Di Giovanni on Hegel’s Logic

“The subject matter of the Logic is not the ‘thing-in-itself’ or its phenomenal manifestations, whether one conceives the ‘in-itself’ as a substance or as freedom, but is discourse itself…. The Logic itself is a discourse about discourse” (George di Giovanni, translator’s introduction to Hegel, The Science of Logic, p. xxxv).

Writing about Hegel’s development, di Giovanni says that by 1803/04, “Consciousness is where organic nature acquires its highest point of concentration by reflecting upon itself and where nature as such becomes spirit. When this consciousness develops into language, and language in turn becomes the language of a people, the social character of spirit is then revealed” (ibid, p. xix).

“[W]hile in 1803/04 Hegel provided a smoother transition from nature to spirit by introducing the factor of consciousness and thus adding to nature, so to speak, a new dimension of depth, [in 1805/06/07] he adds to it yet another dimension by conceiving spirit as the place where nature becomes conscious of its being conscious, that is to say, the place where it becomes deliberate about itself or, again, where it becomes a product of spirit” (p. xxi).

“[Kant’s] notorious ‘thing-in-itself’, instead of being understood as an ideal term of reference that generates a universal space of reason… could be taken instead — as it in fact was by many contemporaries — as a sort of hyper-physical entity…. In a critical context, however, any appeal to causality… would have to fall on the side of a physiological pre-history of experience” (p. xxx).

“It was to remedy this failure that Fichte undertook his thought experiment [with pure freedom], asking his auditors to simply think for the sake of thinking and to reflect on the result…. The net result is that the whole of experience becomes colored with a moral tinge, exactly what Fichte had of course intended from the start. Experience is a call to transform the otherwise merely brute facts of experience…. The idea of construing objects of experience by applying categories to a presupposed given content loses all its meaning…. One must rather interpret experience” (pp. xxxi-xxxii).

(It always seemed to me that even the “application” of pre-existing categories to the sensible manifold implicitly requires interpretation in order to judge which categories are applicable in each specific context of the manifold, and how they are applicable in each case. To my knowledge Kant does not speak of this explicitly, but I don’t think he ever explicitly assumes specific contents in the manifold either. What would then be “given” for Kant ought to be just the manifold as a potentially differentiable lump. Following the principle of charitable interpretation, then, I read Kant as a bit closer to Fichte on this point. The implicit interpretation I want to attribute to Kant would probably operate via the pre-conscious figurative synthesis of imagination though, whereas I think Fichte has a more conscious process of interpretation in mind.)

“On Hegel’s analysis of both Kant and Fichte, the problem is that the ‘I’ that figures so prominently in their theories is too abstract a product…. Therefore, according to Hegel, it lets the content of experience… escape from it and fall, so to speak, on the side of a beyond from which it is retrievable only by means of such non-conceptual means as intuition…. And if Hegel did not want to travel the way of Schelling, which would have taken him to a pre-Kantian Spinozism, then the only avenue open to him was to comprehend facticity discursively, without intuition or myth-making” (pp. xxxiii-xxxiv).

“I have been deliberately using ‘discourse’ and ‘discursiveness’ instead of ‘dialectic’ (a term, incidentally, that Hegel uses sparsely in the Logic) in an attempt to demystify the latter term. But it should be clear that the meaning is the same” (p. xxxix).

“[W]e do not have anything that would amount to McTaggart’s Absolute Idea from which, allegedly, every minute detail of reality can in principle be deduced. This is a position that Hegel unequivocally rejected and even found infuriating…. As for Hegel, the strength of his Logic lies in that it finds a ground for this contingency in the indeterminacy necessarily inherent in the structure of things that are in becoming” (p. lviii).

Hegel takes us beyond sterile debates about freedom versus determinism by means of a novel account of determinacy itself as including built-in indeterminacy. Aristotle of course preceded him in this, albeit with a different account of determination-including-indeterminism.

“[I]t is nature which in the abstract medium of logical discourse attains the self-comprehension, and the efficacy, which we attribute to spirit. Nature is for Hegel, just as it was for Schelling, the ‘pre-self’ of the ‘self’, not just the ‘other-than-self’ of Fichte” (p. lix).

Incidentally, di Giovanni dedicates his 2010 translation of the Science of Logic to his “mentor and friend” H. S. Harris, whose unique literal commentary on Hegel’s Phenomenology I previously treated at length.