Issue #52 May 2022

Hegel’s Conceptual Materialism: Finding Meaning in the Material World

Paul Reed - "#1D" - (1965)

In 1796 a young G. W. F. Hegel, just 26 at the time, wrote an essay fragment not widely read to this day entitled “Das Älteste Systemprogramm Des Deutschen Idealismus” (The Oldest Systematic Program of German Idealism). The fragment is described by renowned scholar Deter Henrich as a program for agitation as it paints a portrait of a person becoming increasingly alienated from the world around him. In this world, notions of beauty and subjectivity had been divorced from material nature creating a cultural vacuum of increasing disenchantment and hyper-rationalization. As a solution, Hegel seeks in the essay what Raffaele Milani argues is an “idea of beauty” that unifies “the self and nature.”1placeholder Overall, I tend to share Milani’s conclusion, and I do so because of particular passage where Hegel poses a seemingly innocuous question that I argue nevertheless provides the framework for the metaphysical system he spent the rest of his life trying to articulate. He writes “Here I shall descend into the realm of physics; the question is this: how must a world be constituted for a moral being?”2placeholder By asking this question, Hegel is announcing a clear break with the metaphysical questions that had motivated many of his modern predecessors.3placeholder Instead of investigating what subjectivity (i.e., a moral being) must be like in order to fit into a metaphysics (i.e., a ‘world’) based on modern rationalist or  empiricist philosophy mixed with the new science of physics, Hegel reverses the question by asking what must metaphysics be like in order to generate free subjectivity? In other words, the claim is that there must be a revision of metaphysics such that it accommodates a free moral being.

Positing this as our background opens a space to Hegel’s most important metaphysical thesis, which comes from the Preface to the Phenomenology of Spirit: “In my view…everything turns on grasping and expressing the True, not only as Substance, but equally as Subject,” where ‘substance’ can be thought of in 21st century parlance as material reality. He continues, writing that “the living Substance is being which is in truth Subject, or, what is the same, is in truth actual only insofar as it is the movement of positing itself.”4placeholder In this passage, we see a direct connection to the question above. Specifically, not only is there a relationship between metaphysics and the world (i.e., substance, material reality), but more strongly, that material substance is in some way immanently subjective; that is, its truth is a movement of its own self-actualization (positing). Exactly how we should go about interpreting this self-actualization is the subject of this essay, which I argue can only be achieved by examining Hegel’s most important yet mysterious category: The Concept (Begriff).


Paradoxical Structure of the Concept: Introduction

Hegel articulates three expressions the Concept: universality, particularity, and singularity, which for him form the foundational element of all metaphysics. He tells us this in no uncertain terms, writing in the Encyclopedia Logic “In general the whole progression in philosophizing (insofar as it is a methodical, i.e., a necessary progression) is nothing other than merely the positing of what is already contained in a concept.”5placeholder  In examining the Concept’s structure, however, one finds a wealth of mysteries and paradoxes. Let’s take a simple but powerful example from the Phenomenology of Spirit and the dialectic of the ‘here’ and ‘now.’ The insight is to show us that what seems most clearly to escape any form of conceptual mediation—the sheer experience of ‘hereness’ and ‘nowness’—nevertheless contains a conceptual structure of intelligibility. Very briefly, because the quality of what is right here and right now is total sheer immediacy, it can only be understood as passing; that is, in relation to what came before and the immediacy that follows. I try to grasp the moment here and now in its isolated singularity, but the attempt is in vain because it is already gone. It was here and now, but now it is past and replaced by a new here and now that is different from the previous.

This raises the second sense, simultaneous to the first, in which ‘hereness’ and ‘nowness’ stand for the pure universality of indefinite abstraction and can only be thought of in terms of self-relation. Hegel writes that “Universality seems incapable of explanation, because it is the simplest of determinations…it is simple self-reference [einfache Beziehung auf sich selbst]; it is only in itself [ist nur in sich]” (SL 530-531, GW 12.33-12.34).6placeholder The interesting implication, therefore, is that there appears to be a distinct overlap of universality and singularity, through the idea of simple self-reference.7placeholder The indefinite abstractness of pure universality likewise makes it singularity. Nevertheless, this movement is intelligible, not merely to an external observer but in-itself because each particular immediacy is immanently defined in relation to the past and to the immediacy that follows in the future. That is, ‘hereness’ and ‘nowness’ do not pick out anything determinate, yet they define the intelligibility of each particular instance of here and now. Translated into the language of the concept, what we notice here in the most basic aspect of human experience is a paradox of universality, particularity, and singularity. That is, the here and now are simultaneously sheer singularities, a series of particular instances, and universals that endures through which the present can be connected to the past and to the future insofar as the terms here and now apply to ‘all’ here’s and now’s.


Universal Concept: Essence, History, and Violence

Hegel defines universality in terms of essence(s), which he articulates in strangely (at least on the surface) historical terms. He says “Being is the immediate” but that “essence is past – but timelessly [zeitlos] past – being” (SL 337, GW 11.241). He is drawing attention here to the difference between our immediate concrete existence (being) and essence, where essence refers to what is not immediately present and is therefore has a past or historical nature to it. However, he does so in a peculiar way, playing on the specific manner in which the German word for essence (Wesen) is contained within the past participle (gewesen) of the infinitive of the verb to be (sein). Let me take a minute to clarify this. A canonical feature of the Doctrine of Being is immediacy. The term Hegel uses for this is Dasein, or what is qualitatively and immediate present. Being there. However, by the final section (Measure) this form of immediacy breaks down to a point where being is increasingly defined by relation. That is, rather than being defined by what is immediately present (e.g. qualities and quantities) what something is is defined by its reflection into that which is not immediate, namely, the contexts, orders, and structures from which they emerge and draw meaning.

What is truly essential, therefore, is not any one (or many) of the things immediately present but rather the non-immediate and universal process by which they are individuated in the first place. When we think about this in concrete and practical terms we recognize that individual immediacies—whether they be entities, moments, experiences, or events—come and go. That is, importantly, the structure of such immediacies seems to be the process of their contingency, and what individuates and gives them their unity just is such a process. But what does not seem to change are the various webs of relations, mediations, contexts, and interactions that sustain each immediacy and give them meaning. That is, the process of relation and reflection by which immediacies gain and maintain their consistency persists, even though immediacies may dissipate.8placeholder As we saw in the ‘here and now’ example Hegel is immanentizing universality to concrete material existence and thus distilling how we pass from the world of the particular to the universal. Essence is thus being that has been, not in a particular but universal way. By drawing on the notions of immanence and timelessness, Hegel is evoking a sense of the past that strangely always already contains our immediately present material existence insofar as it is this universal form of history that informs our being-in-the-world. What we are doing now will have become history, it will be reflected into the past that has already informed it.

How exactly this happens is what Hegel calls a logic of reflection/recollection. There are several passages worth highlighting here that disclose its nature. He writes that reflection is the “this course is the movement of being itself. That it is being’s nature to recollect [Erinnerung] itself, and that it becomes essence by virtue of this interiorizing” (SL 337, GW 11.241). Notice the manner in which history and metaphysics are immanently linked in this passage. Hegel uses the verb Erinnerung, which means to recollect, to remember, placing oneself into and amongst the past. Yet, also notice how he defines this as an activity and movement of present being itself. More specifically, what is important is the manner in which universality is concrete and not ‘merely ideal’ in the sense that essence(s) are not abstractions from material existence. Rather essences are immanent to immediately present being insofar as they come from being and they have a way of shaping our perspectives and experience (more to come on this).

This leads to second passage: “In the sphere of essence, positedness [Gesetztsein], is what corresponds to existence,”9placeholder (SL p. 351, GW 11.255-256). He continues, saying that reflection therefore is “the sublating of the negative of itself [Aufheben des Negativen seiner selbst], coincidence with itself [sie ist Zusammengehen mit sich]; it therefore sublates its positing [Setzen], and inasmuch as it is in its positing the sublating of positing, it is presupposing [Voraussetzen]” (SL, p. 347, GW 11.251). The two key terms in the passage are ‘positing’ and ‘presupposing’, where the former refers to the immediacy of material existence and the latter to its universal/essential context. Let’s carefully examine these two and their connection. In order for us to reflect upon something, there must be something presupposed to reflect upon. However, when this occurs the reflective activity has the tendency to make that which was originally presupposed merely an effect of its own activity; that is, the original presupposition is something merely ‘posited’ by us for the purposes of reflection. In other words, it reduces it to an activity of reflection in which reflection posits its own presupposition. Translated into historical terms, Hegel is describing the way in which history forms a universal historical context that grounds our existence; that is, the context that grounds our place and identity in the world and gives it meaning. So, when Hegel says that reflection sublates the negative of itself, he is describing the process through which the immediate ‘posited’ present is reflected back into its ‘presupposed’ essential context whereby this immediate posited present appears as an effect of history or is made sense of only by recognizing the historical context. This is what Hegel means by reflection ‘sublating’ its negative and coinciding with itself.

Put more clearly, the immediacy of the present can only be understood within its proper historical context.  And as I said previously, this metaphysical point for Hegel is not something ‘ideal’ but immanent, concrete, and material. In the Philosophy of Right, he speaks about this in terms of “habit,” writing that “Habit appears as a second nature which takes the place of the original and purely natural will and is the all-pervading soul, significance, and actuality of individual existence.” Hegel’s use here of the language of an “all-pervading” “second nature” is not meant to be hyperbolic but is meant to underscore the primary ontological point. Namely, that we often take for granted the background of history necessary given, or as second nature, that is woven into the fabric of reality that we constantly reflect upon to inform how we live and act, what is good, what is just, etc.

Paul Reed - "Interchange no. 2" - (1966)

However, for Hegel this notion of conceptual universality is also one that is self-undermining. And the reason why is that just as universality creates the concrete historical space within which we recognize ourselves and find meaning it does so in a violent, alienating, and suffocating manner. Let’s reconnect this with the idea of substance as subject from the beginning. In the Logic, the most mature form of universal essence just is substance itself, which for Hegel takes the form of forcible causality. He writes that “cause is cause only to the extent that it produces as effect; to be cause is nothing but this determination of having an effect [Wirkung nichts als dies, eine Ursache zu haben]” (SL p. 494, GW 11.398). Here we see that universality is not a benign neutral background but is causal and imposing. Universality as causality can only be through the activity of imposing itself on effects (effecting). Even an abstract cause requires an effect and is thus predicated upon a notion of activity or power. Hegel thus characterizes the logical outcome of pure conceptual universality in terms of violence and abstraction. “To this extent it [all particularity] suffers violence…violence is the appearance of power [die Erscheinung der Macht]…To that which suffers violence, therefore, not only is it possible to do violence, but violence must be done to it” (SL p. 501, GW 11.406).

In many parts of the Logic this violence takes the form of the imposing power of abstraction. The power of reflection that establishes a universal historical context is an intrusive power that violently sublates historical contingencies without a trace. Hegel writes that universality for in its purest sense “in order to obtain it there is required the leaving aside [wegzulassen] of other determinations of the concrete” (SL 531, GW 12.34).10placeholder The important metaphysical insight here is not about universality per se, but the fact that it is obtained by a form of activity. That is, universality achieves the realization of its concept (i.e., the concept of universality) by actively excluding [wegzulassen] all forms of particular/contingent expressions.  Consider a controversial example: what does it mean to be an American? Every particular determination of an American is not the purely universal American as such. Those of us may be an American but none of us are the American in the sense of the exemplar or the universal standard by which all others are measured. That is, every particular expression, just insofar as it is particular, marks a failure to live up to or realize universality. The kind of historical context suggested here, therefore, in the notion of pure conceptual universality is not the sense of a universal ‘essence’ that unites us all but rather one of contraction, exclusion, repression, and alienation that is meant to signify and mark out incompleteness.

Hegel continues, writing that to this extent pure universality “comes to be represented as if it were external to it [particularity]…as if this operation of leaving some aside while retaining the rest went on outside them” (Ibid). Notice the immanently double sided, or self-contradictory nature of what is occurring within universality itself. Universality in its purest sense—i.e. universality as universality—is about abstraction and contraction to a singular point. The universal-conceptual ‘American’ is the singular exemplar such that no particular expression can ever fully live up to it. Yet from the other side it is just this form of contraction, what Hegel described as wegzulassen (leaving aside) that generates an external otherness—namely, all particular expressions—that represents a negative unity that is violently mediated and imposed upon. To conclude the ‘American’ example, this why what occurred with the January 6th Capitol Insurrection was so paralyzing in the horrific kind of way. In a single contradictory instance, the insurrectionists exemplified the extreme of universality and the totally alienated particularity inherent to universality itself. In the former, they understood and recognized themselves as the quintessential expression of the universal American. They were the only ‘true’ Americans and everyone else unlike them were lesser, other, failures, interlopers, etc. Yet by the same token, and perhaps because of this feeling of universality, they also saw themselves as the most excluded and particularized group. It was as if their rightfully universal mantel of ‘American’ had been stolen from them; that they have been left behind and excluded to a point where only violent insurrection could realize their ‘oppressed’ universality.11placeholder

This is one way to think of substance as subject; in terms historical violence, where the subjectivity of substance represents a violent and material imposition of meaning and identity upon so-called historical ‘accidents’ and reflects them back as only moments of its own unfolding. Works of literature, especially those focusing on historical trauma, provide great examples of this metaphysical point. Take, for instance, Quentin Compson from William Faulkner’s masterpiece The Sound and the Fury and Victor from Sherman Alexie’s equally brilliant The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven. Quentin lives entirely within the historical trauma of the Civil War, and his memory is constantly haunted by it. On the one hand, he expresses and understands himself entirely within the idyllic southern agrarian virtues of chivalry, honor, manliness, and courage. He is also completely cynical and alienated from this heritage, yet he can do nothing to change it; he simply lives it out as fate. In this way, Quentin expresses the contradiction of the war itself: an idyllic yet oppressive southern heritage built on the back of racism, slavery, and misogyny. Victor expresses a much more profound form of historical trauma, genocide. Universally speaking, he is an American and therefore expresses a definite sense of being an American. Yet he in no way recognizes himself within this paradigm. It is entirely foreign and alienating to him. That said, he cannot recoup a sense of belonging or identification with the traditions of his ancestors—except vicariously through the use of psychedelic drugs—because they too have been violently obliterated through centuries of genocide. Here we see the sense of violent abstraction and negative unity that I mentioned above, where a universal generates its own immanent otherness and opposition that is kept in the paradigm by force.


Conceptual Singularity and Difference

However, in true Hegelian style, it is just this form of conceptual universality that is at once our oppressor and our saving grace. And it occurs in the subtle critical shift in the concept from universality to singularity. Recall that one of our paradoxical conclusions from the ‘here-and-now’ dialectic in the Phenomenology was that the universal concept is simultaneously a singularity; ‘hereness’ and ‘nowness’ are both the most singular and abstract aspects of sense experience. Put in terms of the concept, the pure abstractness of universality determines it as a unity. But by definition such a complete and total abstraction cannot be unified with anything. That is, the concept of universality, universality realizing its concept, can only be self-related and/or self-reflexive. This paradox gives us the insight we need: that the pure universality of the concept is simultaneously a singular and self-reflexive relation, and it is only through (durch) this relation that determinates it as universal.

Hegel gives us a clue in a difficult but critical passage from the Logic, writing that “the concept is absolute self-identity by being first just this, the negation of negation or the infinite unity of negativity with itself [Einheit der Negativität mit sich selbst]. This pure self-reference of the concept [reine Beziehung des Begriffs auf sich], which is such by positing itself through the negativity [durch die Negativität sich setzend], is the universality of the concept” (SL 530, GW 12.33). Let’s examine this carefully. Something we notice right away is the equation of the concept with absolute self-identity. This is in reference to the universal aspect. But exactly why and how does the concept attain or determinate itself as universal ‘self-identity,’ and what does this entail? In the passage, Hegel says that the absolute identity of the concept is the ‘infinite unity of negativity with itself [Einheit der Negativität mit sich selbst],’ and it is in this statement where we make our discovery. As we saw above, pure universality refers to the activity of abstraction and (hyper) formalization. That is, as an activity of negation that forcibly leaves aside all particularity. Universality just is this negative activity. What needs to be stressed, however, is that this activity is not negativity in the sense of universality unity;12placeholder rather it is universal singularity, the activity of contracting to a single and purely formal point of negativity with itself. So, it a form of self-identity; but as Hegel states in the passage this form of identity is self-referential or self-reflexive. The provocative implication, therefore, is that the immanent identity of the concept referred to, therefore, is thus self-relating negativity, or, what amounts to the same thing, an activity of self-differentiation. In other words, negativity relates itself to itself and thus differentiates itself from itself as an activity. It makes the difference.13placeholder

Let me try and clarify this some more. What we are asked to consider here is the point at which universality and singularity in the concept overlap; a singular point where conceptual universality relates only to itself and thus must differentiate itself as an activity. Think of the activity of looking at yourself in the mirror. It is still the same singular ‘you’ looking back, but in order for this self-relation to happen you as a singularity must always already be differentiated. Hegel states this more concretely, writing that “Abstraction, which is the soul of singularity and so the self-reference of the negative, is, as we have seen, nothing external to the universal and the particular but is immanent in them, and these are concreted through it…” (SL p. 548, GW 12.51). Put differently, in order for universality to be expressed or determined as universality there is first a necessary, reflexive, and singular activity of displacement.

Furthermore, this singular, logical activity of difference has historical import because it is from this activity that the universal concept is inaugurated as a determinate and unified structure. As Hegel says in the passage, the self-identity of the universal concept is constituted (or posited) only through this negative activity [durch die Negativität sich setzend] where one must actively differentiate themselves from themselves in order to concretely identify with themselves. The critical element, then, is the connection Hegel draws between the immanence of singular difference that generates the concrete universal historical/material context that we experience as historically embedded beings.14placeholder This structure is an expression of a more profound difference/antagonism that is different in kind; it operates on a purely logical/metaphysical level that is nevertheless immanent to and actualized in the material/historical.

Paul Reed - "Barcelona" - (1969)

For me, the most profound implication of this realization is that it radically shifts our perspective from the previous interpretation regarding substance-as-subject. Specifically, it allows us the interpretive space to understand the presupposed essential and historical context within which we exist, we find meaning, and that makes reality intelligible to us  is not a universally imposing presupposition but is rather historically generated by a metaphysical/logical principle of differentiating activity that is determined historically in concrete reality. In other words, because universality is constituted as a concrete conceptual unity only through a metaphysical principle of difference, this same universality is likewise historically contingent, open to points of rupture, destruction, and reconstitution. This is a second way of reading ‘substance-as-subject’; namely, as a substance/universal that is only constituted only retroactively through a process of its own differentiation and open to revolutionary new and creative ways of establishing meaning, articulating different forms of identity, and understanding how we related to the world and to others.

I will close here with a final clarifying example from art/aesthetics. Here I follow the lead of the poet T. S. Eliot, who asks us the question “how is a genuinely new work of art produced?” In answering the question Eliot articulates what he calls the “historical sense,” which is an idea that distills in many ways the double-sided historical movement of ‘substance-as-subject’ located within Hegel’s Concept. Eliot writes in his essay “Tradition and the Individual Talent”

“The historical sense involves a perception, not only of the pastness of the past, but of its presence; the historical sense compels a man to write not merely with his own generation in his bones, but with a feeling that the whole of the literature of Europe from Homer and within it the whole of the literature of his own country has a simultaneous existence and composes a simultaneous order. This historical sense, which is a sense of the timeless as well as of the temporal and of the timeless and of the temporal together, is what makes a writer traditional. And it is at the same time what makes a writer most acutely conscious of his place in time, of his contemporaneity.”15placeholder

This passage clearly demarcates the movement in the first half of the essay, which we might call the ‘becoming essential of the accident.’16placeholder That is, when a person produces a genuinely new work of art, music, literature, etc. she does so only in the sense that she emerges from and is mediated by the memory and timelessness of the tradition in its entirety. This history is not transcendent to the author/artist but is immanent and simultaneous to her; it is present with her in the acute sense that it makes her work intelligible as an exemplification of the historical canon. The essential speaks through the accident.

That said there is also the second half of the story, as Eliot continues:

“What happens when a new work of art is created, is something that happens simultaneously to all the works of art which preceded it. The existing monuments form an ideal order among themselves, which is modified by the introduction of the new (the really new) work of art among them. The existing order is complete before the new work arrives; for order to persist after the supervention of novelty, the whole existing order must be, if ever so slightly, altered; and so the relations, proportions, values of each work of art toward the whole are readjusted; and this is conformity between the old and the new.”17placeholder

What the genuinely new work of art reveals, is just that: that it is genuinely new. It is not a teleological continuation of the universal order within which it emerged, but a complete break and rupture with it. The pure past forms an historical and essential order that is complete and structured in itself in the sense that it mediates, situates, and provides the context for all the particular works within it. Yet when something or someone radically new emerges within this universal horizon—for instance a Shakespeare, a Rembrandt, or a Morrison—in order for this structure to maintain continuity, such groundbreaking works cannot merely be absorbed into the fold like an amoeba or added to an infinitely continuous list. Rather the new work makes that which was historically essential accidental by retroactively rewriting, reordering, and reorganizing its structure such that its meaning and history have totally changed into something different. To use Hegelian language, what the authentically new work does is contract the entire universal historical context to a point of singularity, specifically, the artist and her creative work. What this singularity inaugurates is a displacement and reconstitution of the historical context in the sense that this universal presupposition emerges as historically rewritten simultaneously to that which is radically new. In Hegelian parlance it posit its own universal presupposition in an autopoietic kind of way. What Eliot calls the “historical sense” always has the status of something incomplete insofar as every new particularization is a new way of expressing this fundamental difference that radically rewrites the history that had previously been its presupposition. The teleological end of the story and the beginning overlap, such that the end posits its own new and utterly different beginning again.

Jarrad Felgenhauer is a fifth-year doctoral candidate in philosophy at the University of Kentucky in Lexington, Kentucky. His research specialization is in 19th and 20th century continental philosophy (esp. German Idealism and Poststructuralism). He will be defending his dissertation on G. W. F. Hegel’s metaphysics (Being and Historical Change in Hegel’s Science of Logic) this summer. The project deals with the relationship between metaphysics (being) and historical change; specifically, how our metaphysics can account for the contingencies of historical change.

Works Cited

Alexie, Sherman. The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fist Fight in Heaven. New York: Grove Press, 2005.

Comay, Rebecca and Ruda, Frank. The Dash—The Other Side of Absolute Knowing. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2019.

Eliot, T. S. “Tradition and the Individual Talent.” In The Sacred Wood: Essays on Poetry and Criticism. London: Metheun, 1920.

Faulkner, William. The Sound and the Fury. New York: Vintage Books, 1990.

Hegel, G. W. F. Wissenschaft der Logik, Vol. I and II (Gesammelte Werke 5 and 6). Edited by Eva Moldenhauer and Karl Markus Michel. Frankfurt: Suhrkamp, 1986.

—–. The Science of Logic. Translated by George di Giovanni. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010.

—–. Encyclopedia of the Philosophical Sciences in Basic Outline, Part 1: Science of Logic.

Translated by Klaus Brinkman and Daniel O. Dahlstrom. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010.

—–. The Phenomenology of Spirit. Translated by AV Miller. Oxford: University of Oxford Press, 1977.

Houlgate, Stephen. “Essence, Reflexion, and Immediacy in Hegel’s Science of Logic.” In A Companion to Hegel. Edited by Stephen Houlgate and Michael Baur. London: Blackwell,


Malabou, Catherine. The Future of Hegel: Plasticity, Temporality, and Dialectic. Translated by Lisbeth During. London: Routledge, 2005.

Milani, Raffaele. Art of the Landscape. McGill: Queen's University Press, 2009.


Raffaele Milani, Art of the Landscape (McGill: Queen’s University Press, 2009), p. 112.


G. W. F. Hegel, “The Oldest System-Program of German Idealism” trans. by H.S. Harris in Miscellaneous Writings of GWF Hegel, ed. by Jon Stewart (Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 2002), p. 112.


That is both immediate predecessors like Kant and Hume, but also his more distant predecessors in modern philosophy dating back to Descartes.


Hegel, The Phenomenology of Spirit, trans. by AV Miller (Oxford: University of Oxford Press, 1977), pp. 9-10.


Hegel, Encyclopedia of the Philosophical Sciences in Basic Outline, Part 1: Science of Logic, trans. by Klaus Brinkman and Daniel O. Dahlstrom (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010), § 88


All references to the Science of Logic in this essay will be from Wissenschaft der Logik, Vol. I and II (Gesammelte Werke 5 and 6), ed. by Eva Moldenhauer and Karl Markus Michel (Frankfurt: Suhrkamp, 1986); and The Science of Logic, trans. by George di Giovanni (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010).


This is an idea that will be increasingly important as we proceed.


Stephen Houlgate provides an excellent and detailed examination of movement of immediacy and non-immediacy with respect to essence in his essay “, “Essence, Reflexion, and Immediacy in Hegel’s Science of Logic.” There he writes “Neither quality nor quantity is in truth simply and immediately what it is… being is, rather, a unity constituted by relative, non-immediate moments, each of which is not the non-immediacy that the other one is.” In other words, these immediate beings are the surface expressions of this process immanent to them. See “Essence, Reflexion, and Immediacy in Hegel’s Science of Logic,” in A Companion to Hegel, ed. by Stephen Houlgate and Michael Baur (London: Blackwell, 2016), p. 140.


I think it’s important to point out here that with the verb Gesetztsein Hegel making it clear to us that the being of Schein (sein) is ‘to-be-posited’ (Gesetztsein) and or/expressed. It is doubly determined in that its expression is just ‘to-be-expressed.’ More on this to come below.


Hegel’s use of wegzulassen is important here, because it implies the activity of exclusion.


To be clear, there is always a brutal Hegelian irony lurking in these paradoxes. Namely, that the people claiming exclusion and oppression—in this instance (mostly) white males—exemplify the very thing claim to be fighting, namely, the violent universality of exclusion and oppression.


As in traditional conceptions of essence that refer to a common feature that unifies a set of particulars; for instance, reason/rationality as the common feature that unifies humanity.


Rebecca Comay and Frank Ruda likewise describe this tricky point in a similar manner writing that the pure concept of universality “is the epitome of self-relation…and yet by virtue of this autoreferentiality it must yield to an intrinsic exteriority.” See The Dash—The Other Side of Absolute Knowing (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2019), p 22.


This idea can also extend to other traditional forms of metaphysical dichotomy such as part-whole, content-form, essence-appearance, or any form of dichotomy that we use in order to the structural integrity of reality.


T. S. Eliot, “Tradition and the Individual Talent,” The Sacred Wood: Essays on Poetry and Criticism (London: Metheun, 1920), pp. 43-44.


I am borrowing this phrase from Catherine Malabou and her great book on Hegel The Future of Hegel: Plasticity, Temporality, and Dialectic, trans. by Lisbeth During (London: Routledge, 2005).


T. S. Eliot, “Tradition and the Individual Talent,” The Sacred Wood: Essays on Poetry and Criticism (London: Metheun, 1920), pp. 43-44. Emphasis mine.


May 2022


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