Part One of the Encyclopedia of Philosophical Sciences: The Logic

Second Subdivision

§ 112

The terms in Essence are always mere pairs of correlatives, and yet not absolutely reflected in themselves: hence in essence the actual unity of the notion is not yet realised, but only postulated by reflection. Essence – which is Being coming into mediation with itself through the negativity of itself – is self-relatedness, only in so far as it is relation to an Other – this Other, however, coming to view at first not as something which is, but as postulated and hypothesised.

Being has not vanished: but, firstly, Essence, as simple self-relation, is Being, and secondly as regards its one-sided characteristic of immediacy, Being is deposed to a mere negative, to a seeming or reflected light – Essence accordingly is Being thus reflecting light into itself.

The Absolute is the Essence. This is the same definition as the previous one that the Absolute is Being, in so far as Being likewise is simple self-relation. But it is at the same time higher, because Essence is Being that has gone into itself: that is to say, the simple self-relation (in Being) is expressly put as negation of the negative is immanent self-mediation. Unfortunately, when the Absolute is defined to be Essence, the negativity which this implies is often taken only to mean the withdrawal of all determinate predicates. This negative action of withdrawal or abstraction thus falls outside of the Essence – which is thus left as a mere result apart from its premises – the caput mortuum of abstraction. But as this negativity, instead of being external to Being, is its own dialectic, the truth of the latter, viz., Essence, will be Being as retired within itself – immanent Being.

That reflection, or light thrown into itself, constitutes the distinction between Essence and immediate Being, and is the peculiar characteristic of Essence itself.

Any mention of Essence implies that we distinguish it from Being: the latter is immediate, and, compared with the Essence, we look upon it as mere seeming. But this seeming is not an utter nonentity and nothing at all, but Being superseded and put by. The point of view given by the Essence is, in general, the standpoint of 'Reflection'. This word 'reflection' is originally applied, when a ray of light in a straight line impinging upon the surface of a mirror is thrown back from it. In this phenomenon, we have two things – first an immediate fact which is, and secondly the deputed, derivated, or transmitted phase of the same. Something of this sort takes place when we reflect, or think upon an object: for here we want to know the object, not in its immediacy, but as derivative or mediated. The problem or aim of philosophy is often represented as the ascertainment of the essence of things: a phrase which only means that things, instead of being left in their immediacy, must be shown to be mediated by, or based upon, something else. The immediate Being of things is thus conceived under the image of a rind or curtain behind which the Essence is hidden.

Everything, it is said, has an Essence; that is, things really are not what they immediately show themselves. There is something more to be done than merely rove from one quality to another, and merely to advance from qualitative to quantitative, and vice versa: there is a permanence in things, and that permanence is in the first instance their Essence.

With respect to other meanings and uses of the category of Essence, we may note that in the German auxiliary verb, sein (to be), the past tense is expressed by the term for Essence (wesen): we designate past being as gewesen. This anomaly of language implies to some extent a correct perception of the relation between Being and Essence. Essence we may certainly regard as past Being, remembering however meanwhile that the past is not utterly denied, but only laid aside and thus at the same time preserved.

Thus, to say, Caesar was in Gaul, only denies the immediacy of the event, but not his sojourn in Gaul altogether. That sojourn is just what forms the import of the proposition, in which however it is represented as over and gone. Wesen in ordinary life frequently means only a collection or aggregate: Zeitungswesen (the Press), Postwesen (the Post Office), Steuerwesen (the Revenue). All that these terms mean is that the things in question are not to be taken single, in their immediacy, but as a complex, and then, perhaps, in addition, in their various bearings. This usage of the term is not very different in its implications from our own.

People also speak of finite Essences, such as man. But the very term Essence implies that we have made a step beyond finitude: and the title as applied to man is so far inexact. It is often added that there is a supreme Essence (Being): by which is meant God. On this two remarks may be made. In the first place the phrase 'there is' suggests a finite only: as when we say there are so many planets, or there are plants of such a constitution and plants of such another. In these cases we are speaking of something which has other things beyond and beside it. But God, the absolutely infinite, is not something outside and beside whom there are other essences. All else outside God, if separated from him, possesses no essentiality: in its isolation it becomes a mere show or seeming, without stay or essence of its own. But, secondly, it is a poor way of talking to call God the highest or supreme Essence. The category of quantity which the phrase employs has its proper place within the compass of the finite. When we call one mountain the highest on the earth, we have a vision of other high mountains beside it. So too when we call any one the richest or most learned in his country. But God, far from being a Being, even the highest, is the Being. This definition, however, though such a representation of God is an important and necessary stage in the growth of the religious consciousness, does not by any means exhaust the depth of the ordinary Christian idea of God. If we consider God as the Essence only, and nothing more, we know Him only as the universal and irresistible Power; in other words, as the Lord. Now the fear of the Lord is, doubtless, the beginning, but only the beginning, of wisdom. To look at God in this light, as the Lord, and the Lord alone, is especially characteristic of Judaism and also of Mohammedanism. The defect of these religions lies in their scant recognition of the finite, which, be it as natural things or as finite phases of mind, it is characteristic of the heathen and (as they also for that reason are) polytheistic religions to maintain intact. Another not uncommon assertion is that God, as the supreme Being, cannot be known. Such is the view taken by modern 'enlightenment' and abstract understanding, which is content to say Il y a un être supréme: and there lets the matter rest. To speak thus, and treat God merely as the supreme other-world Being, implies that we look upon the world before us in its immediacy as something permanent and positive, and forget that true Being is just the superseding of all that is immediate. If God be the abstract supersensible Being, outside whom therefore lies all difference and all specific character, he is only a bare name, a mere caput mortuum of abstracting understanding. The true knowledge of God begins when we know that things, as they immediately are, have no truth.

In reference also to other subjects besides God the category of Essence is often liable to an abstract use, by which, in the study of anything, its Essence is held to be something unaffected by, and subsisting in independence of, its definite phenomenal embodiment. Thus we say, for example, of people, that the great thing is not what they do or how they behave, but what they are. This is correct, if it means that a man's conduct should be looked at, not in its immediacy, but only as it is explained by his inner self, and as a relevation of that inner self. Still it should be remembered that the only means by which the Essence and the inner self can be verified is their appearance in outward reality; whereas the appeal which men make to the essential life, as distinct from the material facts of conduct, is generally prompted by a desire to assert their own subjectivity and to elude an absolute and objective judgment.

§ 113

Self-relation in Essence is the form of Identity or of reflection-into-self, which has here taken the place of the immediacy of Being. They are both the same abstraction – self-relation.

The unintelligence of sense, to take everything limited and finite for Being, passes into the obstinacy of understanding, which views the finite as self-identical, not inherently self-contradictory.

The Unessential
§ 114

This identity, as it descended from Being, appears in the first place only charged with the characteristics of Being, and referred to Being as to something external. This external Being, if taken in separation from the true Being (of Essence), is called the Unessential. But that turns out to be a mistake. Because Essence is Being-in-self, it is essential only to the extent that it has in itself its negative, i.e. reference to another, or mediation. Consequently, it has the unessential as its own proper seeming (reflection) in itself. But in seeming or mediation there is distinction involved: and since what is distinguished (as distinguished from identity out of which it arises, and in which it is not, or lies as seeming) receives itself the form of identity, the semblance is still not in the mode of Being, or of self-related immediacy.

The sphere of Essence thus turns out to be a still imperfect combination of immediacy and mediation. In it every term is expressly invested with the character of self-relatedness, while yet at the same time one is forced beyond it. It has Being – reflected being, a being in which another shows, and which shows in another. And so it is also the sphere in which the contradiction, still implicit in the sphere of Being, is made explicit.

As this one notion is the common principle underlying all logic, there appear in the development of Essence the same attributes or terms as in the development of Being, but in reflex form. Instead of Being and Nought we have now the forms of Positive and Negative; the former at first as Identity corresponding to pure and uncontrasted Being, the latter developed (showing in itself) as Difference. So also, we have Being represented by the Ground of determinate Being: which shows itself, when reflected upon the Ground, as Existence.

The theory of Essence is the most difficult branch of Logic. It includes the categories of metaphysic and of the sciences in general. These are the products of reflective understanding, which, while it assumes the differences to possess a footing of their own, and at the same time also expressly affirms their relativity, still combines the two statements, side by side, or one after the other, by an 'also', without bringing these thoughts into one, or unifying them into the notion.

The Development of Reflection
GroundExistenceThe Thing


(a) The pure principle or categories of Reflection

[a] Identity

§ 115

The Essence lights up in itself or is mere reflection: and therefore is only self-relation, not as immediate but as reflected. And that reflex relation is self-identity.

This identity becomes an Identity, in form only, or of the understanding, if it be held hard and fast, quite aloof from difference. Or, rather, abstraction is the imposition of this Identity of form, the transformation of something inherently concrete into this form of elementary simplicity. And this may be done in two ways. Either we may neglect a part of the multiple features which are found in the concrete thing (by what is called analysis) and select only one of them; or, neglecting their variety, we may concentrate the multiple character into one.

If we associate Identity with the Absolute, making the Absolute the subject of a proposition, we get: The Absolute is what is identical with itself. However, true this proposition may be, it is doubtful whether it be meant in its truth: and therefore it is at least imperfect in the expression. For it is left undecided, whether it means the abstract Identity of understanding- abstract. that is, because contrasted with the other characteristics of Essence – or the Identity which is inherently concrete. In the latter case, as will be seen, true identity is first discoverable in the Ground, and, with a higher truth, in the Notion. Even the word Absolute is often used to mean more than 'abstract'. Absolute space and absolute time, for example, is another way of saying abstract space and abstract time.

When the principles of Essence are taken as essential principles of thought they become predicates of a presupposed subject, which, because they are essential, is 'everything'. The propositions thus arising have been stated as universal Laws of Thought. Thus the first of them, the maxim of Identity, reads: Everything is identical with itself, A = A: and negatively, A cannot at the same time be A and Not-A. This maxim, instead of being a true law of thought, is nothing but the law of abstract understanding. The propositional form itself contradicts it: for a proposition always promises a distinction between subject and predicate; while the present one does not fulfil what its form requires. But the Law is particularly set aside by the following so-called Laws of Thought, which make laws out of its opposite. It is asserted that the maxim of Identity, though it cannot be proved, regulates the procedure of every consciousness, and that experience shows it to be accepted as soon as its terms are apprehended. To this alleged experience of the logic books may be opposed the universal experience that no mind thinks or forms conceptions or speaks in accordance with this law, and that no existence of any kind whatever conforms to it.

Utterances after the fashion of this pretended law (A planet is a planet; Magnetism is magnetism; Mind is Mind) are, as they deserve to be, reputed silly. That is certainly a matter of general experience. The logic which seriously propounds such laws and the scholastic world in which alone they are valid have long been discredited with practical common sense as well as with the philosophy of reason.

Identity is, in the first place, the repetition of what we had earlier as Being, but as become, through supersession of its character of immediateness. It is therefore Being as Ideality. It is important to come to a proper understanding on the true meaning of Identity; and, for that purpose, we must especially guard against taking it as abstract identity, to the exclusion of all Difference. That is the touchstone for distinguishing all bad philosophy from what alone deserves the name of philosophy. Identity in its truth, as an Ideality of what immediately is, is a high category for our religious modes of mind as well as all other forms of thought and mental activity. The true knowledge of God, it may be said, begins when we know him as identity – as absolute identity. To know so much is to see all the power and glory of the world sinks into nothing in God's presence, and subsists only as the reflection of his power and his glory. In the same way, Identity, as self-consciousness, is what distinguishes man from nature, particularly from the brutes which never reach the point of comprehending themselves as 'I'; that is, pure self-contained unity. So again, in connection with thought, the main thing is not to confuse the true Identity, which contains Being and its characteristics ideally transfigured in it, with an abstract Identity, identity of bare form. All the charges of narrowness, hardness, meaninglessness, which are so often directed against thought from the quarter of feeling and immediate perception rest on the perverse assumption that thought acts only as a faculty of abstract Identification.

The Formal Logic itself confirms this assumption by laying down the supreme law of thought (so-called) which has been discussed above. If thinking were no more than an abstract Identity, we could not but own it to be a most futile and tedious business. No doubt the notion, and the idea too, are identical with themselves: but identical only in so far as they at the same time involve distinction.

[b] Difference

§ 116

Essence is mere Identity and reflection in itself only as it is self-relating negativity, and in that way self-repulsion. It contains therefore essentially the characteristic of Difference.

Other-being is here no longer qualitative, taking the shape of the character or limit. It is now in essence, in self-relating essence, and therefore the negation is at the same time a relation – is, in short, Distinction, Relativity, Mediation.

To ask 'How Identity comes to Difference' assumes that Identity as mere abstract Identity is something of itself, and Difference also something else equally independent. This supposition renders an answer to the question impossible. If Identity is viewed as diverse from Difference, all that we have in this way is but Difference; and hence we cannot demonstrate the advance to difference, because the person who asks for the How of the progress thereby implies that for him the starting-point is non-existent. The question then when put to the test has obviously no meaning, and its proposer may be met with the question what he means by Identity; whereupon we should soon see that he attaches no idea to it at all, and that Identity is for him an empty name. As we have seen, besides, Identity is undoubtedly a negative – not however an abstract empty Nought, but the negation of Being and its characteristics. Being so, Identity is at the same time self-relation, and, what is more, negative self-relation; in other words, it draws a distinction between it and itself.

§ 117

Difference is first of all (1) immediate difference, i.e. Diversity or Variety. In Diversity the different things are each individually what they are, and unaffected by the relation in which they stand to each other. This relation is therefore external to them. In consequence of the various things being thus indifferent to the difference between them, it falls outside them into a third thing, the agent of Comparison. This external difference, as an identity of the objects related, is Likeness; as a non-identity of them, is Unlikeness.

The gap which understanding allows to divide these characteristics is so great that although comparison has one and the same substratum for likeness and unlikeness, which are explained to be different aspects and points of view in it, still likeness by itself is the first of the elements alone, viz., identity, and unlikeness by itself is difference.

Diversity has, like Identity, been transformed into a maxim: 'Everything is various or different': or 'There are no two things completely like each other'. Here Everything is put under a predicate, which is the reverse of the identity attributed to it in the first maxim: and therefore under a law contradicting the first. However, there is an explanation. As the diversity is supposed due only to external circumstances, anything taken per se is expected and understood always to be identical with itself, so that the second law need not interfere with the first. But, in that case, variety does not belong to the something or everything in question: it constitutes no intrinsic characteristic of the subject: and the second maxim on this showing does not admit of being stated at all. If, on the other hand, the something itself is, as the maxim says, diverse, it must be in virtue of its own proper character: but in this case the specific difference, and not variety as such, is what is intended. And this is the meaning of the maxim of Leibnitz.

When understanding sets itself to study Identity, it has already passed beyond it, and is looking at Difference in the shape of bare Variety. If we follow the so-called law of Identity, and say, The sea is the sea, The air is the air, The moon is the moon, these objects pass for having no bearing on one another. What we have before us therefore is not Identity, but Difference. We do not stop at this point, however, or regard things merely as different. We compare them one with another, and then discover the features of likeness and unlikeness. The work of the finite sciences lies to a great extent in the application of these categories, and the phrase 'scientific treatment' generally means no more than the method which has for its aim comparison of the objects under examination. This method has undoubtedly led to some important results; we may particularly mention the great advance of modern times in the provinces of comparative anatomy and comparative linguistics. But it is going too far to suppose that the comparative method can be employed with equal success in all branches of knowledge. Nor – and this must be emphasised – can mere comparison ever ultimately satisfy the requirements of science. Its results are indeed indispensable, but they are still labours only preliminary to truly intelligent cognition.

If it be the office of comparison to reduce existing differences to Identity, the science which most perfectly fulfils that end is mathematics. The reason of that is that quantitative difference is only the difference which is quite external. Thus, in geometry, a triangle and a quadrangle, figures qualitatively different, have this qualitative difference discounted by abstraction, and are equalised to one another in magnitude. It follows from what has been said formerly about mere Identity of understanding that, as has also been pointed out (s. 99), neither philosophy nor the empirical sciences need envy this superiority of Mathematics.

The story is told that when Leibnitz propounded the maxim of Variety, the cavaliers and ladies of the court, as they walked round the garden, made efforts to discover two leaves indistinguishable from each other, in order to confute the law stated by the philosopher. Their device was unquestionably a convenient method of dealing with metaphysics – one which has not ceased to be fashionable. All the same, as regards the principle of Leibnitz, difference must be understood to mean not an external and indifferent diversity merely, but difference essential. Hence the very nature of things implies that they must be different.

Likeness and Unlikeness
§ 118

Likeness is an identity only of those things which are not the same, not identical with each other: and Unlikeness is a relation of things alike. The two therefore do not fall on different aspects or points of view in the thing, without any mutual affinity, but one throws light into the other. Variety thus comes to be reflexive difference or difference (distinction) implicit and essential, determinate or specific difference.

Difference and identity in natural science

While things merely various show themselves unaffected by each other, likeness and unlikeness on the contrary are a pair of characteristics which are in completely reciprocal relation. This advance from simple variety to opposition appears in our common acts of thought when we allow that comparison has a meaning only upon the hypothesis of an existing difference, and that on the other hand we can distinguish only on the hypothesis of existing similarity. Hence, if the problem be the discovery of a difference, we attribute no great cleverness to the man who only distinguishes those objects, of which the difference is palpable, e.g. a pen and a camel: and similarly it implies no very advanced faculty of comparison when the objects compared, e.g. a beech and an oak, a temple and a church, are near akin. In the case of difference, in short, we like to see identity, and in the case of identity, we like to see difference. Within the range of empirical sciences, however, the one of these two categories is often allowed to put the other out of sight and mind.

Thus the scientific problem at one time is to reduce existing differences to identity; on another occasion, with equal one-sidedness, to discover new differences. We see this especially in physical science. There the problem consists, in the first place, in the continual search for new 'elements', new forces, new genera and species. Or, in another direction, it seeks to show that all bodies hitherto thought to be simple are compound: and modern physicists and chemists smile at the ancients, who were satisfied with four elements, and these not simple. Secondly, and on the other hand, mere identity is made the chief question. Thus electricity and chemical affinity are regarded as the same, and even the organic processes of digestion and assimilation are looked upon as a mere chemical operation. Modern philosophy has often been nicknamed the Philosophy of Identity. But, as was already remarked (s. 103, note) it is precisely philosophy, and in particular speculative logic, which lays bare the nothingness of the abstract, undifferentiated identity, known to understanding: though it also undoubtedly urges its disciples not to rest at mere diversity, but to ascertain the inner of all existence.

§ 119

Difference implicit is essential difference, the Positive and the negative: and that is this way. The Positive is the identical self-relation in such a way as not to be the Negative, and the Negative is the different by itself so as not to be the Positive. Thus either has an existence of its own in proportion as it is not the other. The one is made visible in the other, and is only in so far as that other is. Essential difference is therefore Opposition; according to which the different is not confronted by any other but by its other. That is, either of these two (Positive and Negative) is stamped with a characteristic of its own only in its relation to the other: the one is only reflected into itself as it is reflected into the other. And so with the other. Either in this way is the other's own other.

Difference implicit or essential gives the maxim, Everything is essentially distinct; or, as it has also been expressed, Of two opposite predicates the one only can be assigned to anything, and there is no third possible. This maxim of Contrast or Opposition most expressly controverts the maxim of identity: the one says a thing should be only self-relation, the other says it must be an opposite, a relation to its other. The native unintelligence of abstraction betrays itself by setting in juxtaposition two contrary maxims, like these, as laws, without even so much as comparing them. The Maxim of Excluded Middle is the maxim of the definite understanding, which would fain avoid contradiction, but in so doing falls into it. A must be either +A or -A, it says. It virtually declares in these words a third A which is neither + nor -, and which at the same time is yet invested with + and - characters.

If + W mean 6 miles to the West, and -W mean 6 miles to the East, and if the + and - cancel each other, the 6 miles of way or space remain what they were with and without the contrast. Even the mere plus and minus of number or abstract direction have, if we like, zero, for their third: but it need not be denied that the empty contrast, which understanding institutes between plus and minus, is not without its value in such abstractions as number, direction, &c.

In the doctrine of contradictory concepts, the one notion is, say, blue (for in this doctrine even the sensuous generalised image of a colour is called a notion) and the other not-blue. This other then would not be an affirmative, say, yellow, but would merely be kept at the abstract negative. That the Negative in its own nature is quite as much Positive (see next §), is implied in saying that what is opposite to another is its other. The inanity of the opposition between what are called contradictory notions is fully exhibited in what we may call the grandiose formula of a general law, that Everything has the one and not the other of all predicates which are in such opposition. In this way, mind is either white or not-white, yellow or not-yellow, etc., ad infinitum.

It was forgotten that Identity and Opposition are themselves opposed, and the maxim of Opposition was taken even for that of Identity, in the shape of the principle of Contradiction. A notion, which possesses neither or both of two mutually contradictory marks, e.g. a quadrangular circle, is held to be logically false. Now though a multiangular circle and a rectilinear arc no less contradict this maxim, geometers never hesitate to treat the circle as a polygon with rectilineal sides. But anything like a circle (that is to say its mere character or nominal definition) is still no notion. In the notion of a circle, centre and circumference are equally essential; both marks belong to it; and yet centre and circumference are opposite and contradictory to each other.

The conception of Polarity, which is so dominant in Physics, contains by implication the more correct definition of Opposition. But physics for its theory of the laws of thought adheres to the ordinary logic; it might therefore well be horrified in case it should ever work out the conception of Polarity, and get at the thoughts which are implied in it.

(1) With the positive we return to identity, but in its higher truth as identical self-relation, and at the same time with the note that it is not the negative. The negative per se is the same as difference itself. The identical as such is primarily the yet uncharacterised: the positive on the other hand is what is self-identical, but with the mark of antithesis to an other. And the negative is difference as such, characterised as not identity. This is the difference of difference within its own self.

Positive and negative are supposed to express an absolute difference. The two however are at bottom the same: the name of either might be transferred to the other. Thus, for example, debts and assets are not two particular, self-subsisting species of property. What is negative to the debtor is positive to the creditor. A way to the east is also a way to the west. Positive and negative are therefore intrinsically conditioned by one another, and are only in relation to each other. The north pole of the magnet cannot be without the south pole, and vice versa. If we cut a magnet in two, we have not a north pole in one piece, and a south pole in the other. Similar, in electricity, the positive and the negative are not two diverse and independent fluids. In opposition, the different is not confronted by an other, but by its other.

Usually we regard different things as unaffected by each other. Thus we say: I am a human being, and around me are air, water, animals, and all sorts of things. Everything is thus put outside of every other. But the aim of philosophy is to banish indifference, and to ascertain the necessity of things. By that means the other is seen to stand over against its other. Thus, for example, inorganic nature is not to be considered merely something else than organic nature, but the necessary antithesis of it. Both are in essential relation to one another; and the one of the two is, only in so far as it excludes the other from it, and thus relates itself thereto. Nature in like manner is not without mind, nor mind without nature. An important step has been taken, when we cease in thinking to use phrases like: Of course something else is also possible. While we speak, we are still tainted with contingency: and all true thinking, we have already said, is a thinking of necessity.

In modern physical science the opposition, first observed to exist in magnetism as polarity, has come to be regarded as a universal law pervading the whole of nature. This would be a real scientific advance, if care were at the same time taken not to let mere variety revert without explanation, as a valid category, side by side with opposition. Thus at one time the colours are regarded as in polar opposition to one another, and called complementary colours: at another time they are looked at in their indifferent and merely quantitative difference of red, yellow, green, etc.

(2) Instead of speaking by the maxim of Excluded Middle (which is the maxim of abstract understanding) we should rather say: Everything is opposite. Neither in heaven nor in Earth, neither in the world of mind nor of nature, is there anywhere such an abstract 'either-or' as the understanding maintains. Whatever exists is concrete, with difference and opposition in itself. The finitude of things will then lie in the want of correspondence between their immediate being, and what they essentially are. Thus, in inorganic nature, the acid is implicitly at the same time the base: in other words, its only being consists in its relation to its other. Hence also the acid is not something that persists quietly in the contrast: it is always in effort to realise what it potentially is.

Contradiction is the very moving principle of the world: and it is ridiculous to say that contradiction is unthinkable. The only thing correct in that statement is that contradiction is not the end of the matter, but cancels itself. But contradiction, when cancelled, does not leave abstract identity; for that is itself only one side of the contrariety. The proximate result of opposition (when realised as contradiction) is the Ground, which contains identity as well as difference superseded and deposited to elements in the completer notion.

§ 120

Contrariety then has two forms. The Positive is the aforesaid various (different) which is understood to be independent, and yet at the same time not to be unaffected by its relation to its other. The Negative is to be, no less independently, negative self-relating, self-subsistent, and yet at the same time as Negative must on every point have this its self-relation, i.e. its Positive, only in the other. Both Positive and Negative are therefore explicit contradiction; both are potentially the same. Both are so actually also; since either is the abrogation of the other and of itself. Thus they fall to the Ground. Or as is plain, the essential difference, as a difference, is only the difference of it from itself, and thus contains the identical: so that to essential and actual difference there belongs itself as well as identity. As self-relating difference it is likewise virtually enunciated as the self-identical. And the opposite is in general that which includes the one and its other, itself and its opposite. The immanence of essence thus defined is the Ground.

[c] The Ground

§ 121

The Ground is the unity of identity and difference, the truth of what difference and identity have turned out to be – the reflection-into-self, which is equally a reflection-into-other, and vice-versa. It is essence put explicitly as a totality.

The maxim of Ground runs thus: Everything has its Sufficient Ground: that is, the true essentiality of any thing is not the predication of it as identical with itself, or as different (various), or merely positive, or merely negative, but as having its Being in an other, which, being the self-same, is its essence. And to this extent the essence is not abstract reflection into self, but into an other. The Ground is the essence in its own inwardness; the essence is intrinsically a ground; and it is a ground only when it is a ground of somewhat, of an other.

We must be careful, when we say that the ground is the unity of identity and difference, not to understand by this unity an abstract identity. Otherwise we only change the name, while we still think the identity (of understanding) already seen to be false. To avoid this misconception we may say that the ground, besides being the unity, is also the difference of identity and difference. In that case in the ground, which promised at first to supersede contradiction, a new contradiction seems to arise. It is however, a contradiction, which, so far from persisting quietly in itself, is rather the expulsion of it from itself. The ground is a ground only to the extent that it affords ground: but the result which thus issued from the ground is only itself. In this lies its formalism. The ground and what is grounded are one and the same content: the difference between the two is the mere difference of form which separates simple self-relation, one the one hand, from mediation, or derivativeness on the other. Inquiry into the grounds of things goes with the point of view which, as already noted (§112n), is adopted by Reflection. We wish, as it were, to see the matter double, first in its immediacy, and secondly in its ground, where it is no longer immediate. This is the plain meaning of the Law of Sufficient Ground is that things should essentially be viewed as mediated. The manner in which Formal Logic establishes this law sets a bad example to other sciences. Formal Logic asks these sciences not to accept their subject-matter as it is immediately given; and yet herself lays down a law of thought without deducing it – in other words, without exhibiting its mediation. With the same justice as the logician maintains our faculty of thought to be so constituted that we must ask for the ground of everything, might the physicist, when asked why a man who falls into water is drowned, reply that man happens to be so constituted that he cannot live under water; or the jurist, when asked why a criminal is punished, reply that civil society happens to be so constituted that crimes cannot be left unpunished.

Yet even if logic be excused the duty of giving a ground for the law of sufficient ground, it might at least explain what is to be understood by a ground. The common explanation, which describes the ground as what has a consequence, seems at first glance more lucid and intelligible than the preceding definition in logical terms. If you ask however what the consequence is, you are told that it is what has a ground; and it becomes obvious that the explanation is intelligible only because it assumes what in our case has been reached as the termination of an antecedent movement of thought. And this is the true business of logic: to show that those thoughts, which as usually employed merely float before consciousness neither understood nor demonstrated, are really grades in the self-determination of thought. It is by no means that they are understood and demonstrated.

In common life, and it is the same in the finite sciences, this reflective form is often employed as a key to the secret of the real condition of the objects of investigation. So long as we deal with what may be termed the household needs of knowledge, nothing can be urged against this method of study. But it can never afford definitive satisfaction, either in theory or practice. And the reason why it fails is that the ground is yet without a definite content of its own; so that to regard anything as resting upon a ground merely gives the formal difference of mediation in place of immediacy. We see an electrical phenomenon, for example, and we ask for its ground (or reason): we are told that electricity is the ground of this phenomenon. What is this but the same content as we had immediately before us, only translated into the form of inwardness?

The ground however is not merely simple self-identity, but also different: hence various grounds may be alleged for the same sum of fact. This variety of grounds, again, following the logic of difference, culminates in opposition of grounds pro and contra. In any action, such as a theft, there is a sum of fact in which several aspects may be distinguished. The theft has violated the rights of property: it has given the means of satisfying his wants to the needy thief: possibly too the man, from whom the theft was made, misused his property. The violation of property is unquestionably the decisive point of view before which the others must give way: but the bare law of the ground cannot settle that question. Usually indeed the law is interpreted to speak of a sufficient ground, not of any ground whatever: and it might be supposed therefore, in the action referred to, that, although other points of view besides the violation of property might be held as grounds, yet they would not be sufficient grounds. But here comes a dilemma. If we use the phrase ‘sufficient ground’, the epithet is either otiose, or of such a kind as to carry us past the mere category of ground. The predicate is otiose and tautological, if it only states the capability of giving a ground or reason: for the ground is a ground, only in so far as it has this capability. If a soldier runs away from battle to save his life, his conduct is certainly a violation of duty; but it cannot be held that the ground which led him so to act was insufficient, otherwise he would have remained at his post. Besides, there is this also to be said. On one hand any ground suffices: on the other no ground suffices as mere ground; because, as already said, it is yet void of a content objectively and intrinsically determined, and is therefore not self-acting and productive.

A content thus objectively and intrinsically determined, and hence self-acting, will hereafter come before us as the notion: and it is the notion which Leibnitz had in his eye when he spoke of sufficient ground, and urged the study of things under its point of view. His remarks were originally directed against that merely mechanical method of conceiving things so much in vogue even now; a method which he justly pronounces insufficient. We may see an instance of this mechanical theory of investigation when the organic process of the circulation of the blood is traced back merely to the contraction of the heart; or when certain theories of criminal law explain the purpose of punishment to lie in deterring people from crime, in rendering the criminal harmless, or in other extraneous grounds of the same kind. It is unfair to Leibnitz to suppose that he was content with anything so poor as this formal law of the ground. The method of investigation which he inaugurated is the very reverse of a formalism which acquiesces in mere grounds, where a full and concrete knowledge is sought. Considerations to this effect led Leibnitz to contrast causae efficientes and causae finales, and to insist on the place of final causes as the conception to which the efficient were to lead up . If we adopt this distinction, light, heat, and moisture would be the causae efficientes, not causa finalis of the growth of plants; the cause finalis is the notion of the plant itself.

To get no further than mere grounds, especially on questions of law and morality, is the position and principle of the Sophists. Sophistry, as we ordinarily conceive it, is a method of investigation which aims at distorting what is just and true, and exhibiting things in a false light. Such however is not the proper or primary tendency of Sophistry: the standpoint of which is no other than that of raisonnement. The Sophists came on the scene at a time when the Greeks had begun to grow dissatisfied with mere authority and tradition and felt the need of intellectual justification for what they were to accept as obligatory. That desideratum the Sophists supplied by teaching their countrymen to seek for the various points of view under which things may be considered: which points of view are the same as grounds. But the ground, as we have seen, has no essential and objective principles of its own, and it is as easy to discover grounds for what is wrong and immoral as for what is moral and right. Upon the observer therefore it depends to decide what points are to have most weight. The decision in such circumstances is prompted by his individual views and sentiments. Thus the objective foundation of what ought to have been of absolute and essential obligation, accepted by all, was undermined: and Sophistry by this destructive action deservedly brought upon itself the bad name previously mentioned. Socrates, as we all know, met the Sophists at every point, not by a bare reassertion of authority and tradition against their argumentations, but by showing dialectically how untenable the mere grounds were, and by vindicating the obligations of justice and goodness by reinstating the universal or notion of the will. In the present day such a method of argumentation is not quite out of fashion. Nor is that the case only in the discussion of secular matters. It occurs even in sermons, such as those where every possible ground of gratitude to God is propounded. To such pleading Socrates and Plato would not have scrupled to apply the name of Sophistry. For Sophistry has nothing to do with what is taught: that may very possibly be true. Sophistry lies in the formal circumstance of teaching it by grounds which are as available for attack as for defence. In a time so rich in reflection and so devoted to raisonnement as our own, he must be a poor creature who cannot advance a good ground for everything, even for what is worst and most depraved. Everything in the world that has become corrupt has had good ground for its corruption. An appeal to grounds at first makes the hearer think of beating a retreat: but when experience has taught him the real state of these matters, he closes his ears against them, and refuses to be imposed upon any more.

§ 122

As it first comes, the chief feature of Essence is show in itself and intermediation in itself. But when it has completed the circle of intermediation, its unity with itself is explicitly put as the self-annulling of difference, and therefore of intermediation. Once more then we come back to immediacy or Being – but Being in so far as it is intermediated by annulling the intermediation. And that Being is Existence.

The ground is not yet determined by objective principles of its own, nor is it an end or final cause: hence it is not active, not productive. An Existence only proceeds from the ground. The determinate ground is therefore a formal matter: that is to say, any point will do, so long as it is expressly put as self-relation, as affirmation, in correlation with the immediate existence depending on it. If it be a ground at all, it is a good ground: for the term 'good' is employed abstractly as equivalent to affirmative; and any point (or feature) is good which can in any way be enunciated as confessedly affirmative. So it happens that a ground can be found and adduced for everything: and a good ground (for example, a good motive for action) may effect something or may not, it may have a consequence or it may not. It becomes a motive (Strictly so called) and effects something, e.g. through its reception into a will; there and there only it becomes active and is made a cause.

(b) Existence

§ 123

Existence is the immediate unity of reflection-into-self and reflection-into-other. It follows from this that existence is the indefinite multitude of existents as reflected-into-themselves, which at the same time equally throw light upon one another – which, in short, are co-relative, and form a world of reciprocal dependence and of infinite interconnection between grounds and consequents. The grounds are themselves existences: and the existents in like manner are in many directions grounds as well as consequents.

The phrase 'Existence' (derived from existere) suggests the fact of having proceeded from something. Existence is Being which has proceeded from the ground, and has reinstated by annulling its intermediation. The Essence, as Being set aside and absorbed, originally came before us as shining or showing in self, and the categories of this reflection are identity, difference and ground. The last is the unity of identity and difference; and because it unifies them it has at the same time to distinguish itself from itself. But that which is in this way distinguished from the ground is as little mere difference as the ground itself is abstract sameness. The ground works its own suspension: and when suspended, the result of its negation is existence. Having issued from the ground, existence contains the ground in it; the ground does not remain, as it were, behind existence, but by its very nature supersedes itself and translates itself into existence.

This is exemplified even in our ordinary mode of thinking when we look upon the ground of a thing, not as something abstractly inward, but as itself also an existent. For example, the lightning-flash which has set a house on fire would be considered the ground of the conflagration; or the manners of a nation and the conditions of its life would be regarded as the ground of its constitution. Such indeed is the ordinary aspect in which the existence world originally appears to reflection – an indefinite crowd of things existent, which being simultaneously reflected on themselves and on one another are related reciprocally as ground and consequence. In this motley play of the world, if we may so call the sum of existents, there is nowhere a firm footing to be found: everything bears an aspect of relativity, conditioned by and conditioning something else. The reflective understanding makes it its business to elicit and trace these connections running out in every direction: but the question touching an ultimate design is so far left unanswered, and therefore the craving of the reason after knowledge passes with the further development of the logical Idea beyond this position of mere relativity.

§ 124

The reflection-on-another of the existent is however inseparable from reflection-into-self: the ground is their unity, from which existence has issued. The existent therefore includes relativity, and has on its own part its multiple interconnections with other existents: it is reflected on itself as its ground. The existent is, when so described, a Thing.

The 'thing-in-itself' (or thing in the abstract), so famous in the philosophy of Kant, shows itself here in its genesis. It is seen to be the abstract reflection-on-self, which is so clung to, to the exclusion of reflection-into-other-things and of all predication of difference.

The thing-in-itself therefore is the empty substratum for these predicates of relation.

If to know means to comprehend an object in its concrete character, then the thing-in-itself, which is nothing but the quite abstract and indeterminate thing in general, must certainly be as unknowable as it is alleged to be. With as much reason however as we speak of the thing-in-itself, we might speak of quality-by-itself or quantity-by-itself, and of any other category. The expression would then serve to signify that these categories are taken in their abstract immediacy, apart from their development and inward character. It is no better than a whim of the understanding, therefore, if we attach the qualificatory 'in-itself'' to the thing only. But this 'in-itself' is also applied to the facts of the mental as well as the natural world: as we speak of electricity or of a plant in itself, so we speak of man or the state in-itself.

By this 'in-itself' in these objects, we are meant to understand what they strictly and properly are. This usage is liable to the same criticism as the phrase 'thing-in-itself'. For if we stick to the mere 'in-itself' of an object, we apprehend it not in its truth, but in the inadequate form of mere abstraction. Thus the man, in himself, is the child. And what the child has to do is to rise out of this abstract and undeveloped 'in-himself' and become 'for himself' what he is at first only 'in-himself' – a free and reasonable being. Similarly, the state-in-itself is the yet immature and patriarchal state, where the various political functions, latent in the notion of the state, have not received the full logical constitution which the logic of political principles demands.

In the same sense, the germ may be called the plant-in-itself. These examples may show the mistake of supposing that the 'thing-in-itself' of things is something inaccessible to our cognition. All things are originally in-themselves, but that is not the end of the matter. As the germ, being the plant-in-itself, means self-development, so the thing in general passes beyond its in-itself (the abstract reflection on self) to manifest itself further as a reflection on other things. It is this sense that it has properties.

(c) The Thing

§ 125

[a] The Thing is the totality-the development in explicit unity of the categories of the ground and of existence. On the side of one of its factors, viz. reflection-on-other-things, it has in it the differences, in virtue of which it is a characterised and concrete thing. These characteristics are different from one another; they have their reflection-into-self not on their own part, but on the part of the thing. They are Properties of the thing: and their relation to the thing is expressed by the word 'have'.

As a term of relation, 'to have' takes the place of 'to be'. True, somewhat has qualities on its part too: but this transference of 'having' into the sphere of Being is inexact, because the character as quality is directly one with the somewhat, and the somewhat ceases to be when it loses its quality. But the thing is reflection-into-self: for it is an identity which is also distinct from the difference, i.e. from its attributes. In many languages 'have' is employed to denote past time. And with reason: for the past is absorbed, or suspended being, and the mind is its reflection-into-self; in the mind only it continues to subsist-the mind, however, distinguishing from itself this being in it which has been absorbed or suspended.

In the Thing all the characteristics of reflection recur as existent. Thus the thing, in its initial aspect, as the thing-by-itself, is the selfsame or identical. But identity, it was proved, is not found without difference: so the properties, which the thing has, are the existent difference in the form of diversity. In the case of diversity of variety each diverse member exhibited an indifference to every other, and they had no other relation to each other, save what was given by a comparison external to them. But now in the thing we have a bond which keeps the various properties in union. Property, besides, should not be confused with quality. No doubt, we also say, a thing has qualities. But the phraseology is a misplaced one: 'having' hints at an independence, foreign to the 'somewhat', which is still directly identical with its quality. Somewhat is what it is only by its quality: whereas, though the thing indeed exists only as it has its properties, it is not confined to this or that definite property, and can therefore lose it, without ceasing to be what it is.

§ 126

[b] Even in the ground, however, the reflection-on-something-else is directly convertible with reflection-on-self. And hence the properties are not merely different from each other; they are also self-identical, independent, and relieved from their attachment to the thing. Still, as they are the characters of the thing distinguished from one another (as reflected-into-self), they are not themselves things, if things be concrete; but only existences reflected into themselves as abstract characters. They are what are called Matters.

Nor is the name 'things' given to Matters, such as magnetic and electric matters. They are qualities proper, a reflected Being-One with their Being-they are the character that has reached immediacy, existence: they are 'entities'.

To elevate the properties, which the Thing has, to the independent position of matters, or materials of which it consists, is a proceeding based upon the notion of a Thing: and for that reason is also found in experience. Thought and experience however alike protest against concluding from the fact that certain properties of a thing, such as colour, or smell, may be represented as particular colouring or odorific matters, that we are then at the end of the inquiry, and that nothing more is needed to penetrate to the true secret of things than a disintegration of them into their component materials. This disintegration into independent matters is properly restricted to inorganic nature only. The chemist is in the right, therefore, when, for example, he analyses common salt or gypsum into its elements, and finds that the former consists of muriatic acid and soda, the latter of sulphuric acid and calcium. So too the geologist does well to regard granite as a compound of quartz, felspar, and mica. These matters, again, of which the thing consists, are themselves partly things, which in that way may be once more reduced to more abstract matters. Sulphuric acid, for example, is a compound of sulphur and oxygen. Such matters or bodies can as a matter of fact be exhibited as subsisting by themselves: but frequently we find other properties of things, entirely wanting this self-subsistence, also regarded as particular matters. Thus we hear caloric, and electrical or magnetic matters spoken of. Such matters are at the best figments of understanding. And we see here the usual procedure of the abstract reflection of understanding. Capriciously adopting single categories, whose value entirely depends on their place in the gradual evolution of the logical idea, it employs them in the pretended interests of explanation, but in the face of plain, unprejudiced perception and experience, so as to trace back to them every object investigated. Nor is this all. The theory, which makes things consist of independent matters, is frequently applied in a region where it has neither meaning nor force. For within the limits of nature even, wherever there is organic life, this category is obviously inadequate. An animal may be said to consist of bones, muscles, nerves, etc.: but evidently we are here using the term 'consist' in a very different sense from its use when we spoke of the piece of granite as consisting of the above-mentioned elements. The elements of granite are utterly indifferent to their combination: they could subsist as well without it. The different parts and members of an organic body on the contrary subsist only in their union: they cease to exist as such, when they are separated from each other.

§ 127

Thus Matter is the mere abstract or indeterminate reflection-into-something-else, or reflection-into-self at the same time as determinate; it is consequently Thinghood which then and there is the subsistence of the thing. By this means the thing has on the part of the matters its reflection-into-self (the reverse of § 125); it subsists not on its own part, but consists of the matters, and is only a superficial association between them, an external combination of them.

§ 128

[c] Matter, being the immediate unity of existence with itself, is also indifferent towards specific character. Hence the numerous diverse matters coalesce into the one Matter, or into existence under the reflective characteristic of identity. In contrast to this one Matter these distinct properties and their external relation which they have to one another in the thing, constitute the Form – the reflective category of difference, but a difference which exists and is a totality.

This one featureless Matter is also the same as the Thing-in-itself was: only the latter is intrinsically quite abstract, while the former essentially implies relation to something else, and in the first place to the Form.

The various matters of which the thing consists are potentially the same as one another. Thus we get one Matter in general to which the difference is expressly attached externally and as a bare form. This theory which holds things all round to have one and the same matter at bottom, and merely to differ externally in respect of form, is much in vogue with the reflective understanding. Matter in that case counts for naturally indeterminate, but susceptible of any determination; while at the same time it is perfectly permanent, and continues the same amid all change and alteration. And in finite things at least this disregard of matter for any determinate form is certainly exhibited. For example, it matters not to a block of marble, whether it receive the form of this or that statue or even the form of a pillar. Be it noted however that a block of marble can disregard form only relatively, that is, in reference to the sculptor: it is by no means purely formless. And so the mineralogist considers the relatively formless marble as a special formation of rock, differing from other equally special formations, such as sandstone or porphyry. Therefore we say it is an abstraction of the understanding which isolates matter into a certain natural formlessness. For properly speaking the thought of matter includes the principle of form throughout, and no formless matter therefore appears, anywhere even in experience as existing. Still the conception of matter as original and pre-existent, and as naturally formless, is a very ancient one; it meets us even among the Greeks, at first in the mythical shape of Chaos, which is supposed to represent the unformed substratum of the existing world. Such a conception must of necessity tend to make God not the Creator of the world, but a mere world-moulder or demiurge. A deeper insight into nature reveals God as creating the world out of nothing. And that teaches two things. On the one hand it enunciates that matter, as such, has no independent subsistence, and on the other that the form does not supervene upon matter from without, but as a totality involves the principle of matter in itself. This free and infinite form will hereafter come before us as the notion.

§ 129

Thus the Thing suffers a disruption into Matter and Form. Each of these is the totality of thinghood and subsists for itself. But Matter, which is meant to be the positive and indeterminate existence, contains, as an existence, reflection-on-another, every whit as much as it contains self-enclosed being. Accordingly as uniting these characteristics, it is itself the totality of Form. But Form, being a complete whole of characteristics, ipso facto involves reflection-into-self; in other words, as self-relating Form it has the very function attributed to Matter. Both are at bottom the same. Invest them with this unity, and you have the relation of Matter and Form, which are also no less distinct.

The Theory of "Matters"
§ 130

The Thing, being this totality, is a contradiction. On the side of its negative unity it is Form in which Matter is determined and deposed to the rank of properties (§ 125). At the same time it consists of Matters, which in the reflection-of-the-thing-into-itself are as much independent as they are at the same time negatived. Thus the thing is the essential existence, in such a way as to be an existence that suspends or absorbs itself in itself. In other words, the thing is an Appearance or Phenomenon.

The negation of the several matters, which is insisted on in the thing no less than their independent existence, occurs in Physics as porosity. Each of the several matters (coloured matter, odorific matter, and if we believe some people, even sound-matter – not excluding caloric, electric matter, etc.) is also negated: and in this negation of theirs, or as interpenetrating their pores, we find the numerous other independent matters, which, being similarly porous, make room in turn for the existence of the rest. Pores are not empirical facts; they are figments of the understanding, which uses them to represent the element of negation in independent matters. The further working-out of the contradictions is concealed by the nebulous imbroglio in which all matters are independent and all no less negated in each other. If the faculties or activities are similarly hypostatised in the mind, their living unity similarly turns to the imbroglio of an action of the one on the others.

These pores (meaning thereby not the pores in an organic body, such as the pores of wood or of the skin, but those in the so-called 'matters', such as colouring matter, caloric, or metals, crystals, etc.) cannot be verified by observation. In the same way matter itself – furthermore form which is separated from matter – whether that be the thing as consisting of matters, or the view that the thing itself subsists and only has properties, is all a product of the reflective understanding which, while it observes and professes to record only what it observes, is rather creating a metaphysic, bristling with contradictions of which it is unconscious.


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