Reflection and Dialectic

As with dialogue, reflection provides a kind of model for dialectic. Reflection can be understood as an either metaphorical or literal dialogue with ourselves. We “question ourselves”, which is to say we examine and potentially criticize or refine the basis of our own commitments. Further, actual dialogue is always implicitly dialogue among fellow rational beings, all of whom are engaged at least to some extent in their own reflective activity, just by virtue of being rational beings, so dialogue implicitly presupposes reflection.

Pippin quotes Hegel: “But at issue here is neither the reflection of consciousness, nor the more specific reflection of the understanding that has the particular and the universal for its determination, but reflection in general…. For the universal, the principle or the rule and law, to which reflection rises in its process of determination is taken to be the essence of the immediate from which the reflection began…. Therefore, what reflection does to the immediate, and the determinations that derive from it, is not anything external to it but is rather its true being” (Hegel’s Realm of Shadows, pp. 238-239).

And again: “In general, this means nothing but this: Anything which is, is to be considered to exist not as an immediate, but as a posited; there is no stopping at immediate determinate being [Dasein] but a return must rather be made from it back into its ground, and in this reflection it is a sublated being and is in and for itself. What is expressed by the principle of sufficient reason is, therefore, the essentiality of immanent reflection as against mere being” (p. 239).

In the first quote, Hegel is again emphasizing that what he means by reflection is not just looking in a figurative mirror, but rather something more like finding an orientation among (or building a synthesis of) the potentially infinite mutual reflections in a hall of mirrors. Reflection “in general” is a name Hegel gives to reflection with this kind of potentially infinite dimension. (That the infinity here should be called potential is my friendly Aristotelian interpolation.)

In the second quote, he is saying that this kind of reflection — lifted out from the distinction between reflective activity and what it reflects upon — is what he would call the “truth” of everything that appears to be immediately determinate.

The principle of sufficient reason as formulated by Leibniz effectively says that for everything that is in some definite way, there is a reason why it is that way. Hegel is saying more specifically that such “reasons why” emerge immanently from the reflective grounding of what he is in a nonstandard way calling essence. What Leibniz cannot show is how a particular essence or monadic point of view results in certain predicates and not others; despite great sophistication, he is still to some extent using essence and monads as unexplained explainers to avoid what Hegel calls the “problem of indifference”. Hegel on the other hand explicitly makes essence and explanation interdependent.

“[T]he ‘principles’ of identification and differentiation are deeply intertwined, not independent of each other” (p. 240).

“[A] thing’s determinate properties are not, cannot be, a mark of that thing’s unlikeness from other things, just by being those properties…. If one thing is red and another square, we do not thereby know one is unlike the other; they are just two different things. A locomotive has nothing to do with a melody; it is not unlike a melody. We are trying to account not for determinate otherness, as in the logic of being, but for how objects that share properties (are like) could be, even with an extraordinary degree of such likeness, still unlike” (p. 241).

“Some of this anticipates topics in the logic of the Concept. Two trees are alike in being trees but unlike in being two individual trees. The idea will be that just in their likeness, their way of being alike, that they are unlike (different trees), just in the way each distinctly instantiates ‘treeness’ that they are unlike. Such a different ‘way of being a tree’ is not another property but the way the tree-properties are ‘had’ by the individual” (p. 242).

“Hegel is thinking of the way in which the specifying work of ‘unlikeness’ cannot be a matter of individual properties, atomistically conceived, but unlikeness within likeness is best understood as some content, the unlikeness of which is strict, even within such likeness. Some charge can be both positive and negative; some number, 4, can be both +4 and -4; some quantity of money can be an asset and also a debt pending; some force can be attractive and repelling; some distance marched east is canceled by the same distance marched west, and all these are ‘opposed’ only within some common likeness” (ibid).

I find “either-or” language more appropriate to these cases than the “both-and” language above, but the intent is the same. The distinctions in each sub-case are concrete “opposites” applicable to some specific context, and each definable only in reference to the other. In each case, it is possible to abstract an indifferent thing being measured or assessed — “positive-or-negative-quantity” for the one, and “virtue-or-vice” for the other.

“The ‘world’s being contradictory’ means nothing more than that, as he says, virtue cannot be virtue just by being other than, different from, in comparison with, vice, but only by ‘the opposition and combat in it’ against vice” (p. 243, emphasis in original).

Pippin complicates the matter with this example, because “relative” seems to have a different significance in the context of virtue and vice than it does in, say, that of positive and negative numbers. But the intended point is a very abstract one about constitution of meanings that is common to both cases. Whatever the difference between the two “oppositions” (positive/negative, virtue/vice), in each case the two sub-terms are somehow measured or assessed “against” one another.

“Hegel is trying to specify how affirming contrary predicates (‘in opposition’) does not amount to a logical contradiction. That is the point of his discussion, to make this distinction, not to treat such oppositions as if they were logically contradictory and then to affirm them anyway. As [Michael] Wolff puts it, Hegel’s orientation… is not from sentence or predicate negation, but from developments in the understanding of negative numbers and from Kant’s defense of Newton on positive and negative magnitudes. In general, then, mathematical, not logical negation” (pp. 243-244).

This is extremely important. The status of negative numbers was still controversial in Hegel’s time. Kant and Hegel contributed to their acceptance. Hegel struggled to invent new language to distinguish ambiguous cases in his Logic and to say reasonable things about them, but readers (certainly including myself) have found his unique idioms very hard to follow. Most of the ink spilled over “contradiction” in Hegel has been based on fundamental misunderstandings. (See also Negation and Negativity.)

“To use an empirical example, if the question is something like ‘Why did the ball fall to the ground?’ we want to avoid two kinds of answers: ‘because whenever a heavy object is dropped from a height, it falls’; and ‘it is in the nature of heavy things to fall’. Doing so, avoiding these alternatives, will allow us to see that the relation between a ‘ground’ and ‘what it grounds’ must be understood as a dynamic relation, one whereby the determinacy of the ground and that of the grounded cannot be fixed in isolation from each other” (pp. 245-246).

He quotes Hegel: “But the being that appears and essential being stand referred to each other absolutely. Thus concrete existence is, third, essential relation; what appears shows the essential, and the essential is in the appearance. — Relation is the still incomplete union of reflection into otherness and reflection into itself; the complete interpenetrating of the two is actuality” (p. 246).

“The general point [Hegel] keeps making is: a strict separation of the two moments, and an insistence that the nature of an appeal to an essence, or to a causal law, or to someone’s reason for acting cannot be understood as punctuated moments on the billiard-ball model of causation, but involve a kind of unity, the development of a kind of unity, much closer (yet again) to Aristotle on energeia. This essential-being-as-activity, manifesting itself in its appearances, is what should count as ‘actuality’. This has the implication that many existing things have no actuality, are not really ‘anything’. A lump of dirt, a cough, a strand of wire” (ibid).

“The question for Hegel is the question of ‘actuality’, not ‘existence’, or the sensibly apprehensible, just as for Aristotle, the question is the ‘really real’, to ontos on.” (p. 247).

Pippin quotes from the Encyclopedia Logic, “The logical is to be sought in a system of thought-determinations in which the antithesis between subjective and objective (in its usual meaning) disappears. This meaning of thinking and of its determinations is more precisely expressed by the ancients when they say that nous [“intellect”, or thought in a non-psychological sense] governs the world” (p. 248).

Here “governs” is meant in a constitutive sense. The important point is that the “thought-determinations” here are indifferent to the ordinary distinction between a subjective “thinker” and an objective “thought content”.

In this context he speaks of “this dynamical relation, this Ur-relation of all relations” (ibid).

“I have tried to show in another book that the most important, most clarifying implications of this Ur-relation occur in Hegel’s practical philosophy, both in his account of human agency, and in the implications of that account for the practical theory of freedom in his Philosophy of Right and theory of objective spirit in general (ibid).

“[T]he full demonstration of the truth of this Ur-relation lies in what it actually illuminates, in the cogency and credibility of, for example, an account of agency based on it” (p. 249).

It was the outstanding (and very Aristotelian) account of Hegel’s view of agency in Hegel’s Practical Philosophy that first attracted me to Pippin’s work.

In his own idiom, Hegel says “thus the inner is immediately the outer, and it is this determinateness of externality for the reason that it is the inner; conversely, the outer is only an inner because it is only an outer” (quoted, ibid.)

Pippin comments, “He does not mean here anything as obvious as: when I do something, my ex ante intention is fulfilled and so becomes something outer, just as what was done, the bodily movement, counts as an action because it expressed this ex ante intention. The passage does not say that the inner becomes the outer, nor that the outer is the expression of the inner. It says: there is no ex ante intention except as outer. It is the outer. And there is no outer except as what must count as inner, nor that it expresses a separable inner. There is no such separation” (pp. 249-250; see also Hegel on Willing).

This concludes Pippin’s chapter on the logic of essence. Unsurprisingly, we have not uncovered any magic formula that would tell us which appearances manifest the essence in particular cases. Such a thing seems completely impossible to me; we should not expect to be able to find any general formula covering an unspecified collection of particulars. Any judgments involving particulars must in part at least come back to something like Aristotelian deliberation and practical judgment, which yield only particular results.

Nonetheless, in discussing the logic of essence we have ruled out some important classes of misunderstandings, and we have set the stage for the climax of Hegel’s Logic in the “logic of the concept”. The logic of the concept will take as a starting point the non-separation of “inner” and “outer” that has been shown in the logic of essence.