Hyppolite and Hegel

by Beth Metcalf


There are those who accuse Deleuze of “misreading” Hegel.  However, does Deleuze misread Hegel?  Let us look at Deleuze’s text about his teacher, Hyppolite, who was a great admirer of Hegel and an inspiration for Deleuze’s understanding of Hegel. 


In his article Jean Hyppolite’s Logic and Existence, Deleuze says Hyppolite understood that philosophy must be ontology, not anthropology.  Anthropology can only presuppose an empirical discourse of humanity that separates the reflection of the subject from the being of an object.  Subjective understanding can, then, only remain outside the object.  Empirical anthropology presupposes a subjective form reflecting an object.  This supposed objectivity to a subject is seen as scientific fact.  However, philosophy must strive to reach a knowledge that does not depend upon the presuppositions of our subjective understanding. 


According to Hyppolite, Kant’s critical philosophy finds a synthesis of subject and object, but it is a synthesis relative to the subject and says nothing about being-in-itself.  Kant remains within an empirical anthropology.  Kant never reaches the thing-in-itself.  He can only speak of anthropological phenomena.  Hyppolite sees Kant’s philosophy as an anthropology of subjective determination.


In contrast, according to Hyppolite, Hegel aspires to reach the identity of being-in-itself and being-for-itself.  His Phenomenology shows that dialectical movement develops in concrete moments to synthesize the opposition of subject and object.  Hyppolite, therefore, rejects any anthropological interpretation of Hegel.  Hyppolite sees in Hegel a dialectical movement that overcomes the separation of subjective knowledge from being.  A figure of consciousness is a moment of the Concept in the Absolute.  There is only the internal difference of Being itself.  Being is identical to the mediated difference of the Absolute Concept.  It is the organic movement of the identity of Being-itself.  Hegel removes the obstacle of an anthropological empiricism external to being.  What, in empiricism, was an external difference between objective being and subjective reflection is, for Hegel, the internal difference of Being-itself.    


Therefore, Hyppolite’s Hegel avoids anthropology.  Hegel’s philosophy is ontology.  Does Hyppolite then see Hegel’s ontology as essentialism separate from anthropology?  Deleuze credits Hyppolite with the insight that philosophy must not only avoid anthropology, but also essentialism.  For Hegel, Being is not essence, but sense. Being is not an essence beyond appearances.  Hyppolite sees in Hegel’s Logic the recognition that there is nothing beyond this world.  There is no essence of Being, because Being is self-positing sense.  In thought it is being that thinks itself.  Knowledge is not knowledge of an other world or an other thing.  It is the sense of this world.


Therefore, Hyppolite clearly saw the problem.  Absolute knowledge had to include empirical knowledge.  In fact, it could include nothing else since there is nothing else.  Yet it also had to explain its own difference from empirical knowledge.  Philosophy must not be anthropology.  Yet, if there is no other world, essentialism is not the answer either. Human values and contingent accidents must not be left out since there is nothing other-worldly.  This means that any solution to the problem must fulfill the requirements of a paradox.  Absolute knowledge must include, yet be distinct from, empirical knowledge.  In order to satisfy this paradox, we need an ontology of sense, not essence.  Deleuze credits Hyppolite with the insight that philosophy can only be an ontology of sense.  Sense is the identity of being and difference.  In the absolute, Being is identical, not to an essence outside this world, but to difference that reflects itself in humanity.


Hyppolite saw in Hegel the solution to this paradoxical problem.  He rejects any anthropological interpretation of Hegel.  Yet, according to Hyppolite, Hegel’s Absolute is not outside this world either.  Hyppolite saw, in Hegel’s philosophy, the paradoxical ontology of sense.  Hegel’s sense is total Thought knowing itself in its formal moments of determination.  In the empirical and in the Absolute, Being is Thought.  There is no external difference between thought and being.  There is only internal difference of Being and Thought.  Absolute knowledge is the identity of being and difference.  


So far we have seen that Deleuze credits Hyppolite with the important insight that philosophy must be an ontology of sense.  He can even see merit in Hyppolite’s interpretation of Hegel as aspiring to such an ontology.  However, Deleuze notices a new problem.  This ontology of sense, which according to Hyppolite can be found in Hegel, comes at a cost.  Yes, Hyppolite’s Hegel satisfies the paradoxical requirement that absolute knowledge be distinct from empirical anthropological knowledge without being separate from it.  However, as Deleuze points out, such philosophical knowledge still must deny any difference between what I say, on the one hand, and the sense of what I say, on the other.  Hegel’s philosophical discourse is circular in that Being speaks through itself when I speak the sense of what I say.


Therefore, Deleuze recognizes a problem for Hyppolite’s Hegelian ontology of sense.  In both the empirical realm (what I say) and the Absolute (sense of what I say), being and thinking are the same.  Being is identical to difference.  Being is the difference that mediates identity.  Sense is the identity of being and difference in the Absolute.  Hegel’s ontology of sense merely splits sense itself into a new opposition.  It must deny any real difference between what I see and the sense (what I say) about what I see.  What I say and the sense of what I say must be merely a “difference” that mediates identity.


Therefore, Hyppolite does not notice that Hegel’s difference as contradiction does not accommodate the required paradox.  Deleuze says, “Speculative difference is self-contradictory Being.  The thing contradicts itself because, distinguishing itself from all that it is not, it finds its being in this very difference; it reflects itself only by reflecting itself in the other, since the other is its other.”  In order to fulfill the paradox, sense must inhere in what I say without merging with it.  And sense must be attributed to, yet distinct from, what I see.


Deleuze and Guattari (What is Philosophy p.11-12) credit Hegel with defining the “concept by the Figures of its creation and the Moments of its self-positing.”  But Hegel did this “at the cost of an indeterminate extension of philosophy that, because it reconstituted universals with its own movements….left scarcely any independent movement of the arts and sciences remaining.”  In other words, Hegel’s ontology of sense acts like an essentialism that leaves no room for creative art or empirical science.  Hegel’s difference as contradiction can’t fulfill the paradox of sense.  Hegel is at the level of the Figures of consciousness.  He never reaches the domain of difference as the singular intensity of concepts.  (See WiP 89-92 for Deleuze’s distinction between figure and concept.)  Therefore, when we reach the univocity of sense, we distinguish the philosophical concept from a phenomenology or empiricism of the Figure.


Deleuze agrees with Hyppolite’s understanding of Being as sense.  However, Deleuze concludes that Hyppolite’s Hegelian bias does not allow him to reach a real ontology of sense.  Hyppolite’s understanding that Being is identical to difference still does not reach the Univocal Being of sense, because his Hegelian difference takes the absolute all the way to contradiction.  Deleuze says that if we are to reach that sense which is identical to difference, we must recognize that difference is not contradiction.  Contradiction is difference at the level of already formed matter.  However, if we are to reach real difference of sense, Deleuze tells us that we must reach that domain beneath formed matter.  We must reach that realm where the concept is intensive singularity.  The logic of sense is the logic of univocity.  The univocity of sense allows us to reach the real difference of expression itself.  Being is the difference of saying.  Being is not the difference of contradiction that merely mediates identity.  In Deleuze’s univocity, the identity of being and difference occurs at the level where difference is not mediated by identity of the concept.  Rather, the concept is now recognized to be the intensive singularity of difference-itself.


Therefore, Deleuze says that Hyppolite’s Hegelian bias does not allow him to reach real difference.  In Hegelian “difference” the thing reflects itself in its other.  But Deleuze asks whether there might be an ontology of difference that does not go all the way to contradiction.  Deleuze asks the question, “….is it the same thing to say that Being expresses itself [in sense] and that Being contradicts itself?”  We know Deleuze’s answer to this question.  Deleuze says that the univocity of sense is that ontology of intensive difference beneath formed matter.  An ontology of sense is not contradictory “difference” that merely mediates the identity of a conceptual form where the real and rational are identical.  Univocity reaches that realm of philosophy that escapes anthropology because it is not empiricism.  It is transcendental empiricism.  As we have seen, absolute knowledge must be distinct from empirical knowledge.  Yet paradoxically, it must be empirical since there is nothing else.  Deleuze’s univocity reaches forces of transcendental empiricism that fulfill the requirements of this paradox.  The transcendental field (the virtual-real) is distinct from the empirical, yet also includes it.  This is the paradox of vice-diction which includes in the inessential modal case what it excludes in substantial essence.  Vice-diction, not contradiction, fulfills the paradox of sense. 


According to Deleuze and Guattari, philosophy must be univocity (see my article Philosophy Is Univocity).  Philosophy must be an ontology, not empirical science.  However, philosophy must not be an ontology of essence.  It must be an ontology of sense.  Furthermore, it is not possible to reach an ontology of sense as long as we remain at the level of already formed matter where difference is contradiction. We cannot reach an ontology of sense as long as there is a contradictory relation that mediates identity between the empirical (what I see) and the expressive sense (what I say) about what I see.  The univocity of sense must reach the domain of transcendental empiricism --- intensity and singularity --- without negation.  Philosophy must not be restricted to the plane that splits things into oppositions: subject/object, this world/other world, essence/accident, ontology/anthropology.  Sense must reach univocity beneath such oppositions. 


Therefore, those who accuse Deleuze of being “otherwordly” or aloof from the political and historical contingencies of this world, are missing the point.  Philosophy must reach a domain that is the source beneath all actualizations of opinion.  The philosophy of history must not be confused with an empirical science of history.  Philosophy of history does not have the usual relation to logic.  The becoming of sense must be distinct from that notion of historical becoming that splits subject/object, essence/accident, this world/other world…etc.  It must not be confused with opinions from opposing moral contexts.  We misunderstand the vocation of philosophy if we see something “radical” in Hegel that Deleuze allegedly misses.


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