A New Exploration of Hegel's Dialectics II
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A New Exploration of Hegel's Dialectics II

Negation and Reflection

Deng Xiaomang

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eBook - ePub

A New Exploration of Hegel's Dialectics II

Negation and Reflection

Deng Xiaomang

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Focusing on the self-negation and reflective forms of Hegel's dialectics, and representing the spirit of nous and logos respectively, this volume explores core functions in the subjectivity, free spirit and practicality of Hegelian dialectics.
As the second volume of a three-volume set that gives insights into Hegel's dialectics and thereby his overall philosophical thought, the book proposes and discusses the soul and form of Hegelian dialectics. As the soul of Hegel's dialectics, which represents the spirit of nous, self-negation plays a fundamental role in Hegel's philosophy, and all other dialectical laws derive from this core principle, with which the subjectivity and free spirit of Hegel's dialectics take shape along with their essential practicality. The form of expression belonging to this negative dialectic as such is the reflective mode of thinking that represents the spirit of logos, and it is this reflective mode of thinking that follows the logical procedure of "reflecting on reflection, " rendering the progression of Hegel's dialectical subject lawful, rational and logical. The title will appeal to scholars and students interested in Hegel's and Marx's philosophy, German classical philosophy and Western philosophy.

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Part IThe soul of the Hegelian dialecticNegation

Dieter Henrich points out in his article “Formen der Negation in Hegels Logik,” that negativity is the primary, and most important, analytical means of methodology in Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel’s Logic; he argues that the abstract word “negation,” which has many determinations, is the only foundation for developing the philosophical theory and conceptual structure of what Hegel calls “the Idea.”1 His criticism is that people conflate together various determinations of negation and thereby come up with abstract formulations and hollow ideas of negation, from which he draws the conclusion that it would be impossible to reduce all of the different ways in which Hegel employs negation down to one and only one sense.2 This is looking at things too absolutely, however. Such an understanding as this will necessarily lead to viewing this basic concept of Hegel’s, and consequently his entire system, as a jumbled mess of disconnected pieces. In fact, Henrich only mentions two different senses of negation in this article: one is “the substantivized form of statement” (substantivierte Aussageform); the second is “otherness and the other of itself” (Andersheit und das Andere seiner selbst). The former allegedly comes from Wolffian textbooks on formal logic, but is mixed into the ontological (substantivization) tendency in the metaphysics of Baruch de Spinoza, Immanuel Kant and Johann Gottlieb Fichte; the latter is a logical modification of actual material relations. That is, one thing excluding another thing is understood as negation, and furthermore as the negation of negation, as one thing’s “reference to itself.” In Henrich’s view, Hegel is breeding confusion between negation as a logical statement and negation as a relation of rejection or exclusion among objective things. On one hand, he “substantivizes” the logical form, making it ontological; on the other hand, he understands the (external) relations between objective “determinate beings” (Daseienden) as “otherness with reference to the thought of the other self” (Beziehung auf den Gedanken des Anderen selber).3 The transition from the prior understanding to the latter amounts to his system’s “development of speculative thought.” Because of this, Hegel’s intentional confounding here and “[w]hat can be gained from the shift in meaning of natural operations and concepts, [originating] in the constructive will of a theoretician,” serve the purpose of logically conceiving a complete, all-encompassing system.4 We find it very hard to endorse Henrich’s analysis here as a profound understanding of Hegel’s Logic. While Hegel made repeated and even overly repetitive criticism of one-sided intellectual thought that accompanied the rise of traditional formal logic and exhaustively clarified his own logical thought of the unity of content and form, of Truth and certainty, and of being and thinking, Henrich is still stuck at the standpoint of separation and opposition between logic and ontology, looking everywhere in Hegel’s Logic for the “necessity” of transitioning from substantivized logic to the thought of logicized substance. He accuses the arguments Hegel makes for this as weak and impotent, believing this is a problem without a solution.5 This only shows that he himself does not truly understand the essence of Hegel’s Logic. We will specifically discuss the problem of Hegel’s union of logic and ontology in Volume 3. What we want to first point out in Hegel here is, negation is not simply the logical statement of a subjective thought (“negative judgment”); at the same time, it is also and essentially the ground of movement intrinsic to the objective thing (objective spirit), or “the soul of self-movement,” and the subjective statement is nothing more than the articulation of this negativity intrinsic to the objective power to act. What has “shifted” is only the form and not what Henrich calls “the meaning of natural operations and concepts.” That which runs through all without changing intrinsically, that unchanging becoming and undying death is, as Karl Marx put it, the dialectic as the moving and creative principle of negativity, which is the entire soul of Hegel’s dialectic.
However, to gain a concrete understanding of Hegel’s concept of negation, it is in fact necessary to trenchantly analyze and investigate all of its different forms of expression. On this point, Henrich is correct. His analysis in the previous paragraph may still have value if it is understood differently than as absolute opposition. The analysis that we undertake in the following is not for the sake of dissolving a single, completely integrated “soul” into mutually disconnected fragments, but is instead for the sake of examining the essential relations of this moving principle, its organic structure, the ways in which it acts and all of its different transfigurations.


  1. Henrich 1989, 213.
  2. Ibid., 214.
  3. Ibid., 220.
  4. Ibid., 227.
  5. Ibid., 219.

1The negative and the positive

DOI: 10.4324/9781003269816-2
What we call “the negative” is always said with reference to the opposite, “the positive.” We have no choice but to accept this premise when discussing the concept of negation even in the absence of dialectical proof. In actuality, all explorations of the negative must first of all be explorations of the relationship between the negative and the positive. However, determining the relationship between the two is one thing with respect to abstract logical form and another thing with respect to the logical relation between concrete things in-themselves, which are determinate concrete contents. In this way, the relationship of the negative and the positive is intimately tied to the problem of being and nothing as regards the substance of the world. We may penetrate the cultural background behind Hegel’s concept of negation from the bigger problem of common identity among the different peoples of this world, which may enable us to gain a richer and more concrete grasp of the concept of negation.

The cultural background of Hegel’s concept of “negation”

Hegel often presents the concept of “the negative” together with that of “nothing.” In Hegel, “nothing” is actually the most basic type of negative. Generally speaking, what comes to the Westerner’s mind when discussing “negation” or “nothing” is often an action taken in relation to something given beforehand; when it manifests in language, it is saying “nothing” in relation to something or to somebody else. As Hegel puts it: “the abstract, immediate negation, the nothing purely for itself, negation devoid of reference—and this can also be expressed, if one so wishes, simply by saying ‘nothing.’”1 Because of this, the Westerner’s concept of “nothing” encompasses two levels: (1) “nothing” is a “lack” of being (something given beforehand). That is, darkness is only the absence of light, and cold is only the lack of warmth; without “being,” there is no “nothing” of which to speak, insofar as being is prior to nothing. Parmenides only argues that non-being (nothing) is not, because “lack” as such has no being of its own. This even becomes one of the most important theoretical grounds upon which Aristotle opposes Plato’s theory of Ideas: how could it be that something that has ceased-to-be and no longer exists still has its own Idea?2 Since nothing presupposes being, in logic, negation presupposes affirmation. (2) “Nothing” is not simply the lack of “being.” Nothing is also a negative attitude or action in relation to being, for which reason, nothing and negation are always connected together with movement and activity. In the Westerner’s view, pure being, simple positivity is static and unchanging, so it cannot produce movement. For this reason, Parmenides negates nothing, but not without negating movement as a necessary consequence, and Heraclitus’s “becoming” had to assume the identity of being and nothing. Democritus’s “void” (nothing) is a condition of movement, but since it only encompasses the first meaning of “nothing” (lack) without the second meaning of the active movement of negation, it fails to explain the problem of the “source” of movement and falls prey to Aristotle’s criticism. Aristotle determines movement as “the actualization of potential,” where actualization (ενεργεια) as an active process similarly carries the meaning of negation, that is, negating the potentialities of the “material” given beforehand, imparting it with a certain form and actualizing the purpose concealed in it. Therefore, when Hegel comments on Aristotle’s category of “actuality” (i.e., actualization): “with Aristotle this negativity, this active efficacy, is expressly characterized as energy,” “in Aristotle there is added and made conspicuous the moment of negativity, not as change, nor yet as nullity, but as difference or determination.”3 In the Phenomenology of Spirit, he also mentions, “This is why certain ancients conceived of the void as what moved things in conceiving of what moves things as the negative, but they did not yet grasp this negative as the self.”4 In other words, they did not grasp that the moving principle is more than “that which is” negative, insofar as it is negation as such.
Christians of the Middle Ages believed God created the entire world from “nothing,” but that which is ultimately first is not “nothing,” because God is absolute being and one in himself; in other words, God is logos, dao: “At the very beginning there was dao”; dao creates the world in “producing being from nothing,” but dao itself is the highest principle that creates the world in the manner of “producing being from nothing,” which exhibits the negative will of God. That is, God negates his own abstractness, transcending his own “silence” and “loneliness.” The modern mystical thinker Jacob Böhme held that activity and the vital impulse is a “torment” (Qual), the thought of which Hegel found to be of utmost importance, insisting “By anguish is expressed that which we know as the absolute negativity—that is the self-conscious, self-experienced, the self-relating negativity which is therefore absolute affirmation.”5
Among the qualities inherent in matter, motion is the first and foremost, not only in the form of mechanical and mathematical motion, but chiefly in the form of an impulse, a vital spirit, a tension—or a Qual, to use a term of Jakob Böhme’s — of matter.6
No more examples are needed, for it is already clear that the Western tradition of thought most certainly contains a factor that actively breaks boundaries, fuses substances, shapes things, realizes purposes and makes rigid categorial determinations “flow” by negating and “voiding.” This active factor is no alien force imposing itself from the outside, but rather wells up from inside of things themselves, a qual, a vitality. In the previous chapter we have already named this factor in the Western philosophical tradition “the existential impulse.” Here we want to emphasize that in contrast to Westerners, who understand “nothing” as an active negation of something given beforehand (being), “nothing” in Chinese antiquity, wu 无, was never understood as an action (the action of “voiding” or negating), but was always understood as a primordial state, a state of empty stillness without active impulse. The first philosopher to present this thought in Chinese history was Laozi, who insisted: “All beings in Nature come to life from being, while being comes to life from nothing.”7 “Nothing” as quiescent beholding without restless desire is the most subtle and vital dao. “Thus constantly (chang 常) desire nothing to perceive its subtleties and constantly desire something to perceive its boundaries.”8 The Silk Manuscript Version goes: “eternally (heng 恒) desire nothing in order to perceive its subtleties; eternally desire something in order to perceive its boundaries.” Therefore, there is no need to take any action; one only needs to “reach the extreme pole of emptiness, maintain the critical point of stillness; the multitude of creatures co-operate, I thereby observe them return to it.”9 Wang Bi’s commentary states:
Language reaches the extreme truthfulness of an empty being and sustains the genuine straightforwardness of a quiet being; all creatures move and act, produce and grow by emptying and quieting; observing them repeat and retur...


  1. Cover
  2. Half-Title Page
  3. Series Page
  4. Title Page
  5. Copyright Page
  6. Contents
  7. Part I The soul of the Hegelian dialectic: Negation
  8. Part II The form of the Hegelian dialectic: Reflection
  9. References
  10. Index