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Fr. 398

September 23, 2013

In Hegel’s Science of Logic,  the opening section of the “Doctrine of Being” both bears as its name and treats the question “With what must the beginning of science be made?”. Of all forms of science, Hegel holds that a beginning can only be made from that which which is immediate, in a sense that will only fully become clear later in this exposition. Accordingly, science should take as its starting point neither those objective principles furnishing the content of the world (e.g. water, god, substance, etc.) nor the subjective criteria determining its form (or the form of its experience) (e.g. subjectivity, intuition, sensation, etc.). For both objective principles and subjective criteria imply a series of determinations, distinctions and, hence, mediations already at work in them. In other words, these cannot constitute the starting point of science in that both principles and criteria have long since begun. The principles include within themselves the distinction between the principle as a thing in the world, other things in the world, and consciousness; the criteria distinguish strongly between the form under which the world is to be grasped and the world to be grasped. In the end, even the general categories of principle and criterion qua objective and subjective measure can only arise within the framework of a science that has previously worked out a network of complex mediations between object and subject, internalized these and, thus, advanced considerably towards its end as science. It is precisely for this reason that objective and subjective measures cannot secure the beginnings of a science, being closer to its end than its beginning.

Hegel’s question thus becomes: if not principle or criterion, what immediacy can ground the beginning of science? Hegel’s answer to this inquiry takes the form of two terms, pure knowledge and pure being. If the relationship between these terms proves at times obscure, for the time being, their more precise relationship to science can be given. Specifically, these two terms stand in somewhat variable relations to two different sciences. On one hand, the science of spirit in its appearance (or the immediacy of knowing as outlined in the Phenomenology of Spirit) takes as its presupposition the immediacy of empirical, sensuous consciousness and ends in the concept of science or pure knowledge, which is a mediated system of relationships between successive forms of consciousness that, in the end, has mediated and sublated everything such that all in the world falls within it as mediated immediacy. This mediated immediacy is precisely that absolute subjectivity and knowing hailed as the end result of the evolution of consciousness in which the progressive dilation of the subject encompasses at last the world and there is thus no longer a distinction to be made between subject and object. Absolute subjectivity and knowing thus fall back into that original unity from which it arose, the unity of world and empirical, sensuous consciousness as a new immediacy.

Indeed, this mediated immediacy stands as one of the key innovations in Hegel’s account. Although the philosophical tradition had previously gone back and forth on whether the true beginning is to be made from the mediate and immediate, Hegel sets out to show the extent to which the mediate and immediate are entwined and never to be found separate in nature. Wherefore the reluctance above to class Hegel’s starting point as mere immediacy, for it swiftly shows itself to be something other than the sort of dogmatism common in that same tradition. Hegel’s immediacy and highest mediacy stand as two moments that reveal themselves to be one and the same, coinciding as they do in pure knowledge or absolute knowing (connoting as this term does that which is without relation to another, without mediation by another).

Yet the science of spirit in its appearance is joined by a second, the science of logic (or the immediacy of being). If pure knowledge stood provisionally as the result of the science of spirit in its appearance, it occupies instead in the science of logic the role of ground or presupposition, as that from which the science of logic proceeds. So does the end, mediated term of one science lapse or pass into the first, immediate term of another science. Moreover, although Hegel does not at this point indicate the end towards which this science of logic is working, it is at least clear from the table of contents that, with the aid of this same science, one shall work from the doctrine of being to that of the concept. Yet it remains to be seen, on one hand, what consequences this exposition holds for science in general and, on the other, precisely what the relation between pure or immediate knowing and pure or immediate being is, despite Hegel’s placing both of them at the head of this second science, the science of logic.

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