John McTaggart A Commentary on Hegel’s Logic 1910
Introduction to The Logic       |     Introduction to Science of Logic

Chapter I

1. In this book I propose to give a critical account of the various transitions by which Hegel passes from the category of Being to the category of the Absolute Idea. I shall not describe or criticise the method which he employs, nor his applications of the results of the dialectic to the facts of experience. With these subjects I have dealt, to the best of my ability, in my Studies in the Hegelian Dialectic and Studies in Hegelian Cosmology. I hope that my present work may serve two purposes – that those students of Hegel who have read the Greater Logic may find it useful as a commentary, and that it may serve as an account of the Greater Logic for those who are prevented by want of time or ignorance of German from reading the original.

2. The dialectic process of the Logic is the one absolutely essential element in Hegel’s system. If we accepted this and rejected everything else that Hegel has written, we should have a system of philosophy, not indeed absolutely complete, but stable so far as it reached, and reaching to conclusions of the highest importance. On the other hand, if we reject the dialectic process which leads to the Absolute Idea, all the rest of the system is destroyed, since Hegel depends entirely, in all the rest of the system, on the results obtained in the Logic.

Yet the detail of the Logic occupies a very small part of the numerous commentaries and criticisms on Hegel’s philosophy. They are almost entirely devoted to general discussions of the dialectic method, or to questions as to the application of the results of the Logic to the. facts of experience. The most elaborate of the expositions of Hegel’s system – that which Kuno Fischer gives in his History of Philosophy – allows to the detail of the Logic less than one-ninth of its space.

There are, however, two admirable accounts of the Logic, category by category – Hegel’s Logic, by Professor Hibben of Princeton, and La Logique de Hegel, by the late M. Georges NoŽl, which is less known than its merits deserve. I owe much to these commentators, but my object is rather different from theirs. I propose, in my exposition, to give frequent references to the passages in Hegel’s text on which I base my account, and to quote freely when necessary. When the meaning of the text is doubtful, I shall not only give the view which I think preferable, but shall discuss the claims of other interpretations. I shall also add a certain amount of criticism to my exposition.

Professor Hibben follows the Encyclopaedia in his exposition, while M. Noel follows the Greater Logic. I shall adopt the Greater Logic as my text, but shall note and discuss any point in which the Encyclopaedia differs from it.

3. The Greater Logic and the Encyclopaedia agree much more than they differ, but they do differ on various important points. When this happens, the advantage is not always on the same side, but is, I think, more often on the side of the Encyclopaedia. But, whichever is the more correct, there is no doubt that the Greater Logic is much clearer. The Logic of the Encyclopaedia is excessively condensed. The treatment of the categories, as distinct from preliminary questions, is, in the Encyclopaedia, only one-fourth as long as it is in the Greater Logic. Some room is gained in the Encyclopaedia by the elimination of certain sub-divisions, and also by the omission of the notes on mathematics which fill a disproportionate space in the Greater Logic, but in spite of this the categories in the Encyclopaedia are in some parts of the process crowded so closely together, that the arguments for the transition from the one to the other almost disappear.

With regard to the relative authority of the two Logics, as expressing Hegel’s final views, nothing very decisive can be said. The last edition ‘of the Logic of the Encyclopaedia published by Hegel appeared in 1830. In 1831 he published a second edition of the Doctrine of Being in the Greater Logic. His death prevented him from carrying this edition further. It would seem, therefore, as if the Greater Logic was the best authority for the Doctrine of Being, and the Encyclopaedia for the Doctrines of Essence and the Notion.

But many of the points in the Doctrine of Being in which the first edition of the Greater Logic differs from the Encyclopaedia are repeated in the second edition. We can scarcely suppose that in each of these cases Hegel had abandoned by 1831 the view he held in 1830, and returned to the view he held in 1812. And thus it seems impossible to attach any superior authority to the second edition of the Greater Logic. But if, to the end, he regarded the changes in the Encyclopaedia as improvements, at any rate he cannot have regarded them as very important, since he did not alter the second edition of the Greater Logic to correspond with then.

The actual language, however, of the Greater Logic has a much greater authority than much of the language of the Encyclopaedia. For every word of the Greater Logic was written and published by Hegel himself. But in the Encyclopaedia a part of the supplementary matter added, with the title of Zusatz, to many of the Sections, is compiled from students’ notes or recollections of what Hegel had said in his lectures.

4. A few points about terminology must be mentioned. The whole course of the dialectic forms one example of the dialectic rhythm, with Being as Thesis, Essence as Antithesis, and Notion as Synthesis. Each of these has again the same moments of Thesis, Antithesis, and Synthesis within it, and so on till the final sub-divisions are reached, the process of division being carried much further in some parts of the dialectic than in others.

Hegel has no special name for the system formed of a Thesis, Antithesis, and Synthesis. A name, however, is convenient, and I propose to speak of such a system as, a triad. Being, Essence, and Notion I shall call primary categories; their immediate divisions (e.g. Quality, Quantity, and Measure) I shall call secondary, and so on with smaller sub-divisions.

One difficulty of terminology arises in writing about Hegel from the fact that he uses so many terms as names of particular categories that none are left to be used more generally. For example, to what does the whole dialectic process apply ? According to one view, the subject-matter of the process is what is commonly called Being or Reality. According to another view it is what is commonly called Existence. But Hegel has already appropriated these names. Being and Existence are the names of particular categories in the process, while Reality, according to Hegel, is a term only applicable after a certain stage in the process has been reached. (G. L. i. 120; Enc. 91.)

Again, after a few categories we reach the result, which persists through the rest of the process, that the subject-matter under consideration is a differentiated unity. It would be very convenient to have a name by which to designate these differentiations, irrespective of the category under which we were viewing them. But here, again, every name is already appropriated. One, Thing, Part, Substance, Individual, Object – each of these is used by Hegel to indicate such a differentiation as seen under some one particular category. To find a name for more general use is not easy.

To meet this difficulty so far as possible, I have always used a capital initial when a term indicates one of Hegel’s categories, and a small initial when the term is applied more generally. I have distinguished in the same way between those of Hegel’s categories which are named after concrete facts, and the concrete facts after which they are named – e.g. I have written Life when I meant Hegel’s category, and life when I meant the biological state.

5. With regard to the Logic as a whole, I believe, for reasons which I have explained elsewhere, that the dialectic method used by Hegel is valid – that, if the categories do stand to one another in the relations in which he asserts them to stand, he is entitled to pass from one to another in the way in which he does pass. And I believe that in many cases this condition is fulfilled, and that therefore, in these cases, the actual transitions which he makes are justified.

The points on which I should differ from Hegel are as follows. In the first place I think that he falls into serious errors in his attempts to apply the results gained by the Logic in the interpretation of particular concrete facts. In the second place I think that he did not in all respects completely understand the nature of that dialectic relation between ideas which he had discovered. And in the third place there seem to be certain errors which vitiate particular stages in the process.

I have considered the first of these points elsewhere. With regard to the second there are two fundamental questions as to which I believe that Hegel to some extent misunderstood the nature of the dialectic process. I think that he exaggerated both its objectivity and its comprehensiveness.

By his exaggeration of its objectivity, I mean that he did not merely hold that the dialectic process conducted us to a valid result, and that the lower categories of the process were contained, so far as they were true, in the Absolute Idea which synthesised them. So much he was justified in holding, but he went further. There is no doubt, I think, that he held that if that chain of categories, which was given by him in the Logic, was correct at all, it was not only a valid way of reaching the Absolute Idea, but the only valid way. He would have held it to be a priori impossible that two valid chains of dialectic argument, each starting from the category of Being, should each lead up to the Absolute Idea, so that the goal could be attained equally well by following either of them. And lie would also have rejected the possibility of alternative routes over smaller intervals – the possibility, e.g., of passing from the beginning of Quantity to the beginning of Essence by two alternative dialectic arguments.

Now I do not assert that such alternative routes are to be found, but I cannot see that their possibility can be disproved. And, if there were such alternatives, I do not think that the dialectic process would lose its value or significance. In rejecting the possibility of equally valid alternatives, it seems to me that Hegel exaggerated the objectivity of the process as expounded by himself.

6. His exaggeration of the comprehensiveness of the dialectic lies in the fact that, having secured, as he rightly believed, an absolute starting point for the dialectic process in the category of Being, he assumed that this was not only the absolute starting point of the dialectic, but of all philosophy. No preliminary discussion was required, except negative criticism designed to remove the errors of previous thinkers, and to prevent misunderstandings. Nothing in philosophy was logically prior to the dialectic process.

Here again there seems to be an error. For example, what is the subject-matter to which the whole dialectic applies ? It is, I think, clear that Hegel regards it as applying to all reality, in the widest sense of the term. , But, when we examine various stages of the process it becomes clear that he is only speaking of what is existent, and that his results do riot apply, and were not meant to apply, to what is held by some philosophers to be real but not existent – for example, propositions, the terms of propositions, and possibilities. The apparent inconsistency is removed if we hold, as I believe we should, that Hegel, like some later philosophers, held nothing to be real but the existent. I do not mean that he ever asserted this explicitly. Probably, indeed, the question was never definitely considered by him, if we may judge from the fact that his terminology affords no means of stating it. (Reality and Existence, as used by Hegel, refer, as was mentioned above, to particular stages of the dialectic.) But it seems to me that the view that nothing is real but the existent is one which harmonises with his general position, and that he would have asserted it if confronted with the problem.

But the view that nothing but the existent is real, whether right or wrong, is one which cannot be assumed without discussion. It is a difficult and disputed point, and Hegel had no right to take a dialectic of existence as equivalent to a dialectic of reality until the question had been carefully considered. Moreover, the absence of such consideration leaves Hegel’s position, not only unjustified but also rather vague. Generally, as I have said, the categories seem clearly intended to apply to the existent only, but there are some steps in which he seems to change his position unconsciously, and to take the categories as applicable to some other reality in addition to the existent.

There is another point on which preliminary discussion was needed and is not given. Hegel’s arguments assume that, when a thing stands in any relation to another thing, the fact that it stands in that relation is one of its qualities. From this it follows that when the relation of one thing to another changes, there is a change in the qualities of each of them, and therefore in the nature of each of them. Again, it follows that two things which stand in different relations to a third thing cannot have exactly similar natures, and on this a defence might be based for the doctrine of the Identity of Indiscernibles.

This is a doctrine of the greatest importance, and by no means universally accepted. It is possible to conceive a dialectic process which should contain a proof of it, but, so far as I can see, Hegel’s dialectic does not contain any such proof, direct or implied. In that case he had no right to use the doctrine in the dialectic unless it had been proved in some preliminary discussion, and he does not give such a discussion.

7. Passing to the errors in certain particular transitions, there are some, I think, which cannot be traced to any general cause, but are simply isolated failures. But other errors appear to be due to certain general causes. In the first place some errors have, I believe, been caused by Hegel’s failure to realise explicitly that his dialectic is a dialectic of the existent only, and by his treatment of some categories as applying also to some non-existent reality. This is unjustifiable, for he would have no right to pass in this way from the smaller field to the more extensive, even if the more extensive field were in being. And, as I have said, it seems implied in his general treatment that there is no such wider field, but that existence is co-extensive with reality, in which case any attempt to apply the dialectic beyond existence is obviously mistaken.

8. Another general cause of error may be found in a desire to introduce into the dialectic process as many as possible of the conceptions which are fundamentally important in the various sciences. It is, doubtless, a fortunate circumstance when a conception which is important in this way does occupy a place among the categories of the dialectic. For then the dialectic will assure us that such a conception is neither completely valid of reality, nor completely devoid of validity – an important result. Moreover, its place in the dialectic process shows us how much, and in what respects, its validity falls short of the validity of the Absolute Idea, and whether it is more or less valid than those other conceptions which are also categories of the dialectic. And this also may be of much importance.

But there is no reason to believe that this fortunate state of things will always occur. We have no right to anticipate that every category of the dialectic will be a conception of fundamental importance in one or more of the particular sciences. Nor have we any right to anticipate that every conception of fundamental importance in a science will be a category of the dialectic. In several cases I think that Hegel has distorted the and made an invalid transition, moved course of his argument, by an unconscious desire to bring into the process some conception of great scientific importance.

9. This is connected with another source of error, which arises from Hegel’s practice of designating many of his categories by the names of concrete states which are known to us by empirical experience. Thus we find a category of Attraction and Repulsion, and categories of Force, Mechanism, Chemism, Life, and Cognition.

This practice does not necessarily involve any error in the dialectic process. For when Hegel names a category in this way, he. does not suppose that he has deduced, by the pure?, thought of the dialectic, all the empirical details which can be determined with reference to the corresponding concrete state. He merely expresses his belief that the category is manifested in a special manner by the concrete state whose name it bears. For example, in giving a category the name of Mechanism he does not assert that it is possible to determine by the dialectic process any of the laws of the finite science of Mechanics. All that the use of the name implies is that, when we perceive the existent in such a way that it appears to include bodies obeying the laws of Mechanics, then the category in question will be manifested with special clearness in the facts as they appear to us.

There is thus nothing unjustifiable in the use of such a nomenclature, and it has the advantage of making the meaning of the category clearer, by informing us where we may look for clear examples of it. But in practice it turns out to be extremely difficult to use such names without being led by them into error.

There is, in the first place, the possibility of choosing a wrong name – of taking a concrete state which manifests the particular category less clearly than another state would, or which itself manifests more clearly some other category. But this is a mistake which, so far as I can see, Hegel never makes.

But there is a second possibility. The concrete states which give their names to the categories contain, as has been said, much other content beside the categories in question. Hegel does not suppose that the dialectic process could help him to deduce this other content. But in practice he sometimes confuses the two sides – the pure conception which he had deduced, and the remaining content which he had not. And thus he introduces into the dialectic process, in connection with certain categories, some characteristics illegitimately transferred from the concrete states after which they are named. In Judgment.. in Syllogism, in Life, in Cognition we find sub-divisions introduced and transitions made, which rest on characteristics which are found in the judgments and syllogisms of ordinary logic, in’ the life of biology, or in the cognition of psychology, but which have no justification as applied to the categories of the dialectic.

These cases, of course, lend support to the theory, which I have discussed elsewhere, that the dialectic process, while professing to be a process of pure thought, does, in fact, always rest on empirical elements illegitimately introduced.) But the categories of the process which are named after concrete states are comparatively few, and it is not in all of them that an illegitimate element has been transferred to the category.

In several of those cases where the illegitimate transference has taken place, it seems to me that the process, so far from being dependent on the transference, would have gone better without it. The transition Hegel does make, with the aid of the element illegitimately introduced, is in these cases one which would be invalid even if the element it was based on had itself been legitimately deduced. And sometimes, I think, a perfectly valid transition was available, which was only obscured by the intrusion of the illegitimate element.

Whenever a particular transition seems to be invalid, I have given the reasons which prevent me from accepting it. In some cases I venture to think that I could suggest a valid substitute. When this does not involve a reconstruction of more than a single category I have generally made the suggestion, but any more extensive alteration would, I think, be beyond the scope of a commentary.

10. I wish to take this opportunity of correcting some errors as to Hegel’s method in my Studies in the Hegelian Dialectic. (The correction of errors on other points would be irrelevant here.) In Section 19 of that book, after giving an account of the method which I still think correct, I added “It will be seen that this argument is strictly of a transcendental nature. A proposition denied by the adversary ... is shown to be involved in the truth of some other proposition which he is not prepared to attack.” But this is not a description confined to a transcendental argument, but applies to all attempts to convince an adversary. I failed to see that the proposition with which a transcendental argument, in Kant’s sense of the term, starts, is always a proposition which asserts that some other proposition is known to be true. (For example, Kant’s transcendental argument on Space does not start from the truths of geometry, but from the truth that we know the truths of geometry a’ priori.) Hegel’s argument does not start from a proposition of this kind, and I was wrong in supposing it to be of the class which Kant calls transcendental.

11. In Section 109, I pointed out two characteristics in which the method in the later part of the dialectic process differed from the method at the beginning. Firstly, at the beginning the Antithesis is the direct contrary of the Thesis. It is not more advanced than the Thesis, nor does it in any way transcend it. But, as the process continues, the Antithesis, while still presenting an element of contrariety to the Thesis, is found to be also an advance on it. It does, to a certain extent, transcend the inadequacy of the Thesis, and thus shares with the Synthesis that character which, in the earlier type, belonged to the Synthesis only.

The second change follows as a consequence of the first. In the first triad of the dialectic the movement to the Synthesis comes from the Thesis and Antithesis together, and could not have been made from the Antithesis alone. But later on, when the Antithesis has transcended the Thesis, and has the truth of it within itself, it is possible to make the transition to the Synthesis from the Antithesis alone, without any distinct reference to the Thesis.

12. In Sections 112-114 I enquired whether these changes were sudden or continuous, and came to the conclusion that they were both continuous. And here I think I was partly wrong. The first change is continuous. As we proceed through the dialectic there is on the whole (there are a few exceptions) a steady diminution in the element of contrariety to be found in the Antitheses, and an increase in their synthetic functions. But the second change cannot be continuous. For the direct transition must either be from both the Thesis and Antithesis, or from the Antithesis only. There is no intermediate possibility.

The truth seems to be that the direct transition is from the Antithesis alone whenever the Antithesis is at all higher than the Thesis – that is, in every triad after the first. (The Particular Notion, and the Negative Judgment of Inherence, seem, however, to be exceptions to this rule, since, contrary to the general character of the dialectic, they are not higher than their respective Theses.)

13. In Section 80 I said of the transition from the Synthesis of one triad to the Thesis of the next. “It is, in fact, scarcely a transition at all. It is ... rather a contemplation of the same truth from a fresh point of view – immediacy in the place of reconciling mediation – than an advance to a fresh truth.” This needs some qualification. In the first place, it is only true when the Synthesis and new Thesis are categories of the same order of subdivision. Thus, in Essence as Reflection into Self, we have Determining Reflection as a Synthesis, to which Identity, which is a Thesis, immediately succeeds. But Determining Reflection is a category of the fifth order, while Identity is only of the fourth order – produced by four successive processes of analysis instead of five. And the content. in these two categories is not an identical content looked at from two different points of view.

In the second place, the identity of content is only to be found when the two categories are not further divided. Thus Actuality is the Synthesis of Essence, and Subjectivity the Thesis of the Notion. They are contiguous categories of the same order – the third. But each is subdivided, and the content of the two is not identical.

Finally, although with these two qualifications the statement is generally true of the dialectic, there are several cases, which I have noted when they occur, in which it does not apply.