Sunday, February 22, 2015

The Tautology of Systematicity: Is Hegel Guilty of Circular Reasoning?

The status of tautology and the fallacy of circular reasoning, or petitio principii,  is of central importance for Hegel, systematic philosophy, and dialectical logic. Ordinarily in formal logic, an inference from premises A and B to the conclusion A (i.e. A, B, therefore A) is a tautology which is trivially true because the conclusion is assumed as one of the premises. Since a tautology demonstrates nothing new that is not already assumed in the premises, a tautology is valid only because the conclusion necessarily follows from the premises, but also fallacious because the conclusion is not derived from but assumed as one of the premises. 

When, however, we consider the system of philosophy as a whole, we must first assume the possibility of the system in the background if we are ever to begin to construct it in the foreground. Hegel thus abstractly assumes the possibility of the conclusion of his system of philosophy in the background even as he purports to logically develop it as a concrete actuality in the foreground. He unabashedly admits this when he writes, in the Preface to The Phenomenology of Spirit, that his system "is the process of its own becoming, the circle which presupposes its end as its purpose, and has its end for its beginning; it becomes concrete and actual only by being carried out, and by the end it involves." (PhG §18).

Hegel does not, however, commit the fallacy of circular reasoning because he makes a crucial distinction between the two modes being: abstract potential and concrete actual. The system is assumed in the background as an abstract potential being, only so that 
it may then be constructed in the foreground as an actual concrete being, and finally as the Absolute Being in-and-of-itself. Since for Hegel the mode of being of the conclusion is concrete and actual, while the mode of being of the assumption is abstract and potential, and a subject differs when predicated by different modes, for the purposes of demonstration, Hegel has not assumed the conclusion as a premise, but merely the system in the mode of abstract potential being, rather than concrete actual being.

This same assumption of the abstract potentiality of being towards the concrete actuality of being is also made by dialectical logic, which first abductively assumes the most general, abstract, and indeterminate being of thought, and then proceeds, step by step, to further negatively  determine this being, by annulling while preserving all alternative possible explanations.  Since systematicity must be assumed to begin the construction of any system, Hegel, and all systematic philosophers, must assume the end at the beginning. This is the virtuous rather than the vicious tautology of assuming the abstract potential to construct the system in order to begin to construct the system as a concrete actual Idea. 
Hegel does not commit the fallacy of circular reasoning because he does not assume the system as a concrete Idea that is fully determined and actual for us, but only as an abstract hypothetical assumption that may potentially become actual through the long labor of tarrying with the negative. The one Idea of Hegel’s system of philosophy is thus genuinely tautological, but not fallacious – at least not according to his own system of dialectical logic – both because the assumption of the system is necessary to begin the construction of the system, and because the initial mode of being is only abstract and potential and not yet concrete and actual. 

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I came to this post while searching google for "transhumanism". The post is on an inclined subject however. Our understanding of logic and events is limited to our intellectual capacity. We think we are therefore we are is the way that we live now. With improved abilities and capacity we might end up with we know we are and therefore we are. It is really interesting to see though many people oppose the transhuman initiatives but still too many people talk about it. In fact we have been through too much trouble only to get to a solution. We are now at the verges of finding ourselves different than we were before. The transhuman transformation is an accelerated evolution and nothing more and nothing less than that. If you want, here are some interesting thoughts: