Hegel’s Logic -|- Educational Philosophy Theory

Hegel’s Logic

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The Logic of Hegel is one of the pinnacles of human thought. It is the systematic exposition and development of all the forms of thought, from the more primitive undeveloped thought, up to the highest form of dialectical reasoning, which Hegel calls the Notion.

He sets out with the most general proposition possible—that of "pure being"—something that seems to require no further proof. From this extremely abstract idea, he proceeds, step by step, along a process which leads from the abstract to the concrete.

This process of reasoning proceeds by stages, in which each stage negates the previous one. The history of thought, particularly that of philosophy and science, shows that knowledge is acquired precisely in this way, in a never-ending process whereby we obtain an increasingly precise idea of the workings of the universe. In Hegel, each stage is no sooner affirmed than it is negated, and the result is a higher, richer, more concrete idea.

In general outline, Hegel’s Logic can be divided into three main parts: The Doctrine of Being, The Doctrine of Essence (essential nature) and the Doctrine of the Notion.

Hegel begins his philosophy with the most fundamental category of thought—the category of Being. Evidently, anything which we consider must exist, before anything else. This seems to be the basis of all our knowledge. But things are not so simple as that. The bare statement of existence, without further details, does not get us very far. We want to know more. But the moment we pass from the abstract idea of being in general to a more concrete idea, being turns into its opposite. Hegel shows that being in general is the same as—nothing.

This idea seems strange, but actually can be seen to be true on many different levels. If we try to eliminate all contradiction from things, and cling to the idea that they just are, we arrive at the opposite conclusion, because there can be no being without not-being, just as there can be no life without death, and no light without darkness. People who have spent a long time in the Arctic know that the effect of unrelieved whiteness is the same as that of total blackness to the human vision.

It is, in fact, an empty abstraction, since it lacks all concreteness. In reality, the dialectical unity of being and nothing is becoming. This is what Heraclitus meant when he said "everything is and is not, because everything is in flux." Everyone knows from experience that things are frequently not what they seem to be. Things that appear to be stable, so that we can say "they are," on closer examination turn out to be unstable, and change into something else, and they "are not." Moreover, this contradiction between being and not being is the basis of all life and movement.

In Hegel, the category of being represents the stage of primitive, undeveloped thought. It is thought only as a potential, like the thought of a small child, or early proto-humans. It is embryonic thought. An embryo begins as a single cell, with no clearly developed features. It is not clearly identifiable as a human being. In order to develop, it must first negate itself. Inside the cell, there are contradictory tendencies which give rise to a process of inner differentiation. When these conflicting tendencies reach a certain point, the cell divides in two. The original, undifferentiated cell has ceased to exist. It has been cancelled, negated. Yet at the same time, it has been preserved, and carried onto a higher level. The process is repeated many times, giving rise to increasing organisation, and greater complexity, with more clearly distinguishable features, eventually giving rise to a fully-fledged human being.

The point is that, in real life, the negative side of things is equally as important as the positive. We are accustomed to look upon life and death as completely opposite poles. But in practice, they are two parts of the same process, and are inseparable. The process of life, growth and development can only take place through the constant renewal of all the cells of the organism, some dying, others coming into being. Even on the most primitive level, life involves constant change in which the organism constantly absorbs food from its surroundings and uses it to build itself, while getting rid of waste matter. Therefore, every living thing is and is not at the same time, because everything is in a constant state of flux. To be without contradiction is to lack all inner differentiation, to have no movement, to be in a state of static equilibrium—in a word, to be dead.

In the words of Prigogine and Stengers:

"The living cell presents an incessant metabolic activity. There thousands of chemical reactions take place simultaneously to transform the matter the cell feeds on, to synthesise the fundamental biomolecules, and to eliminate waste products. As regards both the different reaction rates and the reaction sites within the cell, this chemical activity is highly coordinated. The biological structure thus combines order and activity. In contrast, an equilibrium state remains inert even though it may be structured, as, for example, with a crystal." (Prigogine and Stengers, Order out of Chaos, p. 131.)

At first sight, these observations may seem like pointless subtleties. In point of fact, they are extremely profound reflections, which are not only applicable to thought, but also to nature. And, although it is not always obvious, the same is true of inanimate nature also. Indeed, Hegel considered that the two were inseparably linked. "Everything flows and nothing stays," said Heraclitus. "You can’t step twice into the same river." Hegel here is saying the same thing. At the heart of this philosophy is a dynamic view of the universe; a view which deals with things as living processes, not dead objects; in their essential interrelations, not separate bits and pieces, or arbitrary lists; as a whole, which is greater than the sum of the parts.

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