ‘said’ about a being or a phenomenon. 50. Aristotle paradoxically rejoins his modern semiotic critics (Benveniste. thus. I tend to think it would be better to imagine the ‘space’ of Hegel’s categories in the absence of all such modern container notions of subjectivity or of element. even a transcendental one (since for one thing. But if these moments cannot be ranged under the classification Category. he sticks to the mind itself and grasps the categories as so many ‘concepts of the understanding’ which operate both judgements and those perceptions understood to be mental ‘syntheses of representations’. to impose this term or classification on the moments from the outset would be to force this development into a rigid and uniform mould. it will always also itself be precisely one of those categories it was alleged to have governed or . Still. no. Whatever Hegel thinks about mind or language. 3 structuralist period which Derrida repudiated with some contempt in his essay on Benveniste)? The difficulty perhaps lies in their evolution and transformation in the very course of the Logic. as in Aristotle’s ‘speaking’. vol. Eco) who have maintained that his ‘categories’ are merely the projections and hypostases of a local Indo-European grammar. not yet being a Habermassian or feeling the sway of any structuralist or postmodern doxa about the primacy of language and communication. the categories can comfortably be housed and find their field of efficacity. and to call those Spirit or even Objective Spirit is to beg the question. In fact. in a kind of spacelessness.
to anticipate. one might justify the approach by saying that. one would expect the .) But other important questions associated with the notion of the category remain. Nor is this simply a matter of organisation or Darstellung (presentation. It is the Whorf– Sapir question.A note on reification in Hegel’s logic 37 contained. Add to this the characterisation of these moments ´ as somehow related to pensee sauvage in that the Logic effectuates the construction of local universals out of particulars in a situation in which universals do not yet exist. and we have an even more paradoxical approach to Hegel opening up before us. where and why? And to historicise all this even further. however. the very definition of Western philosophy – we may posit a deliberate suspension of universals in his new ‘speculative’ dramatisation of the categories themselves. very precisely a central feature of allegory for us. which has to do with temporality. something that entitles us to wonder whether the same list of categories remains in force in tribal times (or in other modes of production). we might thereby justify an allegorical look at Hegel’s Logic from an unaccustomed standpoint. which turns very much on the matter of categories as such. and able to accommodate a series of ‘events’ without a frame or background. one way of testing (or ‘falsifying’) philosophically his programme is on the basis of its completeness: can categories be added that he has not thought of? If so. there is the Kantian question of their number: can they all not be reduced to four groups of three? If not why not? And in view of Hegel’s insistence on the ‘necessity’ of their unfolding (see below). Thus once again here we confront the well-known paradox of the ‘class which is a member of itself’. something ‘solved’ by the attempt to imagine a state of things – or better still a type of discourse – itself free of such representational homogeneity. As this was. staging). bourgeois) thinking. even though Hegel emerges long after the coming into being of universals – this is. after all. In particular. (Perhaps. can we imagine the historical coming into being of new categories which did not exist in Hegel’s time. Now I come to my second preliminary observation. and which is perhaps in the present case exacerbated by what is often enough considered to be Hegel’s Eurocentrism. are we to believe that he thinks he has given us a complete list? In other words. If it were merely a matter of organisation. ´ or the disappearance of older ones? And what of pensee sauvage? ´ Although Levi-Strauss is very far from considering this tribal perceptual science as ‘primitive’ – in fact he characterises it as ‘structuralist’ avant la lettre – he certainly argues for its radical difference from our own (Western. according to which Hegel projects the narrative fiction of an unfolding series or sequence in order the more effectively to string the pearls of the categories one after the other.
given in advance. in order to find out exactly what Hegel thought. and thereby risks depriving it of its most fundamental driving impulse and passion. in what we have seen to be the nonspace of the text. 50. Or rather. an account of what precedes and what follows it. in case of need extracting the ‘definition’ of substance. This is to say that each conceptual item in effect produces its own context. The categories are thus all situation. because the temporal sequence of the categories purports to stage the self-production. even turgidly and laboriously. the self-development and selfunfolding of the Notion itself. So the more we insist on the pleasure of rereading the Logic. the melodramatic reversals (Adorno used to say that the great affirmation. to recreate and thus to grasp or ‘understand’. but the act of reading the Logic is a great deal more complicated than that. the less in the long run we are tempted to read it in the first place. and we certainly still do struggle to understand what Hegel meant by this or that. The analogy does not perhaps fully bear out Greimas’s hypothesis that the philosophical text is also. most philosophical . Better still the Logic is like a piece of music. We would therefore minimally expect any given category to require. What this means for the reader is that the Logic is no traditional piece of philosophical discourse: it does not. or necessity. 3 account of each category to be a relatively static affair. harmonic ingenuities) which we had not heard or noticed before. as with a complicated novel. attempt to expound some idea which the reader then attempts. vol. that we dispose of larger units of memory in which to organise the individual episodes. and each reading performance brings out new and more subtle interrelationships (thematic repeats. a narrative. indeed. was like a hammerblow in Beethoven). the aesthetic set towards the text moves it away from philosophising and argument. and requires. provided we understand that there is no overall situation or context. So let’s now say all this in a very different way by insisting on the failures which constitute the Logic’s deeper record. which it equally well abolishes on its own transformation into something else.or context-specific. and its text a score. its very justification. for complete discussion. which we must ourselves mentally perform (and even orchestrate). And sometimes the rereadings also make us more receptive to the great climaxes. In any case. But we cannot do this. we can only reread it. this does seem to happen at specific moments. say. by retracing the steps of the argument. ‘Essence must appear’. so that one might open up what is after all called an Encyclopedia and consult this or that entry. no overall conceptual landscape.38 Critical Quarterly. let alone truth. or limit. no. As was so often said about the modernist texts. details of the orchestration. in its deeper structure.
more utopian. however much they may be intellectual or conceptual failures. we will still need to ward off the impression that all these failures are somehow ‘the same’. of an external and spatial picture-thinking (Vorstellung) it is tempting to identify with the more modern (although still no doubt distantly Hegelian) term of reification. its domain is the real world of Being. But already we can make a few anticipatory remarks about it. which we meet in part I of the Logic . The terms for all these things fatally reinforce such implications and illusions: if you use the word ‘category’ for a variety of concepts. a repetition of the same transitions. one failure. sparingly. reifying thinking.A note on reification in Hegel’s logic 39 discourse claims a certain conceptual success it hopes to record successfully. reason. to achieve even a limited but complete act of intellection. let alone the implication that the so-called categories themselves are in their form somehow comparable. to the next are somehow ‘the same’. and quite impossible to replace with anything better. classifying them all under this particular genus. although omnipresent. purer. rehearsed over and over again. even though he does seem to posit ‘philosophising’ as some activity not altogether accessible to the masses. is the villain of the piece. nor does Hegel try to do so. to win through to the concept. just as we will have to guard against the supposition that all the transitions from one category. the categories are the stuff of daily life and daily speech. an experiment conducted with a view to proving itself impossible? What saves the matter. rational. have you not admitted a fundamental kinship in advance? And if we call Hegel’s conceptual movement through the text and its moments ‘dialectical’. the failure must be a very basic and fundamental one. if not identical. of physical objects. truth. and at the end of a strenuous and absolute assault on the category in question. Hegel’s moments are by definition moments of failure: the failure to think. it must come as the result of loyally attempting to think. We cannot say that throughout the . In any case. And it is to be sure a frustrating matter: who can find it in them to act out a cause lost in advance. is the simple fact that. The task of his writing will therefore be paradoxically self-defeating: to demonstrate (successfully) how completely we must necessarily fail to think this or that category. of ‘understanding’. the same metamorphoses? This may be why Hegel uses words like dialectical. and even to convey. whereas the text itself repeatedly characterises the kinds of errors and illusions described above in this very paragraph: they are the baleful effects of Verstand. Verstand is reified. But in order for it to be meaningful. no doubt. and the very thinking of daily life itself. Verstand. a standard momentum. do we not also imply a certain uniformity.
and can not only not be done away with for good: it would be undesirable to do so. which. if there is a villain. that is wanted. Rather. no. Unlike the Faerie Queene. vol. the narrative schema of the Philosophy of History. besides meaning Hegel. insofar as there do not seem to be any idealists any more in the first place (even though everyone likes to talk about materialism). the Archimago. not Truth. and eventually reaches maturity and autonomy: that could be. Whatever the reign of Absolute Spirit might be. and of all the temptations – to persist in one moment. in some more figurative and ideological sense. but of the immediate as such. despite all kinds of religious revivals. but we can certainly say that he tracks error. Verstand is the great magician. even assuming there is such a thing in Hegel. I can be briefer about Hegel’s idealism. rather than its eradication. not only of the perceptual (the ‘here’ and ‘now’ of the opening of the Phenomenology). Sin and error in Spenser are no doubt equally difficult to eradicate. But can there be a mediated materialism. and it is certain that the fundamental movement in Hegelianism consists in a deep suspicion. of the work. for example. 3 Logic. which. I suppose there would be some agreement about distinguishing from idealism something called spiritualism. but the virtuous or Christian mind continues to wish for such an eventuality and to hope for a realm in which something of the sort might be realised. does not seem to me to be particularly extant any longer either. not the Dialectic. idealism consists in a drawing away from the body and a consistent sublimation of everything that could be associated with sheer physicality. nor Speculative Thinking. or to understand in the first . and it is important to remember. perhaps. nor could that be the upshot of the notorious ‘end of History’. also means all those other positive things). a mediated body which would remain what we still call the body? Yet there are paradoxes to be observed here. Hegel tracks down the truth like a detective. a reproach relatively unseasonable. 50. where the little Notion grows up and learns about the world. Perhaps. not Reason (Vernunft). however. nor even the Notion itself. and can still be detected in various scattered remarks throughout the former work. or to imagine fully eradicated. Here we are on firmer ground. And this may have something to do with the fact that Verstand also has its place. it would not seem to presume that. as we have suggested. and that error always and everywhere takes the form of Verstand. the primal source of error itself.40 Critical Quarterly. The Logic is therefore not a Bildungsroman. there are no heroes: none of the knights. go forth to do battle with this baleful force (although it might perhaps be argued that Philosophy is itself such a heroic contender. and to make one’s home there. it is the taming and proper use of this mode.
the categories. its proper translation lies very far from all such considerations. Such was already Hegel’s battle with the scientists and the other ‘realists’: ‘This ideality of the finite is the chief maxim of philosophy. claiming to eschew metaphysical speculations and to keep faith with a stubborn empiricism of common sense and everyday life. Hegelian ‘idealism’ might be thought of in a similar way: everything we see and think by definition comes through our minds and consciousness. As for ‘idealism’ in Hegel’s usage in the text.A note on reification in Hegel’s logic 41 place. and we have counted him also among the philosophers of the ‘category’. finite. and for that reason every genuine philosophy is idealism’ (section 95). The argument was renewed in the 1960s by all the varied partisans of theory. ‘all reckoning is therefore making up the tale’ – he has added his own pun ¨ in the German word er-zahlen (section 102). the technical reason being. Number is the very epitome of such frozen or crystallised theory: emerging from the dialectic between the Continuous and the Discrete. with the Notion.or post-individualistic alike. Hegel’s ‘idealism’ is not subjectivising in this Kantian sense insofar as the frame of the individual subject is lacking from his scheme. and as such it must have its due’ (section 99). that the individual emerges only at the end of his series. physical and the like. With all due qualifications. that Marx’s ‘fetishism of commodities’ is not some unmediated materialism either. leaving earlier developments relatively innocent of the ´ effects of a subject–object split. of course. but on the contrary a tainted kind of unconscious spiritualism in its own right. and that plain homespun realistic thinking was rotten to the core with theoretical presuppositions. is mathematics: ‘quantity. He benefits from the historical good luck of an absence of individualism which can be judged pre. however. its deployments are supremely philosophical (as Wallace puts its. and simply means the quotient of theory in all those discourses claiming to stick to the facts. who delighted in demonstrating with gusto that all these Anglo-American empirical statements which formed our then hegemonic discourse were deeply if secretly theoretical at their heart. The supreme example of such ideality (or theoreticity) active at the very heart of what seems to be sheerly empirical or of the ‘fact’. This hidden presence of the idealities. the external. is somehow nonetheless capable of eluding Kantian subjectivism: for it does not seem to push all our ‘intuitions’ back inside the individual mind. to be processed into thoughts and knowledge. Levi-Strauss’s structuralism has famously been termed a ‘Kantianism without the transcendental subject’. and so even materialists . is a stage of the Idea. of course. behind our more seemingly external experiences and perceptions.
at this point perhaps. Yet at the end of the series of categories. but not until then. the thought of the Notion or Concept (Begriff). reaffirms the subject–object split anew by asserting the identity between the two. 50. . no. vol. 3 are idealistic in this sense.42 Critical Quarterly. ‘speculative thinking’. Hegel has again become an idealist in the traditional sense.
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