Part One of the Encyclopedia of Philosophical Sciences: The Logic

...The Logic Further Defined and Divided

Note to § 81
(1) Dialectic

It is of the highest importance to ascertain and understand rightly the nature of Dialectics. Wherever there is movement, wherever there is life, wherever anything is carried into effect in the actual world, there Dialectic is at work. It is also the soul of all knowledge which is truly scientific. In the popular way of looking at things, the refusal to be bound by the abstract deliverances of understanding appears as fairness, which, according to the proverb: “Live and let live”, demands that each should have its turn; we admit one, but we admit the other also.

But when we look more closely, we find that the limitations of the finite do not merely come from without; that its own nature is the cause of its abrogation, and that by its own act it passes into its counterpart. We say, for instance, that man is mortal, and seem to think that the ground of his death is in external circumstances only; so that if this way of looking were correct, man would have two special properties, vitality and – also – mortality. But the true view of the matter is that life as life, involves the germ of death, and that the finite, being radically self-contradictory, involves its own self-suppression.

Nor, again, is Dialectic to be confounded with mere Sophistry. The essence of Sophistry lies in giving authority to a partial and abstract principle, in its isolation, as may suit the interest and particular situation of the individual at the time. For example, a regard to my existence, and my having the means of existence, is a vital motive of conduct, but if I exclusively emphasise this consideration or motive of my welfare, and draw the conclusion that I may steal or betray my country, we have a case of Sophistry.

Similarly, it is a vital principle in conduct that I should be subjectively free, that is to say, that I should have an insight into what I am doing, and a conviction that it is right. But if my pleading insists on this principle alone I fall into Sophistry, such as would overthrow all the principles of morality. From this sort of party-pleading, Dialectic is wholly different; its purpose is to study things in their own being and movement and thus to demonstrate the finitude of the partial categories of understanding.

Dialectic, it may be added, is no novelty in philosophy. Among the ancients Plato is termed the inventor of Dialectic; and his right to the name rests on the fact that the Platonic philosophy first gave the free scientific, and thus at the same time the objective, form to Dialectic. Socrates, as we should expect from the general character of his philosophising, has the dialectical element in a predominantly subjective shape, that of Irony. He used to turn Dialectic, first against ordinary consciousness, and then especially against the Sophists. In his conversations he used to simulate the wish for some clearer knowledge about the subject under discussion, and after putting all sorts of questions with that intent, he drew those with whom he conversed to the opposite of what their first impressions had pronounced correct.

If, for instance, the Sophists claimed to be teachers, Socrates by a series of questions forced the Sophist Protagoras to confess that all learning is only recollection. In his more strictly scientific dialogues, Plato employs the dialectical method to show the finitude of all hard and fast terms of understanding. Thus in the Parmenides he deduces the many from the one. In this grand style did Plato treat Dialectic. In modern times it was, more than any other, Kant who resuscitated the name of Dialectic, and restored it to its post of honour. He did it, as we have seen, by working out the Antinomies of the reason. The problem of these Antinomies is no mere subjective piece of work oscillating between one set of grounds and another; it really serves to show that every abstract proposition of understanding, taken precisely as it is given, naturally veers round to its opposite.

However reluctant Understanding may be to admit the action of Dialectic, we must not suppose that the recognition of its existence is peculiarly confined to the philosopher. It would be truer to say that Dialectic gives expression to a law which is felt in all other grades of consciousness, and in general experience. Everything that surrounds us may be viewed as an instance of Dialectic. We are aware that everything finite, instead of being stable and ultimate, is rather changeable and transient; and this is exactly what we mean by that Dialectic of the finite, by which the finite, as implicitly other than what it is, is forced beyond its own immediate or natural being to turn suddenly into its opposite.

We have before this (§80) identified Understanding with what is implied in the popular idea of the goodness of God; we may now remark of Dialectic, the in same objective signification, that its principle answers to the idea of his power. All things, we say - that is, the finite world as such — are doomed; in saying so, we have a vision of Dialectic as the universal and irresistible power before which nothing can stay, however secure and stable it may deem itself. The category of power does not, it is true, exhaust the depth of the divine nature of the notion of God; but it certainly forms a vital element in all religious consciousness.

Apart from this general objectivity of Dialectic, we find traces of its presence in each of the particular provinces and phases of the natural and spiritual world. Take as an illustration the motion of the heavenly bodies. At this moment the planet stands in this spot, but implicitly it is the possibility of being in another spot; and that possibility of being otherwise the planet brings into existence by moving. Similarly the ‘physical’ elements prove to be Dialectical. The process of meteorological action is the exhibition of their Dialectic. It is the same dynamic that lies at the root of every natural process, and, as it were, forces nature out of itself.

To illustrate the presence of Dialectic in the spiritual world, especially in the provinces of law and morality, we have only to recollect how general experience shows us the extreme of one state or action suddenly into its opposite: a Dialectic which is recognised in many ways in common proverbs. The summum jus summa injuria, which means that to drive an abstract right to its extremity is to do a wrong.

In political life, as every one knows, extreme anarchy and extreme despotism naturally lead to one another. The perception of Dialectic in the province of individual Ethics is seen in the well-known adages: “Pride comes before a fall”; “Too much wit outwits itself”. Even feeling, bodily as well as mental, has its dialectic. Everyone knows how the extremes of pain and pleasure pass into each other: the heart overflowing with joy seeks relief in tears, and the deepest melancholy will at times betray its presence by a smile.

Note to § 81
(2) Scepticism

Scepticism should not be looked upon merely as a doctrine of doubt. It would be more correct to say that the Sceptic has no doubt of his point, which is the nothingness of all finite existence. He who only doubts still clings to the hope that his doubt may be resolved, and that one or other of the definite views, between which he wavers, will turn out solid and true. Scepticism properly so called is a very different thing: its is complete hopelessness about all which understanding counts stable, and the feeling to which it gives birth is one of unbroken calmness and inward repose. Such at least is the noble Scepticism of antiquity, especially as exhibited in the writings of Sextus Empiricus, when in the later times of Rome it had been systematised as a complement to the dogmatic systems of Stoic and Epicurean.

Of far other stamp, and to be strictly distinguished from it, is the modern Scepticism already mentioned (§ 39), which partly preceded the Critical Philosophy, and partly sprang out of it. That later Scepticism consisted solely in denying the truth and certitude of the supersensible, and in pointing to the facts of sense and of immediate sensations as what we have to keep to.

Even to this day Scepticism is often spoken of as the irresistible enemy of all positive knowledge, and hence of philosophy, in so far as philosophy is concerned with positive knowledge. But in these statements there is a misconception. It is only the finite thought of abstract understanding which has to fear Scepticism, because unable to withstand it: philosophy includes the sceptical principle as a subordinate function of its own, in the shape of Dialectic. In contradistinction to mere scepticism, however, philosophy does not remain content with the purely negative result of Dialectic.

The sceptic mistakes the true value of his result, when he supposes it to be no more than a negation pure and simple. For the negative which emerges as the result of dialectic is, because a result, at the same time positive: it contains what it results from, absorbed into itself, and made part of its own nature. Thus conceived, however, the dialectical stage has the features characterising the third grade of logical truth, the speculative form, or form of positive reason.

§ 82

[c] The Speculative stage, or stage of Positive Reason, apprehends the unity of terms (propositions) in their opposition - the affirmative, which is involved in their disintegration and in their transition.

(1) The result of Dialectic is positive, because it has a definite content, or because its result is not empty and abstract nothing but the negation of certain specific propositions which are contained in the result - for the very reason that it is a resultant and not an immediate nothing.

(2) It follows from this that the ‘reasonable’ result, though it be only a thought and abstract, is still a concrete, being not a plain formal unity, but a unity of distinct propositions. Bare abstractions or formal thoughts are therefore no business of philosophy, which has to deal only with concrete thoughts.

(3) The logic of mere Understanding is involved in Speculative logic, and can at will be elicited from it, by the simple process of omitting the dialectical and ‘reasonable’ element. When that is done, it becomes what the common logic is, a descriptive collection of sundry thought-forms and rules which, finite though they are, are taken to be something infinite.

If we consider only what it contains, and not how it contains it, the true reason-world, so far from being the exclusive property of philosophy, is the right of every human being on whatever grade of culture or mental growth he may stand; which would justify man’s ancient title of rational being. The general mode by which experience first makes us aware of the reasonable order of things is by accepted and unreasoned belief; and the character of the rational, as already noted (§ 45), is to be unconditioned, self-contained, and thus to be self-determining.

In this sense man above all things becomes aware of the reasonable order of things when he knows of God, and knows him to be the completely self-determined. Similarly, the consciousness a citizen has of his country and its laws is a perception of reason-world, so long as he looks up to them as unconditioned and likewise universal powers, to which he must subject his individual will. And in the same sense, the knowledge and will of the child is rational, when he knows his parents’ will, and wills it.

Now, to turn these rational (of course positively rational) realities into speculative principles, the only thing needed is that they be thought. The expression ‘Speculation’ in common life is often used with a very vague and at the same time secondary sense, as when we speak of a matrimonial or a commercial speculation. By this we only mean two things: first, that what is the subject-matter has to be passed and left behind; and secondly, that the subject-matter of such speculation, though in the first place only subjective, must not remain so, but be realised or translated into objectivity.

What was some time ago remarked respecting the Idea may be applied to this common usage of the term ‘speculation’; and we may add that people who rank themselves among the educated expressly speak of speculation even as if it were something purely subjective. A certain theory of some conditions and circumstances of nature or mind may be, say these people, very fine and correct as a matter of speculation, but it contradicts experience and nothing of the sort is admissible in reality. To this the answer is, that the speculative is in its true signification, neither preliminary nor even definitively, something merely subjective: that, on the contrary, it expressly rises above such oppositions as that between subjective and objective, which the understanding cannot get over, and absorbing them in itself, evinces its own concrete and all-embracing nature.

A one-sided proposition therefore can never even give expression to a speculative truth. If we say, for example, that the absolute is the unity of subjective and objective, we are undoubtedly in the right, but so far one-sided, as we enunciate the unity only and lay the accent upon it, forgetting that in reality the subjective and objective are not merely identical but also distinct.

Speculative truth, it may also be noted, means very much the same as what, in special connection with religious experience and doctrines, used to be called Mysticism. The term Mysticism is at present used, as a rule, to designate what is mysterious and incomprehensible: and in proportion as their general culture and way of thinking vary, the epithet is applied by one class to denote the real and the true, by another to name everything connected with superstition and deception.

On which we first of all remark that there is mystery in the mystical, only however for the understanding which is ruled by the principle of abstract identity; whereas the mystical, as synonymous with the speculative, is the concrete unity of those propositions which understanding only accepts in their separation and opposition. And if those who recognise Mysticism as the highest truth are content to leave it in its original utter mystery, their conduct only proves that for them too, as well as for their antagonists, thinking means abstract identification, and that in their opinion, therefore truth can only be won by renouncing thought, or as it is frequently expressed, by leading the reason captive.

But, as we have seen, the abstract thinking of understanding is so far from being either ultimate or stable, that it shows a perpetual tendency to work its own dissolution and swing round into its opposite. Reasonableness, on the contrary, just consists in embracing within itself these opposites as unsubstantial elements. Thus the reason-world may be equally styled mystical – not however because thought cannot both reach and comprehend it, but merely because it lies beyond the compass of understanding.

Subdivision of Logic

Logic is subdivided into three parts:

I. The Doctrine of Being.
II. The Doctrine of Essence.
III. The Doctrine of Notion and Idea.

That is, the Theory of Thought in:

I. its immediacy, the notion implicit and in germ,
II. its reflection and mediation, the being-for-self and show of the notion,
III. its return into self, and its developed abiding by itself - the notion in and for itself.

The division of Logic now given, as well as the whole of the previous discussion on the nature of thought, is anticipatory; and the justification, or proof of it, can only result from the detailed treatment of thought itself. For in philosophy, to prove means to show how the subject by and from itself makes itself what it is. The relation in which these three leading grades of thought, or of the logical Idea, stand to each other must be conceived as follows. Truth comes only with the notion; or, more precisely, the notion is the truth of being and essence, both of which, when separately maintained in their isolation, cannot but be untrue, the former because it is exclusively immediate, the latter because it is exclusively mediate. Why then, it may be asked, begin with false and not at once with the true. To which we answer that truth, to deserve the name, must authenticate its own truth: which authentication, here within the sphere of logic, is given, when the notion demonstrates itself to be what is mediated by and with itself, and thus at the same time to be truly immediate. This relation between the three stages of the logical Idea appears in a real and concrete shape thus: God, who is the truth, is known by us in His truth, that is, as absolute spirit, only in so far as we at the same time recognize that the world which He created, nature and the finite spirit, are, in their difference from God, untrue.

VII. Being - next section

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