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. 

Miracles Between Beings


Miracles are classically defined by St. Thomas Aquinas, in Summa Contra Geniles (III.cii), as those effects “which are wrought by Divine power apart from the order usually observed in nature." David Hume alternatively defines miracles, in An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding (bk. X), as "a transgression of a law of nature by a particular volition of the Deity, or by the interposition of some invisible agent." Where Thomas diminishes this order to merely what is “usually observed in nature”, Hume elevates it to a necessary “law of nature.” Early Modern disputes over the credibility of miracles often revolved around the question of the necessity of the laws of the new natural science, in which traditional Christian accounts of miracles were dismissed as violations of the laws of Nature. For example, Baruch Spinoza apotheosized the lawful order of Nature when, in the Tractatus Theologico-Politicus (123/8), he rejected miracles as “a sheer absurdity” because they contravened Nature's “fixed and immutable course”; and Voltaire went even further to describe miracles as a “violation of mathematical, divine, immutable, and eternal laws” resulting in a “contradiction in terms.” (1764, 272) Because both have supposed Nature's Law to be inviolable, any possible counter-instance seems a patent contradiction. But if it were alternatively supposed that there could exist causal agencies external and superior to Nature, acting upon Nature through Nature's very laws, then there would be, as John Henry Newman writes, no “violation of nature” but “merely the interposition of an external cause.” (On Miracles of Scripture, 1826) Whether to believe in miracles should, then, rather be decided by whether some extrinsic cause, beyond Nature, might be supposed to transgress the lawful order of Being through some insufficiently ordered gaps between beings.

Since, however, discussions of miracles have often begun as little more than an exercise in either irreligious skepticism (e.g. Spinoza and Hume) or religious apologetics (e.g. Paley and Mansel), alternative philosophical conceptions of the order of Being have more often been simply assumed and less often raised to the forefront of critical inquiry: where Christians assume two tiers of Supernature and Nature, in which agents of Supernature may intervene through the gaps between the beings of Nature, Naturalists alternatively assume one tier of Nature, to be defined according to the leading model of the natural sciences, in which all beings are fixed and regulated by inviolable natural laws. In either case, the possibility or impossibility of miracles is assumed – petitio principii – at the very beginning: Christians assume the possibility of miracles to be entirely consistent with a multi-tier onto-theology, in which supernatural agents (e.g. God, angels, and saints) may extrinsically intervene in the order of Being; while Naturalists just as naively assume the possibility of miracles to be inconsistent with a single tier ontology, in which nothing is extrinsic to but all possibilities are inviolably carried along within the body of Nature. The genuinely philosophical question of the possibility of miracles has escaped notice because the question of the lawful order and possible contravention of the order of Being has been submerged between the lines of the doctrinal formulae of traditional metaphysics.

Any recognition of miracles must begin with wonder before the unknown. The English word 'miracle' is derived from the Latin word 'mirari', which means “to wonder.” In a similar spirit, Aristotle describes, in the Metaphysics (bk. I.ii), that philosophical speculation begins with wonder: “For it is owing to their wonder that men both now begin and at first began to philosophize.” Belief in miracles and philosophical speculation each begin in this nest of wonder. Whenever we observe some anomaly in our surroundings that defies our ordinary understanding, our thoughts reflect upon the prior condition and previous cause that may have set these effects in motion. For this purpose we might hypothesize one prior being of thought as the necessary condition for the disclosure of the contrariness of many beings: for example, if there exists two particular beings C and D; where C is not equal to D; so that some explanation B explains C but does not explain D, such that if B then C, but not if B then D; we may hypothesize some prior condition A that may explain both C and D, such that if A then C and D. This hypothesis of a prior condition to explain some observed phenomena is neither deductive nor inductive, but what Charles Sanders Pierce named Abduction. Abduction is a special mode of inference from a hypothesis to the best explanation. It is similar to deduction insofar as it purports to deduce conclusions from assumed hypothetical premises, and similar to induction insofar as it separates off some hypothetical antecedent condition to explain the observed consequences. Abduction is, most importantly, more primitive and original than either deduction or induction since it is through abduction that we first hypothesize the stable meaning of terms and the necessity of the rules of deductive inference; and also by which we first hypothesize the unity of the objects of observation and any inductive generalization of a universal form from particular instances. Miracles may thus be tentatively apprehended as a species of abductive hypotheses towards the best explanation of those wondrous anomalies that defy any attempted explanation by our ordinary understanding of the order of Being. Yet to simply define miracles as hypotheses for anomalies would be to – all at once - leap over the primary question of the order of Being, or Ontology. To delve deeper, it is necessary to open wide the beating heart of Being; to exhibit its development; opposition; annulment; and speculative re-constitution.

Paul Natorp and the Neo-Kantians described, in the last century, how philosophy and science had their common roots in Ancient Greek philosophy, which was an ideal scientific enterprise of proposing abductive hypotheses from which to necessarily deduce the lawful order of physical Nature. Martin Heidegger further emphasized the decisive rupture between physics and ontology that had first occurred when Parmenides hypothesized One absolute identity of what 'is' a being at the summit of Being, over and above all the appearances of what 'is' and 'is not' in the variegated flux of Becoming. Since the One Being is beyond all appearances of objects in Nature, it must totally transcend Nature. Plato then hypothesized universal Ideas to further explain the particular appearances of predicate instances: for every predicate Fx of many property instances (e.g. Fx={Fx1, Fx2... FxN}), Plato hypothesized one universal form F, or Idea, as the perfect paradigm through which alone the properties derived their very being and intelligibility. Later Platonists (e.g. Xenocrates, Plotinus, and Proclus) further developed this hypothetical method towards the construction of an elaborate ontological hierarchy of higher-order Meta-Ideas (e.g. being, non-being, identity, difference, motion, and rest), Principles (i.e. limited One, unlimited Dyad, and their synthetic Mixture) and divine Hypostases (i.e. One, Nous, and World-Soul). The duality between Pre-Socratic Nature and the Parmenidean Supernature beyond Nature was then tentatively resolved by forcibly incorporating Nature into World-Soul; the World-Soul into Nous; and Nous into the One. Patristic Christian Theologians then extrinsically corroborated the One with God. Yet to preserve the autonomy of God's free gift of grace from the natural possibilities of human volition, St. Augustine of Hippo divided and objectified the realm of supernatural grace from the realm of natural virtue. Thus, by abductive hypotheses of a one being over many beings, towards the supreme Being of the One over the entire multitude of Becoming, philosophy proceeded up the ladder of hypothetical construction, from the Pre-Socratic explanations of physical nature to the towering ontological hierarchies of the Platonists, at whose summit the One absolute unity of thought and being was corroborated with the narrative personae of God.

The first smoke of the eruption of Nature from within the innards of Supernature and Theology occurred in the Middle Ages when Henry of Ghent, John Duns Scotus, and William of Ockham separated so as to liberate the free contingency of the divine will from the fixed necessity of the divine intellect. Henry of Ghent argued that the laws of Logic were formally dependent upon God only if they were contingent and not necessary in themselves; but since the laws of Logic are necessary in themselves, they are not formally dependent upon but separate from God. John Duns Scotus argued that scientific knowledge required every object to be thought and spoken of in one and the same sense, or univocally, and demanded that for theology to be scientific, it must begin by speaking of one continuum of Being that is common to both God and man, which is the Univocity of Being. William of Ockham argued that since the universal essences of individual natural substances (e.g. human nature) could not subsist apart from individual substances (e.g. human persons), there could be no real distinction between the ideal concepts and the real substances signified by the names of universal essences, which is Nominalism. Having separated the laws of Logic, united Being in one continuum, and reduced real universals to ideal concepts, Late Medieval Theology prepared ontological ground for the separate hypothetical construction of the concept of Nature. With the same tools of abduction, hypothesis, and coherence with which the heirs of Plato had formerly erected the towering ontological hierarchies of Theology, the new natural scientists began to construct the separate concept of Nature cut off from the broader body of Being.

Modern Naturalism succeeded Medieval Theology as an outward reflection of this inward hypothetical construction of traditional onto-theology. All the intensities of the ideas were siphoned out and extended throughout the vast expanses and eras of space and time, as Nature was partitioned from Supernature and the innermost fountain of Being. The modern schism between Christian Theology and Scientific Naturalism has emerged from betwixt this ontological dispute between two alternative conceptions of the order of Being: Christians have emphasized the contingent determination of the order of Being open to the free intervention of the divine will; while Naturalists have alternatively emphasized the necessary determination of the order of Being enclosed within the system of Nature. Christians had attempted to construct an ideal cathedral of Supernature from an infinite profusion of externally related ideas, reaching from the foundations of Nature to a rose-window open to a free gift of divine grace. Since, however, the hypothetical ideas were each externally related to one another, and only internally related in the simple self-identity of an inscrutable divine idea, this conception could not restrain the widening separation between ideas. Incongruities, anomalies, and contradictions between ideas required finer and finer distinctions to be made, but once each brick was divided within itself, the whole house could no longer stand. Without the firm mortar of essential identity to bind together distinct ideas, the entire ideal edifice was destined to break apart and topple to ruins. Naturalists had likewise attempted to construct an ideal fortress of Nature from laws of Nature operating in a closed system of natural necessity, extending from the most infinitesimal atom to the infinite cosmos, yet with no place for God at the center of the moving void. The same cracks that had formerly sapped the foundations of Theology then opened chasms in Nature. Since every law of nature must depend on some further law for its very being and lawfulness, the laws of nature were just as much externally related hypothetical ideas which Naturalists were no less compelled to stack higher and higher, yet without even the pretense of any supreme identity and ultimate purpose that might transcend the variegated and contradictory flux of all appearances.

The projected construction of Supernature and Nature are each the inwardly intended and outwardly extended manifestation of the same hypothetical construction of universal Being from particular beings: Supernaturalists had approached their project from the standpoint of inward mental intuition, from which hypothetical ideas of the universal forms or essences of Supernature were externally reflected from the mind into objectified beings; while Naturalists had alternatively approached their project from the standpoint of an outward sensory observation, from which hypothetical ideas of the laws and substances of Nature were just as surely externally reflected into objectified beings. Each project began with these same building blocks and broke upon the same inner contradiction: the hypothesis of every externally related idea required some further idea to internally unite them; but if this further hypothesis was also externally related, then yet another hypothesis would also be required to unite them once more, and so on ad infinitum. The consequence of the hypothetical construction of Being from externally related beings, whether of the universal forms of Supernature or the natural laws of Nature, is thus the infinite regress of ideas beyond all understanding, which had first been foreshadowed in the Third Man Argument of Plato's Parmenides (See my essay Plato's Contest). The infinite profusion of externally related ideas further results in F. H. Bradley's Paradox of Relations, in which relations are absurdly thought to be both related and not related: since every relation between externally related ideas is initially defined as a related relation; but each relation is also external to both the objects to which it is thought to be related and every other relation; so every relation must also be an externally related idea; but since every externally related idea requires yet another relation to be related, and so on ad infinitum, no relations are ultimately related; and all relations are no relations. If the projects of constructing the ontologies of Supernature and Nature from externally related ideas have truly collapsed, then, because there can be no contradiction between two false contraries, the implacable opposition between the cathedral of grace and the fortress of Nature must also have imploded, and their boiling conflicts to have cooled and subsided into a common reservoir of Being.

A clear vista has now opened, from within the chrystalline chambers of petrified metaphysical formulae, to recognize a possibility of miracles, proceeding, like raindrops through the interstitial gaps between the beings of a forest canopy. The buttresses and battlements of opposed metaphysical camps, which had formerly partitioned, divided, and opposed Being within itself, have now crumbled to reveal an open sky of possibilities. Yet the possibility of a genuine miracle presents an ostensible contradiction between some fact that seems both necessary and not necessary: they would be necessary because they are indubitably actual, but not necessary because we know of no necessary condition for this very actuality. Here, in the midst of this contradiction, belief in miracles hangs precariously on a doubtful backward glance: since, miracles are without any sufficient reason, they cannot possibly be inferred from any deduction of pure reason; and since the prior condition for miracles is suprasensible, neither can they be inferred from induction of sensible observations; and, finally, since either the Supernatural or Natural path of abductive hypothetical constructions must ultimately collapse, it would seem we can know nothing at all of miracles. But because justified belief is said to require knowledge, and no knowledge of miracles may be discovered, it would seem as though we neither can nor should ever grant belief in miracles. Yet to be bereft of the possibility of miracles is to have our wills tied to an orbital circuit of ineluctable necessity. Were we, with Voltaire, to reject miracles as impossible contradictions, then the Order of Being must also be assumed, with Spinoza, to be concretely fixed in a Substance, from which no appeal ever made is ever heard. The inviolable necessity of Nature would strictly determine the movement of all substances. Under such strict determinism, every event that ever was or would be, is eternally necessary; no alternative possibilities may be freely chosen; and the freedom of the subject is buried alive in the coldest of all cold substances.

Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel described, in The Phenomenology of Spirit (§11), a new day for speculative thought in which “the spirit of man has broken from the old order of things hitherto prevailing, and with the old ways of thinking, and is now of a mind to let them all sink into the depths of the past and to set about a new transformation.” So must the spirit of philosophy break from the senile habits of skepticism, apologetics, deduction, and induction, towards a new mode of dialectical speculation, in which our hypotheses cockle to announce the risen Sun. Abduction shares in both the explanatory purpose of deduction, and the separation of the universal from the particular of induction, yet is logically deficient as a necessary inference: abduction and induction are each said to be ampliative, which means that the conclusion goes beyond what is contained in the premises. (Douven SEP) Abduction exceeds the signification of its constituent premises because it proposes one definite hypothesis among many possible hypotheses to be true. This ampliative excess is an extension of the meaning of propositions beyond what is directly denoted by the terms, by which its meaning exceeds its own limits. The superior merit of any one hypothesis can only be judged in relation to every other possible hypothesis. Yet since only this one hypothesis, and not many others, is directly signified by the terms, the hypothesis does not directly, but only indirectly, signifies those other hypotheses. Since one hypothesis may only be ultimately verified with the rejection of every other hypothesis, the possible truth of this hypothesis must signify a negative relation to the impossibility of all other hypotheses: only once all other hypotheses have been eliminated, may this one hypothesis be affirmed as necessarily true. Abduction thus depends for its meaning and truth upon a whole range of logical possibilities, through which hypothetical thought continually progresses, indefinitely forward, towards its final completion. If abduction is possible, it must thus begin from the most synoptic vista, with a clear view of the full range of all possible beings within the totality of Being.

Aristotle once distinguished the most general science of Metaphysics, which asks the question of “being as being”, from the special sciences of mathematics which “cut off a part of being.” (Metaphysics, 1003a21) Today academic specializations has dismembered Being like the body of Osiris in the Nile. Symbolic logic imports beings into its terms with the existential quantifier (x). Set Theory, similarly, brackets any set (x={,}) to symbolize the beings of any set – even an empty set. Physics, worst of all, simply assumes the being of any force, energy, or fundamental particle that may be theoretically predicted and experimentally observed. In each case, Being is thought as something already present, as though it were some common ethereal reservoir which all share yet none know. But in taking for granted that thought drinks from the river of beings, logicians have forgotten the original question of Being itself. Heidegger complains that this “sterility of academic philosophy... guarantees that the spark never flashes over the individual student, kindling a light in him which can never be extinguished.” (The Metaphysical Foundations of Logic, 8-9) In The Science of Logic, Hegel returns to this question and presents Being as the first hypothesis of Logic. Stephen Houlgate comments: "Hegel conceives of his logic as both a logic and a metaphysics or an ontology because he understands the fundamental concepts of thought to be identical in logical structure to the fundamental determinations of being itself." (Hegel's Logic, 2008, 118) Since Being is totally indeterminate, it appears for our thought as nothing determinate, nothing, or Non-Being. Yet since Being and Non-Being are equally indeterminate, and neither separated nor excluded from one another, the thought of Being passes over into Non-Being, and then from Non-Being into Being. This “immediate vanishing of the one into the other” is the movement of Becoming “in which both are distinguished, but by a difference which has equally immediately resolved itself.” (SL §134) Being and Non-Being are annulled by their equal indeterminateness, yet preserved and united - vanishing into each other – as opposed moments in the movement of Becoming.

This primitive dialectical movement of Being, Non-Being, and Becoming is the simplest example of the dynamic unity of opposite determinations in a synthetic concept, which both annuls and preserves the previous moments: Non-Being is opposed to Being as its negation, by which each is annulled in naked isolation; but both are also united and preserved as alternating moments in the movement of Becoming. In this movement, the moments of Being and Non-Being are, no longer external, but internal to the synthetic concept of Becoming. In this dialectical unity of opposed determinations in-and-through the identity of a dynamic concept, modern Idealism has surpassed ancient ontology. The ancient Platonists hypothesized a vast pleroma of externally related beings from which to construct, brick-by-brick, towering ontologies of Being. The creative activity of Becoming was thought to be generated from the consummate union of the Principles of the One beyond Being and the Dyad indefinite continuum of beings. The goal of incorporating all beings into Being was, however, frustrated at its beginning and end. This extrinsic division of Being into the two tiers of Non-Being beyond Being and a continuum of beings would, with the full development of the doctrines of Emanation and Assimilation, reduce all thought and being to a totally transcendent One beyond being, or Non-Being, which is nothing. Christian Theologians protested that God, who is named “I am that I am” (Exodus 3:14), must be Being from-itself (ens a se), pure actuality (actus purus), and the self-subsistent identity of essence and existence (ipsum esse subsistens). John Duns Scotus then planted the seed of modern Idealism by uniting the transcendent mode of predicating God with the immanent mode of predicating creatures in the transcendental hypothesis of the Univocity of Being, in which the continuum of being underlies every possible judgment. It was this hypothesis of transcendental being that laid the ground of ideal being for René Descartes' epistemological turn from the objective sensation to the demonstrable knowledge of subjective cognition. Hegel cultivated this flower of free thought to its full bloom by incorporating the internally related ideas of all beings, in a Logic of Being, Essence, and Concept; to inwardize the outward externality of beings in-themselves; and rip away the veil of objectified metaphysical formulae to reveal the Idea of Being in-and-for-itself.

Supernature was first constructed from the movement of the inward reflection of hypothetical ideas, and then imagined to annihilate Nature by assimilating all beings to Non-Being beyond Being. Nature was, alternatively, constructed from the opposite movement of the outward reflection of hypothetical laws, and then imagined to cut itself off from Supernature as an outwardly extended reflection of beings; which first implicitly subverted, but afterwards explicitly annihilated the Supernatural order of Being. In abstract isolation, either the inward or the outward movements of constructing Being from beings result in the annihilation of Being: for the inward movement of Supernature assimilates all beings to the One so that beings are reduced to that Non-Being beyond Being; while the outward movement of Nature cuts all beings from Being so that each being floats in an interstitial void of Non-Being. Since the annulment of each particular being results in the annulment of their determinacy, the annihilation of Being also unravels every determination of beings. With no determination of beings in-themselves, the inward vanishes into the outward just as the outward vanishes into the inward. Yet in this vanishing of the determinacy of beings, every determination is also preserved, by the transcendental hypothesis of univocal being, in a movement in which the outward is reflected inwards even as the inward is reflected outwards.

This movement of inwardizing the outward and outwardizing the inward at first appears to blur any fixed separation between the subject for-itself and the object in-itself, so that the subject vanishes into the object just as the object vanishes into the subject. Yet in the infinite repetition of this inward-outward movement, the distinction between subject and object is, not merely annulled, but also preserved as a constitutive moment: for since judgments are made by the subject for-itself of the object in-itself; judgments compose hypotheses; and hypotheses compose the movements of any hypothetical construction; judgments by the subject of the object must also remain as a constitutive moment of the inward-outward movement. The subject is for-itself the ground of being from which to judge and incrementally determined the properties predicated of an object – like so many facets cut into a gemstone. In this infinite judgment of the object by the subject, in which judgments of the object are infinitely repeated by the subject, the subject for-itself polishes the object in-itself in the image and likeness of its own judgments, until the glittering determinations of the object present a mirror in which the subject can recognize itself reflected in the object.

In this reflection of the subject in the object, the subject is no longer simply a being for-itself, but is also a being in-itself, or rather the mixture of both together as a being in-and-for-itself. Subject and object are no longer set apart but united in the object of the subject that is also the subject of the object. Since the hypothetical determinations of beings are preserved as constitutive moments of the inward-outward movement, this movement also preserves every determination by the subject for-itself of the object in-itself. The activity of the subject is the infinite judgment by which the object in-itself is incrementally determined by the subject for-itself, until the subject is mirrored in and indistinguishable from the object. Not only each individual judgment, but, moreover, the collective activity of the subject, that is subjectivity, is preserved in this unity of subject and object, that is being in-and-for-itself. The annihilation of Being in Non-Being through the construction of Being from beings, thus implies, not merely the annulment of the determinacy of beings, but also the annulment of the fixed separation of even the beings of subject and object; so that the subject is present in the object and vice versa; just as, before, Supernature is present in Nature and vice versa; as opposed inward and outward movements that are altogether preserved within the internal dynamic unity of the Idea.

The first and highest hypothesis that can be thought is this Absolute Idea that, at once, annuls and preserves in-and-for-itself every determination of subject and object. It is hypothetical because, although it may never be proven, it must be assumed in the background as the unconditional condition for every possible thought and being: it is an unconditioned condition because Being in-and-for-itself is the necessary prior condition for the possibility of all beings, whether for-us or in-itself; and it must also be assumed to resolve the contradictions of external relations by uniting all beings of objectified metaphysics in an Idea that both annuls and preserves every inward and outward determination; but it can never be deductively proven because any purported demonstration would reduce it in thought to merely an object of externally related terms, propositions, and rules of inference. Since the Absolute Idea is not an externally related object in-itself, but rather the dynamic unity of subject and object in-and-for-itself, the product of any putative demonstration can, at best, amount to merely a “counterfeit double” of the philosophers rather than the genuine living “God of Abraham, God of Isaac, God of Jacob.” Friedrich Schelling thus warns that to “prove objectively that the [Absolute] Ego is unconditional would mean to prove that it was conditional... The Absolute can be given only by the Absolute; indeed, if it is to be absolute, it must precede all thinking and imagining. Therefore it must be realized through itself, not through objective proofs, which go beyond the mere concept of the entity to be proved.” (Of the Ego as the Principle of Philosophy, 1795) Were the Absolute Idea - per impossible – not assumed as the first and highest hypothesis of speculative thought, then no Idea could absolutely and individually unite the inward-outward movement of externally related beings, so that thought and being would unravel, through the paradox of external relations, into the unthinkable transcendent void beyond every conceivable thought of being (see my essay The Monstrosity of Materialism).

Anomalies in the order of Being elicit reflection upon their prior conditions, from which may spring the hypothesis of a miracle. The hypothesis of a miracle consists in an abductive inference, in which the prior and necessary conditions for the anomalies are explained by the direct determination of a higher power. The uncanny element of miracles may, in this way, be rationalized by turning from specific hypotheses to the most general hypothesis of an unconditioned condition of Being. Just as every condition is further conditioned by some prior condition, so must hypotheses also be conditioned by some prior conditions of terms, functions, and rules of inference (e.g. predicates, conjunction, and implication). Yet if we suppose the chain of logical conditions not to continue indefinitely - link by link - towards an infinite regress beyond all thought, then we must suppose the chain to begin and end in some ultimate condition of all conditions, which, because it is not conditioned, is an unconditioned condition of all conditions. This hypothesis of the Absolute Idea is assumed as the unconditioned condition for the specific hypothesis of miracles. Yet, since the Absolute Idea cannot become an externally related object for our conditional reflection, it must infinitely surpass any conditionally defined concept just as, in abduction, the hypothesis exceeds the meaning of its propositions.

If the highest purpose of logic - like religion - is nothing less than knowledge of the Truth, then the Absolute Idea must be, all at once, the first hypothesis and final synthesis. The logical deficiency of abduction results from a performative contradiction, between the purpose that the hypothesis should necessarily entail the conclusion and the negative implication of every other possible hypothesis. Since some alternative hypotheses may also entail the conclusion, the hypothesis of abduction is merely one among many possible explanations, rather than the one, unique, and necessary explanation. Its purpose as a necessary inference of logic is thus contradicted at the outset by the negative implication that, because there may be alternative yet no less possible hypotheses, the one hypothesis of abduction is not necessary but merely possible. This performative contradiction is, however, not merely a negative procedure of annulling concepts to toss them into the “same empty abyss,” but, moreover, a formative “skepticism that is directed against the whole range of phenomenal consciousness,” in which there remains, between the “determinate nothingness” of contrary concepts, some positive content to educate “consciousness itself to the standpoint of Science.” (PhG §78-79) In every performance, abductive logic “spoils its own limited satisfaction” as a necessary inference that, in exceeding its own meaning, is contradicted by mere possibility; but dialectical logic preserves rather than annuls this ampliative excess in the determinate negation that remains between the thoughts of the hypothetical concepts. Where abduction is logically deficient as a necessary inference because it negatively implies every excluded hypothesis, the dialectical progression of thought towards the Absolute Idea may be projected to become absolutely logically sufficient in-and-for-itself because it would simply include every possible hypothesis. Beset by wonder but bereft of explanation, we may search all troughs and heights, until we appeal, with our final breath, for some conclusive explanation to the Idea beyond every being. Alexander Pope writes: “Through worlds unnumber'd though the God be known, Tis ours, to trace him only in our own.”


Miracles, if true, would amount to moments when the Absolute Idea directly intervenes, through the gaps between beings, as though to touch individual beings by “the finger of God” (Exodus 8:19). The gaps between beings are the interstitial void of non-being beyond the limits of every determinate being, which are signified by the negativity of difference, conflict, and contradiction both in philosophy and in religion. The transcendent contradiction of Parmenides, in which the One ‘is’ and ‘is not is’, was first immanentized in the contrary motion of Heraclitus, in which the many ‘are’ and ‘are not’ some property; but afterwards was speculatively re-consituted in Plato's Idea of Nous in the World-Soul, in which the transcendent identity of the One is externally instantiated in the cosmos as a “moving image of eternity” (Timaeus 37d). The multiplicity of pagan divinities, in which the immanent powers of Nature were variously personified, were, likewise, separated by the Israelites to one immutable God; but afterwards, in Christianity, returned into the immanence of human nature and history, as a perfect sacrifice, to atone for the sins of the world and reconcile man to God. The projected constructions of Supernature and Nature further attempted to trace knowledge of this universal Being from particular beings through the hypotheses of ideas, essences, substances, and laws, but each toppled to ruin upon the same inner contradiction of external relations. Yet in modern Idealism the ideas of the World-Soul and the One, Nature and Supernature, object and subject, are speculatively re-conceived as internally related negative determinations in and for the Absolute Idea. The relation of universal Being to individual beings in miracles can thus also be conceived as a self-relation of Being in-and-for-itself, because the Absolute Idea simply includes every being and all relations as moments in-itself and for-itself. Since man is a self-determining subject in the image and likeness of God, yet fallen from, into, and among beings, this self-relation of Being in miracles is also a relationship of the subject to the object of Being, in which the subject becomes an object for itself, so that it might recognize itself as object in and for the absolute otherness of the Absolute Idea. When thus beset by the arresting cognizance of a miracle, we may confess with Meister Ekhart, that “the eye with which God sees me is the eye with which I see God.” (Sermon IV On True Hearing)