Part One of the Encyclopedia of Philosophical Sciences: The Logic

VI. Logic Defined & Divided

§ 79

In point of form Logical doctrine has three sides: [a] the Abstract side, or that of understanding; [b] the Dialectical, or that of negative reason; [c] the Speculative, or that of positive reason.

These three sides do not make three parts of logic, but are stages or ‘moments’ in every logical entity, that is, of every notion and truth whatever. They may all be put under the first stage, that of understanding, and so kept isolated from each other; but this would give an inadequate conception of them. The statement of the dividing lines and the characteristic aspects of logic is at this point no more than historical and anticipatory.

§ 80

[a] Thought, as Understanding, sticks to fixity of characters and their distinctness from one another: every such limited abstract it treats as having a subsistence and being of its own.

In our ordinary usage of the term thought and even notion, we often have before our eyes nothing more than the operation of Understanding. And no doubt thought is primarily an exercise of Understanding; only it goes further, and the notion is not a function of Understanding merely. The action of Understanding may be in general described as investing its subject-matter with the form of universality. But this universal is an abstract universal: that is to say, its opposition to the particular is so rigorously maintained, that it is at the same time also reduced to the character of a particular again. In this separating and abstracting attitude towards its objects, Understanding is the reverse of immediate perception and sensation, which, as such, keep completely to their native sphere of action in the concrete.

It is by referring to this opposition of Understanding to sensation or feeling that we must explain the frequent attacks made upon thought for being hard and narrow, and for leading, if consistently developed, to ruinous and pernicious results. The answer to these charges, in so far as they are warranted by the facts, is that they do not touch thinking in general, certainly not the thinking of Reason, but only the exercise of Understanding. It must be added, however, that the merit and rights of the mere Understanding should unhesitatingly be admitted. And that merit lies in the fact that apart from Understanding there is no fixity or accuracy in the region of theory or of practice.

Thus, in theory, knowledge begins by apprehending existing objects in their specific differences. In the study of nature, for example, we distinguish matters, forces, genera, and the like, and stereotype each in its isolation. Thought is here acting in its analytic capacity, where its canon is identity, a simple reference of each attribute to itself. It is under the guidance of the same identity that the process in knowledge is effected from one scientific truth to another. Thus, for example, in mathematics magnitude is the feature which, to the neglect of any other, determines our advance. Hence in geometry we compare one figure with another, so as to bring out their identity. Similarly in other fields of knowledge, such as jurisprudence, the advance is primarily regulated by identity. In it we argue from one specific law or precedent to another: and what is this but to proceed on the principle of identity?

But Understanding is as indispensable in practice as it is in theory. Character is an essential in conduct, and a man of character is an understanding man, who in that capacity has definite ends in view and undeviatingly pursues them. The man who will do something great must learn, as Goethe says, to limit himself. The man who, on the contrary, would do everything, really would do nothing, and fails. There is a host of interesting things in the world: Spanish poetry, chemistry, politics, and music are all very interesting, and if any one takes an interest in them we need not find fault. But for a person in a given situation to accomplish anything, he must stick to one definite point, and not dissipate his forces in many directions. In every calling, too, the great thing is to pursue it with understanding. Thus the judge must stick to the law, and give his verdict in accordance with it, undeterred by one motive or another, allowing no excuses, and looking neither left nor right. Understanding, too, is always an element in thorough training. The trained intellect is not satisfied with cloudy and indefinite impressions, but grasps the objects in their fixed character: whereas the uncultivated man wavers unsettled, and it often costs a deal of trouble to come to an understanding with him on the matter under discussion, and to bring him to fix his eye on the definite point in question.

It has been already explained that the Logical principle in general, far from being merely a subjective action in our minds, is rather the very universal, which as such is also objective. This doctrine is illustrated in the case of understanding, the first form of logical truths. Understanding in this larger sense corresponds to what we call the goodness of God, so far as that means that finite things are and subsist. In nature, for example, we recognise the goodness of God in the fact that the various classes or species of animals and plants are provided with whatever they need for their preservation and welfare. Nor is man excepted, who, both as an individual and as a nation, possesses partly in the given circumstances of climate, or quality and products of soil, and partly in his natural parts or talents, all that is required for his maintenance and development. Under this shape Understanding is visible in every department of the objective world; and no object in that world can ever be wholly perfect which does not give full satisfaction to the canons of understanding. A state, for example, is imperfect, so long as it has not reached a clear differentiation of orders and callings, and so long as those functions of politics and government, which are different in principle, have not evolved for themselves special organs, in the same way as we see, for example, the developed animal organism provided with separate organs for the functions of sensation, motion, digestion, &c.

The previous course of the discussion may serve to show that understanding is indispensable even in those spheres and regions of action which the popular fancy would deem furthest from it, and that in proportion as understanding is absent from them, imperfection is the result. This particularly holds good of Art, Religion, and Philosophy. In Art, for example, understanding is visible where the forms of beauty, which differ in principle, are kept distinct and exhibited in their purity. The same thing holds good also of single works of art. It is part of the beauty and perfection of a dramatic poem that the characters of the several persons should be closely and faithfully maintained, and that the different aims and interests involved should be plainly and decidedly exhibited. Or again, take the province of Religion. The superiority of Greek over Northern mythology (apart from other differences of subject-matter and conception) mainly consists in this: that in the former the individual gods are fashioned into forms of sculpture-like distinctness of outline, while in the latter the figures fade away vaguely and hazily into one another. Lastly comes Philosophy. That Philosophy never can get on without the understanding hardly calls for special remark after what has been said. Its foremost requirement is that every thought shall be grasped in its full precision, and nothing allowed to remain vague and indefinite.

It is usually added that understanding must not go too far. Which is so far correct, that understanding is not an ultimate, but on the contrary finite, and so constituted that when carried to extremes it veers round to its opposite. It is the fashion of youth to dash about in abstractions — but the man who has learnt to know life steers clear of the abstract ‘either — or’, and keeps to the concrete.

§ 81

[b] In the Dialectical stage these finite characterisations or formulae supersede themselves, and pass into their opposites.

(1) But when the Dialectical principle is employed by the understanding separately and independently — especially as seen in its application to philosophical theories — Dialectic becomes Scepticism; in which the result that ensues from its action is presented as a mere negation.

(2) It is customary to treat Dialectic as an adventitious art, which for very wantonness introduces confusion and a mere semblance of contradiction into definite notions. And in that light, the semblance is the nonentity, while the true reality is supposed to belong to the original dicta of understanding. Often, indeed, Dialectic is nothing more than a subjective seesaw of arguments pro and con, where the absence of sterling thought is disguised by the subtlety which gives birth to such arguments. But in its true and proper character, Dialectic is the very nature and essence of everything predicated by mere understanding — the law of things and of the finite as a whole. Dialectic is different from ‘Reflection’. In the first instance, Reflection is that movement out beyond the isolated predicate of a thing which gives it some reference, and brings out its relativity, while still in other respects leaving it its isolated validity. But by Dialectic is meant the indwelling tendency outwards by which the one-sidedness and limitation of the predicates of understanding is seen in its true light, and shown to be the negation of them. For anything to be finite is just to suppress itself and put itself aside. Thus understood the Dialectical principle constitutes the life and soul of scientific progress, the dynamic which alone gives immanent connection and necessity to the body of science; and, in a word, is seen to constitute the real and true, as opposed to the external, exaltation above the finite.

VI cont’d: Division of Logic

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