Hegel’s Neglect of the Possible

Justin Carmien
19 min readNov 12, 2022

Of principal importance to the metamodern political project is an understanding of both power and history. These two words direct our attention to particular obstacles which previous political projects have faced, but were not able to circumvent, such that we suffer from those same obstacles today. Common to the post-WWII period of thought is sociological interpretation, which treats power as “a causal mechanism between human animals in various forms of organization” and history as the story of such mechanisms, as they have transpired according to a calendrical metric. Today, the term “power dynamics” still correctly frames our challenges. Such challenges are not limited to the corruption of the institutions which check and balance those dynamics; the concept of “power dynamics” can be applied to interpersonal and international commerce as well. However, if we are to approach power and history with any originality, then we must also beware that our problematization does not merely adopt this sociological framing. We can be sure that this would render any genuine metamodern thinking impossible. Rather, inquiring authentically into power and history first requires that we open ourselves for an original impression of phenomena. Only once phenomena are allowed to show themselves of themselves can an original thinking space give rise to theories about human being, power, or history according to sociologic and in causal terms. Because of this, we are informed about the method which we must take up in addressing power and history from within the metamodern political project. Yet, even so, if I were to say that the method which is required is “phenomenological”, I would still need to qualify that word.

For me, “phenomenology” cannot refer to any discipline (φαινομενον λογια) which could be studied in the same way as psychology, sociology, or biology. Even less so could “phenomenology” refer to some phenomenologic (φαινομενον λογος) — that is, a λογος (“logic”) by which the phenomena come into accord with one another. Rather, phenomenology must refer to a commitment — and this must mean to us something like so: a commitment to the phenomena as they appear of themselves. However, to be clear, this commitment should not be mistaken as virtuous on account that it constitutes the right approach for further investigating the phenomenon itself. If this were the case, then phenomenology would simply be another name for a commitment to honest empirical investigation. Rather, attuning to phenomena as they appear of themselves — that is to say, to the event of appearance itself — is proper when looking to describe the ground or foundation which makes that appearance possible.

In proceeding to exercise phenomenology, I choose to direct your attention towards the event and moment of appearance itself. At least since G.W.F. Hegel’s Phänomenologie des Geistes (“the Phenomenology of Spirit”), “the now” has been taken as the moment of phenomenal encounter in which time and space extend and the natural world may be described. For Hegel, as well as for us, this moment marks the event, in its “twofold shape as here and now”, where any scientific questioning can begin — whether that questioning proceeds from causal or ontological questions, or whether it leads to physical, metaphysical, or historical descriptions. Because Hegel’s Phenomenology stands at the inception of phenomenology, I choose to begin my article on power and history in the metamodern political project here.

Hegel. The moment of inquiry and the Notion

Hegel begins his Phenomenology of Spirit with the language of sinnliche Gewißheit (“sense-certainty”). Sense-certainty is shown as the here and the now. I think any one of us will agree that when we say “here!” or “now!” and signal with our hands to the open space before us, this is meant to refer to a simple wholeness. Only from such a simple wholeness can further articulation and description of phenomena begin. In Hegel’s Phenomenology, we have the words reines Sein (“pure being”) to refer to this simplicity. Yet, Hegel is keen to notice that in the moment of pure being, we not only have one instance of pure being, but rather one moment of pure being which has preserved within it other moments. The moment of pure being suggests a plurality of moments. Hegel is particularly interested in the movement between the moments — between each “now!” He uses the word Begriff (often translated as “Notion” or “Concept”) to describe this movement. Hegel begins his phenomenology of the Notion by way of a reflection on the declarative pronoun this. If we allow ourselves a bit of fantasizing on the genealogy of declarative gestures, we can imagine the German “das!” or English “this!” as modifications which owe their heritage to primitive grunts. Such declarations announce περας (peras, “end, goal, boundary”). For the Ancient Greeks, περας was not that by which something ends, but rather that by which something begins its adherence. Such an adherence can be characterized as having a natural power. This characterization allows phenomenologists to define phenomena as what show themselves of themselves.

For Hegel, the Notion is first constituted by a negation of one moment (say, a this by a that) which provides for a mediated simplicity. Hegel’s example in the Phenomenology is the negation of one moment of night by day. Then, by way of a plurality of mediated simplicities, the Notion achieves a common medium by which many such simplicities (universalities, such as “white”, “tart”, and “cubical”) coalesce in order to objectify the Thing (in Hegel’s example, apparently a grain of salt). We immediately notice that Hegel’s description of the Notion is a process of forces. Yet, those forces are not directed towards things outside of the location of adherence — they are instead, in each case, a force towards itself as ομοιωσις (homoiosis, “making like”). If we remember back to Plato’s so-called “theory of forms”, we could say that ομοιωσις presences the ιδεα “chair” as the particular chair that it is. The object adheres in its being when that object announces the phenomenal experience such that it stabilizes. Indeed, it is the appropriateness of the object to announce the possibilities (both those which have been and those which are still outstanding) which stabilizes the phenomena, such that the object adheres in the moment as here and now.

Hegel’s rationalism. The force “inside of itself” and “outside of itself”

Now, Hegel was correct when he understood that his investigation into the movement of the plurality of the now did not belong to the same description as causality. He was correct to understand each moment as isolated to itself, totally enclosed, such that each moment appears in conflict with the others. Therefore, for Hegel, the adherence of each moment becomes a ratio (“comparing”), which is the essence of his dialectic. While this form of reasoning correctly describes Hegel’s thinking, the moment of ratio also informs the domain of his thinking. To be sure, his investigation into the moment of ratio qualifies Hegel as a rationalist. And, after all, the entire character of Hegel’s dialectic is rationalist insofar as the path to its conception (ver-nehmen) leads through this moment of Reason (Verstand). Yet, Hegel is not a rationalist in the sense which we might think of René Descartes. Well known is Hegel’s critique of the individualist worldview common to the Enlightenment, which sees people as individuals and society as a collection of atomized individuals. At the same time, he understands the problem of the objectivity of the thing. He also understands that these problems belong together. Early in the Phenomenology, Hegel shows us how the “external” informs the “internal” and only through a dialectic process between the two can true and objective knowledge be. For Hegel, the “external” process of life — that is, “the whole of the splitting up of differences and their rejoining” — exists for a consciousness and indicates consciousness. This is true for Hegel because life appears as a whole and consciousness is where the differences in the whole life process have their unity. Recalling from A.V. Miller’s translation of Hegel’s Phenomenology, a moment in the dialectic arises in which,

“The object, which was supposed to be the essential element in sense-certainty, is now the unessential element; for the universal which the object has come to be is no longer what the object was supposed essentially to be for sense-certainty [namely, the truth of the phenomenon itself]. On the contrary, the certainty is now to be found in the opposite element, viz. in knowing, which previously was the unessential element. [The object’s] truth is in the object as my object, or in its being mine; it is, because I know it.”

The reversal within Hegel’s Notion reveals the dialectic process as not one of mere ομοιωσις, as I first suggested, but rather as a dialectic between a subject and an object. We could say that in this moment of the Notion, that which was once inside the object is now outside of the subject. And what is now inside the subject is precisely the force or its adherence. Trivially, I have taken notice that this force “inside of itself” and “outside of itself” is often successfully explored in science fiction. Thus, we can bring to mind H.P. Lovecraft’s extraterrestrial in The Colour from Outer Space, or Arthur C. Clarke’s monolith of 2001: A Space Odyssey fame. In these stories, the alien object’s being is the more primordial force, one which is a force towards itself. The alien object has no care for what it affects, nor even knows that it affects; it simply is, and through its being it affects. In the case of 2001: A Space Odyssey, the alien object does not move; it has no physical force. Yet in being, it exerts force, such that the adherence of the object displaces that which surrounds it simply through its being. This disruption in the present moment causes a counter-force in that which surrounds it. Taking the moment of ratio as a whole, the force once inside the object is now inside the subject, which must now change. I imagine that any one of my readers will be able to imagine this experience. Likely you will be able to attest to the experience of the presence of being, whether the persistence of some nagging thought or some “external” phenomena, which has consumed your world and thus disrupted your entire ability “to be yourself”. Perhaps in that moment the internal or the external force was so strong that reason was impossible.

What should be apparent then, if Hegel is thinking of the adherence of phenomena according to this type of rational explanation, is that he is likely treating adherence the same way Immanuel Kant did — that is, according to the “psychological” philosophizing of the early epistemologists. Because this domain of philosophizing has persisted throughout much of early modern Western philosophy, including Hegel’s, it is worth taking time to expound upon. By doing so, I will also expose the deficiencies of such philosophizing and thus become more confident in our own task at hand — namely, a fresh interpretation of power and history in the metamodern political project.

Kant and Husserl. The temporal synthesis and the consciousness of time. Including the question as to which object adheres

We can rightfully call the works of the epistemologist, especially that of Kant, “psychological” insofar as the conditions of possibility which they endeavor to explain regard human being — and, in particular, that subject’s ψυχη (psūkhe, “mind” or “soul”). To be sure, “consciousness” is a word which is common among epistemologists, including Hegel too. The adherence of objects in the mental domain have been well explicated — especially by way of Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason, but also by way of Edmund Husserl’s lectures on the phenomenology of the consciousness of time.

Within the Critique of Pure Reason, we read that consciousness obtains objects through what is known as the temporal manifold. Through the temporal manifold, phenomena persist through time, and this manifold is accomplished by way of what Kant calls the temporal synthesis. The explication of this synthesis is found within the doctrine of the threefold synthesis of the A-Deduction from his Critique of Pure Reason. However, and as I have already suggested, this description seems to be further pronounced (and perhaps even advanced) by Husserl. In Husserl’s lectures on the consciousness of time, we find the adherence of objects in consciousness described through the psychological language of retention, protention, and what we call original impression. And yet, if we were to simply accept the explanation of adherence by way of Kant’s temporal synthesis, or Husserl’s explicitly psychological language, then we would have only explained how an object and its motion adheres. What is explicitly lacking in this form of description is an explanation as to which object adheres. The problem asked about here can be considered by way of the following example: consider that lightning is not tantamount to or merely a type of electromagnetic discharge. At most, we could say that the description electromagnetic discharge is a refinement of the description lightning. But we could never say that one is more true or even more accurate than the other universally and in all cases. This means that the question as to whether the object lightning adheres in consciousness following a flash of light in the sky or whether electromagnetic discharge adheres cannot be decided upon by the temporal synthesis alone. Rather, it must be conditioned by something other than consciousness or Reason.

Hegel’s “experienced change” and history

It is quite likely that Hegel understood the polylogical character of objectification as described above. If this is the case, then he also understood the deficiencies of philosophizing on ψυχη and the moment of ratio alone. For Hegel, a dialectic “play of Forces” between substance and subject is “constituted by the Force which is solicited by another Force”, and is “equally the soliciting Force for that other, which only thereby becomes itself a soliciting Force”. For Hegel, this description of the play of Forces,

“contained the distinction of soliciting and solicited Force, but these were distinctions which in reality were no distinctions, and therefore were also immediately canceled again. [However,] what is present here is not merely bare unity in which no difference would be posited, but rather a movement in which a distinction is certainly made. In the process, then, of explaining the to and fro of change which before was outside of the inner world and present only in the appearance, has penetrated into the supersensible world itself. Our consciousness, however, has passed over from the inner being as object to the other side, into the Understanding, and [consciousness] experiences change there.”

Insofar as movement is the consequent manifestation of ratio, this “experienced change” constitutes history. For Hegel, Aufheben (“sublation”) is this movement that signifies the process of development, of continuous enrichment, of Ent-wicklung (“unfolding”) in relation to the object and consciousness. The flow of Aufheben makes it possible for the thing to become what it is according to its truth. Truth is the object’s conformity to its intrinsic self, and the realization of the object’s own concept. It preserves it, because it is made of it and can reproduce it; and in the course of its development, it raises it to a higher level of its own existence. We find this narrative to be true, in that what has adhered has changed over time. The development of the dialectic points to the holistic moment of Reason (Vernunft) beyond Reason. The history of a suprasensible object which Hegel calls Geist (“Spirit”) is our evidence of the polylogical nature of objectification. The history of a world Spirit leads Hegel to a retroactive account of the movement of the Notion, through a dialectic play of forces between consciousness, the other, and the object as common medium. Inasmuch, the rational dialectic provides an account regarding the question as to which object adheres OR in Hegel’s language, which objects are actual. “Lightning” on one hand, “electromagnetic discharge” on the other, as just one example. However, what should be obvious is that Hegel’s rational dialectic pattern of argument assumes Kant’s conditions of possibility as entirely descriptive of the content of history — which is Hegel’s evidence. This requires further investigation.

Hegel’s neglect of the possible

I have now suggested that Hegel’s rational dialectic pattern of argument assumes Kant’s conditions of possibility as entirely descriptive of the content of history. However, what cannot be overlooked is that by looking towards the actual content of history for explanatory evidence, Hegel neglects any further explanatory function for the conditions of possibility. So, while Hegel understands the object as actual, and therefore implies the condition of that actuality — namely, the possible — he also neglects a description of the conditions which transform the possible into the actual. In other words, Hegel’s answer regarding which object adheres is unsatisfactory. This is the case even if the kernel of an advanced description of the conditions of possibility had already been presented in Hegel’s Phenomenology — a kernel which Karl Marx later made use of when he stood Hegel on his feet in order to problematize the human animal’s πραξις (praxis, “doing”), and thereby suggest an advanced description of the conditions of possibility. (I refer to those elements which can be found in The Phenomenology of Spirit, sections 178 through 196, during the reflections on Lordship and Bondage and, specifically, the bondsman’s labor.)

Because of Hegel’s neglect of the conditions of possibility, and his neglect to ground the being of the actual, we are left without a well-thought-out answer to the question as to which object (possibilities) adheres. However, in a recent article titled A Definitive Introduction to Metamodern Metaphysics, an advanced description of the conditions of possibility was proposed. In that article, the economic or ecological commercium was announced as the subject by which to investigate those conditions. So as not to repeat what has already been written there, I refer my reader to that article now. Plus, in doing so, I can expedite the development underway here. In what follows, I will account for the natural power of adherence when considering the economic or ecological commercium, thereby answering the question as to which object adheres by way of a more robust architectonic of the conditions of possibility. To be sure, this exposition will take us away from Hegel’s text and his thinking. However, my exposition will eventually lead us back to Hegel’s Force, rendering the adherence of phenomena by way of natural power relevant to our contemporary political project. To begin, I now turn towards language from Martin Heidegger’s architectonic of the conditions of possibility, as it is presented in Being and Time.

Heidegger’s Stimmung

In Being and Time, we read of Heidegger’s Geworfenheit (“thrownness”). Immediately, we notice that thrownness is an action of the subject inside itself. This action inside itself refers to an inability to get behind possibilities. One is thrown into one’s da sein (“being there”) and into the possibilities available in the here and now. In recalling passages from John Macquarrie and Edward Robinson’s translation of Being and Time, we remember that,

“The character of da sein is its ‘there’ in such a way that, whether explicitly or not, it finds itself in its thrownness. In a mood, da sein is always brought before itself, and has always found itself, not in the sense of coming across itself by perceiving itself, but in the sense of finding itself in the mood that it has.”

In the above translation, I have intentionally added emphasis to the word mood. I use this word (or rather, the original German Stimmung) to shed light on adherence. In order to proceed with Stimmung, I ask you to consider Heidegger’s carefully chosen words for his architectonic of the conditions of possibility. Stimmung allows for phenomenal elucidation, even if it belongs properly to metaphysical description. Consider that in a psychological sense, moods such as sadness draw the world into it. And in times of sadness, depressing music can feel good. When this is the case, it is because that music allows the world to be as the world that it is — to present itself in its true form — namely, as a world full of frustration, disappointment, and unfairness. Of course, and at the same time, we can be sure that Heidegger is not referring to any psychological projection — a process by which an individual’s mood “colors” the world. This is also indicated by Heidegger’s language. In German, Stimmung (which is commonly translated as “mood” or “attunement” in Heideggerian scholarship) is not usually used to refer to one’s personal mood or the attunement of an individual. Rather, Heidegger’s Stimmung is that of the subiectum (and, in the case of Being and Time, his subject is the conditioning possibilities which could be exemplified by a tribe, village, community, industry, or nation). Stimmung is the character of that which gathers the world together in the here and the now. Anyone who is present at the here has been thrown into this gathering at the now. Of course, for us, we can see that removing Stimmung from the ψυχη of a human animal, only to then place it within the social commercium of that human animal, may not be satisfactory either.

Introducing αληθευειν to the metaphysical architectonic

Heidegger has removed Stimmung from the ψυχη of human being, placing it within the social commercium of that being. However, this transporting of Stimmung from the psychological to the anthropological is a mere superficial modification once considered against a larger sample of the Western philosophical tradition. To the point, we can trace a particular bias within that tradition going all the way back to the ancients. In the writings of Aristotle, for example, we find that the natural power of ομοιωσις (adherence) has already been obscured by way of a prioritization of the human animal and what today we would call this animal’s psychology. This is apparent when considering Aristotle’s αληθευειν. Now, in Modern Greek we might translate αληθευειν as “to truth” — as in, for example, “to walk”. This also coheres with Heidegger’s translation of αληθευειν as it belongs to the existential constitution of human being. Within Heidegger’s early philosophy, adherence is an actio towards the “unconcealed” in the “saying”. Heidegger’s actio is manifest in action. As such, he preserves the bias towards that which is produced in the word, language, and the unique being of “man”. Therefore, when Heidegger transports Stimmung from the psychological domain to the anthropological, he also repeats Aristotle: αληθευειν refers to a force inside itself which belongs to human being. However, today I find it impossible to maintain this bias. Consider that non-human animals, together with machines, intelligent programs — and even algorithms — present the now by “speaking” and “asserting”. And after all, why should I consider a Mongolian who I have never met to have more presencing power than my pet dog, which I am in daily commerce with? The answer to this question seems obvious to me. I find no reason to emphasize something like “human being”. Once this emphasis fades, this way of being dissolves.

What we can conclude, when displacing “man” from the epicenter of the commercium, is that unlike those ways of being as described by Aristotle, namely σoφoς (sofos), τεχνιτης (technitis), or φρονιμος (fronimos), αληθευειν (“to truth”) describes the comportment of the world wholly. The adherence of phenomena by way of natural power is therefore not one of human being towards its phenomenal world (as Heidegger understood αληθευειν, taking lead from Aristotle), nor is adherence that of an object within the consciousness of a human animal, without regard to that animal’s commercium (as Hegel understood it). Rather, once we have returned ομοιωσις to nature, then αληθευειν (“to truth”) describes the natural power of the object to itself. The “to truth” of αληθευειν is a force as projection, and is that by which the meaning of beings becomes accessible as what they are. Thus, αληθευειν refers to the force of the world, by which it shows itself of itself. This force is indicated in the now, whether the objects described in that moment fall into human animal, non-human animal, machine, intelligent program, or even search engine algorithm categories. This understanding of the natural power of αληθευειν with regard to the economic or ecological commercium opens a thinking space for a novel metamodern interpretation of human being, power, and history.

Introducing gravitas into the metaphysical architectonic

Following this, we can return to our reflections on Stimmung. In doing so, we not only transport this word’s meaning from early Heidegger to later Heidegger, but we can go beyond Heidegger as well. Once having removed human being from the epicenter of the commercium, we find that it is not an individual’s mood which collects the world around it. Rather, it is the case that the adhering as αληθευειν, and in being “to truth”, is that which gathers the world around it. Borrowing language which was developed in A Definitive Introduction to Metamodern Metaphysics, I use the term πραξις-πολις to refer to this economic or ecological subiectum and ground for the being of the world. The term πραξις-πολις also indicates a gravitas which lies prior to human being — one which pulls one inward, towards the epicenter of the pole, only to push one outward and towards its horizons. The projection and its gravity are prior to human being.

As an example, we could consider Rome, and in particular Roman verum (“true”). Only by way of the adherence of the imperial ideal could verum come to be, whatsoever. All surveillance and subterfuge throughout the Roman empire were mere subsequent mechanical actions in accordance with the imperial ideal. To be sure, mechanical action outside itself will always and forever lag behind and chase after the motionless action of adherence inside itself. And this holds still today, whether we are considering the projection (or simply the project) to tie one’s shoes, engineer a super-skyscraper, or problematize power and history within the metamodern project. In the moment of the adherence of the projection towards truth, the natural power of the project sends out a commandment. Likewise, the power of being compels one to act upon that commandment and, in doing so, the individual manifests as who they find themselves to be. Consequently, if we were to refer to the I with any metaphysical substance, then it must be to refer to that which is subjected to this natural power.

First economics philosophy

At this point, I may need to tell you that I am not intentionally making things difficult when I choose to introduce αληθευειν and gravitas into the metaphysical architecture. I am fully aware that Ancient Greek αληθευειν may simply be transported into English as “authenticity”. However, such a translation would refer to properties of the individual-subject of epistemological metaphysics or psychology. Therefore, when I appropriate αληθευειν into the metaphysical architectonic, I mark the beginning of a philosophy which stands in contrast to Hegel’s rational dialectic pattern of argument and to Heidegger’s anthropological form of description as it is found in Being and Time. While I am indebted to each (and we should not overlook Hegel especially, who stands at the inception of the phenomenological method of inquiry), we can be sure that both thinkers are biased in favor of the Western tradition, which treats human being, its Reason, and its commercium, with special priority.

In thinking of the name of the discipline which treats of αληθευειν, we can turn towards Aristotle’s τα περι της πρωτης φιλοσοφιας (that is, “the [writings] concerning first philosophy”). Of course, Descartes offers a more English-friendly term for this realm of thought: prima philosophia. And so, following the Latinized expression, we might say that we are here doing prima economics — prime economics. However, for ease of translation into English, let us simply name the thinking space of the economic or ecological commercium as first economics.

*Editor’s note: This reading of metaphysics as first economics is likely to be unfamiliar to the reader. For further explication, visit Justin’s YouTube channel, here or here. The Medium article here. And the first economics Facebook group here or How to Nurture Truth and Authenticity: A Metamodern Economic Reform Proposal on Amazon.com.



Justin Carmien

Public speaker on metaphysics, political philosophy, and political metamodernism