Review of Jean Hyppolite's Logique et Existence
First published in Revue philosophise de la Trance et I'etranger (1954): 144, 457-60. ©1954 by Presses Universitaires de France, Paris.
Genesis and Structure of Hegel's Phenomenology of Spirit preserved all of Hegel and was its commentary. The intention of this new book is very different. Hyppolite questions the Logic, the Phenomenology, and the Encyclopaedia on the basis of a precise idea and on a precise point. Philosophy must be ontology, it cannot be anything else; but there is no ontology of essence, there is only an ontology of sense. That, it seems, is the theme of this essential book, whose very style is extremely powerful. That philosophy must be ontology means first of all that it is not anthropology. Anthropology wants to be a discourse on man. It assumes, as such, the empirical discourse on man, in which the one who speaks and that of which one speaks are separated. Reflection is on one side and being on the other. Knowledge understood in this way is a movement which is not a movement of the thing. It remains outside the object. Knowledge is then a power of abstraction, and reflection is an external and formal reflection.
Thus empiricism refers to a formalism, just as formalism refers to an empiricism. Empirical consciousness is a 'consciousness which directs itself towards pre-existing being and relegates reflection to its subjectivity' (p. 76 above). Subjectivity will therefore be treated as a fact, and anthropology will be constituted as the science of this fact. That with Kant subjectivity becomes a principle changes nothing essentially. Critical consciousness is a consciousness which 'reflects the self of knowledge by relegating being to the thing in itself' (p. 76 above).
Kant indeed raises himself up to the synthetic identity of subject and object, but the object is merely an object relative to the subject: this very identity is the synthesis of imagination; it is not posited in being. Kant goes beyond the psychological and the empirical, but remains within the anthropological. As long as the determination is only subjective, we have not left anthropology. Is it necessary to leave it, and how? The two questions are the same: the means of leaving it are also the necessity for leaving it. Kant really did see that thought posits itself as presupposed: it posits itself because it thinks itself and reflects itself; and it posits itself as presupposed because the totality of objects assumes it as what makes knowledge possible. Thus in Kant, thought and the thing are identical, but what is identical to thought is only a relative thing, not the thing as being, in itself. Hegel is thus concerned to raise himself up to the genuine identity of the position and the presupposed, that is, up to the Absolute, inthe Phenomenology, we are shown that the general difference of being and reflection, of the in-itself and the for-itself, of truth and certainty, is developed in the concrete moments of a dialectic whose very movement is to sublate this difference or to preserve it merely as a necessary appearance.
In this sense, the Phenomenology starts from human reflection in order to show that human reflection and what follows from it lead to the absolute knowledge that they presuppose. The issue is really, as Hyppolite says, one of 'reducing' anthropology, of 'eliminating the hypothesis' of a knowledge whose source is alien (p. 158 above). Absolute knowledge, however, exists not only at the end as well at the beginning. It was already in all the moments: a shape of consciousness is in another view a moment of the concept. The external difference between reflection and being is in another view the internal difference of Being itself, in other words. Being identical to difference, identical to mediation. 'Since consciousness's difference has returned into the self, these moments then present themselves as determinate concepts and as their organic self-grounded movement' (p. 88 above). Some will say that there is 'pride' in taking oneself for God, in ascribing absolute knowledge to oneself. One has to understand, however, what being is in relation to the datum. Being, according to Hyppolite, is not essence, but sense. To say that this world is sufficient is not only to say that it is sufficient/or us, but that it is sufficient unto itself, and that it refers to being not as the essence beyond the appearance, not as a second world which would be the intelligible world, but as the sense of this world. Undoubtedly, one finds already in Plato the substitution of sense for essence, when he shows us that the second world itself is the subject of a dialectic which turns it into the sense of this world; it is no longer an other world. Kant, however, is still the one most responsible for the substitution, because the critique replaces formal possibility with transcendental possibility, the being of the possible with the possibility of being, logical identity with the synthetic identity of recognition, the being of logic with the logicity of being—in short, essence with sense. Thus, that there is no second world is, according to Hyppolite, the major proposition of Hegel's Logic, because it is at the same time the reason for transforming metaphysics into logic, and for the transformation of logic into the logic of sense. That there is no 'beyond' means that there is no 'beyond' of the world (because Being is only sense), and that in the world there is no 'beyond' of thought (because being thinks itself in thought).
Finally, it means that in thought itself there is nothing beyond language. Hyppolite's book is a reflection on the conditions of an absolute discourse; the chapters on the ineffable and on poetry are essential in this regard. People who engage in idle talk are the same ones who believe in the ineffable. Because Being is sense, true knowledge is not the knowledge of an Other, nor of something else. In a certain way, absolute knowledge is the closest, the simplest, it is there. 'There is nothing to see behind the curtain' (p. 60 above), or, as Hyppolite says, 'the secret is that there is no secret' (p. 90 above). We see then what the difficulty is, a difficulty that Hyppolite emphasizes forcefully: if ontology is an ontology of sense and not of essence, if there is no second world, how can absolute knowledge still be distinguished from empirical knowledge? Do we not fall back into the simple anthropology that we had criticized? Absolute knowledge must simultaneously comprehend all empirical knowledge and comprehend nothing else, since there is nothing else to comprehend, and yet comprehend its radical difference from empirical knowledge.
Hyppolite's idea is the following: despite appearances, essentialism was not what safeguarded us from empiricism and permitted us to overcome it. In the vision of essence, reflection is no less external than in empiricism or in pure critique. Empiricism posited determination as purely subjective; essentialism only goes as far as the ground of this limitation by opposing determinations among themselves and by opposing determinations to the Absolute. One is on the same side as the other, m contrast, the ontology of sense is the total Thought knowing itself only in its determinations, which are me moments of form. In the empirical and in the absolute, it is the same being and the same thought; but the external, empirical difference of thought and being has given way to the difference identical with Being, to the difference internal to the Being which thinks itself. Thereby, absolute knowledge actually distinguishes itself from empirical knowledge, but it distinguishes itself only by also negating the knowledge of indifferent essence, m the Logic, there is no longer, therefore, as in the empirical, what I say on the one side and on the other side the sense of what I say—the pursuit of one by the other which is the dialectic of the Phenomenology. On the contrary, my discourse is logical or properly philosophical when I say the sense of what I say, and when in this manner Being says itself. Such a discourse, the specific style of philosophy, can be otherwise only circular. In this regard, one should take note of Hyppolite's discussion of the problem of the beginning in philosophy, a problem which is not only logical, but also pedagogical (see part III, chapter 3).
Hyppolite positions himself therefore against all anthropological or humanistic interpretations of Hegel. Absolute knowledge is not a human reflection, but a reflection of the Absolute in man. The Absolute is not a second world, and yet, absolute knowledge is actually distinguished from empirical knowledge just as philosophy is distinguished from all anthropology. Nevertheless, in this regard, if one has to consider the distinction that Hyppolite makes between the Logic and the Phenomenology decisive, does not the philosophy of history have a more ambiguous relation to the Logic? Hyppolite says: the Absolute as sense is becoming. Undoubtedly, this becoming is not a historical becoming; but what is the relation of the becoming of the Logic to history, the historical here designating everything other than the simple character of a fact? The relation between ontology and empirical man is perfectly determined, but not the relation between ontology and historical man. And if Hyppolite suggests that it is necessary to reintroduce finitude itself into the Absolute, are we not going to risk a return of anthropologism in a new form? Hyppolite's conclusion remains open; it creates the path of an ontology. But we would like to indicate that the source of the difficulty was perhaps already in the Logic itself. Following Hyppolite, we recognize that philosophy, if it has a meaning, can only be an ontology and an ontology of sense. The same being and the same thought are in the empirical and in the absolute. But the difference between thought and being is sublated in the absolute by the positing of the Being identical to difference which, as such, thinks itself and reflects itself in man. This absolute identity of being and difference is called sense. But there is a point in all this where Hyppolite shows himself to be altogether Hegelian: Being can be identical to difference only insofar as difference is carried up to the absolute, that is up to contradiction.
Speculative difference is the Being which contradicts itself. The thing contradicts itself because, in being distinguished from all it is not, it finds its being in this difference itself; it reflects itself only by reflecting itself into the other, since the other is its other. This is the theme that Hyppolite develops by analyzing the three moments of the Logic, being, essence, and concept. Hegel will reproach Plato as well as Leibniz for not having gone up to contradiction, the one remaining with simple alterity, the other with pure difference. This assumes, at the least, not only that the moments of the Phenomenology and the moments of the Logic are not moments in the same sense, but also that there are two ways of self-contradiction, phe-nomenological and logical. The richness of Hyppolite's book could then let us wonder this: can we not construct an ontology of difference which would not have to go up to contradiction, because contradiction would be less than difference and not more? Is not contradiction itself only the phenomenal and anthropological aspect of difference? Hyppolite says that an ontology of pure difference would return us to a purely external and formal reflection, and would prove in the final analysis to be an ontology of essence. However, the same question could be posed otherwise: is it the same thing to say that Being expresses itself and that it contradicts itself? If it is true that the second and third parts of Hyppolite's book ground a theory of contradiction in Being, where contradiction itself is the absolute of difference, in contrast, in the first part (theory of language) and the allusions throughout the book (to forgetting, to remembering, to lost sense), does not Hyppolite ground a theory of expression where difference is expression itself, and contradiction its merely phenomenal aspect?