Hegel, Change and Contradiction
Posted by Tanas Gjorgoski on December 20, 2006
Today I noticed that the entry on Change at the SEP is revised. I had a short glance, and found few things I want to comment on. While talking about the issue if change is consistent notion, the author of the article says:
Hegel was more explicit. In The Science of Logic he said that only insofar as something has contradiction in itself does it move, have impulse or activity. Indeed, movement is existing contradiction itself. “Something moves not because at one moment of time it is here and at another there, but because at one and the same moment it is here and not here.” (Hegel (1812) p. 440).
What I want to say here, is that one should be careful to divide what Hegel says about the moments of movement (namely position and time) from what he says about movement itself. In that particular quote, the contradiction is shown between the moments of movement. That in movement “a thing is at one and the same moment here and not here” is supposed to point that those moments (namely time and position) are not self-subsistent, and that by themselves they necessarily produce contradictions.
Further, as argued in a previous posts about the dialectic method Hegel doesn’t stop at contradictions of notions on certain level. In fact he is taking those contradictions as a kind of negative power – as a need to, by negating this contradiction, get to richer comprehension free of contradictions.
But, mere pointing to a fact of movement won’t do it (“look, things move!”), as mere pointing doesn’t really solve the apparent contradiction, but is a part of the contradiction (“things move, but by this reasoning they shouldn’t!”). Or as Hegel says:
…they (i.e. those contradictions) deserve a more thorough consideration than the usual explanation that they are just sophisms; which assertion sticks to empirical perception, following the procedure of Diogenes (a procedure which is so illuminating to ordinary common sense) who, when a dialectician pointed out the contradiction contained in motion, made no effort to reason it out but, by silently walking up and down, is supposed to have referred to the evidence of sight for an answer. Such assertion and refutation is certainly easier to make than to engage in thinking and to hold fast and resolve by thought alone the complexities originating in thought, and not in abstruse thought either, but in the thoughts spontaneously arising in ordinary consciousness.
(For an example of a resolving an apparent contradiction, you can check my previous post on why 1=0.99.., the comments of that post, and also here and here.)
This process of resolving the contradiction, but not through mere empirical pointing to a fact, is what Hegelian dialectics is about:
At other place which makes clear this position of Hegel on contradictions present in the movement on level of abstractions (connected to Zeno’s paradoxes and Aristotle’s solutions of those paradoxes) Hegel says:
The solutions propounded by Aristotle of these dialectical forms merit high praise, and are contained in his genuinely speculative Notions of space, time and motion. To infinite divisibility (which, being imagined as actually carried out, is the same as infinite dividedness, as the atoms) on which is based the most famous of those proofs (i.e. Zeno’s paradoxes), he opposes continuity, which applies equally well to time as to space, so that the infinite, that is, abstract plurality is contained only in principle [an sich], as a possibility, in continuity. What is actual in contrast to abstract plurality as also to abstract continuity, is their concrete forms, space and time themselves, just as these latter are abstract relatively to matter and motion. What is abstract has only an implicit or potential being; it only is as a moment of something real….
So, that is why when in talking about positions and times, for Hegel, one will necessary get to contradictions. It will be because of the “…error of holding such mental fictions, such abstractions, as an infinite number of parts, to be something true and actual”. I wrote also about this situation in my post Time as Abstraction.
Also in the SEP article the author writes…
However, here we can remind ourselves of Hegel’s idealism. Just about everyone agrees that contradictions within ideas are easier to swallow than contradictions in the external world.
I want give a further comment on this one too. It would be understatement to say that Hegel understands that one might seek to resolve the issue of those contradictions by locating notions in our Mind, and then saying that while contradiction will be necessary in the ‘realm of the Mind”, they don’t say anything about the external world (which would be thus left free of any contradictions). That is the Kantian solution, which Hegel contrasts with his own thus:
The Kantian solution, namely, through the so-called transcendental ideality of the world of perception, has no other result than to make the so-called conflict into something subjective, in which of course it remains still the same illusion, that is, is as unresolved, as before. Its genuine solution can only be this: two opposed determinations which belong necessarily to one and the same Notion cannot be valid each on its own in its one-sidedness; on the contrary,they are true only as sublated, only in the unity of their Notion.
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