Hegel’s Metaphysics and the Problem of Contradiction

Pippin, Robert. “Hegel’s Metaphysics and the Problem of Contradiction,” in Journal of the History of Philosophy 16 (1978): 301-12.


Hegel’s contributions to social and political philosophy and to the philosophy of history, his lectures on the history of philosophy, and his comprehensive analysis of the details of human history are all fairly well known and often discussed. Many of his most original and provocative claims in these areas are found in his remarkable Phenomenology of Spirit, a work that has benefited from numerous, detailed commentaries. Much less noticed, especially in the twentieth century, is that other of Hegel’s only two real books, his Science of Logic. This neglect is all the more remarkable since Hegel himself regularly claimed that the foundation for all other parts of his system were to be found only in the Logic, that its “metaphysical” arguments alone could establish finally much of what he wanted to say elsewhere.

However, as even Hegelians sometimes complain, such neglect may be benign, given that work’s often impenetrable terminology and the fact that much of Hegel’s case in the Logic owes its peculiar form of expression to his comrades in German Idealism, Fichte and Schelling. Further, at times the Logic, like the Phenomenology (if one takes one’s impressions from the commentaries), reads like an arcane roman d clef, requiring that subtle allusions to Greek metaphysics and nineteenth-century science and mathematics be revealed and discussed in detail if the work is ever to be understood. Indeed, even more problems await anyone interested in interpreting any one section, or idea, or topic. Such a topic would seem incapable of receiving a fair hearing on its own, given the constant Hegelian insistence on seeing any “part” only in terms of the “whole.” If we are to accept Hegel’s claim that, in logic as in everything else, das Wahre ist das Ganze, no modest commentary on a single issue could hope to do justice to his intentions…

Available on Project MUSE