Synopsis of Hegel’s ‘Science of Logic’
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Hegel, in his ‘Science of Logic’, writes that a dialectical understanding of an object involves ‘demonstrating opposite determinations…… in the same object’ and ‘seizing the opposed moments in their unity’, so that every whole is a unity of opposed determinations.
Reading through the text, contradiction can be identified as the animating category throughout the whole exposition. Each category is developed and shown to be inherently self-contradictory. The resolution of the internal contradiction in one category moves the exposition on to the next category. This next succeeding category stands as the outcome of the resolution of all the previous contradictions of the previous categories in the exposition – i.e. as the outcome of all previous development – and is richer in content than all the preceding categories. The exposition is always a movement towards an increasingly more concrete category which is always richer in its content and determinations, and hence more concrete, than the preceding categories. Each new category, in its turn being the outcome of negation, is posited as containing its own latent contradictions which unfold and become actualised in the course of the exposition of the determinations of the category. The latent (possible, embryonic,) contradictions become actualised as each category generates within itself the conditions for the actualisation of these latent contradictions which, in their movement, tend towards, and find, their resolution in a succeeding, more concrete category. In Hegel’s system, the final category is termed the ‘Absolute Idea’ and is ascribed to be the most concrete of all the categories, being the outcome and synthesis of the entire development of all the previous categories and embracing within itself the richness of content that has resulted from and out of the history of this development.
Is not Hegel demonstrating that every category is immanently self-contradictory and the inner antagonisms within it become the source of its self-movement and therefore of its passage into a succeeding category which becomes characterised by a more concrete, richer, form of contradiction? The positing of each category becomes simultaneously the unfolding of the conditions within itself for its own negation. Thus, each category, in the course of its movement, passes over into its successor. At the point of its determination in the course of the exposition, each category must contain the succeeding category, into which it passes, implicitly posited within itself. The development of each category involves the maturation of this embryonic opposition into an open antagonism, setting up a relation in which the category becomes divided against itself in conflict. The further development of the inner conflict moves towards a point at which the resolution of the conflict becomes necessary. Each resolution constitutes a transition to a qualitatively higher, determinate stage (category) which contains and generates new relations and qualities within itself that govern its further development. Contradiction animates the whole exposition.
the contemplation of everything that is shows, in itself, that in its self-identity it is self-contradictory and self-different and in its variety or contradiction, self identical; it is in itself this movement of transition of one of these determinations into the other, just because each in itself is its own opposite (1)
All things are internally divided against themselves and composed of opposed tendencies. Each thing unifies opposed tendencies which exist and develop in inseparable relation to each other. In this way, they condition each other’s and therefore, mediatively, their own movement. Each side of any relation displays its individual characteristics and determinations in its connection to the whole. Hence, when considering the relationship between opposed tendencies which constitute a single whole….
Each of the two opposed sides contains its other in itself, and neither can be thought of without the other; and thus it follows that taken alone, neither determination has truth, but only in their unity. This is the true dialectical consideration of them and the true result (2)
Opposed determinations reflect each other’s movement and, because they exist in relation to each other, each determination, through its involvement with its opposite, simultaneously exists in relation with and to itself and determines its own movement (self-determining only through its relation to the other). Each determination exists in a ‘negative self-relation’ and ‘self-relating negativity’. Opposites condition each other in their mutually-interrelated movements and thereby, in their relationship, are, at the same time, determined by each other and self-determining.
Each is self-related only as relating itself to its other (3)
Opposed determinations are contained in one moment or unity. Everything is….
contradictory in itself but also it is resolved contradiction, it is the ground which contains and supports its determinations (4)
Contradiction cannot exist without identity and vice versa. The resolution of contradiction is, at the same time, the positing of the ground for the emergence and development of succeeding forms of contradiction. The succeeding forms of contradiction are embryonically deposited within the resolution itself. They start to mature, develop and move towards supersedence as the conditions for this transition unfold and mature. Everything is posited out of negation as being inherently self-contradictory in itself and as tending to move towards its own transcendence, the seeds of death are being sown at the point of birth. Contradiction is
the Negative in its essential determination, the principle of all self-movement, which consists of nothing else but an exhibition of contradiction. External sensible motion is itself its immediate existence (… ) something moves, not because it is here at one point of time and there at another, but because at one and the same point of time it is here and not here, and in this here both is and is not. We must grant the old dialecticians the contradictions which they prove in motion; but what follows is not that there is no motion, but rather that motion is existent contradiction itself. And similarly internal or self-movement, or impulse in general is nothing else than the fact that something is itself and is also deficiency or the negative of itself, in one and the same respect.
Abstract self-identity has no life, but the fact that the positive in itself is negativity causes it to pass outside itself and to change. Something therefore has life only in so far as it contains contradiction and (….. ) can (……. ) endure contradiction. But if an existent something cannot in its positive determination also encroach on its negative, cannot hold fast the one in the other and contain contradiction within itself, then it is not living unity, or ground but perishes in contradiction. (5)
Change in all things takes place because they contain inner contradictions and these contradictions themselves come into being as a result of change. Without contradiction there is no change and without change there is no contradiction. Contradiction….
is the imperishable source of a self-kindling movement (6)
In this ‘self-kindling movement’, all forms of motion reveal themselves to be ‘existent contradiction’. At any given moment, each form is itself and yet not itself as it undergoes a continuous process of change, expressing the paradox of its own motion. At the same time, each form, each thing, is, taken as a whole, animated by the totality of its contradictions and yet, in this identity as the ‘form’ or the ‘thing’, it is qualitatively distinct from the totality of its contradictions. Every formation is a synthesis which expresses the inner contradictions within itself as an identity, exponentially so to speak. It is a product of contradiction but as an individual determinate something it is, qualitatively, something more than the totality of its contradictions. Notwithstanding this, Hegel states that…
contradiction is more profound and more fully essential than identity. Identity, as opposed to contradiction, is only the determination of the simple immediate (….. ) Contradiction is the root of all movement and life, and it is only in so far as it contains a contradiction that anything moves and has impulse and activity (7)
Each moment of change, each instance of movement, is an identity of emerging and vanishing determinations. These determinations are only distinct from each other and move in opposition to each other because they exist in a relationship of identity or unity with each other. Conflict arises out of the identity or unity of opposites. Any conflict in a given formation constitutes a source of development of the whole formation.
Taken in its movement, any object is a unity of arising and vanishing moments: a movement that identifies a passage from existence to non-existence with a passage from non-existence to existence. Thus…
in-itself every point of time is the relation of past and future (8)
Every something, in its movement, is a synthesis of that which is coming into being and that which is passing away. The appearance of new determinations in the life of the ‘something’ is inextricably connected to the disappearance of other determinations. In their relation with each other, these determinations exist in conflict with each other. It is this conflict which animates the movement of the ‘something’ as a whole. The movement from existence to non-existence is a passing away. The movement from non-existence to existence is an arising. Any moment of change is a unity of these opposed movements i.e. each moment of change in anything unites within itself these opposed movements. That which is coming into being is identified with that which is passing away and vice versa. However, at the same time, these movements are mutually distinct from, and opposed to, each other.
This relation is exhibited in the course of any transition. Transition itself mediates its own disappearance, containing and expressing its own negation. Therefore, in any transition, the identification of what is appearing (arising) and what is disappearing (vanishing) asserts itself in determinate form. Internal division and conflict gives the form its vitality whilst, at the same time, sending it towards its death.
This identity of arising and vanishing moments in which each is and simultaneously is not the other presents itself phenomenologically as a movement in which what is passing away is what is coming into being but coming to be in a different form so that every advance is a return to the old but at a higher level of existence. This arising of the other is simultaneously a return into what is being negated .i.e. the so-called negation of negation. All process is therefore a transition in which the point of departure is not only negated but also re-affirmed but in its rejuvenation so that the whole of development presents itself as an advance which is simultaneously a return to a rejuvenated old.
In this relation of the one and its other is posited the contradiction which is the moving principle of the whole, is the ‘engine’ of the development. But also it is this very principle which gives rise to the contradictory relation between the one and the other so that contradiction is the source of its own positing in its ever changing forms. Contradiction is the source of all development and simultaneously itself arises out of development just as development therefore is the source of contradiction and therefore ‘self-kindling’. Development is contradiction manifest and contradiction is development manifest.
What is arising is different from what is passing away; and yet each, in its movement, is the other. And it is in this contradictory relation that development itself consists and manifests just as all development is the living manifestation of real contradiction in Nature and Society.
In my work on social unionism, the establishment of the social unions will be a return to the solidarity of trade unionism but at a higher wider social stage of development and also a deeper historical, rejuvenated return to the solidarity of the prehistoric tribal council gatherings which were based on communal property. The social unions will constitute themselves as the organs of revolution which drive society beyond private property and return it onto the foundations of common ownership.
The internal contradictions within forms are the source of their ‘self-movement’. A study of these contradictions helps us to understand the general tendencies of development within them and discloses what is latent in their movement. The origination of any formation is not simply the outcome of accident. Chance and contingency are intrinsic but the evolution of one formation out of another demonstrates a necessary relation between the two formations or stages of development. Thus Hegel asserts that….
the activity of the notion is to grasp as necessarily determined what to sense consciousness appears as contingent. Contingency certainly has its place too but only in inessentials (9)
Is not Hegel saying here that there are definite reasons why a particular process must tend to develop in a definite direction and not in some other? Each stage of a process is implicit in the previous stage and, in the course of development, grows out of the previous stage. The outcome of the development of any process is latent within the process itself so that its onward development, involving the resolution of its inner contradictions, tends towards the actualisation of what is latent within it. The inner contradictions within a process drive it towards its dissolution. This movement towards its death being its life of the process itself.
Each phase or stage in the development of a process carries latent within itself the next stage which begins to become actualised as the conditions for its emergence begin to mature within the prevailing phase of development. The positing of the next phase of development is the realisation of the developmental tendencies of the previous phase which is superseded.
A ‘high’ point of development is reached in each stage which is, simultaneously, the point at which that stage, in its totality, begins to decline or perish, giving birth to the next stage of development. This point of ‘highest’ development is, at the same time, the point at which the ‘totality’ begins to die away. For example, even a superficial study of the history of human society shows that all cultures start to degenerate at their height. Even as it flowers, a culture is starting to go to seed. Thus, even when a culture is entering a process of decay, it can give the appearance that it is on the threshold of a ‘golden age’: fifth century Athens and second century Rome.
The development of any process generates within itself the conditions necessary for its own dissolution and therefore the supersedence of those self-same generated conditions which constitute the ground of and for the dissolution and transition to a new stage of development. The maturation of the conditions, that are necessary for the emergence of a new formation, begins to make the latter’s actualisation inevitable so that what was formerly only potentiated (possible) begins to become actualised and come into existence:
when all the conditions of a fact are completely assembled, it enters into actuality (10)
The conditions necessary for the actualisation are themselves superseded and thus rendered unnecessary in the course of the process of actualisation. For example, in the evolution of bourgeois society, Marx demonstrates how and why the development of bourgeois society generates within itself the conditions for its own dissolution in the movement and growing intensity of its inner contradictions. The development of the productive forces within capitalist society, and even their destructive capacities, creates the conditions for the overthrow of capitalist social relations and the establishment of socialism. The socialist relations that are latent (and only latent) in the developing conditions of bourgeois society become actualised and sublate the old conditions and social relations. The transformation of the potential into the actual, under definite conditions, demonstrates the inherent tendency (impulse) of all things to pass beyond themselves as a result of the conflict taking place within them i.e. to undergo a process of negation. The realisation of these possibilities depends on the emergence of a whole series of interrelated conditions and contingencies. The non-emergence of these can mean development takes place in a different, indeed opposite, direction. Inevitability only asserts itself beyond a certain point of change.
The concept of negation in Hegel differs fundamentally from formalistic notions of negation. In the latter, negation is equated with absolute annihilation. For formal logic, a formation exists and then is destroyed without trace, leaving behind neither aspects of itself in the new formation nor entering as reconstituted material into its relations and life. Thus, according to formal logic, something either exists or it does not exist. All is identity without contradiction. In formal logic, the identity of being and not-being, of existence and non-existence, of arising and passing away, is dismissed as ‘illogical’ or ‘unscientific’. Accordingly, for formal logic, when something is destroyed it leaves behind neither legacy nor historical footprints to remind us of its previous existence.
Hegel’s approach to the problem of negation stands in direct opposition to such a notion. In the following passage he describes the nature of negation in general….
Any first term considered in and for itself shows itself to be its own other. Taken quite generally this determination may be held to mean that what first was immediate is thus mediated and related to another, or that the universal is as a particular.
The second term which has thus arisen is accordingly the negative of the first and ( if we allow in advance for the further development ) is the first negative. From this negative side the immediate has become submerged in the other, but the other is essentially not the empty negative or nothing which is commonly taken as the result of the dialectic. It is the other of the first, the negative of the immediate; it is thus determined as mediated and altogether contains the determination of the first. The first is thus essentially contained and preserved in the other. To hold fast the positive in its negative and the presupposition in the result is the most important part of rational cognition…….. the first is contained in the second and the second is the truth of the first. (11)
That a ‘positive’, when negated, is not absolutely annihilated but, in the course of its negation, is ‘essentially contained and preserved’ in the outcome is a central concept in the ‘Science of Logic’. This relation, in which transformed elements of what has been destroyed enter, at the same time, as constituent material into the formation of what is being created, is known as sublation. Hegel refers to it as aufheben, involving simultaneously both abolition of the old and yet preservation of certain aspects. In this relation, the identity and conflict between what is arising and what is vanishing is expressed. What is passing away is not absolutely annihilated but elements of it are preserved in the new formation in reconstituted form. Hence, all dissolution simultaneously involves the transmutation and preservation of certain aspects of the old in the new. Each stage, or any form, contains sublated within itself remnants of the older stages out of which it has evolved. However, at the same time, the new stage, with its distinctive relations, new qualities and content, contains the seeds – the undeveloped potential – which, given the generation of the necessary conditions, germinate and come into open conflict with the established relations of this new stage of development. The resolution of the conflicts which develop in the older stage is the means by and through which the older stage is supplanted by the next, succeeding stage of development. Each stage, being the product of the entire history of development which has preceded it, is blemished with the scars and ‘birthmarks’ of its historical origins whilst, at the same time, being pregnant with future developments. All things contain both their history sublated and their negation latent within them. The result of negation carries within itself elements and aspects of the old. The destruction of the old is simultaneously the creation of the new and yet, at the same time, the relationship between them is one of opposition. Although the new grows out of and supersedes the old, it cannot absolutely disentangle itself from its historical relation to it. The old remains sublated in the new….
what is transcended is also preserved; it has only lost its immediacy and is not on that account annihilated (12)
However, at the same time, the new is a supersedence of the old; a going beyond it. It contains the old sublated within it and yet, for all this, it is distinct from the old with its different determinations and relationships.
For example, in so far as living matter is a qualitatively different mode of matter in motion than the chemical and molecular forms that constitute its substance, it is a sublation of these forms. Molecular species are not, in themselves, living. However, they are structural and chemical components in the processes of living matter. Biological forms evolved out of highly complex chemical structures and, in so doing, negated these latter forms of matter. The transition from the chemical complex to the more ordered and organised systems of living forms was a process in which the former was consumed. The advent of living forms was the emergence of a qualitatively distinct mode of matter with relations that are more complex than an arrangement of molecules, no matter how intricate their interactions and interrelationships may have been. The gap which the transition from non-life to life bridges is one which divides two worlds with their own relations and principles of development. In this respect, living matter transcends its ‘ancestral’ chemical complexes. However, elements of the organic chemistry of these biopoietic precursors of living matter have been preserved as an intrinsic part of the biochemistry of living things i.e. at a different stage of development of nature under different conditions.
Does not the concept of sublation imply that all development in nature, society and mind involves a progressive increase in complexity? The river of historical development gathers up all its past encounters within itself. As it rolls eternally onwards, it concentrates its life-history, always becoming a richer medium and continuously re-working its inheritance into ever new forms. It is its newly-posited characteristics, its actual contradictions and inner relations which determine its onward movement and thereby condition its general tendencies of development.
Any transition is a process in which the development and resolution of the contradictions of the transition animates the negation of the process itself. The transition itself is the process of its own transcendence or the negation itself is undergoing negation. A ‘self-relatedness’ asserts itself in any transition which involves a reaffirmation of what has been immediately transcended. Every transition (negation), whilst being itself something posited, constitutes, as it were, an interim period of development between the life of the originally-posited and its reaffirmation in the negation of the negation. In other words, every moment or instance of change in the life of the object is a movement beyond itself whilst, at the same time, being a reaffirmation of itself. This return of any object to itself – this reaffirmation out of negation – is what Hegel refers to as absolute negativity. The negation of the immediate negation of the object is a restoration in which the interim has become sublated. It is a return of the object to itself (a reaffirmation) out of its own self-negation and thus out of its own self-relatedness. Accordingly, this return is not a simple, identical repetition in which an object re-establishes itself in a ‘carbon copy’ of the original but a real, positive, irreversible advance.
The return to the old assimilates (sublates) within itself the entire history of the intervening period of development and thereby marks the distinction of the restored from the original. That, out of which the ‘entire history’ has unfolded, is reposited but, as a result of the sublation (supersedence) of the intermediate period (interim), at a richer, qualitatively new stage of development with new relationships, features, attributes, etc. Every returning, because it is incorporating (sublating) within itself the preceding phases of historical development, is, simultaneously, a movement towards an irreversible advance beyond the original point of departure with new content, relations and features.
What is posited reaffirms itself by passing over into its negative and by transcending the contradiction set up between itself and its negative. The resulting product of this movement is a synthesis. Accordingly, the whole movement is one of a process returning into itself as a result of the negation of the negative to which it gives rise in the course of its self-movement.
X, in giving rise to its negative, -X, exists in contradictory relation to it. In this connection it, X is itself (the posited) and yet also not itself (-X, the negative of itself) just as its opposite (its negative, -X) is itself (and therefore something posited) and yet not itself (X, the negative of –X). X holds its other (-X) as negative just as -X simultaneously holds X as its negative. Thus, X is also a negative as much as –X is something posited but only in their relation. Each is itself and yet ‘other’ and thus they constitute an identity of opposites. Each, in their mutual interconnection and interrelation, is a ‘positive’ and a ‘negative’ simultaneously. Contradiction is driving the whole movement and is the animating source of the returning of X back into itself. X…. -X…. X’. Therefore, any synthesis is the outcome of the resolution of preceding contradictions.
Each object, in its movement, is divided against itself as result of its relation to its negative which it engenders and embraces in the course of its life-process. In this ‘negative self-relation’ in which the object ‘opposes itself to itself ‘(13), the object becomes internally differentiated and immanently self-contradictory. This inner conflict within the object means that it is always tending to pass beyond itself.
The changing object is a unity of opposing determinations in which each determination relates itself to itself only by and through simultaneously relating itself to the others and relates itself to the others only because it is simultaneously in relation with and to itself (self-relation). Each determination is in unity with the others and only in this unity does it display its distinction from the other determinations. Likewise, only in their conflict do these determinations demonstrate their connection and unity.
Absolute Negativity is, as it were, contradiction resolving itself through further negation (contradiction resolved through the deposition of further contradiction). The self-contradictory nature of this movement drives its onward development.
All things are always in a state of transition into something else and therefore, in their life-process, are always tending towards their death. Accordingly, development is not merely a linear progression from one thing to another but involves, in the advance, a return to the old but at a different stage of development.
The future becomes a re-animation, in a different form, of the past. The old is reborn in the negation of its negation but the outcome of this negation of negation asserts its new content and distinctness, at the same time, from the original as a result of the supersedence within itself of the interim period of development. Indeed, Hegel maintains that….
this is the truth of time, that the goal is not the future but the past
and hence for each point of development…
The point proceeds towards a place which is its future, and leaves one which is its past; but what it has left behind is at the same time what it has still to reach: it has been already at the place which it is reaching. Its goal is the point which is its past (14)
Each advance in development is, at the same time, a regress or returning of the movement upon itself. It is a movement that changes the object irreversibly by sublating within itself its own unceasing development:
It comes about that each step in the progress of further determination in advancing from the indeterminate beginning is also a rearward approach to it, so that two processes which at first may appear to be different (the regressive confirmation of the beginning and its progressive further determination) coincide and are the same. (15)
The life and development of the object arises from the conflict of opposites within itself. Each object is the ‘exponent’ of this opposition. It is an identity that is a product of this opposition and yet, as a whole, it is qualitatively different and distinct from it. This is an example of what Hegel refers to as the ‘identity of identity and difference’ in the ‘Doctrine of Essence’.
If we consider the object as a whole, each part of the whole develops only in relation to the movement of the whole and is connected to every other part through this whole movement. The parts are distinct from each other and from the whole only by virtue of their inseparable relation to it and to each other. Therefore, in the identity of the whole and the parts, each is distinct from the other. The movement of the whole conditions the relative movement of the parts which, in their turn, influence the whole movement. Each part has its own distinct characteristics whilst, at the same time, being continuous with and intrinsic to the life and development of the whole. In their interrelations, each part asserts its independence whilst reflecting and determining the whole movement i.e. it reveals its dependence simultaneously. Whole and parts mutually condition each other’s movement. Their relation….
contains the independence of the sides and equally their transcendedness, and it contains both in one relation. The whole is the independent and the parts are only moments of this unity; but equally they too are the independent and their reflected unity is only a moment; and each is its independence just something relative to the other. Thus, this relation is itself immediate contradiction and cancels itself (16)
Elaborating further, Hegel concludes that…
The whole and the parts therefore condition each other; (…….) the whole is the condition of the parts, but also (…..) is only in so far as it has the parts for presupposition (17)
The whole is qualitatively distinct from the parts. In the totality of its movement, the whole displays dependence upon, and yet its distinct independence from and conditioning of, the movement of the parts. The relationship between the whole and the parts is such that…
Whole and parts are indifferent to each other and have independent persistence, but also they are essentially related and constitute only one identity. The relation therefore is the antinomy that the one moment, in freeing itself from the other, immediately introduces the other (18)
Each side – the whole taken in opposition to the parts and vice versa – in repelling the other side from itself simultaneously relates itself to it in a process of identity with it. Each side, in asserting its independence, reveals its dependence and necessary connection to the other side. Each side can only exist in a state of unity with the other because they are in relation to each other as discrete moments in the continuity of their relation.
If we consider the general state of flux and concatenation in the changing relations of any process (interconnections and interrelations), a cause is not only the cause of an effect and also the effect of an antecedent cause but in giving rise to an effect, simultaneously determines itself through its effect as cause (i.e. it affects itself through the effect to be the cause of the effect and thus is self-mediating through its relationship to its effect). Cause and effect interpenetrate and contain each other. Likewise, effect is both caused and a cause of a succeeding effect as well as self mediating through its relationship to its cause. Each moment, in the different sides of its concatenation and relation, is both cause and effect, simultaneously both product and producing. Cause determines itself as cause through (i.e. mediated through) its effect and thus affects itself as well as being the cause of a succeeding effect and the effect of a preceding cause. Likewise effect is both the effect of a preceding cause and the cause of a succeeding effect. Effect is not only caused but also, through its reciprocal relation to its cause, determines cause as cause and, in so doing, mediates its own nature as effect.
Cause not only has an effect but in the effect stands related as cause, to itself….
Causality presents itself as an arising out of its negation and a passing away into it – as a becoming (19)
Cause and effect are distinct from one another only in their inseparable interconnection. Each cause is simultaneously the effect of a preceding cause and each effect is the cause of a subsequent effect. In their relation….
Each of these determinations cancels itself in its positing and posits itself in its cancellation…. Its becoming other is at the same time its own positing. (20)
Therefore cause and effect….
are, in themselves, one; but each is external to itself, and hence in its unity with the other is also determined as other against it. Consequently, although cause has, and also is itself, an effect, and effect not only has but also itself is a cause, yet the effect which the cause has and that which it is are different; and so with the cause which the effect has and the cause which it is (20)
For example, consider the process of a burning candle. The heat of the flame causes the wax to melt which then serves as a fuel for the flame. Both wax and flame are simultaneously cause and effect. The flame, in melting the wax, continuously creates a reservoir of available fuel that serves as the source of its own perpetuation and the wax, in providing fuel for the flame, becomes a source of its own further liquefaction. But, says the formalist, the original cause or ‘prime mover’ of the whole process was the application of an external flame to the wick of the candle and therefore, in the final analysis, it is the flame that is the first cause of the whole process. Consideration of the matter shows, however, that even this assertion breaks down. Any form of combustion involves a relating of distinct materials in contact with each other. The candle itself is composed of combustible materials and thus possesses the specific quality of being combustible but only under definite conditions. It is not simply the flame that causes the process but also, at the same time, the fact that the physical and chemical nature of the constituent materials of the candle cause it to be combustible. Hence, it is the nature of the relationship between flame and candle that must be considered in order to understand the causality of the process.
If cause is abstractly assigned to one side of a relation and effect to another then what results is a one-sided, skewed knowledge of it. One side is seen as being active (cause) whilst the other is viewed as being passive (effect). Such a view fails to comprehend that cause and effect are not rigidly separated but develop in a mutual and reciprocal relation to each other in which each contains and passes into the other whilst, at the same time, maintaining its distinction from other. In the burning process, the flame and wax are inseparable but they are also distinct from each other
Quantitative and qualitative changes involve each other. Quantitative changes can occur without any appreciable or significant (or even noticeable) alteration in the qualities of an object. The qualities of an object are not fundamentally altered as long as quantitative variation takes place within definite limits which are specific for each object or process. The qualities of any object will vary within these limits. Such limits define the unity and general character of the object itself. Under such conditions, change appears to be an exclusively gradual process occurring within definite limits. The general qualities and characteristics of an object remain essentially unchanged because its variation occurs within definite parameters, passage beyond which would be expressed by a significant and visible change in the overall qualities of the object i.e. by its transformation or even dissolution.
This apparent gradualness of development manifests itself because changes take place within definite parameters which are not transgressed. A wealth of transformations are constantly and continually taking place in all objects but either go unnoticed or are insignificant in terms of any complete transformation of the object as a whole. Such changes are containable within the parameters of existence of the object. However, changes in an object tending to transgress established parameters (which determine and maintain the integrity of the object) can create the conditions for a rapid transformation in which an object undergoes a radical alteration or suddenly disintegrates. In this way, a ‘gradualness’ of development becomes punctuated by a period of abrupt change. An object loses its distinct identity as the qualities which marked that identity disappear with the transformation of the object as a whole.
A ‘revolution’ takes place in the life of the object in which the object becomes completely transformed into something else. This happens because quantitative changes can ‘accumulate’ without any significant change in the qualities of the object. Quantitative changes are not simply abolished in the course of the development of the object. Past changes in the object – both quantitative and qualitative which always involve each other no matter how imperceptible they may be – are preserved and build up. The object ‘memorises’ its entire history and ‘plays out’ these ‘memories’ in the development of its life-process. The history of change in the object leaves residual effects which remain active in the life of the object. All change in the object is sublative and, accordingly, it preserves its history within itself whilst, at the same time, tending to pass beyond it in its further development. The effects of past changes accumulate, reinforce each other and in their totality create the conditions within the object for its transformation. The ‘accumulation’ of change within the object intensifies its inner contradictions. The historically established and characteristic qualities and relations of the object start to reach the threshold of their development. The conflict reaches towards a point of development at which rapid transformation becomes imminent. At such ‘nodal points’ of imminent transformation, an object becomes incapable of containing the opposition generated within itself as a whole and its immediate disintegration threatens. It becomes incapable of holding itself together as an integrated whole as a result of the intensity of its own internal crisis. Riven with contradiction, it starts to break up.
What is imminently latent within itself must become actualised as the contradictions animating its crisis become resolved in the process of the ensuing transformation. In the course of this ‘leap’ forward in development, the old contradictions which fuelled the object’s crisis are transcended and a new different formation with relations and qualities which are radically distinct and different from the old emerges and establishes itself.
These ‘leaps’ or ‘nodal points’ in development tend to take place when an object can no longer reside in its inherently self-contradictory nature. In these circumstances, the development of the object itself has arrived at its historical cul-de-sac. A period of ‘revolution’ in the life of the object takes place which can entail the complete dissolution of the object itself.
Such periods of revolutionary change in Nature and Society can, because of the increasing instability of the object as it approaches the point of its ‘revolution’, be initiated by the slightest of incremental changes. An infinitesimal change can push an object beyond its old bounds and qualities and into a period of revolutionary transformation. An augmentation of the changing qualities of an object may serve to initiate or ‘spark’ its immediate disintegration. The object suddenly breaks up resulting in the creation of a new formation.
The leap forward in development is both destructive and creative. In destroying the old it creates the new and vice versa. It is the newly-posited contradictions, relationships and qualities that are created within, and are the outcome of, the period of rapid transformation which now govern the further development of the transformed object or determine the onward development of a distinctly new, determinate object resulting from the transformation. Aspects of the old formation are sublatively incorporated into the new. However, it is the new relations of the different formation that essentially determine its further development. Thus Nature not only can and does but must make leaps…..
It is said that there are no leaps in nature; and ordinary imagination, when it has to conceive an arising or passing away, thinks it has conceived them when it imagines them as a gradual emergence or disappearance. But we saw that changes in Being were in general not only a transition of one magnitude into another but a transition from the qualitative into the quantitative and conversely: a process of becoming other which breaks off graduality and is qualitatively other as against the preceding Existent Being. Water on being cooled does not little by little become hard, gradually reaching the consistency of ice after having passed through the consistency of paste, but is suddenly hard; when it already has quite attained freezing-point it may (if it stands still) be wholly liquid, and a slight shake brings it into the condition of hardness. The gradualness of arising is based upon the idea that that which arises is already, sensibly or otherwise, actually there, and is imperceptible only on account of its smallness; and the gradualness of vanishing is based on the idea that not-Being or the other which is assuming its place equally is there, only is not yet noticeable; – there not in the sense that the other is contained in the other which is there in itself (Here Hegel means not in the sense that one thing is latent or imminent in another – SM) but that it is there as existence, only unnoticeable. (21)
Therefore, as exemplified by the formation of ice, changes can build up in an object without any noticeable alteration (in the case of the formation of ice, the changes taking place in the inner thermodynamic and structural relations caused by a fall in the temperature of the water) and then a marked change occurs which abruptly separates the qualities of the old from the new state; in the given example, the physical differences between a liquid and a solid. Hegel, in one of his many ‘curtain-raisers’ to Marx, gives the following example of the operation of this ‘specific quantum’ relation in social affairs:
Quantum when it is taken as indifferent limit is that side from which a Determinate Being can unsuspectedly be attacked and destroyed. It is the cunning of the notion to seize it from this side, where its quality does not appear to come into play; and this so much that the aggrandisement of a state or of a property, and so on, which leads in the end to disaster for the state or the owner of the property, may at first appear as their good fortune (22)
The relationship between quantitative and qualitative changes is entirely mutual and reciprocal. Both types of changes immediately pass into each other, changing the object as a whole and, in their accumulation, tending towards the transformation or dissolution of the object.
Formal logic constitutes a method of reasoning which operates with fixed categories which, in the process of cognition, are demarcated off and isolated from each other in their ‘abstract identity’ and ‘externality’ to each other. Hegel analyses formal logical thinking as a necessary but limited form of thinking for specific purposes whilst revealing these limitations as constituting a form of thinking which makes ‘abstract identity its principle’ (Logic, Part 1, Encyclopaedia, p 58).
Formal logic operates with a method of reasoning implicit in which is a conception of a fixed and static cosmos which denies its immanent and eternal contradictoriness. Opposed categories are conceptualised as being isolated and walled off from each other so that in their difference from each other (distinction) their relation and unity is denied. Contradiction is conceptualised as an aberrant foible or defect of thinking rather than being immanent itself in all forms of being.
Hegel shows how formal logic considers all things through its law of ‘abstract understanding’ so that the ever-changing cosmos becomes conceptually fossilised into fixed abstract notions which deny the vitality and movement of this cosmos as a living, developing manifestation of contradiction within it. For formal logic, ‘A’ must always be absolutely identical with itself (A=A). ‘A’ cannot simultaneously be equal to itself (A=A) and not equal to itself (A not = A), for this would undeniably imply contradiction. Thus, formal logic mechanistically denies contradiction in Nature and Society. It fails to grasp opposites and distinctions in their integral relation and unity with each other; to recognise the necessary and inseparable connection between the parts of the whole; to see the transitional character of all forms; to understand the dialectical nature of all determinations through their inseparable relation to their negative; and to understand the movement of the world as a totality and its diverse and ever-changing forms as being animated by inner opposition, contradiction and the organic relationship and conflicts of opposing forces, tendencies, etc.
For dialectical thinking, the affirmation of the characteristic of a thing, phenomenon, relation, etc, simultaneously involves reference to its implicit negation and to itself as the negation of something presupposedly posited. For dialectical thinking, all negation is simultaneously the positing of something determinate – the emergence of a newness in the negation – and thus the affirmation of a distinct, positive content in, and as the outcome of, the negation itself. Negation both destroys and creates at the same time. Both are contained inseparably in the negation whilst, at the same time, the distinction between what is destroyed and what is created is revealed in their mutual opposition. What is created in the destruction is the positive outcome of negation. This newly posited content reveals itself in the arising of new determinations (characteristics, features, qualities, properties, relations, attributes, etc) in their distinction from the old vanishing determinations. The dialectical conception of determination therefore involves its opposite (negation) and vice versa. The negation of some characteristic simultaneously and necessarily involves the positing of some other characteristic wherein each characteristic reveals its distinction only in its relation to the other. “The portentous power of the negative” (Hegel) is therefore the very power which engenders what is determinate as revealed in its posited characteristics. To ‘determine’ something therefore means to progressively deepen our understanding (i.e. for it to become increasingly more concrete for us) of it by grasping how it has originated and what are its inherent tendencies of development from a study of its characteristics, attributes, relations, etc.
Mediation is the category used in dialectical thought which refers to the relationship between what is posited and its negative which issues out of it in its development (negation). The concept of mediation refers to the nature of transition in which, in the course of the transition from one state or formation, etc, to the next, the posited and its negative relate to each other and mutually determine and condition each other’s activity in the development of the whole. When a ‘something’ gives rise to its negative (or opposite) out of itself, it constitutes, in this process of origination, a relationship with this negative which is its negative just as much as this negative is also a positive and the posited ‘something’ its negative. This relationship is, as described, one of mediation. Opposites therefore determine each other and, in this mediative relationship, each is simultaneously self-determining through its reflexive relationship to the other. In affecting each other, each is simultaneously self-affecting so that its relation-to other is simultaneously relation-to-self and vice versa.
Hegel writes that….
the sensible as somewhat becomes other: the reflection in itself of this somewhat, the thing, has many properties….The muchness of the sense-singular thus becomes a breadth, – a variety of relations, reflectional attributes and universalities
(Philosophy of Mind, Part 3 of the Encyclopaedia, Clarendon, Oxford. § 419).
Each unity is a oneness of inner distinctions, variety and conflicts (opposition). This infinite and inexhaustible manifoldness of unfolding properties and inner relations within the changing ‘somewhat’ constitutes its mediative character.
In §12 of the Encyclopaedia, Part 1, Logic (p17, Clarendon Oxford Edition) Hegel writes that…
to mediate is to take something as a beginning and to go onward to a second thing; so that the existence of this second thing depends on our having reached it from something else contradistinguished from it
and later in §70 of Logic, Part 1 of the Encyclopaedia, (p105) that….
it is stupid not to see that the unity of distinct terms or modes is not merely a purely immediate unity, i.e. empty unity and indeterminate, but that – with equal emphasis – the one term is shown to have truth only as mediated through the other – or, if the phrase be preferred, that either term is only mediated with truth through the other.
Hegel’s conception of mediation is the ground of his idea of the bad or wrong infinite. The formal logical notion of infinity is one in which development is simply reduced to a series of concatenated finites in which each finite is the the formal negation of a previous and which, in its turn, is negated to become the next previous and so on ad infinitum. This infinite progression becomes characterised as a quantitative determination, an unending series. In other words, the contradiction between the one and its other is never acknowledged. Whereas his conception of the infinite is that the one comes to be at home with itself in its other or comes to itself in its other. Only in and through its negation, does the posited arrive at itself. In other words, what something passes into is itself and yet not itself at the same time. The negated negative or dialectical return is understood as infinitude. At the end of Hegel’s logical system, the ‘Absolute Idea’ possesses this infinite nature to which he ascribes a divinity. But it must not be forgotten that the return to the beginning is also an advance. Just as the ‘Absolute Idea’ is ‘Being’ returned into itself in higher, more concrete, form so Hegel’s ‘Absolute Idea’ only comes to itself through its inseparable relationship with the world which it enters in ‘Nature’ and returns to itself in ‘Mind’. What each category creates out of itself is transcended within itself in the emergence and formation of the new category and which it holds to be the ‘truth’ of itself. This is why some thinkers see Hegel as pantheistic i.e as an immanentist and not as a transcendentalist which is the dualist (neo-platonist) tradition in Christianity.
Hegel’s conception of reflexivity or reflection-determination refers to the philosophical categories of relation found in the ‘Doctrine of Essence’ – the second part of Hegel’s Science of Logic – and the smaller Logic of the Encyclopaedia of Philosophical Sciences. It is a collective term for those categories which describe the reciprocality of the relationship between opposites. The fundamental principle in the Doctrine of Essence is that of the interdependence, mutual interaction and the unity of opposites.
For example, in Hegel’s concept of causality, cause and effect are only determined as such through their relationship to each other. The identification of one necessarily and simultaneously implies the other. Each, in determining the other, is simultaneously self-determining and, in being so, simultaneously determining the other. Each mediates the activity of the other in their inseparable relation and, in so doing, each is self-mediating. Each determination only exists in and through relation to the other which determines and defines it. It is only in their nexus, reciprocal connection and relationship to other things and determinations that objects are determinate objects per se and their nature is expressed.
In the exposition of the Doctrine of Essence, Hegel develops the relationship between cause and effect, substance and accident, ground and grounded, the thing and its properties, etc. The common conceptual thread running through these polarities is that of reflection. The word reflection comes from the Latin meaning to bend back or bending back. Hence the term is employed by Hegel in order to describe these categories which involve the reciprocity and mutual interpenetration and determination of opposed sides of a polarity – the intrinsic unity of the sides in opposition and intrinsic opposition in their unity. Each determination is reflected into its other and, at the same time, back into itself. Hence the term reflection determination. Formal, metaphysical thinking endeavours to understand (Hegel calls this type of ‘understanding’ Verstand) each determination in its forced abstraction from its opposite. This gives formal logical thinking its limited and one-sided character.
The concept of causality is linked with that of law which can be understood as a general and necessary relation (connection) in Nature or social development, the basis for the existence of which is the causally and structurally related motion of elements within a natural or social system. Law is a general and necessary relation which arises from, and mediates, the relationship between the elements in a given system. The relations which determine the essential character of phenomena are expressed in law.
The essential behaviour of a given system is governed by the sum totality of its laws. Law (as ‘the form of universality in Nature’ – Engels) is not a relation which operates independently in abstraction from the actuality of a particular individual system. On the contrary, it expresses what a particular individual system has in common, in connection, with other ‘individuals’and thus reveals the universal material connection of the different individual systems.
A given law operates, and is expressed, within a given ‘individual’ according to the particular conditions and contingencies of the ‘individual’ embracing within itself the infinite wealth and complexity of chance (accidental) occurrences. Thus, law does not operate in a fixed, deterministic mode, regardless of chance, contingency and the particular conditions of an individual system but only in and through the movement of the whole system as a totality which necessarily embraces the accidental. Law, therefore, is always expressed in the infinite diversity of momentary and vanishing alterations and modifications of evolving forms of matter. Development is, therefore, not simply law-governed without chance but law is expressed in and through the accidentality of phenomena. Chance is the negation of law and vice versa but each, in their intrinsic unity with each other, reveals law to be the more essential relation governing the life and development of phenomena but not, of course, without the essential contingencies of chance which constitute a necessary and essential mode of expression of law. Law – as essential and necessary relation – expresses itself in chance. Chance is not merely passive expression but is an active, necessary and essential mode of expression of law. In the course of the unfolding of conditions, chance determinations can become transformed into necessary relations and vice versa.
Dialectical thinking grasps necessary relations and their accidental mode of expression in their reciprocality and interrelationship. In this relationship, chance becomes ‘the concrete form in which this necessity manifests itself in phenomena – in the tendency toward a given behaviour as expressed in fluctuations about the law’ (Horz, H., Philosophical Problems in Physical Science, p. 28. University of Minneapolis Press). Chance itself, in its relation to law, has an objective character and is not – as in necessitarian doctrines e.g. Spinozism – merely an irrational foible of the thinking subject.
The operation of a given law always presupposes the existence of definite conditions which are subject to development. Accordingly, specific laws themselves arise and develop with and under specific conditions and are subject to negation with the passing away of those conditions which engender, determine and define them. For example, the laws of biological evolution only arise with the emergence of living matter from non-living forms (biopoiesis).
The concept of sublation is a central tenet in dialectical thinking corresponding to the German term Aufhebung and often translated as supersedence. Sublation refers to the dialectical character of negation in which all change simultaneously involves both abolition and preservation of aspects of the old in the emergence of the new.
All change simultaneously involves the preservation – in the new – of aspects of that which is abolished. Elements of the negated old enter – in subsumed form – into the formation and relationships of the new which results from the negation: ‘what is sublated is at the same time preserved, it has lost its immediacy only but it is not on that account annihilated’ (Hegel). Every negation is always a positing of new relations and qualities which involves, simultaneously, the abolition of the contradictions of a previous stage of development and the preservation of certain aspects of the relations of the previous stage in the next. The succeeding stage of development stands as a resolution (synthesis) of the contradictions of the preceding whilst absorbing these contradictions into itself in transcended form under new conditions and relations. The formal logical concept of negation is one in which that which is negated is reduced to nothing i.e. is absolutely annihilated without leaving any trace of its former existence.
The positive outcome of any sublation is always a transcendence of contradiction in which aspects of the latter survive as subsumed moments in the posited. They are abolished yet preserved in subsumed form under new conditions in the resulting succeeding totality.
In the exposition in Hegel’s Logical system, all the earlier, more abstract categories and determinations become sublated into the later, more concrete ones so that at any given stage in the exposition each category is the totality which contains all the previously elaborated categories sublated within itself.
For example, in social development, feudalism becomes sublated into capitalism. The social relations of feudalism are, in all essentials, abolished and yet vestiges (remnants, leftovers) remain e.g. in legal relations, etc.
In particle physics, the disintegration of the neutron involves the production of a proton, electron and neutrino. The neutron is in the category of particles referred to as nucleons. It has no net electric charge. The disintegration of the neutron simultaneously involves the reproduction of a nucleon (the proton) and the resulting system of decay products is still without a net electric charge. Thus, in its abolition, aspects of the neutron’s nature are simultaneously preserved.
Hence, negation of the old necessarily involves the positing of the new which contains aspects of the old subsumed within itself. The German word Aufheben has a two-fold meaning. It corresponds to the English phrase ‘to put aside’ which may mean to store away for future use or to have done with, to finish with.
A contradiction is superseded into a succeeding, richer, more concrete unity so that the latter contains the former absorbed and superseded into itself. The contradiction is not simply and absolutely abolished (annihilated) nor is the contradiction merely perpetuated in identical form in the higher unity. The contradiction is, as such, absorbed but not absolutely annihilated as in the formal logical conception. All development, therefore, is a continuous movement towards a richer, more complex unity which necessarily involves transcendence but not absolute loss. Each stage of development gathers up into itself the infinitude of all those stages which preceded it and transmits this superseded infinitude, as it evolves, into the next stage of development. Therefore, the succeeding forms of development contain the antecedent superseded forms within them and thus a progression to a richer, more complex stage is always continuously unfolding.
The triadic conception of thesis-antithesis-synthesis is found in Fichtean philosophy (see J.G. Fichte, Science of Knowledge, (1794). However, the conception that a synthesis is the sublation of the relation between a thesis and its antithesis is, in one form or another, an ancient philosophical conception which dates back to the Greeks and re-surfaces constantly in the history of philosophy onwards. A study of Hegel reveals the influence of Fichte’s conception of synthesis in which the conflict between two opposing categories is overcome in the synthesis of the third category.
The thesis (the posited) gives rise to its antithetical opposite out of itself (the negation of the posited). The thesis contains its antithesis implicit within itself and, in its development, actualises this negative (the antithesis) thereby standing in unity and opposition to it. Their opposition moves the relation forward to a point at which the opposition is sublated into a resolved state of unity: synthesis (negation of negation). The resulting unity (the synthesis) contains the opposition of the thesis and antithesis transcended within itself. This unity then becomes the thesis of a new triad.
(1) Hegel. Science of Logic (Vol. 2). (George Allen and Unwin, London, 1929) p. 38.
(2) Ibid (Vol. 1). p. 211.
(3) Ibid (Vol. 2). p. 52.
(4) Ibid (Vol. 2). p. 70.
(5) Ibid (Vol. 2). pp. 67-68.
(6) Ibid (Vol. 2). p. 365.
(7) Ibid (Vol. 2). p. 67.
(8) Ibid (Vol. 1). p. 251.
(9) Hegel. Philosophy of Nature. (Clarendon, Oxford, 1970) p. 284.
(10) Hegel. Science of Logic (Vol. 2). p. 180.
(11) Ibid (Vol. 2). pp. 475-476.
(12) Ibid (Vol. 1). p. 120.
(13) Ibid (Vol. 2). p. 16.
(14) Hegel. Philosophy of Nature. p. 43.
(15) Hegel. Science of Logic (Vol. 2). p. 483.
(16) Ibid (Vol. 2). p. 144.
(17) Ibid (Vol. 2). p. 145.
(18) Ibid (Vol. 2). p. 148.
(19) Ibid (Vol. 2). p. 204.
(20) Ibid (Vol. 2). p. 199.
(21) Lenin. Philosophical Notebooks. Volume 38, Collected Works. (citation from Hegel’s Science of Logic) pp. 123-124.
(22) Hegel. Science of Logic (Vol. 1). p. 354.