1 Overview of the Categories of Determinateness (Quality)

The categories of determinateness (Bestimmtheit) or quality (Qualität) are three – <being>, <existence>, and <being-for-itself>. This contrasts with Kant’s characterization of quality as consisting of <reality>, <negation>, and <limitation>. It’s interesting that Hegel begins with quality, as Kant (in the Principles) begins with discussion of quantity.1 The categories of quality are:

  • Being
    • Nothing
    • Becoming
  • Determinate being/existence (Dasein)
    • Finitude
    • Infinity
  • Being-for-itself
    • One-many
    • Repulsion-attraction

Within each of these are various further determinations, such as <quality>, <reality>, <negation>, <something>, <limit>, etc.

Why this structure rather than some other? Hegel’s answer must be that this structure (or path) is necessary, and it is necessary because it follows from the nature of thought/being itself. In general, we can see the “movement” of the development of the categories in thought as from sheer unmediated indeterminacy to the determinate specification of a being. Thus the progression is from the nature of being to its basic determinate form as something that is.

There are many questions one might ask with regard to the opening of the Logic (at least with regard to its main content). But the first must be why this? Why start with quality? In the Encyclopedia he remarks that

Quality is, to begin with, the determinacy that is identical with being in the sense that something ceases to be what it is when it loses its quality. By contrast, quantity is the determinacy that is external to being and indifferent in relation to it. Thus, for instance, a house remains what it is, whether it is bigger or smaller, and red remains red, be it brighter or darker. (EL §85 Z)

This helps clarify why we start with the categories of quality – they concern being as such, rather than an external relation to it (quantity).

2 Being

2.1 Starting Points

Why start with <being>?

the beginning ought not itself to be already a first and an other, for anything which is in itself a first and an other implies that an advance has already been made. Consequently, that which constitutes the beginning, the beginning itself, is to be taken as something unanalyzable, taken in its simple, unfilled immediacy; and therefore as being, as complete emptiness. (SL 52/21:62)

Hegel’s claim is that we must begin with that which is wholly immediate, and hence not mediated by anything else. In this sense then it seems the reasons to start with quality are the same as those for starting with <being>=, though there is a sense in which Hegel could also have started from ==, since it is equally immediate. This also raises an important question – are we to read the opening of the Logic as answering the question as to why there is something rather than nothing? For example, Houlgate takes Hegel to provide a straightforward answer to this:

Hegel’s answer is simple: there has to be something because logically nothing slides into being, being transforms itself into determinacy, and being’s irreducible determinacy in turn proves to be something.2

However, this strikes me as somewhat misleading. Hegel does not start with <nothing>, rather he starts with <being> and shows that that “slides into” (or vanishes into) <nothing> and vice versa. So there seems rather to be a kind of priority to , even if it is identical (in some sense) with <nothing>.

Another option is to read Hegel as starting with a fact, or perhaps more in line with Fichte, with a “fact-act” (Tathandlung)—viz. the act of thinking. In this sense the Logic opens with the claim that thinking is.3 This differs from Fichte’s starting point in that nothing is assumed here as to what it is that is thinking, or even that thinking entails a thinker. Moreover, instead of presupposing that thought is “absolutely spontaneous” or that it is governed by specific (i.e. “logical”) laws, Hegel instead contends that thought “moves” and that it moves in the sense of “immediately vanishing into its opposite” (SL 60/21:69). It may turn out that the way that thought moves admits of lawful characterization, but this is not presupposed at the outset.

2.2 Thinking or Intuiting?

Another curious feature of the opening of the Logic is that Hegel seemingly treats thinking and intuiting as interchangeable. For example, in discussing being Hegel says,

[t]here is nothing to be intuited in [being], if one can speak here of intuiting; or, it is only this pure empty intuiting itself. Just as little is anything to be thought in it, or, it is equally only this empty thinking

and similarly in the discussion of nothing he says,

[i]n so far as mention can be made here of intuiting and thinking, it makes a difference whether something or nothing is being intuited or thought. To intuit or to think nothing has therefore a meaning; the two are distinguished and so nothing is (concretely exists) in our intuiting or thinking; or rather it is the empty intuiting and thinking itself, like pure being (SL 59/21:69)

From a Kantian standpoint this is surprising since intuiting is inherently relational – there must be something actual to which the intuition is related. This is part of why Fichte characterizes the immediate consciousness one has of one’s activity in thinking as an intellectual intuition. It is a relation to something actual (viz. in Fichte’s terms, a self-relating to the actuality of the activity). In contrast, conceptual thought is typically taken to be existence-independent. That is to say, one can think of that which does not exists—conceptualization and judgment does not entail existence.

Hence, insofar as Hegel begins with an intuiting that is not an intuiting of a particular, but rather of sheer indeterminate being/nothing, and also in construing this as a kind of thinking that is inseperable from its object, he is tacitly employing a conception of mental activity that is largely identical with features of intellectual intuition, as employed by Kant, Fichte, and Schelling (though not identical with all the varied aspects of how each of these three uses the notion).

2.3 The Identity of Being and Nothing

The conclusions of Hegel’s initial two paragraphs are startling. They are:

  1. Being, the indeterminate immediate is in fact nothing, and neither more nor less than nothing.
  2. Nothing is therefore the same determination or rather absence of determination, and thus altogether the same as what pure being is (SL 59/21:69).

Note that Hegel cannot argue for either (1) or (2), at least not at the beginning. To do so would be to presuppose something about argument, thinking, and thus about concepts, judgment, truth, and reasoning. So in whatever way we arrive at (1) and (2), it is not via a deductive (or inductive, etc.) argument. So how do we get to these claims?

If we take seriously Hegel’s introductory remarks about the movement of thinking, then we should read the beginning of his discussion here in just that way, which means that the thinking that is, but is so purely indeterminately, of its own accord (or we might say, of its own nature), adverts to nothing, and vice versa. Is this a phenomenological claim, in the sense of the Phenomenology? Not obviously, since it is not about the appearance of what thinking is, etc., but about the truth of this. More generally, the topic of the Phenomenology is experience (in the broadly Reinholdian sense of that term), but the topic of the Logic is thought (in a sense that is not fully obvious at the start of the Logic). And it doesn’t seem right to say that the account Hegel gives here is “phenomenological” in something more like our contemporary sense, since it isn’t one concerned simply with “what it is like” to be thinking in a particular way, where “what it is like” denotes some individual psychological state (or property thereof) that can be typed by what it is like to have it/be in it.

Perhaps there is a middle way here. Insofar as the reader of the Logic is also a thinker, the activity of working through Hegel’s discussion is similarly the activity of one’s own thinking as proceeding in a similar manner. Here again we see another point of possible connection with Fichte’s method. The reader, instead of being invited (or summoned) to think of themself, simply thinks, and in doing so sees particular results. The first invitation is that of thinking of pure being, which ultimately comes to nothing. The second invitation is to then think of this nothing. But the nothing that one thinks thus is, and one is thereby thinking of being again. We then have a kind of oscillation in thought between these two contents. These are identical in the sense that they both are thoughts of pure indeterminacy. But they are different in the sense that they are held as opposites to one another by the understanding (i.e. that ’moment’ or ’aspect’ of thinking that considers features in complete isolation for one another). As Houlgate puts it, “All we may do is consider the concept of indeterminate being and note what, if anything, that concept itself turns out to be or do”.4 Putting things this way also helps us keep in mind the sense in which the method of the Logic is identical with its subject matter. Thus the dynamic of change or transition is not external to the various categorial forms in the Logic (see Hegel’s comments in Remark 3), but rather identical with it—it is the dynamic of those forms themselves.

Now, that said, what should we make of the opening two claims? It seems as if what Hegel is contending is that there is something erroneous or incorrect about our thought of being and of nothing (or the concepts thereof). That is, in thinking of being we turn out to be thinking of nothing and vice versa. If we took this thought of being, which ultimately turns to nothing, as a kind of independent content then we would be making a mistake. Similarly for the thought of nothing. It turns out that in treating <being> and <nothing> as distinct and independent concepts we are faced with a contradiction, the resolution of which requires situating these concepts with respect to some more determinate concept in which they are no longer opposed.

Hegel sums up this (surprising?) claim of identity and difference by saying that

  1. [i] Pure being and pure nothing are therefore the same. The truth is neither being nor nothing, but rather that being has passed over into nothing and nothing into being – “has passed over,” not passes over. [ii] But the truth is just as much that they are not without distinction; it is rather that they are not the same, that they are absolutely distinct yet equally unseparated and inseparable, and that each immediately vanishes in its opposite. Their truth is therefore this movement of the immediate vanishing of the one into the other: becoming, a movement in which the two are distinguished, but by a distinction which has just as immediately dissolved itself (SL 59-60/21:69-70).

According to Hegel, to think <being> or <nothing> is not to think some determinate independent content, nor is it a kind of independent being (or nonbeing). To think so is to think merely as our “understanding” would have things. Instead there is a more determinate content—<becoming>—that is the thought of coming to be and passing away.


Bowman, Brady. 2017. “Self-Determination and Ideality in Hegel’s Logic of Being.” In The Oxford Handbook of Hegel, edited by Dean Moyar, 219–41. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Houlgate, Stephen. 2006. The Opening of Hegel’s Logic: From Being to Infinity. West Lafayette, Ind: Purdue University Press.
Pippin, Robert B. 1989. Hegel’s Idealism: The Satisfactions of Self-Consciousness. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

  1. Perhaps this is because Fichte also begins his derivation of the categories with quality (specifically, <reality>)? ↩︎

  2. (Houlgate 2006, 313). ↩︎

  3. We might even just want to say that the Logic begins with itself—or what is the same—with the activity of thought, which is an activity of connection captured in the copula. So in this sense we are both identifying thought with being and capturing the basic feature of thought as such—i.e. as a connection that signifies being. For a discussion of the categories of quality as a development of Kant’s conception of thinking see (Pippin 1989; Bowman 2017). ↩︎

  4. (Houlgate 2006, 32). ↩︎