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General Preface


Hegel's views on Logic are expressed in his Science of Logic (1812-16) and in a more compact form in the Encyclopaedia Logic (1817, 1827,1830). A casual glance at the contents page of the Science of Logic (1812-16) will be enough to establish that his idea of Logic is both different and far more extended than will be familiar to the modern reader of texts on Logic.

This is because modern Logic, generally speaking, is analytic logic, that is to say, it deals with logical truths (such as "an apple is an apple") and, more interestingly, forms of valid inferences in which truth is preserved. Logic of this stamp derives from Aristotle's Organon, particularly the Prior Analytics. Thus an Aristotelian argument may be of form "All men are mortal; Socrates is a man; therefore Socrates is mortal." If I know the premisses to be true, I can see that the conclusion must be true. And the forms of the individual statements are "S is P". Logic cannot tell us whether Socrates is a man or not. That is a matter rather for history or some other sort of observation, depending on the content of the statement. Aristotelian logic concerns not the content but only the form of the statement, and for this reason is sometimes known as "formal logic". This subject area received a new lease of life in the form of modern "mathematical logic" which grew up in the late 19th century, owing much to G Frege.

Hegel's Logic however is a synthetic logic in which much that might more naturally be called metaphysics is treated as inseparable from what we call logical or conceptual truth. Indeed, Hegel originally lectured on the substance of the Logic at Jena under the title Logic and Metaphysics.

The tradition in which Hegel writes belongs rather to Parmenides and Plato and stems also from the transcendental logic of Kant's Critique of Pure Reason (1781). That said, Hegel is innovative even by these lights! Unlike Aristotle, Plato found propositions of form "S is P" puzzling and contradictory. "Socrates is a man" seems to equate two terms that are in fact different. What, we may ask, is the being at issue (in the "is") and what is its relation to the other terms? "Socrates is sunburned" or "Socrates is standing" seem to use being in a different sense than "Socrates is a man", but their apparent logical form is the same. If we try to to reverse the statement: "A man is Socrates" is liable to be false. You can read it as "At least one man" (in the manner of mathematical logic) and then it is true, but equally, this might be seen as forced: a man as such may very well not be Socrates. Aristotle solved this after a fashion in his theory of abstract concepts and predication, but Hegel is prepared to puzzle over it anew.

Furthermore, Kant's categories and his idea of relating concepts to the unity of consciousness are taken up again and live issues in Hegel, who takes over Kant's idealism. Thus we can be assured at least that in the Science of Logic we have a very unusual, original and demanding sort of logic textbook!

The argument of the Logic

Some commentators have thought that Hegel's Logic is best read as a series of essays on a progressively complex series of inter-related concepts (e.g. Kaufmann). Thus they urge the reader to lay aside the very difficult "transition" passages in which Hegel seeks to move from one essay to another.

Other readers have seen the transition passages as indicating only a progressive removal of abstraction and a return to a common sense view of reality (Seth, Trendelenburg).

However, although this may be fine and well as a reading strategy, it probably falls short of Hegel's real ambition. Commentators like Caird take this line. Hegel presents the series of logical propositions, from "The absolute is being" to "The absolute is spirit" as a series of increasingly adequate definitions of God and in this he is appealing to the unity of experience. Although these propositions are found in history (the first in Parmenides, the last in Christianity), he thinks that contained in history is a process of thought in which the agent comes to appreciate its own nature, not just by comparing it with experience, but by identifying contradictions found in experience but which pertain also to the nature of the concepts which that experience embodies.

Yet others see the logic as a long series of deductions that can be apprehended independently of experience (McTaggart), but their views have not been widely accepted and are not taken up here.

From here on, I summarise the outline of Hegel's argument, using the Science of Logic rather than the Encyclopaedia. --Stephen Cowley 14:10, 16 September 2006 (IST)

Hegel's Introductions

Here I précis the various prefaces and essays at the start of the Science of Logic.

The Plan

In the opening of the Logic, Hegel sets out his stall in general terms as follows. He distinguishes understanding (Verstand), which he characterises as a pigeon-holing of experience under pre-determined categories, from reason (Vernuft) proper. The work of understanding corresponds largely to the sort of judgments and inferences described above in our description of analytic logic.

Reason however, he thinks, operates on any given understanding and does so in two ways. Firstly, in its negative or dialectical form, it produces criticisms of our previous understanding; but then secondly and more positively, it proposes a new understanding. This second form of reason Hegel calls its speculative form. In other words, Hegel is arguing that processes of conceptual change that are not covered in formal logic as such, are in fact rational processes nonetheless and he proposes to tell us how.

This contrasts with some modern theorists of conceptual change, e.g. Thomas Kuhn's Structure of Scientific Revolutions (1962), which give only a limited role to reason in identifying problems in a given network of concepts, but leave the proposal of solutions to imagination or an ill defined "creativity".

Hegel's ambition is praiseworthy, but there is considerable doubt to what extent he realises it: the sceptic may feel that what he has to say of conceptual change comes out better in his openly historical works. Hegel admits that the concrete parts of his writings shed much light on the abstractions of the Logic.

Hegel also mentions that he considered and rejected the idea of the dialogue form for presenting his ideas on this subject. This is a shame, for it would have added to the clarity of his presentation and arguably would have been appropriate to the subject matter, as conceptual change often comes about through dialogue.

A Presupposition

Hegel warns us that he presupposes the identity of thought and being. This may be explained by reference to Descartes, who began his constructive thought with the proposition "I think, therefore I am". As a conscious being in other words, I have assurance at least of my own being: it doesn't make sense to doubt it, for I know that I have to be there doing the doubting. Hegel however, being less drawn to scepticism, goes a little further than this: when I say "it is" (whatever it may be) I am in thought going beyond subjective imaginings and at least thinking (though perhaps mistakenly) about what is outside my own consciousness.