4 Jan 2013

Pt2.Ch5.Sb9 Somers-Hall’s Hegel, Deleuze, and the Critique of Representation. ‘The Concept of Essence in Aristotle and Hegel’. summary

Corry Shores
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[Note: All boldface and underlining is my own. It is intended for skimming purposes. Bracketed comments are also my own explanations or interpretations. Also, proofreading is incomplete.]


Henry Somers-Hall


Hegel, Deleuze, and the Critique of Representation.

Dialectics of Negation and Difference


Part 2: Responses to Representation

Chapter 5: Infinite Thought

Subdivision 9: The Concept of Essence in Aristotle and Hegel

Very Brief Summary:

For Hegel, an essence of an object is the totality of the chain of mediations leading up to it. This solves two problems Aristotle’s concept of essence caused in his system. Hegel’s essence gives unity to different parts, because they are connected with their genetic relations. And it explains changing appearance, because something’s essence is not apart from its accidental appearings but rather is the process of it appearing.



Brief Summary:

Aristotle’s system had a problem with focal meaning. He had the highest genera, being. It could not be defined, because definitions have a higher genera, and being has none. Instead it has a focal meaning that is not stated but implied in all the many senses of being whose meanings are semantically tied to being but have semantically drifted from it. We see this in the case of individuals, whose accidents vary while the essence stays the same. Thus in Socrates the boy and Socrates the man, it is the same name and the same focal meaning, but there is a slight drift in the meaning of Socrates between cases. But this drifting conceives of a higher genera, Socrates, with its species variations. Hence it would not help us with the highest genera, being, because its semantic drift still implies a higher genera, yet one cannot exist. So we have a problem on the scale of the large. We also have a problem on the scale of the small, of the individual, because even these drifted senses of Socrates only tell us his static states, but say nothing of the process of becoming that is responsible for their coming to being. And, we can only know the essence of something after its becoming has ceased, because then we can see what of it changed (its accidents) and what of it stayed the same (its essence). This makes essence something in the past. For Hegel, essence is the history of mediations that allow the object to appear in its immediacy. It is the totality of mediations that generate the term, which means all the terms are inherently related as being genetically emergent from their antecedents. Aristotle’s sense of static essence has them only externally related, which caused the problem of its states of becoming not having an explanation for their relations. Hegel’s sense of essence solves the two big problems with Aristotle’s system. One problem was explaining the unity of the system. For Hegel, all the categories are related not because they fall under an indefinable highest category; rather, their relations are traceable in their genetic evolution. The other problem was with explaining the changes in an object’s appearing. For Aristotle, the essence was different from its appearing, where the accidents were under variation. But for Hegel, the terms are already genetically connected with movements, and this is its essence, so its essence is inseparable from appearance, from the process of seeming.


Previously we saw how reason’s infinite thought can think the contradictions in such speculative propositions as God is being, where the subject it different from the other subject (which not a predicate) and yet they are equated. Infinite thought is immune to a Bergsonian critique of spatialized language.


Now we turn to essence in Hegel and Aristotle. Aristotle had a problem with focal meaning, and it affected his philosophy on both the large and small levels. Let’s start with the large level. We have the highest genera, being. It should be a unified concept. Its different species are semantically related like how the semantic content of an individual can drift from its central meaning, with regard to its essence and accidents. For example, in Socrates the boy and Socrates the man, the meaning of Socrates drifts but does not become opposed. In a similar manner, all the beings [or senses?] of being drift from a central meaning, so they are likewise both unified yet different. But to make this distinction, it is a matter of form and matter, or potential and actual, which brings us back to the concept of genera. “As the meaning of the general category of being or unity is what we were seeking, the relation of essence to accident now becomes problematic. The problem to be solved, therefore, was how one was to understand the movement between.” (156)

Once the object ceases becoming, then we can assess what was the essence and what was the accidents, on the basis of what stayed the same and what changed. Hence essence for Aristotle is what it was to be that thing.

This meant, of course, that the essence of an object had to remain separate from the appearing of the object, since the appearing of the object, as movement, was antithetical to its fixed form. Essence, for Aristotle, therefore, in the end represented another way of banishing transition, an approach which further problematized our attempt to understand semantic drift, since semantic drift is precisely a movement of transition of meaning. (156)

For Hegel, essence is the timelessly past of being. For Hegel, essence is the “history of mediations which have allowed the object to appear in its immediacy”. (156) So “the essence of a particular term simply is the totality of mediations which have generated that term.” (156) Thus in this way we conceive of essence in genetic terms. Here the terms are internally connected through a chain of mediated self-geneses even though they are different. So they are unified in this way, and their relations are given with the terms. But for Aristotle, terms are externally related, and he is unable to explain their connection. “As we also saw above, since essence is the network of mediations that underlie the apparent immediacy of the object, essence will itself emerge as not opposed to appearance, but rather as both different from and identical to it.” (156)

By moving to this understanding of essence, therefore, Hegel simultaneously solves the two problems of the Aristotelian system. Unity is given because the relations | between categories can be understood simply by tracing back their genetic evolution, thereby showing their immanent relations, and essence is now seen as inseparable from the process of seeming, meaning that we no longer need to try to isolate a fixed element from the flux of appearing in order to understand the object. (156-157)


Somers-Hall, Henry (2012) Hegel, Deleuze, and the Critique of Representation. Dialectics of Negation and Difference. Albany: SUNY.

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