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Positive and Negative Dialectics:

Hegel's Wissenschaft der Logik and Plato's Parmenides

O f the m a n y p h i l o s o p h i c a l w o r k s that H e g e l d i s c u s s e s , n o n e r e c e i v e s more

a c c o l a d e s than P l a t o ' s Parmenides. H e c a l l s it the „ m o s t s u b l i m e d i a l e c t i c [erha-
benste Dialektik] e v e r g i v e n " 1 and „the greatest art w o r k o f a n c i e n t d i a l e c t i c " ; 2
h e c l a i m s that it (as w e l l as t h e Sophistes and Philebus) e x p r e s s e s „ t h e abstract
s p e c u l a t i v e I d e a in its pure c o n c e p t " ; 3 h e e n d o r s e s the N e o p l a t o n i c n o t i o n that it
is P l a t o ' s „true t h e o l o g y " ; 4 a n d it s e e m s to f o r m the b a s i s f o r h i s o w n d i a l e c t i c .
In an early Jenaer p i e c e , „ V e r h ä l t n i s s d e s S k e p t i c i s m u s zur P h i l o s o p h i e " , h e
praises the d i a l o g u e ' s d e s t r u c t i o n o f t h e p o s s i b i l i t y o f all k n o w i n g . 5 However,
H e g e l a l s o directs s o m e sharp c r i t i c i s m a g a i n s t t h e Parmenides. His Wissen-
schaft der Logik c r i t i c i z e s its n e g a t i v e results and s u g g e s t s that t h e y s t e m f r o m
the t y p e o f d i a l e c t i c it e m p l o y s . 6 M o r e o v e r , b y the t i m e o f the Logik, Hegel has
clearly c o m e t o think that k n o w l e d g e is p o s s i b l e . In short, in r e s p e c t o f b o t h its

1 G. W. F. Hegel, Vorlesungen über die Geschichte der Philosophie. Erster Band, in: id.,
Sämtliche Werke. Jubiläumsausgabe in zwanzig Bänden, hrsg. von H. Glockner, Stutt-
gart 3 1959, Bd. 17, 308. This phrase does not appear in the critical edition of Hegel's
last set of lectures on the history of philosophy, but there, as in other editions, Hegel
does call the dialogue „the most famous masterpiece of Platonic dialectic". Cf. G. W. F.
Hegel, Vorlesungen über die Geschichte der Philosophie. Teil 3. Griechische Philoso-
phie. II. Plato bis Proklos, in: id., Vorlesungen. Ausgewählte Nachschriften und Manu-
skripte, hrsg. von P. Garniron, W. Jaeschke, Bd. 8, Hamburg 1996, 33.
2 G. W. F. Hegel, Phänomenologie des Geistes, in: id., Gesammelte Werke, im Auftrag
der Deutschen Forschungsgemeinschaft hrsg. von der Rheinisch-Westfälischen Akade-
mie der Wissenschaften, Bd. 9, hrsg. von W. Bonsiepen, R. Heede, Hamburg 1980, 48.
3 G. W. F. Hegel, Vorlesungen über die Geschichte der Philosophie. Zweiter Band, in:
Sämtliche Werke, Bd. 18, 230. Hegel discusses the dialogue at ibid., 240-247.
4 Hegel, Vorlesungen über die Geschichte der Philosophie. Teil 3. Griechische Philoso-
phie. II, 33-34.
5 Cf. G. W. F. Hegel, Verhältniss des Skepticismus zur Philosophie, Darstellung seiner
verschiedenen Modificationen, und Vergleichung des Neuesten mit dem Alten, in: Ge-
sammelte Werke, Bd. 4, hrsg. von H. Buchner, O. Pöggeler, Hamburg 1968, 207, where
Hegel asserts that the parmenides ... das ganze Gebiet jenes Wissens durch Ver-
standesbegriffe umfaßt und zerstört".
6 G. W. F. Hegel, Wissenschaft der Logik. Erster Teil. Die Objective Logik. Erster Band.
Die Lehre vom Sein (1832), in: Gesammelte Werke, Bd. 21, hrsg. von F. Hogemann,
W. Jaeschke, Hamburg 1985, 87. This passage is quoted and discussed below.

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212 Edward C. Halper

method and results, the Parmenides seems to receive Hegel's highest praise and
his sharpest criticism.
Some aspects of this seeming contradiction have been adequately ex-
plained; others are more difficult, but surmountable, as we will see. More troub-
ling than Hegel's apparent vacillation about the Parmenides are the features of
the dialogue that he fastens upon, its dialectical method and the negative results
of its second part. Most contemporary readers have been reluctant to call the
dialogue's results negative or positive, emphasizing instead their apparent
contradictoriness. There is disagreement about whether anything positive emer-
ges. 7 And contemporary readers have been more baffled than impressed by the
method of Parmenides'' second part: Both the description of the method and its
illustration are ambiguous, many of the arguments seem quite weak and even
eristical, while ,dialectic' seems a misnomer for what is closer to a lecture and,
certainly, quite different from the dialectic we find in other dialogues. At the
same time, Hegel is silent on the two issues that have most troubled contem-
porary readers: whether Plato can overcome the criticisms of the forms presen-
ted in the dialogue's first part and the relation of the dialogue's second part to its
There is a substantial body of literature on Hegel's understanding of the
Parmenides. There are three main issues: 1. how Hegel developed from his
Jenaer notion that the Parmenides makes a case for skepticism, 9 2. whether or

7 F. M. Comford, Plato and Parmenides: Parmenides' Way of Truth and Plato's Par-
menides, transl. with an intr. and running comm. by F. M. Cornford, London 1939, repr.
Indianapolis n. d., 244-245, insists that the dialogue's conclusion is merely „ostensible"
in order to challenge readers to discover for themselves the ambiguities in the hypothe-
ses and fallacies in the deductions. He thinks that different hypotheses deal with differ-
ent Ones. In contrast, R. E. Allen, Plato's Parmenides: Translation and Analysis, Min-
neapolis 1983, 186, 198-199, argues that One cannot be ambiguous and that the dia-
logue aims to lay out a series of unresolved aporiae.
8 Both Mitchell H. Miller, Jr. and Kenneth Sayre argue, on quite different grounds, that
Parmenides' arguments against the forms are fatal to a certain account and that the sec-
ond part proposes a different and more profound way to understand forms. According to
Miller, Plato's Parmenides: The Conversion of the Soul, Princeton 1986, 169-171,
Socrates' account of the forms errs in treating them as if they were material entities and
this is corrected, in the second part, with a profound treatment of forms as non-material
and an account of participation. According to Sayre, Parmenides' Lesson, Notre Dame/-
Ind. 1996, 92-97, it is Plato's own separate forms that are under attack in the first part,
and the second part skirts the problem with an account of immanent forms. C. C. Mein-
wald, Plato's Parmenides, New York 1991, 162-163, takes a completely different
approach to the relation. She argues that the criticisms of the first part are answered by a
distinction between two types of predication that is found in the second.
9 K. Düsing, Hegel und die Geschichte der Philosophie: Ontologie und Dialektik in Anti-
ke und Neuzeit, Darmstadt 1983, 55-67, has a good discussion of the literature to that

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Positive and Negative Dialectics 213

not he correctly understood Plato 10 and 3. whether or, rather, how his dialectic
differs from Plato's." The first issue has been adequately treated. Hegel's dis-
cussion of skepticism belongs to the period when he still thought of logic as a
propaedeutic to metaphysics, before he identified the two. Addressing the sec-
ond issue requires a solid understanding of the Parmenides, but despite the large
literature on this dialogue, there is no consensus even on basic issues. Although
Hegel is surely mistaken on some points of detail, it is important to allow for the
possibility that his method, his choice of problems or his unstated systematic as-
sumptions could arise from this dialogue and even, perhaps, reflect a deep un-
derstanding of it. But the problems here are too large and difficult to tackle
directly all at once. So let me set aside, for now, the second issue.
The focus of my attention will, then, be the third issue, how Hegel's dia-
lectic differs from Plato's. I shall begin from Hegel's claim that Plato's dialectic
is negative, and my guiding questions are: 1. whether, how and why Plato's dia-
lectic is negative; 2. why Hegel understands it to be negative and what he does
to make dialectic positive.
Before addressing these questions, we need to distinguish between a form
or category and the dialectic that arrives at it or springs from it. This distinction
is crucial because Hegel aims to overcome it; and in the final logical category,
Absolute Idea, content and method, that is, idea and dialectic are identical. This
means that the degree of separation between idea and dialectic serves as a mea-
sure of the adequacy of the idea. The answers to the two questions that I will
argue here are as follows: 1. Plato's dialectic is negative in the sense that the

point. Düsing, ibid., 68-74, discusses the role of the Parmenides in Hegel's develop-
ment. R. Schäfer, Die Dialektik und ihre besonderen Formen in Hegels Logik, Hamburg
2001, has a similar view of Hegel's development.
10 See H.-G. Gadamer, Hegel und die antike Dialektik, in: id., Gesammelte Werke, Bd. 3,
Tübingen 1987, 20. Gadamer thinks that Hegel misunderstood the literal meaning o f
Plato's dialectic, but grasped, at least in the Sophistes, its deeper truth as a foundation
for the hermeneutical understanding of speech. - M. Gessman, Skepsis und Dialektik.
Hegel und der Platonische Parmenides, in: Skeptizismus und spekulatives Denken in der
Philosophie Hegels, hrsg. von H. F. Fulda, R.-P. Horstmann, Stuttgart 1996, 51, also
questions whether Hegel has correctly understood the Parmenides. He argues, ibid., 56-
57, that Hegel has projected his own development of ideas on to Plato.
11 G. Maluschke, Kritik und absolute Methode in Hegels Dialektik, Bonn 1974, 54, sees
the decisive difference to lie in Hegel's reconstruction of the categories into a system.
K. Düsing, Formen der Dialektik bei Plato und Hegel, in: Hegel und die antike Dialek-
tik, hrsg. von M. Riedel, Frankfurt a. M. 1990, 190-191, notes, among other differences,
that the meaning of the forms remains unaltered in Platonic dialectic, whereas the cate-
gories are altered and enriched in Hegelian dialectic. Gessman, Skepsis und Dialektik,
51, contrasts the inconclusive flux of Platonic dialectic with Hegel's systematic, scien-
tific method that purports to arrive at knowledge.

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214 Edward C. Halper

movement of thought, negation, lies outside of the form; the reason for this is
that form is strictly one and dialectic is generally the negation of its sensible
representations. Contrary to Hegel's view, Plato's dialectic does reflect the char-
acter of form. The dialectic of the Parmenides has another dimension: It is also
negative because it aims to know the particular by expounding all the negations
of form. 2. Hegel thinks that Plato's dialectic is negative because he takes a
Platonic form to be complex and contradictory, and recognizes that the complex
dialectical movement through which it is known lies outside of it. He makes his
own dialectic positive by including the movement of thought as part of the form
or category. For him this movement is a positive self-relation that, usually, adds
internal content to the category and transforms it into an instance of itself - a
particular, as it were. This means that Hegel's categories are not strictly one,
though they do acquire other sorts of unity. Hegel models his own forms on
what he takes Plato's to be and develops a dialectic that reflects their character.
Hence, Plato and Hegel differ on both the nature of form and the character
of dialectic, and it will emerge that they represent polar positions on the nature
and role of first principles. At the root of these differences, as well as the larger
similarities they presuppose, is a problem that is discussed explicitly in neither
the Wissenschaft der Logik nor the second part of the Parmenides, the problem
of participation. It is a token of their respective idealisms that neither philoso-
pher thinks this problem can be properly formulated; but we can, I suggest,
come to a deep understanding of how each uses the method of dialectic by see-
ing how this method works to resolve, in effect, this unstated and unstateable
It will be clear from this brief statement that this essay is speculative. The
Parmenides and the Wissenschaft der Logik are each too complex and enigmatic
to interpret definitively in the present setting, nor even in lengthier venues, if we
are to judge from the extensive literature on each. My plan here is to use each
work to illuminate the other. We stand to learn something about the Parmenides
by considering Hegel's view of it; and, conversely, by contrasting this work with
the Wissenschaft der Logik, we could come to learn something about the latter.
Part of the value of comparing them is that it helps to focus attention on the phi-
losophical points at issue, points that Plato and Hegel think at the center of phi-
losophy: what ideas are, how they are related to their instances and whether and
how dialectic yields philosophical knowledge. I submit that the opportunity to
pursue these issues with Plato and Hegel, as it were, should trump anxieties that
a speculative interpretation, though compatible with the texts, cannot be defini-
We will, however, begin on firm ground. The next section shows that the
seemingly contradictory characterizations Hegel gives of both the form and dia-
lectic of the Parmenides are consistent. Section II contrasts Plato's conception

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Positive and Negative Dialectics 215

of form with Hegel's and considers why dialectic is and is not external to form.
Section III explores Plato's problem of participation and section IV explains
how his dialectic is a response to this problem. Section V argues that Hegel's
dialectic resembles Plato's in this essential feature and can, therefore, be under-
stood as a response to the same problem. Section VI compares the two
responses, and the final section briefly notes the different assumptions about
fundamental principles that are at work in each philosophy.

I. The Consistency of Hegel's Treatment of the Parmenides

In one respect, Hegel's praise of the skepticism of the Parmenides in his Jenaer
work is easy to reconcile with his evident affirmation of knowledge in the Wis-
senschaft der Logik. We need only look carefully at his words and note his use
of technical terminology. Hegel claims in his „Skepticismus" essay that the
skepticism that emerges from the Parmenides would „encompass and destroy
the entire realm of knowing through concepts of understanding". 12 The key word
here is .understanding'. Skepticism about concepts of the faculty of understan-
ding is not skepticism about the possibility of all knowing. 13 Indeed, Hegel goes
on to call skepticism „the negative side of knowledge of the Absolute", adding
that „it immediately presupposes reason as the positive side". 14 Skepticism about
the understanding's claims to knowledge remains a cornerstone of Hegel's phi-
losophy, but he consistently endorses knowledge through reason.
The difference between these two faculties, as Hegel goes on to explain, is
that whereas the understanding grasps concepts as isolated from each other and
considers how they can be combined, reason shows these concepts to be united
with each other in a contradictory way and, thereby, transcended. 15 Hegel gives,
as examples of concepts of reason, individual propositions that each contain an
internal contradiction. In the Logik he elaborates this distinction by explaining

12 Hegel,Verhältniss des Skepticismus zur Philosophie, 207.

13 Μ. Forster, Hegel on the Superiority of Ancient Over Modern Skepticism, in: Skep-
tizismus und spekulatives Denken in der Philosophie Hegels, hrsg. von Fulda,
Horstmann, 64-82, discusses this essay in the context o f Hegel's early skepticism with-
out the distinction between faculties that I make here.
14 Cf. Hegel, Verhältniss des Skepticismus zur Philosophie, 207: „Dieser Skepticismus ...
ist selbst die negative Seite der Erkenntniß des Absoluten, und setzt unmittelbar die
Vernunft als die positive Seite voraus." See Düsing, Hegel und die Geschichte der Phi-
losophie, 69. This phrase is repeated by Schäfer, Die Dialektik und ihre besonderen
Formen in Hegels Logik, 81, who also takes the role of skepticism, for Hegel, to lie in
destroying the aspirations of the understanding to knowledge.
15 Hegel, Verhältniss des Skepticismus zur Philosophie, 208.

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216 Edward C. Halper

that a concept of reason contains movement within itself, in contrast to the static
determinations of the faculty of understanding.16
For the „Skepticismus" essay, then, what emerges from the Parmenides is
that determinations of the understanding cannot be defended because they are no
more true than their negations. Any simple assertion could always be negated.
The proper remedy for this defect is a determination that includes the assertion
along with its negation. This would be a determination of reason, and Hegel
thinks that in the Parmenides Plato recognizes that form must be a determination
of reason. It is an insight that Hegel uses, for it is from such determinations that
he himself builds his own system. Thus, Hegel's early endorsement of the Par-
menides'' skepticism represents a particular understanding of Platonic form, an
understanding that is not only compatible with Hegel's later confidence in hav-
ing attained knowledge, but an important ground for that confidence.
Another apparent inconsistency between the Wissenschaft der Logik and
Hegel's Jenaer essay is more difficult to resolve. It turns on his conception of
dialectic. In an important passage in the Wissenschaft der Logik, Hegel terms the
Parmenides' dialectic „external" and speaks of its negative results: „The dialec-
tic employed by Plato in treating of the One in the Parmenides is also to be re-
garded rather as a dialectic of external reflection. Being and One are both Eleatic
forms which are the same thing. But they are also to be distinguished; and it is
thus that Plato takes them in that dialogue. [1.] After removing from the One the
various determinations of whole and parts, of being-within-itself, of being-in-
another, etc., of shape, time, etc., he reaches the result that Being does not be-
long to the One, for Being belongs to any particular something only in one of
these modes. [2.] Plato next deals with the proposition: the One is, and we
should refer to Plato himself to see how, starting from this proposition, he
accomplishes the transition to the non-being of the One. He does it by compar-
ing the two determinations of the proposition put forward: the One is\ it contains
the One and being, and ,the One is' contains more than when we only say: the
One. It is through their being different that the moment of negation contained in
the proposition is demonstrated. It is evident that this course has a presupposi-
tion and is an external reflection."17
Hegel is clearly discussing the first two hypotheses of the Parmenides. (I
have inserted numbers to mark each.) His point is that the first hypothesis clears
all content out of the One, including Being; whereas the second hypothesis starts
from the being of One but, by emphasizing the difference of One and Being,
shows the non-being of One. In both hypotheses, Being and One remain external

16 Hegel, Die Lehre vom Sein (1832), 8.

17 G. W. F. Hegel, Hegel's Science of Logic, trans, by Α. V. Miller, London 1969, 100-
101. (I have slightly altered Miller's capitalization.) Cf. Hegel, Die Lehre vom Sein
(1832), 87.

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Positive and Negative Dialectics 217

to each other and yet, nonetheless, presuppose each other. It might s e e m that He-
gel means to make the same point about the Parmenides as the Jenaer „Skepti-
cismus" essay, the rejection o f concepts o f the understanding because they are
always determined by their opposites. But this cannot be his intention, because
the sole concern o f the Wissenschaft der Logik is with concepts o f reason. The
quoted passage appears in a comment on the category o f Becoming; Hegel clear-
ly takes at least the Parmenides' first two hypotheses to expound determinations
o f reason that belong to his positive treatment in the „Logic o f Being". His v i e w
o f the Parmenides would, thus, seem to have altered: Whereas the „Skepti-
cismus" essay takes the Parmenides to expose the inadequacy o f determinations
o f the understanding and, therefore, as a mere propaedeutic to reason, the Logik
takes the dialogue to exhibit the initial steps o f reason in logic. 1 8 W e also find
the latter conception o f the Parmenides in the Vorlesungen über die Geschichte

18 Düsing, Formen der Dialektik, 187, speaking about the present text from the Logik,
stresses Hegel's continued negative evaluation of the results of the Parmenides' dialec-
tic. His view is that Hegel takes the Parmenides as a kind of negative dialectic prepar-
ing the ground for the positive results which Plato achieves in the Sophistes. Hegel's
appreciation of these results is recorded not in the Logik, but in students' notes on his
lectures on the History of Philosophy (ibid., 187-188). Düsing's view may be influenced
by the fact that Michelet's second edition (1840) of Hegel's lectures places the discus-
sion of the Sophistes immediately after that of the Parmenides. However, in both Mich-
elet's first and third edition (the latter is the basis of the Vorlesungen über die
Geschichte der Philosophie edited by Glockner) and the recent critical edition of
Hegel's final set of lectures on this topic by Gamiron and Jaeschke (Vorlesungen über
die Geschichte der Philosophie. Teil 3. Griechische Philosophie. II), Hegel discusses
the Parmenides after the Sophistes and the Philebus. In any case, I do not think that
Düsing takes adequate account of the overall positive context of the Logik. From
Hegel's point of view, Plato's identification and distinction of One and Being in the
Parmenides is equivalent to the recognition of the unity of Being and Not-being, and it
counts as insight into Becoming, a major positive result. - On the other hand, Düsing,
ibid., 189-190, argues that Hegel's identification of the Other in itself (an sich) with
Plato's τό ετερον of the Sophistes correctly expresses the positive result of this dia-
logue, even though it involves Hegel's own speculative dialectic and has no counterpart
in Plato's highest genera. Düsing thinks that Other, rather, has the conceptual status of
Individual. I do not see any ground for supposing that the categorial relations Hegel dis-
cusses in this passage from the Lectures fall outside the logic of Being. The category of
Other, in this passage, has the same external determination that all categories in the
sphere of Being receive: It is self-predicated. So, too, when, in the Logik, Hegel takes
the Parmenides to determine Being and One by each other and by Other, he is ascribing
positive predications to them. To be sure, such predications are external in the way I ex-
plain: They add content to their subjects, Being and One, and thereby transform them
into richer categories. Again, Hegel sees both Parmenides and Sophistes as having posi-
tive results that fall under the logic of Being. The Parmenides is negative in respect of
the faculty of understanding, but positive in respect of reason. More on this issue below.

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218 Edward C. Halper

der Philosophie: There, unlike the „Skepticismus" essay, Hegel maintains that
determinations of reason, such as the One that is also Many, are Plato's unstated
conclusion in the Parmenides,19
The issue here is whether the Parmenides makes the break with the faculty
of understanding or inaugurates the new regime of reason, that is, whether the
dialogue's dialectic is merely destructive or leads to positive knowledge. 20 There
is a difference, but, I propose, it is more one of emphasis than substance: The
same dialectic that undermines the understanding's grasp of the One is the dia-
lectic through which reason grasps the One. The problem with this equation,
however, is that the dialectic through which reason grasps a category must be-
long to that category, but the dialectic we find in the Parmenides does not be-
long entirely to the One. As the quoted passage makes clear, this dialogue's
dialectic expounds the One by showing its relations with Being and other forms,
forms that remain distinct from the One and, thus, external to it. To know a
determination of reason is to grasp the internal process of assertion and denial
that constitutes it. Since the One is also determined by its opposite, Many, Hegel
takes the One to be a determination of reason; but since its dialectic is external
to it, it seems not to be knowable as a determination of reason. It seems, then,
that Plato's dialectic of the One undermines any possibility that the One could
be grasped by the understanding but fails to be the dialectic through which
reason grasps the One.
This conclusion is false. Hegel's brief discussion of the Parmenides in the
Logik, quoted above, shows implicitly why; thereby, it removes the obstacle to
the Parmenides' dialectic providing positive knowledge of the One. The key
idea is22 that the dialectic of the Parmenides is a dialectic of „external reflec-
tion". To judge from our passage, the determinations which the One receives
are „external" because neither they nor the process of affirming or denying them

19 Hegel, Vorlesungen über die Geschichte der Philosophie. Teil 3. Griechische Philoso-
phie. II, 36.
20 M. Baum, Kosmologie und Dialektik bei Plato und Hegel, in: Hegel und die Antike
Dialektik, hrsg. von M. Riedel, Frankfurt a. M. 1990, 207, notes that in the „Skepticis-
mus" essay, Hegel ascribes the positive dimension of these determinations not to Plato's
Parmenides, but rather to Spinoza.
21 Hegel, Vorlesungen über die Geschichte der Philosophie. Zweiter Band, 246, says that
this dialectic „is not quite pure because it begins from this union of two determina-
22 It seems odd to encounter the category of reflection, which figures prominently at the
beginning of Essence, in the sphere o f Being, but here Hegel speaks o f „external reflec-
tion", whereas in Essence he calls the category „reflection" and means internal reflec-
tion. I suggest that .reflection' amounts to what we might ordinarily call thinking. In
Essence, thinking stands behind what appears, but really pervades it, as we discover. In
Being, the process of thinking lies outside of the categories.

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Positive and Negative Dialectics 219

is contained in the One. Indeed, it is true in general of categories from the logic
of Being that they do not include within their contents their relations to other
categories or to themselves. We can grasp this „externality" by comparing these
categories with those from other logical spheres. Categories from Essence are,
by definition, related to their contraries; each is defined through the negation of
its opposite. Categories from the logic of Concept are also self-related by defini-
tion; they are each defined through a self-relation that somehow includes its op-
posite. Thus, as the Logik develops, its determinations become progressively
more internal, until it is the very nature of a category to be its own self-relation
and self-negation. In speaking of Being and One near the beginning of the Logik
as determinations of „external reflection", Hegel locates them at the beginning
of this development of reason. He thinks that any attempt to understand them
will, eventually, lead us to qualify them by their opposites, but the dialectical
process through which we come to such qualifications lies outside of Being or
the One.
This externality implies, on one hand, that Being and the One cannot be
adequately known. On the other, recognizing that determinations of the One and
Being are external and, indeed, because of the simplicity of the One and Being,
must be external is itself a way of knowing them. Again, in respect of its con-
tent, a category from the logic of Being admits only external determinations;
therefore, to determine it in this manner is to grasp it as it is. What seemed to be
an obstacle to knowledge turns out to be a dialectic that reflects the character of
the form it knows.
In short, the Jenaer essay takes the Parmenides to set out a negative
dialectic that undermines determinations of the understanding. The Wissenschaft
der Logik sees the same dialectic as positive because it takes the externality of
this dialectic to reflect properly the forms it seeks to know and because it takes
this external dialectic to stand at the beginning of dialectical process of progres-
sive internalization.
So understood, Hegel's view of the Parmenides is not only consistent, but
we can see something about why he holds the dialogue in such high regard and
thinks that it provides the basis for his own dialectic. We could end here with
our new insight into Hegel's use of this dialogue; but we have not learned much
about the dialogue itself because Hegel does not really discuss its details and
because it is hard to connect what he does say with the central issues of the dia-
logue. Nor is it clear why Plato, if he has the kind of insight into form that Hegel
ascribes to him, does not himself propose a way to overcome externality and
construct a positive dialectic or how Hegel could be oblivious to the participa-
tion issue central to the dialogue, an issue that should apply equally to his own
notion of category. Further, despite what has emerged about the program of the
Logik, it remains unclear how Hegel transforms dialectic from the discovery of

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220 Edward C. Halper

contradiction that it seems to be in the Parmenides to the positive and complete

development it becomes in the Logik.

II. Form

Why is Plato's dialectic „external" and must it remain so? Although Hegel cre-
dits Plato with a profound dialectic in the Parmenides, he does not think that
Plato is fully aware of his achievement. In a passage from the Vorlesungen über
die Geschichte der Philosophie that is not about this dialogue, he proposes a
very interesting reason for the externality of Plato's dialectic: „The Concept of
true dialectic is to show forth the necessary movement of pure Concepts, with-
out thereby resolving these into nothing; for the result simply expressed is that
they are this movement, and the universal is just the unity of these opposite Con-
cepts. We certainly do not find in Plato a recognition that this is the nature of
dialectic, but we find dialectic itself present; that is, we find absolute existence
thus recognized in pure Concepts, and the representation of the movement of
these Concepts ... This dialectic is, indeed, also a movement of thought, but it is
really only necessary in an external way and for reflecting consciousness, in
order to allow the universal, what is in and for itself, unalterable and immortal,
to come forth." 24
Here Hegel separates the dialectic through which a Concept emerges from
the Concept that emerges from it. Dialectic is, apparently, a sort of motion of
thought, whereas the Concept it produces, the content of the thought, is an
„unalterable and immortal" universal. Hegel's point is that the Platonic dialectic
is a motion that not only fails to be intrinsically connected with the conceptual
content that it makes manifest, but is, in itself, opposed to that content; for Plato
uses a process of change to convey something immune from change. We see in
this passage the notion, mentioned earlier, that dialectic ought, properly, to re-
flect the form or category that it makes manifest. Hegel is contrasting Plato's
dialectic, where the movement of thought lies outside of the Concept, with his

23 Düsing, Formen der Dialektik, 185, claims, plausibly, that Hegel learned from Plato the
force of negation of negation. My concern here goes beyond Hegel's appropriation of
Platonic insights and his development to showing how his dialectic enables him to re-
solve a central problem in the Parmenides.
24 G. W. F. Hegel, Lectures on the History of Philosophy. Plato and the Platonists, transl.
by E. S. Haidane, F. H. Simson, vol. 2, Lincoln/Nebraska 1995, 49-50, 52. This transla-
tion of Michelet's second edition of the lectures differs in its arrangement from Glock-
ner's text based on Michelet's third edition. Cf. Hegel, Vorlesungen über die Geschichte
der Philosophie. Zweiter Band, 222-223, 225.

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Positive and Negative Dialectics 221

own ,true' dialectic, where the movement is within the Concept or, rather, just is
the Concept. He makes similar remarks about the Socratic method.25
Hegel also speaks similarly near the end of the Wissenschaft der Logik. Just
before he explains his own conception of dialectic, which has been at work
throughout the Logik, he looks back at previous notions of dialectic: „The funda-
mental prejudice in this matter is that dialectic has only a negative result, a point
which will presently be more precisely defined. First of all as regards the above-
mentioned form in which dialectic is usually presented, it is to be observed that
according to that form the dialectic and its result affect the subject matter under
consideration or else subjective cognition, and declare either the latter or the
subject matter to be null and void, while on the other hand the determinations
exhibited in the subject matter as in a third thing receive no attention and are
presupposed as valid on their own account."26

25 Discussing the Socratic dialogues of Plato, today designated as the ,early dialogues',
Hegel claims of Socrates: 1. „Was er damit bewirken wollte, war, daß sich die Anderen
äußern, ihre Grundsätze vorbringen sollten. Und aus jedem bestimmten Satze oder aus
der Entwicklung entwickelte er das Gegentheil dessen, was der Satz aussprach; d. h. er
behauptet es nicht gegen jenen Satz oder Definition, sondern nimmt diese Bestimmung
und zeigt an ihr selbst auf, wie das Gegentheil von ihr selbst darin liegt. Oder zuweilen
entwickelt er auch das Gegentheil aus einem konkreten Falle" (Vorlesungen über die
Geschichte der Philosophie. Zweiter Band, 60). - 2. „Sokrates' bestimmte Ironie ist
mehr Manier der Konversation, die gesellige Heiterkeit, als daß jene reine Negation, je-
nes negative Verhalten darunter verstanden wäre, - nicht Hohngelächter, noch die Heu-
chelei, es sei nur Spaß mit der Idee. Aber seine tragische Ironie ist sein Gegensatz sei-
nes subjektiven Reflektierens gegen die bestehende Sittlichkeit, - nicht ein Selbstbe-
wußtseyn, daß er drüber steht, sondern der unbefangene Zweck, zum wahren Guten, zur
allgemeinen Idee zu fuhren" (Vorlesungen über die Geschichte der Philosophie. Zweiter
Band, 64). - 3 . Hegel also describes Socrates' aim as provoking thought: „Diese Verwir-
rung hat nun die Wirkung, zum Nachdenken zu führen; und dies ist der Zweck des So-
krates. Diese bloß negative Seite ist die Hauptsache" (Vorlesungen über die Geschichte
der Philosophie. Zweiter Band, 69). But Hegel also notes the positive side, the idea of
the Good: „Dies Affirmative ist nichts als das Gute, insofern es aus dem Bewußtsein
durch Wissen hervorgebracht wird, - das gewußte Gute, Schöne, was man die Idee
nennt, das Ewige, Gute, an und für sich Allgemeine, das durch den Gedanken bestimmt
ist; dieser freie Gedanke bringt nun hervor das Allgemeine, das Wahre und, sofern es
Zweck ist, das Gute" (Vorlesungen über die Geschichte der Philosophie. Zweiter Band,
69-70). - 4. „Die Sokratische Dialektik geht gegen dies Wissen des ungebildeten Gei-
stes von seinem Inhalte; es macht ihn wankend, zeigt, daß er, so wie er ihm erscheint,
keine Wahrheit hat. Das Bewußtseyn verliert diese Vorstellung von seiner Wahrheit als
diesem zerstreut geltenden Inhalte, und wird frei" (Vorlesungen über die Geschichte der
Philosophie. Zweiter Band, 89).

26 G. W. F. Hegel, Wissenschaft der Logik. Zweiter Band. Die subjektive Logik (1816), in:
Gesammelte Werke, Bd. 12, hrsg. von F. Hogemann, W. Jaeschke, Hamburg 1981, 243.
(Translation according to Hegel, Science of Logic, 832-833.)

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222 Edward C. Halper

Hegel had identified the dialectic that leads to the negation of subject mat-
ter with the Eleatic dialectic. The dialectic that negates cognition is, it seems,
that of Socrates and Plato. That is to say, the dialectical approach to knowledge
of forms leads to the conclusion that either there is nothing for us to know or our
human ways of knowing forms are inadequate; what it does not do is truly to
examine the forms themselves.
Putting these two texts together, we could say that Platonic dialectic
negates itself and all human cognition while showing to that cognition an entity
beyond it. The dialectical process through which Plato seeks to grasp form
stands apart from the form it grasps. In general, Plato has his Socrates show that
an interlocutor's views of some form are contradictory in order to give readers a
glimpse of a non-contradictory and immobile form that, unlike the dialectic
through which it comes to appear, is real. It follows that the interlocutor's views
as well as his cognitive processes are unreal. The Parmenides appears to be
something of an exception, and we can see at once why Hegel holds it in the
highest regard; for there contradictory dialectical arguments yield insight into an
internally contradictory form. Yet, even in this dialogue, Hegel thinks there
remains something of the externality between form and dialectic that is so
prominent elsewhere. First, the result of its dialectic is presented as negative.
The dialogue ends with a contradiction, and Hegel thinks that Plato aims to
destroy finite assertion about and cognition of the One by the understanding. As
we saw, Hegel also thinks that the same dialectic has a positive significance that
Plato failed to grasp fully. This distinction between the negative dialectical
process and the positive form that emerges from it is one way that the externality
of form and dialectic manifests itself in the Parmenides. A second manifestation
of this externalilty lies in the difference between Parmenides' indefinite number
of arguments to support the qualification of One with its opposites and the
unitary and complete notion of One that Hegel, at least, thinks emerges from the
It is worth dwelling a moment on more typical manifestations of Plato's
separation of form and dialectic. We can most easily appreciate the problem in
the sphere of ethics: Plato's Socrates often encounters an interlocutor who thinks
himself virtuous. Since it seems necessary to know what Virtue is in order to be
virtuous, the interlocutor assumes, at least implicitly, that he has knowledge of
Virtue; but he invariably proves himself unable to give a consistent account. In
refuting the proposed definitions, Plato's Socrates shows what each Virtue can-
not be. He is, in effect, emptying out the presumed content of the Virtue. Every-
thing we thought was a candidate for, say, Justice turns out, on closer examina-
tion, to contradict other assumptions; yet Justice must exist if some acts are to be
more or less just than others. The problem is that this negative, elenctic proce-
dure is somehow supposed to yield a positive insight into the nature of form.

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Positive and Negative Dialectics 223

Instead, in showing the interlocutor to contradict himself, the dialectic appears

to show itself inadequate to positive knowledge.
One objection that might be made to this contention is that it ignores what
we might call the self-instantiating dimension of the dialogues: In the course of
seeking to define the virtues, interlocutors often seem to display the virtue
sought. Thus, Laches exhibits courage while seeking Courage, Socrates and
Lysis become friends while seeking to understand Friendship etc. However, ap-
parent exhibitions of virtue are deeply problematic because without the knowl-
edge of the form that the dialogue seeks, we are not in a position to say whether
these apparent instances of forms are genuine. Moreover, even if interlocutors
do imitate forms, their actions are mere representations that must fall short. Inso-
far as form is unalterable and immortal, all representations will fail to instantiate
it fully. The self-instantiating character of Platonic dialogue cannot count, then,
as an adequate response to the problem Hegel identifies.
There is, however, a nice dialectical response to this problem, for even
while pointing out the unbridgeable gulf between the Platonic form and the dia-
lectic that seeks to know it, Hegel's account suggests a way to know form. Inso-
far as dialectic can prove its own inadequacy to the form, that is, insofar as dia-
lectic can make clear that it cannot provide knowledge that is truly inalterable
and immortal' and that knowledge has just this latter character, dialectic does
provide a glimpse of form. Its very failure should count as its success because in
failing, it makes clear what character knowledge would have to have. This mode
of thought is traditionally termed ,negative dialectic'. Although he does not
quite say so, Hegel comes close to ascribing it to Plato in the passage from the
Wissenschaft der Logik last quoted. This point would put the role of dialectic in
a somewhat different light: If Plato's dialectic is intrinsically different from the
form it is supposed to reveal, and if it reveals that form by displaying its dif-
ference, then the dialectic is not external to the form but a revelation of form's
nature as something distinct.
Consider how this point plays out in the Parmenides. The subject of the
dialogue is the One, the character that Plato regularly uses to describe form 27
and that he has Socrates use here in Parmenides' first part to denote form. Inso-
far as a form is strictly one, no process of thought or subject-predicate assertion
could express it. The notion that dialectic brings us gradually closer to knowing
form must be rejected because there can be no partial knowledge of what has no
parts. On the other hand, to recognize that any dialectical movement or any a
characterization would be a plurality and, therefore, inadequate to form is to
recognize the character of form. So it is possible, at least in principle, to come to
see form in the act of recognizing one's failure. If, however, the denial of

27 Cf. Plato, Phaedo 78d5; Symposium 21 l b l .

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224 Edward C. Halper

plurality yields a positive understanding of form, then plurality is intrinsically

connected with form. Again, it is just because we can see form to be what it is
by denying plurality to it that we must recognize plurality to be intrinsically
connected with it. This, I submit, is a way of expressing Hegel's notion that the
Platonic form passes over into its contrary in the Parmenides. Its qualification
with contrary characters stems from its inherent relations with other forms, and
because these relations belong to it, the one form becomes many. Again, if to
know what is One, we must know it in its relations to a plurality, then what is
One also stands in these relations and is not One. So understood, the Parmenides
is indeed the culmination of Platonic dialectic and provides the basis for the
beginning of Hegel's own dialectic. In short, although it requires some reflection
on our part, we can see how Hegel's reading of the Parmenides could have
played a pivotal role in the construction of his system.
As brilliant as Hegel's treatment of the problem of the relation of form and
dialectic is, it is, I think, mistaken. What Hegel misses or ignores is the transcen-
dence of Plato's form. To recognize that we come to grasp form through plurali-
ty is not to add to its content, but to distinguish what we can know from it -
form stands beyond human knowledge. Hegel seems to recognize this point in
the Logik passage quoted above, but he does not make use of it. The reason lies,
perhaps, in Hegel's own insistence that forms or categories be thoughts that,
pure though they be, do not lie beyond us. Because we can think categories, they
are not different from the relations that we understand them to have with other
categories, and these relations, consequently, can be included within their con-
tent; truly transcendent forms would not include such relations.
The transcendence of the form would prohibit the dialectic which I have
just proposed as Hegel's version of why a form passes over into its contrary.
Nonetheless, this dialectic requires only slight modification to become genuinely
Platonic. Suppose, at least for the moment, that form does transcend our exper-
ience. It follows that we cannot properly grasp it and that any dialectic through
which we become aware of form's existence must be external to it. Now sup-
pose, on the contrary, that it became clear that we could not grasp a form in our
experience. The dialectic that made this point clear to us could, insofar as it be-
longs to our experience, constitute no part of form. In this case, the inherent ex-
ternality of the dialectic serves as a sign of the transcendence of the form.28 That
is to say, the negativity and externality that Hegel takes to be the failure of
Plato's dialectic could, rightly understood, well be its success; for it is just in
recognizing dialectic as inevitably external to form that we recognize form as
beyond experience, as transcendent. Moreover, if this line of thought is correct,

28 See E. C. Halper, The „Socrates" of Plato's Early Dialogues, in: Form and Reason:
Essays in Metaphysics, Albany/N. Y. 1993, 13-33.

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Positive and Negative Dialectics 225
then the negative dialectic of Plato is not external to form, but the consequence
of form's essential character. In its plurality and motion, dialectic reflects its
own separation from the unitary and immobile form it pursues. In short, the
externality and negativity of Plato's dialectic count as support for his separation
of form.
If this reasoning is correct, then Hegel is wrong about the externality of
Plato's dialectic. But he is not entirely wrong. Even though form's transcen-
dence can account for the dialectic, it does not account for all the particular steps
the dialectic takes. There are an indefinite number of possible dialectics (or dia-
logues) about any one form. There is no way to predict or determine thoroughly
the course of a dialectic from the form it pursues. The dialogue is, in general, a
function of the interlocutors. The course of the second part of the Parmenides
may seem an exception, inasmuch as it follows a plan which Parmenides lays
out and is not set by the interlocutors.29 The details of this dialectic, however,
are not determined by the form explored. In the dialogue's first hypothesis, for
example, Parmenides offers a series of arguments each showing that some form
could not belong to One. There seems to be no order to the consideration, nor is
it clear that Parmenides has considered all forms. The dialogue's second hypo-
thesis argues that a One-that-is would be determined by all forms, but again the
order in which particular forms are considered does not follow from the One.
The same could be said of subsequent hypotheses, and the sequence of the hypo-
theses themselves also seems to be external to the form under consideration. In
short, there is an apparently insurmountable arbitrariness to the second part of
the Parmenides that renders it, in some respects, external to the One.
Nonetheless, this dialectic follows a plan designed to insure the considera-
tion of every possible relation between One and the others. As Zeno explains,
truth requires „ranging ... over the entire field".30 Just what are we to make of
the fact that within and between each branch of the dialectic, we encounter con-
tradiction? Following Hegel's reasoning about the externality of dialectic (but
not his conclusion), I propose that the intrinsically contradictory character of the
dialectic about the One counts as evidence that the One transcends dialectic. It is
just because the dialectic ,,rang[es] ... over the entire field" and shows that all
ways of thinking the One lead to contradiction or ignorance that we should con-
clude the One is beyond our ken.
Hegel drew a very different conclusion, as we have seen. He takes the dia-
logue to show that One or any other determination of thought must pass over in-
to its opposite. What is really striking here is the contrast between Hegel's ac-
ceptance that form must be constituted by moments and, therefore, lack strict

29 Plato, Parmenides, 136a4-c5.

30 Plato, Parmenides 136el-3.

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226 Edward C. Halper

unity and Plato's insistence that form must be one. If form must be strictly one,
then it cannot be identified with the dialectic we find in the Parmenides; con-
versely, the latter dialectic could serve as a kind of proof of form's unity and se-
paration. On the other hand, Hegel would overcome this separation by making
the form a sort of plurality, as, indeed, it must be if it is a determination of rea-
son. What Hegel calls ,reason' and takes to be equivalent to Plato's νους, the
faculty that grasps the highest principles, more closely resembles Plato's διά-
νοια, the faculty of dynamic thought; for νους consists of a simple intuition of a
simple principle. 31 If a form can have multiple moments, then a dialectic that
thought through them could well be identical with the form itself. In that case,
the negativity within a form would be equivalent to the negativity intrinsic to
dialectic. In contrast, Platonic form contains no plurality or negativity; its priori-
ty stems from its simplicity.

III. The Problem of Participation in Plato

Plato's exploration of One through its relations to other, externally related forms
supports Hegel's notion that the Parmenides is the determination of this idea
with other ideas. As such, the dialogue bears strong affinities with his own Lo-
gik·, for he understands this latter work as the se/f-unfolding of the categories
which occurs through some sort of categorial self-determination. Does this un-
derstanding of the dialogue's second part help to resolve the issue in the first
part that has most concerned contemporary scholars, the problem of participa-
Many scholars have looked to the second part to help resolve this problem,
yet without reaching any consensus. 32 Hegel has nothing to say about it, nor
does he himself address this problem. Indeed, he could not even formulate this
problem. We would like to say that the problem of participation is how a form or
an idea could be present in something else, some matter or, at any rate, some
non-idea. But for Hegel there is nothing that is not an idea; his whole philosophy
consists of relations of ideas. Hence, to ask about the presence of an idea in
something else is to ask about the relation of two ideas. Hegel often speaks of
the Platonic form as a universal. At one point he complains about Plato's use of

31 Cf. ?\aXo, Respubl. 510cl-511e4.

32 See notes 7 and 8. The literature is too large to mention, let alone discuss, here. It has
been argued that the second part shows a rejection of the forms and the endorsement of
linguistic analysis, the modification of forms (Sayre), a set of unanswered aporia about
the forms (Allen), an analysis of predication (Meinwald), and a treatment of form and
participant (Miller).

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Positive and Negative Dialectics 227
terms like „participation", when what he means is individuality. For him,
Plato's problem of participation is the problem of how the universal manifests it-
self in an individual, where both individual and universal are logical categories.
Similarly, speaking of the Timaeus, he claims that although matter is the prin-
ciple of the individual, it must be universal; and he notes that to speak of sensu-
ous things is to point to that in them which is fixed and persists, that is, to their
universality. 34 In short, for Hegel the problem of participation is a problem about
the relation of ideas.
Even though Hegel cannot properly speak of participation, he cannot avoid
the problem. Anyone who identifies principles needs to explain how these prin-
ciples account for and are related to that of which they are principles. We could
call this the problem of instantiation and recognize participation as one type of
instantiation, the instantiation of a form in a matter. For Hegel, the problem of
instantiation of principles is the problem of individuation; he speaks often of ab-
stract categories becoming more concrete. In general, his categories are instanti-
ated by receiving additional categorial determination.
With these thoughts in mind, let us take a look at the problems with partici-
pation that emerge in the Parmenides. The philosophical portion of the dialogue
begins with Socrates recounting a paradox, apparently from the beginning of Ze-
no's book: „If things (τά δντα) are many, then it is necessary that these be like
and unlike. But this is impossible." 35
The impossible consequence could be avoided, Socrates proposes, if Zeno
will join him in distinguishing between forms and what partakes of them: Like
itself cannot be Unlike, but there is no contradiction if something that is like is
also unlike. More generally, though a form cannot partake of its own contrary,
something else could partake of both contraries. Parmenides asks Socrates whe-
ther he has distinguished between forms and what partakes of them, between
Likeness itself and the likeness we have. 36 He goes on to press Socrates to char-
acterize the relation between form and participant. The arguments that follow
are so rich and interesting that they have received a great deal of attention in-
dividually. If, however, we step back and consider the context of these argu-
ments, we can see that nearly all the rest of the dialogue's first part explores dif-
ferent ways to characterize the relation between form and participant. Parmeni-
des first suggests that the form is a whole of which the participant would be a

33 Hegel, Vorlesungen über die Geschichte der Philosophie. Zweiter Band, 240. The term
.Individuality' does not appear in the parallel passage in the edition edited by Garniron
and Jaeschke, 32.
34 Hegel, Vorlesungen über die Geschichte der Philosophie. Zweiter Band, 264.
35 Plato, Parmenides 127e 1-3.
36 Plato, Parmenides 130b 1 -5.

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228 Edward C. Halper

part; 37 then that form might be the sameness or likeness that distinct or unlike
participants somehow share; 38 and finally that form is known in contrast with
what knows. 39 Each proposal opens up a variety of possible relationships: The
whole might be in each part as a whole, separate from each part etc. However,
each relationship in each proposal proves, upon examination, to be contradic-
Most readers take these arguments to be a devastating critique of the forms.
They are, therefore, surprised that almost immediately after presenting them Par-
menides declares: „If, in view of all these difficulties and others like them, a
man refuses to admit that forms of things exist or to distinguish a definite form
in each case, he will have nothing on which to fix his thought, so long as he will
not allow that each thing has a character which is always the same; and in so
doing he will completely destroy the significance of all discourse (dialectic)." 40
Evidently, the previous arguments do not thoroughly undermine the forms.
It is worth noticing that what Parmenides indirectly affirms in this passage is the
existence of „forms of things" (εϊδη των όντων). Only a few lines earlier, he
had raised the question whether characters of things exist and someone could
mark off each form as something itself.41 In asking about characters or forms,
Parmenides assumes the existence of the things of which they would be forms.
His question is, thus, whether form exists in addition to things, and an answer
would need to explain the relation between form and things.
Parmenides suggests that our inability to explain this relation casts doubt
on the forms, but he also affirms the existence of the forms on the ground that
without them we would have nothing on which „to fix ... thought" and about
which to discourse. Hence, he sets up a paradox: The forms cannot exist, but
they must exist. The solution to this aporia does not lie in affirming either
branch. Instead, the text calls for us to examine the assumption that generates
aporia. In this case, it is clearly Socrates' distinction that is at issue. Recall that
Socrates introduces this distinction to avoid Zeno's conclusion that Like is
unlike 42 and that Parmenides' subsequent questioning of Socrates shows the dif-
ficulty or, perhaps, impossibility of maintaining the distinction. While most
readers have focused on Socrates' assertion of form, I think it is rather the parti-
cipant that causes the problems. Zeno speaks of Like, Unlike and other forms; it
is the participant that Socrates introduces into the discussion. He must define it

37 Plato, Parmenides 130e4-131e5.

38 Plato, Parmenides 132al-133a6.
39 Plato, Parmenides 133b4-134e8.
40 Plato, Parmenides 135b5-c3.
41 Plato, Parmenides 135al-3.
42 Plato, Parmenides 128e5-130a2.

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Positive and Negative Dialectics 229

and distinguish it from the form, but this turns out to be no easy task. Indeed, I
think that Parmenides shows it to be impossible.
The usual way to speak of the participant is to refer to the form X of which
it partakes; thus, one could say ,what is X' or ,some X thing' in contrast with
the ,form X' or ,X itself. But this is clearly inadequate, because all these
phrases could also designate the form itself. We might, instead, propose to
designate the participant through some relation it has to a form, for example, by
recognizing the participant as having, to a lesser degree, whatever character the
form has. This is what Socrates tries to do here and what we sometimes see in
other dialogues. However, to grasp the participant as falling short of a form is, in
effect, to introduce another form for the participant. It is necessary to spell out
the relationship between the two forms - a relationship that Socrates is unable to
explain in this dialogue. Moreover, an immanent form in the participant itself
faces the same problem: What is it that partakes of it? Regress threatens.
In short, the problem here is how to understand the participant apart from
the form when all thought and discourse are about forms. Once we appreciate
the problem, we can understand why Socrates founders in the dialogue's first
part. Parmenides presses him to explain the relation between form and partici-
pant. If the form is to account for the character of the participant, there must be
some relation, and it must be possible to understand the participant apart from
the form that comes to explain it. But, as Parmenides eventually makes clear, we
„fix ... thought" on a form. Hence, in order to think or speak about the partici-
pant, it must have its own form. If this is so, then the problem of how form ex-
plains a particular is a problem about the relation of two forms - in something of
the way that Hegel sees it.
Indeed, we find that this is exactly how Parmenides treats this problem in
first part of the dialogue. He speaks about the participants as Many, as Like etc.
and he considers whether their forms are a Part of the form of which they
partake or the Whole of this form, whether their forms are the Same or Like the
form of which they partake and so forth. It cannot be accidental that Wholeness,
Sameness, Likeness and other forms that Parmenides proposes here are types of
unity. A form is assumed to be one. One problem Socrates faces is explaining
how form could retain its unity and still cause a character in the many other
forms of participants. Moreover, if the participants already have their own
forms, what is gained by speaking of still other forms? This is the basis for what
Parmenides calls the „greatest difficulty", 43 the problem that if one form is de-
fined through its relation to another, its sensible imitation will be defined in
relation to the sensible imitation of the other, and, consequently, form and imita-
tion will not be essentially related, nor since we are sensible and knowledge is a

43 Plato, Parmenides 133b4.

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230 Edward C. Halper

relation, will form be knowable to us. 44 In short, Socrates cannot defend his dis-
tinction between forms and participants because in order to speak about the par-
ticipants he must already treat them through forms. Nor can Parmenides diag-
nose Socrates' problem by referring to the difficulty of speaking about the
participant, since he himself is no more able than Socrates to speak of it; instead,
he speaks of the issue as the existence of the „forms of things [lit. Beings]", as
we have seen.
In one sense, then, there is no problem of participation in the Parmenides,
just as there can be no problem of participation for Hegel: Both can only deal
with the relation of some forms to other forms. But, of course, the inability to
express the problem does not make it go away; it just means that the problem
will manifest itself differently.

IV. Dialectic in Plato

The problem manifests itself in Parmenides' dialectic and in a corresponding

portion of Hegel's dialectic. Recognizing the problem enables us to appreciate a
common feature of their dialectical methods, a feature that is otherwise mysteri-
ous and troubling, although it seems to have been thoroughly ignored in the
literature. It is hard to talk about dialectic as a method and, indeed, about any
philosophical method, particularly methods of works that have been well-mined
for content. In order to speak about the movement of thought that constitutes
method, it is necessary to recount familiar content; yet because the discussion of
method often adds little to the content, it can seem to make no advance.
With this caution, let us notice some thought movements in the Parmeni-
des. As we just saw, Parmenides discusses the participant through the form that
it possesses, but he is also concerned to explain the relation of this form to the
form of which it partakes. This latter relation must itself be understood through
forms, and Parmenides considers whether participating and partaken forms are
related as part and whole, whether they are the same or like etc. The problem
arises because the form of a participant has both: 1. some ideational content,
such as Beauty, One etc., and 2. a character that belongs to it in respect of its
relation to the form of which it partakes. Both are constituents of formal content,
and they can conflict with each. Thus, consider 1. the form in the participant that
makes it equal; since this form is part of Equal itself, 2. it will, as a part, be
smaller than Equal itself. It follows that the form that makes a participant be
equal is itself less than Equal and, thereby, unequal 45 In much the same way, 1.

44 Plato, Parmenides 133b5-8.

45 Plato, Parmenides, 131 d4-5.

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Positive and Negative Dialectics 231

the ideational formal content of a partaken form can conflict with 2. the relation-
al formal content that it acquires through a relation with its participant. Thus, if
something is small through a part of Smallness, then since a whole is larger than
its part, 1. the form Smallness will be qualified by its opposite 2. large. 46
In other cases, the relation between form and participant results in addi-
tional formal content that itself is related to form and participant and, conse-
quently, results in yet more formal content. Thus, the much discussed largeness
regress 47 - usually called the ,third man argument' - arises from the assumption
that the participant's form and the form of which it partakes are the same.
Whenever there is a multiplicity of instances that are the same, there must be
some form in respect of which they are the same. But this form itself shares the
same form with the multiplicity; hence, form and multiplicity together constitute
a new multiplicity whose instances are, again, the same. Consequently, there
must be still another form in respect of which they are the same, and so on ad
infinitum. There would be an infinite number of forms, and the participants
would be what they are in respect of all these forms, contradicting the assump-
tion that there is but one form in respect of which participants are what they are.
To put the argument in the terms I have been using here, sameness is a relation
among forms that adds formal content to the related forms. But this new formal
content itself stands in the relation of sameness with the particulars' forms, pro-
ducing still more formal content, which, again, stands in the relation of same-
ness with other forms, and so on. This exploding formal content undermines the
unity of form and its ability to account for the participant.
These arguments belong to Parmenides' attack on Socrates' proposal, a
proposal that was advanced to avoid the contradictions that Zeno drew from the
assumption of plurality. Let us look again at Zeno's reasoning. Socrates' sum-
mary, quoted above in part, is: „If things (τά οντά) are many, then it is neces-
sary that these be like and unlike. But this is impossible because the Unlike
cannot be like nor the Like unlike." 48
Zeno intends this as a reductio argument to disprove the hypothesis that
things are many. As noted earlier, Socrates' distinction between forms (Like and
Unlike) and what partakes of them (the many) is supposed to avoid the need to
conclude that contraries are qualified by their opposites. Clearly, Zeno is not
making this distinction. For him, the Like and Unlike are, respectively, the many
like and unlike things. Presumably, he is reasoning here that if there are many
things (= Many), then these things would have to be unlike to be counted as

46 Plato, Parmenides, 131 d7-e 1.

47 Plato, Parmenides, 132a l-b2.
48 Plato, Parmenides 127el-4.

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232 Edward C. Halper

many, but like insofar as all are things. Hence, Like (i. e., what is like) is unlike
(i. e., what is unlike).
It is hard not to share Socrates' reservations about this argument, but
Zeno's reasoning fits into the pattern we have already seen in Parmenides' argu-
ments against Socrates. He assumes that the forms are 1. things with some
character - here it is being many - as well as 2. things possessing characters by
virtue of relationships with each other - here they are both like and unlike. Since
there is no distinction between the form and things that partake of it, if the same
things are like and unlike, Like is Unlike.
We see much the same type of reasoning throughout the dialogue's second
half. Having examined and refuted Socrates' proposed distinction between
forms and what partakes of them, Parmenides undertakes to demonstrate the
training necessary to discuss the forms. He begins with the hypothesis that the
One is. Parmenides asserts that if the One is, it cannot be Many; and he goes on
to reason that the One will be neither Part nor Whole because either would
require that it have parts and thereby be Many. The key assumptions are: „the
Part is a part of some whole" and „the Whole is that from which no part is
absent". 49 These last formulae define Part and Whole by spelling out the relation
that an instance of the one will have to an instance of another. Thus, to say that
One is not a Whole is to say that it is something without parts. The One here is
the instance, something One, and, by virtue of its formal ideational content, it
lacks relational content, at least as far as Whole and Part go. The entire first
hypothesis goes on to argue that something that is One could have no relational
Parmenides' subject is the form One, but he treats it as if it were an in-
stance, in just the way that Zeno treats Like in his discourse. Since Socrates'
attempt to undermine Zeno's dialectic by distinguishing between form and
participant failed, it is natural to identify the Parmenidian and Zenonian
dialectics. Where they differ is that the method sketched in 136a4-c5 and put
into practice in the dialogue's second part ranges over the entire field of possi-
bilities, while Zeno considers only one strand of possibilities, the consequences
of the existence of Many for the Many. I suggest that Zeno's excusing his
book's having been written with the contentiousness of youth 50 is an acknowl-
edgement of its incompleteness: a very young man aims to make his point,
rather than to work through the whole of his subject. (And for an old man like
Parmenides, working through the entire field may be too strenuous. 51 )

49 Plato, Parmenides 137c6-8.

50 Cf. Plato, Parmenides 128b7-e3.
51 Cf. Plato, Parmenides 136e9-137a7.

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Positive and Negative Dialectics 233

The notion that a discussion of the One is a treatment of something One

can be found throughout Parmenides' lengthy dialectic. At the beginning of the
second hypothesis, for example, he considers the One-that-is, but this turns out
to be a composite whole with two constituent parts, One and Being. 52 Since,
moreover, these parts cannot stand alone - each must be present with the other -
the One-that-is turns out to be an indefinite plurality. 53 Even this small bit of the
reasoning makes it clear that Parmenides is not discussing One itself or a special
kind of unity; he is talking about something that is One, but something whose
unity does not constitute the whole of it. In exactly the same way, the third hy-
pothesis speaks of the Others not as a collection of forms or a single form of
Otherness, but as a thing that, in some way, partakes of One. 54 This thing is
other because of its relation to One, and because it lacks, in itself, what it ac-
quires through this relation, it is an indefinite plurality. 55 Thus, what Parmenides
considers in the third hypothesis are things that are Other.
We can better appreciate the peculiarity of Parmenides' dialectic by con-
trasting it with what we find in other dialogues. In the Euthyphro, for example,
Socrates seeks to explain Piety as a part of Justice, the part concerned with care
of the gods in contrast with the part that concerns human beings, just as, in the
Meno, he suggests that there are many kinds of Virtue, though all share in
common the character of Virtue. 56 In the Symposium he speaks of love as born
from Resource and Need and aiming at Beauty. 57 Though not all these are, in
fact, Plato's considered views - he argues, for example, that all the Virtues are
one - they illustrate the most obvious kind of relation among forms: One form is
part of another when the second's content includes the first's. A part of Virtue
would be its species. The type of relations between forms that Plato normally
considers divide form by their content. As he has Socrates say in the Phaedrus,
they cut up reality at its joints. 58
The Parmenides is not dividing the form in this way. The issue here is
rather what character an instance of a form must also have by virtue of being an
instance of a form. Again, whereas Plato examines the proper parts of a form
itself when he considers what part of Justice Piety is, in the Parmenides he
considers the parts of One not by examining the nature of One or of its species,
as we might have expected, but by considering whether or not something that is
One also has parts. Again, to say in this dialogue that One is (or is not) a whole

52 Cf. Plato, Parmenides 142dl-5.

53 Cf. Plato, Parmenides 142d9-e2.
54 Cf. Plato, Parmenides 157b8-c2.
55 Cf. Plato, Parmenides 158c2-7.
56 Cf. Plato, Euthyphro 1 2 c l 0 - d l 0 ; Meno 74a7-10.
57 Cf. Plato, Symposium 203c3-d8.
58 Cf. Plato, Phaedrus 2 6 5 e l - 3 .

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234 Edward C. Halper

is not to claim that Whole is somehow included in the formal content of One,
but to assert that an instance of One will, by virtue of its relations with One or
with others, also instance the form Whole. Unfortunately, the distinction be-
tween forms that are related through their formal content and forms related
through their instances is not always noticed. 59 It ought to be central in discus-
sions of how Plato thinks that one form partakes of another.
Why does Plato explore the One by considering something One? My pro-
posal is that Parmenides' dialectic in the second part of the dialogue reflects the
problematic context of the first part, the problem of participation. Plato under-
stands Parmenides' dialectic (both the one he puts in Parmenides' mouth and
that of the historical Parmenides) as, in effect, a treatment of the participant; but
Parmenides cannot say this because he cannot distinguish between form and
participant. Hence, Plato employs a rhetorical strategy to make readers aware of
the issue. He has Socrates introduce a distinction between form and participant
as an objection to Zeno's partial Parmenidean dialectic. He then has Parmenides
show Socrates that the distinction cannot be sustained because the participant
can only be understood through the forms that it possesses. The dialogue con-
cludes with Parmenides' lengthy dialectic. Plato does not explain how this dia-
lectic addresses the problem of participation of the first part because he could
not do so: There is no way to talk about the participant apart from the form or
forms it must possess. Rather, the reader, appropriately prepared by the dia-
logue's first part, is supposed to see that the arguments are not about forms
themselves but instances of forms. In short, the meaning of the Parmenidean dia-
lectic as a treatment of the particular becomes apparent when it is placed in the
context of Socrates' attempts to discuss the participant.
I shall say more later about what we learn about the participant from Par-
menides' dialectic. The points to be emphasized now are, first, that what Parme-
nides terms the One is something that has this form, what we would have termed
the participant', second, that One represents this ideational formal content of

59 Even when it is noticed, it is not always properly applied. G. Vlastos, The Unity of the
Virtues in the Protagoras, in: id., Platonic Studies, Princeton 1981, 252-54, argues that
Socrates' assertions of the identity of virtues ought to be understood to claim that some-
thing that has one virtue has the others. He terms such claims „Pauline predications".
Vlastos, ibid., 259-265, thinks that Plato is sometimes ambiguous on whether or not a
predication is Pauline, but he proposes that self-predications of forms are Pauline predi-
cations. In my view, most of Plato's claims about relations of forms concern their con-
tent and are, thus, not Pauline. Parmenides' dialectic in the second part of the dialogue
does depend on what could be called „Pauline predications", though I do not think this
phrase adequately expresses the variety and necessity of formal relationships explored

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Positive and Negative Dialectics 235

what is One, and, third, that the thing that is One may have additional formal
content that belongs to it through its relations, internal and external.

V. Dialectic in Hegel

What does all this have to do with Hegel? Quite a lot, I think. My contention is
that, like Plato, Hegel explores a form or a category by, in effect, treating it as
something that has the category, although here relational and ideational mo-
ments are either reversed or interchangeable. This is a point about his dialectical
method, and, again, it is hard to speak about method without surveying large
portions of text in a way that may seem either inadequate or superficial.
In order to focus on the movement of thought rather than the details of
doctrine, I shall sketch briefly a text from the logic of Being whose doctrine is
well-known. Initially, Hegel understands Determinate Being, Dasein, simply as
the unity of Being and Nothing. However, he goes on to predicate Quality of it;
this latter is the positive dimension of Determinate Being posited as being a
determinateness (als seiende Bestimmtheit).60 That is to say, the Quality of De-
terminate Being is just its own Being, now understood to belong to it. On one
hand, this Being belongs to and expresses Determinate Being's nature: Determi-
nate Being's Quality is just what it is. On the other, Quality expresses only a
part of Determinate Being's nature and, therefore, is not what it is. Hence, De-
terminate Being determines itself, as it were, as Quality, and immediately ne-
gates this determination. But such an affirmation of its Being and immediate ne-
gation of Being is just what it is to be a Determinate Being. Hence, as deter-
mined and not determined by Quality, Determinate Being is in the act of being a
Determinate Being: Determinate Being is itself an instance of the category of
Determinate Being. Hegel marks the difference between a category and its in-
stance grammatically by using the infinitive for the former, the participle for the
latter. Thus, Dasein is defined initially as the unity of Being and Nothing;
Daseiendes is something that is in the act of being a Dasein, something that is
actively unifying Being and Nothing. Hegel shows that this category is self-pre-
dicated, but this adds new content to the category and, thereby, transforms it into
a new category. As he puts it: ,JJas Dasein ist Daseiendes, Etwas,"61 The other
main categories in the logic of Being are each brought into self-predication in
order to transform them into new, richer categories. Though the path toward

60 Hegel, Die Lehre vom Sein (1832), 98.

61 Hegel, Die Lehre vom Sein (1832), 103. - For a detailed discussion of self-relation in
the opening categories of the logic of Being see E. C. Halper, Self-Relation in Hegel's
Science of Logic, in: Philosophy Research Archives [now titled: Journal of Philosophi-
cal Research] 7 (1981), 89-133.

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236 Edward C. Halper

self-predication depends on the category to be self-predicated, the dialectical

mechanisms at work in this and other categories are sufficiently similar that we
can use Determinate Being as a kind of paradigm of the dialectic of categories
from the logic of Being.
It is interesting to consider Hegel's dialectic of Determinate Being in the
context of the dialectic we saw in Plato's Parmenides. The two moments of the
latter, distinguished here as ideational and relational formal content, have close
counterparts in Hegel's implicit distinction in the logic of Being between a cate-
gory's subject and predicate roles. The predicate, participial form, expresses the
relations that the category has to other categories, and such relations contribute
to the formal content of a category. In the Parmenides, the title character ex-
ploits the possibility of a conflict between ideational and relational content to
argue against Socrates' proposed distinction between form and participant, as
we have seen. Hegel avoids such a conflict by arguing for self-predication: To
predicate a category of itself is to assert a kind of identification between a cate-
gory's relational and ideational contents. In the logic of Being, this identification
itself adds new content, thereby transforming the category. Ironically, the self-
predication of a category not only expresses what it is, but also negates and
transforms it. Hegel does not use self-predication to avoid contradictions like
those in the Parmenides, but to use productively what he takes to be intrinsic
What was particularly striking about the dialectic of the Parmenides was its
treating forms like One as something that is One, rather than as a mere form.
Hegel, too, clearly treats his categories as entities constituted by their defining
characters. Although Determinate Being is a category of thought, it is not simply
the idea that has as its content the unity of Being and Nothing; it is the entity
that is constituted as this unity and, as such, it admits of properties, is related to
other such entities and contains these relations within its content. Most impor-
tantly, Determinate Being is the sort of entity that can be an instance of a cate-
gory. We know this because the argument shows it to be an instance of itself.
We must distinguish between an identity statement and a predication: The for-
mer equates conceptual content, the latter subsumes an instance under a charac-
ter. I submit that Hegel's treatment of his logical categories not as mere thought
contents but as entities capable of a full range of properties and relations is the
most distinctive and significant feature of his dialectic. Anyone who works
through his argumentation must implicitly recognize this feature, but it is not
discussed in the literature nor, consequently, is the affinity between his dialectic
and Plato's properly appreciated.
The Parmenides, I have proposed, treats a form through its instance in
order to be able to give an account of the participant. In respect of being One or
not being One, the participant can be said, in various respects, to possess or not

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Positive and Negative Dialectics 237

to possess other forms. Hegel's dialectic does not originate from this problem,
and his initial characterization of a category is not so much a characterization of
something that has a character as of a character that is a something. That is to
say, Hegel begins not with a participant but with an abstract category. For him,
the participant emerges when this category is shown to be an instance of itself:
The category becomes, as it were, a participant through self-predication. This
means that the movement in the Hegelian dialectic is fundamentally different
from that of Plato's dialectic, but both can be seen as ways of dealing with the
participant in the face of the apparent impossibility of fixing one's thought on
what would seem, in itself, to lack form. Both dialectics speak of forms when
they mean to speak of form instances. Thus, the Many are many beings, the One
one being; in Hegel's structural parallel, Determinate Being is a Determinate
Although the parallel holds for the logic of Being, it helps to explain the
later portions of the Logik. In Essence and Concept, Hegel is still dealing with
the relation of instances and character but they do not exist apart from each
other, as objects of .external reflection', as they do in the sphere of Being. I have
noted that categories from the spheres of Essence and Concept are defined
through self-relation, in contrast with categories of Being, where the self-
relation is external to their initial ideational content. Inasmuch as self-relation
functions as instantiation, we can say that Essence and Concept contain their in-
stances within themselves: they are self-instantiating. Categories from Essence
contain in their content a relation to their instance, but since this relation is made
through a contrary category, the instance is still partially distinct; categories
from Concept contain both relation and instance. Hegel's notion that a category
could and should be an instance of itself and his use of self-relation to achieve
this end amount to an interesting solution to what I have called the problem of
instantiation. Ultimately, there should be no difference between principle and
instantiation: An adequate principle is one that includes its instantiation. In con-
trast, Plato understands an instance of a form through the entire plurality of
forms that it also has or lacks. What makes something an instance of One and
not One itself is the presence of some form besides One, such as Being or Other.
As a plurality, Plato's instance stands in sharp contrast with the strictly unitary
forms that are its principles. For him, the ontological difference between
principle and instance is insurmountable.
One potential objection to the idea that both the Logik and the Parmenides
deal with participants or instances is Hegel's endorsement of the Neoplatonic
view that this dialogue contains „the pure Platonic doctrine of Ideas" and pre-

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238 Edward C. Halper
sents Plato's theology. Indeed, since, for Plato, there is something beyond the
participant, namely, the form, it is inappropriate to speak of an account of the
participant, even one that turns on relations of ideas, as a theology. Hegel, of
course, has nothing beyond logic: It is his treatment of ideas. From his perspec-
tive, the Parmenides is indeed a theology.

VI. Positive and Negative Dialectics

The similarity in the dialectics of the Parmenides and the Wissenschaft der Lo-
gik raises the question why they proceed so differently and come to such dif-
ferent ends. Hegel's dialectic comes to a proper completion in the final logical
category, Absolute Idea. This latter not only includes all the preceding cate-
gories but is itself the self-unfolding that constitutes the entire categorial devel-
opment of the Logik. The Parmenides is striking in its apparent lack of com-
pletion. Its conclusion is that the One and the Others are and are not, appear and
do not appear to be, everything in themselves and in relation to each other. 63 On
its face, this is a baffling contradiction. Why is Hegel able to arrive at a positive
conclusion that completes the sphere of logic, whereas Plato's conclusion seems
entirely negative and external?
To be sure, Hegel speaks of the Parmenides'' conclusion as positive; he
thinks it shows the unity of Being and Not-Being - the unity that constitutes his
own category of Becoming, as we have seen. 64 For him, Plato's problem lies in
his not developing the dialectic beyond this point. I have argued against this in-
terpretation here. It is just because the Platonic form is strictly one that a dialec-
tic that aims to grasp it must remain external and its results, ultimately, negative.
In this context, the Parmenides' conclusion is not baffling; it reflects the neces-
sarily external relations between forms, since forms are strictly one. Hegel's re-
jection of the unity of form opens the possibility for a positive development and
completion of the dialectic. How, though, does he accomplish this?

62 Hegel, Vorlesungen über die Geschichte der Philosophie. Zweiter Band, 244 . See also
Hegel, Vorlesungen über die Geschichte der Philosophie. Teil 3. Griechische Philoso-
phie. II, 35-36.
63 Cf. Plato, Parmenides 166c2-5.
64 Hegel, Vorlesungen über die Geschichte der Philosophie. Teil 3. Griechische Philoso-
phie. II, 35; Vorlesungen über die Geschichte der Philosophie. Zweiter Band, 243,
claims that Plato's conclusion shows the unity of contradictories. Hegel, Vorlesungen
über die Geschichte der Philosophie. Zweiter Band, 245, claims that this identity of
contradictories is present in the Parmenides even though Plato does not actually express

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Positive and Negative Dialectics 239

Ultimately, Hegel overcomes the externality of dialectic and form by equat-

ing the dialectic with the form. This equation is nowhere clearer than in the final
category of logic, Absolute Idea, where method (dialectic) is identical with con-
tent. This final equation is achieved gradually in the course of the Logik through
a stepwise bringing of self-relation into the categories. This process has already
been discussed from various sides here. Let me now bring these together and
sketch the movement of thought. In the logic of Being, self-relation is self-predi-
cation. This involves showing the category to be an instance of itself by showing
its own parts to stand toward each other in the very relation that it signifies. This
relational moment, even though it is the same as the initial ideational moment,
constitutes an addition to the category's formal content and, thus, transforms it
into a richer category. That is to say, in the logic of Being, self-relation is exter-
nal to a category; at the same time that it affirms the content of the category, it
negates that content and transforms the category. In the logic of Essence, cate-
gories are each defined through their relation to their contrary and the negation
of this contrary. Hence, their self-relation is achieved through a negation of
something that stands outside the category and, thus, contains some externality.
Here, the relational moment is included within the category, but it still negates
the category. One example is the category of identity: It is a self-relation, but
one that is attained by being different from difference and, thus, includes within
its definition a distinct category that it must also negate and exclude. In the logic
of Concept, a category's self-relation and its negation stand within itself. Con-
sider a well-known category, the category of Universal Concept that opens this
sphere. Universal is a character that is common to Particulars, and these latter
must, as instances of the Universal be distinct from it; but the Particulars are
also instances of the Universal and, therefore, cannot be distinct from it. Thus,
the Universal is what it is by virtue of its distinguishing itself from a contrary
that it also includes. To the extent that this movement of the Universal is self-
contained, it is complete. However, the movement also introduces other categor-
ies, Particular and Individual, that stand as both moments of the Universal and
distinct categories. So it, too, contains an element of externality, albeit less ex-
ternality than is present in other spheres. A category from the sphere of Concept
would overcome externality and, therefore, be complete if the movement of self-
relation required no relations to other categories, that is, if its self-relation intro-
duced no new formal content. In this case, the category's (self-) relational
content is its ideational content. This, as I said, is what we find in the final cate-
gory from the logic of Concept. Absolute Idea is not complete by being free
from negativity, but instead by including all its negativity within itself.
In contrast, the One that is the subject of the Parmenides excludes all its
negativity from itself. As such, its dialectic cannot transform it, nor can it reach
the kind of completion we see in the Logik. Thus, whereas Hegelian dialectic is

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240 Edward C. Halper

a transformation of ideas, the dialectic in the Parmenides explores the negations

that are external to the One. We can identify three distinct negations: plurality,
otherness and non-being. Understanding how these modes of negation figure in
the dialectic of the Parmenides will help us to appreciate the sorts of negativity
that Hegel must incorporate to attain a complete category and the sort of unity
this latter acquires.
We have seen that in order to come to grips with the participant, Plato must
treat it and, indeed, speak about it through the form that it possesses. 65 Insofar as
it is understood through this form, the participant is one; just one and nothing
else. The first hypothesis of Parmenides' discourse argues that something One
cannot be anything else without becoming a plurality. The result is true of what-
ever is One, but it does require something that is One; the reasoning would not
apply to a concept whose content is unity. Part of what makes it plausible to
think that the something that is One intended here is what Socrates would have
called the participant is that the dialogue's first part emphasizes the difficulty of
speaking about the participant. Moreover, in an otherwise puzzling passage, Par-
menides reasons that because One cannot be in time, it cannot partake of Be-
ing. 66 This is quite true if the One here, that is, the thing that is One, is the parti-
cipant. 67
This participant is One, but it is also other characters besides this form.
And in general any participant will be the form of which it partakes, but also
something else that is other than that form. This multiplicity is, I suggest, the
basis for the second hypothesis. We cannot identify the participant apart from its
form, but we can mark its status as a participant by showing that it must partake
of other forms. Insofar as it is not merely the One of which it partakes, the parti-
cipant Is and is Other and, through the relations of these forms, can be shown to
be Many and still more forms. Whereas the first hypothesis ultimately needed to
deny even Being to what is One to preserve its unity, the second insists on its
Being and is led to ascribe all other characters to it. I shall now very briefly
argue that each of the dialogue's remaining hypotheses is concerned with some
sort of negation of the form One that is present in the participant.
The appendix to the second hypothesis - Cornford calls it hypothesis 2a -
aims at a kind of reconciliation of the first two hypotheses. In order to avoid the
possibility of contradiction if the first two hypotheses are both true at the same
time or if hypothesis two is true alone, it posits an instant, a point that is out of

65 In order to explain how Plato treats the participant through the form, it will be necessary
for me to do in the following paragraphs what cannot properly be done, namely to speak
about the participant apart from its form. It is important to bear in mind why Plato must
resort to what appear initially to be circumlocutions.
66 Cf. Plato, Parmenides 141d4-el0.
67 On the ambiguity of ,τό εν' in Greek, see Cornford, Plato and Parmenides, 111.

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Positive and Negative Dialectics 241

time, when the One has no character, but that is also somehow between the
times that the One has contrary characters. While it might seem that such a One
is just the One of the first hypothesis, the discourse here speaks of this One as
„between" Not-being and Becoming, 68 implying that it is neither the non-exis-
tent One of the first hypothesis nor the existent One of the second. This One is,
thus, a kind of negation of the first two Ones. The participant cannot be identi-
fied with either the form that makes it what it is or the other forms that charac-
terize it. It is neither of these, and for that reason cannot have any characters.
Hypotheses three and four examine what is Other than the One, as Parme-
nides specifies in his scheme of the discourse. 69 The Sophistes argues, famously,
that ,Not-being' is some form other than the form of Being; but we do not need
to refer to that argument to see that the others here constitute some sort of nega-
tion of One. Hypothesis three examines the Others insofar as they are unified by
their partaking of the One. In respect of their not being, in themselves, the unity
they receive, the Others are indefinite pluralities. That is, through their relation
to One, they acquire formal content, but their initial formal content is their being
other than One, that is, their being indefinite pluralities. Hypothesis four, on the
other hand, insists that the Others individually and collectively lack any sort of
unity. They lack all relational content and, thereby, all characters.
Why does a discussion of the Others emerge in this treatment of unity? My
contention that the participant is the implicit subject of Parmenides' discourse
suggests an answer that is completely consonant with the content of hypotheses
three and four. Just as One is the character of the participant insofar as it is a
form, the Others are that within the participant that takes on the form. Whereas
hypothesis two argues that other forms belong to the participant by virtue of its
being something One, the issue here is what, if any, forms belong to the partici-
pant by virtue of not being One. This could be understood in two different ways:
First, if the participant is One by virtue of its form, then everything in the parti-
cipant that is organized by the form must, in itself, lack unity. What lacks unity
is the contrary to unity, namely, the indeterminate. This is what we find in hypo-
thesis three. 70 On the other hand, if the form makes the participant intelligible,

68 Cf. Plato, Parmenides 156e7-157a3.

69 Cf. Plato, Parmenides 136a4-c5.
70 Miller, Plato's Parmenides, 126-139, argues that only the third hypothesis is an account
of the participant and that the fourth hypothesis is a kind of reductio for the necessity of
participation. He takes, ibid., 122, the first and second hypotheses to treat, respectively,
form and thing. Although I think that the character of the dialectic counts against this
interpretation, there are evident similarilities with the interpretation being argued here:
Where Miller takes the subject of the first hypothesis to be the form, I take it to be the
participant considered through its form. Something similar could be said of our treat-
ments of the other hypotheses.

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242 Edward C. Halper

then to take away the form is to make it unintelligible and, thus, lacking in all
characters. JThis is what we find in hypothesis four.
The fifth through eighth hypotheses consider what belongs to One and the
Others if the One does not exist. Non-being is still another way of negating the
One. It seems that here, as in the first hypothesis, Being amounts to physical
existence. Hence, something One that lacks Being could still be thought, and on
this basis Parmenides ascribes characters to the One-that-is-not. Indeed, he ar-
gues that it also has a Being, a Motion, and so forth. So, too, a non-existent par-
ticular could be thought through a form; insofar as it belongs to someone think-
ing, the thought has its own Being and its own Motion (it both comes to be and
ceases to be in thought and language). Consequently, the contradictory charac-
ters ascribed in the fifth hypothesis to the non-existent One belong, on the same
grounds, to non-existent participants. The sixth hypothesis denies every sort of
Being to the One, and the result is that no characters at all can be ascribed to it.
The seventh and eighth hypotheses explore the consequences for the Others of
the One's not being. The seventh argues that without a One, the Others can only
be other than each other. As in the third hypothesis, Others without One will be
an indefinite plurality, but here they merely appear to have this plurality, and
they must also merely appear to be One. Without a form through which to un-
derstand them, the Others cannot be thought; hence, they are grasped as appear-
ances. Again, a participant that cannot be grasped through some form could only
be an appearance. Finally, the eighth hypothesis rejects even the appearance of
unity for the Others. If there is no form, then there could not be or even seem to
be a participant. Evidently, both thought of what does not exist and appearance
that is not real constitute ways of negating unity. The negations of these
thoughts and appearances count as complete negations of unity.
In sum, each hypothesis serves as an account of some aspect of the
participant. Only the first actually affirms the character of the form of which it
partakes, but ironically it must reject all other characters, including Being. The
other hypotheses all constitute ways of negating the unity of the partaken form.
These hypotheses are built upon three modes of negating unity, plurality (hyp.
2), otherness (hyp. 3-4) and non-being (hyp. 5-8), but all three modes appear in
each hypothesis. We get a different understanding of the thing that is One and
what belongs to it depending on whether we are speaking about it as One, as a
Being, as what the Others have, as something thought, as an appearance or as
the negation of any of these. What belongs to One in this discourse is often a
consequence of its relation or necessary lack of relation to other forms.
What we have here is a multifaceted picture of the participant in terms of
all its modes of being and negation. It is a cubist picture: The facets have been
separated from each other in distinct hypotheses. They are not reconcilable with
each other, but then Plato says repeatedly that sensibles are not intelligible.

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Positive and Negative Dialectics 243

What is crucial to see is that we are not really dealing with the sensible thing -
there is no access to it apart from forms that it has; what we are dealing with are
instances of forms, and the negations here are aspects of the thing that are not its
form. There are multiple ways in which a thing is and is not form, and it is these
that the Parmenides aims to explore. Ironically, the exploration must be conduc-
ted through what is intelligible, form.
If this is right, it is important to the Parmenides that the dialectic does not
reach consistency or completeness. Its failure in this regard is a token of its sub-
ject. On the other hand, it does contain a kind of completeness: it explores all
possible negativities. Parmenides covers the complete range. The full range of
inconsistencies in a participant does not speak against the existence of a tran-
scendent form; on the contrary, irreconcilable contradiction among sensibles
supports the existence of separate form, as we have seen. However, the dialectic
remains separate from or external to this form, and the various ways of treating
the participant remain external to each other - all of which recalls Hegel's claim
about the externality of dialectic. We see here a point mentioned earlier, that the
various strands of argument do not transform the One. The dialectic of negations
of the One remains external to it.
In contrast, in the dialectic of the Wissenschaft der Logik, various modes of
negation become internal to categories and transform them into richer categories
until Absolute Idea completes the development by including within itself the en-
tire categorial unfolding, as we noted. Relations to other categories do not trans-
form this category because its formal content already includes its relations to
other categories. Indeed, it is the process of categorial relation and transforma-
tion, coming to completion by including all possible negations. When, at the end
of the Logik, Hegel again contrasts the negative and external dialectic of Plato
with his own dialectic, he emphasizes that in the final category content is equi-
valent to method. 71 The negative brought into relation with itself becomes posi-
tive and complete.
The completeness of the dialectic signals a recovery of unity that stands in
stark contrast with Plato's cubist picture of the participant. While we cannot say
that Hegel aims in the Logik to think a sensible participant through an intelligi-
ble form, the character of his dialectic shows, I contend, that he is concerned to
think what I have called, for lack of a better term, an instance. To be sure, what
counts as an instance varies through the categorial development that constitutes
the Logik. Each category functions as both instance and that of which it is the
instance, but only in the logic of Being do these two moments exist externally to

71 Hegel, Die subjektive Logik (1816), 243-253. This lengthy discussion argues that what
seems to be external movements between logical categories is properly understood as
the internal movement of Absolute Idea.

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244 Edward C. Halper

each other. The overcoming of this separation and the encompassing of both
moments in a dialectical unity is not just the task of subsequent logical spheres,
it is the task of logic itself. Whereas the Parmenides produces an account of the
instance that argues its incoherence and unintelligibility, Hegel produces an ac-
count that aims to make the instance intelligible by showing its contradictions to
be intrinsic to its nature and our thought about it.

VII. Conclusion

Why is it that the Parmenides' exploration of the negativity of One remains ex-
ternal to the One? The immediate answer is that Plato insists that form is simply
one, whereas Hegel allows plurality and negativity as part of the content of his
categories. And why does Plato insist that form is one? Again, the contrast with
Hegel is instructive. Hegel's ideas are categories of thought. Thought is a proc-
ess that proceeds by finding discontinuities and somehow removing them; the
negative is intrinsic to thinking. Plato's ideas are things. They have to be one in
order to be. Indeed, a central motivation for Plato's philosophy is to find a unity
that is prior to the multiplicity inherent in motion and sensation. He cannot let
negativity into the primary things without their losing their primacy. That Pla-
to's forms are transcendent things ultimately beyond human thought is what dic-
tates that the dialectic that aims at them be external. Hegel overcomes this exter-
nality and includes negativity within the forms, but only by making them
thoughts. Likewise, for Plato, the dialectic that knows the instances of a form
must remain negative and external to the form; whereas for Hegel, form be-
comes its own instance because it is identified with the transformation through
which form instantiates itself. Along with this contrast, there is a change in what
counts as priority. For Plato the one or simple is always prior; although Hegel
begins with what is simple, Being, his final category, Absolute Idea, is logically
prior because it is complete.
The real issue after all this remains the nature of a first principle and its
relation to what it grounds. If it is prior by virtue of being simple, then it will not
be able to account for the manifold parts of dialectic or any other method. If, on
the other hand, the principle is prior by being complete, then it can include
method, but it can be one only insofar as it has recaptured unity from plurality
through some sort of completeness, and this latter is less one than simple unity.
So there are both grounds for and problems with each type of principle - that is

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Positive and Negative Dialectics 245

the dilemma. We have seen, however, that one positive requirement of princi-
ples that each can meet is the ability to account for its own instance.72

72 An earlier version of this paper was presented at a meeting of the Society of Systematic
Philosophy held in conjunction with the Eastern Division of the American Philosophical
Association. I am grateful to that audience as well as to the audience at the Bochum
TransCoop conference for lively discussions, especially, however, to Mitch Miller and
Orrin F. Summereil for additional conversations about this paper. Let me also thank the
Deutsch-Amerikanisches Akademisches Konzil, the University of Georgia and the Ger-
man-American Fulbright Commission for financial support for this research.

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