8 Feb 2015

Priest, (5) ‘Dialectic and Dialetheic’, section 5, “The History of Hegel’s Dialectic”, summary


by Corry Shores
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[The following is summary. All boldface, underlying and bracketed commentary are my own, unless otherwise indicated.]

Graham Priest

“Dialectic and Dialetheic”

5 The History of Hegel’s Dialectic

Brief Summary:

If we look at three of Hegel’s influences – Neo-Platonists, Kant, and Fichte – we see that Hegel borrowed self-contradictory ideas from each of them. Thus Hegel is a dialetheist, that is, he believes that true contradictions exist.


Priest will now offer a dialetheic interpretation of Hegel and Marx’s ideas on dialectic.

I will argue historically: given the philosophical influences acting on Hegel and Marx, and what Hegel, in particular, says about them, there is no other very sensible interpretation.

One of Hegel’s major influences were “medieval (and especially Christian) Neo-Platonists and their Renaissance successors” (398). The Neo-Platonists held contradictory true things about the One, for example, that it is everything and nothing, everywhere and nowhere. Hegel’s concept of the absolute was influenced by this Neo-Platonic concept of the One.

Another of Hegel’s influences is Kant. In his Critique of Pure Reason, Kant has a section called the ‘Antinomy of Pure Reason’. Here there are four pair of arguments, each one contrary to its partner, but neither of each pair is fallacious on its own. (399) But Kant is not using dialectical logic, because he diagnoses a flaw in the antinomies. The flaw is that they apply a category outside its legitimate bounds. Priest takes as an example, “everything has a cause”. [Priest seems to be saying here that Kant’s reasoning is that “everything has a cause” belongs to objects of intuition, but “the World” is only apprehended by reason. Therefore, we cannot apply “everything has a cause” to “the World.”] (399)

Kant uses the antinomies to show that reason and its categories depend on experience to provide it content (399). Priest says “It is difficult to find direct arguments for this assumption, other than some very strong form of positivism (such as Hume’s)” (399). [I am not sure what Priest means here, perhaps that the best argument Kant has, or that we can provide him, is that in all cases we seem always to get our conceptual content from experience.] But if we reject this hypothesis, then reason, in its independence from experience, generates contradictions. This is the route that Kant’s successors took. [I am not sure if Priest here is referring to German Idealists or perhaps some other group like neo-Kantians]. Priest then provides a long quote by Hegel where he makes this point. [I will just place a couple sentences in the following.]

The blemish of contradiction, it seems, could not be allowed to mar the essence of the world; but there could be no objection to attaching it to the thinking Reason, to the essence of mind. [...] It is no escape to turn round and explain that Reason falls into contradictions only by applying the categories. For this application of the categories is maintained to be necessary . . . . (Hegel, Lesser Logic, section 48, 76–77, qtd in Priest 400)

Priest lastly considers Fichte’s influence on Hegel. Fichte criticized Kant’s thing-in-itself and instead was concerned with the ego, whose nature is to think. Yet,

there is nothing to think about except itself; and it is impossible to think something unless there is something else to contrast it with. (So at least thought Fichte.) Hence, the self had to create something different, the non-self, against which it could conceive itself. (This is precisely Reason leading a life of its own.) It therefore produces contradiction. Specifically, the non-self must also be self, since nothing else exists. […] as Fichte puts it […]: self = not-self and not-self = self.

In Fichte’s account, by the self (thesis) conceiving the not-self (antithesis), they coexist happily and give birth to a new antithesis (synthesis). (400)

Hegel had a two-fold criticism of Fichte:

first, that Fichte had not elevated the transcendental ego into something grander, Geist; and second, that he had misunderstood the nature and significance of the final synthesis (1895, 499).
(401, citing Hegel, Lectures on the History of Philosophy, Vol. III)

Nonetheless, Hegel takes up this dialectic of the self, including “the contradictory nature of the alienated state of the self” (401). Priest concludes: “Hegel’s dialetheism is therefore established” (401).




Citations from:

Priest, Graham. ‘Dialectic and Dialetheiç’. Science & Society, 1989/1990, 53 (4) 388–415.








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