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  • Why Do Contradictions Sink to the Ground? A Reexamination of the Categories of Reflection in Hegel’s Logic

This article analyzes Hegel’s transition from contradiction to ground in the “Doctrine of Essence” of the Science of Logic and proposes that this transition is crucial to understanding Hegel’s controversial claims about the primacy of contradiction over identity. Hegel’s conclusion that contradictions “sink to the ground” exposes his commitment to the productive nature and real existence of contradiction, on the one hand, but also to the impossibility of directly actualizing contradiction without a set of mediating concepts that buffer and soften contradictions before they can emerge into actuality. This reading of the transition from contradiction to ground leads to what I call the “substitution” interpretation of Hegel’s productive contradiction, where the earlier forms of reflection (identity, difference, diversity, opposition) along with movement and vitality are recognized as substitutions that emerge in the place of and are grounded by contradiction.


Hegel, logic, contradiction, identity, movement

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One of the most interesting debates in Hegel scholarship today comes from the question of how to interpret Hegel’s treatment of contradiction in the Science of Logic (hereafter cited as SL).1 Some interpreters claim that Hegel defiantly disregards the basic law of noncontradiction, which states that something cannot both be and not be in the same time, manner, or place, proposing instead that for Hegel true contradictions really do exist, and not only in rational conception but equally in the very fabric of reality. However, other interpreters propose less direct readings of Hegel’s thesis from productive contradiction, either by limiting Hegel’s conception of contradiction to only certain forms, such as only in relation to essences (see Pippin 1978, 301–12), or by presenting Hegel as a thinker of reductio ad absurdum, who views the impossibility of real contradictions as constitutive for reality (see Brandom 202, 179). While some interpreters, such as Graham Priest (1989, 388–415), embrace Hegel as a great visionary of the real existence of contradiction, other philosophers, such as Bertrand Russell, reject Hegel for having built “vast and imposing systems of philosophy . . . upon stupid and trivial confusions” (Russell 1972, 78). As a means to address such discussions about the nature of contradiction in Hegel’s thought, I analyze his seemingly strange transition in the “Doctrine of Essence” from contradiction to ground and argue that this transition is crucial to understanding his insights about contradiction generally. Hegel’s conclusion that contradictions “sink to the ground”2 leads to specific insights about the productive nature of contradiction. Although contradictions really exist, they can only be expressed through substitutions such as through contraries, life, death, movement, essence, etc., which expose the vanishing point at the impasse where contradictions appear through their disappearance.3

This article has two interrelated aims. First, it offers fresh textual analysis of Hegel’s “Essentialities or Determinations of Reflection” chapter and its transition to the “Ground” chapter, thereby exposing the nuanced points-of-transition from identity to difference and from difference to contradiction. The goal of this explication is to make sense of why Hegel would turn from contradiction to ground in the first place, and what exactly the motivation is for this transition, which Hegel describes as “essence determining itself as ground” (SL, 444) and as “contradiction [End Page 629] sinking to the ground [zugrunde geht]” (SL, 435; trans. modified)). The second aim of this article is to outline what I call the “substitution interpretation” of Hegel’s theory of contradiction, where the earlier forms of reflection (identity, difference, diversity, opposition), along with concepts such as movement and vitality, are recognized as substitutions that emerge in the place of and are grounded by contradiction.

The Categories of Reflection

Although statements about the ontological significance of contradiction appear in the opening passages of the Logic,4 Hegel does not discuss contradiction systematically until the “Doctrine of Essence.” As opposed to the “Doctrine of Being,” which develops concepts of immediacy in quality, quantity, and measure, the “Doctrine of Essence” begins from the more complex structure of reflection. It explores the “what” of essence and universality out of the “that” of immediate being. It analyzes a series of two-layered relationships, including form and content, part and whole, actuality and possibility, cause and effect, culminating in the concept (der Begriff), which takes up the third division of the book as the unity of being and essence. The two-layered relationships that constitute the “Doctrine of Essence” grow out of the “Doctrine of Being” and find their basic determination in the dialectic between identity and contradiction.

Hegel’s exposition from identity to contradiction appears in the chapter “Essentialities or Determinations of Reflection,” which comes after the chapter on “Show” (der Schein)5 and before the chapter on “Ground” (der Grund).6 Hegel divides the “Essentialities” chapter into three further subchapters—“A. Identity,” “B. Difference,” and “C. Contradiction”— and separates each division with further subdivisions and remarks. The most notable subchapter appears at “B. Difference,” where Hegel further divides the text into “(a) Absolute Difference,” “(b) Diversity,” and “(c) Opposition.” And the most notable remarks appear in the third subchapter on “Contradiction,” where Hegel discusses the law of the excluded middle and the law of contradiction. It is also worth noting that the chapter on “Ground” comes directly after the section on “Contradiction” and, as I argue, helps to shed light on Hegel’s conceptual movement from identity to contradiction. [End Page 630]

Traditional Assumptions about the Categories of Reflection

The “Essentialities” chapter presents a series of premises that explore why difference (der Unterschied), diversity (die Verschiedenheit), opposition (der Gegensatz), and contradiction (der Widerspruch) are all contained within the seemingly simple formal axiom, A is A. Hegel’s account of the dialectical movement between identity and contradiction launches an attack on what would seem to be self-evident about the claim A is A. The chapter is motivated, in part, by Hegel’s criticisms of old assumptions about the categories of reflection, which were often understood as static, universally valid propositions of the form that “everything is identical with itself, A = A. Or negatively: A cannot at the same time be A and not A” (SL, 409). Against these old assumptions, Hegel argues for all of the following: (1) The categories of reflection are not pregiven axioms “incapable of proof” (SL, 409) but should instead be submitted to rigorous critique; (2) the categories are not unrelated to each other, as a distinct set of numerable laws, but are rather dialectically intertwined in the sense that they emerge out of each other as each other; and (3) the categories do not only apply in the narrow sense to propositions but should be considered in a more expanded sense as applying also to things and reality, and as including not only the traditional formula of identity (A is A) but also the earlier categories of being (i.e., quality, quantity, and measure), as well as difference (A and not A) and contradiction (A is not A). Let us look at all three of these points in more detail:

  1. 1. That we do not need to give an argument for the validity of the laws of identity and noncontradiction is an assumption that is at least as old as Aristotle, who decisively articulated these laws as the most basic of axioms in Book IV of the Metaphysics. We tend to accept both the laws, that something can only be equal to itself and cannot be itself and the contrary of itself, as well as the equivalency between the laws, that non-contradiction is another way to articulate the law of identity, as irrefutably simple and evident to everybody, to the extent that the proposition A is A appears as tautological and without need of an argument. However, Hegel attacks this assumption in the “Essentialities” chapter, arguing instead that just as we must begin from a critical, presuppositionless starting point in the culmination of the Logic, we must also be thoroughly critical of even the most basic and seemingly self-evident laws of identity and noncontradiction. If it turns out that things simply are what they are and are not what they are not, then this is the result of the Logic’s own [End Page 631] development. But if it turns out that the relationship between identity and contradiction is more complicated than common sense assumes, it is then the task of the Logic to uncover these complications and articulate the form that these determinations of reflection actually take.

  2. 2. What Hegel discovers from this critical standpoint is that the categories of reflection are not unrelated, but emerge out of each other and at the same time conflict with each other dialectically. Hegel’s subsequent exposition from identity to difference, diversity, opposition, and contradiction should be viewed as detailed evidence for the conclusion that the categories are significantly relational. In contrast to Aristotle’s definition of a “category” as what is definitively “predicated or asserted of the existent,” Hegel claims that “a determination of being is essentially a transition into its opposite; the negative of any determinateness is as necessary as the latter itself; as immediate determinateness, each is directly confronted by the other” (SL, 410). That the laws are numerable on their own and yet codependent as well complicates the traditional assertion that the laws of identity and noncontradiction are simply equal to each other. On Hegel’s account, the further categories of difference, diversity, opposition, and contradiction, emerge along with the reflection of identity rather than simply the equivalence of noncontradiction.

  3. 3. This more complex articulation of the law of identity causes us to expand the domain of the categories from its traditionally narrow application as the function of the validity and invalidity of propositions, to include, instead, its application to things and reality in general. This expansion includes the earlier categories of being (quality, quantity, and measure), thereby exposing the continued relevancy of the “Doctrine of Being” for the “Doctrine of Essence.” But this expansion also undermines the assumption that the categories can only be understood in terms of thought and rational conception, as if identity and contradiction and reflection in general could only be understood through the intellect and imagination of consciousness. What Hegel establishes, instead, is that the categories of reflection are equally categories of being as much as they are of thought. This opens the way for the exciting conclusion that if contradictions exist, they do not only exist in terms of rational conception, as if they were only held together in the fantasies of one’s mind but also exist in the very fabric of reality as the clots and folds of being itself. [End Page 632]

From Identity to Difference

Against the background of his critique of these assumptions, Hegel’s exposition of the argument from identity to contradiction nevertheless begins from a premise about identity. The Logic generates the concept of identity from the recognition that the negativity of essence is at the same time the being of essence. “[Essence’s] negativity,” Hegel writes, “is its being” (SL, 411). One might assume that essence is otherwise than being, but since it is the reflection of being, it is a negativity that is at the same time the self-reference of being (SL, 411). Hegel calls this “identity” because essence, as that which being is not, reveals what being is. Such a movement against being, which is at the same time an explanation of being, takes the form of A is A.7 The immediacy of being is reflected into itself. The copula between the subject and the predicate projects the negativity of A. But this A is still the same A throughout. Its reflection shows that it is both different from itself and the same as itself.

The clue to a dialectic between identity and difference starts from the realization that the identity must contain difference in the process of confirming that the subject and the predicate are the same. “Difference is the negativity which reflection has within it, the nothing which is said in enunciating identity” (SL, 417). The act of confirming identity posits difference through the iteration of a second A in the position of the predicate. Difference comes in the anticipation brought about by the copula that the predicate will be something other than the subject. In this way, the simple form that A is equal to itself exposes identity to its opposite. Furthermore, the role of difference is more than a simple moment of hesitation in the reflection of the copula. The subject is only understood to be identical with itself if it posits difference alongside the identity of itself in the predicate position. Hegel explains this relationship in terms of self-subsistence and absolute difference. A is equal to itself because it does not require anything other than itself. And yet the form that A must take as the confirmation of its own identity requires reflection, which in turn requires absolute difference. The identity requires confirmation in the copula that it is equal to itself. This means that identity self-subsists but also depends on its own negativity. Identity, therefore, subsists through difference. Difference, therefore, emerges alongside identity.

Yet, this takes the further formulation that difference, emerging alongside identity, is both itself and identity. “Difference is . . . itself and identity” [End Page 633] (SL, 417). Identity comes in the form of absolute difference, A and not A. The determinate negation of the identity, not A, is itself a form of identity. But difference comes from the comparison between A and not A (SL, 417). Difference is supposed to be the opposite of identity. However, the reflection of identity reveals that its truth lies rather in the positing of itself as a difference from itself. Difference is therefore the more comprehensive term because it contains both the form of identity and the identity of the negation, both A and not A together (SL, 418).8

Hegel then proposes that difference is diversity. This further transition comes from exposing that if difference is both moments of identity and its negation together, then this state of affairs generates a plurality with members that are indifferent to each other. Indifference is the key term for this transition, as Hegel clarifies when he writes: “the distinguished terms (identity and the negative of itself) subsist as indifferently different towards one another because each is self-identical” (SL, 418, my emphasis). The indifference of diversity generates plurality from the splitting up of identity in difference, where each difference is itself an identity but has over against it a multiplicity of others, which, in turn, are each identities as well. As Hegel writes, identity literally “falls apart within itself into diversity” (SL, 418). These differences are, nevertheless, indifferent to each other because that which is different from the identity is nothing other than the self-same identity throughout. Hegel describes this relationship as a subsistence of differences. On the one hand, the terms of identity are distinguished from each other. On the other hand, the reason why the distinguished terms are indifferent to each other is because identity still dictates the parameters of this relationship. While identity falls apart and therefore produces diversity through its differences, the indifference of each side of the diversity allows for the subsistence of each as identical with itself and different from all others.

From Difference to Contradiction

Diversity can only explain the coincidence of identity and difference in an implicit way. When this coincidence becomes explicit, opposition reveals itself to be the truth of diversity (SL, 421). The barrier of indifference that held diversely different identities together breaks down because the relation A is A requires one self-coherent identity throughout, not a fragmented [End Page 634] plurality of differences. Borrowing from terminology that appears later in the “Doctrine of Essence,” Hegel claims that the reason why opposition emerges from diversity is because diverse moments each claim to be the whole and yet only one can actually be the whole (SL, 424–25).9 Diversity presents the unity of identity and difference by way of an indifferent conjunction, but opposition presents this same unity as in conflict. The difference inherent in the identity turns from a structure of plurality, where each side is respectfully indifferent to the differences of others, to a situation in which the differences between each side form an explicit conflict, where each side claims to be the whole, even though all sides cannot equally subsist as the whole. “The positive and negative are therefore not merely implicitly [an sich] positive and negative, but explicitly and actually so [an und für sich]” (SL, 427). This claim that each side of an opposition is the absolute (an und für sich) marks the distinct character of its concept. Conflicts arise, however, because of mutual exclusivity: each side claims to be the absolute, but if one side is, then the other is not.

The reason why diversity turns into opposition is because the unity between identity and difference must be made explicit. Diversity comes from a respect for the differences, but this respect for differences can only be sustained for as long as the sides of reflection remain indifferent to each other. Diversity ultimately collapses into opposition because making the unity explicit is one of the conditions of the unity from the outset. This is the case because the difference inherent in the reflection of the identity A is A cannot be separated from the identity from which the reflection began.

This same reason also initiates the transition from opposition to contradiction. Contradiction emerges as the true, explicit unity of identity and difference when we recognize that the opposition is not an opposition that one has with another, but is rather a unity in conflict with itself. If the difference inherent in the identity cannot be separated from the identity, then the unity is not generated from an external contrast between two categorically different entities, but turns out to be a conflict inherent in the same identity throughout. Opposition cannot be sustained because each side that claims to be the whole is the whole. In opposition, each side claims to be the totality of identity. In contradiction, however, each side not only claims to be the whole. Each side is the whole (SL, 431). Each moment of diversity is the totality of the identity.10

Contradiction turns out to be the primary concept of reflection because that which A reflects into is the opposite of itself as itself. That the reflection [End Page 635] of A contains the opposition of A is the truth of the transition from diversity to opposition. That this opposition is at the same time the identity of A with itself exposes the transition to full-blown contradiction, where A turns out to be A and not A in the same time, manner, and place. Contradiction comes from the recognition that the sides of opposition are not really “sides” at all, as an external comparison would have us believe, but each is, in effect, the absolute in and for itself. Contradiction emerges because the relation that is shown to be oppositional is not many relations but one and the same relation of A with A.

From Contradiction to Ground

Hegel makes his position about the existence and primacy of contradiction abundantly clear in the final remark of the chapter, “the Law of Contradiction” (SL, 439–43). Here, Hegel proposes that for as long as we continue to hold the law of identity, as well as its corresponding law of non-contradiction, to be sacred, we should also come to recognize “the determination into which they pass as their truth, namely, contradiction, [which should] be grasped and enunciated as a law: everything is inherently contradictory” (SL, 439). This formulation of the law of contradiction is significantly different from the law of noncontradiction, which states that A cannot both be A and not A. Hegel proposes instead that movement and vitality are guided by contradiction, in the controversial sense that contradictions are built into the fabric of reality, and that all things are in their self-identity at the same time self-contradictory. Hegel goes so far as to claim that we are wrong to think that identity is more primary than contradiction:

It is one of the fundamental prejudices of logic as hitherto understood and of ordinary thinking, that contradiction is not so characteristically essential and immanent a determination as identity; but in fact, if it were a question of grading the two determinations and they had to be kept separate, then contradiction would have to be taken as the profounder determination and more characteristic of essence. For as against contradiction, identity is merely the determination of the simple immediate, of dead being; but contradiction is the root of all movement and vitality; it is only in so far as something has a contradiction within it that it moves, has an urge and activity.

(SL, 439) [End Page 636]

But what is less clear from the text is why Hegel would propose that contradiction passes over into ground. “Ground” is arguably one of the stranger, metaphorical concepts to appear in the Logic. The “Ground” chapter establishes essence as the ground, or reason, for all things, and then explores a dialectical relationship in the “Absolute Ground” and “Determinate Ground” subchapters between form and essence, form and matter, as well as form and content, concluding with Hegel’s analysis of the conditional and the unconditioned. Hegel conspicuously refers with the term “ground” to Leibniz’s famous principle of sufficient reason, which states that all things must have a reason or ground for why they are (SL, 446). As if to mitigate the force of the claim “everything is inherently contradictory,” Hegel subsequently proposes, as the next major transition of the Logic, that contradiction “sinks to the ground”:

The resolved contradiction is therefore ground, essence as unity of the positive and negative. . . . Opposition and its contradiction is, therefore, in ground as much abolished as preserved. . . . The self- contradictory, self-subsistent opposition was therefore already itself ground; all that was added to it was the determination of unity-with-self, which results from the fact that each of the self-subsistent opposites sublates itself and makes itself into its opposite, thus sinking to the ground [zugrunde geht].

(SL, 435; trans. modified)

The term “ground” brings up a number of associations. It refers to the reason why things are, as when an argument supports its conclusion with premises or when a lawyer points to conflicting evidence as the ground for a dismissal. The term can also refer in a related way to the core or origination of something, as in the sense that the ground is the essence, sub-stratum, or foundation for why something is what it is. And yet the term also has the added connotation of being in a literal sense a means of support, such as that the earth is the ground or the surface. Hegel emphasizes this literal usage through his equally strange phrase “sinking to ground” (zugrunde geht), which he mentions in a number of different ways in relation to opposition, contradiction, and essence. That contradiction “sinks to ground” indicates that the transition from contradiction to ground has two interrelated meanings:

  1. 1. On the one hand, I take this to mean that although contradictions exist and are primary, they must nevertheless dissolve through mediation. [End Page 637] Hegel describes the process of sinking into ground as a process of withdrawal. Contradictions withdraw into the ground, which stabilize and preserve what is too volatile to appear in its own immediacy. With the transition from contradiction to ground, Hegel therefore gives an indication of why ordinary thinking works so hard to separate the sides of contradiction so that real contradictions do not seem to exist, even to the extent that ordinary thinking replaces the law of contradiction with the law of noncontradiction, and then projects this as equivalent to the law of identity. Hegel goes so far as to claim that ordinary thinking abhors contradiction and that we consistently attempt to forget or degrade contradictions wherever they make their mark. Ordinary thinking constantly separates “above and below, right and left, father and son, and so on ad infinitum” (SL, 441), as if to find shelter from the abyss of contradiction by ignoring the truth of the relation, that each side of the terms is a reflection of its opposite to the point of contradiction. Just as we stave off contradiction by separating sides that cannot be separated from each other, we also have a tendency to describe movement through stasis, difference through identity, paradox through solution, and attempt to ground essences (such as the essence of a goat or a tree) with a conception of transcendence that goes beyond its appearance. Although Hegel prioritizes what he calls “speculative” or “intelligent” reflection because it “holds fast contradiction” and “does not allow itself to be dominated by it as in ordinary thinking” (SL, 440–41), the transition from contradiction to ground nevertheless exposes that withdrawing from appearance by dissolving into ground is a fundamental characteristic of the concept of contradiction. Essentially, the reason why contradiction sinks to ground is because it can appear only through its disappearance.

  2. 2. And yet, on the other hand, that contradiction turns into ground reveals contradiction to be the foundation for all things. What appears through the disappearance of contradiction, when it withdraws into the shelter of static, identity thinking, is at the same time conditioned by contradiction and claims contradiction as its ultimate reason for existence. When Hegel says that contradiction is the root of all movement and vitality, he means that contradiction is the reason why all things move, live, stand inert, and die. What moves expresses contradiction through its movements, in the sense that a body pushes off itself and [End Page 638] thereby moves itself as if it were other to itself. What moves is both here and there, both this and not this, both alive and dying, both active and passive, etc. And yet what moves equally moves because contradiction will not fully and explicitly appear through it. Contradiction remains stubbornly ungraspable. It is, as Hegel writes in terms of contradiction and actuality, “light shy” (lichtschüchten) (SL, 553). It exists through the mediation of other concepts (life, death, vitality, movement, etc.), which help to ground it, because it is too powerful and too radical to appear directly in the light of thought and being. Contradiction is, therefore, the “root of all movement and vitality” in the sense that all things are self-contradictory insofar as they move and live, but also in the sense that the movement and vitality are themselves the expression of contradiction as it withdraws into ground.

The Substitution Interpretation

The aim of this textual explication from identity to contradiction and from contradiction to ground is to describe how the transition helps us to rethink Hegel’s insights about contradiction as the primacy of contradiction for the other categories of reflection. What the “Ground” chapter reveals is that the earlier formulations of diversity and opposition already contain the agent of contradiction within them. Ground shows that “difference as such is already implicitly contradiction; for it is the unity of sides which are, only in so far as they are not one—and it is the separation of sides which are, only as separated in the same relation” (SL, 431). Diversity and opposition (as the two subconcepts of difference) are already implicitly contradiction. In other words, they are only posited as concepts of reflection because as they are implicitly contradictory. Each appears as a distinct concept only through the obscurity of the truth of their contradictory nature. Diversity is contradiction when it is dressed up with sides that seem to be indifferent to each other. The world then appears as a plurality of identities that are indifferently different from one another. Diversity is therefore one of the ways that contradiction appears through explanatory concepts, which substitute for it, cover it up in obscurity, and thus also mitigate the contradiction and let it emerge through the veil of concepts that seem less than contradictory. And yet the worldview of a diverse collection of self-substituting identities refers back to contradiction as the reason, or “ground,” of its meaning. [End Page 639]

Likewise, opposition is contradiction when it is dressed up as a relation of contraries, as if what stands in conflict is something other than the selfsame identity throughout. Just as reality is filled with diversely indifferent entities, opposition is likewise a common type of relationship. Ordinary thinking strains to undermine contradiction by substituting it for contraries and subcontraries, which in effect hide the contradictory nature of oppositions. And yet what the appearance of an opposition also shows is that contradictions both exist and also that they cannot appear directly in the light. Contradictions reveal themselves, instead, through the appearance of diversity and opposition, and reveal themselves only partially through these “gentler” formulations.

What the transition from contradiction to ground reveals is that although contradictions really exist, they can only be expressed through substitutions such as life, death, movement, vitality, essence, etc., which expose the vanishing point at the impasse where contradictions appear through their disappearance. Proponents of this interpretation recognize Hegel’s claim that being is self-contradictory, but also recognize that being necessarily withdraws from any direct actualization of itself as contradictory. Contradictions exist in a significant ontological sense, but they must always appear as mediated by a set of concepts that frame them and make them seem as if they are not contradictory.

The principle of contradiction, likewise, can be viewed to be that which generates the meaning and determinateness of concepts, such as movement and vitality in the sense that the double position of existing but having to withdraw throws everything into an agitated motion and animates life. Vitality and movement are substitutions, in other words, representatives, of contradiction in the sense that, for example, vitality comes from digesting one’s other and movement happens from self- opposition, from lifting and pushing against oneself, from the coincidence that what moves is both here and there, both this and not this. Hegel does not mention death as part of the reason why contradiction is more primary than identity, but we can view this also to be as prominent as life at translating otherwise inexpressible contradictions.11 Just as life maintains the impossible actualization of A as not A for as long as this can be sustained, through the constant digestion of the other as oneself, death acts as a substitution concept for the utter and complete exhaustion of a body that has become itself and its other and can no longer sustain this in life. Each of these concepts gives meaning to what stubbornly remains under [End Page 640] the surface and refuses to appear in actuality or thought. But just because contradictions cannot appear directly in the light of reality does not mean that contradictions do not exist. What this means, instead, is that contradictions appear combined with mediating concepts, which stand in their place to represent them. One might say that the reason why contradictions do not appear directly and cannot be thought adequately is because life and death are there in their stead. Or, one might say that the reason why life and death have determinate meaning at all is because being desires to realize itself as explicitly contradictory, but since it fails to express this directly, life and death and other concepts of this sort approximate the revelation of contradiction as much as possible in the place of it directly.

The reason why contradiction reverts to “ground” is because to make it explicit by unveiling it completely in actuality would commit oneself to the most violent, radical transformations of being as becoming. The reason why contradiction must constantly be covered over and explained away by concepts that are only implicitly contradictory is because identity would otherwise be torn apart in the most violent way by the negativity of itself as itself. Hegel recognizes in the transitions of difference as diversity and opposition, as well as through explanatory concepts such as life, death, vitality, and movement, that although contradiction is the most primary category, it can only appear through the more peaceful exteriors of these other categories.

Nahum Brown
Miyazaki International College


1. Unless otherwise noted, I have used the Miller translation of Hegel’s Science of Logic (1969a).

2. The phrase in German is zu Grunde gehen, which is literally “going to ground” in English. In the “Translator’s Notes” of the Di Giovanni translation of the Logic (2010), Di Giovanni points out that this expression, zu Grunde gehen, is “normally translated as ‘to perish’” (The Science of Logic, lxxiii–lxxiv). Di Giovanni translates this as “to founder,” rather than to perish, in order to retain Hegel’s wordplay with the word “ground.” However, I translate the expression as “to sink” in an attempt to expose the connotation of “sinking under the surface” in the sense that contradiction is still active even though it is not fully present.

3. Some of the other commentaries about contradiction in Hegel’s Logic that I have found most interesting include: Songsuk Susan Hahn, Contradiction in Motion (2007); Karin de Boer, On Hegel: The Sway of the Negative (2010); and George di Giovanni, “Reflection and Contradiction” (1973).

4. At the beginning of the Logic, Hegel describes the last movement of indeterminate being, the “Sublation of Becoming,” as “inherently self-contradictory” (SL, 106). But since contradiction does not emerge until much later in the Logic (Book 2, Section 1, Chapter 2), this statement from Hegel might seem premature in terms of the development of the Logic. The language that initiates the Logic is for the most part quite strict but Hegel does sometimes assume the language of latter chapters.

5. Miller translates der Schein as “illusory being” (SL, 394). Di Giovanni translates der Schein literally into the English word “shine” (di Giovanni 2010, 341).

6. Passages about identity and contradiction also appear in other works from Hegel. See The Encyclopaedia Logic, 179–88, The Jena System, 136–38, and Lectures on Logic, 132–40. For the sake of this project, my analysis focuses primarily on how this argument plays out in the Greater Logic.

7. In his explication of the identity and contradiction passages of the Logic, Richard Dien Winfield, in Hegel’s Science of Logic, claims that it is the “formula A = A” that distinguishes identity from earlier determinations of being, such as something, finitude, the one, etc. (2012, 171).

8. In the context of a discussion on contingency, Stephen Houlgate, in “Necessity and Contingency in Hegel’s Science of Logic,” makes sense of this Hegelian insight by explaining that determinations, such as peace and war, require a conception of each other to be meaningful (1995, 43). Although we might think of war as the opposite of peace and of peace as its own self-subsisting state of being, the two really require each other, certainly in terms of definition, but also in terms of possibility, in that the possibility of being at peace is also a condition for the possibility of being at war.

9. The terminology of part and whole appears later in the “Doctrine of Essence.” See “The Relation of Whole and Parts” in SL, 513–17.

10. Slavoj Žižek claims in Tarrying with the Negative that this transition comes about because one side of the opposition is also the universal: “We pass from opposition to contradiction through the logic of what Hegel called ‘oppositional determination’: when the universal, common ground of the two opposites ‘encounters itself’ in its oppositional determination, i.e., in one of the terms of the opposition” (1993, 132).

11. For Hegelian analysis of the relationship between death and contradiction, see Jay Lampert, “Speed, Impact and Fluidity at the Barrier between Life and Death” (2005).

works cited

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Hahn, Songsuk Susan. 2007. Contradiction in Motion: Hegel’s Organic Concept of Life and Value. Ithaca: Cornell University Press
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