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An Introduction to Hegel’s Science of Logic

Lecturer: Nahum Brown

Originally Taught: Winter School 2020

Even though the Phenomenology of Spirit (1807) has been more widely discussed over the past two centuries, Hegel considered the Science of Logic (1812-1816) to be his major work. Along with Aristotle’s Metaphysics and Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason, it is one of the greatest studies of ontology ever written. This course presents an overview of some of the main themes of the Logic by examining the opening and most famous passages of the book. We will look at Hegel’s contentious claim that the Logic must commence without presuppositions, his treatment of limitation and infinity, as well as the relationship between contradiction, essence, and modality. This course is built to be an advanced introduction to Hegel’s philosophy, to the Logic as a book, and to dialectical thinking as a method. However, rather than assert the abstract nature of dialectical thinking from the outset, we will focus instead on how some of the most important local arguments from the Logic express the complex, dynamic, contextualized subtleties of dialectical reasoning. This course is ideal for students who are interested in the historical foundations of continental philosophy and who would like to explore Hegel’s Logic as a precursor to the contemporary tradition. The aim is to open a path for further inquiry into the Logic, while also outlining one of the main arteries of Hegel’s complicated masterpiece through an examination of themes such as dialectical totality, the good infinite, productive contradiction, and the relation between possibility and actuality.

Primary Readings

Hegel, the Science of Logic, translated by di Giovanni, Cambridge University Press, 2010.

Suggested Readings (Hegel commentaries)

  • Burbidge, John W. The Logic of Hegel’s Logic. Peterborough: Broadview Press, 2006.
  • Carlson, David Gray. A Commentary to Hegel’s Science of Logic. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007.
  • Hahn, Songsuk Susan. Contradiction in Motion: Hegel’s Organic Concept of Life and Value. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2007.
  • Houlgate, Stephen. The Opening of Hegel’s Logic: From Being to Infinity. West Lafayette: Purdue University Press, 2006.
  • Hyppolite, Jean. Logic and Existence, translated by Leonard Lawlor and Amit Sen. Albany: SUNY Press, 1997.
  • Longuenesse, Béatrice. Hegel’s Critique of Metaphysics, translated by Nicole J. Simek. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2007.
  • Maker, William. Philosophy without Foundations: Rethinking Hegel. Albany: SUNY Press, 1994.
  • Malabou, Catherine. The Future of Hegel: Plasticity, Temporality and Dialectic, translated by Lisabeth During. London: Routledge, 2005.
  • Moss, Gregory S. Hegel’s Foundation Free Metaphysics: the Logic of Singularity. New York: Routledge, 2020.
  • Winfield, Richard Dien. Hegel’s Science of Logic: A Critical Rethinking in Thirty Lectures. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield, 2012.

Outline of the Course:

Week 1: Being, Nothing, Becoming and the Project of a Presuppositionless Science

 Arguably the most famous passage of the Logic comes at the opening of the book. Similar to Descartes’ opening lines in the Meditations on First Philosophy, Hegel proposes that the Logic must begin from an indubitable starting place that is free of all preconceptions, suppositions, and prior determinations. The first lesson of this seminar focuses on the momentous task of what it would mean to clear away all preconceptions about thought and reality and to allow a presuppositionless science to commence. To this end, we will analyze two short readings: Hegel’s “With What Must the Beginning of Science be Made?” and his initial description in “Being” of being, nothing, and becoming.  

Readings from Hegel, the Science of Logic:

  • “With What Must the Beginning of Science be Made?,” 45-57
  • “Being,” 59-60

Week 2: The First Movement of the Logic: From Being to Nothing

Hegel’s Logic contains an almost dizzying amount of movement, points-of-transition, developmental stages of analysis, and dialectical arguments that turn systematically but rapidly from concept to concept. In our second lesson of the seminar, we will wrestle with the question of how the Logic begins to move at all. This investigation will take us deeper into the structure of Hegel’s presuppositonless starting point in being, nothing, and becoming. We will explicate the five “Remarks” connected to the opening of the Logic to come to terms with the question of how and by what means the concept of nothing emerges from the concept of being. This is a hugely important task since it is, ultimately, the question of how the Logic begins to advance. We will also look at a number of secondary commentaries of the Logic, which attempt, in one way or another, to make sense of the transition from being to nothing. And we will look at what I call the “dialectical totality” interpretation, which views the transition to be a natural consequence of the radical starting point of a science that claims no prior supposition.

Readings from Hegel, the Science of Logic:

  • “Remark 1: The Opposition of Being and Nothing in Ordinary Thinking,” 60-66
  • “Remark 2: Defectiveness of the Expression ‘Unity, Identity of Being and Nothing’,” 66-69
  • “Remark 3: The Isolating of These Abstractions,” 69-78
  • “Remark 4: The Incomprehensibility of the Beginning,” 78-80
  • “Remark 5: The Expression ‘to Sublate’,” 81-82

Week 3: Limitation, Finitude, and the Good Infinite

In week 3, we turn to Hegel’s very exciting discussion of the finite and the infinite. We will try to understand how the “indeterminate being” of the starting point becomes the “determinate being” of existence and finitude. We will focus in particular on the role that negation plays in establishing the positive limits, constitution, and determination of things. In the second hour of the seminar, we will study Hegel’s passages about the “good infinite.” We will attempt to say why the good infinite is good, and also draw connections between infinity and Hegel’s presuppositionless starting point.

Readings from Hegel, the Science of Logic:

  • “Something and an Other,” 90-95
  • “Determination, Constitution, and Limit,” 95-101
  • “Infinity,” 108-120

Week 4: Contradiction and Essence

This week is devoted to Hegel’s treatment of contradiction in the “The Essentialities or the Determinations of Reflection” chapter of the “Doctrine of Essence.” One reason why Hegel is a controversial figure in the history of Western philosophy is because he appears to oppose Aristotle’s exposition of the law of non-contradiction in book Gamma of the Metaphysics. While Aristotle claims that contradiction leads to indeterminateness and absurd paradox, Hegel can be interpreted to claim that contradiction is the motor behind dialectical reasoning. We will look at various readings of Hegel that attempt to qualify or limit what he means by productive contradiction. And we also look at the relationship between essence and contradiction. There is a long tradition in the West of philosophers who argue for the categorical separation of the universal from the particular. Does Hegel undermine this separation through his exploration of the primacy of contradiction over identity? We will attempt to answer this question and also reflect on the opening passages of the Logic from the terms of contradiction.     

Readings from Hegel, the Science of Logic:

  • “The Essentialities or the Determinations of Reflection,” 354-385
  • “Ground,” 386-388

Week 5: Actuality, Possibility, and Contradiction

In our last seminar, we will examine Hegel’s notoriously difficult “Actuality” chapter, which is the penultimate chapter of the “Doctrine of Essence.” The “Actuality” chapter offers a dense but rewarding developmental conceptual analysis of the modal categories of “actuality,” “possibility,” “contingency,” and “necessity.” Close attention will be paid to the role that contradiction plays in Hegel’s understanding of the relationship between actuality and possibility. And we will explore how Hegel develops themes like dialectical totality and the good infinite in terms of modality.

Readings from Hegel, the Science of Logic:

  • “Actuality,” 477-488