Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository

Thesis Format



Master of Arts


Theory and Criticism


Calcagno, Antonio


This thesis, Monism and Dialectic, examines significant difficulties faced by contemporary approaches to the Logic, diagnoses them as rooted in neglect of two central historical references for Hegel’s arguments at the beginning of the Logic, and proposes an original solution. The result is a promising interpretation of Hegelian dialectic as grounded in the skeptical position of strict monism and a recentring of constitutive contradiction as the motor of the dialectic.

A basic antinomy between Kantian-formal and Parmenidean-material readings governs the reception of Hegel’s Logic both among its detractors and its greatest proponents. Hegel rejects both readings, or rather accepts both, insofar as each is importantly one-sided. What is required is a unification of the two incompatible positions. I demonstrate what such a unification must entail by tracing the progression from the phenomenal to pure thinking, then from the pure thought of indeterminate immediacy (Being) to a determinate indeterminate (Nothing), then finally to a mediated immediacy (Becoming). The first problem is how to advance from mere thinking to the pure thought of pure being; the second, how to advance from pure being to its determination. Kant’s surprising monism emerges from a close examination of his doctrine of noumenal ignorance. For Hegel, Kant has no grounds to reject that the absence of determinate knowledge of the thing in itself implies indeterminate knowledge of thing in itself; he is equally powerless to bar the way to a further move from indeterminate knowledge of things to knowledge of indeterminate things. The mere thought of the thing-in-itself thus becomes its positive cognition as a noumenon, or, equivalently, Parmenidean pure being. We then encounter the second problem: how to advance from the indeterminacy of pure being to its determination. I propose a solution to this problem grounded in an antinomical reading of the opening standpoint of the Logic.

Summary for Lay Audience

While the German philosopher G.W.F. Hegel is best known for his emancipatory theory of history and his revolutionary theory of society rooted in desire and recognition, Hegel himself considered his primary contribution to intellectual history the metaphysics of the Science of Logic, a text long ignored for its obscurity. Its growing contemporary readership tends to assimilate it to one or the other of two dominant philosophical tendencies. Roughly, formal readers understand it as a doctrine that explains what makes things thinkable, regardless of whether there actually are any thinkable things, whereas material readers understand it as a doctrine that explains those things themselves. Formal readers are roughly Kantian or ‘idealist’ in orientation, while material readers are roughly Parmenidean-Spinozist or ‘realist’. That each interpretation has such strong textual support has led to a stalemate within Hegel studies and seems to support a common dismissal of Hegel’s philosophy as so ambiguous as to be unworthy of serious attention. In this thesis, I try to show that neither interpretation is acceptable, but neither can be dismissed either: each grasps one critical dimension of Hegel’s thought in the Logic.

Rather than reconciling the two antithetical positions in a mediating “synthesis,” I aim to show that Hegel accepts both positions insofar as they contradict one another. Hegel thinks there’s a genuine contradiction between the form and matter of reality—what makes it thinkable and what makes it what it is—and that far from being an obstacle to our comprehension of reality, the comprehension of this contradiction is just what it is to comprehend reality. I show how Hegel progresses from the Kantian view that we can’t know absolute reality to the Parmenidean view that knowledge of absolute reality is just knowledge of its ‘unknowability in itself’ or its ‘indeterminacy’—monism—and then to the view that knowledge our ignorance of absolute reality (or the determination of indeterminacy) is a feature of absolute reality itself, or is a way that reality is. The contradiction between indeterminate reality and its determinate knowability is the source of what Hegel calls “dialectic”.

Available for download on Thursday, May 01, 2025