Saturday, February 10, 2018



Žižek tells us[i] that Hegel’s dialectics has been falsely interpreted as a closed circle: he intended the end as a new beginning.[ii] This goes beyond the old Aristotelian idea that things have a potential that is realized in the end. With Hegel, on the path to realization of potential a new potential is created. The question now is how this works. Unless I missed something in Hegel, he gives no explanation how, by what logic, dialectics works, produces novelty, from opposition or tension.

In a later item in this blog I will discuss ontology: the philosophy of being, of things in the world. There, I will use the idea, shared by Graham Harman and Tristan Garcia, that there are two dimensions to objects in the world: first, how they are composed, ‘what is in them’ and second their position in their environment, ‘what they are in’[iii].

The first is the analytic view of science, breaking things down into their components, the second is the phenomenological view, considering the lived experience of things. The latter connects with philosophical pragmatism and Wittgenstein’s notions of ‘meaning as use’. I will now claim that the two arise from each other: how something is composed determines, in part, how it exists in its context, and that, in turn, affects how it is composed. How does that work?  

For transformation, in this blog (item 31), and in a book published in 2000), I proposed a ‘cycle’ of discovery or invention. I did not develop it with Hegel in mind, at least not consciously, but was perhaps fed by prior readings of Hegel. I was inspired, more explicitly, by the theory of the developmental psychologist Jean Piaget concerning the development of intelligence in children. The basic idea there is that when one is confronted with new experience, the attempt is made to assimilate it in existing mental frames, and when that fails such frames are accommodated. I now wonder if it can be seen as a further development of Hegelian thought. In a later item in this blog I will propose that it clarifies ontology, in what I call dynamic ontology.

To recall, I proposed that the cycle of change starts with generalization, defined as application of a practice in novel contexts. In the novel context, the practice is challenged by new conditions of survival. What had been adopted as a universal is confronted with novel particulars.

Note the link with evolution here, with the idea that novelty, in speciation, arises from challenges in a new selection environment. The classic example is the emergence of new species after the disastrous crash of a meteor on earth, which made the dinosaurs and other species extinct. In innovation policy some firms now actively seek novel markets to find out limitations by identifying failures, as a source of innovation.  

Faced with failure in a novel context, the first step, which stays as close as possible to the existing frame, is to ‘tweak’ that frame, in differentiation, in trying out different variants of the same, with recollection of earlier forms that were at play in the emergence of the present practice.

This may not suffice for survival in the new context. Here is where Hegelian opposition or contradiction kicks in. In the failure of the practice one gets to really know it, with its limitations that call for renewal.

From the conflict between practice and the novel context, experiments arise, in what (adopting the terminology of Piaget) I call reciprocation, inserting elements from practices met in the novel context that seem to succeed where the old practice fails, into the logic of the old practice. This yields misfits between the old and the new, novelties that conflict with existing logic.

This, I think, is the fundamental step in dialectics: experimenting with hybrids of the old and the new, to discover ways of relieving the tension between them. It allows for the exploration of the potential of novel elements, and of the limitations of the old logic that obstruct the realization of the new potential, which gives hints in what directions a novel logic might be explored.  

Necessity is both the mother and the midwife of invention.

Novelty, as it emerges in a new basic logic, is hesitant at first, labouring with inconsistencies or frictions that remain, with fall-backs into the old, requiring further adjustments in the constellation of the new basic logic and its elements, until it settles into what in the innovation literature is called a ‘dominant design’.

In sum: in moving to a new place or context one encounters the need and insight to open up content to new possibilities. What was taken as a universal is confronted with deviant particulars (see the preceding item in this blog). Note the similarity to the hermeneutic circle (item 36, 252).

Note that the cycle is in fact a spiral, not a closed loop.             

 Is this helpful as an elaboration, elucidation, or twist of Hegelian dialectics?



[i] In his Parallax view.
[ii] The Latin word terminus can mean ‘end point’ as well as ‘starting point’.
[iii] Tristan Garcia, 2014,  Form and object; A treatise on things, Edinburgh Press.