According to Hegel, he claims that both contradictory concepts are eventiually found to be included in the upper one. I don't really know what this means, it sounds like a ridiculous joke.

2 Answers 2


Hegel does not talk in terms of formal logic but in terms of material logic in the sense of an epistemology, ie. the logic of things and how they actually are in relation to the subject. As always with Hegel, I will have to utter a word of caution: the following is a gross simplification of things. I hope the inaccuracies can be excused and you can agree that it is not as outlandish a thought as you may think before reading it.

Hegel claims that in order to determine an object A, it does not suffice to name positive properties of that thing. We also need to be able to demarcate it from everything else. Therefore, in order to actually know A, we need to know non-A as well. In converse, in order to precisely know what A is not, we need to know A itself. They are not opposites, they are sides of the same coin of knowledge proper.

Take, as a simplified example, the typical child: At some point, they learned that things which have some brown stem and a lot of green leaves are called "tree". And now they point at a bush and say "tree". That is not because they do not know what a "tree" is. They may be perfectly able to call each tree for what it is. Nevertheless, their ability to determine the set of objects that are trees correctly is hampered by their inability to say what is not a tree.

Hegel's own major example is the subject: The subject finds itself in opposition to the object and determines the object as "that which is not me, there". The subject does so by qualia that actually are within the subject, and without qualia of the object, this subject would not be determined the way it is as perceiving this object. So, where to draw the line between subject and object?

  • That sounds almost structuralist before the time? Does Hegel prioritize intrinsic/positive properties of a thing versus properties that demarcate A from non-A?
    – Frank
    Mar 13, 2023 at 16:40
  • 1
    @Frank Hegel explicitly says that the difference is an illusion in the first place. A necessary illusion but an illusion nonetheless. It is all the unfolding of the World Geist and its inner...yeah, well, in a sense structures. I am sure there can be a library built just with the literature on structuralist elements in Hegel....like with any other possible element to be found in Hegel
    – Philip Klöcking
    Mar 13, 2023 at 16:44
  • "inability to say what is not a tree." I'd say the reason they are hampered is that that there is not clear definition of what distinguishes a bush/shrub from a tree there is an overlap and it is a matter of convention whether particular plants are regarded as trees rather than shrubs. An example with a well defined distinction may make the point more clearly. I'm not sure I completely agree - if you have a definition of something e.g. a sphere you can just determine if it has the required properties of a sphere - you don't need to know what a e.g. triangle is to do that. Mar 14, 2023 at 11:16
  • @DikranMarsupial You are talking about abstract objects. Hegel is talking about particulars. Ever seen a sphere? Fuzziness is a typical property of all empirical objects. Standing alone with obvious boundaries and properties is not exactly a typical thing for objects of perception
    – Philip Klöcking
    Mar 14, 2023 at 13:32
  • @PhilipKlöcking "Ever seen a sphere?" yes, of course I have. In the real world they are imperfect spheres, but in some cases the only reason I know they are imperfect is that it is impossible to make a perfect sphere, there is no way I can tell by my senses or measuring equipment that I have available that it is imperfect. So in that case I can "know" what a sphere is without needing to "know" what a non-sphere is. Re fuzziness - doesn't that imply that there is no example that could be given to unambiguously illustrate Hegel's point? Mar 14, 2023 at 17:37

Here's an example from personal experience.

David wonders why farmers develop such thick fingers. Susan says that it's probably because they've built up muscles from hard work. David counters that you don't have muscles in your fingers so it can't be that. Susan asks if it's true that you don't have muscles in your fingers.

They are both partially right and partially wrong. The "upper" perspective would be:

  • Fingers do have muscles. They have skeletal muscles around the base of each finger, and they have erector muscles for the hair follicles. They don't have skeletal muscles farther out in the finger.
  • Your grip strength does not come from your finger muscles, it comes from muscles in the forearm. Finger muscles cannot be significantly trained through exercise.
  • Farmers have thick fingers primarily because of calluses, which they built up through hard work.

So, the unifying perspective includes aspects of what David thought and what Susan thought, although what David thought is in contradiction with what Susan thought.

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .