Little more on Hegel vs. Kant – The Antinomies

I hope I did not bore anyone to death with those posts on German Classical Idealism, and didn’t took primacy as the dullest blog in the world. Anyway, risking to loose my remaining two (or am I too optimistic) readers, here is some more thoughts on the same topic. Please feel free to yell at me in the comments to stop this inexcusable behavior of mine.

In previous posts I compared few things about Kant and Hegel…

1.We can compare Hegel’s hierarchy of categories in Science of Logic to Kant’s pure concepts of understanding (categories) and pure forms of intuition. The similarity between those is that both of them are supposed to be a “diamond-net into which we bring everything in order to make it intelligible”.

2.One difference is that while Hegel’s categories form a hierarchy, with richer categories not being reducible to simpler ones, but yet containing them as moments (e.g. “change” is not reducible to “being” and “not being”, but in a change from X to not X, both being X and not being X are present), Kant’s categories and pure forms of intuition are nonhierarchic, and you get more complex concepts by “putting in those” the content which comes from the senses.

I mentioned one other difference..
While for Kant, categories and forms of intuition are functions of the mind, for Hegel the categories are abstractions from the reality. However in this difference there is again one analogy to point to. Abstraction for Hegel, is something that the mind does,

The thinking activity is Abstraction in so far as intelligence, beginning with concrete intuitions, neglects one of the manifold determinations, selects another, and gives to it the simple form of thought. If I neglect all the determinations of an object, nothing remains. If, on the contrary, I neglect one and select another, the latter is then abstract. – Hegel’s Philosophical Propaedeutics

In both Kant and Hegel, mind will necessarily fall into contradictions when thinking about the reality in terms of those (finite) categories.

In Kant this will be because the categories come from the mind and are hence not applicable to reality (which he goes to show through Antinomies of Pure Reason), and in Hegel because the more abstract categories are abstractions by the mind, and will fail to be applicable to richer categories (the richest of all coinciding with the Reality itself).  So, for example, being X, and not being X, being abstractions from change-from-being-X-to-not-being-X, leave the richer content of the category of change aside, and if we try to understand ‘change’ just in terms of ‘being X’ and ‘not being X’ we will get to contradiction of assigning those both apparently contradictory predicates to change.

In same way, says Hegel, the categories of continuity and discreteness are both abstractions from the category of quantity. And if we want to understand quantity just in terms of being continuous or being discrete, we will similarly end up with applying both apparently contradictory predicates to the quantity. So, the ‘Antinomy of the Indivisibility and the Infinite Divisibility of Time, Space and Matter’, will be simply about the possibility of predicating both more abstract categories (discreteness and continuity) to the richer category – quantity (which per Hegel, is a category under which Time, Space and Matter fall).

The problem that Kant locates then in assigning categories which are functions of mind to problems which go beyond the applicability of those categories, Hegel locates in assigning categories which are abstractions of mind to richer categories which go beyond simple combination of the former – more abstract categories.

However while for Kant this has as a result non-applicability of the categories of understanding outside of the realm of phenomena, for Hegel the source of contradiction is within the reason, which tries to think about a richer category through more abstract ones, and can be solved within the reason by taking the richer category as independent, and more abstract categories as moments of it.

The Differences of The Diamond-Net

In the post Hegel and Concepts – The Diamond-Net I drew an analogy between Hegel’s hierarchy of notions and the pure concepts of understanding – the categories of Kant.

It was pointed that in this analogy, because notion like change can’t be reduced to the notions of being and not being (“is X”, and “isn’t X”), we are inclined to add the notion of “change” to our network of pure concepts, beside “being” and “not being”. If we go further with this analogy, Science of Logic, through series of arguments, shows how lot of richer notions can’t be reduced to the simpler ones, and thus will have to be accepted into the hierarchy of “pure notions of understanding”.

However the analogy goes just that far.

1. While categories in Kant form a basic set, in Hegel the notions from Logic form a hierarchy. In it every richer notion while seen as basic and irreducible, is related to the notions lower in the hierarchy. It was pointed how for example “change” would contain “being X” and “not being X” as moments.

2. Categories in Kant are functions of the Mind, which serve to organize the content from the senses. Instead for Hegel, who doesn’t accept Cartesianism, those “pure” notions are abstractions from reality.

black and pink diamond-net synthesis

One further note here should be added. In Science of Logic, Hegel doesn’t want just to point that things like change, can’t be reduced to being and not being; and that change will have to stand on itself as a notion, of which being and not being will be moments. Also, he goes to argue that those poorer, or more abstract notions, like being and not being, can’t be self-subsistent. Not just that the higher notions like change must be taken as irreducible, with being and not-being as moments, but that being and not-being can only appear as moments of those higher notions. Some kind of explanation of this, I gave a year ago, in this post.

This has an interesting consequence. For Kant the categories together with the pure forms of intuitions – space and time, are seen as a requirement for any experience, and everything in our experience will be determined in an absolute way by the a priori laws which are inherent to those categories and pure forms of intuition. On another hand for Hegel, because the notions from the diamond-net are abstraction from reality, they will fail to “capture” everything about it. The only exception is the highest and richest of the notions, which is supposed to coincide with reality. As a consequence of this, Hegel’s notions in which time and space appear merely as abstractions, don’t get into kinds of trouble in which Kantian system falls in relation to Einsteinian relativity. On the contrary.


Philosophy, then, according to Kant, is to abate its claims. It is warned off the premises of everything except immediate existence in space and time. It must give up all attempts to know reality, to penetrate behind appearances. But the effect of this solemn warning upon the philosophic world was truly astonishing. No sooner had Kant thus cried “Halt!” to philosophy than philosophy, forming its adherents into a sort of triumphal procession, proceeding, so to speak, with bands playing and flags waving, marched victoriously onward to the final assault, confident of its power to attain omniscience at a stroke, to occupy the very citadel of reality itself. And, strangest of all, this was to be done with the very weapons which Kant himself had forged. It was under the Kantian banner that philosophy moved forward. It was Kant’s own philosophy, hailed as the greatest discovery of all time, which was to accomplish this final and triumphant victory. Philosophy, instead of being sobered by the warnings of the master, rose at once to an exuberant ferment of enthusiasm. It set no bounds to itself. It was to accomplish the impossible, know the unknowable. Such is the confident enthusiasm of the philosophies of that time.

And one more interesting remark from that book (p.76)…

This idea [that there is an absolute separation between things and thoughts] was originated by Descartes and dominates modern philosophy until it culminates in Kant, whose philosophy is nothing else than the reductio ad absurdum of it.

Here the reductio that Stace has on mind is the notion of thing-in-itself, which on one side is supposed to be something which can’t fall under the categories, but which on other hand is described in the Critique as standing in the relation of cause and effect with the sensuous content which appears in the forms of space and time.

Hegel and Concepts – The Diamond-Net

In a bunch of posts I have wrote and which relate to Hegel, I am trying to explain in a clear way some of the basic ideas, especially the ones that I buy also. So, I’m not doing this because of some historical  relevance of Hegel, or defending Hegel, but mostly because of the ideas themselves.

Hegel is seen as very hard to understand, and for anyone who has read (or tried to read) his books it is hard to deny that it is almost impossible to follow his train of thought (I would add, if you already don’t understand what he is saying). As my friend said the other day “I was reading Hegel for 2 hours and 45 minutes, and afterward I had trouble forming any thought at all.”

Anyway, in order to explain some parts of Hegelian system, it might be good idea to relate it to some other systems. I will try to do something like that in this post.

In the last post, I gave one example of relation of concepts of change and being (‘is X’/predicating X to something). The simple argument goes like this. If we try to specify truths about change (changing from being X to not being X) in terms of being, the most we can do is predicate both being X, and not being X. And we can’t use “at time” to solve this apparent contradiction, because time as a concept is seen as abstraction from the concept of change. From here, we conclude that “change” as a concept can’t be reduced to the concept of “being”.

This conclusion taken by itself, separate from the rest of Hegelian view, can be analyzed in terms of other systems. For example, in terms of Kantian kind of systems where concepts are seen as functions of the mind, which serve to organize the information that come from the senses, this conclusion can be read as saying that concept of “change” should be part of the pure concepts of understanding, because it can’t be reduced to ‘being X’ and ‘not being X’. And maybe, that the schema of the concept of “change”, is such that includes the concepts of “being” and “not being”.

So, Hegelian arguments through Science of Logic, where Hegel goes to show that some richer concept can’t be reduced to poorer ones (or more abstract ones), can be in that sense related to some kind of drawing the map of the concepts of pure understanding. So, instead of a linear group of categories of pure understanding, Hegel’s arguments give us a hierarchy of categories, where each “higher” concept in its schema contains as moments the concepts from the lower/more abstract level. This kind of analogy makes further sense, because as nothing can appear in form of thought for Kant except in terms of those categories, same is true for Hegel – nothing can appear in thought for Hegel, except in a form of one of those categories which form the hierarchy in Science of Logic.

As Hegel says in Philosophy of Nature, Part Two of Encyclopedia of the Philosophical Sciences:

metaphysics is nothing but the range of universal thought-determinations, and is as it were the diamond-net into which we bring everything in order to make it intelligible.

Also, that the notions are to serve such a role can is seen in the next paragraph from Introduction to the Lectures on the History of Philosophy:

everyone possesses and uses the wholly abstract category of being. The sun is in the sky; these grapes are ripe, and so on ad infinitum. Or, in a higher sphere of eduction [which is to say, in the sphere of concepts higher in Hegel’s hierarchy], we proceed to the relation of cause and effect, force and its manifestation, etc. All our knowledge and ideas are entwined with metaphysics like this and governed by it; it is the net which holds together all of the concrete material which occupies us in our action and endeavor. But this net and its knots are sunk in our ordinary consciousness beneath numerous layers of stuff. This stuff comprises our known interests and the objects that are before our minds, while the universal threads of the net remain out of sight and are not explicitly made the subject of our reflection.

However the analogy between notions in Hegel, and pure concepts of understanding in Kant goes just that far. In what way Hegelian diamond-net differs from Kant’s pure concepts of understanding will be subject of some future post.

Diamond-net of concepts applied to an arm.
(They have applied those to every part of female body)

Note:Both citations are taken from Robert Stern’s Hegel and the Phenomenology of Spirit.

Hegel and The Law of Noncontradiction

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.

Hegel on Intentionality

Today is Hegel’s birthday. To mark that here is a quote from the start of Encyclopedia:

The Content, of whatever kind it be, with which our consciousness is taken up, is what constitutes the qualitative character of our feelings, perceptions, fancies, and ideas; of our aims and duties; and of our thoughts and notions. From this point of view, feeling, perception, etc., are the forms assumed by these contents. The contents remain one and the same, whether they are felt, seen, represented, or willed, and whether they are merely felt, or felt with an admixture of thoughts, or merely and simply thought. In any one of these forms, or in the admixture of several, the contents confront consciousness, or are its object. But when they are thus objects of consciousness, the modes of the several forms ally themselves with the contents; and each form of them appears in consequence to give rise to a special object. Thus what is the same at bottom may look like a different sort of fact.

The several modes of feeling, perception, desire, and will, so far as we are aware of them, are in general called ideas (mental representations): and it may be roughly said that philosophy puts thoughts, categories, or, in more precise language, adequate notions, in the place of the generalised images we ordinarily call ideas. Mental impressions such as these may be regarded as the metaphors of thoughts and notions. But to have these figurate conceptions does not imply that we appreciate their intellectual significance, the thoughts and rational notions to which they correspond. Conversely, it is one thing to have thoughts and intelligent notions, and another to know what impressions, perceptions, and feelings correspond to them.

Hegel on Importance Of Proofs Of God`s Existence

To go along with few negative words I put together in the post ‘Why Should Religious Philosophers Be Unbiased’ about “proofs of God’s existence”, here is a witty Hegel’s quote about putting lot of importance on these proofs (from the Encyclopedia)…

The (now somewhat antiquated) metaphysical proofs of God’s existence, for example, have been treated, as if a knowledge of them and a conviction of their truth were the only and essential means of producing a belief and conviction that there is a God. Such a doctrine would find its parallel, if we said that eating was impossible before we had acquired a knowledge of the chemical, botanical, and zoological characters of our food; and that we must delay digestion till we had finished the study of anatomy and physiology. Were it so, these sciences in their field, like philosophy in its, would gain greatly in point of utility; in fact, their utility would rise to the height of absolute and universal indispensableness. Or rather, instead of being indispensable, they would not exist at all.

Comment On Two Hegel Quotes

In a previous post, I  said that as long as we want to assume that explanations of sciences might hold, we are implicitly idealists – as the possibility of identity between reasons of why things are as they are as thought, and actual reasons why the things are as they are is assumed. Idealism is then that optimism that the world is reasonable place, which can be understood…

The aim of knowledge is to divest the objective world that stands opposed to us of its strangeness, and, as the phrase is, to find ourselves at home in it: which means no more than to trace the objective world back to the notion – to our innermost self. – Hegel’s Logic (Part One of the Encyclopedia of The Philosophical Sciences)

As such, the idealism is compatible with the need to understand, and in this form idealism shouldn’t be reduced to some kind of slogan that “the world is in our mind”, or that “things are in our mind”. It is not the “Mind” that is put as the basic principle there, but that possibility of connection between world and thought (or negating the dichotomy). I think that is what Hegel is trying to communicate in the following paragraph…

To speak of thought or objective thought as the heart and soul of the world, may seem to be ascribing consciousness to the things of nature. We feel a certain repugnance against making thought the inward function of things, especially as we speak of thought as marking the divergence of man from nature. It would be necessary, therefore, if we use the term thought at all, to speak of nature as the system of unconscious thought, or, to use Schelling’s expression, a petrified intelligence. And in order to prevent misconception, ‘thought-form’ or ‘thought-type’ should be substituted for the ambiguous term thought. – Hegel’s Logic (Part One of the Encyclopedia of The Philosophical Sciences)

Why Would It Make Sense For The Physical Laws To Be A Priori

On the start two notes:

  • What is meant by a priori here, is not analytical a priori, where two concepts stand in some relation because of their content (where the concepts are nicely defined each on its own), but necessary relations which come from the impossibility of those notions to be taken as self-subsistent, but should be necessarily analyzed in some context (Hegelian sublation), in which these abstractions will show up as standing in necessary relation to other abstract notions which will appear in the context. More details further in the text…
  • By physical laws here I mean actual physical laws of the world (if we assume there are such things), and not the physical laws which are product of science, and which are of course a posteriori and believed for empirical reasons (be it that we come to them by process of induction, abduction, falsification, or scientific revolutions to new incommensurable theories based on insight etc..)

So here are the reasons why I think it would make sense for those (actual) physical laws to be a priori…

Physical laws transcend time and space. This is a characteristic of a priori relations, like those of mathematics or logic. That if something can be put under the notion of two, it can be also put under notion of two ones, is true for anything, no matter when and where.

2. As much as the physical laws relate more and more notions, the self-subsistence of those notions is removed, and the richness of the world lost. Special relativity made identities between energy and mass, space and time, and general relativity between mass and space. Each of them was thought before as something independent, for which laws would provide just how it  relates to the others in external manner. But now they disappear as something self-subsistent in this identity (this is connected also to the following point). The same happens in case of a priori relations – for example  1+1=2, where in their a priori relation both sides of the relation are not connected externally, but whatever is 2 is also 1+1.

3. There is also a reason why one might thing that they could be a priori. I’m not thinking of the Kantian approach (which I think has failed), but of an approach which would mix Hegelian holism and Einsteinian (Mach’s?) approach to what constitutes a measurement. Here is what I have in mind:

a) Some of the simple notions which appear in the physical laws, don’t make sense as self-subsistent notions. They make sense only in certain contexts (some richer notion), and those richer notions also implicitly show them in some specific relations to other abstractions from those contexts.
For example in the post on Hegelian dialectic method to which I pointed, I analyzed how left-right notions make sense only in context in which we have a “point of view”, which also has defined front and back, and top and bottom. All those abstractions – “top”/”bottom”, “back”/”front” then appear in some implicit a priori relations with the “left”/”right” notions within that context.
Or think about the notion of “movement”. It necessarily requires “something” (that will move), but also single something isn’t enough for movement – we need to imagine another something in relation to which this first something will move. So necessarily movement must be analyzed as moving-in-relation-to-each-other.

b) Measurement (or quantification) being what laws are about, the context in which those abstract notions (like “time”, “space”, “movement” etc…) appear, is necessarily extended to even more complex notion, in which those can show new a priori relations. To connect to the previous example of movement – measurement of space requires at least three things, A, B and C, so that a ratio can be made between the AB distance and BC distance. In same way measurement of time, requires two movements (or in general two changes), so a ratio can be made.

To summarize – some of the notions, as they don’t make sense as self-subsistent will necessarily be seen as abstraction in contexts (e.g movement as movement-relative-to-each-other, left/right as a fully oriented observer, etc…). Also by adding notion of quantity, this context will be extended necessarily to more complex notions – giving possibility for complex a priori relations between notions.

4. Symmetries appear to have central role in physical laws. Symmetries can easily appear in the necessary development from simple to more complex notions as described in the previous point.

5. It would provide a new way to address the mind-body problem. This will take some explanation too…

We could return to our naive-reality-kind being-in-the-world, in which the physical laws will then appear as necessary relations among different abstractions from it. And for any system, in which those abstractions are kept as more or less self-subsistent, the law will hold. The analogy can me made with a group of things, which we start dividing them into smaller groups through some procedure. As long as the things are self-subsistent (don’t disappear, multiply  etc…) mathematical rules will hold between the numbers of things in each group and the starting number. However the nature of the concrete is not at least affected by those mathematical relations. For those mathematical relations to hold, it doesn’t matter what kind of things those are. In similar way, the concrete can be more than its physical abstractions, and while those physical abstractions will fall into necessary relations, still the concrete can be more than those, and is, as the naive-reality-world stands to the physical abstractions, in a subject/predicate relation. There would be no need of doubling to two worlds – world of mind and world of physics, the being-in-the-world contains everything which is usually taken as problematic for explaining through physical world (qualia, intentionality, etc…), and the physical world is seen as a predicate of this being-in-the-world. (For sure there would be separate metaphysical issues even if the physical laws turn to be a priori)

6. If we believe that there is a reason why the laws are such as they are, there is no better reason than them being a priori. (Any other reason will require new reason, or we would have to assume lack of it).

Hegel, Change and Contradiction

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:

It is in this dialectic as it is here understood, that is, in the grasping of opposites in their unity or of the positive in the negative, that speculative thought consists.

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.

Hegel on Atomism

At present, students of nature who are anxious to avoid metaphysics turn a favorable ear to Atomism. But it is not possible to escape metaphysics and cease to trace nature back to terms of thought, by throwing ourselves into the arms of Atomism. The atom, in fact, is itself a thought; and hence the theory which holds matter to consist of atoms is a metaphysical theory.

Newton gave physics an express warning to beware of metaphysics, it is true, but to his honor be it said, he did not by any means obey his own warning. The only mere physicists are the animals: they alone do not think: while man is a thinking being and a born metaphysician. The real question is not whether we shall apply metaphysics, but whether our metaphysics are of the right kind: in other words, whether we are not, instead of the concrete logical Idea, adopting one-sided forms of thought, rigidly fixed by understanding, and making these the basis of our theoretical as well as our practical work. It is on this ground that one objects to the Atomic philosophy.

Encyclopedia of Philosophical Sciences – VII. Being § 98, Attraction and Repulsion

The Balls That Didn’t Exist

In a previous post I tried to give simple explanation of the Hegel’s dialectical method. In short, Hegel considers some dichotomy of abstract notions A and B, and while analyzing the notions discovers a contradiction in them. The resolving of the contradiction, claims Hegel, happens when we figure out that these notions are not self-subsistent, but should be taken just as moments of some “wealthier” notion C. It is said that notions A and B are “sublated” in the notion C. Going through this kind of dialectical considerations Hegel builds a tower of notions, from the most abstract ones to more and more determinate and “True” ones, each level containing the previous as moments.

As it is probably well known the starting notion of this dialectical development is that of indeterminate Being. And because it is a starting notion, and because lower notions are sublated in the higher ones, being is found to be included as a moment in all “higher” notions. So to say, all of those other notions have on themselves the mark of being. However those new notions are not merely a being, but become more and more determinate as one progresses through the dialectics.

For example, one of the notions that appear in the dialectics is that of Something (I will use Thing here, which if not equal to Hegel’s Something , probably falls under it). As all other higher notions, the notion of Thing is not devoid of that of Being, but it is a determined (somehow, let’s not get into the analysis of the notion of Thing here) being. And really, it is something very normal that as far as we think of a thing, we can’t think of it as devoid of being/existence.(Hegel doesn’t put equation between indeterminate being and existence, but that is not important here). Let me point to this by a story:

A Story

Mrs.Bailey gave her students a question – “Imagine two balls A and B that have same mass. The ball A rolls towards ball B which is stationary. What will happen on the time of impact?”
Evan said “The ball A will transfer all or a part of its momentum to ball B”
“No, my little boy…”, Mrs.Bailey said smiling – “Not so, because balls A and B don’t exist”


I guess you agree this is invalid reasoning on part of Mrs.Bailey. As far as we imagine balls A and B, we can’t imagine them differently but as having existence. Their being, or their existence, is inherent in their “thingness”.

Hegel On Particular vs. Universal

From Hegel’s Encyclopedia of the Philosophical Sciences

Nature shows us a countless number of individual forms and phenomena. Into this variety we feel a need of introducing unity: we compare, consequently, and try to find the universal of each single case. Individuals are born and perish: the species abides and recurs in them all: and its existence is only visible to reflection. Under the same head fall such laws as those regulating the motion of the heavenly bodies. To-day we see the stars here, and tomorrow there; and our mind finds something incongruous in this chaos — something in which it can put no faith, because it believes in order and in a simple, constant, and universal law. Inspired by this belief, the mind has directed its reflection towards the phenomena, and learnt their laws. In other words, it has established the movement of the heavenly bodies to be in accordance with a universal law from which every change of position may be known and predicted. The case is the same with the influences which make themselves felt in the infinite complexity of human conduct. There, too, man has the belief in the sway of a general principle. From all these examples it may be gathered how reflection is always seeking for something fixed and permanent, definite in itself and governing the particulars. This universal which cannot be apprehended by the senses counts as the true and essential…
In thus characterising the universal, we become aware of its antithesis to something else. This something else is the merely immediate, outward and individual, as opposed to the mediate, inward, and universal. The universal does not exist externally to the outward eye as a universal. The kind as kind cannot be perceived: the laws of the celestial motions are not written on the sky. The universal is neither seen nor heard, its existence is only for the mind.

Simple Explanation Of Hegelian Dialectic Method

Hegel is considered as one of the hardest philosophers to read, and it is not rare case for people to say that this is not because what Hegel said is hard to understand or because his writing was bad, but that actually what Hegel wrote was nonsense.
It is easy really to point to some quotes from his works taken out of the context, and say… Look, the person who said this, was surely talking nonsense. After all, would any sensible person say such thing as “Pure Being and pure nothing, are therefore, the same” or that “They are (i.e. being and nothing) in this unity (i.e. becoming) but only as vanishing, sublated moments. They sink from their initially imagined self-subsistence to the status of moments, which are still distinct but at the same time are sublated”? Those two are quotes taken from the first part of Hegel’s Science of Logic.  How can one argue that two different things which every person knows are different, are in fact same? And what is that talk about “sublating”?

Here, I will give something that might not be named an example, but maybe better named an analogy of the dialectic method of Hegel.

The analogy would work with the notions of “Left” and “Right”.
Let’s analyze those notions as abstractions. When we think of Left as something immediate (as Hegel uses the term), it marks let’s say half of the space (or line which is in front of us, etc..), and Right as something immediate marks the other half of the space (or line, or whatever). But if we take now those half-spaces, or half-lines by themselves, or if we limit our thinking just to those abstractions (this is important), we can figure out that there is ideal symmetry between them.  There is nothing that distinguishes them internally. The half-space that we named Left can be Right, and the half-space that we named Right can be also Left.

It is in this abstract symmetry where different notions become equal. (or more general produce a contradiction of some kind)

But for sure Left and Right as notions are not equal, they have different meaning. So, we are brought to a contradiction, they are different, but also they are equal. This is the important moment in the dialectical movement. Two different abstract notions are taken, and it is shown how in their abstract symmetry they are equal. However pointing to this contradiction is not an end in itself. Hegel is not defending contradictions, the next step he takes in this dialectical movement is to resolve the contradiction.

The resolution is based on really simple principle – if the distinction between two universals is not in them taken alone, then their difference is something outside of them.

So, let’s return to the notions of Right and Left. We might say that what is determined as Left and what is determined as Right depends on the position of the observer. But if we try to specify the observer by a point, it won’t make much difference. Still there is the symmetry between Right and Left. We need vertical observer. But even if we imagine observer as short vertical line on the edge between Left and Right, still there is perfect symmetry. Even if we name one of the sides of the observer-line as Top, and the other as Bottom, still there is perfect symmetry between Right and Left. It is when additionally to Top/Bottom we also have observer with Front/Back where the symmetry is broken.

So, we come to conclusion that the Left/Right distinction starts to make sense only in the whole new notion of Vertical-Observer- With-Bottom-and-Top -and-Front-and-Back-Sides- Who-Is-Existing-In-Space. OK, this is one silly named universal, but we can understand what Hegel means by “sublated” now. Hegel says as explanation for this term:

To sublate has a twofold meaning in the language: on the one hand it means to preserve, to maintain, and equally it also means to cause to cease, to put an end to. Even ‘to preserve’ includes a negative elements, namely, that something is removed from its influences, in order to preserve it. Thus what is sublated is at the same time preserved; it has only lost its immediacy but is not on that account annihilated.

So, in this case Left and Right are sublated. “They sink from their initially imagined self-subsistence to the status of moments” of the new wealthier silly-named concept.

So, what Hegel tries to do through this method, is to show a structure of universals, in which the “lower” ones are sublated in the higher and richer ones, arguing that former have their truth and meaning only as moments in the later. One can easily see that Hegelian philosophy is holistic, and that it denies that abstract universals have truth in themselves isolated from the whole. He tries to show that each of those concepts taken as having determinate meaning in itself necessarily will produce contradictions.