J. B. Baillie. The Origin and Significance of Hegel’s Logic 1901


The student of Hegel usually finds the Logic the most forbidding and impossible part of the System. At the same time he is aware, not merely from Hegel’s own statements, but from the general nature of Hegel’s philosophy, that unless he can discover the clue to the tale of the categories, Hegel’s System will remain for the most part a sealed secret. In his perplexity he generally abandons, after a short struggle, the effort to understand the System, and regards it either with contempt or despair according to his temperament.

The difficulties felt are due partly to the strangeness of the System, the absence of apparent points of contact with ordinary thought, and partly also to the fact that Hegel has made no confession regarding the path which led him to his final result. Other difficulties of course remain, even when the preliminary obstacles are overcome; but they are of a different kind and hardly so paralysing to continued interest. It is one thing not to understand what an author means in given context, for this difficulty arises from what we already know of the author and the context in question; it is quite another matter not to be sure what the author really intends to say in any context at all.

It is the aim of the present work to attempt to remove these initial difficulties more particularly in the way of understanding the Logic, but also regarding the point of view of the System generally. The author has tried to show how the Science of Logic as expounded by Hegel arose in the course of the development of his System, and to state its general meaning. He has thought that if the way could be indicated by which the Logic grew up in the mind of its author, much of the preliminary obscurity which hangs over it might be removed, and such philosophical value as it claims to possess might be more easily appreciated. The purpose of the inquiry is thus primarily historical. So far as the author has deviated from this, it is mainly to bring out by critical suggestions the connexion between one period in Hegel’s development and the succeeding. The concluding chapter is devoted solely to criticism, in order to refer, as shortly as the scope of the inquiry would allow, to some of the points of importance which must be taken into account in estimating Hegel’s result.

It does not claim in the least to be exhaustive or even, as it stands, quite sufficient; but to have done less would have left the work more incomplete than it is, and to have done more would have been to go beyond the natural limits of the inquiry, and probably of the patience of the reader. The same may also be said of the Notes appended to Chapter IX, the subjects of which could not possibly be treated fully in short compass. Such views as have been expressed the writer expects to develop in a further treatment of Hegel’s System, which he hopes shortly to undertake.

The method of exposition adopted may seem at times a little misleading.

The author has identified himself so much with Hegel’s point of view that, it may be objected, it is difficult to distinguish Hegel from his interpreter. There is perhaps something to be said against this method.

Still it seems the best in the circumstances, if one is to avoid the unsympathetic attitude of the mere onlooker, or, what is quite as common in expositions of Hegel, the mere restatement of Hegel’s position in his own words. But in fact the method is not so dangerous as it seems, for it will be easy to detect at what points the writer is giving his own views, and where the narrative is purely historical.

It ought perhaps to be mentioned that all the stages in Hegel’s development are not equally important for the understanding of the Logic.

The reader who is interested simply in finding how the later Logic arose may skip altogether the First Stage (Chapter II). The statement of his earliest position is of slight value in itself, and is merely retained for the sake of completeness in the historical account. Hegel’s views at this time were obscure, and the obscurity is, the writer feels, not entirely removed by the statement of them which has been given. But the account could hardly have been made shorter without increasing the degree of obscurity, nor longer without needlessly adding to the amount of it. On the whole, this chapter will be found of interest mainly to the specialist.

As to the value of the Logic itself in the System it must be admitted that, so far as the interpretation of Hegel’s philosophy is concerned, the Logic is of primary importance. Doubtless the truth of Idealism does not depend on the worth of the Logic, but rather conversely. Still, for the appreciation of Hegel’s own position, the judgment on the Logic is the judgment on his System as it stands. The other parts of his philosophy are more accessible; they are certainly more directly fruitful, and on the whole the essential value of his principle is more evident there, (e.g., in the Philosophy of Law), than in the Logic. But for Hegel himself there seems little doubt that the construction of the Science of Logic is the supreme expression of Idealism.

Apart, however, from its place in Hegel’s System the Logic has still a unique value for the student of philosophy. Indeed, it would be somewhat astonishing if such a stupendous intellectual achievement as Hegel’s Logic had merely an esoteric interest. It is doubtful if there is any better or more important discipline for the student of philosophy than simply to reflect on the exact significance of the general terms which are the current coin of ordinary communication. We use perpetually and without any effort of thought such terms as “something,” “reality,” “existence,” not to say “cause,” “substance,” and so on. But we might be sorely put to it to say what exactly was meant by such ideas, and why we used them in certain cases and not in others. Such an inquiry is not useless, for in point of fact it has somehow to be done when practical necessity calls for a precise distinction, e.g., in the legal definition of a “thing,” or the chemical conception of “substance.” And the inquiry is certainly not impossible; for it is a paradox to say we use terms perpetually and yet do not know what we mean by them. Indeed one would think that nothing could be easier than to determine exactly what everyday terms mean, and the thorough-going discussion of these common conceptions ought to be, as Hegel says, in a sense the easiest of all sciences. It is just such an inquiry as this which is undertaken systematically in the Science of Logic. And so long as it remains necessary, as it will always be important, to understand the definite significance of everyday notions, Hegel’s Logic will be indispensable; for though it is of course a system of conceptions and not a dictionary, yet the system cannot be constructed unless the fundamental conceptions at the root of common thought are first of all accurately grasped.

Within recent years considerable attention has been directed to the Logic. Wallace’s Prolegomena and Mr McTaggart’s Studies in the Hegelian Dialectic have each given assistance to students of the Logic; the former by an exposition of the various conceptions peculiar to the System of Logic, the latter by a criticism of a special feature of it – its Method. Neither of these professes to give the historical evolution of the Logic; and the same may be said of M. NoŽl’s La Logique de Hegel, as well as of the most recent work on Hegel – that of Prof. Kuno Fischer, who has just completed his exposition of Hegel’s Leben und Werke. The works to which the author is directly indebted for help in the present inquiry are: Schaller, Die Philosophie unserer Zeit; Schmid, Die Entwickelungsgeschichte der Hegelschen Logik; Haym, Hegel und seine Zeit; and above all the great store-house of Hegelianism, Dr Stirling’s Secret of Hegel.

The chief sources used in the investigation are Hegel’s Werke, Bde.

i-vi, xvi and xviii, and Rosenkranz, Leben Hegel’s. As various editions of the published works have appeared, and as even the volumes in the same edition have not all been published at the same time, the date of the volume referred to is given the first time the volume is quoted in the foot-notes. It has been sought in this way to avoid all ambiguity in the reference.

In conclusion I can only very imperfectly express my indebtedness to those who have given me encouragement and help in the preparation of the work, and but for which, indeed, I should not have ventured to offer for the assistance of other students the results of such an investigation.

I desire more especially to acknowledge my obligations to Professor Seth Pringle-Pattison, to Dr Caird, and to Professor Adamson, for the kind suggestions and criticisms on different parts of the inquiry, which have enabled me to present the work in its present form. And I shall always look back with pleasure to the hours spent in discussion with Mr J. E. McTaggart of Trinity College, Cambridge, some of the fruits of which have doubtless appeared in the present volume.

ST. ANDREWS, August 1901.