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Paul Redding: Hegel and the Law of Non-Contradiction Part 1

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Published on Nov 17, 2008

Hegel and the Law of Non-Contradiction
Paul Redding (Sydney)

Hegel's law of contradiction states that "everything is contradictory", but according to Robert Brandom, this does not amount to a denial of the law of non-contradiction. Quite the contrary, Hegel, he says, "radicalizes" this law "and places it at the very center of his thought". In contrast, Graham Priest regards Hegel as one of the first philosophers to adopt an appropriately critical attitude to the otherwise dogmatically held belief in the truth of the law of non-contradiction. Hegel not only questioned the law of non-contradiction, he denied it, and while this would be sufficient to damn Hegel in the eyes of most logicians, Priest defends Hegel on just this count. Hegel here anticipated the existence of systems of paraconsistent logic, which allow certain propositions of the form "p and ~p" to be true.

Both Brandom and Priest interpret Hegel's thought within essentially modern, post-Fregean, and hence, propositionally-based approaches to logic, but this, I will argue, ignores the relevance of Aristotelian term logic for Hegel's own logical thought and, in particular, for his conception of contradiction. Hegel was no classical Aristotelian, but rather attempted in the realm of logic as elsewhere to reconcile what he saw as the antithetically opposed orientations of modern and ancient thought. And yet this means that he was enough of an Aristotelian to affect his conception of contradiction. I argue that it is only by understanding Hegel's appeal to two different logical systems that can one understand how his "law of contradiction" can co-exist with what we know as the law of non-contradiction.

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