When it comes to Hegel’s “logic” the first question is, what does it really aim at? What is it even trying to do? Robert Pippin’s Hegel’s Realm of Shadows (2019) is the best attempt to answer this I have found so far.
“[Hegel] seems to promise something quite extraordinary and, no doubt to contemporary ears, something quite implausible, a treatment of ‘logic’ in some way in service of an emancipatory ideal — an emancipatory logic, of all things” (p. 24).
To briefly anticipate, it will be emancipatory in addressing the Aristotelian actualization of Kantian freedom.
“[T]he most important element in Hegel’s fulfilling such an ambition… is a ‘science of pure thinking’. What any thinking does is to render something intelligible, a task that, as we shall see, has many different dimensions and is inseparable from the giving of reasons. But, as we have also noted, to say what something is, or to explain why something happened, or to understand the point or purpose of anything, is not just to present a picture or grasp a content. It is to judge, something always open to challenge and interrogation” (p. 20).
What Hegel calls pure thinking is concerned with and exhibits the general shape of the space of reasons.
“Eventually… we would need a fully reflective account of the ‘ground of giving grounds’…. In the practical domain, in Kant and the post-Kantians, I am free when I am acting on reasons about what ought to be done. This is a form of self-consciousness that, according to Kant, is paradigmatically embodied when I act wholly on reasons, and not just prudently or instrumentally, as when I act for the sake of ends I have not rationally determined I ought to have” (p. 21).
Put another way, all our reasons ought to trace back to the highest good. When our reasons stop at some partial good, we are not yet free.
“[I]n just the same sense as Hegel will want to treat concept and intuition in experience as distinct but inseparable, he will want to say that so-called ‘material’ issues… are inseparable from forms of self-understanding, as inseparable as such forms are from their material embodiment” (p. 22).
Hegel’s strong emphasis on actuality and actualization leads him to see something like Aristotelian hylomorphism (inseparability of form and matter) in places where Kant tended to see dualities. For Hegel as for Aristotle, our true intent is expressed by what we actually did.
Pippin quotes the Phenomenology Preface’s statement that the task of modernity “consists in actualizing and spiritually animating the universal by means of the sublation of fixed and determinate thoughts” (p. 24).
“Hegel’s unease with [the dominance of fixed representations] is what begat those familiar later claims about the ‘ideological’ nature of bourgeois philosophy, the one-dimensionality of modern societies, the dominance of ‘identity thinking’, the crisis of the European sciences, the colonization of the life-world, and so forth. And while all such critiques can be traced back to Hegel, he does not make the case for such limitations by contrast with a positive or utopian theory, as is the case in many of these examples” (p. 25).
Hegel aims at a purely immanent development of self-critical understanding, in which forms of spirit all on their own eventually exhibit their own incompleteness and one-sidedness, rather than being claimed to fall short of some external ideal.
“Stated in the simplest possible terms, Hegel’s diagnosis of the fix we have gotten ourselves into consists in the claim that we have not properly understood how to understand ourselves and the social and natural world in which we dwell. This is not, though, because we have simply been regularly mistaken, the victim of false philosophies, wrong ideas. It is due to the inevitable partiality and one-sidedness of various ruling concepts (let us say, for shorthand, norms for explanation and justification, the normative structures of the ‘space of reasons’)” (p. 26).
The solution is not a matter of simply substituting more correct first-order beliefs. Of far greater import are our higher-order ways of thinking, judging, and assessing.
“Moreover, the problem is not the contents of our beliefs but the way we have come to collectively regulate what is believable…. Our norms for authoritative explanations and for how we justify ourselves to each other are imbricated in the everyday fabric of a form of life” (p. 28).
“Thus, it would not be an exaggeration to say that Hegel’s basic claim… is that we have not properly understood the ‘grammar’ of spirit (the logic of self-relation, both individual and collective, that makes up spirit), and this is connected with our failure to understand the grammar of possible renderings-intelligible or account-givings in general…. And it would also not be an exaggeration to say that, for Hegel, once we do understand it, we (at least we philosophers) will be freed from the illusion that some particular form of account-giving (like modern Verstand [understanding based on simple fixed predications]) could be taken to be ‘absolute’; the proper relativization (historically and systematically) of different accounts of account-giving will have been made. Or, stated in its most surprising form: Hegelian philosophy has no distinct doctrine of its own; its content is the right understanding of past attempts at account-giving in their limitations and interconnection” (p. 30).
This notion of a “grammar” of spirit is quite fascinating. “Self-relation” is at the heart of Hegel’s often misunderstood talk about the “true infinite”. Hegel wants to say that the ordinary grammar of subject and predicate as fixed terms is not a very good form for expressing thought, because it lacks “life”. Pure thought for Hegel involves moving beyond all fixed terms. Self-relation involves no substantive “self”, only the purely relational character of an always re-emerging unity of apperception. Freedom for Hegel has a kind of grounding in the “true infinite”, but this has nothing to do with an infinite power. What makes self-relatedness “infinite” is its relations-first character, which does not depend on any pre-given fixing of ground-level terms. For Hegel, higher-order form is more primary than first-order form. First-order terms are degenerate cases, not foundational instances.
“Apperceptive spontaneity is not understood as a subjective mental activity, opposed to or addressed to or imposed on what there is…. If we understand this properly, we understand apperceptive spontaneity ‘in its actuality’, as having ‘given itself’ its own actuality, the actuality of the intelligibles, what there is” (p. 35).
What is free in us is not a separate faculty of decision-making, but the open-endedness of the basis of our understanding. For Hegel, there is no gap between understanding and action. What we really understood or didn’t understand is made publicly interpretable by our action. Meanwhile, what there is is inseparable from the intelligibility of that “what”.
Pippin notes that the original context for talk about “spontaneity” in Kant was the latter’s insistence against the tradition that thought is entirely active in character. Thought for Kant includes no moment of passive receptivity, and therefore generates and is responsible for all of its own content. Hegel adopts this perspective.
“Put in terms of the history of philosophy, what all of this will amount to is an attempt by Hegel at a highly unusual synthesis of the Kantian revolution in philosophy, especially the anti-empiricist, self-grounding character of reason (aka ‘the Concept’), and the most important Kantian innovation, the spontaneity of thinking, together with essential elements of Aristotle’s understanding of metaphysics, especially the Aristotelian notions of energeia, which Hegel translates as Wirklichkeit, actuality, the proper object of first philosophy, and, as we have seen, the core of the classical view that ‘nous’ [intellect] rules the world, all in contrast to the rationalist metaphysics of nonsensible objects accessible to pure reason alone. Hegel is no metaphysician in this rationalist sense, but he is most certainly a metaphysician in the Aristotelian sense. That is, at any rate, the thesis of the following book” (ibid).
It is refreshing to see metaphysics treated as something other than an ahistorical lump extending from Parmenides to the present. Later common usage has diverged so far from the meaning of Aristotelian first philosophy that I prefer not to call the latter “metaphysics” at all, but that term loses its objectionable connotations insofar as the reference is tied to something specifically Aristotelian.
I think recognizing that Hegel fundamentally aimed to combine Kantian and Aristotelian insights in a principled way is essential for grasping what he was really about. But to even have the perspective that such an aim makes sense requires work on the interpretation of both Aristotle and Kant; one would never come up with it based on textbook stereotypes.
More than any other commentator, Pippin has developed both the Kantian and the Aristotelian dimensions of Hegel. Later in the current book, he will have more to say specifically about Hegel’s post-Kantian recovery of Aristotelian teleology.
(He says in passing that the earliest precedents for Kant’s view that thought and reason are never purely passive are from the late 16th century. That is not quite right. Alain de Libera has documented that the foremost medieval commentator on Aristotle, Averroes, explicitly interpreted Aristotle as saying that the so-called potential intellect has an “activity” of its own and is not purely passive. In fact, even sense perception is not just passive in Aristotle. Aristotle’s remarks about the synthesizing role of the “common” sense and “inner” sense are unfortunately extremely sketchy, but it seems beyond doubt that they do have a synthesizing role.)