Sunday 25 September 2022

Hegel on the Concept in General (Part Two)

First English translation of Hegel's Science of Logic (1929).
This concluding post (of two) on Hegel's essay on "The Concept in General" from the Science of Logic relates his view of reason to the idea of self-consciousness drawn from Kant's critical philosophy.

On the Notion in General (continued)

Part One here.

Self-consciousness and the Concept

This central section of the essay refers back to a basic concept of the Phenomenology of Spirit, i.e. the development of self-consciousness in Chapter four from which the Reason of Chapter five emerges, and hence potentially sheds light on the Phenomenology as a whole, as well as the nominal subject matter, i.e. Hegel’s idea of reason. However, we might doubt the extent to which this is so, as this essay is confined to “pure” self-consciousness, whereas the self-consciousness of chapter four is consciousness immersed in experience. [There is a Fichtean content to this analysis. It might also be compared to the Platonic idea of Reason as guide of the passions and the Good as the supreme, universal idea that unites different actions under its common head. – SC] 

Despite the lack of relation to common sense noted in Part One, Hegel introduces “an observation which may serve to render intelligible the concepts here developed, and to make them more easily acceptable.” (217). He explains:

“The Concept, insofar as it has advanced into such an existence as is free itself, is just the Ego (Ich), or pure self-consciousness. It is true that I have notions – that is, determinate notions; but Ego is the pure Concept itself, which as concept has reached existence. If therefore the fundamental determinations which constitute the nature of the Ego are recalled, it may be assumed that mention is being made of something which is known, that is, which is familiar to imagination.” (217)

The ego then is pure and self-relating, but not immediately. It abstracts from determinateness and “passes back into the freedom of boundless self-equality.” (217) Hence it is universality – characterised by a “negative attitude which appears as abstraction” (217-18) Such universality “contains dissolved within itself all determinateness” (218) Ego is also individuality, i.e. absolute determinateness which opposes itself to and excludes the other. Hegel explains: “it is individual personality.” (218) There is a common nature of conjoined universality and individuality to both ego and concept. Each contain these two moments, both in their abstraction and their unity. 

Comparison with Kant

Hegel proceeds to elaborate on the idea of selfhood he is appealing to by reference to Kant. [Our reception of this is complicated by the facts that Kant is a critic of naive common sense, Hegel a critic of Kant and we ourselves may turn out to be critics of Hegel where he diverges without due warrant or notice from our own educated common sense. – SC] We ordinarily speak of the intellect as a faculty (Vermögen) or property (Eigenschaft) of the Ich, as things have properties. Hegel writes:

“According to this idea, I have concepts and the Concept as I have a coat, colour and other external properties. Kant has passed beyond this relationship of the intellect (taken as the faculty of notions and of the Notion itself) to the Ich. Among the profoundest discoveries of the Critique of Reason is this, that the unity which constitutes the essence of the Concept is recognised to be the original and synthetic unity of apperception, as unity of the “I think” or of self-consciousness.” (218)

The point at issue here is the “transcendental deduction of the category” and reckoned “one of the hardest parts of Kant’s philosophy” (218) probably, Hegel adds, because Vorstellungen must give way to Gedanken (perceptions to thoughts). Hegel cites Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason (B137) on this, where Kant says: “The object [Objekt] is that in whose concept the manifold of a given intuition is unified. (218) But a unity of ideas (Vorstellungen) requires unity of consciousness in their synthesis. Hence [and we require to agree with Kant to go along with this – SC] this unity of consciousness alone constitutes the relation of ideas to an object, i.e. their objective validity. Even the possibility of intellect rests on this. Kant distinguishes the subjective unity of consciousness, i.e. my consciousness of a manifold as successive or simultaneous [i.e. the form of time – SC], from this relation of ideas to an object. There is a dependence on “empirical conditions”. The categories are to be derived from the transcendental unity of apperception. Hence, “the unity of the concept is that by virtue of which something is object and not merely determination of sensation, intuition or mere idea (Vorstellung) and this objective unity is the self – unity of the Ego.” (219) Hegel writes:

“And indeed to form a notion of an object consists just in this, that the ego appropriates it, penetrates it and reduces it into its own form, that is, universality which is immediately determinateness, or determinateness which is immediately universality. In intuition and also in ideation [Vorstellung) the object is still external and foreign [Fremdes].” (219)

The forming of a notion replaces Anundfürsichseyn with Gesetztseyn. This happens by thinking. [The fundamental sense of personal unity here is bodily and stems from the sense of touch. This is not brought out in German idealist texts, which thus can be and are read as pertaining more to the sense of sight. I believe this subliminally influences the line of argument. – SC] Hegel continues:

“But the object is truly in-an-for-itself only as it is in thought. As it is in intuition or ideation it is appearance. Thought transcends its immediacy, with which it first meets us, and this makes it a Gesetztseyn; but this Gesetztseyn is its Being-in-and-for-itself or its objectivity.” (219)

The notion is the unity of self-consciousness into which the object has been taken up. “Hence the object has this objectivity in the notion. [...] Consequently its objectivity (or the notion) is nothing else than the nature of self-consciousness, and had no other moments or determinations than the ego itself.” (219) [So the capacity of the mind to form and arrange empirical notions is here invoked to justify a unitary notion of “Notion” (Begriff), i.e. Reason. However, this involved a critique of Kant to eliminate the sceptical drift of Kant’s ideas of the mind and its cognitive restrictions. Hegel now turns to this. – SC]

This reference back of concepts of objects to self-consciousness in Kant justifies the method where the nature of the ego is recalled to explain the concept. However, this leads us back to re-examine the nature of the ego. The ordinary idea of the ego as a thing, or soul, of which a notion is a property or possession, does not however give a notion of either ego or concept and so is not sufficient to form a notion of the Notion.

Two criticisms of Kant

Kant’s account has two further sides that relate to the Concept. Firstly, he asserts that sensation and intuition precede intellect. – “Concepts without intuitions are empty.” Concepts are valid only as relations of the manifold given in intuition. Secondly, the concept is said to be objective and hence the truth, but it is also subjective, something from which reality cannot be extracted. Hence, the concept and the logical element are declared to be:

  *   merely formal

  *   abstracted from content

  *   not containing truth.

Let us look at these two sides in turn.

Kant on the Necessary Conditions of Cognition

As regards the elements that precede cognition, what is decisive is the science being considered. In Psychology, sensation, intuition and ideation precede intellect (der Verstand). In the Phenomenology of Spirit, Hegel presented sensuous consciousness and perception before he treated intellect. In the Critique of Pure Reason, Kant puts only sensation and intuition in this place, but then adds “notions of reflection” (in the Appendix to the Transcendental Logic) – as if to indicate how incomplete the prior treatment was.

As regards the elements that precede cognition, what is decisive is the science being considered. In pure Logic, Being and Essence precede consideration of intellect. Immediate Being corresponds roughly to intuition or sensuous consciousness. Essence corresponds roughly to perception, reflection and ideation. However, logical notions are more general than such ideas as space and time, or to inorganic and organic nature. Hence, Hegel concludes:

“The Concept must not here be considered as an act of self-conscious understanding. What we have to do with here is the Notion in and for itself, which constitutes a stage as well of nature as of spirit. Life, or organic nature, is that stage of nature at which the Notion emerges, but as blind, not self-comprehending, and therefore, not thinking Notion: as thinking, it belongs only to mind.” (221)

Hegel refers to the Introduction for more discussion of this. He admits that his view “cannot be justified within the body of logic” (221) He implies that it is a presupposition, writing that “there must be no doubt about it before logic is attempted.” (221) [This suggests that a revision of the overall standpoint would be possible while retaining some of the detailed arguments. – SC]

Kant on the limitations of knowledge (Transcendental Analytic)

Secondly, both the common understanding and Kant assume that we can distinguish in cognition:

  *   Empirical material (of intuition and ideation) existing for itself

  *   Intellect, which addresses the above and unifies it, raising it to universality by abstraction.

Intellect here is taken as an empty form that reaches reality by the content given to it, some of which it discards as useless or of little moment. In this, the notion is not independent, not the true and essential part of the preceding material. Instead, we are confronted with brute reality that cannot be extracted from the notion. Well, it is true that the Notion is not yet complete, but must rise to the Idea, which is Notion and Reality together.

Sensuous, sensible reality is commonly reckoned more real than the Notion and opposed to it as “something more excellent than it. And the abstract is counted as of less worth than the concrete,” (222) because much is omitted from the abstract. It is supposed that we lose material not related to our subjective needs, or through the limitations of our intellect. Hegel says:

“This is a view the renunciation of which is not only a condition of philosophy, but is assumed even by religion; for how can these be needed and have significance if the fugitive and superficial appearance of the sensuous and the individual are taken for the truth?” (222)

[This runs together several distinctions – between common sense (Aristotle) and rationalist philosophy (Spinoza for example) and between ascetic and communal views of religion. Hegel continues with his high view of philosophy as a rival to religion, that may owe something to ancient Greece and Rome, adding what is likely a reference to religious symbols, such as bread and wine. – SC] Hegel writes:

“Philosophy furnishes an insight [...] into the value of this reality of sensuous being, and prefaces intellect with these stages of sensation and intuition, sensuous consciousness and so forth, so far as they are conditions of its becoming: this they are only in such a manner that the Concept emerges out of their dialectic and nothingness (Nichtigkeit) as their Ground, but in no way conditioned by their reality […] Of course, if what is to be taken up out of concrete appearance into the Concept is to serve only as a mark, or symbol, then indeed it may be any merely sensuous and individual determinateness of the object, which is selected from the others for the sake of some external interest abs is of the same kind and nature as the rest.” (222)

We must, he continues, avoid the mistake of taking the beginning for the truth. Intuition comes first for us in the order of nature, but it is not unconditioned, though for us it is a condition of apprehending the concept. Hegel continues his critique of the epistemological tradition from Locke onwards:

“If, instead of the search for truth, the aim is to narrate what happens in ideation and thought as it appears, then a halt may be made at the point where the story is told that we begin with sensations and intuitions, and that intellect extracts from their manifold a universality or an abstract. [...] But philosophy is not meant to be a narrative (eine Erzahlung) of what happens, but a cognition of what it true in happenings, and further, it has to form a Notion out of the body of truth about that which in the narrative appears as a mere happening.” (223)

Abstract and Concrete Universals

The superficial idea of a concept is of an abstract universal, outside of all multiplicity, an empty identity of reflection. In a real definition though, a specific distinction is required of a species over and above abstract universality. Kant approached this idea with “the extremely important reflection that there are synthetic judgements a priori.” (223) – i.e. an original synthesis of apperception. Hegel writes:

“This original synthesis of apperception is one of the profoundest principles for speculative development. It contains the beginning of a correct understanding of the nature of the concept, and is absolutely opposed to that empty identity of abstract universality which is no synthesis in itself.” (223)

However, Kant’s exposition does little to fulfil the promise. Even the term “synthesis” suggests putting together separate elements. A further limitation of Kant is his psychological idea of the concept; its being conditioned by a manifold of intuition. He supposed the discoveries of experience to be appearance, “not because the categories themselves are only finite, but by reason of a psychological idealism, because they are only determinations which are derived from self-consciousness.” (224)

He supposed the concept again to be empty without intuition, despite its alleged status as an a priori synthesis.

Kant on the limitations of knowledge (Transcendental Dialectic)

Kant completes his discussion of the Concept by his presentation of Reason (die Vernunft). We might expect the Concept here to lose its conditionedness and attain a perfected truth, but we are cheated. We are presented instead with a dialectic whose result is an infinite nothing, a “mere dialectic”, so that: “thereby the infinite unity of Reason loses even the synthesis and, with it, the beginning of a speculative and truly infinite Notion.” (224) Reason’s role becomes merely regulative. Hegel comments:

“It is declared to be an abuse if Logic, which ought to be merely a canon of judgement, is regarded as an organ for the production of objective discoveries. The notions of reason [...] these intelligible essences, which should wholly unlock the truth, are to signal no more than hypotheses.” (224)

They do not occur in experience, and thus it is reckless to think them true. [This alludes to the empiricist, even sceptical, side of the first Critique. – SC] Hegel comments: “Could it ever have been thought that philosophy would gainsay the validity of the intelligible essences because they are without the spatial and temporal material of sensuousness?” (224) [However, as to positive content, this is simply another promissory note. – SC] This is all related to the relation of concept and truth in Kant. In the deduction of categories, the object (in which the manifold of intuition is united) is this unity “only by virtue of the unity of self-consciousness” (225) Hegel responds; 

“Thus the objectivity of thought is here definitely asserted – an identity of the concept and the thing, which is the truth.” Thought, according to Kant, appropriates a thing, which changes it from an object of sense to an object of thought, but it is held that: “this change not only does not alter its essentiality (Wesenheit), but that it is in its truth only in its concept, while in the immediacy in which it is given it is only appearance and contingency. [...] the concept is its very objectivity.” (225)

[This is a doctrine of real essences, but not necessarily that of Aristotle and the common sense school, for whom there are real essences, but our knowledge of them is imperfect and a contingent matter of correspondence of concept and object learned mostly from experience or perhaps an innate sensibility. Hegel seems to be asserting that there is a sphere of thoughts not subject to this limitation, but arise instead from the unity of consciousness. This may be so for such ideas as the True and the Good, but this essay leaves us still awaiting his demonstration of this. – SC]

Kant asserts despite the above that we cannot know things-in-themselves. The truth that lies in the unity of concept and object he declares to be only appearance, because its content is only the manifold of intuition.

On the doctrine of the Concept

Hegel’s reply to Kant is that it is precisely in the Concept that this manifoldness is overcome. The essence enters appearance as the manifestation of essence. The manifestation that has become free is the concept. These propositions are not dogmatic, but were developed in the doctrine of essence. Hence: “that form of the Absolute which is higher than Being or Essence is the Concept.” (225). The concept is their unconditioned Ground.

It remains for this volume of the Logic to show “how the concept forms in and out of itself that reality which has vanished in it.” (226) It is incomplete to halt at the notion here, but the lack is not a lack of sensuous reality, but the lack of a self-generated reality. Hegel notes: “The absoluteness of the Notion [...] consists in this, that the latter [empirical matter] has truth [...] only [...] in its identity with the Notion.” (226) The derivation of the real here consists in the Notion in its formal abstraction showing itself to be incomplete.

Hegel finds it astonishing that Kant asserted a unity of thought and sensuous existence in the Idea and in the idea of an “intuitive understanding” yet stopped dead at it. He thus affirmed as true what he acknowledged to be finite knowledge and declared the truth a superfluous and improper figment of thought.

The scope of Logic

Logic cannot, and ought not, to contain the reality of nature and spirit. The sciences of these latter “do indeed emerge into a more real form of the Idea than does Logic” (226) Hegel writes: “Logic rather shows the elevation of the Idea to that stage from which it becomes the creator of nature and passes over to the form of a concrete immediacy.” (227)

Logic as the Science of Absolute Form

The logical element moulds the concrete sciences. Hegel explains: “As opposed to these, logic itself is the formal science, but it is the science of absolute form, which is totality in itself, and contains the pure idea of truth itself.” (227) [Logic then has a content of its own, related to the ideas of truth and self-consciousness. The term “truth” here has a richer sense than correspondence. It is more like “I plight my troth”, or “Behold a true Israelite”. – SC] Hegel explains:

“This absolute form has its content, or reality, in itself: the Notion is not empty identity and thus, in the moment of its negativity, or absolute determining, it has a variety of determinations.  The content is indeed nothing else than such determinations of absolute form – the content posited by it and therefore adequate to it.” (227) 

[We can see that thought naturally reaches out from conception to judgement. If I think of the world, or God, or the mind, my thought will naturally begin tentatively to form questions or judgements about them and this might be made the object of study. – SC] This absolute form is distinct from the logical form of correspondence [such as we find in Wittgenstein’s Tractatus. – SC] When Kant (CPR, B83) speaks of truth (“What is truth?”), he grants at the outset “(as something trivial) the description of truth as the correspondence of knowledge with the object.” (227) This, Hegel says, is a profound idea. However, the doctrine of Kant’s transcendental idealism that “reason is not capable of apprehending the things-in-themselves” indicates that such a reason, and the notion of a Ding-an-sich at work in it, is an untrue idea. It gives us only “a notion which does not correspond with reality, and a reality which does not correspond with the Notion” (227) Hegel explains more constructively:

“If Kant had kept the idea of an intuitive understanding close to his definition of truth, then he would not have treated this idea, which expresses the required correspondence, as a figment of thought, but as truth.” (227)

Kant says that there is no universal criterion of truth, because this relates to the content of cognition from which we are abstracting. The content here though is without notion, essenceless. There is no truth here, but for the opposite reason from that alleged – i.e. without notion, there is just truthless opinion. Correspondence requires two sides. Hegel comments:

“In the synthesis a priori of the concept Kant had a higher principle, where duality could be cognised in unity, but the sense-material, the manifold of intuition, was too powerful to allow him to leave it [...] for a speculative method of philosophy.” (228)

If Logic is “the science of absolute form”, it must have a content adequate to its form if it is to be true. “The formal element of logic is pure form, so that logical truth must be pure truth.” (229) This formal element must thus be thought of as “much richer in determinations and content, and as having infinitely more influence upon the concrete, than it is generally held to do.” (229)

The laws of logic are usually restricted to the principle of contradiction, rules of conversion of judgements and forms of syllogism. These are then “taken up in a historical manner, so to say, and are not subjected to criticism to test their truth.” (229) So we accept “S is P” as correct [a “well formed formula”, in modern terms – SC], its truth depending upon the content. Its form (“the individual (I) is universal (U)”) is not considered as dialectic. However, if “I” is object and “U” is concept, plainly they do not correspond. If the concept is an abstract universal and the object little more than the grammatical subject, there is so much the less scope for truth. The notion, even the object, may be lacking. Hegel comments:

“Kant’s philosophy did not consider the categories for their own sake, but only for the mistaken reason that they were thought to be subjective forms of self-consciousness.” (229)

Hence Kant supposed them incapable of containing truth. Even less did he criticise the forms of the concept that are the content of ordinary logic. Rather he simply presupposed them as a neutral form.  Aristotle examined these forms naturalistically and descriptively, but we must go further and “understand both the systematic connection and the value of the forms.” (230)

[This last section expands on some logical remarks in the Preface to the Phenomenology. It goes some way to clarify the agenda of the first third of Volume III of the Logic. The English tradition of analytic philosophy held that logical rules were not arbitrary or conventional, but gave priority to empirical investigation over logical reflections in the search for truth. Hegel’s views thus relate back more to the Idealist era of Bradley, McTaggart and Edward Caird.

The overall result of the essay is to return us, via critiques of Spinoza's doctrine of necessity and Kant's dualist and skeptical theory of cognition to a common sense philosophical anthropology of man as a rational animal that owes much to Aristotle (with similarities to Thomas Reid and James Mylne). The main philosophical advances in the rest of the book are the essentialist theory of logic that follows and a version of the Form of the Personal in the final section on the absolute Idea. – SC]

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