What is Hegel’s dialectical process composed of?

Ray asked:

What is Hegel’s dialectical process composed of?

Answer by Martin Jenkins

Thought constitutes what is real. What is real is actual and what is actual is real. The real is the living mind of God. Human consciousness is to be unified with the mind of God when it achieves the level of the Absolute Idea. Here, human ‘subjectivity’ is reconciled with ‘Objectivity’ and this goal is undertaken by thought in Dialectic. Hegel’s main works The Phenomenology of Spirit and Encyclopaedia of the Philosophical Sciences outline this movement of collective human consciousness (Geist) towards its reconciliation with the Absolute Idea.

Hegel identified human Understanding as operating within ‘identitarian’ thought: exemplified by the traditional Laws of Logic: Identity [a thing is what it is and not anything else], Non-Contradiction [Cannot simultaneously maintain that it is raining and not raining] and Excluded Middle [either the night is black or it isn’t, there is no in between]. This left Understanding open to limitation, as the phenomena of the world do not limit themselves to such logical criteria. So much so that Understanding in its logical rigidity fell short of fully understanding things.

Thought has thought and thinking as its content. As such, it encounters contradictions [#11 Shorter Logic] in the ‘non-identity’ of its thoughts, in their counterparts. Unlike traditional logic which abhors contradictions, they are welcomed by Hegel. Thought is compelled to overcome such contradictions, to work and find a solution for them. Hence:

‘To see that thought is in its very nature dialectical and that, as Understanding, it must fall into contradiction – the negative of itself – will form one of the main themes of the Logic’. [ibid]

It is speculative Reason that overcomes contradictions by overcoming tensions, contradictions thereby moving thinking onto a cumulatively higher level to the one thus overcome. This is the famous Aufgehoben: speculative reason overcomes the contradiction, superseding both terms and preserving what is positive in both in a higher, progressive synthesis.

In section #79 of the so called Shorter Logic or to give its correct title: The Logic: Part One of the Encyclopedia of the Philosophical Sciences [the other two being Nature and Spirit], Hegel stipulates the three aspects of his Logical Doctrine:

a. The Abstract or that of the Understanding

b. The Dialectical or that of Negative Reason

c. The Speculative or Positive Reason

Abstract Understanding sets out to comprehend subject matter but encounters problems in the guise of contradictions. Reason highlights the limitations of the fixed, either/or thinking of Understanding. This is the Negative moment of the process. The negative moment is simultaneously positive as Speculative Reason provides Positive solutions. The best of the negative and positive moments are combined and preserved in a progressive, synthesis.

I recommend reading the ‘Lord and Bondsman’ in the Phenomenology and ‘Being, Nothing, Becoming’ at the beginning of the Shorter Logic. These exemplify Hegel’s Dialectic.


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