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Fr. 475

January 3, 2014

In this solution, it becomes a question of establishing simultaneously the nature of cognition and being, such that neither stands in relation to the other as an independent presupposition. As Hegel recalls, for a beginning to be immediate, it must be absolute or abstract where these connote that which is without relation to another, without mediation by another. The beginning has “nothing that it may presuppose, must not be mediated by anything or have a ground, ought to be rather itself the ground of the entire science” (21.56). On one hand, insofar as pure being is just that which is and, hence, pure indeterminacy, it escapes determinateness and the mediation and contingency introduced by these. On the other, this putative indeterminacy seems to leave unanswered how we are to understand the precise relation between pure knowing as precondition and pure being as beginning. Indeed, it is precisely in the modification of the relation between precondition and beginning, result and ground that the answer is to be sought.

Hegel opens his presentation by remarking of his contemporaries that it is a popular insight in philosophy that absolute truth can only be a result which “presupposes a first truth” or ground, such that philosophy would only begin with a ground “hypothetically and problematically true” (21.56). As such, on this view, philosophical progress is necessarily retreat into this ground in such a way that the progression of thought makes evident that the beginning was “not just an arbitrary assumption but was in fact the truth, and the first truth at that” (21.57). In this way, the beginning or ground depends on the result for its validation as much as the result depends on the beginning.

For an example, we need look no further than the science of spirit in its apperance and Hegel’s account of pure knowledge as the result of sensuous consciousness. Pure knowledge is immanent to sensuous consciousness in the sense that this consciousness qua ground holds within itself all that which is to be expressed in the unfolding of spirit as as pure knowledge qua result. In other words, the process leading to pure knowledge does little more than manifest in determinate form all that sensuous consciousness contained in indeterminate form. Consequently, although absolute subjectivity depends on sensuous consciousness for the implicit direction of its unfolding, sensuous consciousness itself depends on absolute subjectivity insofar as consciousness only achieves its latent content or innermost truth through the subsequent manifestation and sublation of these forms in pure knowing.

As a result, the science of spirit in its appearance demonstrates that that “which, through this reversal of position with its beginning, is converted into something dependent on the result as principle” (21.57). From this, it follows on Hegel’s view that, “[e]ssential to science is not so much that pure immediacy should be the beginning, but that the whole of science is in itself a circle in which the first becomes also the last, and the last also the first” (21.57). Although this accounts for the mutually reinforcing relation between consciousness and knowledge in this first science, it does not by itself necessitate that the same relation holds between the former and the science of logic, to which pure knowledge stands as a precondition. How does Hegel bind the two?

For Hegel’s purposes, it suffices to highlight the manner in which pure knowledge naturally transitions into pure being and vice versa, these being two perspectives on the same matter. Two considerations weigh in his favor on this count, beyond simple immediacy. First, not only is pure being “the unity into which pure knowledge returns” (21.59), but from pure being we arrive at the nature of cognition in general, the subject of the science of logic, which then naturally leads us to consider more concrete forms of cognition, the subject of the science of spirit in its appearance (cf. 21.54). As such, consideration of pure being’s result circles back to the exposition of concrete forms of cognition or consciousness, the ground of pure knowledge. This supposition is confirmed by a second consideration when the author remarks that “The advance does not consist in the derivation of an other, or in the transition to a truly other […] the beginning of philosophy is the ever present and self-preserving foundation of all subsequent developments, remaining everywhere immanent in its further determinations” (21.58). If, as suggested, pure knowledge secures pure being and the latter feeds back into the former through consciousness, then neither is extrinsic to the other, the content of one being implicit in the other. In this way, the determinations to be exposed in each remain immanent to the content of the other.

The link between the sciences thusly secured, Hegel notes that scientific progress is inherently circular. If “what constitutes the beginning, because it is something still undeveloped and empty of content, is not yet truly known at that beginning, and that only science, and science fully developed, is the completed cognition of it, replete with content and finally truly grounded”, then pure being completes pure knowledge as much as pure knowledge paves the way for pure being (21.58). So long as the determinations in each are immanent to or implicit in the other, neither introduces any extrinsic or “other” content, and, thus, one-sided relations of presupposition do not obtain between the two. The case under consideration is one of a self-grounding activity without any recourse to external ground.

For this reason, Hegel escapes two further consequences. If, in establishing the immanent quality of the determinations, there can be no extrinsic, independent principles as in the case of dogmatic immediacy, this also means that the absolute character of ground and result ensure that the progression is neither provisory nor “still problematic and hypothetical, but must be determined through the nature of the matter at issue and of the content itself” (21.58). In other words, that progression is subject to logical necessity and, hence, insulated from skeptical doubts. For, at no point is it possible to introduce “an arbitrary and only temporary assumption” to which a skeptic might object, given that the absolute quality of the beginning ensures that it remains the sole possibility available to the philosopher (21.58). In the end, insofar as pure being provides its own justification through the intermediary of pure knowledge, Hegel maintains that the dialectic of ground and result fulfills conditions 3.) and shows that the proposed ground does not arise from contingency.

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