Academic journal article Cosmos and History: The Journal of Natural and Social Philosophy

Hegel and the Becoming of Essence

Academic journal article Cosmos and History: The Journal of Natural and Social Philosophy

Hegel and the Becoming of Essence

Article excerpt

In the Science of Logic, Hegel derives essence from being. How precisely does this come about? This is an extraordinarily difficult moment in the interpretation of Hegel's logic. I have found only one essay on the subject. According to Professor Michael Baur:

   Thought finds itself condemned to a perennial and arbitrary
   interplay of qualitative and quantitative alterations which lack
   any stable substance or truth of their own. In order to overcome
   this bad infinite regress, one cannot appeal to yet another kind of
   external determination, for the mere appeal to another
   determination as such can only perpetuate the infinite regress. The
   problem can be overcome only when one succeeds in articulating a
   kind of relation which is not a relation to Other at all, but
   rather a kind of self-relation. That is, once the sphere of Being
   has shown itself in its nullity, one must enter a sphere where all
   transition is no transition at all. (1)

This is a very nice summary, but it is performed at a very high level of generality. Where in this summary is any reference to the alien terms one finds in the chapter Hegel entitles 'The Becoming of Essence' (Das Werden des Wesens)? There, one encounters 'the infinite which is for itself ' (fursichseiende Unendliche) (SL 371/WL I 384), (2) absolute Indifferenz, and inverse ratio of the factors (umgekehrtes Verhaltnis ihrer Faktoren). What do these concepts mean and what role do they play? Furthermore, Hegel insists that an outmoded theory of planetary orbit--the alternation of centripetal and centrifugal force--somehow illustrates the sublation of quality and quantity and the becoming of essence. How does bad astronomy relate to the becoming of essence? Why, when Hegel knows centripetal and centrifugal force to be bad astronomy, does he invoke it?

Hegel's logic is a circular chain of necessary progressions. If the chain is broken anywhere, the Science of Logic is invalidated and may as well be chucked out the window. Every link of the chain must be inspected for weakness.

My intent in this paper is to examine the exact derivation of essence in the last part of Hegel's analysis of measure. The obscure link in the chain between measure and essence is, in my opinion, a valid one. If Hegel's logic fails, it doesn't fail here. It is possible to endorse the path toward essence through the infinite-for-itself and the inverse ratio of the factors. In the interest of demonstrating how these concepts work, I will first make a few points--quite familiar to veterans of Hegelian logic--about Hegel's method and how it proceeds. Second, I will bring the reader up to speed on the general dynamic of measure--the last subdivision in the realm of being and postern gate to the shadowy realm of essence. Third, I will slow down the discussion to examine the dialectic part of Hegel's theory of measure--real measure. It is here that the sublation of quality and quantity begins to manifest itself. I then examine the troika of absolute indifference, inverse ratio and, finally, essence itself. In these steps essence finally becomes. And in the course of this examination, I will try to show why Hegel invokes astronomical theory he knew very well to be decadent. This will allow us to pinpoint the moment when being yields its ghost to the realm of essence.

I. Hegel's Logical Method

The prose in Hegel's Science of Logic is sibylline, (3) and, in its interpretation, it is always useful to cleave to the fundamentals of Hegel's method. Often Hegel's sentences become clear only upon recalling the exact methodological point one is at. (4)

Hegel's method, as even the non-Hegelians know, proceeds in a triune way. First, the 'understanding' (Verstand) makes a one-sided proposition about the absolute, given previous derivations that have previously accrued. Its affirmative proposition, however, always leaves something out as it tries to account for all prior logical progress. …

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