Lecture Notes, Philosophy 151

Hegel's Logic and Phenomenology

October 17, 1995

Hegel's "science of logic" is an attempt to enumerate a system of categories adequate to describe all of reality. Kant had produced a table of twelve categories of the understanding, which were supposed to hold of appearances. In some ways, Hegel's system of categories is modeled on Kant's, but as one would expect, Hegel found Kant's system to be unacceptably limited.

Kant had criticized Aristotle for producing his list of categories haphazardly, a deficiency which he attempted to overcome. One way in which Kant's table was systematic was that it was arranged in four groups of three. Within each group, the third category was supposed to have been generated by combining the first two. Thus in the group labeled "Quantity," there are two opposed categories, Unity and Plurality. The emergent category is Totality, which is a unity of many things. Although this arrangement of categories has been roundly criticized, it served as a model for Hegel's procedure.

Hegel criticized Kant's table of categories from various perspectives. Most importantly for our puprposes, he accused Kant of having fallen into the same practice as Aristotle's, namely of coming upon his categories hapazardly. Kant had thought he had found a "single principle" for generating the categories, i.e. that their origin is in the logical forms of judgments. But for Hegel, the science of logic generates its concepts internally, so to speak, without borrowing from anything outside the concepts themselves.

But how can a system of concepts be generated from scratch? Hegel's procedure was to begin with the absolutely simple, and then to spin out a web of more complex complex from that starting point. Since the intention of the science of logic is to provide categories to describe reality, Hegel began the most simple description possible: reality is Being. (This, it will be recalled, was the end-point of Parmenides' metaphysics.)

"The beginning must be an absolute, or what is synonymous here, an abstract beginning; and so it may not presuppose anything, must not be mediated by anything nor have a ground; rather it is to be itself the ground of the entire science. Consequently, it must be purely and simply an immediacy, or rather merely immediacy itself. Just as it cannot possess any determination relatively to anything else, so too it cannot contain within itself any determination, any content, for any such would be a distinguishing and an interrelationship of distinct moments, and consequently a mediation. The beginning therefore is pure being." (The Science of Logic, "With What Must the Science Begin?")

To state that reality is Being seems to be to say nothing specific about reality at all. The concept of Being is an empty concept, whose content is nothing. At this point, Hegel has found a new concept, that of Nothing, which has the same content as the concept of Being, but which seems to stand opposed to it. "Nothing is . . . the same determination, or rather absoence of determination, and thus altogether the same as, pure being" (The Science of Logic, Chapter I, Being, B. Nothing). On the other hand, Being and Nothing are not the same. So we have the difference of Being and Nothing passing into identity, and the identity passing into difference. "Their truth is, therefore, this movement of the immediate vanishing of one in the other: becoming, a movement in which both are distinguished, but by a difference which has equally immediately resolved itself" (The Science of Logic, Chapter I, Being, C. Becoming). An new concept has been generated by the "sublation" (Aufhebung) of the first two. This process of generating a third concept as expressing the identity and difference of the first two is reduplicated throughout the science of logic.

The generation of concepts is supposed to begin with the most abstract or indeterminate (Being, Nothing) and end with the most fully concrete. The end-point is the Absolute Idea, which incorporates into itself all the ideas which have been absorbed in the dialectical process of producing new concepts. The absolute idea, then, is the all-inclusive, fully adequate category for the description of reality.

Having scratched the surface of Hegel's logic, we now turn to his "phenomenology." Logic is concerned with reality as object only, leaving out of account the nature of the subject which thinks its categories. In his earlier work, The Phenomenology of Spirit, Hegel attempted to describe the development of the absolute subject (which he called "spirit") corresponding to the absolute idea. The book describes the "appearance" of spirit in the world, and the study of appearances he called "phenomenology." (The German word "Geist," which in the text is translated as "mind," is rendered as "spirit" in more recent translations.)

Whereas the Logic describes the object from the point of view of the subject without mentioning the subject, the Phenomenology describes the relation of the two to each other. As with the Logic, the Phenomenology begins with simple "immediacy" and traces a path toward an all-inclusive, concrete unity. The path is not strictly an historical one, but rather represents a kind of reconstruction of a methodical progression among types of subject/object relations. Overall, there are three primary stages in the relation between subject and object.

The subject, as "consciousness," confronts the object as something other than itself.

The subject, as "self-consciousness," recognizes the object as subject as well.

The subject, as "spirit," is unified with the other subject/object.

Our reading comes from the beginning of the second phase, in which the subject is for the first time confronted with another subject. In the first phase, consciousness, as "sense-certainty," initially recognizes its object as a mere "this," devoid of content. It then, as "perception," conceptualizes the object by abstraction from sense-experience. This is the level of common-sense. Finally, as "understanding," it attempts to discover something behind the appearances, e.g. unperceived physical forces. It is never able to grasp its object adequately, because the object is always foreign to the subject. This sets the stage for the second phase.

As did Scopenhauer, Hegel maintained that an object is such only for a subject. So the subject-object which is confronted by self-consciousness is an object for it, yet at the same time it is an other. This is the fundamental tension driving this phase of the phenomenology. The goal of the subject is to eliminate the "otherness" of the other. This is done most simply through the elimination of the other altogether, by killing it. Thus the first phase of self-consciousness is the "life-and-death struggle." In attempting to eliminate the other, the subject puts its own life at risk, thus devaluing life completely. But without life there is no subjectivity, so the project of destruction cannot be sustained. Some mode of co-existence with the other must be found.

Hegel goes on to desribe the relationship between master and servant, in which the subject appropriates the other to carry out his own wishes. As we will see, it is ultimately the servant through his work who leads consciousness to its next phase. In Stoicism and Skepticism, consciousness recognizes itself as a thinking being, and finds freedom in its activity of thinking. But this withdrawal into itself is again inadequate; the outside world presses in. "The unhappy consciousness" then recognizes a duality within itself. These themes will be discussed in more detail next time.

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