Contradiction in Hegel’s Science of Logic

Bole, Thomas J. “Contradiction in Hegel’s Science of Logic,” in Review of Metaphysics 40 (1987): 515-34.


Anglo-American philosophers who are anxious to redeem Hegel’s thought have come to grips with his remarks about contradiction in a variety of ways. Generally, however, they have seen the statements in question here as two sides of one coin – one side objective, the other side subjective. They have therefore tended to provide unitary accounts of the thematic and methodological implications of Hegel’s discussion of contradiction; either reality is basically contradictory and thought must be so too in order to mirror it, or thought generates the apparently stable identities of reality out of the contradiction fundamental to itself.

For the moment I leave it to the reader to make what sense he can of such approaches. What interests me here is that they conflate Hegel’s talk about employing contradiction methodically, i.e., holding fast to contradiction, with his discussion of contradiction as a moment of essence. It may be that these issues are bound up with one another. But there is no obvious reason to suppose that that is so…

… If one begins by supposing that simple self-identity and mere difference are characteristic of essents and sees Hegel as arguing that contradiction is on a par with them, he is bound to conclude that Hegel was theoretically committed to the position stated in the claim. But the whole point of Hegel’s treatment of contradiction is, as we have seen, that the belief that simple self-identity and mere difference characterize essents is ultimately groundless. The conclusion which ought to be drawn from Hegel’s categorial treatment of contradiction is, therefore, not that contradiction is characteristic of whatever possesses an essence, but that simple self-identity and mere difference are not. Examination of Hegel’s theoretical dealings with contradiction thus confirms the propriety of exercizing the option of disregarding his remarks about things being self-contradictory which, as we noted earlier on, is inherent in his placement of those remarks within an Anmerkung.

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