Hegel on Reflection

Continuing a walk-through of Robert Pippin’s Hegel’s Realm of Shadows, we are now trying to understand what grounds the possibility of non-misleading appearances of an essence or ground or reality, which is to say those in which aspects of the essence or ground or reality are said to be genuinely made manifest.

It seems to me Hegel is suggesting that what distinguishes actual knowledge is its reflective, “mediated” character. This is what makes knowledge more than just mere appearance or mere assertion. Real knowledge is not just a one-off that “happens” sometimes, by a sort of happy coincidence.

On the side of judgment, reflection corresponds to the self-relation and self-referentiality on the side of content that were mentioned before. In terms of Hegel’s Phenomenology, it corresponds to self-consciousness. There, it involves a very nonstandard kind of “infinity” that Hegel insists is a “result” and not anything pre-existing. In the Logic, Hegel very sharply distinguishes such an infinity of reflection from any one-dimensional infinity of magnitude or quantity, as “good” infinity from “bad” infinity.

Hegel’s “good” infinite is infinite in dimensionality, not in extension or even in intensity. Extension and intensity both apply only to single dimensions. The good infinite is not a kind of pseudo-quantity that is beyond measure, not something that is not a number that we nonetheless use in place of a number. It is intended to be compatible with definiteness in any given dimension.

This, I think, is what earns it Hegel’s characterization as “good”. A “bad” or one-dimensional infinite “swallows up” and makes to be as nothing any definite determination within its scope; Hegel’s “good” infinite multiplies related dimensions but preserves distinctions in each dimension. Indeed, by combining determinations across dimensions, it not only preserves each determination but potentially strengthens their robustness and resilience. (See also Reflective Grounding.)

Pure relation or pure negativity has its correlate in “absolute” reflection, or reflection as a single act of “self-conscious” synthesis spanning potentially infinite dimensions of meaning, any one of which is in principle subject to definite characterization. With the caveat that the dimensional infinity is potential in an Aristotelian sense, this puts partial realizations of “absolute” reflection within the reach of us rational animals. (See also “Absolute” Knowledge?.)

The potentially infinite dimensionality of reflection is thus what grounds the possibility of real knowledge for Hegel. The next level of detail will concern Hegel’s notion of the identity of contents of possible knowledge in this reflective context.

Pippin notes that “Plato, Kant, Locke, Spinoza, and others can all be cited in various ways as expressive of the reflective logic of the appearances of essence, the manifestation of something substantial that is nevertheless not manifest as it is in itself. To understand how this is possible, Hegel argues that it has become necessary to understand the content of and relation among the ‘determinations of reflection’ by means of which essence can be established (qualitative identities fixed and differentiated from others) and a proper relation to appearances established: ‘identity, difference, and contradiction'” (p. 231).

“It would be wrong to say that Hegel will ‘derive difference from identity’…. This is basically a deductive model of systematicity and it is not Hegel’s” (ibid).

“He argues that [the ‘A’ in ‘A = A’] can be understood in its self-identity only determinately, and that means by something not-A, and the context makes clear that he means, not the mere repetition of A itself as that determination, but determinate predicates that, we would say, do not mean the same thing as A. So not ‘human being is human being’, but something like ‘human being is rational animal’, where ‘rational animal’… has a different meaning” (pp. 231-232).

According to Pippin, Hegel very clearly distinguishes the “is” of identity from the “is” of predication.

“We have not derived ‘difference’ in this sense from ‘identity’, but the exposition has shown that identification (identity at work, one should say) requires already, in itself, just by being thought through, an appeal to differentiating factors. Otherwise, nothing is determinately identified” (p. 232).

Pippin’s phrase in the style of Aristotle, “identity at work”, captures the background of a Kantian unity of apperception. We are headed toward Hegel’s notion of apperceptive judgment, which Pippin has already characterized in a preliminary way.

To say identity at work “requires… an appeal to differentiating factors” is not only not to derive difference from identity. It is to explicitly say that identity depends on difference, just as much as vice versa. Pippin says that for Hegel, identity and difference are equally primordial. I think it is impossible to have one without the other.

“‘The pure movement of reflection which identity is‘ (identity understood actively as the power to successfully identify) is to be understood by reference to ‘the simple negativity which is contained in a more developed form by the just stated second formulation of the principle‘ (A’s being A by already not being ~A, such that the determinate predicates by which A is specified actually do specify it)” (p. 233, Pippin’s emphasis).

Identity itself for Hegel is a “movement of reflection”. Unities at the level of thought arise out of apperceptive judgment, rather than coming to us ready-made.

As to A being A only by also not being anything materially incompatible with A, Pippin says this is one version of the most important thought in Hegel’s Logic. The logic of being’s lesson of the inseparability of affirmation and negation is one version of it. In the part of the logic of being Pippin skipped over, he notes there is a related development of the “co-definability of qualitative independence and dependence (substance independence and relational dependence” (p. 234). Also related are “the identity within difference of essence and appearance, and so ultimately of ground and what is grounded in the logic of essence; and the way in which Hegel understands the concrete universal, that is, the inseparability of particular and universal in the logic of the Concept” (ibid).

“Hegel’s suggestion that Kant’s concept-intuition distinction should be understood as primarily a logical or conceptual problem, that we do not yet know how to think together their inseparability with their distinctness, reaches its most crucial turning point in the logic of essence in his account of reflection. The ‘immediacy’ of Schein as nevertheless also mediated, determinate even when the skeptic insists on the absence of a determining essence, is a pivot of the book” (ibid; see Toward Essence).

“If we think of the account in terms of our example of the relation between a person’s character/essence and her particular deeds, the character or essence must be in some way ‘posited’ (rather than apprehended or seen). But the positing cannot be arbitrary; what guides our positing is what we think the deeds must ‘presuppose’ to be the deeds they are” (p. 235).

“Hegel implies that the way Kant has described the situation — given a particular, find the universal — is misleadingly ‘external’. For what we are supposed to ‘ascend to’ and discover is not really external to the instance being reflected on…. There is no credible way to understand the particular as ‘external’ to the power of reflection like this. As… ‘waiting’ for its universal, it isn’t anything determinate at all; as provoking a universal-search, on the assumption that it has not been classified as a kind, it has nothing determinate to guide us or direct such a search. It could be said to have scores of properties. Which are relevant?” (p. 236).

He continues, “What Hegel calls ‘reflection in general’ must rather be characterized as ‘determining reflection’, a term he wants to cover both determining and reflective judgment. This is to be understood, in his terms, as the unity of positing and external reflection. What is external, say, the deeds in our example, are not just uniform repetitions of the self-same essence; they are all other than essence” (ibid).

“Yet again we encounter a mutually presupposing relation, here in ‘determinate reflection'” (p. 237). “If we don’t know how to connect in any determinate way the deed with the inward character being manifested (or not), then our positing/presupposing is just a form of ‘external’ reflection” (ibid).

In summary then, non-misleading appearances will be those that are understood reflectively in this mutually determining way. The inter-relations of many appearances taken together — e.g., in a unity of apperception — are what ground the robustness and resiliency of any given appearance.

He quotes Hegel, “Essence as such is one with its reflection, inseparable from its movement. It is not essence, therefore, through which this movement runs its reflective course; nor is essence that from which the movement begins, as from a starting point. It is this circumstance that above all makes the exposition of reflection especially difficult, for strictly speaking one cannot say that essence returns into itself, that essence shines in itself, for essence is neither before its movement nor in the movement: this movement has no substrate on which it runs its course” (p. 238).

This “movement that has no substrate”, I would say, is also the movement of the Aristotelian potential intellect that “is nothing at all before it begins to think”.