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Hegel's Critique of Foundationalism in the “Doctrine of Essence”

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  23 June 2015

Stephen Houlgate*
Affiliation:
University of Warwick
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Extract

It is a commonplace among certain recent philosophers that there is no such thing as the essence of anything. Nietzsche, for example, asserts that things have no essence of their own, because they are nothing but ceaselessly changing ways of acting on, and reacting to, other things. Wittgenstein, famously, rejects the idea that there is an essence to language and thought — at least if we mean by that some a priori logical structure underlying our everyday utterances. Finally, Richard Rorty urges that we “abandon […] the notion of ‘essence’ altogether”, along with “the notion that man's essence is to be a knower of essences”.

It would be wrong to maintain that these writers understand the concept of essence in precisely the same way, or that they are all working towards the same philosophical goal. Nevertheless, they do share one aim in common: to undermine the idea that there is some deeper reality or identity underlying and grounding what we encounter in the world, what we say and what we do. That is to say, they may all be described as anti-foundationalist thinkers — thinkers who want us to attend to the specific processes and practices of nature and humanity without understanding them to be the product of some fundamental essence or “absolute”.

Type
Hegel's Logic and Metaphysics
Copyright
Copyright © The Hegel Society of Great Britain 1999

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References

1 Nietzsche, Friedrich, The Will to Power, ed. Kaufmann, W., trans. Kaufmann, W. and Hollingdale, R. J. (New York: Vintage Books, 1968), §§556-8, 567 Google Scholar. See also, Nehamas, Alexander, Nietzsche: Life as Literature (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1985), pp. 80–1Google Scholar.

2 Wittgenstein, Ludwig, Philosophical Investigations (Oxford: Blackwell, 1958), §§89, 92, 97 Google Scholar.

3 Rorty, Richard, Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature (Oxford: Blackwell, 1980), pp. 361, 367 Google Scholar.

4 For a defence of the view that Nietzsche does not understand the will to power to be the “underlying essence” of things, but rather their inner “pathos”, see Houlgate, Stephen, Hegel, Nietzsche and the Criticism of Metaphysics (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986), pp. 66–7CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

5 Marx, Karl, Selected Writings, ed. McLellan, D. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1977), p. 420 Google Scholar.

6 Rorty, Richard, Consequences of Pragmatism (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1982), pp. 46–7Google Scholar, my italics.

7 Taylor, Charles, Hegel (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1975), pp. 287, 299300 CrossRefGoogle Scholar, my italics.

8 Nietzsche, The Will to Power, §515. See Houlgate, , Hegel, Nietzsche and the Criticism of Metaphysics, p. 37 Google Scholar.

9 Hegel, G.W.F., Phänomenologie des Geistes, ed. Moldenhauer, E. and Michel, K.M. (Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp Verlag, 1970)Google Scholar [Theorie Werkausgabe, Vol. 3], p. 28 Google Scholar; Phenomenology of Spirit, trans. Miller, A.V. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1977), p. 14 Google Scholar.

10 Hegel, G.W.F., Wissenschaft der Logik, ed. Moldenhauer, E. and Michel, K.M., 2 Vols. (Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp Verlag, 1969)Google Scholar [Theorie Werkausgabe, Vols. 5,6], 2: 246 Google Scholar; Science of Logic, trans. Miller, A.V. (Atlantic Highlands, NJ: Humanities Press International, 1989), p. 577 Google Scholar.

11 Pippin, Robert, Hegel's Idealism. The Satisfactions of Self-Consciousness (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989), p. 213 CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

12 Schopenhauer, Arthur, The World as Will and Representation, trans. Payne, E.F.J., 2 Vols. (New York: Dover Publications, 1969), 1: xxiv Google Scholar.

13 Hegel, , Wissenschaft der Logik, 1: 68-9, 82, 116-18, 131 Google Scholar; Science of Logic, pp. 69-70, 82, 109-11, 122. See also Henrich, Dieter, “Hegels Logik der Reflexion. Neue Fassung“, in Die Wissenschaft der Logik und die Logik der Reflexion, ed. Henrich, D. (Bonn: Bouvier Verlag, 1978)Google Scholar [Hegel-Studien, Beiheft 18], p. 246 Google Scholar.

14 Hegel, , Wissenschaft der Logik, 1:134 Google Scholar; Science of Logic, p. 124: “the determination is, as such, open to relationship to other”.

15 Hegel, G.W.F., Enzyklopädie der philosophischen Wissenschaften (1830). Erster Teil: Die Wissenschaft der Logik, ed. Moldenhauer, E. and Michel, K.M. (Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp Verlag, 1970)Google Scholar [Theorie Werkausgabe, Vol. 8], pp. 225–7Google Scholar [§108 and Addition]); The Encyclopaedia Logic, trans. Geraets, T.F., Suchting, W.F. and Harris, H.S. (Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company, 1991), pp. 171–2Google Scholar.

16 Hegel, , Enzyklopädie der philosophischen Wissenschaften (1830). Erster Teil: Die Wissenschaft der Logik, p. 229 [§111])Google Scholar; The Encyclopaedia Logic, p. 173.

17 For a more detailed discussion of the transition from the doctrine of being to the doctrine of essence in Hegel's Science of Logic, see Biard, J. et al, eds. Introduction à la lecture de La Science de la Logique de Hegel. I. L'Etre (Paris: Aubier, 1981), pp. 280–91Google Scholar.

18 Hegel, , Wissenschaft der Logik, 2:17 Google Scholar; Science of Logic, p. 393.

19 Hegel, , Wissenschaft der Logik, 2:18 Google Scholar; Science of Logic, p. 394 (translation emended).

20 Hegel, , Wissenschaft der Logik, 2:18 Google Scholar; Science of Logic, p. 394.

21 Hegel, , Wissenschaft der Logik, 2:18 Google Scholar; Science of Logic, p. 394.

22 Hegel, , Wissenschaft der Logik, 2: 19 Google Scholar; Science of Logic, p. 395.

23 See Henrich, , “Hegels Logik der Reflexion. Neue Fassung”, p. 236 Google Scholar.

24 Hegel, , Wissenschaft der Logik, 2: 13 Google Scholar; Science of Logic, p. 389.

25 Hegel, , Enzyklopädie der philosophischen Wissenschaften (1830). Erster Teil: Die Wissenschaft der Logik, p. 232 [§112 Addition]Google Scholar; The Encyclopaedia Logic, p. 176, my italics.

26 Hegel, , Wissenschaft der Logik, 2: 22 Google Scholar; Science of Logic, p. 398 (translation emended).

27 Hegel, , Wissenschaft der Logik, 2: 19, 21 Google Scholar; Science of Logic, pp. 395, 397.

28 Hegel, , Wissenschaft der Logik, 1: 118 Google Scholar; Science of Logic, p. 111.

29 Hegel, , Wissenschaft der Logik, 2: 22 Google Scholar; Science of Logic, p. 398.

30 Hegel, , Wissenschaft der Logik, 2: 22 Google Scholar; Science of Logic, p. 397.

31 Hegel, , Wissenschaft der Logik, 2: 22 Google Scholar; Science of Logic, p. 398 (translation emended).

32 Hegel, , Wissenschaft der Logik, 2: 23 Google Scholar; Science of Logic, p. 399 (translation emended).

33 Hegel, , Wissenschaft der Logik, 2: 23 Google Scholar; Science of Logic, p. 398 (translation emended).

34 Hegel, , Wissenschaft der Logik, 2: 22 Google Scholar; Science of Logic, p. 398. For Henrich's subtle analysis of this process, see “Hegels Logik der Reflexion. Neue Fassung”, pp. 256-60.

35 Hegel, , Wissenschaft der Logik, 2: 23 Google Scholar; Science of Logic, p. 399.

36 Hegel, , Wissenschaft der Logik, 2: 25 Google Scholar; Science of Logic, p. 400.

37 Hegel, , Wissenschaft der Logik, 1: 66 Google Scholar; Science of Logic, p. 68.

38 See, for example, Hegel, , Wissenschaft der Logik, 2: 202 Google Scholar; Science of Logic, p. 542 (on “immediate, unreflected actuality”). For Hegel, therefore, the world of nature and history, which is the unfolding of reason or the Idea, must include a moment of irreducible, immediate contingency. On this, see Henrich, Dieter, “Hegels Theorie über den Zufall”, in Henrich, Dieter, Hegel im Kontext, (Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp Verlag, 1967), pp. 157–86Google Scholar, and Houlgate, Stephen, “Necessity and Contingency in Hegel's Science of Logic ”, The Owl of Minerva 27, 1 (Fall 1995): 3749 CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

39 Hegel, , Wissenschaft der Logik, 2: 122-3, 220 Google Scholar; Science of Logic, pp. 477-8, 556.

40 This might well be one significant difference between Hegel and Wittgenstein and one significant similarity between Hegel and Nietzsche.

41 Deleuze, Gilles, Difference and Repetition, trans. Pattern, P. (London: Athlone Press, 1994), p. xix Google Scholar, my italics.

42 Marx, , Selected Writings, p. 389 Google Scholar, my italics.

43 Hegel, , Enzyklopädie der philosophischen Wissenschaften (1830). Erster Teil: Die Wissenschaft der Logik, p. 236 [§114]Google Scholar; The Encyclopaedia Logic, p. 179.

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