A Logic of Being?

We’ve reached part 2 of Robert Pippin’s important Hegel’s Realm of Shadows. Despite recently mentioned peripheral caveats, I’m enormously impressed with the way he makes sense of Hegel’s Science of Logic, possibly the most difficult philosophical work ever written.

He now begins a high-level survey of the three separate “logics” Hegel develops. It is essential to Hegel’s scheme that the first two will be regarded as failures in the explanation of what is involved in making things intelligible. For Hegel, failures of thought play an essential, irreducible role in the attainment of new insights. The perspectives achieved by thought are not “refuted” by other perspectives external to those achieved; instead, the achieved perspectives metaphorically “discover” their own inability to solve their own problems.

We’ve already seen the first move of the first of these failed accounts of what it is to be intelligible, the logic of being.

Hegel uses the further development of this account as a vehicle for discussing the Kantian categories of quantity and quality. If his first point was that being qua being is utterly sterile because intelligibility depends on the ability to make definite determinations, the elaboration begins to show the relational character of all determination, and at the same time the failure of any simple assertion of properties of things (“judgment”, in the severely truncated early modern form that reduces it to predication) to adequately make those things intelligible.

Pippin does not go into detail on Hegel’s lengthy discussion of quantity and quality, so for instance there is no more mention of the issue about good and bad infinity, though this is where Hegel treats it. Pippin reserves the most space for the final logic of the concept that is supposed to be successful, and gives the least to the logic of being, which according to Hegel is the least adequate.

In discussing the logic of being, Pippin is mainly concerned to extract takeaway points relevant to understanding the high-level “movement” of Hegel’s logic as a whole. I have been highlighting his suggestion that this notorious “logical motion” is teleological in a genuinely Aristotelian sense, rather than being either deductive, or somehow univocally driven forward by contradiction. It is all oriented toward the merely hypothetical necessity of what is required if we aim to reach a deeper truth. Pippin is at pains to point out that for Hegel as for Aristotle, every teleological actualization involves contingency.

“The idea is to begin with the thought of anything at all, in its immediate indeterminacy, simply being, Sein. But the thought of anything at all is not the thought of anything…. Nothing is excluded, so nothing is included…. It is a failed thought, not the thought of this failure or even just the enactment of the failure. This is the beginning of everything of significance in the Logic; it (the thought of Sein being nothing other than Nichts [nothing]) is the reflective relation to what is being thought that is inseparable from anything possibly being thought. It is thought’s apperceptive moment…. Just thereby, thinking is thinking its failure to be thinking, not thinking of a strange object, Nichts. It is only in this sense that the first moment has a second moment, a realization of what thinking must be to be thinking of anything” (p. 186).

“Such a reflective determination reveals both that such putative immediate indeterminacy must itself already be a determination, and that such a putative content, anything at all in its immediate indeterminacy, has not been transformed, has not ‘become’ Nichts, but that it always already was” (p. 187).

“Hegel here is doing something like making a case for, or at least in some way showing us, the apperceptively discursive nature of any possible discursive intelligibility. This also means that in judging anything, I am always also implicitly holding open the possibility of the self-correcting of judging…. Or, any judgment always implicitly applies, is implicitly applying, the concept of judgment to itself” (p. 189).

That apperceptive judgment always implicitly applies the concept of judgment to itself follows from its apperceptive, reflective nature. To be apperceptively reflective is to be self-referential, Pippin has been saying.

“As Kant insisted, in any such case I must be able to ‘stand above’ what I judged and what I now judge correctly and take the latter to be a correction of the former in order for it to be that, a correction. Otherwise, there is just a succession of episodes. This is why he could say that the understanding, the power of claiming, is the synthetic unity of apperception (in the same way, I am ultimately claiming in this book, Hegel is claiming that what he calls the concept is the synthetic unity of apperception)” (ibid).

“This also means, as we have been stressing, that given certain concepts of the power of knowing — say, a knowing that must be indeterminate and immediate, a ‘resolve’ to begin with such a notion — we already have thereby the concept of the object of such pure knowing, Being. If we are talking about a case of knowing, as we are, the two are, must be, inseparable…. There is no question, here or anywhere in the Logic, of the need to ‘move’ from the order of knowing to the order of being. If that were claimed to be necessary, how would we have begun with a case of knowing?” (pp. 189-190).

This intimate connection between the form of knowing and the object of knowing is Hegel’s alternative to the difficult “transcendental deduction” by which Kant in the Critique of Pure Reason aims to establish that the categories of thought really are relevant to experience. Pippin suggests that Hegel generally reinterprets Kantian dualities as cases of Aristotelian hylomorphism, and notes that even Kant occasionally makes remarks tending in this direction. In this particular case, reinterpreting the duality as a hylomorphism eliminates the “gap” between thought and being that in Kant creates the need for the transcendental deduction.

I confess, though, that it was not obvious to me that we had begun with a case of knowing. I have trouble identifying any kind of failed thought or thought that fails to have a content with knowing; I am not used to recognizing the possibility of an empty “knowing”.

But we are at least implicitly talking about an instance of thought here, even if it is a degenerate instance. Pippin is arguing that even that failed, empty thought must still be self-referential, just in being a case of thought in Hegel’s sense at all. By virtue of its form as thought or apperceptive judgment, it is already reflectively turned back on itself. I think Pippin is suggesting that that turning back on itself counts as a kind of knowing at the meta level, even though the thought failed at ground level.

“[T]here is no objection in Kant or among the relevant post-Kantians, in their denial that thinking is a kind of perceiving or primarily receptive, to the general form of such claims as ‘I know it because I saw it’, especially because that is the invitation to establishing that it can be seen by anyone…. But for thinking as such, there is nothing like: ‘I know that is the essence because I had an essence-intuition…'” (p. 190).

I am more reserved about claims like “I know it because I saw it”. Plato would not accept this as an instance of knowledge, and I am inclined to follow suit. I would say, “I believe it with confidence because I saw it”. But Pippin makes a good point here about the implicit invitation to treat this as the claim that it could be seen by anyone.

As I have noted before, what I prefer to call belief and others call a form of immediate, noninferential empirical “knowledge” are not just arbitrary assertions. Though we arrive at such beliefs “spontaneously” (in the ordinary sense, which is nearly the inverse of the Kantian sense), after the fact it is always possible to ask about the reasons for them.

I am claiming that after the fact, it should always be possible to express something of why we believe what we do. “Because I saw it” is not a reason, but a reiteration that it appeared that way to me. Intrinsically, it has no more value than “because I said so”. The kind of reasons that can be provided in this case will be persuasive (or, in Aristotle’s usage, “probable”) to some degree or other, but also potentially refutable. Typically they will take the form of more detailed claims about what we saw.

“Fichte insists on the same point that is made in the first move in the Logic… by pointing out the difference logically between ‘A’ and ‘A = A’. For the latter, we need… an ‘I’ that is ‘= I’…. But this identification is something done, a Tat [deed], the equivalent here of ‘bringing contents to the unity of apperception’ in Kant’s account, an active unifying necessary for the I to be continuously that I in experience” (p. 191).

As Aristotle pointed out, merely saying something (“A”, “Being”, or whatever) is not yet saying something about something, which turns out to be the minimal condition for truth or falsity. This formulation points to some kind of self-relatedness in the attitude toward content that seems to be a minimal condition for any kind of assertion. This self-relatedness in the content of assertions seems to be related to the inherent self-referentiality of thought for which Pippin is arguing, as if the one were a sort of hylomorphic reflection of the other.

I used to misunderstand the above argument of Fichte as additionally requiring the existence of an “I” like a rabbit out of a hat, but again we are only dealing with hypothetical necessity here. If I want to be able to conclude “A = A”, then I need to be able to apply the same identification “A” twice within the context of one judgment. That the two identifications of “A” must be combined within the context of one judgment is the sole import of Fichte’s “I = I”. If there is any existence of an I involved here, it is by hypothesis.

Pippin stresses that although Hegel speaks of logical “movement” in temporal metaphors, each part of the “movement” has always already occurred. Once again, Hegel is not talking about what drives the course of events, but something like the conditions of possibility of the constitution of intelligibility and normativity.

He goes on to discuss more problems related to immediacy, and the transition to the logic of essence, each of which I’ll address separately.

Emancipatory Logic?

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.)