Andy Blunden November 2010

The Development of Concepts

The Abstract Concept

Volume 2 of the Logic is the science of the Concept (Begriff). The subject matter and starting point of this science is the Abstract Concept, or Subjectivity. All that has gone before is the prehistory of the concept. Only with this abstract, undeveloped, simple concept, does the concept itself come into being, and go on to become a mature concept, a real part of a whole way of life. This general idea underpins Hegel’s whole approach to science, so it can be illustrated in a number of very different contexts, and we can also illustrate the idea as presented by several different writers within the same genealogy which we are following here.

But what all views have in common is that this moment represents a cognitive leap: a complete break from what has gone before, which only prepared the groundwork for the leap. The leap is marked by the appearance of a new abstract concept, which cannot be deduced or predicted from the conditions out of which it arose. It relies only on what has gone before, but it is a creative leap, an ‘Ah-ha moment’.

First let us recall the two important predecessors to Hegel in this matter: Herder and Goethe. Herder was concerned with how to grasp the nature of a people, and the nature of an individual person, as a whole. To do this he created the notion of Schwerpunkt – ‘strong point’, which he sometimes called Mittelpunkt – ‘focal point’ or ‘centre of gravity’. By this Herder understood a central form of activity which was a person’s, or a whole people’s strong point. He did not suggest that this ‘strong point’ exhausted a person or a people’s nature, but expressed somewhat the same as Marx intended when he wrote:

There is in every social formation a particular branch of production which determines the position and importance of all the others, and the relations obtaining in this branch accordingly determine the relations of all other branches. It is as though light of a particular hue were cast upon everything, tingeing all other colours and modifying their specific features (Marx 1857/1971).

Such an insight about a people (or a person) can only arise out of a profound familiarity with the people concerned. A good biography, or the history of some event or social movement requires that the author find that lived experience or activity which casts its particular light on everything, and gives unity and specificity to the narrative which is presented. This approach does not forbid a writer from seeing a number of such vantage points from which to approach a complex subject matter, but to have no such theme or motif would be a problem.

Goethe made this idea more specific with his idea of Urphänomen, the simplest, most primitive example of a member of a complex whole. As the name implies, the Urphänomen is something perceptible, a form that is stripped of all the contingent attributes found in any real instance, to expose the underlying original form.

As we shall see, Hegel’s idea of the abstrakt Begriff is much more well-defined, but let us mention some examples from the history of science which illustrate what Hegel was trying to represent.

In 1667, Johann Becher explained burning and the consequent emission of heat in terms of a substance, phlogiston, which was emitted when something burnt. For the next 100 years, the Phlogiston Theory was the orthodox explanation of combustion, but as experimental science developed, this theory led into deeper and deeper contradictions. It was observed that materials actually gained weight when they burnt, but when burnt in a closed vessel, there was no change in the total weight. In 1778, Lavoisier proposed that there was an substance called oxygen which was present in the atmosphere and burning was simply combination with the oxygen in the air. The discovery of oxygen not only changed how heat and burning were understood, but revolutionised chemistry in its entirety. All the contradictions of the phlogiston theory evaporated.

In 1839 (7 years after the death of Goethe), microscopy had reached a point where Schwann, Schleiden and Virchow were able to observe living cells, and proposed that all living things were composed of such cells, the ‘basic unit’ of living things, themselves simple living organisms, each arising from a parent cell. Goethe’s hypothesis of a basic unit of life, perceptible to the senses, was confirmed, although not in the form he had imagined on the basis of the very limited tools for observation that he had had at his disposal. With this discovery, biology was put upon a modern, scientific foundation for the first time.

In 1887, the Michelson-Morley experiment, measuring the speed of light from the Sun both axially and transversely to the direction of the sun, proved that the speed of light was independent of speed relative to a hypothetical ether supposed to be the medium through which light waves were transmitted. This threw physics into insoluble contradictions. Possible solutions were that Maxwell’s equations for electromagnetism were wrong (they had only been formulated in 1864), or that objects lengthened when they moved through the ether. Both ‘solutions’ created more problems than they solved. In 1905, Einstein found that it was necessary to modify Euclid’s geometry, which had stood the test of time for 2,000 years, by introducing a practical definition of the measurement of time interval and distance. Physics was revolutionised at a stroke.

One could go on indefinitely with examples of breakthroughs like this, but these three most famous episodes in the history of science serve adequately to illustrate the kind of event which is involved with the move to the concept.

Each discovery is preceded by a period of conflict and turmoil in the theory of the phenomenon, brought to a point where knowledge in the field falls into ever sharper contradiction and even threatens to descend into disrepute. The new idea arises out of and rests upon the material of this struggle of opposites in that it suddenly makes sense of the observations which seemed previously to be senseless. No-one would have thought of such an idea except that someone is driven to do so by the new observations arising especially from the use of new techniques and new, more perfect instruments, and makes a suggestion which is quite senseless in terms of previous theories. The new idea does not gradually take shape but appears more or less all at once. Although it solves all the problems brought to light by previous theories it is not a deduction from these theories, quite the opposite. It has an entirely different foundation.

Thomas Kuhn (1962) has famously studied the sociology of these revolutions in science, describing the trauma that accompanies the emergence of what he called a ‘new paradigm’ and the active resistance mounted by the old theory.

Also, the new idea proposes a simple archetype: in the case of Lavoisier, a combination with oxygen; in the case of biology, a single-cell organism; in the case of Einstein, the act of measuring an interval in time or space. The entire theory will have to be reorganised with the introduction of this new idea, and the transformation of the science continues without ceasing until the whole of natural science is transformed.

In social theory we see just the same thing, except that the social sciences prove much more resistant to transformation than the natural sciences. Theories are, after all, themselves aspects of a formation of consciousness, and theory cannot be changed without changing social practices.

Hegel presented his entire theory of society, from law and morality, up to government and world history in the form of a science of Right. (The German word, Recht, has no English equivalent, meaning both ‘right’ as in what is right and ‘right’ as in having a right to do something, but also ‘law’ as in ‘the rule of law’.) Hegel took ‘abstract right’, the archetypal form of right, to be private property. Everything that arises in modern society he saw as unfolding out of the institution of private property. But note that in Hegel’s case, it is not just that he took private property as the ‘key’ to his theory of modern society. More than this. He saw the institution of private property in ancient or tribal society, or its introduction from without, as an objective process realised on the historical plane. Everyone knew about private property and its place in modern society, but Hegel saw that private property was the most primitive legal relation. Human communities were, for Hegel, formations of consciousness, Gestalten des Bewu?tseins, as are branches of science, and the Logic was the science of the ‘pure essentialities’ of all such formations of consciousness. The ‘breakthrough’ here is not just Hegel’s discovery of the place of private property in modern history. The ‘breakthrough’ is also the introduction of private property in communities which make the transition to modern society. Hegel was able to make sense of this as a rational, i.e., intelligible, process.

I will briefly mention some relevant examples of the discovery of an abstract concept in the resolution of problems and the refounding of a science in the light of Hegel’s Logic.

In writing Capital, Marx made a more modest claim for a slightly different concept as compared to Hegel’s Philosophy of Right. Hegel had claimed that private property was the abstract concept of modern history, including all aspects of modern society, from morality and the family up to economics, government and international relations. Marx, on the other hand, claimed that exchange of commodities was the abstract concept underlying bourgeois society (or ‘civil society’) – social phenomena outside of the family but independent of the state. This formulation deliberately understates the differences between Marx and Hegel, for the purpose of bringing out the not inconsiderable symmetry between them. But Marx was unambiguous about the role played by the commodity relation in the formation of the ideas presented in Capital: “in bourgeois society, the commodity-form of the product of labour – or value-form of the commodity – is the economic cell-form” (Marx 1867).

One important function of the founding idea of a science is that it sets up the science and the phenomena which it studies, as a Gestalt. That is, the various phenomena in the given field are no longer an arbitrary collection of distinct things or things united by some attribute which is secondary to their real nature. Rather, all the different specific phenomena are seen as manifestations of the same basic relation, as species of the same genus, so to speak. The actual task of proving this, of tracing all the specific phenomena back to a common principle, is often the work of a generation, and in a sense, may never be complete. But the creation of the founding idea – the abstract concept – is usually the work of one person, or sometimes a small number who all independently make the same discovery under the same conditions.

If we ask: what is bourgeois society, or as it is more usually called today, the economy? Surely it is unsatisfactory to just list off the various things and events which are arbitrarily subsumed under the topic of ‘the economy’ or are influenced by the economy? But if we say that ‘bourgeois society’ is all those activities, ideas and things which necessarily arise from the exchange of commodities, don’t we have a more satisfactory concept of ‘the economy’, even though we will most certainly find very diverse kinds of entity, borderline cases and other categorisation difficulties?

So the discovery of the abstract concept or Urphänomen not only provides the key to a collection of unsolved problems, and the foundation for a scientific approach to these phenomena, it also formulates a view of the phenomena as a Gestalt. Self-evidently, such a Gestalt may exclude things that were formerly included and include cases which were formerly excluded. Only in the case where we have formed a satisfactory concept of a person, for example, can we distinguish between instances where the person was acting out of character, showing their ‘dark side’, and when they are acting according to their character even though it may be under exceptional circumstances.

The solution is there before our eyes, but someone has to ‘join the dots’ before we see it.

Being and the Concept

Hegel says that “The Concept is the truth of Being and Essence” (1830/2009 §159), and the meaning of this very obscure statement can be explained as follows. “A is the truth of B” means for Hegel that “A is explicitly what B is implicitly.” So this means that Being and Essence both essentially turn out to be the concept. So, for example, the succession of economic statistics turns out to be the end of the post-war boom. At the same time, the various opposing theories: poor economic management, failure of the banking system, militant trade unions, communist sabotage, ... turn out to be the end of the post-war boom. The notion makes sense not only of the ‘raw data’ but also of the various theories which failed to completely explain the data. Einstein’s Special Theory of Relativity, not only explained the surprising results of the Michelson-Morley experiment, but it also explained why Newton’s physics and Euclid’s geometry had functioned perfectly well for centuries, even though the underlying logic had been shown to be flawed.

In fact, the concept cannot rest directly on the ‘raw data’. It is essentially mediated. It would be impossible to demonstrate or prove theoretically Einstein’s Special Relativity without in the meantime relying on the validity of Newton and Euclid’s theories for the purpose of setting up the experiment. Without the Keynesian, Monetarist and Classical economic theories which were being used to regulate economic systems in the post-World War Two period, it would have been impossible to recognise the end of the post War boom and develop new policy instruments to regulate the new economic landscape.

This is the meaning of Hegel’s aphorism: “There is nothing, nothing in heaven, or in nature or in mind or anywhere else which does not equally contain both immediacy and mediation” (1816/1969 §92).

In relation to perception, it means that no meaning can be found in Being as such. Perception is always mediated, there is no direct unmediated access to truth (the world in itself), no absolutely unprejudiced view of the world. Our view of the world is always conditioned by what we knew and believed beforehand. But it is equally true that there can be no theoretical conception which is completely free of sensuous and empirical content, which is not mediated by experience and sensuous contact with things and the objective properties of things existing independently of the subject. The immediacy of being and the abstractness of the concept are always relative. What passes for immediate experience is different according to the concept through which Being is perceived. What passes for a purely abstract idea, is different according to the signs and artefacts by means of which it is conceived. The difference between Being and the Concept is relative not absolute. But Being, Essence and the Concept do represent three distinct processes in the development of a concrete concept.

Development of the Concept

The development of the Concept is not like that of Being, with each concept passing away to be replaced by another, nor like that of Essence where every concept has an opposite, both pushed into the background by yet new oppositions. The process of the concept is development: as Hegel says, “in the concept, the elements distinguished are without more ado at the same time declared to be identical with one another and with the whole, and the specific character of each is a free being of the whole concept” (1830/2009 §161). That is, the abstract concept becomes more and more concrete as it matures, it takes on more nuances and domains of application, more shades of meaning and forms of expression. Although the initial abstract concept may give us that specific hue which is cast on everything – its archetypal form or strong point – the concept becomes more and more all-sided and internally differentiated in the course of its development.

There are two distinct processes involved in the development of the Concept, internal development and the subject/object relation, that is, concretisation which is involved in merging of the concept (or subject) with the object.

The internal process hinges around the Individual, Universal and Particular moments of the Concept, and this is probably the most crucial thing to understand if we are to draw on Hegel’s Logic for a critical psychology of the concept. What is involved here is the real relation between the symbols, tools or other artefacts which instantiate the concept (the Universal), the social practices are organised around the concept and which constitute it as a part of social life (the Particular) and the individual thoughts and actions subsumed under the concept (the Individual). The point is that it is only in some ideal world that an instance of a concept (whether an action or thing) is exhibited in social practice exactly as determined in the universal; in general there is always some dissonance. This dissonance is on the one hand attributable to the abstractness or immaturity of the concept, and on the other hand, because the community in which the concept exists differs from the concept and acts independently of the subject and without regard to it. In fact, these two aspects of the dissonance amount to the same thing. This brings us to the second aspect of the development of the Concept, the subject/object process.

In the subject/object relation, presented in the Logic under the heading of The Object, the object can be visualised as the larger community or ‘the establishment’. We are concerned with the development of a new concept, and from this point of view, the ‘Other’ is the existing community, its ideology, institutions and cultural norms.

The process of the Object then is concerned with how the Object accommodates the Subject, so that the subject and object enter into relation and forms of activity together and share the use of artefacts created by the Subject, while the Subject also uses artefacts which pre-existed it, having been created by the Object.

Hegel specifies three modes of interaction between subject and object, which he calls Mechanism, Chemism and Teleology (or Organism). In Mechanism, the subject and object each retain their independence and relate to each other externally. In Chemism, the subject and ‘its object’ interact through an affinity with each other. Hegel sees Organism as a dialectic of Means and Ends in which subject and object begin to merge in a kind of ecosystem which is as much organism as environment.

These are the two aspects of development of the Subject (or Concept), the first entailing internal change by the subject, the second a change in the relation between subject and object. The third division Hegel calls the Idea, which represents the movement of the subject/object together, as discussed earlier in relation to the Phenomenology.

The Individual, Universal and Particular

One of the most challenging aspects of Hegel’s Concept is the three moments of the Concept – the Individual, the Universal and the Particular, but it is just this which makes Hegel’s approach so powerful. The moments of the abstract (or subjective) Concept are the structure of a concept both in its objective and subjective aspects, and is therefore well suited to represent the concept as a subject/object, that is to say, as an integral unit of a formation of consciousness. These three moments are the minimal representation of a concept. Let us explain this idea, using an example, presenting the idea in terms of objective relations.

In such an objective view, the Individual is some individual action or a thing, such as the Japanese Maple tree growing outside my window. It is a finite thing which will one day exist no more, but at the moment it is located at a specific latitude and longitude, as a concrete individual thing, it is more than my thought of it. The concept of Andy’s Japanese Maple presupposes this Individual thing.

It is however my Japanese Maple, because of its location, property rights prevailing in Australia and a purchase I made a few years ago. It is a Japanese Maple because of the practice of domestication of trees, their culture and sale in nurseries and the taxonomic practices in botany and the use of the English language. Aside from all this, which you could say is the decisive proof of it being ‘Andy’s Japanese Maple’, I could just point to it, or describe it to you and with these practices establish that it is indeed ‘Andy’s Japanese Maple’. All these that I have just described are the social practices whereby this Individual tree is made a Particular, that is, is identified as a tree in a specific location occupying a particular place in the property relations and in botanical taxonomy. They are objective to me personally, but they are normative practices which are meaningful only in a given social formation. This tree is a Particular tree, different from the Japanese Maple up the road in a particular way, even if it were identical in every respect. This particularity differs from individuality in that it belongs to on-going forms of social practice which outlive the tree and will outlive me, which bind it into a social fabric which stretches down through history. It is not so much the actual practices of pointing or writing, but the extent to which such social practices are normative. For example, you cannot make the tree your tree or make it a silver birch, simply by saying so. This action is true only insofar as it is normative, and is supported by the social system in which it exists.

But none of these relations are possible outside of the fact that a number of universal relations have been inherited from the past, which are moment by moment instantiated in words (or diagrams, maps, etc.) such as ‘tree’, ‘Japanese Maple’, ‘property’. It is possible to particularise this individual tree only thanks to relevant concepts being fixed in words and other symbols. The Universal is instantiated again and again in the uttering of the word as individual sound bites or text in appropriate social contexts. Words have multiple meanings according to context and even within a single context the meaning or applicability of the word can be open to contest. Semantic norms are subject to the same processes of development as the practices and actions organised around them. But it is only the use of words and gestures in contexts where they are constituted meaningfully by on-going social practices, that it is possible even to have the idea of ‘Andy’s Japanese Maple’. Otherwise I would look out the windows and maybe see patterns of green movement and no more. On the other hand, a future archaeologist can mentally recreate these universals provided only that they can mentally reconstruct the relevant social and material circumstances. But they cannot bring back this individual tree, and once sufficient time has passed the social practices which made this individual tree a particular tree will eventually pass away too.

So we see in the instance of this simple object concept, of the type considered as an archetypal example in the Psychology of Concepts considered above, that the concept can only exist through the coincidence of three moments: Individual, Particular and Universal. We saw that

If I have never heard of trees, if I am excluded from property rights in this country, if I have never been introduced to this type of domesticated tree, or if such property rights and botanical practices never existed, I could not form the concept of ‘Andy’s Japanese Maple tree’. More generally, something is what it is, so far as human activity is concerned, only by means of the identity of Individual, Universal and Particular. This differs from the formal approach chiefly in that the relation of the Individual to the Universal is mediated by the Particular, that is, the meaning of words is determined by social practice. But for Hegel the converse relations are equally valid.

My Japanese Maple tree is not my Japanese Maple tree because it resembles others of my trees or any such thing, or because of any contingent attributes of the vision from my window; it is what it is because of the specific identity of Particular, Universal and Individual described above.

It doesn’t matter whether you have in mind a material object of which someone has a thought within some formation of consciousness, or you have in mind the thought of that object as constituted within that formation of consciousness. In either case, the same relations of Individual, Universal and Particular apply: an object thought of, or the thought of an object. This is not to say that the object and a thought of it are the same, but such a distinction is indicative of movement and contradiction within the formation of consciousness. Such contradictions are manifested in the non-identity of universal, particular and individual.

In fact, Individual, Particular and Universal never completely coincide. There is always a degree of dissonance between them. The meaning of a word is never quite the same from one context to another, what people do is never quite normative, people never quite manage to say what they mean or do what they say. So when we say that a concept is the identity of Particular, Individual and Universal, we recognise that such an identity never exists. So a concept is always to one extent or another imperfect and riven with contradictions.

Now I have said nothing of psychology here. I have just described what an abstract concept is. I have been able to do this without making any assumptions about a person’s nervous system. I have just talked of what must be thought of for the concept of a simple object, such as Andy’s Japanese Maple tree, to be thought. A simple object concept such as this entails a lot more than is suggested by placing a test object before an experimental subject in the laboratory. Any concept involves awareness of shape and colour and so on, but also the understanding of words and symbols through which a thing is meaningful and the social practices by means of which something can be known as this or that. But each of these moments is reflected in the psychic life of a person in a corresponding way. We not only know of social relations, such as the property relations which make the Japanese Maple mine, we actively participate in them. Social relations are manifested in our psyche through patterned reactions just as they exist for us via our participation in a network of individual, transitory interactions. Likewise the practical relations I have with that individual tree, and all the psychic activity that is evoked by the thought of words like “Japanese,” “Maple,” “tree” and “mine.” None of these things can be actualised without the corresponding psychic activity of living human beings.

Hegel’s understanding of the need to grasp an abstract concept in terms of these three moments marks his idea off from that of his predecessors like Goethe and Herder, as well as that of recent cognitive science. Let us review why all three moments are necessary.

The Immediate Concept

At first the Concept is grasped as an Immediate Concept (relatively) without mediation: that is, as a Universal Concept, a Particular Concept or an Individual Concept, not yet mediated with one another. Hegel likens these to the moments of Identity, Difference and Ground with which Reflection begins, but in the domain of concepts. Of the Universal Concept, he says:

[The] pure relation of the Concept to itself ... is the universality of the Concept. As universality is the utterly simple determination, it does not seem capable of any explanation; for an explanation must concern itself with definitions and distinctions and must apply predicates to its object, and to do this to what is simple, would alter rather than explain it. But the simplicity which constitutes the very nature of the universal is such that, through absolute negativity, it contains within itself difference and determinateness in the highest degree (1816/1969 §1326/7).

The Universal Concept is what is represented by a word (or in general, the sign for a concept) taken alone, outside of any determination or context of use. The meaning is entirely ‘in itself’, waiting to be developed, but at the same time is ‘pure’, in that every utterance is identical. Unreflective thought takes the Universal Concept to be the beginning and end of the concept, as if something can be said of it or it can be placed in this or that context, whilst remaining unchanged. But a word accrues meaning precisely by its use in a variety of contexts. Hegel likens the Universal Concept to Identity because it is taken to be self-identical. For example, if the Universal is ‘unionism’, then it is taken that every union and union member is equally subsumed under ‘unionism’; if you’ve seen one then you’ve seen them all. This broad brush is precisely the weakness of the Universal Notion. Lacking any perception of difference, it is hardly likely that the concept has really been grasped. It is somewhat like knowing the definition of a concept while lacking any actual relevant experience.

Next is the Particular Concept, a practice which differentiates one kind of the Concept, one genus of the species from another through its inclusion and differentiation in a system of social practice. The Universal Concept can only come to reality through particularity, by determining the Universal. ‘Unionism’ is just a definition or general idea, but the Building Workers Industrial Union, the Teachers’ Union, etc., particular unions, each different from one another, but taken together, with their specific differences (militant unions, conservative unions, industrial unions, craft unions, etc.), all the particular exemplars exhibit everything that is implicit in the Universal. The Particular Concept therefore represents some whereas the Universal Concept represents all without qualification. Hegel says that the Particular is the determinate in the domain of Concepts, that is, the Concept as it exists in determinate beings having this or that distinguishing quality. This determination, which connects Universal Concepts to Individual Concepts, is possible only through social practices, whether that be pointing or including an individual within some social practice or by norms which qualify individual concepts for inclusion under the Universal Concept. While it is an error to represent the Concept by means of some finite collection of exemplars, the Universal can exist only in and through some exemplars.

Next is the Individual Concept, the individual in the domain of Concepts, which is the sole ground of the concept, in and through which alone the Concept can exist. The Individual Concept is the limit case of the Particular Concept, where it is not just some things, but this thing which is the Concept, the ground of all generalisation. On the other hand, the determination of a Concept as being this, and this, and this, ... individual, reduces the Concept to a common element linking the individuals. This is an extremely poor representation of a Concept, which, while determining the Concept, nevertheless fails to determine what the Concept is.

Each of these three Immediate Concepts are made absolute by certain theories of the concept. Plato for instance believed that Universals exist, although not in a spatio-temporal sense, nevertheless, independently of human activity and the symbols by means of which Universals are represented in activity. The intersubjective theory of Robert R. Williams sees concepts entirely constructed by intersubjective actions, leaving no place for symbols or artefacts of any kind, whilst Franz Brentano allowed that only individual things exist. Although none of the Immediate Concepts have stability or can stand up to scrutiny, each is involved in the process of a concept and the immediate concept will always take one or the other of these forms, according to conditions, until forms of mediation develop. We see this when one theory of concepts is abandoned in favour of another, without attempting to interconnect the different theories in a mediating process.

What Hegel does from here is to consider all the different combinations and arrangements of Individual, Particular and Universal in the form of logical judgments and syllogisms. Such logical figures represent the concept in the domain of Logic, demonstrating in the form of inference, how concepts change. But just as each of the immediate concepts described above prove to be limited, so do all the various logical arguments (he deals with 22 combinations) which incompletely or one-sidedly express all the possible mediations between the three moments of the Concept.

The next step in this development is the Judgments, where each of the three immediate concepts is connected to another. The Judgments reproduce at a higher level the categories of Being and Essence, and are the Qualitative Judgment, the Judgment of Reflection, the Judgment of Necessity and the Judgment of Notion. Each of the Judgments expresses only partially what it is that brings something under the Concept, each Judgment is a successively more concrete characterisation of the Concept as it becomes clear. This process of judgments is the registering in self-consciousness of the process unfolding in the Objective Logic and therefore recapitulates the categories of Essence in the form of more and more adequate notions, but at this stage, still concepts which are one-sided and deficient.

(a) In the Qualitative Judgment, the subject is ascribed a single quality, being said to be good or bad, or novel or whatever or some combination of qualities.

(b) In the Judgment of Reflection, the subject is given in connection with other things, so that it is not just seen as having some quality, but as having a place in some system of social practice, connected with other practices, of being useful for something, or whatever.

(c) In the Judgment of Necessity is the subject taken under its genus, rather than just as sharing with others a contingent property but belonging to some living whole.

(d) In the Judgment of the Notion, these three judgments are brought together.

Hegel illustrated one of these judgments, the Apodeictic Judgment, as follows: “This house, being so and so constituted, is good or bad (1830/2009 §179).” But there may be other aspects of the house such that it is not good or bad; we had missed the concept of what made a house good or bad, and mistakenly focused on just one factor. And so on, showing that only when every possible relation between Universal, Particular and Individual is taken fully into account and the relation dealt with all-sidedly, can the Concept be captured. The various fallacious lines of reasoning are the kind of reasoning which one hears – reasoning from one example to a whole class, rejecting an exceptional case on the basis of a rule which rather should be seen as disproven by the case, reasoning from one example to another on the basis of a partial similarity, and so on. It may seem strange to put such faulty figures of logic into a book on logic. A book of logic which concerns itself only with Formal Logic as implemented in Set Theory has no need, since it is concerned with only a narrow class of formally valid lines of deduction. But in real-world reasoning objects do not fall into neatly delimited sets according to well-defined attributes. In the real world, even perfectly well educated, intelligent people must use fallacious logical figures like these, reasoning from a single case to a whole class, or from one attribute to a whole judgment, and so on. So long as we do not have clear concepts of everything, we may not be certain of what attribute is essential and which inessential and so on. Ideas do change and develop through processes of clarification and discovery by way of inferences which are from the standpoint of formal logic, obvious errors and turn out to be faulty in real life. But it is in the process of such faulty lines of reasoning being exposed that the true concept is established. One would have to have seen an Australian black swan to realise that whiteness is not an essential attribute of swans.

This is how Hegel uses immanent critique to develop the internal structure of the Concept. It models how, for example, a new law is concretised by being tested out in the courts in deciding difficult cases. Gregory Murphy (2004) showed that every law falls into contradiction with itself, exposes blurred edges, ambiguities and so on, requiring endless modification in the courts or legislature. This is how the Logic operates in a formation of consciousness, through rational argument in the course of social conflict. Every time logical fallacies are brought to light, the result is not just to negate the conclusion. Rather, attention is thrown back on the Concept itself, which must be made more precise, separating what is essential from what is inessential, and so on, so that reasoning based on the concept does not prove to be erroneous and its results may be relied upon and have force. Hegel shows that the world is not made up of pigeon holes by positing pigeon hole reasoning and demonstrating how the endless internal development of concepts arises from the limitation of each partial and imperfect concept.


I have considered the internal development of the Concept; now I turn briefly to the external development of the Concept, that is, the development of the subject/object relation. The object here is always another subject, but rather than taking this as an Other (in the sense this term is generally used these days), I will assume here that the object is the existing community, ‘the establishment’, so to speak. So what we are looking at is how a new concept (or social movement, or cultural group, etc.) enters into an existing modern society, changing itself and changing the community it enters. I visualise this community as ‘multicultural’ in the sense that it has the capacity to appropriate a new concept. The interaction between a new cultural group and mainstream society is also an issue of intense concern in social and political philosophy today. We should keep this situation in mind as representing the subject/object process. For Hegel, a concept is a unit of a formation of consciousness, and ultimately the whole formation is itself the most concrete of concepts. All the terms of a science for example, represent the various concepts and relations recognised within that science, but they are subordinate concepts which arise out of the development of the science itself. The science develops as a concrete concept in which the various terms are subordinate moments. This is what is meant by a concrete concept. Concretisation takes place through the interaction, merging and mutual transformation of the subject and the object, that is to say with new concepts interacting with all the concepts already ‘institutionalised’ within the social formation. This is how a social formation grows and matures and becomes more all-sided and rich, whilst constantly renewing its own unity, to the extent that it successfully completes the process.

I have only skimmed the surface of Hegel’s treatment of the Concept in Volume Two of the Logic. I fear it would try the patience of the reader if I were to go any further.

Hegel’s Critique of the Individual/Society Dichotomy

Hegel does not take ‘concept’ to mean a ‘thought-form’, something inside the head. Rather Hegel takes ‘concept’ to refer to a system of collaboration organised around some ideal or artefact. This includes as one of its moments, the thoughts and actions of individuals involved in such forms of activity. Because actions are mindful, what is going on in people’s heads is part of that collaborative activity, part of the concept. The personal meaning of the words and actions is distinct from their meaning to anyone else, but personal meaning is not something radically inaccessible. Personal meaning exists only in its connection with the realisation of concepts in the life of an individual person.

In such an approach Hegel has resolved two troublesome dichotomies. Firstly, he has resolved the ‘inside/outside’ dichotomy, that is to say, the conundrum of what is inside the head and inaccessible to observation, and what is outside the head and observable. By making the unit of analysis a concept, which includes both the mental and material aspects of activity, that dichotomy is avoided from the outset. Secondly, he has resolved the ‘individual/society’ dichotomy, that is, the formation of two different domains of science, one devoted to the actions of individuals within their immediate environment, and the other devoted to the activity of states, social movements and so on, independently of individual psychology and behaviour. For Hegel, language and other artefacts which are societal entities and the bearers of a culture, figure in the same unit of analysis by means of which individual thinking and activity are understood. Institutions are grasped in the same terms as the actions of the individuals who participate in them. There is no individual/societal dichotomy for Hegel.

This means that the basic unit of a social formation is not an individual but a concept, whilst a concept is not taken to be some kind of ethereal abstractum, but rather a form of collaboration between individual people. A real society is therefore understood as an ensemble of Gestalten each to be grasped in terms of a concrete concept. Individuals are likewise to be understood in and through their participation in forms of activity and therefore lived experience grasped in terms of concrete concepts, which are fundamentally shared and not exclusively private.

These observations do not obviate the need for a psychology and for a scientific study of psychology with its own methods of experiment and observation. Not at all. But they do surely clarify the problems which have to be resolved by the psychology of concepts.