“The” Concept?

Whenever we are deeply engaged in reflection, we tend to “lose ourselves” in the subject matter. At the same time, what we are thinking about becomes a part of “us”. This kind of immersive unity that we can experience affords a glimpse of what Aristotle and Hegel are talking about when they speak of “thought thinking itself”.

This kind of inquiry will not directly answer any questions about how things are in the world, but Hegel implies it has the potential to make us wiser, in the same sense in which Aristotle associates first philosophy with wisdom.

Pippin has been arguing that Hegel’s Logic really is fundamentally about the kinds of questions Aristotle associated with first philosophy, and especially “What is it to say what something is?” (Hegel’s Realm of Shadows, p. 251).

This is an example of what I would call a “higher-order” question, as opposed to a relatively lower-order question like “What is that thing?”. What makes it higher-order is its reflective or self-referential character, here a “saying about saying”.

We have now reached the third and final part of the Logic, the “logic of the concept”. The logic of the concept is about “thinking about thinking” (and implicitly, I think, aims to address a yet higher-order concern for an account of higher-order questioning).

In short, “the” concept, or the Concept with a capital “C”, is for Hegel the concept of the concept, or conceptuality itself. Here we will be concerned no longer with the conditions of possible intelligibility of objects, but with conditions of the possibility of intelligibility as such.

The logic of being through its failure indirectly showed the conditions of possibility for merely identifying objects. The logic of essence asked what makes it possible to know or judge what something really is. Now that we are turned toward thought itself, the concern is how to judge well, and correlatively, what makes something a good whatever-it-is.

At the level of what Hegel calls the concept, we have left the subject-object split behind, and rejoined Aristotle’s perspective that what makes “pure” thought pure is that it “just is” what it is “about” — the thought is “identical” with what it thinks. (Recall again the experience of being immersed in reflection.) At the same time, Hegel’s Kantian “I” is something that emerges out of the self-reference in thinking about thinking, as a kind of name for the implicit unity of apperception in thinking about thinking.

Instead of a pre-existing substantive “I” entity confronting a pre-existing substantive object entity, the “I” and the object become meaningful signs both associated with what I would call the real or true “substantiality” that fills the whole space that is figuratively “in between”, while reaching vertically and horizontally far beyond any direct relations of “I” and object.

(That substantiality, I would say, is grounded in mutual relational articulation and in processes of constitution and synthesis of meaning, value, and form that cumulatively define what I really care about, as shown in my actions in the overall course of a life, which in turn defines who I am. At the same time, nothing that is is really external to it. Spinoza, Leibniz, and Fichte each in their own very different way are Hegel’s partial precursors in developing this kind of insight.)