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Composed by dd/ts, 2010.
Six. GPL and Hegel’s Logic
In the last chapter we discussed different elements from the history of GPL. We have presented a very short account of the accumulation of supplements: how all the minuscule moments of resistance, together, and in a series, contributed in the making of GPL, or rather, in the evolution of resistance that finally produced GPL. GPL grew as the envelope, as the father text of all the bastard texts of resistance in all those supplements. And then brought to life the context of FLOSS. So, this supplement-text-context was an example of a journey counter to the direction of the journey of Derridean deconstruction, as we suggested in chapter two. Through this journey the moment of differend and the moment of deconstruction were brought together. The differend resided in the hacker community’s sense of betrayal and injustice. The primitive freedom and friendship that ruled there in the hacking world were being taken away by the rules of market and capital. And this hacker community of primitive FLOSS, long before the term ‘FLOSS’ was born, could not just sit there and do nothing. But what could they do? How could they eradicate an injustice that is not even discerned as injustice by the system of justice? But they tried, and tried, and went on trying. This long process of trial came up with GPL. GPL in action was a deconstruction of the whole discourse of state, transforming the very structure of state and all inner categories.
At last the differend could find the justice it was seeking. The logical break inherent within the categories created by GPL just rendered the earlier injustice impossible to happen. The text of GPL and the context of FLOSS finally achieved the goal: nobody could take away their freedom and cooperation any more. They were now guarded and protected by GPL. So, the moment of bringing together differend and deconstruction finally happened. The bastard supplements falling in line created a pattern. This pattern anticipated a father. This was GPL. The text of GPL then led some more supplements to merge into the pattern, this deconstructed the whole institution of state and gave rise to the context of FLOSS. And now, we derive any meaning of GPL from this context of FLOSS. So, finally the project of chapter two – exemplifying a counter-journey, from supplement to text to context is complete. But, and it is very important point, it was no conscious move. It was ‘not conscious’ in the sense that they did not have in their mind the theoretical implications of the repercussions of the philosophical categories generated by GPL. It happened more in a natural way, in the way of a biological evolution. All the pains of betrayal, all the resistance towards taking away of the primal freedom of primitive FLOSS – all these started accumulating in the series of supplements that we described in the earlier chapters. This process happened in the very real world of real computing with real machines. We have already described this process in details. Now we are going to analyze the theoretical implications in terms of Hegel’s logic.
This makes GPL a text of an entirely different order, a revolutionary text. Through the accumulation of all the pain and resistance of real existence, GPL gave a twist to the very logical categories that this very real world deals with – categories that work within the institution of state and society. GPL tweaked and subverted the internal categories in such a way that the whole fabric – the institutions of law, civil society, market and state – changed from within. Now, to understand this very deep-acting subversion of all the inherent categories working within this institution, we need to go through some elements of Hegelian logic. To start exploring how GPL changed the basic social categories on which history is built, we begin with a brief exegesis of Hegel’s philosophy.
1. A Hegel of Our Own
This is a very simplified reading of Hegel. And, any simplification of a thought-process called Hegel, one of the highest specimens of human intellect, is bound to produce some distortions. Like any structure of human thought, potent to this order, there are actually many possible readings of Hegel. Like say, a very classicist reading of true Hegel, cross-referenced with Fichte and Schelling, by positing Hegel with respect to the stream of German Idealism in the decades after Kant. And there can be many variations on this basic theme of ‘true’ Hegel. Even there can be a possible tour-de-force reading of Hegel with respect to his romantic poetry connections like Hölderlin. There can be even more exotic and deviant readings. Like say, a psychological reading of his philosophy in terms of desire and drive, with respect to Hegel’s adolescence heroes like Napoleon, in the context of war-torn Europe. But, let us be sure, this exegesis of Hegel here is not going to be anything like that. It is very much conditional and subservient to the necessities of this book. We are going to choose exactly those elements, and only those elements, that are absolutely necessary for our purpose to go into the intricate political and economic phenomena born out of GNU GPL.
Here, in this exegesis, we elaborate and simplify some of the logical turns and loops. This short discussion on some components from Hegel’s theory is an absolutely conditional one. Hegel is not at all the point here: we are digressing through Hegel just to render our constructs elsewhere in this book clearer and simpler. This brief journey is going to suffer a problem, that of presenting some elements of hard philosophy to readers some of whom are outsiders to this discipline. So, we try to strike a route that is ‘simple’. But, as we know, it is extremely complex to define ‘simple’. In this case, we define simplicity as the other name of self-contained systems. We are going to round off and solve and tie out all the hanging ends of all the threads that are taken up within this book. It is Hegel on commission. So, we parry all kinds of responsibilities of representing a true Hegel, or following the exact chronology of development among components within Hegel. The time-line of Hegel’s three major areas goes like this: Phenomenology of Spirit in 1807, Elements of Philosophy of Right in 1822 and the final revised version of Science of Logic in 1831. But, here, we will traverse a path exactly opposite to it. First we cite a few elements from Logic, Hegel 1975. Then we exemplify these elements from Philosophy of Right, Hegel 1962. At last, we compare this reading of Right with a little of Phenomenology of Spirit, Hegel 1990. We do it exactly that much that is necessary for this book.
One apology should be noted here. There will be quite a few cross-reference and cross-comparisons with Marx’s logic, through this exegesis. Not all of these citations are quite obvious by the logic of this book. They are here, because, in the thought process that led to this book, or, before that, in the history of how that thought-process of mine was built, there is quite an overbearing presence of Marx. In the history of our times in a poor country like India, and in my philosophical training too, Marx, maybe a bit too much of Marx, is very pervasively there. A lot us here in this third world, just like me, arrive at Hegel through an extremely digressive detour of Marxist political practice. So, neither I, nor this book, is indifferent to Marx. But, obviously, as the later chapters will show, some of the conclusions are indeed very different to what Marx said. In this chapter, we arrive at a discussion of GPL vis-a-vis the concept of counter-hegemony of Marxist politics. Here we show that, the conceptual plane generated by the logic inscribed in GPL is a plane that Marxism cannot comprehend at all. So, in a way, these cross-references with Marx are exactly irrelevant.
2. Doctrine of Being
Let us start Hegel’s philosophy with his Logic. Logic must start with a concept of ‘is’, or, ‘isness’, because, with nothing around, a philosophy cannot start. So, at least something is. Or, in other terms, there is ‘being’. Here is an important point of cross-reference with Marxism. When Marxism starts delineating its own theoretical limits, it proclaims itself as materialist, considering the material reality around us as its point of departure. And in contrast, Marxism considers Hegel as idealist, because, Hegel’s logic embarks on a philosophical journey that starts and ends in pure idea. Marxism underlines the Hegelian starting point of ‘isness’, the point of departure in Hegelian Doctrine of Being, as a pure idea. Marxism considers this the foremost difference of idealist Hegel with materialist Marx.
Hegel’s ‘isness’ is a pure idea. After starting from this pure idea of ‘pure being’, through a logical procedure of ‘negation’, Hegel’s Doctrine of Being reaches the concept of ‘determinate being’, with which the material world around us is built. Before going any further into doctrine of being, let us remind ourselves about the three very definitive stages in Hegel’s logic. Doctrine of being is the first stage, that starts from the category of pure being, and proceeds on and on, till we logically reach the immediate reality around us, made of determinate beings. After this stage of doctrine of being, next comes the annihilation of this immediate reality to arrive at a philosophical reality above this immediate reality. This stage in Hegel’s logic is Doctrine of Essence. When already the immediate reality is annihilated, Hegel’s logic comes to the third and final stage. Here, in this stage, a mediated philosopher’s reality is created, in terms of notions, and this is Doctrine of Notion. Any satisfactory discussion of Hegel, covering all these three stages, needs a far greater scope and length. But, as we said, we would touch only those things that we need for analyzing the categories in the realm of property rights in general, and in the interpretation of GPL in particular. We would just briskly flip through some elements of doctrine of being and doctrine of essence, keeping doctrine of notion almost untouched.
The category of being or a pure abstract isness, without defining and declaring the content of this isness, is an empty and void category. It is a nothing. So, here, we interpret these two categories, being and nothing, in terms of their content. When and while there is being, there must be an absence of it, and thus we get one more category – nothing. And with this two end-points given, being and nothing, there must be a transformation between these two, by which being becomes nothing, or nothing becomes being, and thus there is becoming. With these three categories together, being, nothing, and becoming, we embark on our Hegelian journey.
We start from a pure and abstract concept of being, and so, this Hegelian being is a kind of being that includes all possible kinds of being. And this category does have the ability to become nothing, thus prefiguring becoming as a category. And once we get the category of becoming, other possibilities of being follow from it. It makes possible for being to become something – a change by which the category of pure isness or pure being negates itself to become a determinate being or something. A few words here may help us to emphasize a moot point here, important for Marxism. In contrast to the ‘idealist’ cannon of Hegel, this very category of something is the starting point in the ‘materialist’ cannon of Marx, because Marx starts from the immediate reality of determinate beings. This immediate reality for Marx is market, the space of commodity or “a thing outside us”, as Marx said. Something or determinate being, that we can determine with our sensory apparatus, is the starting point of Marx’s dialectical materialism.
Let us recognize the Hegelian way of constructing categories. We see how being leads to its negation, that is, nothing, and how the pure isness leads to its negation, that is, determinate being. And so, we can anticipate the next move, where this immediate reality is negated too, to reach a mediated philosophical reality over and beyond this immediate reality. This same kind of construct repeats all through Hegel’s logic. Hegel’s logic takes off from pure isness. Then the it goes through different layers of unity-difference-unity-interplay. The journey starts from the pure idea of being, goes through the pure idea of essence, and finally reaches the pure idea of notion. And this journey spans over the three main areas of Hegel’s Logic: doctrine of being, doctrine of essence, and doctrine of notion. Hegel’s idealism starts and ends its journey in two pure ideas: pure being and pure notion. But, though the two endpoints in Hegel are pure idea, the trajectory of the journey includes the objective reality or the immediate reality, made of determinate beings. And so, Hegel’s idealism is called ‘objective idealism’, in contrast to, say, George Berkeley’s ‘subjective idealism’ which never deals with anything from the realm of immediacy.
As we were saying, Hegel’s immediate reality is made of determinate beings, determined by the sensory order. The sensory organs mark out the space and time of existence of the determinate beings. The next job in hand for logic is that of categorizing all these determinate beings that come together to construct this immediate reality. As common sense goes, the very primary categorization, that grows in this immediate world of determinate beings, is a division between the near and the distant ones – the categories of this and that. All the near ones are this, and all the distant ones are that. Hegel is always using more than one, usually a series of, qualifiers for each category constructed within his logic. So, this category of this or immediate is also called reality, for which Hegel uses the technical term being-by-self. And for that, also called negation or negation of reality, the technical term used by Hegel is being-for-another.
Let us chip in a bit of our conjectures here, about these Hegelian categories, in context of the coming discussions on GPL. This very division of the immediate reality of determinate beings into the two compartments of this and that seems somewhat arbitrary to us, and the division between them seems tentative and uncertain, and a bit fuzzy too. How to actually distinguish between Hegelian this and that: what exactly is the difference between them? Why this is not even a small bit of that? There is no exact and distinct demarcation between these two categories in Hegel. If we reformulate these Hegelian categories of this and that as flux or field of force, we can expect some overlapping between them. Hegel says nothing. Or, if we use the psyche of a child as our model of understanding, commonsense tells us, the mother will be this to the child, and others will be that. But then, how will we depict the father? Later we will see that, GPL induced and prompted some new categories to ooze out from the fuzzy areas around the Hegelian division between this private property and that private property. As we will see, GPL made one set of entirely new categories to emerge, but that does not exhaust the possibility horizon. There ins a fuzzy region in Hegelian logic. Hegel forced the whole thing into a dichotomy. GPL pushed this mythology of forced dichotomy hard enough to yield a set of new categories, maybe there are more, waiting for surfacing, when and where politics pushes it hard enough, like GPL did.
Hegel’s philosophy is dividing the world of determinate beings into two broad categories: this or reality, or technically speaking, being-by-self, and that or negation, or technically, being-for-another. Let us take an example of a forest. Though, let us know from before, this will be an inadequate example. As we will see later, Hegel’s Logic can successfully be elaborated by examples strictly from the social space. But, for that, we have to wait till the discussion of Philosophy of Right. For now, let us use this not-so-good analogy. In the forest, the tree very near to the observer is this. The reality of ‘this tree’ is negated by another tree. While the first tree is this or being-by-self or reality, with respect to it the second tree is that or negation or being-for-another. But this status of the second tree remains like that just for the moment. The reality of the second tree again gets negated by another tree, a third one, as we are looking further into the forest. This time the second tree takes the status of this or reality or being-by-self and the third tree becomes that or negation or being-for-another. This process of chain negation now goes on and on, ad infinitum. This ceaseless chain of negation is termed as ‘bad infinity’ by Hegel. Hegel thinks it bad because it does not allow us to arrive at or discover any category: because it helps us reach nowhere.
To reach a category, Hegel brings in the concept of a leap into a category that includes both this and that within its domain of definition. This leap enables the naming of a new category. This naming creates a new category being-for-self, a category that includes within the name, within the category thus generated, both the earlier being-by-self and being-for-another. This action of leap is called in Hegel’s philosophy as ‘labeling’ or ‘naming’. Let us pursue our forest-metaphor a little bit further. Through the action of naming, through a leap, a new category can be generated and it can be named ‘tree’. This new category of ‘tree’ negates both the earlier entities this and that, and now the label or name ‘tree’ includes both ‘this tree’ and ‘that tree’ within the higher category above both the lower categories of this and that. Let us remember one important point, the name or the label of the category thus created is quite arbitrary, though the category is not at all arbitrary. This point of arbitrariness becomes more important when reading Hegel in the context of Ferdinand de Saussure’s theory of linguistics, Saussure 1966. The name or the label of this higher category can very well be ‘wood’ or something in place of ‘tree’, though the category itself, including all the entities that it includes within it, is never ever arbitrary. This category remains unchanged whatever be the final name or label, ‘tree’ or ‘wood’ or anything.
So, in Hegel’s logic, the first category this gets negated by that, and then that gets negated by that/, and then that/ gets negated by that//, and so on ..., this – that – that/ – that// – ... Hegel calls this as ‘bad infinity’ and says that it leads to nothing. Hegel thinks, a leap into a new category, that includes both this and that with a new label or name, gets us outside this loop of ‘bad infinity’. And this categorization, the rise of this new category, is not arbitrary. It is contextually determined. The process of naming/classification of categories, and all these names and categories, are part of a whole chain of logical events that are contextually determined by everything around us, by the reality surrounding us. Our process of cognition proceeds like that, through negations, through a process of difference, a chain of negation. The ruddy countenance of an overbearing British Lord is different from, and hence negated by, the scarlet pimpernel of French Revolution. This again is different from, say, the color purple that represents both pain of violation and divine beauty of flowers in Alice Walker’s novel or the Spielberg movie ‘Color Purple’. And all these different colors get together to generate, and thus reside in, the color called ‘red’.
The color red again stands out by being different from the color blue or green or yellow or something like that. Red is the name of that color that is – not blue, not green, not yellow ... it proceeds like that. But this chain of difference through negation cannot go on ad infinitum. It has got to stop, where it requires a leap to create another label called ‘color’, the being-for-self. But, here, this very point actually marks a serious breach of logic in Hegel. How we know that the being-for-self does really exist? Or, how do we know that the existence is necessarily and sufficiently well-defined for the definition of the category itself? Within the very body of the inclusion-exclusion mechanism lies hidden some undeclared value-system, that glorifies some differences and undermines some other. There is a precise break of logic here. Into the label ‘red’ we are now battering down all possible differences between any two shades of ‘red’, while overemphasizing any difference between any shade of red and any shade of any other color. The label ‘red’ is suppressing all the differences between all the shades of red. So, in a way, the very name, category, or label becomes a mechanism of suppression, and a proclamation and propaganda about something that it is not. All the categories and concepts, thus generated, therefore, in some cases, may very well carry some blind spots around them, some dark crevices in between the categories. And from these untold and unchronicled shadows ooze out new meanings in new situations with unforeseen contexts, where the force field has sufficiently shifted. Exactly this thing happened in case of GPL, but we are coming to that later.
So, this Hegelian being-for-self of a category is the entity that unites this or being-by-self and that or being-for-another in our material world of determinate beings. This and that are different. So, from the series of endless differences and diversities that constitute the material world, being-for-self generates a unity on a higher plane. In the world of human being, we see a lot of differences. Like, say, A Saxon is different from a Celt, or a Celt from a Balkan. Then synthesizing all the differences between all the individual identifiers, emerges the category or label of ‘man’. And thus, the label ‘man’ becomes the unity or one, by being the being-for-self of all these differences. Man now includes each and all, it includes this man and that man, it includes both being-by-self and being-for-another.
The moment this category called ‘man’ emerges from among all the differences, it generates a new category, quality. This is the quality of being man, say man-ness. This quality of ‘man-ness’ is the thing that unites this and that all into being-for-self, into the category called ‘man’. At the level of difference, they were ‘this man’ and ‘that man’. Now, the quality of man-ness unites them into the category of qualitatively one. Quality is the thing that makes difference into one.
In the material reality, now, one gets represented as different kinds of one, and so, one becomes many. And this many represents quantitative difference. Presence of different quantities of the very quality that unites difference into one now represents one as many. And, thus, difference gets constituted by the presence of different quantities of that quality. Man is found in reality as many men. The quality called man-ness that unites them all into the category of ‘man’ is present in different quantities in different individual members of many men.
Now this quantitative difference among many men calls for a measure. If we say that there is a quantitative difference, obviously we have got a scale to measure the difference among different quantities. So measure is always already there in the world of many men. So, the quantitative difference of quality that stands for one leads to the concept of measure. Once we arrive at one, the difference in quantity of the quality that unites difference into one, leads to a measurement of many into big/small, plenty/scanty, or so on. Abundance in quantity of the quality that transforms difference into one, makes something large. And want of it makes something small. Abundance of man-ness makes a particular man a big man, and dearth of it makes a small man.
So, to put it another way, difference generates one, through the quality that is common to them all, and thus, one leads to measure. And measure creates a homogeneous space. A space where we can place, map and rank many. So, one constitutes an ordered homogeneous space that includes many determinate beings, which can be ranked in terms of measure as high/low, more/less, large/small and so on. We achieved one through a process of naming, so measure was always already implicit within the process of naming.
There is a hidden catch here, not obviously pointed out by Hegel. Where Hegel was beholding Equality, this equality was masking a deeper inequality behind it. Maybe we can remember from chapter one, the discussion on the inequality hidden behind Hegel’s equality. It seems that the market equality of the emerging capitalism in feudal Germany was celebrated by Hegel. He overlooked the inequality and it would take a Marx to point it out. The process of naming that provides us with one, is a process of inclusion. One includes both this and that. This inclusion, in the true sense, actually stands for a ‘Power Relation’ behind it. This inclusion creates a ranked space of many. So, this process of inclusion, is, implicitly, a process of ranking. For Hegel many was just variety: diversity and difference. But, as we see, there is always already a notion of measure implicit in one. And hence, the variety signified by many in Hegel’s system is more than variety, it can be ranked, and thus it signals inequality. And there are two steps involved here. First, as we have already pointed out, the process of inclusion is a process of exclusion too. The category called ‘man’ includes some determinate beings, and by the token of that inclusion excludes some other determinate beings. Second, the very inclusion that includes all difference and creates one, actually makes them ranked, and hence is not any more equal. Measure implicit in one makes them unequal.
Let us summarize this Hegelian logic of one/many. Being, becoming and nothing: these are the three basic categories in Hegel’s logic, the starting point. Then through the negation of pure ‘isness’ of being we arrived at something, that is, determinate being. This world of something produced the categories this and that. From these this or being-by-self and that or being-for-others, we got being-for-self as a synthesis of the earlier two, and this synthesis is one. In place of the endless chain of negation into ‘bad infinity’, this category one is an infinity. Because, within one we get many, or, in other words, everything is held within one as a part of it, and so, to hold every finite thing within it, one itself must be infinite. While the chain of negation does not reach us anywhere, to reach the truth we have to make a leap, a leap into a higher category that includes this and that and everything. This higher category is being-for-self or one. Every being is being-by-self to itself, and the category that includes everyone’s self is being-for-self or one. From one we get quality. From the difference in the quantity of quality we get measure. Measure leads to different quantities of quality of one. Thus we get many, the collection of all the finite parts of one, the infinite one.
Now, the point is, the journey of logic does not warrant some one-only point of departure. In place of Hegel’s being, as we said, Marx’s logic starts off from the category of something, or, determinate being. In the same way, the journey could commence from becoming too. Becoming represents a flow of transformations. A flowing river, or the flow of time, can be an example of becoming. There can be readings of Nietzsche which assume becoming as the starting point of his logic. Even nothing could very well be the starting point of logic too, in place of being, as in Hegel. Some strands of the Buddhist thought starts from nothing. For Hegel, the starting point is the category of being, and the other possibilities get suppressed. But not that they die altogether. We are pushing through this extremely unconventional presentation of Hegel’s logic to get a feel of the tweaking of these categories and playing with them. Later, in the context of GPL, we will see, how in a real life context, in the context of working with software, the very Hegelian categories get tweaked, readjusted and transformed. We will see how GPL pushes being itself into a constant state of becoming. Hegel does not take up the full potential of his logic, or try out all the different possibilities, and hence the category of one that finally emerges in Hegel’s logic, is, in the true sense of the term, a broken one. This broken one flourishes into a broken many. The category of ‘man’ that we reach through Hegel’s logic is a broken man, with a broken equality in his broken world. Like, Broken idols broken heads/ People sleeping in broken beds in Bob Dylan’s Everything is Broken. And as we will see, the category of ‘property’ that we reach through Hegel is a broken ‘property’ too, but it took a GPL to point it out, and breed newer and unprecedented categories out of the fractures, cracks and gaps of this broken ‘property’.
3. Doctrine of Essence
We said, Hegel’s logic has three major parts, doctrine of being, doctrine of essence and doctrine of notion. Doctrine of being starts with the concept of being and ends with the discussion of measure. Doctrine of essence starts with the discussions of uniting unity and difference, and goes on elaborating the interplay and opposition of unity and difference in consecutive layers. In the light of this theme, when interpreted as a constant opposition and interplay between unity and difference, all the steps that we traversed in presenting doctrine of being, can be restated a bit differently. Here, we start with a primary notion of unity, and then produce a primary difference out of it, and then again a higher level unity from this primary difference. And the circular path goes on and on, again unity, again difference, and so on. This interplay of unity and difference goes on till we reach idea, the terminus, or the final and terminal point of Hegel’s logic. Hegel’s logic has set out to explain this world, that is, its existence, or in other words, its being.
Hegel’s starting point is pure being. Then, as we see, this pure being negates itself to become determinate being. Determinate being, or being with a specific qualitative determination, is defined by what it is (reality/being-by-self/this) and what it is not (negation/being-for-another/that). Now Hegel’s logic looks for a unifying principle that connects this determinate being (being-by-self) and that determinate being (being-for-another). This higher unifying principle emerges through a leap into a higher category: one or being-for-self. This category one makes all different this and that beings qualitatively one, leading to a concept of quality that is common to all these beings. Then, as we see, different quantities of this quality generates many. So, now, all the determinate beings flow from one in the form of many. So, the primary unity of being logically leads to difference in the world of determinate beings. Now, difference in this layer logically leads to unity in an upper layer, that unity is one. This unity once again generates another difference in the form of many, which is implicit in the concept of quality and measure, as we have already said.
So, beginning from a unity (pure being) we reach difference in the world of determinate beings. This world of determinate beings presents itself as difference: categories of being-by-self and being-for-another. From here we reach a higher level unity in the category one that once again leads another level of difference in the form of many. So, the category of one appears as many. The reality that we encounter around us, does represent itself as both one and many together, both unity and difference. At first sight, these two are opposite and contradictory categories, but, in the reality around us, they represent the one and the same reality. This means, obviously, that over the apparent layer of reality where they are different, they are forming another higher level of unity, a unity of unity and difference. Hegel calls this higher unity as ground. And this higher unity of ground has its two moments: unity (one) and difference (many). As moments of this higher unity of ground, the categories of unity and difference are now named as positive and negative, respectively.
Now, this higher level unity of ground that unites the two level unity and difference of positive (unity or one) and negative (difference or many), is called as essence. Essence is the soul or substance that has the ability to hold unity and difference together. The category of unity gets expressed as positive and that of difference gets expressed as negative in the light of the category of essence. But essence does not readily present itself, it does not get expressed as essence – the shining face of essence is appearance. Essence appears as appearance. Essence appears in existence, in the form of entities that exist, that is, existent-s. The world of existent-s is appearance. Appearance is the appearance of essence, and hence it is the “shining forth” of essence, as it is known in Hegelian literature.
There can be two different ways of understanding essence. One, discarding appearance altogether, the attention can be focused solely on essence, considering essence and appearance as two watertight compartments. Two, appearance, the world of existent-s, cognizable with the sensory organs, can be considered as an interim step to go beyond the sensory organs to reach, comprehend and understand essence. In this second approach, appearance becomes a tool to comprehend and reach essence. Here, from appearance to essence is just a journey, and there is no sharp dichotomy between the categories of essence and appearance. In this second approach, essence is appearance.
The world that we are catching and registering with the sense organs, the external material reality of appearance is a surface phenomena, just an exterior of essence or the essential truth, in Hegel’s logic. And if that is a surface phenomena or just an external world, this external reality must be grounded somewhere, it must have an internal kernel. All through doctrine of essence, Hegel’s logic is searching for this ground. And in Hegel’s logic, that ground must be a contradictory ground, building around a constant opposition and contradiction between unity and difference, as we have witnessed through all the steps. And it is a ‘shifting ground’ too, constantly shifting through different layers of interplay between unity and difference: unity/difference/unity/difference ... and so on. In this continuous interplay of opposition, the category of ground is getting reflected in every layer, and shifting through every layer of interplay.
Let us exemplify one in the form of computer. We are seeing this one as many: many computers are before us, and we are recognizing all of them as instances of computer. And so, there must be a concept of computer somewhere, on which all these instances are grounded. This ground is holding all these instances as different instances of one, that is, computer, reflecting itself in each of them. This ground is reflecting itself as many computers, which are all existent-s.
We always get one existent as many existent-s, and all of them, as we have already said, are flowing from a higher unity, and essence is this higher unity. So, the unity of essence is getting reflected in a world of difference: where it is appearing in the form of existent-s or thing-s. It is essence that is containing and carrying the highest and ultimate unity in this world of difference. What we are getting around us in the material world is the appearance taking the form of many existent-s. So, if appearance is really the appearance of essence, these many existent-s should get united somewhere, and to get united they must be connected and related to one another in some way. And if the existent-s are all interrelated and connected, they must be constituting and creating a totality, where each one of the existent-s will be a part of this totality. And if there is a totality, its nature will depend upon the interrelationship between the existent-s.
Now we come to another very important step in Hegel’s logic: the question of a totality, and if the totality is contingent or necessary. The connection or the interrelationship between the existent-s can be of two kinds: one, necessary or permanent, and two, contingent or temporary. In case of necessary or permanent totality, the connection between the existent-s bring them into such a combination or collective that outside this collective the existent-s cannot exist at all. And in case of contingent or temporary totality, the connection among existent-s builds another kind of a group or combination or collective that is entirely contextual. Outside this context this group does not exist, but the group ceasing to exist does not mean a cease of existence for the member existent-s, and so the existent-s can very well exist before or after the contingent or temporary totality starts or ceases to exist.
For both necessary and contingent collectives of existent-s, the collective builds and generates a kind of a totality, and we call it a whole. Within this whole every single existent becomes a part. What kind of part one existent is, depends on the nature of the interrelationship that makes a whole any one of two kinds, necessary or contingent. And accordingly, the whole/part relationship does undergo a change between these two possibilities, necessary or contingent. The significance of the necessary or contingent nature of whole and its relationship with a part will become clear when we start giving examples. We are coming to that in a bit. So, when in a whole, there is some internal something that is held in common by all the existent-s. All the existent-s together are generating a whole, from where now are flowing all the existent-s, as part-s of this whole. So, once a whole is there, the existent-s are nothing but its expression, and therefore, they represent the form. And the whole is the content which is getting expressed in the form.
As we said, for every whole the relationship between whole and part can be of two kinds, necessary and contingent. If the interrelationship between existent-s is of a permanent and unavoidable kind, that is, a necessary one, Hegel’s logic names this kind of necessary whole as an actuality. In the opposite situation, when the whole-part relationship is not permanent, but of a contextual kind, conditional to some particular situation, that kind of contingent whole is named as a possibility. And this actuality, when philosophically represented in terms of concept or notion, we call it an universal. And because universal embraces everything, every being, as a necessary part of the whole, it is universal that finally is something that is no more an insufficient ground. Universal is Sufficient Ground.
Now, let us elaborate this whole-part discussion with examples, without which this discussion is getting progressively more esoteric and perplexing. Let us take the example of a club. Combining the members as the constituent parts, this club is a whole. Some members, by being and remaining members of the club, are holding the club, or the whole, together. But the membership is changing. Some members are going away, while some new ones are getting membership. Therefore the constituent part-s are changing. So, the relation between part and whole is not of a permanent kind. So, this whole is a possibility. Now take our society as another example. Society is a whole outside which we cannot go. Even this discussion ceases to exist outside society. And not just this one, any and all discussions cease to exist outside the reality of society. And hence, the whole-part relation is permanent in this case. Society is an actuality. A whole that exists in today’s acts and remains active in tomorrow’s acts, remains like that everywhere and everyday, is an actuality.
While proceeding through the discussions around doctrine of essence, we said, ground remains moving through layers, and hence we called it shifting ground. At the level of the shifting ground, the logic of its becoming ground was incomplete and insufficient. Through all the primary layers of the interplay and opposition between unity and difference, we are seeing this insufficient ground getting reflected in the world of the existent-s. From this world of existent-s we derive the whole-part relationship. And, if and when this relationship is of a permanent kind, we are at last getting sufficient ground, which we are calling as universal. This category of universal is an actuality and actuality is getting represented in terms of notion or concept. Note this point, the idealism of Hegel is coming to a full circle. The journey that started in the pure idea of pure being is reaching its finality in actuality which is again pure idea.
When we come to the layer of actuality, the interplay of unity and difference that was showing up in terms of whole and part, now gets represented in terms of universal and particular. When whole is becoming universal, a component part is becoming particular, a particular of the universal. So the new layer of unity and difference is made by universal and particular. Universal is stable in the sense that it is sufficient ground, and hence, it is no more shifting. But it is not static, universal is dynamic. According to Hegel’s logic, Universal evolves over time, it has moments of its own, through which it goes on developing, and these moments are hierarchical – universal moves from a lower moment to a higher.
Universal itself is a unity of unity and difference of whole and part. And therefore, it is a contradictory unity. And universal evolves over time through these contradictions. It goes higher and higher through its moments: from lower moments to higher ones. Through these moments, finally universal reaches a point from where no more development is possible. Hegel calls that stage as ideal and this is the endpoint of history, the “terminus” as he calls it. For Hegel, this terminal point of history is capitalism – the emergence of which in Germany Hegel was witnessing around him. And if Hegel’s ideal of capitalism is the highest moment of universal, one of the lower moments universal has passed through earlier in its time-path is feudalism. We would come back to this discussion of ‘end of history’ later, after we complete our discussion on Hegel’s Philosophy of Right, in the context of the concept of counter-hegemony. Let us have one more cross-comparison here, with the Marxian version of this terminal point in history. While Hegel was perceiving end-of-history in capitalism, Marx displaced it to communism. But the concept of end-of-history was corroborated by both of them. And as we will see, maybe GPL could make our vision able enough to go beyond this collective myopia of Hegel and Marx. The concept of end-of-history is nothing more than a wish-fulfilling fantasy for a lot of us who are not pertinent enough to believe any more in binary breaks, treading a bit tiredly through the days of ours in an unending procession of a double funeral, after both god and devil have breathed their last.
4. Philosophy of Right
In this section, and the next, we are now going to illustrate, with Hegel’s Philosophy of Right, and Phenomenology of Spirit, the basic steps of Hegel’s logic that we discussed in the two earlier sections. And this is in a way reading Hegel self-recursively. If GPL is our final destination, this is bound to happen. GPL is the thing that made the day for all the self-recursion present there in the self-recursive acronym GNU, GNU’s-Not-Unix, by becoming and remaining the biggest self-recursive social action till date in the shape of the GNU-Linux movement or FLOSS. GPL, by cooking up the brilliant ploy of ‘Copyleft’, threw Hegel’s logic of property into an unending self-recursive loop, pushing the being of ‘private property’ into a continuous and ceaseless process of becoming through a self-recursion of the laws of private property. But to understand the trick of this self-recursion, now we have to talk a few things about Hegel’s Philosophy of Right. Let us start with the steps from doctrine of being once again, illustrating it this time with Philosophy of Right.
In place of the pure idea of pure being, let us start from the immediate reality made of determinate beings: beings with specific determinate characteristics. This world of determinate beings has two primary categories, in the form of this or being-by-self or reality and that or being-for-another or negation. As we have already seen, the reality of this gets negated by the negation of that. Now to get the meaning of these categories of this/that in the context of Right, let us start with the world of a child, with the child’s problem of resolving its right on something or the lack of that on something else. Whatever are there as the child’s own, whatever belong to him – the child thinks them, those things, be it a toy or something – as this. This is near to him. He uses and plays with this whenever he wants. For him it seems: this is mine. In opposition to this, everything else is that. All other things that are used or played with by others are represented by that. For him it seems: that is not mine, that belongs to others.
So, even for the child, this has an in-built limit: he does not and cannot own everything. And hence this is always already inscribed with a concept of limit, this is a finite and limited this. And beyond that limit resides that which belongs to others, and thus that negates this. Now, exactly the way we discussed in case of doctrine of being, logic needs a leap here to reach being-for-self. And in this case, that higher category is ‘private property’, that includes within itself both ‘this’ property and ‘that’ property. And note the drama of this category: the very moment we are reaching at this new category ‘private property’, the very earlier meanings of this and that, the child’s meanings, are getting transformed. They are not anymore just mine and other’s. They are now this private property belonging to me, and that private property belonging to others. Before arriving at and understanding the category of ‘private property’ we were calling the determinate beings as ‘this’ thing and ‘that’ thing. Now we are calling them as ‘this’ property and ‘that’ property. The concept ‘private property’ has very much a meaning and significance of its own, outside the realm of the personal qualifiers like mine, yours or other’s, precisely because it is a higher category, as we discussed in the context of doctrine of being.
As we have started from the determinate beings, our starting point was ‘this determinate being’ belonging to me (being-by-self) and ‘that determinate being’ belonging to others (being-for-another). These two got united in the higher category of ‘private property’. So, this category ‘private property’ is the being-for-self or one. As we saw earlier, this higher unity of the higher category named as ‘private property’ or one manifests in the difference of many. So, in the immediate reality before us, made of determinate beings, we get ‘private property’ as many private properties. All these private properties are one in terms of being ‘private property’. As we saw, the moment we derive many, some measure gets inscribed within it. On the criterion of being ‘private property’ they are one, so another criterion will be there that makes them many. All these properties are different in terms of being big/small property, more/less property – in terms of the quantity of some specific criterion present in them. This specific criterion must be the quality that made all of them ‘private property’, some quality that must be common to all ‘private properties’. So, in other words, we derive some measure imbibed within all properties. And that is price. All properties are measured in terms of their price, their monetary value. Properties become many different properties by the different quantities of this quality of ‘monetary value’ present in all of them. Monetary value signifies the quantitative difference of all private properties.
One thing, once again, must be reminded here. This depiction belongs to our reading of Hegel, a justified interpretation of Hegel. Hegel does not introduce ‘price’ as the common feature of private property, he talks in terms of ‘value’ and the common ground is explored through the process of contract taking place between different owners of different private properties at their own will. Hegel is very clear about what he means about the ‘contractual relationship’ between two owners of private property. Let us quote Subsection §74 from the Section called ‘Contract’ from Hegel’s Philosophy of Right. This depicts how different instances of private property come to the same plane of their oneness in being private property through the mediation of contractual relationship. This contractual relationship happens between two different willing individuals owning two different private properties. This is crucially important for us, because we would return to this concept of ‘contract’ while analyzing GPL in terms of logic. Here, on the plane of contract, where owners of private properties are willing to ‘give up a property’ and ‘take up another’, the value dimension of the properties come into play, from Hegel 1962.
This contractual relationship ... implies that each, in accordance with the common will of both, ceases to be an owner and yet is and remains one. It is the mediation of the will to give up a property, a single property, and the will to take up another, i.e. another belonging to someone else; and this mediation takes place when the two wills are associated in an identity in the sense that one of them comes to its decision only in the presence of the other.
Only because these private properties are different, only because they have difference, it is meaningful for the owners to want to give up one and take up another. And because, on another plane, or the plane of ‘value’, they are the same, that is, they have unity, one can be given up and another can be taken up. And whenever ‘value’ is there as a ‘quality’ of private property, we get the ‘measure’ that measures difference among different instances of private property. So, it is precisely on the plane of ‘contract’, where one is given up to take up another by both the participants in the contract, we come into a unity of unity and difference. So, the contract gives us the primary being-for-self for being-by-self of ‘this’ private property and being-for-another of ‘that’ private property. Hegel mentions ‘value’ as the agency of ‘contract’ in §77, Hegel 1962.
Since in real contract each party retains the same property with which he enters the contract and which at the same time he surrenders, what thus remains identical ... is the value, in respect of which the subjects of the contract are equal to one another whatever the qualitative external differences of the things exchanged. Value is the universal in which the subjects of the contract participate.
From this small digression about contract as the being-for-self for this private property and that private property, let us return to the main thread. So, now we see both unity and difference of one and many of the private properties, we see the category of private property as many quantitatively different private properties. So, it is time now to posit a higher level unity that holds both these unity and difference simultaneously together. This higher level unity holds together the one of private property, and the quantitative difference among many private properties, each of them privately known as ‘my property’.
Everyone beholds and guards everyone’s own private property as ‘my private property’. Everyone has everyone’s own private property. But, that everyone has everyone’s own private property, means that, each of these individual private properties is identifiable on its own. And to identify every private property as different to every other private property, we need a concept of ‘limit’ in-built to the sense of private property. Any private property is always already inscribed with this limit just by being anyone’s own private property. The sense of private property always already carries the sense of a predefined boundary within itself – some boundary within which this private property remains this private property, and beyond which boundary it ceases to remain like that. Beyond this boundary this private property becomes that private property belonging to someone else. And, by the very fact of being a private property, all private properties are in-built with this boundary. The concept of private property does already have this limit inscribed within it, because everyone has everyone’s sense of private property that everyone beholds and guards.
Now, all these individuals’ sense of private property merge together to generate an all-pervading ‘private-property-sense’ that is common to everyone, a property-consciousness that is shared by everyone. Everyone knows it for sure that obeying this limit of private property is all-pervasive. If someone disobeys the limit of private property of someone else, the same thing can strike back, someone else can disobey the limit of his own private property too. This property-consciousness is the thing from what emerges the social sense of morality. Morality means obeying limit of private property, for both of own private property and private property belonging to others. With our experience of Hegel’s logic we know, the emergence of the category of morality means the emergence of its negation too, and hence, we get immorality. Immorality is disobeying or violating limit of private property and this is a crime that should be punished. State is the authority, and so it is the duty of state to punish the crime of violation of limit of private property. It is the role of state to make everyone uphold and obey limit of private property, and thus to protect everyone’s private property from any intervention that violates limit of private property. And so, for the Hegelian state, punishment for immorality is no coercion. State punishes for the fulfillment of its duty of protecting limit of private property. This property-consciousness resides in every heart. And so, the principle on which state works, is internal to the citizen: every citizen becomes a representative of Hegelian state. When we catch and punish a thief, we are doing it on behalf of state, because the thief is violating limit of private property. As Hegel’s logic views an object as the embodiment of an idea, the Hegelian version of object-idea interrelationship is very much present here. Because everyone has everyone’s right on private property, private property is nothing but an expression or embodiment of the abstract idea of private right.
This abstract concept of right on private property, or abstract right is nothing but essence or ground, and essence is getting expressed in the positive of private property. The category private property is then generating the negative in the form of many private properties, in the form of my property/your property. This essence or abstract concept of right is appearing and shining forth in the category of moral man. Moral man is defined as the person who honors and obeys limit of private property. And the category moral man does not reside alone, it is always found in association with many moral men, creating a collection of moral men. This collection of moral men becomes a whole and one single individual moral man is a part of this whole.
One single individual moral man does not deal with the abstract and thus universal principle: Universal Morality Principle, UMP. UMP is formulated, codified and written down in the form of constitution of state. Constitution of state is the container that actualizes the contradictory universal morality in the concreteness of the state apparatus. Universal morality is obviously contradictory, in the sense that, universal morality holds and contains the morality of every single moral man. Every individual moral man’s sense of ‘my property’ and the dignity towards ‘my property’ gets manifested in universal morality. And every single individual moral man’s ‘my property’ is limited in itself, and thus contradicted by everyone else’s ‘my property’. This mutuality of limit within every two ‘my property’ creates a contradictory interaction between them, and thus creates the contradictory relation between all individual rights. And then, this contradictory universal morality gets its bodily form in the pages of state’s constitution. Constitution is the embodiment of UMP.
When a single individual violates or dishonors universal morality, state has got to punish. Constitution of state, or the formulated and codified and recorded UMP, makes that imperative. So, to say it another way, within the category of private property state was always already there, in the form of a sleeping process, in abeyance say, to wake up whenever it is necessary. In Hegelian terms, state is imbibed within private property. That sleeping process of state gets awake, actual and explicit in the pages of constitution. And so, whatever maybe the form, constitution under attack implies that the whole mechanism of state is endangered, its balance is pushed. To bring back the balance to its equilibrium, we have the machinery of police, military and judiciary, all woven and built around constitution of state.
State carries within itself different orders and kinds of moral men. And the space of personal action, in which all these different kinds of moral men operate and pursue their individual personal objectives, is called Civil Society. This is a theoretical space within which moral man practices his individual right in order to achieve his self-interest. Market is an example of civil society.
In Hegel’s logic, society is such a whole where part-s are attached to it in a necessary relationship, where the relation between an individual and the collective is never something temporary, transient and alterable. It is an intrinsic relation that binds an individual to the collective. So, as we see in Hegel’s logic, the categories like state and society are not something that are thrown upon the individual. Every citizen carries UMP internally. Citizens carry these abstract principles, universal to all the citizens. These principles then actualize into the concrete form of state. And Hegel’s logic arrives at this final form by starting the journey from the category of being. So, every citizen in state or society of Hegel’s logic carries these categories in the deepest layer of being. Hegel’s state and society are internal to the citizens, not something external to them. A comparison between the reading of Hegelian state presented here and reading by Partha Chatterjee in “Nation and its Fragments”, Chatterjee 1993, can be interesting.
One or two historical conjectures may not be entirely pointless here. It was the time of Hegel when capitalism just started to emerge in Germany. And a lot of those changes during the time of development of capitalism were directly products of state intervention. State had an active role there. Old social formations and older forms of oppression, prevalent during the feudal times, were breaking down. Capital and capitalism, under the guardianship of state, had indeed a very active and progressive part in this change. Hegel’s theory, most probably, carries footprints of those times, being a reflection of that historical experience. In Hegel’s logic, state is held and carried in the container of civil society. For an individual citizen, civil society is the space for pursuing self-interest and exerting ‘my right’, that is, right over ‘my property’. And state is the collective of all those individual versions of ‘my right’. So, in Hegel’s society, a citizen is not just a self-centered entity pursuing self-interest. His self and morality carry within them the principles that represent state in an implicit way. So it is Hegel’s state that unifies unity and difference. Here, unity implies equality, equality in the eye of law, equality as citizens of state, and difference implies freedom to pursue self-interest in the space of civil society. Here ends, in an extremely over-simplified nutshell, Hegel’s Philosophy of Right.
5. Phenomenology of Spirit
Maybe the way
Philosophy of Right carries a reflection of the historical experience
of emerging capitalism in Germany, Hegel’s Phenomenology, Hegel
1990, carries traces of the then war-torn Europe, particularly during
the days of Napoleon, the hero that cut very deep impressions in the
young mind of Hegel. One of the most important categories in Hegel’s
Phenomenology of Spirit is desire, and desire is
defined in terms of other. Desire is the tendency to
demolish and annihilate other. For a subject its other
is a collection of objects, and this subject considers these objects
as belonging to himself. This subject is always already marked with
this belief that all these objects are his ‘own’. This subject in
Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit is primarily a vaguely defined I,
From the moment lord-slave relation is born, lord sees slave before his eyes, and slave is no human being, slave is just another object in the series of many objects that lord has demolished in the process of ceaseless desire and appropriation. In lord’s eyes, slave is no human subject. Lord thinks slave as just an extension of the material world made of objects, an inert entity in the form of a servant, depending in every possible aspect solely on lord. For lord, slave is just a transient phenomenon of the material world, exactly the way a fruit grows from a branch of a tree. So, lord’s other is made of entirely inert objects, slave is one of them. This whole material world is object, object for the subject called lord. Lord faces this other and hence cannot understand anything of the freedom he himself enjoys.
Note the logical loop here: slave is lord’s other, who is inert, and hence lord’s freedom becomes freedom of interacting with captivity, and hence, lord’s consciousness remains inert too. Lord sees only captivity around himself in the form of the inert material world, and because he does not have any process of labor that generates consciousness through a dialectical interaction of the subject with the world of objects, lord remains inert too. And so, lord cannot understand freedom. Lord’s freedom, by virtue of becoming unbound and seamless, is undone as freedom. Lord’s freedom makes him captive in terms of consciousness. Lord consumes freedom but does not know the meaning of it. He desires, consumes, appropriates, but never learns to question anything. So, in Hegel’s logic, lord and lord’s consciousness do not evolve and develop, and lord continues to remain a primeval human being, the same savage that he was in the beginning.
primary explosion that happened among the different
Slave becomes conscious of freedom, he goes on watching lord before his eyes, and lord is the walking embodiment of freedom, so slave watches freedom. He goes on watching his other, the freedom of lord, from a distance, from the other side of the pathos of self-consciousness. In Hegel’s logic this knowledge of self comes through knowing other and hence slave’s consciousness is always already marked with sense of freedom. And lord, slave’s other, is not transient. Lord is permanent and given and unchanging. And everything around slave, in the material reality, is slave’s realm of labor. Slave builds everything. Slave builds lord’s palace, the field full of crops, the arms and armors that keep a slave a slave. And slave knows all these by heart – they are all product of his own labor. Through the process of labor, slave knows all of them, and this goes on germinating and expanding his consciousness. Labor goes on unfolding slave’s consciousness, unlike lord, who gives no labor, just goes on consuming objects, and hence remains savage.
The subject aspect of slave’s consciousness now goes on unfolding through three definite stages. One, the Stoic stage. At the very introduction of self-consciousness, when slave just starts to grasp what freedom is, a terror strikes him, A terror of impending war – understanding freedom means striving to actualize it. And any such attempt of actualizing freedom would obviously lead to a war with lord, another life-and-death struggle. Unable in learning to live with this terror, slave now discovers another freedom, freedom in the realm of thought. Even after lord has plundered every object and every freedom, this freedom remained untouched and untainted: slave can think whatever he wants. Self-righteous slave now walks the roads of this new-found land of freedom and equality. On the plane of thought, there is no slave or lord, everyone is equal there. As a thinking animal, with this abstract power of thought, slave gets freedom, and in this freedom-land everyone is equal. Slave with this freedom in the realm of thought is called Stoic in Hegel’s logic. This is stage one in slave’s consciousness, the stage of stoicism, where slave explores the realm of thought and thus comes in terms with the material world. Without a lot of affects, here slave continues to be and remain a slave.
Two, the Skeptic stage. Progressively slave gets doubtful. He starts interrogating his new-found freedom in the realm of thought. Stoic slave starts becoming Skeptic. First he delved into a deeper sense of freedom, deeper than the material reality around him, and now he starts realizing an even deeper captivity. He senses that, he can become conscious of freedom, know it, practice it on his plane of thought, but can never actualize it. Slave now starts considering this material life as void and blank, where he can never actualize the freedom that he knows and understands so dearly. In Hegel’s logic, this pure Skeptic thread of thought leads to only one conjecture and judgment: life is entirely pointless.
Three, the stage of Unhappy Consciousness. Though life is entirely pointless, slave does not commit suicide, and tries to strike a midway between stage one and two. This life is pointless and it lacks any freedom, but there is a heaven: in the next life, after this one ends. In that heaven everyone is equal and free. Stoic slave already knows the freedom in the realm of thought, which is rejected by Skeptic slave. Now comes slave with unhappy consciousness: that there is a heaven, that there everyone is equal. And the important point here is that, slave inherits the heaven while lord does not. Slave now dreams about this heaven and goes on living around these dreams. But he carries the unhappy consciousness: that this life is not heaven.
Now, in the material world, there are slaves and slaves. They all have their own versions of heaven, and not that all these versions add up together like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. There are contending and contradictory versions of the dream of heaven. Everyone wants to establish everyone’s own dream of heaven. Hence follows another war, between contending dreams of heaven, between contending versions of consciousness of freedom and equality. Savage men, devoid of consciousness, fought over objects of desire. Now they fight once again over their different versions of consciousness of freedom and equality. Then Hegel’s logic proceeds in demonstrating how all these contending consciousness come together into forming state. State is the embodiment where anyone’s and everyone’s consciousness of freedom and equality get actualized, the discussion that we have already covered in the last section on philosophy of right.
6. GPL and Hegel’s Philosophy
We have discussed a lot about the evolution of FLOSS tradition, and how history reached GPL through millions of smaller steps, that we called supplements, and how all of them fell together to create an epitome, a high-point of this whole process, as if it was the destiny of the whole thing, while it was actually the result of this whole chain of events. But now, the fact that finally GPL can become the as-if destiny, in the form of a father to these bastard supplements, is something that GPL itself has to rationalize. The something without which in it, the text of GPL cannot become this father, and cannot generate the context of FLOSS, the very context of reading GPL.
significance of GPL emanates from the fact that GPL generated a kind
of entirely new category in the form of
Now let us proceed into the reading of GPL within an overdetermined space. We have discussed many details related to the aspect of ‘copyleft’. We said, during our discussion of Hegel’s logic, GPL actualizes some forgotten meaning in the crevices and fractures around the Hegelian categories. Hegel’s logic forgot to mention these dark areas, maybe did not understand them at all. And now it was the turn for GPL to bring them up and employ them in an unending self-recursive loop through copyleft. This loop works in such a way that the very Hegelian category of determinate being in the form of private property is pushed into a permanent limbo of determinate becoming. This is something absolutely unanticipated in Hegel’s logic or human social history. And the important point is that the people who were working towards GPL did not know it at all. Categories of hard logic was the last thing in focus for them. They were trying, and as the earlier chapters show, trying it hard like anything to get some ploy to cope up with the differend of justice that we discussed in chapter two. GPL emerged through all this: trying to live in this world where where father’s rule was taking away what the community of primitive FLOSS had already created.
Through these trials and toils, something clicked. From the viewpoint of the people involved in it, this something was entirely from the world of real existence. It was a survival strategy in the face of the aggressive empire of monopoly capital in the world of software and computing. This click was something really revolutionary in the sense that, it generated some entirely new meanings for all the known things, through the chain of events that it initiated. This click was the only thing that could resolve that differend of justice, as we will see shortly. Let us now judge the full implications of GPL in terms of the Hegelian theory that we discussed in this chapter. This will establish our opinion that GPL generated an entirely new kind of right beyond Hegel’s philosophy of right at the level of potential. And this new kind of right was then actualized in the real process of FLOSS. The context of FLOSS, from the point-view of which this book is reading GPL, is nothing but the real life actualization of these categories held within the logical break inherent in GPL.
Hegel’s philosophy of right is concerned with abstract right. This is the Hegelian way of logically positing things and thoughts. Schemes from Hegel’s philosophy begin with a pure idea and ends in another. And as we have already seen, time and again, just like any Hegelian scheme, this pure idea of abstract right is a void category. The next step in Hegelian scheme is to reach a determinate category after starting the journey from the void category of pure idea of abstract right. In case of philosophy of right, this modified starting point is the concept of determinate right. Let us iterate once again the dialectical steps through the different moments of determinate right in Hegel’s philosophy of right. We start from the concept of determinate right and then trace the route of development of being-for-self.
Starting Point: determinate right – individual’s right to his own property
Thesis – being-by-self – individual’s right to property
Antithesis – being-for-another – other’s right to property
Synthesis – being-for-self – contract
These dialectical steps are quite familiar to us now. The starting point of Individual’s right to property is thesis – being-by-self. This is dialectically opposed by other’s right to property or antithesis – being-for-another. This dialectics of determinate right creates synthesis in the form of contract or being-for-self. As we went through Hegel’s philosophy of right, we saw that, through layers of practice in civil society, we reach the Hegelian state as an embodiment or codification of UMP, universal-morality-principle, in the form of constitution of state. The judiciary looks after the practice of morality-principle, through the practice of laws given in the constitution. The police and military prohibit any kind of infringement on UMP, motivated from inside the geography of state, or from outside it.
As we discussed earlier, GPL is a license. As a license it is nothing but a list of rights and wrongs, or lack of rights, for the user of the software over the software. When we are talking about right or lack of right, it means, obviously right or wrong in terms of some specific thing. And this specific thing in this case is the law of state. This law of state, again, flows from constitution. That constitution is, in its turn, the codification of UMP. So, as it has happened in cases, if someone violates the list of rights and wrongs, one can a raise a complaint through the judiciary, and the court then decides according to the law whether it was a right or wrong.
We have already said that, law and judiciary are part of state apparatus, all of which flow from constitution, the codified UMP. So, the right and wrong listed in the license are just some special moments of abstract right codified in constitution. There can be many versions of rights and wrongs listed in many licenses, and each one of them is a special moment of abstract right. UMP is, in that sense, a superset of all such possible special moments. When and if someone violates the list of rights and wrongs written down in a license, the matter can be taken to court. It can be taken to court because a violator of the special list of rights and wrongs, by violating the special list, has actually violated the superset or the UMP codified in constitution. And the violation is then judged and punished by law. This law is the law of private property, a part of the whole discourse of law, which is the sole guardian to judge and punish any violation of abstract right.
exactly the same thing happens with GPL and the law of private
property. The law, as usual,
protects right on private property,
and thus feeds the institution of private property.
But, unfortunately, the category of private property
is not exactly private property
any more for things under GPL, they became
we saw, The Hegelian framework depicts being-by-self
as self’s right to property and being-for-another
as other’s right to property. These two are the thesis
and antithesis. The
struggle between these two dialectical aspects of the category of
leads to a synthesis –
and we get the category of contract.
This category of contract
includes both thesis
‘self’s right on property’ and ‘other’s right on property’,
as its different prior moments. GPL is actually changing these prior
moments. As we said, GPL is using law of private right
to protect ‘self’s right on property’. But, this ‘self’s
right on property’ is now ‘right to keep the property permanently
and persistently within the public domain’. So, ‘self’s right’
always already includes here ‘other’s right’. So, here, law
of private right is protecting
Two things worked in tandem here. The ‘copyleft’ aspect threw law of private right into that strange loop, and the ‘offspring’ or ‘derivative’ aspect sustained the loop. In a Hegelian mode of speech, the FLOSS tradition that we have discussed so thoroughly through this book, as we see now, is nothing but an embodiment of this loop, incarnated through GPL. GPL is the text that was achieved through the accumulation of all the resistance against the taking away of primitive FLOSS. And this text now created the lost freedom and cooperation of public right once again, in such a way that nobody can take it away any more. As we have shown, the process of reaching the loop started to act even before anyone knew about it, during the turbulent periods of student movement and anti-war movements in America in the late sixties. Against this context of resistance, the hackers, the activists of primitive FLOSS, started their own resistance. And through the supplements of this resistance, this loop started to materialize. GPL was the materialized shape of this loop. The FLOSS activists of today, are all acting out this loop, without ever knowing about it. We will discuss this point a bit more after we clarify the FLOSS position vis-a-vis the concept of counter-hegemony, in the next chapter.
This loop now goes on working, having a legal body of its own, nested in the very institution of market and state, in resistance to which it evolved. And this loop goes on regenerating the tradition of primitive FLOSS in an entirely new way. The way the hackers community, the primitive FLOSS before the word ‘FLOSS’ was born, before the coming of GPL, was working, ‘copyleft’ and ‘derivative’ aspects were always already there, but never explicitly and consciously in an articulated way. It was an automatic conscientious gesture on part of those hackers. We discussed earlier, in chapters four and five, how the empire of father power of capital and market struck them in ways that were quite unexpected to them.
The way Peter Sallus described the history of birth of Linux from the tradition of Unix, and the way Stallman describes the Gosling event that we reported in the last chapter, and many other documents of this time show one common sentiment – a sense of betrayal. And this ‘sense of betrayal’ is actually the point here. Why this sense of betrayal? The agencies in question all worked according to the grammar of capital and market, and so? The point is, they never knew they believed in the implicit sense of ‘copyleft’ and ‘derivative’. They assumed it to be always already there, and all of a sudden the rules of capital and market brought the reality very rudely back, and they got disturbed with the shock. In terms of the rules of capital and market, there was never any wrong or injustice committed anywhere. Only these people, the hackers, who implicitly believed in the tradition, were in the wrong, and now the only possible task before them was to rectify this wrong by tweaking the very category of ‘right’.
Then came the epic effort in the form of GNU and FSF, and we have already thoroughly reported, how all the trials and tribunals there, unknowingly, were going towards a scheme of accumulation into the text of GPL. GPL is the thing where all these sentiments found their envelope. GPL is the text where the implicit assumptions of FLOSS tradition will get written for the first time. Then came the major confluence of the Linux kernel and GPL, which we have shown already, was the only historically possible alternative for which all the years, nineties through sixties, of hacking history prepared unknowingly. And when GPL came, and the possibility of GPL exploded through this seminal confluence of Linux kernel and GPL, the FLOSS tradition, as we know it now, came into being. So, GPL as a text, at last, actualized the possibility that was inherent in the whole process all this time. And this possibility was of an entirely new order of thought about property, capital and social order. We are going to that discussion with respect to the existing ways of formulating counter-hegemony in the next chapter.
Now, let us return to GPL. As we said, GPL, like any license concerning intellectual property rights, applies to the domain of law. Thus ensuring that it follows the constitution of any country, all countries. But, by the very mechanism of ‘copyleft’ and ‘derivative’, it tweaks the category of determinate right. GPL uses constitution to ensure the sanctity of determinate right, and so, in a way, reemphasizes the role of state, unlike the revolutionary politics of the Marxist and some other genera. But, the resistance remains elsewhere, within the very innermost kernel of the categories, where they are already transformed from within. Not just the category of determinate right is tweaked and transformed by GPL, the whole structure of state and its apparatus gets transformed by this very tweak. GPL, the surrogate father of the FLOSS tradition, now sets the molecules of social bonds rolling.
As we have already shown, the whole institution of state is actually an embodiment of abstract right, codified in constitution, interpreted by judiciary and protected by police and military from inside or outside attack on this right. Now, the very being-by-self, or the category of ‘determinate right’ has undergone a change, and so, the whole structure that breeds on it, in layers after layers of unity and difference, is now dealing with changed categories. And so, the whole of it is transformed and tweaked. So this new whole of state is transformed and tweaked too, with all its parts being transformed and tweaked. For the time being, this tweak is taking place only in the realm of software, but, obviously there are very general implications too. We are coming to that in the next chapter. But, for the time being, let us get it clear that, the resistance towards the rules of market and capital that was there within the hackers tradition, now gets more than represented through this ploy called GPL in the very body of state. So we know, GPL did at least more than what it was supposed to do. The very FLOSS tradition with respect to the body of which we now interpret GPL is a product of GPL itself. So, at last, the project of chapter two of this book is fulfilled. We have exemplified a text that has inverted the context-text-supplement hierarchy of reading a text. The only other parallel to the scale by which GPL accomplished this task is ‘The Communist Manifesto’, Marx and Engels 1848, that generated a social history that served the context of reading that very text. But it is even more dramatic in the case of GPL, which is not even a text meant for reading the content on its own. It is a subsidiary text, only to be read when some legal aspect of the piece of software is in question.
But, now the question is, how all it was done that was done? How GPL could bring in such a change, literally, of the deepest order, into the very categories of social existence? When describing the categories of this and that in the context of Doctrine of Being, we talked about the fuzzy region between this and that, as a comment about the very basic categorization in Hegel’s logic. We said that, we consider the very division of the immediate reality of determinate beings into the two compartments of this and that as arbitrary, tentative, uncertain, and fuzzy. We said that there is no real definition of how to distinguish between this and that. If we reformulate these Hegelian categories of this and that as flux or field of force, we said, there should be some overlapping between them. Hegel kept mum about it. In the last chapter we will once again come back to this discussion of Hegelian categorization.
In context of the concept of ‘leap’ creating a new category in the form of being-for-self, we talked about the forced nature of inclusion-exclusion mechanism. Within the category generated through the leap, some entities are included, and some others are excluded. We said that, the label ‘red’ is suppressing all possible differences between any two shades of ‘red’, while glorifying any difference between any shade of red and any shade of any other color. And this is suppressing all the differences between all the shades of red by virtue of the label ‘red’. So, this new category after the leap, becomes a mechanism of forceful suppression. And every force creates an area of oblivion, where the excluded now resides. So, the new category thus generated, in some cases, may very well carry some blind spots around them, some dark crevices between the categories. And we said that, from these unchronicled shadows may ooze out new meanings in new situations, when the force field has sufficiently shifted. Exactly this thing happened in case of GPL.
All categories, names/labels/words, are kind of a bridge between their reality and the depiction of this reality in terms of logical categories. Events happen in real life and theories narrate about them. So these categories relate between the real world of existence and the narrated world of language. This is self-recursively true too. That is, the last sentence described the things that we did in the last sentence. We can never get out of this loop, we can never get real while depicting the reality. If we depict and narrate, it is narration, and hence it becomes an interplay of some categories. These categories are some freeze shots that we all share. There are lot of theories about this. But, the crux of the whole thing is that, things happen in-between, in the interstices between one freeze shot and another, and hence meanings happen there, in the interstices. And in some cases, some texts may capture new meanings oozing out through this interstices, new meaning generated by very deep contortions in real existence. In fact, many path-breaking pieces of text capture some form of new and unexpected meanings between freeze shots of categories. All the events that were happening there, nineties through sixties, events that were falling like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle and creating a pattern, events that we reported in chapter four and five of this book, actually represent such a very deep contortion and wriggle in the body of the category called property, and this got reflected in the text of GPL. Prior to GPL, everywhere around were this property and that property. But, there were some new and unexpected meaning of property hidden there in the interstice, and GPL found that out, a meaning that would get actualized through the FLOSS tradition. And the process of actualization worked through the unfolding and emergence of an entirely new kind of property unforeseen in human history, a public property falling under the jurisdiction of private property law, and so, it is neither public nor private.
And this new kind of property came with such a biological strength through the ‘derivative’ aspect that can be described with only one qualifier: ‘viral’. Like colonies of virus, this new kind of property started generating offspring, through generations, and a whole load of biological strength was set in motion. And this all came through those two aspects, ‘copyleft’ and ‘derivative’, in GPL. We have seen the FLOSS thing become an institution in itself before our eyes, making the changes in the philosophical interpretation of the categories persistent and permanent. But, we are going to the discussion of the impact of GPL on the rules of capital and market, later, in our next chapter. There are more things to be said about the philosophical interpretation of the category of property before we can go into that.
Let us explore the implication of the tweak and transformation of the category of determinate right a little bit further. As we have seen, the watertight compartment like the division between this and that got marred a little, when the new kind of determinate right did emerge from the fuzzy region between ‘my property’ and ‘other’s property’. Now, we will see this transformed determinate right, tweaked by GPL, to commit some more philosophical tasks. The very first of them is that, no more the categories of ‘self’s right on property’ and ‘other’s right on property’ are in that contradictory relationship, in what they belonged till now. The war between them is over. In civil society one individual citizen pursues his self-interest and earns properties. And his own morality, which flows from Universal Morality Principle, tells him that, these two are absolutely watertight domains, ‘self’s property’ and ‘other’s property’. And every citizen pursues ‘self’s property’ and accumulates more of it, while always knowing the limit of it, and where the limit ends and starts the field of ‘other’s property’. So, from the very start it is a competitive space, a morally guided competitive space, and this morality flows from the primal rights of owning property. So, everyone’s field of ‘my property’ competes here with everyone else’s ‘my property’. This is the grammar of the competitive market and property.
as we are getting a tweaked determinate
It is opening up, as we said, an overdetermined space between ‘my
property’ and ‘other’s property’, because, obviously, the
properties created under GPL within the FLOSS tradition belong to
of ‘my property’ and ‘other’s property’ as per the sense of
market morality. So, in this new space of tweaked determinate
that generates a new kind of property that is neither ‘my property’
nor ‘other’s property’, we see a new kind of space to unfold
where a new kind of friendship and community can take place beyond
all age-old divisions of ‘my property’ and ‘your property’.
We call this
As we have mentioned, the whole journey of philosophy of right traverses through multiple layers of unity of contradictory unity and difference. And so, the whole journey now gets transformed, because, the very primary unity has undergone an absolutely unforeseen kind of change. This change in the system, this wiping out of war from the very primal unity can be demonstrated in terms of Phenomenology of Spirit too. Hegel’s phenomenology of spirit starts from a paradigm of war. This paradigm was static in the sense that the real passage of history, in terms of time and its impact on reality and consciousness of the participants, is not included within this model. If we redefine it in a dynamic way, with these changes of time on consciousness and reality incorporated into it, maybe we can make room for GPL there too.
Let us recapitulate, very briefly, what we said about Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit. Two human beings see an object, a thing outside them. They both fight for the object. One wins and the other loses. One becomes lord and the other becomes slave, owned by lord. After becoming slave, slave now sees lord or the embodiment of freedom as his other and develops through three layers of consciousness that we reported earlier. The consciousness of slave develops through slave’s dialectical interaction with reality through the process of labor and his consciousness of his own lack of freedom. And lord remains inert because his other is the world of objects, where he only consumes, and slave is a part of this object world for lord. We have already discussed about the three layers of evolving consciousness of slave, Stoic, Skeptic and Unhappy Consciousness.
Now let us deploy this same model with a real passage of time and marks of this changing time included within it. A history-conscious human being knows, reads and thinks about all the wars in history. Now he knows that he cannot win all wars, and if he goes to war intermittently and endlessly, eventually it may bring death to himself. And so he does go into war in some cases and share some objects with friends in some other cases. So, it becomes a story of war in some cases, and communion and friendship in some other cases. This is a self-conscious story, because it is self-consciousness that goes above and beyond war and talks back on history.
Maybe GPL is just such a ploy by which slave wants to end the process of endless war. He wants to create a space beyond all wars, a space where ‘my right’ and ‘other’s right’ can peacefully coexist. The unlimited nature of desire from Hegel’s phenomenology of spirit, here gets curbed into a limited desire. Maybe slave has learned from experience that the endless struggle of acquiring ‘my property’ has got a sense of limit attached with it. He has realized that this endless desire is self-defeating, and so, he decides not to go on acquiring ‘my property’ endlessly. An endless pursuing of ‘my property’ is bound to lead to wars, because everyone goes on pursuing the same desire, and one or other of these wars is going to bring slave’s own annihilation. So, now, slave, with a consciousness changing with time and history, tries to create a space beyond wars of ‘my property’. None of the ideas here is new, we have got it proclaimed by so many people in so many ages. But, for the first time, GPL gives a weapon in the hand of slave to end all wars, not just in terms of theory, but in terms of real existence, in terms of a friendship between the two entities: ‘self’s property’ and ‘other’s property’: two real entities operating on the plane of real socio-economic space are now coming into a relation of friendship. And so, maybe GPL is generating a new kind of phenomenology of spirit, not in terms of war, but in terms of an overdetermination between war and friendship, where private right, the space of war, and community right, the space of friendship, start to coexist and overdetermine. At last we get a phenomenology free from the prejudices of war.
In chapter two we wrote down our project of exemplifying the philosophical possibility of going from supplements to text to context, in the reverse direction to the one depicted in Derrida’s theory of deconstruction. We said, GPL is an example of that, how it becomes possible, by bringing in the two concepts of ‘differend’ and ‘deconstruction’ together. And at last, that example is complete. The differend, in case of GPL, resided in the fact that in taking away the primitive FLOSS, the rules of capital and market were committing no ‘wrong’ in any legal sense. So, there was no ‘injustice’. But there was, the hackers, the activists of primitive FLOSS, were all experiencing the pain of this injustice. Now, it was the turn of GPL to deconstruct the very discourse of property, market, law, and state. GPL deconstructed this whole discourse in such a way that the age-old categories of property, market, law, and state, were all transformed from within. And this was all legal, and so, protected by the very institution of state. And hence, no one can take it away any more, and in fact, more than that, this regenerates the FLOSS tradition in such a way that, by this very legal framework of the institution of state, this tradition can go on accumulating, the details of which we will take up in the next chapter.