A brood comb

….philosophical and other notes….

Hegel and The Law of Noncontradiction

Posted by Tanas Gjorgoski on November 9, 2007

UPDATE: Realized that this is more about the Law of Noncontradiction more than about the Law of the excluded middle, at least the way I discussed it in the post. Maybe I will talk about the relation of Hegel and Law of the Excluded Middle in some other post. One more proof that I should read the posts before committing.

The Law of noncontradiction says that it can’t be both that a proposition is true, and also that its denial to be true.

Did Hegel deny this law? We can say both yes and no.
I guess, it is best to explain this on example.

Take for example the case of being (“is X”), that is – predicating X to something. Now, it is very normal, that either “is X” is true for something, or “is not X”.

And if we stay on the level of being, accepting both “is X”, and “is not X” would be contradiction.

However, think of the case of change. In the case of change, we have a case where both something is X, and is not X.

But, someone would say, that is different because something important is left outside of those propositions. Namely, in case of change, we have “is X at time t1”, and “is not X at time t2”; so those two are not contradiction.

On that we need to point to the notion of time, and where does it come from. For Hegel (and for me), the time is an abstraction from change (and more here, in my comment about SEP article on change). That is, what we have in world are changing things, or changing states of affairs, and ‘time’ is only one way to talk about the relation between two abstract states of the changing states of affairs. that is, we talk for example, which abstract state of affairs came before which other one, or how many times some change taken as a unit repeated while some (measured) change happened.

What Hegel says, then, is this: If you try to describe change through being, the best you can do is say about something that changes that both it “is X”, and that it “isn’t X”. But, this is contradiction, and that doesn’t show that change is impossible, but that simply change can’t be described through being (and non-being). As pointed you can’t use “at time t” to make the distinction between two predicates and avoid the contradiction, because the phenomenon of time is grounded (abstracted from) phenomenon of change.

So, we can point to the how the Law of Noncontradiction isn’t true for Hegel, because when relating richer notion (like that of change), to a poorer one (like that of being), and when thinking on level of the richer one, we can say that both “is X”, and “isn’t X” (or both predicates are contained in change as moments, as Hegel would say).
But also, on the level of the phenomenon of being alone, the Law of Noncontradiction, is seen as valid, and producing contradiction, which points that when thinking of change the notion of being (and non-being) is not enough.

What we can say, I guess, is then that, The Law of Noncontradiction is removed in Hegel’s system as some kind of absolute logical axiom, and is changed with somewhat richer dialectical relations among notions.

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9 Responses to “Hegel and The Law of Noncontradiction”

  1. Aki said

    IMO Hegel’s thoughts should be separated from traditional logic, simply because Hegel’s system is not traditional system. If you think that time is abstraction, you cant think there are any laws of thought, simply because they are not based on same (Hegel’s) idea – that you cannot conceive abstract ideas. This simply means that Hegel got not only his own view of reality, but logic as well (this is probably obvious since logic is system of rules of world, but anyway…).
    In Hegel’s words (I added comments in []): “Something moves, not because at one moment it is here and at another there [because here is understood as fixed position, and those do not exist], but because at one and the same moment it is here and not here, because in this “here”, it at once is and is not [and this is possible because time is not made of particles, so here is everywhere in time, because it is part of time that changes].”

  2. Hi Aki,

    What I wanted to do in the post, is to move closer Hegel’s idea to some potential reader that is not familiar with Hegel. Especially in the light of accusations made to Hegel like “He didn’t accept law of noncontradiction” or “He didn’t accept law of the excluded middle”, where he is painted as taking some kind of irrational stance. So, I wanted to point to how in this particular context of Hegel’s thought, the question of accepting or not accepting the Law of noncontradiction is too limited, and can’t be answered by simple yes or no. And on the other side that a completely rational and reasonable explanation can be made of what Hegel claimed.

    As for the relation between Hegel’s and classical logic, I may write in one of the next posts. It is an interesting topic for me.

  3. Aki said

    I understand, but my point is that you cant relate Hegel and logic (in any sense) because his system is too subjective. Ironic thing is that Hegel himself added to confusion by his weird style of writing. He uses words like “here” and “time” for conceptions that are so radical that they should be labeled with their own terms, but I guess thats what (analytic) philosophy is all about – wrong terms :))
    As Jung put it: The peculiar, high-flown language Hegel uses bears out this view – it is reminiscent of the megalomaniac language of schizophrenics, who use terrific, spellbinding words to reduce the transcendent to subjective form, to give banalities the charm of novelty, or pass off commonplaces as searching wisdom. So bombastic a terminology is a symptom of weakness, ineptitude, and lack of substance.

    Despite that, I am looking forward to read your post.
    Cheers,
    Aki

  4. Hi Aki,

    I won’t comment on your last comment, though there are few things suspicious about it :). Maybe you will be able to point to specific things on which we (eventually) disagree about Hegel on some next post.

    However I just reread your first comment on this post, and I’m puzzled with the explanation you gave of the Hegel’s note on change. Maybe it is just because of the language. I wrote a post about those issues here some time ago, which deals also with that same quote, and how to understand it.

  5. Aki said

    Well, basic problem is – his theory is grounded in phenomenology, and mine world view is more from an aspect of analytic philosophy. So from this aspect Hegel’s system has no logic at all, in his Science of logic, he is writing about his ontology, and not logic.

    Why is this? Thats another problem (problem of all phenomenologies, and problem of whole German idealism) – they do not differ between ontological rules, language rules and psychological rules inside logic. Their position is known as extreme ontological interpretation of logic. In most cases, they say nothing about language, and all of them think you can access reality without it. In German idealism they connect extreme ontological interpretation with extreme psychological interpretation. Hegel goes beyond that stating that you can’t have logic in traditional sense at all, since it is collection of rules about abstract ideas, and is based on false interpretations of reality – traditional logic is wrong since traditional world view is wrong.

    If we want to speak about whatever is that “thing” Hegel uses as his logic, we should call it dialectical logic, and IMO, all we can say about dialectical logic and traditional logic is that they are two separate ideas based on two separate world views. One can choose between dialectical logic and ordinary (traditional, first order, second order… ) logic but cant choose both.

    In short, thats what and why I think about Hegel and his “logic”.
    Aki

  6. You open lot of issues in your comment Aki, but I feel that most of them are so general that can’t be discussed properly in that form.
    I will try to focus on few specific things about Hegelian system in following posts, in hope that we can discuss those issues on more specific level instead.

  7. kylefoley said

    Some people are claiming that Hegel never denied the Law of noncontradiction. Do you have any quotes?

  8. Kj Mj said

    I stopped reading when you said “Did Hegel deny this law? We can say both yes and no.” You dont appear to understand what the law of nonconradiction is.

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