Hegel’s Science of Logic
Remark 1: The Opposition of Being and Nothing in Ordinary Thinking
Nothing is usually opposed to something; but the being of something is already determinate and is distinguished from another something; and so therefore the nothing which is opposed to the something is also the nothing of a particular something, a determinate nothing. Here, however, nothing is to be taken in its indeterminate simplicity. Should it be held more correct to oppose to being, non-being instead of nothing, there would be no objection to this so far as the result is concerned, for in non-being the relation to being is contained: both being and its negation are enunciated in a single term, nothing, as it is in becoming. But we are concerned first of all not with the form of opposition (with the form, that is, also of relation) but with the abstract, immediate negation: nothing, purely on its own account, negation devoid of any relations — what could also be expressed if one so wished merely by 'not'.
It was the Eleatics, above all Parmenides, who first enunciated the simple thought of pure being as the absolute and sole truth: only being is, and nothing absolutely is not, and in the surviving fragments of Parmenides this is enunciated with the pure enthusiasm of thought which has for the first time apprehended itself in its absolute abstraction. As we know, in the oriental systems, principally in Buddhism, nothing, the void, is the absolute principle. Against that simple and one-sided abstraction the deep-thinking Heraclitus brought forward the higher, total concept of becoming and said: being as little is, as nothing is, or, all flows, which means, all is a becoming. The popular, especially oriental proverbs, that all that exists has the germ of death in its very birth, that death, on the other hand, is the entrance into new life, express at bottom the same union of being and nothing. But these expressions have a substratum in which the transition takes place; being and nothing are held apart in time, are conceived as alternating in it, but are not thought in their abstraction and consequently, too, not so that they are in themselves absolutely the same. ®
Ex nihilo nihil fit — is one of those propositions to which great importance was ascribed in metaphysics. In it is to be seen either only the empty tautology: nothing is nothing; or, if becoming is supposed to possess an actual meaning in it, then, since from nothing only nothing becomes, the proposition does not in fact contain becoming, for in it nothing remains nothing. Becoming implies that nothing does not remain nothing but passes into its other, into being. Later, especially Christian, metaphysics whilst rejecting the proposition that out of nothing comes nothing, asserted a transition from nothing into being; although it understood this proposition synthetically or merely imaginatively, yet even in the most imperfect union there is contained a point in which being and nothing coincide and their distinguishedness vanishes. The proposition: out of nothing comes nothing, nothing is just nothing, owes its peculiar importance to its opposition to becoming generally, and consequently also to its opposition to the creation of the world from nothing. Those who maintain the proposition: nothing is just nothing, and even grow heated in its defence, are unaware that in so doing they are subscribing to the abstract pantheism of the Eleatics, and also in principle to that of Spinoza. The philosophical view for which 'being is only being, nothing is only nothing', is a valid principle, merits the name of 'system of identity'; this abstract identity is the essence of pantheism.
If the result that being and nothing are the same seems startling or paraodoxical in itself, there is nothing more to be said; rather should we wonder at this wondering which shows itself to be such a newcomer to philosophy and forgets that in this science there occur determinations quite different from those in ordinary consciousness and in so-called ordinary common sense-which is not exactly sound understanding but an understanding educated up to abstractions and to a belief, or rather a superstitious belief, in abstractions. It would not be difficult to demonstrate this unity of being and nothing in every example, in every actual thing or thought. The same must be said of being and nothing, as was said above about immediacy and mediation (which latter contains a reference to an other, and hence to negation), that nowhere in heaven or on earth is there anything which does not contain within itself both being and nothing. Of course, since we are speaking here of a particular actual something, those determinations are no longer present in it in the complete untruth in which they are as being and nothing; they are in a more developed determination, and are grasped, for example, as positive and negative, the former being posited, reflected being, the latter posited, reflected nothing; the positive contains as its abstract basis being, and the negative, nothing. Thus in God himself, quality (energy, creation, power, and so forth), essentially involves the determination of the negative-they are the producing of an other. But an empirical elucidation by examples of the said assertion would be altogether superfluous here. Since the unity of being and nothing as the primary truth now forms once and for all the basis and element of all that follows, besides becoming itself, all further logical determinations: determinate being, quality, and generally all philosophical Notions, are examples of this unity. But self-styled sound common sense, if it rejects the unseparatedness of being and nothing, may be set the task of trying to discover an example in which the one is found separated from the other (something from limit or limitation, or, as just mentioned, the infinite, God, from energy or activity). Only the empty figments of thought, being and nothing themselves are these separated things and it is these that are preferred by 'sound common sense' to the truth, to the unseparatedness of both which is everywhere before us.
We cannot be expected to meet on all sides the perplexities which such a logical proposition produces in the ordinary consciousness, for they are inexhaustible. Only a few of them can be mentioned. One source among others of such perplexity is that the ordinary consciousness brings with it to such an abstract logical proposition, conceptions of something concrete, forgetting that what is in question is not such concrete something but only the pure abstractions of being and nothing and that these alone are to be held firmly in mind.
Being and non-being are the same, therefore it is the same whether this house is or is not, whether these hundred dollars are part of my fortune or not. This inference from, or application of, the proposition completely alters its meaning. The proposition contains the pure abstractions of being and nothing; but the application converts them into a determinate being and a determinate nothing. But as we have said, the question here is not of determinate being. A determinate, a finite, being is one that is in relation to another; it is a content standing in a necessary relation to another content, to the whole world. As regards the reciprocally determining context of the whole, metaphysics could make the — at bottom tautological — assertion that if a speck of dust were destroyed the whole universe would collapse. In the instances against the proposition in question something appears as not indifferent to whether it is or is not, not on account of being or non-being, but on account of its content, which brings it into relation with something else. If a specific content, any determinate being, is presupposed, then because it is determinate, it is in a manifold relationship with another content; it is not a matter of indifference to it whether a certain other content with which it is in relation is, or is not; for it is only through such relation that it essentially is what it is. The same is the case in the ordinary way of thinking (taking non-being in the more specific sense of such way of thinking as contrasted with actuality) in the context of which the being or the absence of a content, which, as determinate, is conceived as in relation to another, is not a matter of indifference.
This consideration involves what constitutes a cardinal factor in the Kantian criticism of the ontological proof of the existence of God, although here we are only interested in the distinction made in that proof between being and nothing generally, and determinate being or non-being. As we know, there was presupposed in that so-called proof the concept of a being possessing all realities, including therefore existence, which was likewise assumed as one of the realities. The main thesis of the Kantian criticism was that existence or being (these being taken here as synonymous) is not a property or a real predicate, that is to say, is not a concept of something which could be added to the concept of a thing. By this Kant means to say that being is not a determination of the content of a thing.' Therefore, he goes on to say, the possible does not contain more than the actual; a hundred actual dollars do not contain a whit more than a hundred possible ones; that is, the content of the former has no other determination than has the content of the latter. If this content is considered as isolated, it is indeed a matter of indifference whether it is, or is not; it contains no distinction of being or non-being, this difference does not affect it at all. The hundred dollars do not diminish if they do not exist, or increase if they do. A difference must come only from elsewhere. 'On the other hand,' Kant reminds us, 'my fortune benefits more from a hundred actual dollars than from the mere concept of them or from their possibility. For in actuality, the object is not merely contained analytically in my concept, but is added synthetically to my concept (which is a determination of my state), although the hundred dollars in my thought are not themselves increased one whit by this being which they have apart from my concept.'
There are presupposed here two different states (to retain the Kantian expressions which are not free from a confused clumsiness): one, which Kant calls the concept (by which we must understand figurate conception), and another, the state of my fortune. For the one as for the other, my fortune and the figurate conception, a hundred dollars are a determination of a content or, as Kant expresses it, 'they are added to such a concept synthetically'; I as possessor of a hundred dollars or as not possessing them, or even I as imagining or not imagining them, is of course a different content. Stated more generally: the abstractions of being and nothing both cease to be abstractions if they acquire a determinate content; being is then reality, the determinate being of a hundred dollars; nothing is the negation, the determinate non-being of them. This determinate content itself, the hundred dollars, also grasped isolatedly in abstraction is unchanged the same in the one as it is in the other. But since, furthermore, being is taken as a state of my fortune, the hundred dollars stand in relation to this state, as regards which the determinateness which they are is not a matter of indifference; their being or non-being is only an alteration; they are transposed into the sphere of determinate being. When, therefore, it is urged against the unity of being and nothing that it is nevertheless not a matter of indifference whether anything (the hundred dollars) is, or is not, we practise the deception of converting the difference between whether I have or have not the hundred dollars into a difference between being and non-being-a deception based, as we have shown, on the one-sided abstraction which ignores the determinate being present in such examples and holds fast merely to being and non-being, just as, conversely, the abstract being and nothing which should be apprehended is transformed into a definite being and nothing, into a determinate being. Determinate being is the first category to contain the real difference of being and nothing, namely, something and other. It is this real difference which is vaguely present in ordinary thinking, instead of abstract being and pure nothing and their only imagined difference.
As Kant expresses it, 'through its existence something enters into the context of the whole of experience. ... we obtain thereby an additional object of perception without anything being added to our concept of the object'. As our explanation has shown, this means simply that something, through its existence, just because it is a determinate existence, is essentially in relationship with others, including also a percipient subject. The concept of the hundred dollars, says Kant, gains nothing by their being perceived. Concept here means the hundred dollars previously noted as thought in isolation. As thus isolated they are, it is true, an empirical content, but cut off, having no relationship with any other content and possessing no determinate character relatively to such; the form of identity-with-self strips them of any connection with an other, so that it is a matter of indifference whether they are perceived or not. But this so-called concept of the hundred dollars is a spurious concept; the form of simple self-relation does not belong to such a limited, finite content itself; it is a borrowed form attached to it by the subjective understanding; the being of the hundred dollars is not self-related but alterable and perishable.
The thinking or figurate conception which has before it only a specific, determinate being must be referred back to the previously-mentioned beginning of the science made by Parmenides who purified and elevated his own figurate conception, and so, too, that of posterity, to pure thought, to being as such and thereby created the element of the science. What is the first in the science had of necessity to show itself historically as the first. And we must regard the Eleatic One or being as the first step in the knowledge of thought; water and suchlike material principles are certainly meant to be the universal, but as material they are not pure thoughts; numbers are neither the first simple, nor the self-communing thought, but the thought which is wholly external to itself. ®
The reference back from particular finite being to being as such in its wholly abstract universality is to be regarded not only as the very first theoretical demand but as the very first practical demand too. When for example a fuss is made about the hundred dollars, that it does make a difference to the state of my fortune whether I have them or not, still more whether I am or not, or whether something else is or is not, then-not to mention that there will be fortunes to which such possession of a hundred dollars will be a matter of indifference-we can remind ourselves that man has a duty to rise to that abstract universality of mood in which he is indeed indifferent to the existence or non-existence of the hundred dollars, whatever may be their quantitative relation to his fortune, just as it ought to be a matter of indifference to him whether he is or is not, that is, in finite life (for a state, a determinate being is meant), and so on — si fractus illabatur orbis, impavidum ferient ruinae was said by a Roman, and still more ought the Christian to possess this indifference.
There remains still to be noted the immediate connection between, on the one hand, the elevation above the hundred dollars and finite things generally, and on the other, the ontological proof and the Kantian criticism of it we have cited. This criticism, through its popular example, has made itself universally plausible: who does not know that a hundred actual dollars are different from a hundred merely possible ones? that they make a difference to the state of my fortune? Because this difference is so obvious with the hundred dollars, therefore the concept, that is, the specific nature of the content as an empty possibility, and being, are different from each other; therefore the Notion of God too is different from his being, and just as little as I can extract from the possibility of the hundred dollars their actuality, just as little can I extract from the Notion of God his existence; but the onotological proof is supposed to consist of this extraction of the existence of God from his Notion. Now though it is of course true that Notion is different from being, there is a still greater difference between God and the hundred dollars and other finite things. It is the definition of finite things that in them the Notion is different from being, that Notion and reality, soul and body, are separable and hence that they are perishable and mortal; the abstract definition of God, on the other hand, is precisely that his Notion and his being are unseparated and inseparable. The genuine criticism of the categories and of reason is just this: to make intellect aware of this difference and to prevent it from applying to God the determinations and relationships of the finite.
Remark 2: Defectiveness of the Expression 'Unity, Identity of Being and Nothing'
Another contributory reason for the repugnance to the proposition about being and nothing must be mentioned; this is that the result of considering being and nothing, as expressed in the statement: being and nothing are one and the same, is incomplete. The emphasis is laid chiefly on their being one and the same, as in judgments generally, where it is the predicate that first states what the subject is. Consequently, the sense seems to be that the difference is denied, although at the same time it appears directly in the proposition; for this enunciates both determinations, being and nothing, and contains them as distinguished. At the same time, the intention cannot be that abstraction should be made from them and only the unity retained. Such a meaning would self-evidently be one-sided, because that from which abstraction is to be made is equally present and named in the proposition. Now in so far as the proposition: being and nothing are the same, asserts the identity of these determinations, but, in fact, equally contains them both as distinguished, the proposition is self-contradictory and cancels itself out. Bearing this in mind and looking at the proposition more closely, we find that it has a movement which involves the spontaneous vanishing of the proposition itself. But in thus vanishing, there takes place in it that which is to constitute its own peculiar content, namely, becoming.
The proposition thus contains the result, it is this in its own self. But the fact to which we must pay attention here is the defect that the result is not itself expressed in the proposition; it is an external reflection which discerns it therein. In this connection we must, at the outset, make this general observation, namely, that the proposition in the form of a judgment is not suited to express speculative truths; a familiarity with this fact is likely to remove many misunderstandings of speculative truths. Judgment is an identical relation between subject and predicate; in it we abstract from the fact that the subject has a number of determinatenesses other than that of the predicate, and also that the predicate is more extensive than the subject. Now if the content is speculative, the non-identical aspect of subject and predicate is also an essential moment, but in the judgment this is not expressed. It is the form of simple judgment, when it is used to express speculative results, which is very often responsible for the paradoxical and bizarre light in which much of recent philosophy appears to those who are not familiar with speculative thought.
To help express the speculative truth, the deficiency is made good in the first place by adding the contrary proposition: being and nothing are not the same, which is also enunciated as above. But thus there arises the further defect that these propositions are not connected, and therefore exhibit their content only in the form of an antinomy whereas their content refers to one and the same thing, and the determinations which are expressed in the two propositions are supposed to be in complete union-a union which can only be stated as an unrest of incompatibles, as a movement. The commonest injustice done to a speculative content is to make it one-sided, that is, to give prominence only to one of the propositions into which it can be resolved. It cannot then be denied that this proposition is asserted; but the statement is just as false as it is true, for once one of the propositions is taken out of the speculative content, the other must at least be equally considered and stated. Particular mention must be made here of that, so to speak, unfortunate word, 'unity'. Unity, even more than identity, expresses a subjective reflection; it is taken especially as the relation which arises from comparison, from external reflection. When this reflection finds the same thing in two different objects, the resultant unity is such that there is presupposed the complete indifference to it of the objects themselves which are compared, so that this comparing and unity does not concern the objects themselves and is a procedure and a determining external to them. Unity, therefore, expresses wholly abstract sameness and sounds all the more blatantly paradoxical the more the terms of which it is asserted show themselves to be sheer opposites. So far then, it would be better to, say only unseparatedness and inseparability, but then the affirmative aspect of the relation of the whole would not find expression.
Thus the whole true result which we have here before us is becoming, which is not merely the one-sided or abstract unity of being and nothing. It consists rather in this movement, that pure being is immediate and simple, and for that very reason is equally pure nothing, that there is a difference between them, but a difference which no less sublates itself and is not. The result, therefore, equally asserts the difference of being and nothing, but as a merely fancied or imagined difference.
It is the common opinion that being is rather the sheer other of nothing and that nothing is clearer than their absolute difference, and nothing seems easier than to be able to state it. But it is equally easy to convince oneself that this is impossible, that it is unsayable. Let those who insist that being and nothing are different tackle the problem of stating in what the difference consists. If being and nothing had any determinateness by which they were distinguished from each other then, as has been observed, they would be determinate being and determinate nothing, not the pure being and pure nothing that here they still are. Their difference is therefore completely empty, each of them is in the same way indeterminate; the difference, then, exists not in themselves but in a third, in subjective opinion. Opinion, however, is a form of subjectivity which is not proper to an exposition of this kind. But the third in which being and nothing subsist must also present itself here, and it has done so; it is becoming. In this being and nothng are distinct moments; becoming only is, in so, in so far as they are distinguished. This third is an other than they; they subsist only in an other, which is equivalent to saying that they are not self-subsistent.
Becoming is as much the subsistence of being as it is of non-being; or, their subsistence is only their being in a one. It is just this their subsistence that equally sublates their difference.
The challenge to distinguish between being and nothing also includes the challenge to say what, then, is being and what is nothing. Those who are reluctant to recognise either one or the other as only a transition of the one into the other, and who assert this or that about being and nothing, let them state what it is they are speaking of, that is, put forward a definition of being and nothing and demonstrate its correctness. Without having satisfied this first requirement of the ancient science whose logical rules they accept as valid and apply in other cases, all that they maintain about being and nothing amounts only to assertions which are scientifically worthless. If elsewhere it has been said that existence, in so far as this at first is held to be synonymous with being, is the complement to possibility, then this presupposes another determination, possibility, and so being is not enunciated in its immediacy, but in fact as not self-subsistent, as conditioned. For being which is the outcome of mediation we shall reserve the term: Existence. But one pictures being to oneself, perhaps in the image of pure light as the clarity of undimmed seeing, and then nothing as pure night — and their distinction is linked with this very familiar sensuous difference. But, as a matter of fact, if this very seeing is more exactly imagined, one can readily perceive that in absolute clearness there is seen just as much, and as little, as in absolute darkness, that the one seeing is as good as the other, that pure seeing is a seeing of nothing. Pure light and pure darkness are two voids which are the same thing. Something can be distinguished only in determinate light or darkness (light is determined by darkness and so is darkened light, and darkness is determined by light, is illuminated darkness), and for this reason, that it is only darkened light and illuminated darkness which have within themselves the moment of difference and are, therefore, determinate being.
Remark 3: The Isolating of These Abstractions
The unity, whose moments, being and nothing, are inseparable, is at the same time different from them and is thus a third to them; this third in its own most characteristic form is becoming. Transition is the same as becoming except that in the former one tends to think of the two terms, from one of which transition is made to the other, as at rest, apart from each other, the transition taking place between them. Now wherever and in whatever form being and nothing are in question, this third must be present; for the two terms have no separate subsistence of their own but are only in becoming, in this third. But this third has many empirical shapes, which are set aside or ignored by abstraction in order to hold fast, each by itself, these its products, being and nothing, and to show them protected against transition. Such simple procedure of abstraction can be countered, equally simply, by calling to mind the empirical existence in which that abstraction is itself only a something having a determinate being. Or else it is some other form of reflection which is supposed to effect the separation of what is inseparable. Such determination carries within itself its own opposite, and, without referring back and appealing to the nature of the thing itself, the determination of reflection can be refuted in its own self by taking it just as it presents itself and pointing out in it its own other. It would be favour in vain to attempt to intercept all the shifts and turns of reflection and its arguments in order to cut off and render impossible to it all the evasions and digressions by which it conceals from itself its own self-contradiction. For this reason I, too, refrain from taking notice of many of the so-called objections and refutations which have been advanced against the proposition that neither being nor nothing truly is, but that their truth is only becoming. The intellectual training which alone can afford an insight into the nullity of such refutations, or rather spontaneously dispell such random fancies, is effected only by a critical knowledge of the forms of the understanding; but those who are most prolific with such objections straightway launch their reflections against the first propositions without first acquiring or having acquired, by a further study of logic, an awareness of the nature of these crude reflections.
We shall consider some of the results which appear when being and nothing are postulated in isolation from each other, each outside the sphere of the other, with the consequence that their transition is denied.
Parmenides held fast to being and was most consistent in affirming at the same time that nothing absolutely is not; only being is. As thus taken, entirely on its own, being is indeterminate, and has therefore no relation to an other; consequently, it seems that from this beginning no further progress can be made — that is, from this beginning itself — and that progress can only be achieved by linking it on to something extraneous, something outside it. Hence the progress made in affirming that being is the same as nothing appears as a second, absolute beginning-a transition which is independent of being and added to it from outside. If being had a determinateness, then it would not be the absolute beginning at all; it would then depend on an other and would not be immediate, would not be the beginning. But if it is indeterminate and hence a genuine beginning, then, too, it has nothing with which it could bridge the gap between itself and an other; it is at the same time the end. It is just as impossible for anything to break forth from it as to break into it; with Parmenides as with Spinoza, there is no progress from being ot absolute substance to the negative, to the finite. If, nevertheless, there is progress — which as has been remarked, in the case of relationless, and so progress-less being can be accomplished only in an external manner-then this progress is a second, a fresh beginning. Thus Fichte's absolutely primary, unconditioned principle: A = A, is thesis; the second is antithesis. This latter is supposed to be partly conditioned, partly unconditioned (and so an internal contradiction). This is a progress by external reflection which, having negated the absolute with which it began-the antithesis is the negation of the first identity-straightway expressly converts its second unconditioned into a conditioned. But if there were any justification at all for the progress, that is, for sublating the first beginning, then this first would itself have to be of such a nature that an other could connect itself with it; and therefore it would have to be determinate. But neither being, nor even absolute substance, claims to be such: on the contrary. Being is the immediate, that which is still utterly indeterminate. ®
The most eloquent, perhaps forgotten, descriptions of the impossibility of advancing from an abstract first to something beyond it, and effecting a union of both, are made by Jacobi in support of his polemic against the Kantian a priori synthesis of self-consciousness in his Treatise on the Undertaking of the Critical Philosophy to Bring Reason to Understanding. He states the problem thus: that there be demonstrated the originating or producing of a synthesis in a pure [unity], whether of consciousness, of space, or of time. “Let space be one, time be one, consciousness be one ... Now tell me how does any one of these three ones purely make itself into a manifold within itself ... each is only a one and no other; a one and the same sort, a self-sameness without any distinction of one from the other; for these distinctions still slumber in the empty infinitude of the indeterminate from which each and everything determinate has yet to proceed! What brings finitude into those three infinities? What impregnates space and time a priori with number and measure and transforms them into a pure manifold? What brings pure spontaneity (ego) into oscillation? Whence does its pure vowel get its consonant, or rather how does its soundless, uninterrupted sounding interrupt itself and break off in order to gain at least a kind of 'self-sound' (vowel), an accent?” It is evident that Jacobi recognised very clearly the insubstantial nature, the non ens, of abstraction, whether so-called absolute (i.e. only abstract) space, or abstract time, or abstract pure consciousness, the ego; he remains fixed in such abstraction in order to maintain the impossibility of a transition to an other (the condition of a synthesis), and to the synthesis itself. The synthesis, which is the point of interest, must not be taken as a connection of determinations already externally there; the question is partly of the genesis of a second to a first, of a determinate to an indeterminate first principle, partly, however, of immanent synthesis, synthesis a priori — a self-subsistent, self-determined unity of distinct moments. Becoming is this immanent synthesis of being and nothing; but because synthesis suggests more than anything else the sense of an external bringing together of mutually external things already there, the name synthesis, synthetic unity, has rightly been dropped. Jacobi asks how does the pure vowel of the ego get its consonant, what brings determinateness into indeterminateness? The what would be easy to answer and has been answered by Kant in his own manner; but the question how means: in what peculiar manner, in what relationship, and so forth, and thus demands the statement of a particular category; but there can be no question here of a peculiar manner, of categories of the understanding. The very question how itself belongs to the bad habits of reflection, which demands comprehensibility, but at the same time presupposes its own fixed categories and consequently knows beforehand that it is armed against the answering of its own question. Neither has it with Jacobi the higher sense of a question concerning the necessity of the synthesis; for he remains, as has been said, fixed in the abstractions in order to maintain the impossibility of the synthesis. Especially graphic is his description of the procedure for reaching the abstraction of space. ‘For a time I must try clean to forget that I ever saw, heard, touched or handled anything at all, myself expressly not excepted. Clean, clean, clean must I forget all movement, and precisely this forgetting, because it is hardest, I must make my greatest concern. just as I have thought away everything in general, so I must also completely and entirely get rid of it, retaining nothing but the forcibly arrested intuition alone of infinite immutable space. I may not therefore again think into it my own self as something distinct from it and yet connected with it; I may not let myself be merely surrounded and pervaded by it: but I must wholly pass over into it, become one with it, transform myself into it; I must leave nothing over of myself but this my intuition itself, in order to contemplate it as a genuinely self-subsistent, independent, single and sole conception.’
With this wholly abstract purity of continuity, that is, indeterminateness and vacuity of conception, it is indifferent whether this abstraction is called space, pure intuiting, or pure thinking; it is altogether the same as what the Indian calls Brahma, when for years on end, physically motionless and equally unmoved in sensation, conception, fantasy, desire and so on, looking only at the tip of his nose, he says inwardly only Om, Om, Om, or else nothing at all. This dull, empty consciousness, understood as consciousness, is — being.
In this void, Jacobi now continues, he experiences the opposite of what Kant assures him he should experience; he does not find himself to be a many and manifold, but rather a one devoid of all plurality and variety; indeed, ‘I myself am the impossibility, the annihilation of all that is manifold and plural — cannot from my pure, absolutely simple, immutable being produce again or spook into myself even the least bit of anything ... Thus all separatedness and juxtaposition, and all manifoldness and plurality based thereon, are revealed (in this purity) as a sheer impossibility.’
This impossibility amounts to nothing else than the tautology: hold fast to abstract unity and shut out all plurality and manifoldness, confine myself to the differenceless and the indeterminate and shut my eyes to all that is differentiated and determinate. The Kantian a priori synthesis of self-consciousness, that is, the function of this unity to differentiate itself and in this differentiation to preserve itself, is attenuated by Jacobi into the same abstraction. That ‘synthesis in itself’, the ‘original act of judgment’, he converts one-sidedly into ‘the copula in itself — an "is, is, is", without beginning or end and without what, who or which. This repetition of repetition ad infinitum is the sole business, function and product of the absolutely pure synthesis; it is itself empty, pure, absolute repetition itself.’ Though, in fact, since there is no breaking off, that is, no negation or distinguishing in it, it is not a repetition but merely undifferentiated, simple being. But, then, is this still a synthesis if Jacobi omits precisely that which makes the unity a synthetic unity?
In the first place, it must be said that when Jacobi thus fixes himself in absolute or abstract space, time and consciousness, he places and fixes himself in this way in something which is empirically false; there is, that is, there is empirically present, no such space and time which is not spatially and temporally limited, or whose continuity is not filled by manifoldly limited determinate being and change, so that these limits and changes belong, unseparated and inseparable, to the nature of spatiality and temporality; similarly, consciousness is filled with determinate sensation, conception, desire and so on; it does not exist separated from some particular content. The empirical transition, moreover, is self-evident; consciousness can of course make empty space, empty time, and even empty consciousness itself or pure being, its object and content, but it does not stop at that; it goes beyond it or rather presses forward out of such a vacuity to a better content, that is, to a content which in some way or other is more concrete, and which to that extent is better and truer however bad it may be in other respects; just such a content is in general synthetic, this word being taken in its more general sense. Thus Parmenides has to reckon with illusion and opinion, the opposite of being and truth; Spinoza likewise, with attributes, modes, extension, movement, understanding, will, and so on. The synthesis contains and demonstrates the falsity of those abstractions; in it they are in unity with their other, not, therefore, as independently self-subsistent, not as absolute, but purely as relative.
The demonstration of the empirical nullity of empty space, and so forth, is not, however, what we are concerned with. Consciousness by making abstraction can, of course, fill itself with such indeterminates also and the abstractions thus held fast are the thoughts of pure space, pure time, pure consciousness, or pure being. It is the thought of pure space, etc. — that is, pure space, etc., in its own self — that is to be demonstrated as null: that it is as such already its own opposite, that its opposite has already penetrated into it, that it is already by itself the accomplished coming-forth-from-itself, a determinateness.
But this is found immediately in them. They are, as Jacobi profusely describes them, results of abstraction; they are expressly determined as indeterminate and this — to go back to its simplest form — is being. But it is this very indeterminateness which constitutes its determinateness; for indeterminateness is opposed to determinateness; hence as so opposed it is itself determinate or the negative, and the pure, quite abstract negative. It is this indeterminateness or abstract negation which thus has being present within it, which reflection, both outer and inner, enunciates when it equates it with nothing, declares it to be an empty product of thought, to be nothing. Or it can be expressed thus: because being is devoid of all determination whatsoever, it is not the (affirmative) determinateness which it is; it is not being but nothing.
In the pure reflection of the beginning as it is made in this logic with being as such, the transition is still concealed; because being is posited only as immediate, therefore nothing emerges in it only immediately. But all the subsequent determinations, like determinate being which immediately follows, are more concrete; in determinate being there is already posited that which contains and produces the contradiction of those abstractions and therefore their transition. When being is taken in this simplicity and immediacy, the recollection that it is the result of complete abstraction, and so for that reason alone is abstract negativity, nothing, is left behind, outside the science, which, within its own self, from essence onwards will expressly exhibit the said one-sided immediacy as a mediated immediacy where being is posited as existence and the mediating agent of this being is posited as ground.
In the light of such recollection, the transition from being into nothing can be represented, or, as it is said, explained and made intelligible, as something even easy and trivial; of course the being which is made the beginning of the science is nothing, for abstraction can be made from everything, and if abstraction is made from everything then nothing is left over. But, it may be continued, the beginning is thus not an affirmative, not being, but just nothing, and nothing is then also the end, at least as much as immediate being, and even more so. The shortest way is to let such reasoning take its course and then wait and see what is the nature of its boasted results. That nothing would be the result of such reasoning and that now the beginning should be made with nothing (as in Chinese philosophy), need not cause us to lift a finger, for before we could do so this nothing would no less have converted itself into being (see Section B above). But further, this abstraction from everything (which 'everything' nevertheless is an affirmative being) having been presupposed, then it must be understood more exactly; the result of making abstraction from all that is, is first of all abstract being, being as such; just as in the cosmological proof of the existence of God from the contingent being of the world, in which proof we rise above such contingent being, being is still taken up with us in our ascent and is determined as infinite being. Of course, one can also abstract from this pure being, being can be thrown in with the all from which abstraction has already been made; then nothing remains. Now if we want to forget the thinking of nothing, that is, its conversion into being, or are ignorant of it, we can proceed in the style of 'one can'; we can for example (God be praised!) also abstract from nothing (for the creation of the world, too, is an abstraction from nothing), and then what remains is not nothing, for it is just from this that we have made abstraction; we have in fact arrived at being again. This, 'one can', gives an external play of abstraction, in which the abstracting itself is only the one-sided activity of the negative. It is directly implied in this very form of 'one can', that for it being is just as indifferent as nothing, and that with the vanishing of either of them there is equally an arising of the other; but it is equally a matter of indifference whether one starts from the doing of nothing, or from nothing; for the former, that is the mere abstracting, has neither more nor less of truth in it than mere nothing has.
The dialectic employed by Plato in treating of the One in the Parmenides is also to be regarded rather as a dialectic of external reflection. Being and the One are both Eleatic forms which are the same thing. But they are also to be distinguished; and it is thus that Plato takes them in that dialogue. After removing from the One the various determinations of whole and parts, of being-within-itself, of being-in-another, etc., of shape, time, etc., he reaches the result that being does not belong to the One, for being belongs to any particular something only in one of these modes. Plato next deals with the proposition: the One is, and we should refer to Plato himself to see how, starting from this proposition, he accomplishes the transition to the non-being of the One. He does it by comparing the two determinations of the proposition put forward: the One is; it contains the One and being, and 'the One is' contains more than when we only say: the One. It is through their being different that the moment of negation contained in the proposition is demonstrated. It is evident that this course has a presupposition and is an external reflection.
Here the way in which the One is connected with being is such that being, which is supposed to be held fast abstractly by itself, is demonstrated in the simplest way and without any effort of thought, to be in a union which implies the contrary of what is supposed to be maintained. Being, taken as it is immediately, belongs to a subject, is something enunciated, has an empirical existence in general and stands therefore in the field of limitation and the negative. In whatever phrases or turns of speech understanding may express itself in attacking the unity of being and nothing and appealing to what immediately confronts us, it will find just in this very experience nothing but determinate being, being with a limitation or negation — that very unity which it rejects. The assertion of immediate being thus reduces to an empirical existence, and it cannot reject the demonstration of this because it is to the immediacy which is outside of thought that it wants to cling.
The same is the case with nothing, only contrariwise, and this reflection on it is familiar and has been made often enough. Nothing, taken in its immediacy, shows itself as affirmative, as being; for according to its nature it is the same as being. Nothing is thought of, imagined, spoken of, and therefore it is; in the thinking, imagining, speaking and so on, nothing has its being. But, further, this being is also distinguished from it; it is therefore said that although nothing is in thought or imagination, yet for that very reason it is not nothing that is, being does not belong to nothing as such, but only thought or imagination is this being. With this distinguishing it is equally not to be denied that nothing stands in relationship to a being; but in the relation, even though it contains the difference, there is present a unity with being. In whatever way nothing is enunciated or indicated, it shows itself connected with, or if you like in contact with a being, unseparated from a being, that is to say in a determinate being.
But when the presence of nothing in a determinate being is thus demonstrated, there still lingers on the thought of this difference of it from being, namely that the determinate being of nothing does not at all pertain to nothing itself, that nothing does not possess an independent being of its own, is not being as such. Nothing, it is said, is only the absence of being, darkness thus only the absence of light, cold only absence of heat, and so on. And darkness only has meaning in relation to the eye, in external comparison with the positive factor, light, and similarly cold is only something in our sensation; on the other hand, light and heat, like being, are objective, active realities on their own account, and are of quite another quality and dignity than this negative, than nothing. One can often find it put forward as a weighty reflection and an important piece of information that darkness is only the absence of light, cold only absence of heat. About this acute reflection in this field of empirical objects, it can be observed that darkness does in fact show itself active in light, determining it to colour and thereby imparting visibility to it, since, as was said above, just as little is seen in pure light as in pure darkness. Visibility, however, is effected in the eye, and the supposed negative has just as much a share in this as the light which is credited with being the real, positive factor; similarly, cold makes its presence known in water, in our sensations etc., and if we deny it so-called objective reality it is not a whit the worse for our doing so. But a further objection would be that here, too, as before, it is a negative with a determinate content that is spoken of, the argument is not confined to pure nothing, to which being, regarded as an empty abstraction, is neither inferior nor superior. But cold, darkness, and similar determinate negations are to be taken directly as they are by themselves and we shall then see what we have thereby effected in respect of their universal determination which has led them to be introduced here. They are supposed to be not just nothing but the nothing of light, heat, etc., of something determinate, of a content; thus they are a determinate, a contentful, nothing if one may so speak. But, as will subsequently appear, a determinateness is itself a negation, and so they are negative nothings; but a negative nothing is an affirmative something. The conversion of nothing through its determinateness (which previously appeared as a determinate being in a subject thinker, or in some other form) into an affirmative, appears to the consciousness which is fixed in the abstraction of the understanding as the acme of paradox; the insight that the negation of the negation is something positive, simple as it is, or rather because of its very simplicity, appears as a triviality to which haughty understanding need pay no heed, although the correctness of the insight is admitted-and the insight is not only correct, but, because of the universality of such determinations, it has its infinite extension and universal application, so that it were indeed well to pay attention to it.
A further remark can be made about the determination of the transition of being and nothing into each other, namely that it is to be understood as it is without any further elaboration of the transition by reflection. It is immediate and quite abstract because the transient moments are themselves abstract, that is, because the determinateness of either moment by means of which they passed over into each other is not yet posited in the other; nothing is not yet posited in being, although it is true that being is essentially nothing, and vice versa. It is therefore inadmissible to employ more developed forms of mediation here and to hold being and nothing in any kind of relationship-the transition in question is not yet a relation. Thus is it impermissible to say: nothing is the ground of being, or being is the ground of nothing or nothing is the cause of being, and so forth; or, transition into nothing can only occur under the condition that something is, or into being only under the condition of non-being. The kind of connection cannot be further determined without the connected sides being further determined at the same time. The connection of ground and consequent, etc., has no longer merely being and nothing as the sides which it connects, but expressly being which is a ground, and something which, although merely posited and not self-subsistent, is yet not the abstract nothing.
Remark 4: Incomprehensibility of the Beginning
What has been said indicates the nature of the dialectic against the beginning of the world and also its end, by which the eternity of matter was supposed to be proved, that is, the dialectic against becoming, coming-to-be or ceasing-to-be, in general. The Kantian antinomy relative to the finitude or infinity of the world in space and time will be considered more closely under the Notion of quantitative infinity. This simple, ordinary dialectic rests on holding fast to the opposition of being and nothing. It is proved in the following manner that a beginning of the world, or of anything, is impossible:
It is impossible for anything to begin, either in so far as it is, or in so far as it is not; for in so far as it is, it is not just beginning, and in so far as it is not, then also it does not begin. If the world, or anything, is supposed to have begun, then it must have begun in nothing, but in nothing — or nothing — is no beginning; for a beginning includes within itself a being, but nothing does not contain any being. Nothing is only nothing. In a ground, a cause, and so on, if nothing is so determined, there is contained an affirmation, a being. For the same reason, too, something cannot cease to be; for then being would have to contain nothing, but being is only being, not the contrary of itself.
It is obvious that in this proof nothing is brought forward against becoming, or beginning and ceasing, against this unity of being and nothing, except an assertoric denial of them and an ascription of truth to being and nothing, each in separation from the other. Nevertheless this dialectic is at least more consistent than ordinary reflective thought which accepts as perfect truth that being and nothing only are in separation from each other, yet on the other hand acknowledges beginning and ceasing to be equally genuine determinations; but in these it does in fact assume the unseparatedness of being and nothing.
With the absolute separateness of being from nothing presupposed, then of course — as we so often hear — beginning or becoming is something incomprehensible; for a presupposition is made which annuls the beginning or the becoming which yet is again admitted, and this contradiction thus posed and at the same time made impossible of solution, is called incomprehensible.
The foregoing dialectic is the same, too, as that which understanding employs the notion of infinitesimal magnitudes, given by higher analysis. A more detailed treatment of this notion will be given later. These magnitudes have been defined as such that they are in their vanishing, not before their vanishing, for then they are finite magnitudes, or after their vanishing, for then they are nothing. Against this pre notion it is objected and reiterated that such magnitudes are either something or nothing; that there is no intermediate state between being and non-being ('state' is here an unsuitable, barbarous expression). Here too, the absolute separation of being and nothing is assumed. But against this it has been shown that being and nothing are, in fact, the same, or to use the same language as that just quoted, that there is nothing which is not an intermediate state between being and nothing. It is to the adoption of the said determination, which understanding opposes, that mathematics owes its most brilliant successes.
This style of reasoning which makes and clings to the false presupposition of the absolute separateness of being and non-being is to be named not dialectic but sophistry. For sophistry is an argument proceeding from a baseless presupposition which is uncritically and unthinkingly adopted; but we call dialectic the higher movement of reason in which such seemingly utterly separate terms pass over into each other spontaneously, through that which they are, a movement in which the presupposition sublates itself. It is the dialectical immanent nature of being and nothing themselves to manifest their unity, that is, becoming, as their truth.
Becoming is the unseparatedness of being and nothing, not the unity which abstracts from being and nothing; but as the unity of being and nothing it is this determinate unity in which there is both being and nothing. But in so far as being and nothing, each unseparated from its other, is, each is not. They are therefore in this unity 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.
Grasped as thus distinguished, each moment is in this distinguishedness as a unity with the other. Becoming therefore contains being and nothing as two such unities, each of which is itself a unity of being and nothing; the one is being as immediate and as relation to nothing, and the other is nothing as immediate and as relation to being; the determinations are of unequal values in these unities.
Becoming is in this way in a double determination. In one of them, nothing is immediate, that is, the determination starts from nothing which relates itself to being, or in other words changes into it; in the other, being is immediate, that is, the determination starts from being which changes into nothing: the former is coming-to-be and the latter is ceasing-to-be.
Both are the same, becoming, and although they differ so in direction they interpenetrate and paralyse each other. The one is ceasing-to-be: being passes over into nothing, but nothing is equally the opposite of itself, transition into being, coming-to-be. This coming-to-be is the other direction: nothing passes over into being, but being equally sublates itself and is rather transition into nothing, is ceasing-to-be. They are not reciprocally sublated — the one does not sublate the other externally — but each sublates itself in itself and is in its own self the opposite of itself.
The resultant equilibrium of coming-to-be and ceasing-to-be is in the first place becoming itself. But this equally settles into a stable unity. Being and nothing are in this unity only as vanishing moments; yet becoming as such is only through their distinguishedness. Their vanishing, therefore, is the vanishing of becoming or the vanishing of the vanishing itself. Becoming is an unstable unrest which settles into a stable result.
This could also be expressed thus: becoming is the vanishing of being in nothing and of nothing in being and the vanishing of being and nothing generally; but at the same time it rests on the distinction between them. It is therefore inherently self-contradictory, because the determinations it unites within itself are opposed to each other; but such a union destroys itself.
This result is the vanishedness of becoming, but it is not nothing; as such it would only be a relapse into one of the already sublated determinations, not the resultant of nothing and being. It is the unity of being and nothing which has settled into a stable oneness. But this stable oneness is being, yet no longer as a determination on its own but as a determination of the whole.
Becoming, as this transition into the unity of being and nothing, a unity which is in the form of being or has the form of the onesided immediate unity of these moments, is determinate being.
Remark: The Expression 'To Sublate' - next section
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