Issue #10 January 2018

The Limits of Dialectics: Logical Necessity And Empirical Contingency

“The broad distinction between instinctive act and act which is intelligent and free is that the latter is performed consciously. . . . Here and there on this web there are knots, more firmly tied than others, which give stability and direction to the life and consciousness of spirit; they owe their firmness and power simply to the fact that, having been brought before consciousness, they stand as independent concepts of its essential nature. . . . As impulses the categories do their work only instinctively; they are brought to consciousness one by one and so are variable and mutually confusing, thus affording to spirit only fragmentary and uncertain actuality. To purify these categories and in them to elevate spirit to truth and freedom, this is therefore the loftier business of logic.” — Science of Logic §21.16

Concepts and Truth

The question of real objects is ultimately a question about the true concepts which we can know them as. Hegel’s logical method and its truths are intimately tied with concepts — in fact, the method is ultimately nothing but the concept of the self-development of concepts from simple abstractness to complex concreteness. This self-development is considered in an ideal self-containment, and this mirrors a structure of independence many consider to be the privilege of objectivity. Further, this self-development of a concept is logic itself, i.e. concepts are logics.

Necessary Concepts

Necessary Necessity, Or Self-Necessity

To conceive of that which is itself necessary is something which is baffling at first thought. What in the world could it mean for the thing itself to be necessary? Seems a bit incomprehensible, doesn’t it? Take for example the necessity of self-identity in A=A. We fail to grasp anything that is itself necessary in something like self-identity for two reasons: we have completely abstract objects with no internal structure, and we have an external judge as the only link between the identical terms. This connection is necessary only for us who abstract A from itself and compare it to itself. In order for the object to posit its own necessity it would have to develop the self-referencing structure itself, not as we who are consciously reflective beings do with thought, but with the only thing available to such objects: their being itself.

Contingent Concepts

On Absolute Contingency

One may find it tempting to consider all of existence as absolutely contingent, but this would be a misunderstanding of contingency itself. The purely contingent concept is an irrational madness, denying any internal order by positing pure externality in its entirety with no necessary things which can function as a reason. It begins with the irrational and irrationally connects to the irrational. Its unity is irrational, its parts are irrational, and thus their connection is likewise irrational — no reason is found in the unity. The purely contingent object is in fact neither an object nor a concept; it is only a fiction of the mind playing with abstraction. There can be no purely contingent object, something about it must be necessary even if the posited object as such has no internal necessity, e.g. a clump of dirt is a contingent object that at least exists by the necessity of matter and its gravity. Given that the actual objects which exist in the world are constituted in a chain of dependencies, this very dependency is a rationality even if utterly external to our assumed object.

Contingent Connections of Natural Thought

In our natural experience of thought there is connection, but it is not based on a conceptual inner necessity; rather, it is based on external contingency. Two forms of external connection occur to concepts in our natural thinking: 1) things are externally united in the space of our mind according to the structures of the mind and its metaphysical concepts as well as our subjective judgments of what is and is not important; 2) objects are united in semi-arbitrary physical arrangement when stored as memories in the brain.

Contingent Conception

A contingent concept is a unity which functions not as a necessary connection, but as an arbitrary subsuming structure. This is nothing other than our common concept, the notion we have of abstract universals. We, the thinking subject, consider an encountered unity and posit it as a structure in whatever we privilege in this unity as worthy of entering our concept. The abstract concept seems to necessarily subsume or apply to whatever fits its structure of definition; however, the concept itself is arbitrary.

The Use of Hegelian Thinking

To give a real example of misunderstanding the use of Hegel’s logic, take for example Mr. Laurits’s dialectic of a coal mine and power plant. He writes as follows:

Given all that has been covered, it is hopefully clear that the belief that ‘dialectical’ conception is automatically superior to the normal ways of conceiving is mistaken. There is little reason to consider everything under the sun of consciousness through the lens of Hegel’s logic, and to do so merely makes us bungle about with pedantry. Though we should strive for a unified understanding of the world, and thus build systems, we must also recognize when this is simply misguided at best, and simply of no use at worst. This logic, however, lives and shines with its proper objects: living self-generating, self-differentiating, and self-maintaining concrete wholes — whether these be metaphysical concepts or actual living biological or social wholes.

Antonio Wolf is a former philosophy student, and continuing autodidact. Currently he’s focusing on Hegel. He authors a blog, the Empyrean Trail, which tries to expound Hegel’s philosophy to make it accessible without watering it down.


January 2018


Hermann Hesse’s Steppenwolf — Accepting the Shadow

by Frank Breslin

The Limits of Dialectics: Logical Necessity And Empirical Contingency

by Antonio Wolf

Nietzsche and Freud on The Subject as Territory

by John C. Brady

On Absurdity. Adorno, Beckett, and the Demise of Existentialism

by Timofei Gerber