Autonomy, Negativity, and the Challenge of Spinozism in Hegel's Science of Logic
Hegel's Science of Logic weds a deduction of (broadly Kantian) categories with a vindication of unconditional self-determination. Motivating his project is the challenge of nihilism implicit in Spinoza's rationalism-cum-naturalism. Section one of this paper examines Spinozist 'substance' and Hegel's revision of the principle omnis determinatio est negatio. Section two analyzes the concept 'being-for-self' in relation to Kantian apperception and the Hegelian idea of sublation. Section three presents a novel view of Hegel's infamous identification of being and nothing at the opening of the Logic. The notions of unconditional self-determination, original synthetic unity, and absolute negativity are shown to govern Hegel's dual reception of Spinoza and Kant.
Hegel, autonomy, category-deduction, dialectic, German Idealism, infinity, logic, negation, nihilism, self-consciousness, Spinoza, synthetic unity
1. category-deduction, rational autonomy, and the spinozist challenge1
Hegel's project of elaborating a "speculative logic" is representative of a distinctively post-Kantian trend.2 Hegel shares his like-minded contemporaries' critical assessment that Kant had failed to offer a proper deduction of the cornerstone of his philosophical edifice, the so-called 'categories' or 'pure concepts of the understanding' (cf. GW 21:48/SL 41; GW 12.44/SL 541; Encyclopedia, §42R).3 [End Page 101] Kant does of course offer what he calls a deduction of the categories, namely, an argument for his claim that, in cognizing the matter passively given to it in sensibility, the finite subject's activity necessarily manifests itself through the "functions of synthetic unity" (B 93–94, 111–12) that constitute the structure of objectively valid experience. However, Kant neglects to demonstrate that the finite understanding must, in its spontaneity, take just these categorial forms with their determinate content, or indeed any determinate number of specific categories at all.4 Hegel follows his post-Kantian contemporaries in setting out to derive a demonstrably complete list of determinate categorial contents as well as the forms of concept, judgment, and syllogism that discursively link and articulate them. Yet, by seeking to carry through his derivation in a thoroughly presuppositionless manner, that is, purely by dint of methodical reflection on the activity of thought itself, Hegel also vies to improve upon earlier attempts.
Fichte's early Wissenschaftslehre represents the most innovative and original such attempt, setting a template that remains recognizable even in Hegel's later reworking of it. However, by beginning with the "I," Fichte had simply helped himself to Kant's "transcendental" insight that the categories are functions of the unity of self-consciousness.5 Since unified self-consciousness operates in Fichte's Wissenschaftslehre as a primitive or underived concept, a gap might seem to be left between thinking and being: We could grant that the categories and other forms of thought are pre-conditions of the consciousness whose unity we have presupposed on the basis of immediate, internal acquaintance with it, without thereby implying that those categories and forms are also valid for the "being" we conceive as external to and independent of thought. In his earliest published writings, Hegel accordingly criticizes both Kant and Fichte and rejects their transcendental approach as ending in subjectivism.6
Hegel's basic response to this difficulty is to shift focus away from the conditions of unified consciousness and onto the actual content of the categories or "thought-determinations" (reine Denkbestimmungen).7 Rather than beginning with the notion of the "I," Hegel thus begins with the thought of indeterminately immediate 'being' and situates the reflexive structure of self-consciousness much further downstream, as a result of prior derivation. In this way, he intends to demonstrate the emptiness of notions such as 'being,' 'things in themselves,' or Fichte's Anstoß, as conceptual placeholders for a realm external to and inaccessible to thought, and thereby to pull the rug from under transcendentally motivated forms of skepticism.8
However, the project is not motivated exclusively or even primarily by a concern to silence the skeptic. At a deeper level, it also seeks to vindicate the absolute [End Page 102] autonomy of reason.9 Here, we see a further and equally important aspect of the project's Kantian heritage: Again like his post-Kantian contemporaries, Hegel saw it as Kant's "infinite merit" to have recognized "that the freedom of spirit is also the fundamental principle in the theoretical side of reason. This principle . . . is implicit in the idea of an original synthetic apperception of self-consciousness, which essentially strives for self-determination in cognition as well" (GW 15:16/ Heidelberg Writings, 16). Hegel's ambition to create a radically presuppositionless logic or science of thought reflects his commitment to intellectual freedom in this sense. He aims to presuppose the availability neither of "something" in general that is assumed to be determinable by having categories predicated of it, nor of a subjectivity in general that is determinable in respect to some "given" content. Instead, he seeks to generate the very notion of determinability from reflection on the thought of pure being and its inseparability from that of negation.10 Because he is committed to the intrinsic "freedom and independence" of the subject matter of logic (namely, the forms of thought itself), he believes that by attending merely to the "development of thinking in its necessity" he will be able to generate a complete, sequentially ordered list of categories and forms of thought with a rigor superior (at least in principle) even to that of mathematics (GW 21:18/SL 19).
This heightened commitment to the autonomous, radically self-determining character of theoretical as well as practical reason defines post-Kantian idealism as a movement. Friedrich Heinrich Jacobi had sensitized its members to the affinity between theoretical reason and the uncompromising determinism, atheism, and—as he influentially argued—nihilism he saw epitomized in Spinoza's monistic metaphysics of substance.11
Jacobi himself had responded to the morally and metaphysically unacceptable consequences of full-blown rationalism by recommending a deflationary approach to theoretical reason's explanatory pretensions: We depend, in our theoretical employment of reason, on prior intuitions regarding our independence as persons, the reality of our freedom, and the cognitive accessibility of an equally independent, objective world. Regardless of any apparently contradictory conclusions we might reach on the basis of scientific experience and reflection, those intuitions are essentially unrevisable, and to all intents and purposes they have the status of "revelations" that we cannot question and have no choice but to accept.12 Consequently, those same intuitions set bounds to what we can rationally affirm. Hence, even in the face of reason's explanatory achievements in the sciences and their attendant technological benefits, we must resist the theoretical temptation to subject our own lives as rational agents to the dominion of scientific rationality, a form of reason whose purpose is to enhance human existence, not to explain it.13 [End Page 103]
The idealist alternative to Jacobi's deflationary approach was to embrace a conception of reason as intrinsically purposive, self-evolving, self-organizing, self-determining, and, not least, as enjoying what can only be called 'a life of its own' in the objective, worldly medium of nature and human society. Of the many attempts undertaken by post-Kantian philosophers to elaborate a systematic account of mind and world premised on the absolute autonomy of reason, one that could, in terms of elegance and rigor, stand up to Spinoza's naturalistic metaphysics of substance, we should agree that Hegel's system is the most complete and methodologically advanced. The Science of Logic, in particular, has its predecessors (particularly in the contributions of Fichte and Schelling), but no actual counterpart. Most importantly in the present context, the work mounts a sustained conceptual, methodological, and metaphysical critique of Spinoza's substance monism that is meant to redraw its basic design to accord with a conception of reason and action as an immanently purposive and radically self-determining.
2. self-determination, substance monism, and problems with nihilism: from spinoza to the logic of self-referring negation
We turn now to Hegel's critique of Spinozist substance monism and the alternative conception of self-determining subjectivity he opposes to it. After briefly introducing the lesser known, but key affirmative concepts of absolute determinacy and being-for-self (section 2.1), I consider the way Hegel deploys his more widely discussed notions of 'finitude' and 'bad' or 'negative infinity' to reconstruct, in the terms of speculative logic, Jacobi's charge that substance monism ends in nihilism (sections 2.2–2.4). These considerations motivate my claim (in section 2.5) that Hegel's innovative conception of 'double' or 'absolute negation' is designed to overcome the challenge of Spinozist nihilism, and that it is just this novel form of negation that constitutes the 'absolute determinacy' proper to being-for-self as essentially reflexive, that is, as self-determining.
2.1. Key Concepts: "Absolute Determinacy" and "Being-for-Self"
Because Hegel is committed to a strong conception of the autonomy of thought, his Science of Logic embraces an unusually rigorous methodological ideal according to which the system's "principle"—what it asserts to be "the beginning of all things" (GW 21:53/SL 45)—should also be the starting point of the actual exposition of the system: "that which has priority [das Prius] for thinking ought to be also first in the process of thinking" (GW 21:54/SL 46). However, for present purposes, we shall take the liberty of departing from the strict order of Hegel's exposition to begin with the dense but illuminating passage that opens the third and final chapter of the section on Quality, entitled Being-for-Self.
Since we will be working closely with the passage, it will be useful to have it before us in full. Bracketed numerals have been inserted to facilitate reference:
 In being-for-self, qualitative being is perfected [vollendet]; it is infinite being.  The being of the beginning is void of determination.  Being-determinate [Daseyn] is being that has been sublated, but only immediately sublated; it thus contains, to begin with, only the first negation, which is itself immediate; and although being-determinate [End Page 104] also contains being and unifies both [i.e. being and negation] in a simple unity, in themselves they are for that very reason unequal [ungleich] to each other and their unity is not yet posited.  Being-determinate is thus the sphere of difference, of dualism, the field of finitude. Its determinateness is determinateness [merely] as such, relative rather than absolute determinacy.  In being-for-self, the difference between being and determinateness has been posited and equalized [ausgeglichen]; quality, being-other, and limit, as well as reality, being-in-itself, the ought-to-be [das Sollen], etc.—these are incomplete integrations [Einbildungen] of negation into being, still based on the difference between the two.  But since in finitude negation has passed over into infinitude, into the posited negation of negation, it has thereby become simple relation-to-self and expresses its equalization with being—as absolute determinacy.(GW 21:144/SL 126)14
The first and most obvious thing to note is that the categories 'being,' 'being-determinate,' and 'being-for-self' are mapped onto the corresponding logical acts or operations of affirmation, negation, and negation of negation.15 Secondly, the "being of the beginning," i.e. the "pure being" that opens the actual systematic exposition of the Logic, is characterized as being "void of determination" (GW 21:68/SL 59); being-determinate constitutes what Hegel calls "relative determinateness" (relative Bestimmtheit); and being-for-self achieves "absolute determinacy" (absolutes Bestimmtseyn). The progression from simple affirmation through "first" or "immediate" negation to the negation of negation is thus correlated with a progression from indeterminacy through relative determinateness to absolute determinacy; or, rather, it is the operation of negation as such that constitutes these levels of determinacy. So, from this still rather schematic point of view, we can amplify and rephrase the first clause of  as saying that being-for-self completes the category of qualitative, i.e. immediately determinate being (cf. GW 21:98/SL 85) just insofar as it expresses negation of negation, that is, insofar as it constitutes absolute determinacy.
2.2. The "Bad Infinity" of Substance Monism: A Methodological Critique
At this point, we are working with terms whose content obviously still needs fleshing out. To take a step in that direction, let us consider the second clause of : Being-for-self is infinite being. Compared with traditional metaphysics, a distinguishing feature of Hegel's approach in the Logic (whose first, "objective" division is intended to replace traditional metaphysical approaches [cf. GW 21:48/ SL 42]) is that he does not start out with the underived notion of an unlimited, infinite being from which finite being must then be derived.16 On the contrary, he rejects the question that some of his contemporaries viewed as the decisive question of philosophy, "How does the infinite go forth out of itself and come to finitude?" as ill-posed and devoid of meaning (GW 21:139–40/SL 122).17 His [End Page 105] decision to invert the order of proceeding and move from the concept of the finite to that of the infinite is presumably motivated, at least in part, by the critical view of Spinoza's substance monism that he, like Fichte and Schelling, inherited from Jacobi.18 Clarity regarding the gist of that view will help us understand the basic structure, meaning, and purpose of Hegel's treatment of the infinite in the Logic.
Hegel's chief criticism of Spinozist substance monism is that it is empty at its core. He repeatedly likens Spinoza's concept of the one, absolutely infinite, all-encompassing substance to what Eleatic philosophers called 'being,' and rejects both as abstract and lacking any determinate content.19 To be more precise, his view is that Spinoza's concept of substance is in fact determinate, but not in virtue of having determinate content in itself, but only by virtue of its form as a product of abstraction. The existence of particular, finite, ontologically dependent entities is merely assumed, he argues: "Although their being is constantly being taken back as something untrue and submerged in the infinity of substance, they retain the status of a given point of departure for the cognition of their negativity."20 The concept of substance therefore reduces to that of sheer being—Jacobi calls it the "being in all being-there [das Seyn in allem Daseyn]" (Spinoza-Briefe, 39/Main Writings, 219)—a concept that gains determinacy only by virtue of its negative, indirect reference to the particularity and finitude from which it has been abstracted, but whose independent existence and determinacy it negates. However, when a concept explicitly refuses independent metaphysical and conceptual status to the items or terms on which it implicitly relies to individuate and define itself, it seems fair to judge that concept to be self-undermining.
The key methodological point in Hegel's criticism, then, is that Spinoza himself accords de facto methodological priority to the finite, but that he does so uncritically and unselfconsciously: The infinite emerges as a determinate thought only as the product of abstracting from particular, finite things that Spinoza assumes to exist and yet to have no intrinsic being of their own. This uncritical, fundamentally abstractive conception of the infinite is what Hegel pejoratively refers to as "the bad infinite" (GW 21:124/SL 109), "the infinite of the understanding" (GW 21:127/SL 111), or "negative infinity since it is nothing but the negation of the finite" (Encyclopedia, §94; cf. GW 21:137/SL 120).21
With these remarks in place, we return to the question: What does it mean when Hegel asserts, in statement , that the "completion" of qualitative being as being-for-self is infinite being? The first step toward an adequate grasp of Hegel's conception of the infinite lies in understanding his concept of finitude and the role of negativity. [End Page 106]
2.3. Metaphysical Nihilism and the Finitude of Being-Determinate
So far, we have been discussing the putative defects in Spinoza's concept of substance in a methodological register. Because the concept uncritically depends for its determinateness on the presupposition of finite things from which to abstract and negate, it is self-undermining. However, there is a closely related metaphysical point to be made: If unrestrictedly affirmative being belongs solely to the absolutely infinite, all-encompassing substance, then we must conceive finite entities as wholly constituted by certain restrictions, limitations, or negations of that fundamental reality. Hegel considers this to be an insight "of infinite importance," and he follows Jacobi in crediting Spinoza with having formulated precisely this insight as the principle omnis determinatio est negatio (GW 21:101/SL 87).22
While Hegel seems (on the face of it) to subscribe to the principle wholeheartedly, Jacobi infers from it that Spinozism entails nihilism. He argues that if all determination is negation, then "individual things, insofar as they exist only in a determinate manner, are non-entia; and the indeterminate, infinite being is the only true ens reale, hoc est, est omne esse, & praeter quod nullum datur esse."23 But if individual things are non-entia, and if the infinite being is understood not to transcend or be really distinct from them, the principle entails not only the non-being of the finite, but also that substance itself disappears into utter indeterminacy, and thus, effectively, into nothingness.24 Hence Jacobi's charge of nihilism.
Hegel's treatment of 'finitude' in the Science of Logic follows the same basic line of thought. Consider the way he introduces the category:
When we say of things that they are finite, what we mean is not just that they have a determinateness, that their quality is a reality and a determination of their own being in themselves, or that they are merely limited and thus have some determinate being [Daseyn] apart from their limit. Rather, we mean to say that non-being constitutes their nature, their being. Finite things are, but their relation to themselves consists in their relating negatively to themselves, and thus by this very self-relation they propel themselves beyond themselves, beyond their being. . . . [T]he hour of their birth is the hour of their death.(GW 21:116/SL 101)25
This passage echoes Jacobi's inference that, if all determination is negation, then determinate entities are fundamentally non-entities. Up to the introduction of "true" or "affirmative infinitude" (GW 21:130/SL 114), the whole course of the chapter on being-determinate (Dasein) is devoted to working out this same insight. From the beginning, Hegel is mounting an argument that what initially presents itself in the guise of quality, reality, or as being "something" (Etwas) possessing an inner determination (Bestimmung) all its own, owes in truth what determinate individuality it has to the negative relations of "otherness," "limitation," and [End Page 107] "restriction." Differently from Jacobi, however, Hegel is not presenting these inferences exclusively with the polemical intention of revealing the unacceptability of substance monism. Nor does he agree with Jacobi that our immediate and instinctive conviction of our own existence as substantial, individual agents is sufficient to combat nihilism: By itself, the bare assertion "I am, I exist" has no more—indeed, no other—content than the assertion "It is!" Right though Jacobi may be in the fact of the matter, the form of existence he seeks to rescue from the nihilistic consequences of Spinoza's metaphysical naturalism cannot be fully articulated in his chosen idiom of philosophical critique.
As we can gather from the passage just cited, Hegel is speaking in his own voice when he says that the being of finite things is their non-being and that the hour of their birth is the hour of their death. Related remarks, furthermore, indicate that he does not intend his arguments to be taken as directed merely toward a particular, perhaps insufficient, philosophical interpretation of the relevant categories. For instance, one of the Lesser Logic's Zusätze offers this elucidation of being-determinate:
Quality in general is immediate determinateness, determinateness that is identical with being. . . . Something is what it is by virtue of its quality, and in losing its quality, it ceases to be what it is. Furthermore, quality is essentially a category of the finite alone, and hence it has its proper place in nature only, not in the world of spirit. Thus, we may consider the so-called elements [einfache Stoffe], oxygen, nitrogen, etc., as examples of qualities as they exist in nature. In the realm of spirit, by contrast, quality occurs only in a subordinate way and never so as to exhaust any determinate shape of spirit.(Encyclopedia, §90A, emphasis added)
In the context of the more detailed arguments of the Greater Logic, this elucidation suggests that the identity of being and nonbeing that constitutes finitude—and hence also the identity whose nihilistic implications leads Jacobi to reject the metaphysical naturalism he sees as part and parcel of modern science—is a feature of nature, not of mind or spirit, that is, not a feature belonging to the form of existence Jacobi sought to rescue from nihilism.26
In turn, with a view to statements  and  above, the passage suggests that determinate beings are what they are in virtue of their (singular) quality, so to lose that quality is just to cease to exist. But early on in his exposition of being-determinate, Hegel has already argued that qualitative being is necessarily a "becoming," a "passing over." Since each moment in this passing over is itself a "something," the whole process is one of "alteration" (Veränderung) and perishing (GW 21:104/SL 90). Hence the introductory characterization of finitude as "qualitative negation driven to the extreme" (GW 21:117/SL 101):
In the simplicity of such determination, [finite things] are left with no affirmative being distinct from their determination as things destined to perish. The qualitative simplicity of negation has returned it to the abstract opposition in which nothing [End Page 108] and perishing stood to being, making finitude the most stubborn category of the understanding; . . . finitude is negation fixed in itself and it therefore stands in sharp opposition to its affirmative [counterpart, i.e. the infinite].(GW 21:117/SL 101)
The preliminary upshot of Hegel's exposition of being-determinate is thus precisely the nihilistic vision Jacobi saw to be entailed by the principle omnis determinatio est negatio, according to which finite particulars are never determinate in themselves, but evince a merely relative determinateness (cf. ) as mutually limiting and negating. Only the infinite is; the finite is not, and since the sole determination of the infinite is constituted by its finite "modes," the infinite itself is as nothing.
2.4. "Negative Infinity" and the Dead-End of Determinateness as Simple Negation
Thus do things stand when Hegel commences his famed analysis of "bad infinity," the "progress to infinity," and what he finally identifies as "true" or "affirmative infinitude" (GW 21:123–27/SL 108–20). Over the course of the logic of Quality, Hegel tells us, being and non-being have gradually been made to separate out of the "simple unity," into which they had "collapsed" at the beginning of the Logic, in the transition from becoming to being-determinate (GW 21:93/SL 81). They have shown themselves to be "unequal" (cf. ) and their immediate unity to be merely apparent. Therefore, they now stand once again in the same sharp opposition in which they stood at the beginning.
Thus, at the outset of Hegel's analysis of the infinite, an opposition has re-emerged that is analogous to the opening opposition between being and nothing. The difference here is that being, in the guise of the "bad infinite," has now actually come to be posited and determined as indeterminate over against the determinateness of the finite, as Hegel promised it would in his cursory overview at the beginning of the section on quality.27 And it has come to be so determined by the process of finitude's own self-negation. The way the Science of Logic arrives at the concept of the 'bad' infinite qua indeterminate being thus differs from the way the concept of the infinite is implicit in substance monism.
Spinoza's abstraction from finite determinacy occurs (so the criticism goes) unselfconsciously and in a methodologically uncontrolled manner. Hegel, by contrast, first generates the category of finitude by analyzing the concept of determinateness in general; by following out this analysis, we arrive at the insight that, insofar as determinateness is conceived as constituted by external, contrastive relations, it finally amounts to a thoroughgoing, mutual self-negation of determinate (finite) entities, which thus come to stand in wholesale opposition to the infinite qua indeterminately affirmative being. By the same token, however, once being has come to be posited and determined as indeterminate immediacy, it no longer passes over into non-being as easily as it was supposed to while it was still the radically indeterminate immediacy of the beginning. The opposition of the finite and infinite has, in Hegel's words, become "stubborn" (GW 21:117/SL 101). [End Page 109]
There is broad agreement on the basic lines of Hegel's analysis.28 If we understand the infinite as emerging on the basis of the self-negation of the finite, then the being of the infinite is equivalent to the non-being of the finite. However, that would throw us back to the type of logical relation that characterized being-determinate as "something and an other," where it was the internal dynamic of just that relation that drove us to the point of opposing the infinite to the finite in the first place (cf. GW 21:126/SL 110). So that way lies a viciously repeating cycle. Equally, if the being of the infinite is equivalent to the non-being of the finite, then by the same logic of equivalence we are forced to posit the finite as being in a relation to the infinite and thus to affirm the very term we are claiming to negate. Just insofar as it is asserted as perishing and vanishing, the finite is also asserted as persisting in opposition to the infinite as the latter's abiding condition (GW 21:117–18, 131–32/SL 101, 114–15). So, this way lies the same contradiction that already plagues Spinoza's "assumption" of finite particulars. So long as we conceive the infinite as the first or simple negation of the finite, the two terms stand to each other in a relation of difference and incompatibility, and simultaneously in a relation of inseparability and mutual exchangeability (GW 21:133–37/SL 116–19; cf. ).
Stubborn though the concept of finitude and its opposition to the infinite may therefore be, Hegel's analysis suggests that it is nonetheless untenable. He therefore rejects a piece of traditional metaphysics that is part and parcel with it, namely, the idea of a purely affirmative, infinitely "perfect" ens realissimum as the necessary ground of all possibility, from which particular, finite beings are supposed to emerge by a mysterious process of negating and limiting the original attributes of the divine being (cf. GW 21:99–101/SL 85–87).29 We hardly need repeat that he thereby also rejects Spinoza's conception of God as a substance of absolutely infinite attributes. However, it may be less obvious that, in rejecting the "abstract" opposition of finite and infinite, Hegel also forces us to revisit the principle omnis determinatio est negatio and to relativize it, or at least to further clarify its meaning.
After all, the principle that all determination expresses negation is what led us first to the conception of finitude as radically self-negating and vanishing, and thence to the dialectic that spells the downfall of any notion of an original fullness of being from which finite things could have arisen by a process of negation and limitation. And that is precisely the conception to which determinatio est negatio is native—at least in the sense in which Jacobi introduces it into the discourse of post-Kantian philosophy. So, if Hegel does in fact subscribe to the principle (as he appears to do), the relevant sense of negation cannot coincide with what he calls immediate, simple, or first negation, for the simple reason that it is determinateness qua first negation that leads to the dead-end of the "bad" infinite. [End Page 110]
By Hegelian lights, there is only one alternative on the table: "second negation" or affirmation grasped as the negation of negation. And this alteration to the meaning of negatio implies a corresponding alteration to the meaning of determinatio, which we should therefore no longer understand as mere determinateness qua being-other (i.e. in relation to another something), but as 'self-determination.'
2.5. Absolute Determinacy and the Negation of Negation
When Hegel identifies the "completion" of qualitative being with "infinite being" (cf. ), the significance lies in his conception of being-for-self as constituted by and expressive of the negation of negation. He says as much in statement : "in finitude, negation passed over into infinitude, into the posited negation of negation, it has thereby become simple relation-to-self and expresses its equalization with Being—as absolute determinacy." Here, infinitude, absolute determinacy, and the negation of negation, are all of a piece.
At the level of finite being-determinate, all determinacy is correlative (cf. ), meaning that what finite things are in themselves is a function of their opposition to other things that are given and present outside them as their equally real, but incompatible, counterparts. Hegel calls this relation "being-other," and introduces it as expressing negation in its first, simple, immediate form. However, precisely because being-other expresses determinate negation in the guise of equally real, affirmative equivalents, it is not transparent as an expression of negation:
In the sphere of being, the self-determining of the concept is at first only in itself [i.e. implicit], and for that reason it is called a transition or passing over. Despite the fact that the mutually reflecting determinations of being, e.g. something and other or finite and infinite, essentially point to one another, that is, are present as being-for-other, even they are still qualitative determinations and therefore count as independently self-subsistent.(GW 21:109/SL 94)
Thus, although being-other is indeed a function of simple negation, it also distorts and disguises that fact. Accordingly, the developmental sequence of categories stretching from being-determinate in general (GW 21:97/SL 83) to the infinite in general (GW 21:125/SL 109) serves the critical purpose of separating out the negative and making it explicit as the constitutive factor in finite, that is, relative, determinateness. For each determination that initially presents itself as having a fully determinate meaning that is "complete even without its other," Hegel will show that it "passes over into" (i.e. makes essential reference to) its negative counterpart. The intended implication is clearly that, to the extent that they instantiate such essentially incomplete logical types, the really existing things of our experience also undergo such a process of negation and transition.
However, this critical function does not exhaust the logic of qualitative determinateness. If being-determinate is introduced as a simple or immediate unity of being and non-being, that is precisely not to say that they constitute a concrete, internally differentiated whole with a discernible form. The simplicity of their unity signifies its formlessness. So, at the same time Hegel's logical exposition functions here to separate out or analyze the affirmative and negative moments of qualitative determinateness, it also functions to re-integrate or synthesize them into an articulated whole. [End Page 111]
Hence statement , which characterizes the categories of being-determinate as incomplete Einbildungen of negation into being (GW 21:144/SL 126). Above, Einbildung was translated as 'integration,' but it might be better rendered by speaking of an 'in-forming' of being by negation. So long as being and negation constitute a simple, undifferentiated unity as they do in the initial case of being-determinate in general, there is at most the potential for form. But neither can form emerge on the "basis" of a strict duality of being and negation (cf. ). Precisely this is the implication of Hegel's treatment of finitude: As long as negation and being remain opposed, the "tremendous force of the negative" (PhG 9.27/PS §32) will undermine all being, form, and determinacy whatsoever. So, the complete informing of being by negation, understood as a process of originary morphogenesis (the genesis of form as such), can only be achieved once we manage to articulate being itself—i.e. the aspect of independence, permanence, substantiality in things—as brought about and posited by negation.
Once negation has been integrated with being to the point that being itself is grasped as posited through negation, the sense of 'determinateness' shifts. We are no longer to understand it as constituted by external negation in opposition to something other that is incoherently supposed to be both positive in itself and yet equally determined by merely external and relative negation. As we have seen, that way lies the nihilism of radical finitude. Instead, we come to understand determinateness as constituted by active self-relation—the "self-determining of the Concept" (GW 21:109/SL 94)—without reference to any putatively affirmative, externally subsisting "other." The determinateness represented by the negation of negation is, in this precise sense, absolute determinacy: Determinacy that is not mediated by relation to any supposedly prior determination or activity external to it, but that nonetheless evades the threat of pervasive indetermination and nihilism by virtue of relating negatively to itself.
The introduction of absolute determinacy as negation of negation entails modifications to the traditional metaphysical conception of the infinite (e.g. as the ens realissimum). When Hegel says that being-for-self is "infinite being," he does not intend to suggest, along traditional lines, that it is a being wholly and primordially affirmative, devoid of any negation or limitation. Rather, it is a being that is wholly expressive of negative self-relation and which therefore is indivisibly both the positing of itself and of its determinations or limitations.
The Logic thus undertakes to renew and transform the traditional conception in a distinctly post-Kantian spirit of the primacy of autonomous subjectivity. However much Hegel's concepts of the infinite, being-for-self, or the one may look like enriched versions of (Eleatic) 'being,' they represent a profound transformation of the traditional metaphysical assumption that, prior to and at the basis of thought and the activity of thinking, we must postulate being—simple and illimitable, immovable and eternal, incomparable. Hegel rejects the traditional principle a nihilo nihil fit to re-articulate being as the negation of negation, and in doing so he prioritizes thought absolutely.30 In contrast to "substance" or the ens realissimum, his [End Page 112] "true infinite" is not to be understood as primordially determined or fixed, but as self-relating, self-differentiating, and hence as a living process of self-positing and self-determination. His intention is to vindicate "the real" as numerically identical to the self-activity of thinking, the same process that the Logic sets into motion as "pure thinking" (GW 21:45/SL 38–39).
3. being-for-self as the unity of reality and ideality
Hegel characterizes being-for-self as completing qualitative being. To elucidate the category's perfective character, I draw in the following on its immediate categorial predecessor, viz. the concept of true infinity as constituting a unity of ideality and reality. In section 3.1, I compare the abstract structure of being-for-self with its more concrete instantiation as self-conscious intentionality, so as to enable a more intuitive grasp of the category than its purely logical description allows for. These reflections on the structure of intentionality form the basis for section 3.2, which further explicates the logical relations linking being-for-self to the notion of ideality or "reality in a higher sense" (GW 21:136/SL 119), to the operation Hegel calls 'sublation,' and to a priori synthesis. In section 3.3, finally, I apply the results of my analysis to the Logic's notoriously contested opening section, in order to develop an interpretation of the dialectic of being, nothing, and becoming as representing Hegel's theory of how the form-content duality originally emerges.
3.1. Being-for-Self and Self-Consciousness Compared
The way Hegel introduces being-for-self immediately makes clear the sense in which it represents the completion or perfection of the categories of qualitative being or Dasein, as well as the reasons why it is nonetheless still destined to be superseded by further, more concrete categories.
Simplifying a little, we observe that true infinitude is constituted as negation of negation, which gives us both relation to self (since it is self-negation) and affirmation, according to the familiar rule duplex negatio affirmat (cf. GW 21:151/ SL 132). Emphasizing this affirmative aspect of self-relation (the hallmark of all categories of "being"), we can see why Hegel introduces "being-for-self" as referring to "infinitude that has collapsed [zusammensinken] into simple being" (GW 21:146/ SL 127). At the same time, bearing in mind that infinitude has emerged through a process of explicit self-negation, we can also emphasize its character as a unity of negation and immediacy, that is, being-determinate, Dasein (GW 21:146/SL 127).
However, even though we are dealing here with a Dasein-like unity, being-for-self is unlike the qualitative being of "something": it does not relate to an "other" in its being-determinate, but only to itself; similarly, it differs not from something other, but from itself. In being-for-self, the moment of negation is no longer present as simple, or first, negation; consequently, it does not initially or most characteristically present itself in the guise of an external other, but as a kind of internal negation of being-for-self that has the same content-determination as being-for-self, only "marked" as negative. Hegel calls this internalized form of being-for-other "being-for-one" (GW 21:146/SL 127). [End Page 113]
This way of introducing the correlative moments 'being-for-self' and 'being-for-one' hews close to Hegel's purely logical terminology, but does not help much in getting a handle on its actual meaning and significance. In this regard, Hegel's reference to self-consciousness is helpful, which he identifies as "being-for-itself fully achieved [vollbracht] and posited" (GW 21:145/SL 127). To explain why self-consciousness counts as the paradigmatic instantiation of concrete being-for-self, it is easiest to begin with a negative consideration, contrasting self-consciousness with consciousness.
Consciousness is often described as having two constitutive poles, a subject and an object of awareness. No necessity compels us to ascribe substantial, "extra-mental" being to either. In regard to the object of conscious states, we might recall Brentano's influential suggestion that the mark of mentality in general is "the intentional (or mental) inexistence of an object, and what we might call . . . reference to a content, direction toward an object (which is not to be understood here as meaning a thing), or immanent objectivity."31 As to the subject of consciousness, Hume famously observed that "when I enter most intimately into what I call myself . . . I always stumble on some particular perception or other, of heat or cold, light or shade, love or hatred, pain or pleasure," but that "I never can catch myself at any time without a perception, and never can observe anything but the perception."32 Beyond the sheer unity of consciousness, there is no overt representation of its subject, and no obvious constraint to think of the subject of consciousness as an extra-mentally existent substance or substrate.
On the one hand, Hegel's conception of 'being-for-self' manifests obvious affinities with Kant's unified subject of apperception (cf. GW 21:145/SL 127; GW 12.17–19/SL 514–16).33 On the other hand, however, we must bear in mind that apperception never occurs as a pure form or bare unity; rather, it is always saturated with a manifold sensible and intellectual content characterized by "intentional inexistence" (in Brentano's well-established phrase) or what Hegel himself grasps as "being-for-one." Though these two facets of apperception, viz. formal unity and material manifoldness, are inseparable realiter, they are clearly also distinct. It is crucial to acknowledge that distinct from and yet nonetheless contained within the real unity of consciousness, a consciousness of unity is present as distinguishable from the succession of qualitatively determinate conscious states. Despite its real inseparability from the contents that constitute its determinate modes, this consciousness of unity remains "at one with itself" (bey sich [GW 21:145/SL 127]) in a manner analogous to the simple self-relation that characterizes being-for-self.
Now, Hegel calls this unity of being-for-self and being-for-one 'consciousness' just insofar as its content is (a) distinct from it in kind ("I" am never the content of either sensation, intuition, or an ordinary conceptual representation formed through abstraction, comparison, and reflection); and insofar as that content (b) counts as the presentation of an extra-mental referent existing independently of the [End Page 114] unity of consciousness. Consciousness thus exhibits a "dualism" in which being-for-self is opposed, on the one hand, to the "being-for-one" of its determinate contents and, on the other hand, to those same contents insofar as they represent determinate beings (Daseiende) taken to be external to and independent of their presence to consciousness (GW 21:145/SL 127).34
This second opposition is a function of the first and it tends to draw being-for-self itself back down into the status of a mere being-determinate, an ostensibly substantial "something" (a person, say) relating to another ostensibly substantial "something" that exists independently of it (for instance, an ordinary physical object). However, that is precisely the type of daseiende relation that we left behind in the transition from finitude to true infinity.
By contrast, self-consciousness illustrates precisely the new type of negative self-relation in its purity. Here, the difference in content that characterized being-for-one in the case of consciousness (sensations, intuitions etc.) is cancelled, and consequently the daseiende relation of being-other between distinct and independent "somethings" also falls away. Being-for-one is, identically and indivisibly, also being-for-self; indeed, as self-consciousness, being-for-self can be said to obtain only insofar as it is itself being-for-one: being-for-self is itself the being-for-one of being-for-self (cf. GW 21:147/SL 129).35
Now, talk of "intentional inexistence" might seem to suggest that conscious content, in contrast to the "reality" of the unified subject to which it belongs, ought to count as "merely ideal." Hegel rejects this way of making the distinction (cf. GW 21:147/SL 129) as foreign to the way he intends us to grasp the logical category of being-for-one in its relation to being-for-self. Especially at this stage of logical exposition, the two cannot be separated even notionally. The very unity represented by being-for-self is itself constituted by a simple, immediate unity with its unique and exclusive content-determination, viz. being-for-one. This is the reason why self-consciousness offers a more precise analogue than consciousness for what Hegel means when he states that ideality "consists precisely in the fact that it is equally true of both [being-for-self and being-for-one] that they have being and validity only insofar as they are for-one, which is at one and the same time indistinguishably both ideality and reality" (GW 21:147/SL 129).36
3.2. Ideality, Sublation, and A Priori Synthesis
Seeing how self-consciousness is a paradigmatic instantiation of being-for-self helps us to gain an "inside" perspective on the category. However, Hegel is explicit in distinguishing self-consciousness from the relatively more abstract and purely [End Page 115] qualitative category of being-for-self (GW 21:145/SL 127).37 Despite the clear analogy between it and the structure of self-conscious intentionality, we must not take it to exemplify more than a proto-intentional structure still lacking essential features of subjectivity. Nevertheless, the fact that Hegel introduces such a structure as the culmination of the Logic's very first section, Determinateness (Quality), is significant. Evidently, the intended message is that if we are to outstrip the nihilistic consequences of rationalist metaphysics (in its paradigmatically "Spinozist" expression), then we must conceive a kind and degree of determinateness and stability that is immune to the vicissitudes entailed by the principle omnis determinatio est negatio. By implication, we can conceive reality to be sufficiently determinate and stable only if we understand it as fundamentally sharing in the structure of intentionality, the structure of "ideality," and as doing so at a categorial level prior to the emergence of concrete, personal, finite subjectivity.38
Being-for-self thus instantiates and further specifies the same identity of reality and ideality that Hegel introduced in the context of true infinitude, characterizing it first as "reality in a higher sense" and then more properly as "ideality" (GW 21:136–37/SL 119). Initially, he seems to choose the term 'ideality' in order to have an expression that more distinctly indicates the affirmative infinite's specific character as negating negation, as opposed to the one-sided relation in which reality (i.e. affirmative quality) stood to simple negation. But there is obviously more to Hegel's choice of 'ideality' than merely to have a dedicated term for "reality in a higher sense."
To recognize the motive behind his choice, we must look back to the very beginning of the Logic, where Hegel introduced the concept of sublation to [End Page 116] describe the way that being and nothing are present as "moments" in the unity of becoming (GW 21:94–95/SL 81–82). There he explains that "something is sublated only insofar as it has entered into unity with its opposite," and that once such a unity of opposites has come about, each of the opposed terms "may fittingly be called a moment" (GW 21:95/SL 82). Hegel appeals to the same notion to elucidate his notion of ideality: "The ideal [das Ideelle] is the finite as it is in the true infinite—as a determination, a content, that is distinct, but which is present not as independently subsisting [selbständig seyend], but as a moment" (GW 21:137/SL 119).
In other words, for the finite to be 'ideal,' a 'moment,' means for it to be distinct and yet inseparable from the infinite. We could also say: The opposing moments belong together in a synthetic unity. Now, in the post-Kantian context in which Hegel is writing, synthetic unity counts as the defining feature of thought. Accordingly, for the finite to be ideal means for it to have being and determinateness only insofar as it figures within the same type of integrative structure that characterizes conscious thought as such. It is true that Hegel repeatedly complains about the words 'unity' and 'synthetic unity' (GW 21:78–79/SL 67–68; GW 21:83–84/SL 72–73), chiefly because they seem to suggest the prior givenness of distinct and independently existing "somethings" that are then externally and subjectively brought together; he therefore prefers the expression "unseparatedness and inseparability" (GW 21:79/SL 68). Properly understood, however, Kant's 'synthesis a priori' denotes "the activity of this unity [of self-consciousness] in bringing about its own diremption and preserving itself in that diremption" (GW 21:84/SL 73): Far from presupposing determinate and independently subsisting entities, a priori synthesis denotes the origination of independent identity and determinateness in general.
From this vantage point, we can see that from the very outset of the Logic, Hegel has been concerned to demonstrate, first, that prior to any given, determinate content, the very thought of simple immediacy and relation-to-self—the thought of being—immediately involves the mind in thinking's fundamental activity, synthesis, whose initial guise is that of pure (logical) becoming. Reflection on this activity, merely as such, produces the concept of being-determinate (Dasein): A determination whose content is exhausted in the thought of sheer determinability; in Houlgate's phrase, a "being-that-is-not . . . ," where the ellipsis aptly suggests the open "place" at which determinations are to be entered.39 And so he continues throughout the logic of Determinateness (Quality), arguing at every turn that as soon as we undertake actually to think a particular category, it reveals itself as constituted by the activity of a priori synthesis and hence as exhibiting the inseparability of distinct, opposing "moments" that is the characteristic mark of synthesis.
Hegel is thus committed to the methodological thesis that thought is radically self-determining from the very beginning. It generates its own form and content through a self-iterating operation that comprises, first, an activity of thinking-cum-synthesizing, then an "internal" reflection on the identity and structure of that activity, giving rise to a new, simple, "immediate" category expressing that [End Page 117] identity and structure, whereupon the activity of thinking-cum-synthesizing is once again renewed. At its core, 'sublation' refers to nothing other than this activity of original self-determination.
3.3. Beginning Absolutely: Being—Nothing—Becoming and the Genesis of Content
These last reflections bring us to the notoriously perplexing opening arguments of the Science of Logic, where Hegel asserts the unity of being and nothing as "moments" of becoming (GW 21:68–70/SL 59–60; GW 21:92–93/SL 80–81). Controversy about this claim and whether the actual text supports it has surrounded the work since its first publication. The history of that controversy and the closely related one surrounding Hegel's claim to begin the Logic wholly without presuppositions and without engaging in "reflection," could easily fill a volume of its own.40 There is indeed much at stake here. It is no exaggeration to say, with Henrich, that if we fail to make sense of the beginning with pure being as free of any admixture of categories of "reflection," we must concede that the entire Hegelian conception of logic as a science of "pure thoughts" is untenable.41 This article's angle of view precludes full discussion of all the surrounding issues.42 However, we can shed valuable light on the Logic's beginning by viewing it from the vantage point of being-for-self and the ideal of reason's absolute self-determination.
Let us start with the general observation that the beginning of something is no less a limit than is the ending. Therefore, if "pure being—without any further determination" (GW 21:68/SL 59) is the beginning of the science of logic, and if we accept Hegel's claim to put first in the ordo cognoscendi what is first in the ordo essendi, then we must understand pure being to be the limit of thought since logic is the science of thought. Now, 'limit' is one of the pure thought-determinations that Hegel claims to generate in the course of the Logic, so it is appropriate to apply what he has to say about it to the beginning with pure being:
Something is what it is only in its limit. Thus, the point is the limit of the line, not only because the line ends at the point and is being-determinate [Daseyn] only outside it. . . . Rather, at the point the line also begins; the point is its absolute beginning, and if the line is represented as unlimited on both its two sides . . . the point still constitutes its element. . . . These limits are the principle of that which they delimit.(GW 21:115/SL 100)
In the case of determinate beings (Daseiende), the limit of each is constituted by its relation to something other, and as we have seen, the logic of simple determinate negation drives such limited, finite beings to an absolute annihilation, expressed in the thought of the "bad" or negative infinite. By contrast, the "true" or affirmative infinite distinguishes itself by the fact that it fully integrates negation, retracting the limit into itself, as it were, and positing it as its own (cf. GW 21:130–35/SL 114–18).43 Applying the remarks just quoted to the case of the true infinite, we [End Page 118] would therefore have to say that the infinite is its own beginning, element, and principle by virtue of the very fact that it is an originary (self)-delimiting activity (rather as we spoke above of an originary morphogenesis).
In turn, we can also apply this conclusion to the beginning of the Science of Logic. If pure being is the limit of thought, it is thereby equally its beginning, element, and principle. Hence the question of whether or not thought is absolutely self-determining is equivalent to the question of whether it stands to being in a relation of "otherness" and therefore finitude, or whether it posits being as its own, internal limit and is therefore infinite. Thought either has some external "factor" to thank for its determinateness and is thereby externally limited, or it determines itself and is thereby constituted by its own self-delimiting activity.
Hegel is clearly committed to the latter, affirmative claim, and believes that he can bring readers to grasp its truth merely by inviting them to think the thought of "pure being—without any further determination" (GW 21:68/SL 59). Viewing the beginning with pure being and its unity with nothing (negation) from this angle helps us see Hegel's deeper motivation in beginning the way he does. In the first place, the absence of all determination in the beginning means that the "pure thinking" that is to go on in the Logic is not externally bound by any given content. The "nothing" into which pure being proves always already to have "passed over" signals the absence of any external limitation on thought: If the first thought of pure thinking turns out to be—not being, but—nothing, then there is nothing to limit thinking, no point of external "reflection" (Fichte's Anstoß or "check")44 that halts thinking and turns it back into itself.
This scenario might initially appear to be an exceptionally pure instance of the "frictionless spinning in the void" that McDowell represents as a threat to knowledge and truth.45 Hegel does not see it that way. For him, the insight into the indiscernibility of being and nothing constitutes at the very same time an immediate awareness of the difference involved in thinking them. Hegel replaces the Fichtean Anstoß von außen ("external check" or "impulse") with what he calls the absolute Gegenstoß in sich ("internal self-repelling"). The source of determinateness lies not outside of thought, but in thought's own awareness of itself as internally differentiated—the same internal differentiation that will become explicitly thematic for thought as the distinctness and inseparability of being-for-self and being-for-one. Thought does indeed begin in a "void," but it constrains itself by virtue of the "friction" that essentially belongs to it insofar as it is internally self-differentiating and thereby self-originating. That is the core thesis of Hegel's science of pure thought.
In order to posit or assert the unity of being and nothing, both must be co-present to thought. Indeed, at the beginning of the Logic, thought itself just is the awareness of this contradictory state of affairs in which being and nothing are both the same and not the same. Given all we have said before, it is not far-fetched to characterize such awareness as an original synthetic unity, that is, a unity of distinct terms that were never given nor could have been given as distinct outside that unity. So, Hegel's gambit or ploy at the beginning of the Logic is to force thought into an awareness whose content is explicitly synthetically constituted (namely, as the [End Page 119] distinctness and inseparability of being and negation) and whose form is implicitly that of self-awareness. (I will return shortly to this talk of content and form since it is bound to seem problematic to some Hegelians.)46
If this suggestion is right, then it helps us to see why Hegel could have thought of himself as improving on Fichte's and Schelling's manner of beginning with the "I" or with pure self-consciousness. In the System of Transcendental Idealism, for instance, Schelling clearly enunciates his presupposition of the concept of self-consciousness:
For us, the primal knowledge is without doubt our knowledge of ourselves, or self-consciousness. When the idealist makes this knowledge the principle of philosophy, this accords with the limits placed on his entire task, which has no other object than the subjectivity of knowledge.—That self-consciousness is the fixed point upon which, for us, everything hangs, requires no proof.47
On the one hand, Hegel is critical of this way of beginning, not least because of the misunderstandings it is liable to provoke (cf. GW 21:64/SL 54). On the other hand, he does seem to concede an affinity or even an identity between "intellectual intuition" and the beginning thought of being in its unity with nothing (cf. GW 21:64–65/SL 54–55). The difference is that Hegel does not make appeal to such a "faculty" or mode of cognition, opting instead to present the speculative logician with a task ("think pure being—without any further determination!" [GW 21:68/SL 59]) that is meant to bring the self-diremption and original synthesis to immediate awareness. For if the Logic began with a conception of pure self-consciousness, it would be bound by that content just as much as by any other determination that is supposed to be given prior to and from a source external to thinking itself. Hegel therefore leaves all such conceptions aside and—not unlike the later Fichte—invites the reader to perform an action that will generate a form of immediate evidence or insight.48 And that insight will in turn include a sequence of further content-determinations (being-determinate, something, other, limit etc.) that arise with the actual deed and can be made explicit through a procedure of "pure" or "internal" reflection (GW 21:86/SL 74). And this way of proceeding is again very much indebted to the "pragmatic history of self-consciousness" practiced by Fichte and Schelling.49 In following out these explicating conditions, we will eventually arrive at the explicit thought of a self-delimitation in the form of true infinity, that is, being-for self. Though that will still be a merely qualitative, merely "immediate" expression of thought's self-determination, it is nonetheless recognizable as the first manifestation of the "ideality" of thought itself.
I conclude this brief discussion of the opening of Hegel's Logic with a word about content and ideality. As Henrich critically notes, we cannot appeal to the lack of any content in the thought of pure being as the key to its unity with nothing.50 For [End Page 120] appealing to the form/content distinction would mobilize precisely the concepts of reflection that Hegel says must be held in check at the beginning. Superficial appearances notwithstanding, my suggestion above does not violate this restriction. I said that the dialectic of being, nothing, and becoming forces thought into an awareness whose content is synthetically constituted and whose form is implicitly that of being-for-self. However, this is not the same as saying that "pure being—without any further determination" has a conceptual form devoid of content.
Here it is helpful to consider what is the point of Hegel's saying that neither pure being nor nothing "pass over" into each other, but that they have from the beginning always already passed over into each other (GW 21:69/SL 59). If it were possible to fix the thought "pure being," note that it is devoid of content, and then register its sameness with the thought "nothing" on the basis of comparison, abstraction, and reflection, then we could indeed say that the one thought "pure being" thereby "passes over" into that of "nothing."51 But that is not the case. The thought of pure being is the thought of a limitless indifference so profound that it could never be present since there would be nothing for it to be present to. Hegel invites us to see that this thought is itself already the thought of nothing. Yet the same indivisible awareness of this sameness is also awareness of that "nothing" as present to thought, that is, as being.
Parmenides's argument is recognizable in the background: "You could not know what is not [tò mē eón] (for that is impossible) nor could you utter it. For thinking [noein] and being [einai] are the same. . . . Necessarily, that which is spoken and thought is, but nothing is not."52 Hegel appears to acknowledge this argument when he equates "the thinking of nothing" with its "turning around [Umschlagen] into being" (GW 21:87/SL 75): "Nothing is thought of, represented; it is spoken about; it therefore is; nothing has its being in [an dem] thinking, representing, speaking, etc." (GW 21:88/SL 77). Thus, the thought of nothing can only be framed at the price of self-contradiction. In thinking nothing, we are not thinking it, we are failing to think it: nothing has already vanished into being. And yet precisely in having vanished, it leaves a trace in being: being as not non-being—being as differing, as determinate.
This is how we should understand the observation with which continues his line of argument in the same Remark:
Further, this being is also distinguished from [nothing]; it is therefore said that nothing is indeed in thinking or representing, yet for that very reason it is not [nothing] which is, it is not [nothing] to which being belongs, that only thinking or representing are this being. Even in thus distinguishing, there is still no denying that nothing stands in relation [Beziehung] to a being; and even if this relation contains a distinction, a unity with being is nonetheless present in it. In whatever way nothing is said or demonstrated, it shows itself in combination with or, if one refers, in touch [Berührung] with a being, unseparated from a being, that is to say, precisely in a being-determinate [Daseyn].(GW 21:88/SL 77) [End Page 121]
Now what does all this have to do with the issue of form and content at the beginning of the Logic? The crucial point is that neither pure being nor nothing are independently graspable contents or indeed any kind of content at all prior to and independently of the logical acts of affirmation (being), negation (nothing) and negation of negation (the re-positing of being as not nothing and yet in unity with nothing). With that said, however, we must also hasten to note that being and nothing are indeed in no way prior to or independent of those logical acts, nor could they be: they are those very acts themselves. The dialectic of being and nothing forces thought back on itself (Gegenstoß in sich) in a way that divides thought in itself. And it is precisely this diremption or internal division of thought that is the site of the originary genesis of ("intentional") content—what will later figure as being-for-one in relation to being-for-self.
Far from presupposing a distinction between form and content, then, the opening of the Logic is designed to display the absolute genesis of both form and content. But what kind of content can something as abstract as that mere difference amount to? Hegel calls it Dasein (which I have been translating as "being-determinate") and characterizes it as "the simple oneness of being and nothing" (GW 21:97/SL 83). It is not easy to get a handle on what that phrase is supposed to mean, but Houlgate's rephrasing of it as "being-that-is-not . . ." is illuminating.53 The ellipsis seems to allude to all the indeterminately many determinations that could be mentioned as not (yet) determinations of being. And we seem to find support for this way of interpreting the simple unity of being and nothing in Hegel's later characterization of the infinite, which is said to "explicitly refer to and negate the restrictedness to which being and becoming might be thought capable, even though they do not actually have or display any such restrictions" (GW 21:124/ SL 108–09, emphasis added; also, cf. GW 21:152/SL 133).
From this we may infer that being and becoming are present in the beginning as "capable" of further determination; present, in other words, as determinable. And precisely this openness to determinability must indeed be conceded as the beginning of all thinking and knowing, for if neither thought nor being were determinable, then the entire machinery of categorial determinations would have no place; it would be as naught. And again, precisely this is an essential part of Hegel's project to give a deeper foundation to something that Kant had merely assumed, namely determinability in accord with the categories. The presence of determinability, that is, being-that-is-not . . . , is the original and primary form in which thinking exists or has Dasein. But it should now be clear that Hegel could not have started with this category since it already assumes the unity of being and nothing that constitutes openness to determination. At least from the point of view of a "reflective" consideration of the matter, then, this should serve as a vindication of the Logic's absolute beginning over against those who have urged the cause of beginning with what only seems first, namely being-determinate or Dasein.54 [End Page 122]
4. conclusion: nihilism, idealism, and self-determination
While Hegel explicitly distinguishes "true infinity" and its "being-for-self" from the structure's more "concrete" and highly developed realization as self-consciousness, we are nonetheless right to see them as realizations of the same basic structure arising through the operation of self-negating negation.55 Accordingly, one of the major claims argued for in this first section of the Logic, Determinateness (Quality), is that nothing less than the structure of being-for-self is stable enough to be excepted from the pervasively self-undermining dynamic of simple or merely determinate negation. The preceding thought-determinations initially lead to the dead-end of nihilism: Finite existence is self-annihilating by its very constitution, expressed in the principle omnis determinatio est negatio. The corresponding conception of non-finite being is empty: the merely negative infinite that Hegel associates with Eleatic being and Spinozist substance.
At the fundamental level of speculative logic, Hegel's response to this specter of nihilism is to explicate simple or determinate negation as a moment within a more complex dynamic of absolute negation (or self-referring negation). The resulting structure of "true," affirmative infinitude is clearly recognizable as a rudimentary, "proto-intentional" precursor of self-consciousness. Thus, the only structure that is affirmed as self-standing, real, and excepted from the relativity and the self-undermining dynamic of finitude is the structure of ideality in general. Hegel calls this "being-for-self," a being that is and that is what it is only by virtue of differing from and relating to itself in the "moments" of being-for-self and being-for-one. Thus, Hegel's answer to the threat of nihilism is a very specific brand of idealism, initially expressed in the proto-intentional character of absolute determinacy.56 Hence also Hegel's pronouncement:
The thesis that the finite is ideal [ideell] constitutes idealism. The idealism of philosophy consists in nothing other than declining to recognize the finite as truly being [als ein wahrhaft Seyendes]. Every philosophy is essentially idealism or at least has idealism for its principle, and the question then is only to what extent the principle has really been carried through.(GW 21:142/SL 124)57
Hegel's other major claim in "Determinateness (Quality)" is to assert the absolute autonomy of thought. Hegel begins not with determinate content, but with a kind of zero-degree operation on the part of the mind. To think pure being is to be immediately aware that being is nothing that could stand to thought in the limiting or constraining relation of otherness. At the same time, it is also for thought to originate for itself, by way of an immanent, "sublating" reflection, an initial content of thought: Dasein or determinateness as such, a radically determinable "being-that-is-not . . . ." The further development of this initial content consists of the gradual emergence of negativity out of the "simple unity" with being in which it is initially concealed. Accordingly, the "perfection" of qualitative being as being-for-self coincides with the complete "integration of negation into being": [End Page 123] the re-positing of being as negation of negation, that is, "absolute" or self-referring negativity.
Hegel's methodological claim is to have generated the entire sequence of thought-determinations from Dasein through to being-for-self in a manner that is completely internal to thought; to the extent that he is entitled to that claim, he will also have vindicated the autonomy of pure thought in precisely the same measure. We should also note, however, that the culmination of Determinateness in the thought of being-for-self also has a further meaning due to the proto-intentional structure of being-for-self. In a related context from the famous Preface to the Phenomenology, Hegel identifies negativity with "the energy of thinking, of the pure I" (PhG 9.27/PS §32). Thus, in the same measure that negation emerges into its own as the essential factor in determination, so also does the basic structure of thought, the structure of ideality. Although Hegel concedes that the "self-determining of the Concept" (GW 21:109) remains merely implicit throughout the logic of being, it is nowhere more evident than in the structure of being-for-self. It can hardly be a coincidence that the theory presented in the section Determinateness culminates in the thesis that to be a determinate "one" is, minimally, to instantiate the structure of self-determining thought.
Brady Bowman is Associate Professor of Philosophy at Pennsylvania State University
bibliography and abbreviations
1. I would like to thank Stephen Houlgate, Dean Moyar, and the two anonymous referees for the Journal of the History of Philosophy for valuable suggestions on how to improve earlier drafts of this paper and for raising important questions for further thought. The research that went into writing this article was generously supported by the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation.
3. See Rolf-Peter Horstmann, Grenzen, 43–68. I cite Hegel's Logic by volume and page number of the historical-critical edition (GW), followed by the page reference to George di Giovanni's English translation (SL); Citations from the Phenomenology of Spirit (PhG) are also according to volume and page number of the GW-edition, followed by the section numbers assigned in the A. V. Miller translation. I cite Hegel's Encyclopedia of the Philosophical Sciences in Outline (Encyclopedia) by section number; 'R' indicates that the quotation is taken from one of Hegel's own remarks or scholia, 'A' that it is taken from additions supplied from lecture notes.
5. Cf. Grundlage, 102, where Fichte's argument makes appeals to the "unity of consciousness" as "the highest form, formality as such [Förmlichkeit überhaupt]."
7. Cf. GW 21:48/SL 41–42; Encyclopedia, §24R2.
9. On the methodological primacy of autonomous or radically self-determining reason, see Stephen Houlgate, Opening, 52; William Maker, Foundations, 21–47, 62–64; John McDowell, "Radicalization"; and Pippin, Modernism, 157–84, esp. 161–63.
13. Of central importance to Jacobi's work and of special relevance in the present context is the Beylage VII (Supplement VII), added in the 1789 edition of the Spinoza-Briefe but omitted from di Giovanni, Main Writings. See Sandkaulen, Grund und Ursache, 64–76.
14. Here and throughout, translations from the German are my own. In the case of longer quotations, especially, I have consulted the standard English editions (viz. George di Giovanni's translations of Hegel's Logic [SL] and Jacobi's Spinoza-Briefe), hewing as closely to them as accuracy and consistency with my usage in the main body of the text permit.
15. The act of affirmation corresponding to being is here left implicit: cf. GW 21.86, 91/SL 74, 79.
19. Cf. GW 21:82/SL 71; GW 21:380–81/SL 333; GW 11:376/SL 472; and Vorl. Gesch. Philos. III, 165.
21. Also, see GW 12:40/SL 537, where Hegel once again appeals to the notion of "negative infinity" to draw a more explicit contrast between Spinozist "substance" and "the Concept."
22. Cf. Jacobi, Spinoza-Briefe, 100/Main Writings, 219. Opinions differ on whether, to what extent, and in which sense Jacobi and Hegel are right to attribute the principle to Spinoza: see Yitzhak Melamed, "determinatio est negatio"; and Robert Stern, "Determination is Negation."
24. For discussion of Jacobi's argument and its points of contact with Kant's conception of the ens realissimum and the purely limitative constitution of substantia phaenomenon, see Franks, "Post-Kantian Idealism."
26. Cp. GW 21:106/SL 91–92: "Such an other, whose very determination is to be other, is physical nature; nature is the other of spirit; this determination of nature is initially a mere relativity, expressing not a quality of nature itself but only a relation external to it. But since spirit is the true something [Etwas] and nature in itself, consequently, is what it is only as opposed to spirit, when we take it by itself nature's quality is just to be the other in itself [das Andere an ihr selbst], that which is external to itself."
27. See GW 21.68/SL 58: "Because it is indeterminate, it is being devoid of quality; but, in itself, it has the character of indeterminateness only as opposed to what is determinate or qualitative. However, determinate being will emerge over against being in general, and the indeterminateness of being will thereby constitute its quality."
29. Cf. Kant, Critique of Pure Reason, B 599–607; and Beweisgrund, 2:85–87. On the Spinozistic traits of Kant's conception of the ens realissimum, see Omri Boehm, Kant's Critique, 15–67. Hegel discusses and rejects Kant's views on the ens realissimum (the "transcendental ideal") in the same remark where he voices his often quoted praise of "Spinoza's principle: omnis determinatio est negatio" (GW 21:99–101/ SL 86–87).
30. For Hegel's considerations against the principle a nihilo nihil fit, see GW 21:70–71/SL 61; cf. TWA 11.422. Once again, the figure in the background is Jacobi, Spinoza-Briefe, 18/Main Writings, 187–88; see also Michael Della Rocca, Spinoza, 284–86.
33. Robert Pippin places the transcendental unity of apperception at the center of his groundbreaking interpretation. See Hegel's Idealism, 17–24.
34. Cf. the similar characterization in PhG 9.58/PS §82. Reinhold sets the pattern for this conception with his "principle of consciousness": "In consciousness, the subject distinguishes the representation from the subject and the object and relates the representation to both" (Beyträge, 1.167/Between Kant and Hegel, 70).
35. Cf. Fichte's admonition: "Perhaps the question will be raised: what was I, before I attained consciousness of myself? The natural answer to this is: I did not exist at all, for I was not I [ich war nicht Ich]. The I exists only insofar as it is conscious of itself" (Grundlage, 97).
36. Hegel goes on in the passage to adduce self-consciousness, spirit, and God as instances of the unity of ideality and reality, noting that as infinite self-relation "[the] I is for [the] I; both are the same; I is mentioned twice, but it is true of both that each is only for-one, ideal" (GW 21:147/SL 129).
37. The sense in which being-for-self is relatively abstract in comparison with self-consciousness is quite specific. Hegel introduces being-for-self as "infinitude that has collapsed into simple being" (GW 21:146/SL 127, cited above). For Hegel, simple, internally undifferentiated being is the paradigmatic case of the abstract (cf. e.g. GW 21:72/SL 62). In the initial phases of its logical exposition, being-for-self undergoes no further content-differentiation. While it stands in a constitutive relation to being-for-one, neither determination has any content of its own to distinguish it from the other. Precisely that fact is what triggers the ensuing dialect of "the one One" and "the many ones," governed simultaneously by two opposing factors: viz. the one One's own differing from itself (entailed by its internally relational constitution) and the many ones' indistinguishability from each other owing to their lack of any determination beyond their internal self-relation (cf. GW 21:150–66/SL 132–45). As being-for-self represents the "collapse" of the content-distinctions "infinite/finite," it is internally undifferentiated and relatively abstract in comparison both to later categories of the Logic and to self-consciousness. By contrast, self-consciousness comprises a richer set of content distinctions, viz. the negation of consciousness, the drive (Trieb) to posit itself as the content of consciousness, first as desire (Begierde), then as recognition (Anerkennung), finally as universal self-consciousness or spirit, whose content is explicitly its own constitutive structure or essence (cf. Encyclopedia, §§424–39). Taken apart from these (dynamic) content-determinations, self-consciousness is merely "the first negation of consciousness" and hence "abstract" (Encyclopedia, §425). It is fair to interject that what Hegel there calls "abstract self-consciousness," "I=I," is practically indistinguishable from the category of being-for-self in terms both of structure and content. However, since "abstract self-consciousness" itself arises through the negation of consciousness, its genesis is importantly different from that of logical being-for-self, which represents the "simplified" instantiation of affirmative infinitude. When Hegel compares being-for-self with its more concrete instantiation as self-consciousness, he has these further, "concrete" content-determinations and "genetic" differences in mind.
38. To a certain extent, Hegel is taking a page here from Leibniz, who also conceives substances as essentially intentional, representing entities: "monads." Accordingly, Hegel addresses the Leibnizian conception in the Remark that follows his discussion of "being-for-one" (GW 21:149–50/SL 30–32).
40. For critical reception during Hegel's lifetime, see Bernd Burkhardt, Spannungsfeld. A related question bears on the precise sense in which the Logic can be said to presuppose the Phenomenology of Spirit. See Fulda, Problem; Forster, Idea, 270–81; Horstmann, "Anfang"; and William Maker, Foundations, 85–93.
42. See Andreas Arndt, "Anfangende Reflexion"; Houlgate, Opening, 263–83; Anton Friedrich Koch, "Sein–Nichts–Werden"; Pippin, Hegel's Idealism, 182–87; and Richard Dien Winfield, Thirty Lectures, 47–58.
44. Cf. Grundlage, 248–53.
49. Cf. Fichte, Begriff, 77; Grundlage, 222; Schelling, Allgemeine Übersicht, 103–4; and System, 331. Cf. TWA 2, 559: "Erst nach der Geschichte des Bewußtseins weiß man, was man an diesen Abstraktionen hat, durch den Begriff: Fichtes Verdienst."
51. Kant identifies comparison, reflection, and abstraction as the mental operations responsible for concept formation (cf. Logik, 9:94–95). These operations are guided by the "concepts of reflection": identity and difference, agreement and contradiction, inner and outer, determinable matter and determining form (B 316–24). This is the "external reflection" that Hegel prohibits at the outset of the Logic (cf. GW 21:55, 59/SL 45, 50).
52. DK 28/B2.7–3.1, B6.1–2.
54. Prominent among Hegel's critics on this point is Adorno, ND 44, 136–37. Hegel points to the merely apparent firstness of being-determinate at GW 21:97/SL 83: "Being-determinate [Daseyn] therefore appears as a first from which the forward move is made" (emphasis added). See Theunissen, Sein und Schein, 196–98.